As the name suggests, Pranayama is made of two words prana and Ayama. While prana refers to the life force, Ayama means to regulate. Prana is the force that keeps the body alive. It lets the various organs function without which the body will perish. In olden times, when people died it was generally said that prana left the body.
So, prana was keeping the body alive and kicking. In Yogic science, all our actions are the result of the life force. When we do breathing exercises as per Ashtanga Yoga, we raise the vitality of the prana.
Now, the question arises is where do we get this prana? Prana is all around us. It is universal. We draw prana from all the five key elements of nature. When we talk to someone we receive prana.
If the person we are talking to has very low prana, we feel negative. The saint and seers have a very high level of prana and hence we feel the magnetic aura around them and feel uplifted. Our mood is better in the company of yogis, saints, and noble people.
We also receive prana from what we eat and the kind of house we live in. Breath is the carrier or vehicle of this prana to the whole body. Prana flows in the body through thousands of energy channels called Nadis.
There are over 72,000 nadis running through the body. The life force flowing through these channels goes to various parts of the body and regulates thoughts and actions. A high level of prana also means better mental health. Such people have a very high level of confidence, self-esteem, dignity, discipline, and willpower. They have a calming influence on others and have very positive personalities.
A low level of prana causes physical and mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and several other such disorders are caused by low levels of prana. Not surprisingly, yoga teachers advise various breathing exercises in case someone is feeling low.
A couple of long breaths instantly make a difference. All of us can imagine the benefits of practicing pranayamas for a longer duration.
Being the vehicle of prana, our breath patterns tell us about our state of mind and physical health. Each emotion manifests in the breath. When we are angry, our breath is shallow while the breath is deep and long when we are in a calm state of mind. Through regular practice of pranayama, we know our body and mind and their inter-connection.
Once we know it we can solve many problems by regulating our prana through breath. The great saints and seers lived longer lives by practicing asanas and pranayamas. There are various techniques and types of pranayamas which help us redirect our energy flow.
One of the most popular pranayamas is Anuloma-Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breathing and is known to have immense benefits. The other widely practiced pranayamas and
breathing techniques are Kapalbhati, Bhastrika (Bellow’s Breath), Bhramari, Yogic Breathing, and Ujjayi breathing:
The alternate nostril breathing is very effective in strengthening the central nervous system, releasing stress, treating depression, controlling cardiovascular diseases among many other things. For this technique, sit in a relaxed position, block your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through the left nostril.
Inhale till your point of comfort. Now block your left nostril with your ring finger and breathe out. Exhale for the same duration as your inhalation. Now inhale through the right nostril while blocking the left one with your ring finger and repeat the same process as mentioned above.
This completes your one round. Ten such rounds must be practiced initially, increasing the duration of inhalation and exhalation gradually. The ratio of 12:24 is ideal and it helps calm the brain and heart while making the nervous system strong.
Also called as frontal brain cleansing technique, Kapalbhati helps purify Ida and Pingala Nadis and prepares the mind for any kind of mental work or meditation.
It also helps to get rid of lethargy and helps one feel active. To practice this technique, sit in a comfortable position and inhale through both your nostrils as the abdomen expands naturally. Exhale with a quick contraction of the abdominal muscles but do not strain. Do five rounds of passive inhalation and forceful exhalation in the beginning, while remembering not to apply too much pressure.
As you have more practice you can gradually double the rounds. After completing the rounds, bring your focus between your eyes and feel the calm spreading inside. It is recommended that Kapalbhati must be practiced after asanas or neti and before pratyahara and Dharana techniques.
The pranayama technique also known as Bellow’s breath cleanses lungs and respiratory system by removing toxins, and improves the circulation of oxygen in the body. It can be performed at a slow, medium, or fast pace depending on your comfort level. Sit in padmasana or any other comfortable position and relax the body.
Take a deep breath in and exhale forcefully through your nose. Repeat the process with the same force. The abdomen expands while breathing in and contracts while breathing out. Ten sets of rapid inhalation and exhalation make for one round. This can be practiced till five rounds in the beginning. Bhastrika has an energizing effect on the entire body, removes excess phlegm, relaxes the mind, and tones abdomen muscles.
Named after the black bee, Bhramari Pranayama is very effective in de-stressing the mind, eliminating worries, and has a calming effect overall. It can be done anywhere with complete ease. For doing this pranayama, sit with your spine and back straight and relax your body.
Place your index fingers of both your hands on the ears. Take a deep breath in and press the cartilage with your fingers while exhaling. While doing this, make a loud humming sound from the back of your throat. Repeat it 3-4 times to see the difference. The pranayama is highly beneficial for those who have hypertension, anger issues, or anxiety.
This pranayama infuses energy channels with prana and reinvigorates the whole body. Yogic breathing involves three different sections of the abdomen and three lobes of the lungs. First, we take deep inhalation involving the abdomen, chest, and clavicular region.
While inhaling, allow the abdomen to rise and expand as much as it can. Once ribs have expanded, breathe in again to ensure collar bones move slightly up. Then exhale slowly allowing the collar bones and chest to rest. One complete inhalation and exhalation make for one round of yogic breathing. Repeat this 10-15 times.
Ujjayi breathing is also called ocean breath as while doing it the sounds made from the throat resemble that of an ocean. The pranayama releases tension boosts the immune system, improves memory, and improves sleep quality.
During Ujjayi breathing, heat is generated in the body and has a tranquilizing effect. For doing this, sit in a comfortable position with eyes closed and the body relaxed. Then take a few breaths in feeling the inhalation through the nostrils. Then take attention to the throat area.
As you inhale deeply gently, contract the glottis to make a snoring sound. Focus on the sound produced by breath. Ujjayi breathing improves the vitality of prana and removes negativity. Ujjayi breathing technique accentuates the benefits of asanas in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.