Prana refers to the sum-total of all manifested energy in the universe. It is the entity which nourishes the living beings by flowing through the subtle channels of the body called as ‘Nadis’. ‘Ayama’ means ‘expansion’ or ‘extension’. Thus, Pranayama means ‘expansion or extension of the breath’.
Important points before commencing Pranayama practices:
- You need to learn Pranayama under the guidance of an expert. Further, in the case of any illnesses or during pregnancy, you should practice pranayama in consensus with your treating physician.
- These practices should be performed seated on the ground. However, if you are unable to sit down, you can sit on a chair and do it.
- All the practices should be done with your eyes closed.
There are few purificatory practices called as ‘kriyas’ which are performed before starting the core pranayama practices. The two common purificatory practices are Kapala Bhati and Bhastrika. But, Bhastrika is also considered as an advanced pranayama practice. In case you are a beginner, it is suggested to practice the ‘Kriyas’ also under the guidance of a Yoga expert.
a) Kapala Bhati
Meaning: Kapala means ‘forehead’ and Bhati means ‘to glow’.
Method: Meditative poses include Vajrasana, Padmasana, Sukhasana.
- Sit in any meditative pose of your choice.
- Sit erect with your shoulders relaxed.
- Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, flap your abdomen actively i.e., contract and relax your abdominal muscles continuously.
- Let the inhalation take place passively.
- Start slowly and gradually increase the speed.
- You can start with 20 strokes/minute and extend till 100 strokes/minute.
- Once you stop the practice, you can feel the cessation of your breath.
- After a while, take a deep breath and exhale slowly and completely.
- Physical: Cleanses your respiratory passage, helps in weight loss, relieves constipation, reduces abdominal fat, helpful in respiratory diseases like allergies and asthma.
- Mental: Reduces fatigue, refreshes your mind and keeps you active the entire day.
- Emotional: Regular practice of this kriya keeps the emotions in a balanced state.
Caution and contra-indication:
- People with hypertension or heart disease must do this kriya slowly.
- Women during menstruation can do this practice, only if they are comfortable.
- A pregnant woman should not perform this practice.
This practice is considered as both kriya and advanced pranayama practice.
Meaning: “Bellows Breath” Rapid succession of forcible expiration.
- Inhale deeply through your nostrils and exhale forcibly through your nostrils.
- Breathe in immediately expanding your abdominal muscles.
- Breathe out contracting your abdominal muscles. This is one round.
- The movements should be exaggerated.
- You can continue to practice up to 5 rounds.
- Beginners are advised to do it slowly.
- Physical: This practice increases appetite, reduces obesity, improves lung function.
- Mental: Improves your concentration by relaxing the mind.
- Emotional: Enhances your inner peace.
Caution and contra-indication:
- Bhastrika is an advanced pranayama practice. Those individuals who have lung disease, heart problems and hypertension should do it slowly and cautiously.
Core Pranayama practice:
c) Nadi Shodhana or Anuloma Viloma Pranayama
Meaning: Balancing the breath.
- Adopt Nasikagra mudra, i.e., bend your forefinger and the middle finger of your right hand such that they touch the base of the thumb. Keep the ring finger and the little finger fully extended.
- Now close your right nostril with the right thumb.
- Exhale completely through your left nostril.
- Then, breathe in deeply through the same nostril.
- Now, close your left nostril with the middle and ring finger and breathe out from the right nostril.
- Again breathe in deeply from your right nostril and close it with your right thumb.
- Then, open your left nostril and breathe out completely.
- Completion of all the steps mentioned above indicates the completion of one round.
- There are no specific number of rounds that one should do. However, based on your capacity, you can perform up to nine rounds or more.
- Physical: Improves the function of your lungs, soothes your nervous system. Also, it is useful in asthma, migraine, gastric problems, heart blockage (coronary artery blockage) and neurological problems.
- Mental: Relaxes your mind and improves concentration.
- Emotional: Reduces anxiety, anger and frustrations.
Caution and contra-indication:
- Individuals of all the age groups can do this particular practice.
- There are ‘NO’ contraindications except that you need to practice on an empty stomach and you should not exert too much pressure while doing this practice.
Meaning: Hissing Breath
- Touch your tongue to the upper floor of your mouth.
- Gently join the upper and lower rows of teeth.
- Open your lips and inhale through the crevices of your teeth making a hissing sound (SSS).
- Slowly exhale through your nostrils. This makes one round.
- You can perform up to 5 rounds.
Meaning: Cooling breath
- Fold both sides of your tongue and make a tube.
- Take a deep breath through the tube and close your mouth.
- Your breath should produce the sucking sound.
- Exhale through the nostrils.
- Feel the coolness in your mouth
- Repeat this practice for five rounds.
- You can increase gradually up to 15 rounds. During summer, you can even go up to 60 rounds.
Benefits of Sheetali and Sheetakari:
- Physical: They are helpful during fever and mouth related diseases.
- Mental: They are good stress buster which calms your mind and induces sleep.
- Emotional: These two pranayamas reduce your emotional excitation and depression.
Contra-indications and caution:
- Both these cooling pranayamas have to be avoided during winter.
- Individuals with low blood pressure or respiratory disorders like asthma and bronchitis should avoid these practices.
- People who are having sensitive teeth, missing teeth or dentures should avoid doing sheetakari pranayama. However, there are no restrictions to practice sheetali pranayama.
Meaning: Humming bee breath
- Press the tragus (prominence on the inner side of the external ear) of both the ears with your thumb. Keep your index fingers on the forehead and remaining fingers on your closed eyes.
- Inhale deeply through your nostrils.
- As you exhale, make the sound ‘MMM’ which sounds similar to the sound of a honey bee.
- Repeat this practice for a minimum of nine rounds.
- Physical: It is a beneficial practice if you are diagnosed with neurological issues. This is a safe practice that can be performed by pregnant women as well.
- Mental: It calms your mind and induces sleep.
- Emotional: It helps to relieve your stress, anger and anxiety.
- Those diagnosed with heart diseases should not hold their breath for a long duration of time.
- Those who have any ear related disease should consult their doctors before commencing this practice.
Meaning: Ocean breath or victorious breath
- Take a deep breath through your nostrils.
- As you inhale, gently contract your throat such that, the air touches the wall of your throat.
- As the air comes in contact with the throat, it produces a soft snoring sound. Do not exert too much of pressure to make the sound.
- You alone should be able to hear this sound.
- Perform this practice gently and in a relaxed manner.
- Slowly, exhale through your nostrils.
- You can begin with ten breaths and gradually increase up to 5 minutes.
- Physical: It generates heat in the body, reduces sinus related issues, thyroid, heart-related issues, migraine, rheumatism and asthma.
- Mental: It has a tranquillizing effect on the mind.
- Emotional: As the name suggests, ujjayi helps to conquer your shortcomings and develop a positive outlook on life.
Caution and contra-indications:
- Do not tighten too much or exert pressure while doing the practice.
- Ujjayi pranayama can be performed with bandhas (bandhas are specific body postures used to hold inhaled air during certain pranayamas). But, those who are diagnosed with hypertension or heart diseases must avoid doing this practice.
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- Kapala bhati Pranayama (Steps and benefits). Sarvyoga. http://www.sarvyoga.com/kapalbhati-pranayama-steps-and-benefits/. Accessed on October 6,2016.
- Swami Satyananada Saraswati. Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha. Yoga publications Trust, Munger, Bihar,India.
- What is Prana? Yoga magazine for Bihar school of Yoga. http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2009/haug09/prana.shtml. Accessed on December 7,2016.