Pranayama

Pranayama Breathing Exercise with Its Types, techniques, and benefits

Why Breathing exercise is important for us?

Pranayama yoga is about breathing exercise and our life is absolutely dependent upon the act of breathing.

To breathe is to live, and without breath, there is no life. Not only are the higher animals dependent upon breath for life and health, but even the lower forms of animal life must breathe to live, and plant life is likewise dependent upon the air for continued existence.

The physical health depends very materially upon correct breathing. In addition to the physical benefit derived from correct habits of breathing, Man’s mental power, happiness, self-control, clear-sightedness, morals, and even his spiritual growth may be increased by an understanding of the “Science of Breath.”

What pranayama means and its benefits

“Prana” means the active principle of life Vital Force. It is found in all forms of life, from the amoeba to a man from the most elementary form of plant life to the highest form of animal life. Prana is all-pervading. It is found in all things having a life.

Through the practice of pranayama (a controlled breathing exercise), we bring conscious awareness to the breath, uniting mind, and body in a present moment experience. Through this awareness, and with a little practice, we learn how to access our inner wisdom and increase our Prana, the omnipresent life force, that determines the amount of energy, clarity, and joy we have in our lives.

Pranayama is best practiced in the early morning when the mind is clear and free from the experiences of the day. Also, practiced after yoga asana, it can be the perfect transition into meditation. This is also a useful and simple tool to bring us into balance before an exam, meeting, or presentation. Just a few minutes can bring us back to our center, easing anxiety and nervous tension.

Pranayama, the life-breath (prana or soul) saves the mind from anxiety, nervousness, worry, fear, anger, impatience, hot temper, lethargy, agitation, and dullness. It improves concentration and memory, mental peace, and the delight of a silent, clear mind. The development of peace is synonymous with higher mental-spiritual development.

Pranayama means stilling of the breath. Inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention, condition the breath to be still. The stillness of breath stills the mind. Pranayama cleanses the channels (nadis) and energy centers (chakras), just as a broom or vacuum clears the dirt from a house.

Speaking in modern scientific terms, the breathing process is intimately linked to the brain and central nervous system. It is also related to the hypothalamus, which involves emotions, body temperature, memory, and perceptions. Erratic thinking of the hypothalamus also leads to erratic breathing and eventually to asthma. So, a quiet breath keeps the body healthy and the mind at peace.

Pranayama is related to the in and out breaths of the nose. Certain areas of the nose’s mucus membrane are connected to the visceral organs (i.e., thorax, abdomen, heart, lungs, kidneys, and intestines). According to yogic thinking, when this nasal breathing becomes irregular, the visceral organs connected to the coccygeal plexus also become irregular. In turn, they send sporadic messages to the brain, causing further irregularities. When the breath is held, it allows for a longer assimilation time of the prana. The result is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells. Thus, the breath is intimately linked to physical and mental health.

Pranayam also removes hiccups, cough, headache (and migraine), eye and ear pains, respiratory and digestive problems (i.e., asthma, wheezing, indigestion, hyperacidity), mucus, fat, obesity.

Pranayam Types and Techniques

Shitali Kumbhaka Pranayama (Cooling Breath)

Shitali Kumbhaka Pranayama
Shitali Kumbhaka

Method:

A) Sit in Siddhasana Siddha Yoni Asana; ex tend and curl the tongue with its sides facing up.

B) Slowly inhale through the middle of the tongue making a slight hissing sound.

C) Options: After inhalation, the chin may rest on the collar bone (Jalandhara Bandha); hold the breath if comfortable.

D) Slowly exhale through the nose.

Precautions:

Do not use Shitali with high blood pressure. Also, quick inhalation brings oxygen into the system and will increase heat; slow inhalation only allows nitrogen to enter the system.

Benefits:

Shitali cools the entire system; soothes the eyes and ears, reduces fevers, bile, burning, heat sensations, indigestion, thirst, and removes phlegm. Organs Helped: Liver, spleen, and all Pitta organ.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Vata Pranayama): Nadi Shodhana

It is a type of pranayama that balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain and has a calming effect on the nervous system while creating a more alert mind, it cleanses the channels of the subtle energy body by removing energetic blockages along the nadis (channels) that correspond to the nerve ganglia on either side of the spinal cord. It is extremely centering, making it one of the best practices for vata dosha.

Begin by sitting comfortably on a cushion, folded blanket, or in a chair, keeping the head and spine upright. Bring awareness to your breathing process, noticing the quality and length of each inhalation and exhalation. Breathe deep into your abdomen and keep the body relaxed.

Position the right hand (you may choose to alternate with each practice) in Vishnu mudra by folding the index finger and third finger inwards to lightly touch at the base of the thumb. Your little finger rests by the side of the ring finger. You will alternately use your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring and little fingers, working as one, to close your left. Rest your left hand comfortably in your lap. The breath should never feel forced.

Method:

Breathe in gently keeping the breath relaxed, subtle, and light. Block the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand and breathe out through the left nostril. Breathe in gently through the left nostril and then block the left nostril with the fourth finger and breathe out through the right nostril.

