Pranayama, Its Types & Health Benefits
Pranayama is an extremely popular yoga exercise which has many types of which only a few are known to people. The practices of yoga have been done by wise people since the most ancient times. These practices have breathing as a central part of them. Breathing in a controlled way is known as pranayama. This article will inform you about what pranayama is; in how many different ways it can be done, what are the benefits of different forms of pranayama, how to practice for maximum benefit, and if there is any extra care that should be taken during or before practicing pranayama.
Introduction to Pranayama
Pranayama is commonly explained as the breathing exercise, but upon looking deeper into it we can understand that it can be broken into two words: Prana and ayama. Prana means breath, or sometimes also used in place of life; and ayama is used to convey the meaning of regulation, restrain, or elimination. Therefore the simple meaning of pranayama is the practice by which we can perform regulation, restraint, or elimination of breath, is known as Pranayama. However, the common translation ‘breathing exercises’ is not completely wrong since pranayama is actually practiced just like regular exercises.
Pranayama is a yoga practice which is a way of manipulation and regulation of our inhalation and exhalation by using specific techniques that were laid out by the wise authors of ancient Indian texts on yoga. The aim behind developing pranayama techniques must have been somewhat deeper but in today’s world it is more about being able to relax our body as well as mind by performing special methods of inhalation, exhalation, and restraint of the breath.
As has been mentioned in the ancient yoga texts, and modern experts also agree, that the ideal time to practice any yoga technique including pranayama is early morning, i.e. somewhere around dawn, and that too outdoors and at an empty stomach. Dawn has a great importance in yoga and Indian culture, because at this time the maximum benefit of any practice can be achieved.
The Pre-requisites of a Pranayama Practice
Before beginning the practice of pranayama, one must understand these basic concepts and assimilate them into their understanding of nature and themselves.
- Prana is the vital energy of the universe.
- Not an ordinary person but a true yogi can modify the rhythm of prana.
- Pranayama is not just a breathing practice but a method of attainment of Moksha.
- Every person can learn pranayama.
- Pranayama may bring undesired results if learnt from an ill-informed person.
- Pranayama affects the deepest levels of the body.
- Pranayama is a higher practice of yoga and requires dedication from your side.
- Before beginning pranayama one has to be adept in asana and should have cleansed their body by yogic techniques.
- Before beginning pranayama, one should closely learn about his natural breathing.
- Breathing can be normal (natural), fast (done quickly) or slow (intentionally slowed down).
- Both inhalation and exhalation should be calm and quiet if the technique doesn’t specify any other way.
- One should prepare themselves for pranayama by following the proper instructions of any yoga school or guru that they like.
General Benefits of Pranayama
- Pranayama teaches you to focus on your breath. This helps in stress reduction and management of anxiety and depression.
- Regular practice of pranayama encourages blood circulation in the body.
- It can thus also improve the function of the cardiovascular system.
- Pranayama can be done for various conditions such as headache, hypertension, stomach discomforts, breathing disorders etc.
- Pranayama relaxes the body and the mind and removes tiredness.
Types of Pranayama
According to the great Patanjali pranayama is done in the following steps:
- Pooraka: The first step in any kind of pranayama is inhalation. The Sanskrit word pooraka stands for inhaling.
- Kumbhaka: the second step in any pranayama practice after inhalation is restraining of the inhaled air. The Sanskrit word Kumbhaka in yoga stands for restraining.
- Rechaka: the final step in any pranayama practice is Rechaka, i.e. exhalation of the restrained air. The Sanskrit word Rechaka means exhaling.
Although there can be disagreements amongst the followers of various different schools of yoga about some techniques being named differently, but the essential techniques and their benefits are the same; pranayama can further be elaborated into the following main techniques:
1. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Starting by sitting in any easy posture. Keep the spine and the neck straight. This will be the basic position for most of the exercises. Using the thumb close the right nostril and from the other nostril inhale deeply. Restrain your breath for a second and then press the other nostril and release the first one. Exhale from this nostril. Repeat this several times.
Benefits: This is the most basic pranayama and prepares your body for higher yoga practices.
2. Sheetali Pranayama
This specific pranayama practice is done by starting in the basic position and first taking some deep breaths. Then, form your mouth in an opening such that teeth are visible. Now inhale through the mouth. Exhalation is done through the nose. Do this for 7 to 8 times.
Benefits: This is a cooling pranayama and cools the whole body and relaxes it.