Breathe in through the right nostril, block the right nostril, and breathe out through the left nostril. Continue for five minutes and finish by breathing in through the right nostril. If you are left-handed you will reverse these finger positions (thumb blocks left nostril and fourth finger blocks right nostril).

Always breathe in and out gently; do not force the breath and do not hold the breath. Breathe naturally and try to sit upright and in a relaxed and comfortable position. Envision the breath as a light thread of silk, lengthening effortlessly with each inhalation and exhalation. Practice for five to ten minutes.

Rest after your practice and notice how you are feeling. Once comfortable with this practice, you can begin mentally counting to four on your inhalation, pause at the space between the breath and then count to four as you exhale, so that the length of your inhalation and exhalation are equal.

There are many variations of alternate nostril breathing. These advanced practices involve increased ratios of inhalation to exhalation, longer duration, and the incorporation of breath retention. It is best to practice these under the guidance of a yoga teacher or therapist.

They are intended as developmental stages to work through incrementally as the body gradually adjusts to the increased flow of prana. As with any subtle energy practice which activates prana, it is best to start slowly and steadily incorporate it into your daily practice. A shorter practice consistently will bring more benefits to the body than a longer practice now and again.

Here are some variations that will help with specific dosha imbalances within the physiology:

Left Nostril Breathing (Pitta Pranayama)

This breathing exercise helps cool the mind and body and is excellent for Pitta imbalances. If the left nostril is blocked the body often feels overheated (a Pitta imbalance).

Method: Block your right nostril with your thumb (the fourth finger if left-handed) and inhale gently through the left nostril. Block your left nostril with your fourth finger (thumb if left-handed) and breath out through your right nostril. Repeat for five to ten minutes, finishing by breathing out through your right nostril.

Right Nostril Breathing (Kapha Pranayama):

Helps warm the body and is excellent for Kapha imbalances. If the right nostril is blocked the body often feels cold.

Method: Block your left nostril with your fourth finger (thumb if left-handed) and inhale gently through the right nostril. Block your right nostril with your thumb (the fourth finger if left-handed) and breathe out through your left nostril. Repeat for five minutes, finishing by breathing out through your left nostril

Fast Pranayama:

This practice speeds up metabolism and helps with weight loss. It can also be practiced for 20-30 seconds before ‘alternate nostril breathing’.

Method: Repeatedly exhale quickly and forcefully through both nostrils. You will find that you naturally inhale after each out-breath. Repeat this for about one minute and then rest for one minute. Repeat up to five times. You may find that the body heats up and begins to perspire slightly indicating that energy is flowing and circulation is improving.

Suryabheda Pranayama (Solar Breathing)

Suryabheda Pranayama
Suryabheda Pranayama

Method:

A) Sit in Siddhasana/Siddha Yoni Asana. The right thumb is beside the right nostril. The index and middle finger rest on the third eye, and the ring finger is on the left nostril.

B) Slowly inhale through the right nostril, breathing into an expanding belly, until the lungs are comfortably full. Focus on the cooling, healing ‘in-breath’.

C) Close the right nostril with the thumb. Open the left nostril and slowly exhale, focusing on the release of stress and tension. This is 1 round.

D) Close the right nostril and open the left nostril, and begin again with step B. Practice initially for 10 times. Later one can increase the time from 1 to 2 minutes.

Benefits:

This improves energy, the left brain, and sympathetic nervous system activity; it decreases parasympathetic functioning, and balances or promotes harmony between the two hemispheres of the brain.

It balances Pitta and Kapha, removing dullness from the mind, reverses the aging process, and promotes longevity. Benefits result from the increased hormonal secretions of the pituitary gland and endocrine system (that cause aging). Some say this also removes excess Vayu.

Bhastra Kumbhaka (Bellows Breath)

Bhastra Kumbhaka
Bhastra Kumbhaka

This method gently forces the air in and out of the lungs with equal lung movement. The inhalation should be gentle enough so as not to cause the nostrils to be sucked closed. Air should only flow through the nose; not the throat. The body, shoulders, and chest remain unmoved throughout the practice. The lungs, diaphragm, and abdomen will move. Upon exhalation, the belly is to be pulled in; during inhalation release the belly muscles so the belly expands again.

Method:

A) Sit in lotus or Siddhasana/Siddha Yoni Asana. The body is aligned with hands on the knees.

B) Slowly and deeply inhale.

C) Breathe out quickly and forcefully through the nose (but without straining).

D) Immediately after the exhalation— just as forcefully—breathe in.

E) This can be practiced continually and rhythmically for 10 times (one round).

F) Rest and wait for breathing to return to normal; then practice again. Rest and repeat for three rounds).

As one acclimates oneself to this practice, speed will increase as rhythm is maintained.

Benefits:

Awakens the life-force removes excess mucus, pierces the psychic knots (granthis), stimulates the lungs, heart, and blood circulation; oxygenates the blood, and increases the sympathetic nerves in the respiratory center to release carbon dioxide.