3. Ujjayi Pranayama
This pranayama is done by contracting the throat muscles in a specific way. Begin in the basic position and first breathe from your mouth. Contract your throat muscles from the inside. You should be able to hear the sound of your breath. After a few breaths do the same procedure but with your mouth closed. Practice around ten to twelve times in total.
Benefits: This is a calming breath pranayama and induces calmness in the body as well as the mind.
4. Kapalbhati Pranayama
Starting with the basic position, take a deep breath and start exhaling forcefully. Suck the muscles of your belly inside with each exhalation. The belly muscles shall be moving all the time. Do this practice for at least ten minutes.
Benefits: This is an extremely beneficial pranayama for enhancing the blood flow and circulation in the whole body channels.
5. Deergha Pranayama
The base position in this pranayama will be different. Lie down on your back, and take a deep, deep breath. Keep the inspired breath in for some seconds and then release it completely. Do this for around seven times.
Benefits: This is a pranayama that offers maximum relaxation and eases tension.
6. Anuloma Viloma Pranayama
This is the most popular pranayama. In this you will start in the base position and then take deep breaths with one nostril at a time. Start by pressing the right nostril with your thumb and inhaling through the left. Then release the right nostril and exhale through it. Next, inhale with the right and exhale through the left. Repeat this for at least fifteen times.
Benefits: This pranayama purifies the blood.
7. Viloma Pranayama
In Viloma pranayama you will inhale through the left and exhale through the right nostril. Do this at least fifteen times.
Benefits: This is an easier version of full Anuloma Viloma pranayama. It offers similar benefits.
8. Anuloma Pranayama
In Anuloma pranayama you will inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left one. Do this at least fifteen times.
Benefits: This is also an easier version of full Anuloma Viloma pranayama. It offers similar benefits.
9. Bhramari Pranayama
In the base position, use your thumbs to close your ears and use the fingers to cover the eyes. Then, after a deep inhalation, you will do a deep humming with the exhalation. Do this at least three times.
Benefits: This is a deeply relaxing pranayama and is beneficial for everyone.
10. Bhastrika Pranayama
This pranayama is similar to Kapalbhati pranayama, but in this both the inhalation and the exhalation will be very fast. It should be done for short durations in the beginning.
Benefits: This has an effect similar to Kapalabhati.
11. Sheetkari Pranayama
It is quite similar to Sheetali pranayama, but in this your tongue will remain rolled during inhalation. The exhalation will be through the nose.
Benefits: This has an effect similar to Sheetali Pranayama.
12. Moorcha Pranayama
This pranayama is not for beginners since without proper practice and instruction it can cause you to faint. It requires constant exhalation.
Benefits: This is a higher practice of pranayama and shouldn’t be done without guidance from a guru.
13. Plavini Pranayama
This is done in water. With this pranayama such breaths are engulfed that the yogi floats on water with no breathing going on.
Benefits: This is a higher practice of pranayama and should only be performed by adept yogis.
Caution Regarding Pranayama Practice
More and more people are becoming interested in yoga practices, and after asanas, people’s craze is increasing for pranayama. Pranayama is a process that is related with the ‘prana’ i.e. the force governing life. Therefore, care should be taken before beginning pranayama and even during the practice, because pranayama is a deeper practice than physical exercises. It is actually true that improper guidance and poor technique of pranayama can do more harm than good and the practitioner will have adverse effects if they do not learn the proper technique and seek guidance from a guru. But, it does not at all mean that one should shy away from pranayama. One doesn’t have to be afraid of beginning a pranayama practice; they just have to seek proper guidance from an expert. On learning from a guru one learns faster and more easily, so much that this knowledge remains with them for many lifetimes.
- Some pranayama techniques may not suit people who suffer from chronic blood pressure abnormality.
- Pranayama should not be practiced when you are menstruating.
- The people who have undergone heart surgery should not practice without guidance.
- Pregnant women should not begin without supervision.
- People with breathing disorders need prior consultation and guidance with a yoga therapist.
Pranayama has many benefits on the body as well as the mind. Pranayama can be done alone or with other exercises. The best time to do it is in the morning. It should be noted that some pranayama (s) may not be advisable for some specific people depending on their individual state of health. Pranayama is generally safe but every yoga practice is scientifically formed since you must not begin any yoga practice on your own especially if you are pregnant or have any diseases or disorders. It is recommended that you seek guidance from a competent yoga therapist before starting doing any yoga practice.