It improves oxygen absorption and visceral organs; the entire body is massaged, nasal and sinus passages are cleansed. It builds resistance to colds and respiratory diseases (e.g., asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis), helps arthritis, TB, constipation, sciatica, rheumatism, cancer, physical and mental tension. Bhastra improves clarity, sluggishness, increases appetite, vitality, and immune system functioning. It removes emotional insecurity, sexual tension, bile, obesity.

Kapalabhati Pranayama:

Kapalabhati
Kapalabhati

This is also good for cleansing and detoxifying the lungs and improving lung capacity.

Method:

Take two deep abdominals breathes. Now breathe into three-quarters capacity. On the next out-breath, breathe out forcefully twenty times by repeatedly contracting the abdominal muscles. Now take two deep abdominals breathes and on the third, breathe into three-quarters capacity and retain the breath for thirty seconds. Repeat this three more times. As you become more accomplished you can increase the number of ‘abdominal pumpings’ – up to forty and maybe even sixty. You will also find that you will naturally be able to hold the breath for longer – perhaps even up to two minutes’ duration.

Belly Breath: This is good for toning the abdomen, improving peristalsis and helping with weight loss.

Method: In a standing position bend your knees and rest your hands on the top of the knees – breathe out fully (hold the breath) and then contract abdomen up into diaphragm/rib cage – hold for as long as is comfortable. Exhale. Repeat this exercise several times

Bhramari Kumbhaka (Humming Bee Breath)

It is best practiced in the early morning or late at night when it is quiet, and one is better able to hear inner sounds. It is practiced after Asanas and active pranayama, and before meditation or sleep (on an empty stomach).

Method:

A) Sit in Siddhasana/Siddha Yoni Asana and relax. Eye remain closed and the body i erect. Do the chin lock.

B) Slowly and deeply inhale through the nose, listening to the sound of the breath.

C) Close the ears with the index or middle fingers by pressing the outer part of the ear ligament into the ear hole.

D) Keeping the ears closed, exhale, making a soft, low pitched humming sound. Concentrate on the sound.

E) After fully exhaling, bring hands to the knees and breath slowly and naturally.

F) Practice this for 10 to 20 rounds.

G) When finished, keep eyes closed and listen for any subtle sounds.

Benefits:

It awakens intuition and subtle or psychic sensitivity, relieves mental tension, anger, anxiety, and insomnia.

Shitkari Kumbhaka Pranayama (Hissing Breath)

Shitkari Kumbhaka
Shitkari Kumbhaka

The hissing sound, produced from inhaling through clenched teeth, makes a noise like the sound, ‘seet’. Karí means to produce. Thus, Shitkari produces the sound of ‘seet’. During hot weather, one can practice up to 10 minutes.

Method:

A) Sit comfortably in Siddhasana/Siddha Yoni Asana. Eyes are closed and the body is erect. Hands are on the knees in the Jnyan Mudra. Do the chin lock.

B) Bring the teeth together (upper and lower) and separate the lips.

C) Slowly and deeply, inhale through the gaps in the teeth, listening to the sound it makes.

D) After inhaling, close the mouth and exhale through the nose.

E) Repeat 20 times. Precaution: Practice only in the warm months as this exercise cools the body. Do not practice with chronic constipation. Some say not to practice when suffering from high blood pressure.

Benefits:

One develops the qualities of Divine love. It lowers blood pressure, cools the tongue, lungs, the entire body; and mind; it also harmonizes the endocrine system, and it regulates reproductive hormone secretion. It also creates charisma and develops purity.

Ujjayi Kumbhaka Pranayama (Conquering Breath)

Ujjayi Kumbhaka Pranayama
Ujjayi Kumbhaka

This Ujjayi means “to conquer”. In this practice, the lungs swell up like one proud of victory.

Method:

A) Sit comfortably in Siddhasana/Siddha Yoni Asana, or lie in the corpse pose, and watch the breath.

B) Slightly contract the back of the throat (as when swallowing).

C) Inhale deeply and slowly through the nose. The contraction will cause a slight snoring sound but do not use force. The sound will come from the throat, not the nose. Concentrate on the sound. Then, exhale through the nostrils.

D) Practice for 1 to 5 minutes.

Precaution:

Do not practice with low blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure should practice while in the corpse pose.

Benefits:

Dispels phlegm from the throat, increases digestion, cleanses nadis; heals dropsy, insomnia, mental tension; aerates the lungs, soothes and tones the nerves and the entire body.

Murchha Kumbhaka Pranayama (Swooning Breath)

Murchha Kumbhaka Pranayama
Murchha Kumbhaka

This Murchha means “swoon or faint”. This process develops the conscious experience of the unconscious.

Method:

A) Sit comfortably in Siddhasana/Siddha Yoni Asana, with chin lock. Palms are on the knees and eyes are closed.

B) Slowly and deeply inhale through the nose. Hold the breath.

C) Slightly release the chin lock and exhale slowly.

D) Wait for the breath to return to normal ( at least 1 to 2 minutes), then repeat.

E) Concentrate on the void sensation.

Precautions:

Do not practice with high blood pressure, vertigo, or heart disease.

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