It is a set of breathing exercises through regulation of inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath in a controlled manner, in order to cleanse and energize all the 7.2 million nadi or the energy channels and purify the Prana or the life force. Pranayama comes from two Sanskrit words- "Prana" meaning the life force and "aayam" meaning "exercise".
Pranayama is one of the eight limbs advocated by Patanjali Maharishi in Hatha Yoga practice. Hence pranayama is the science of regulating and extending the breath, so that the Prana or life force in the body energizes and provides vitality to each and every cell of the body. The mind and the breath are correlated. When the mind is constantly pinged by thought after thought after thought, the person's breath is irregular, erratic, shallow and in some cases, the breath is very fast. The quality of the breath is affected by mood changes. When in a calm state of the mind, one's breath is long and effortless. Similarly, when one consciously controls the breath, the thoughts change, moods change and the entire perspective of the world changes.
The main goal of pranayama is to raise the latent, sleeping power of kundalini through the Sushumna Nadi or the energy pathway. Normally the breath flows through either ida or pingala. The pranic pathway of Ida is through the left nostril and for pingala, it is through the right nostril. Thus pingala controls the left side of the brain and ida controls the right side of the brain. Ida, pingala and sushumna arise from the base of the mooladhara chakra or root chakra.
Ida and pingala cross each other like the figure of 8 around the spinal column. However, sushumna is in the middle and is a straight path. All the chakras or energy centers are housed in sushumna. The goal of pranayama is to channelize the pranic force that is flowing through ida and pingala, into the sushumna. Such a surge of prana force or in other words, the upward movement of the kundalini shakti spells the spiritual progress for the sadhaka, to ultimately unite with the cosmic consciousness or realize the Absolute truth.
Pranayama has 3 important processes. The process of inhalation of breath which is called Puraka, the process of breath retention called Kumbhaka and the process of breath exhalation called Rechaka. The quality of the breath (strong or weak), the length of the breath (long or short), the type of breath (from the lungs or abdomen), and the pace of the breath (fast or slow) have a significant impact on the pranayama practice.
There are innumerable benefits of practicing pranayama. Regular practice of pranayama gives the following physical benefits and more: The body is always energetic, alert, supple, full of strength, with vigor and vitality. It helps to control blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and many other psychosomatic illnesses without taking dangerous pills. It energizes the neural networks of the brain, slows down the death of the brain cells, as well as activates and recharges the endocrine and glandular systems, especially the liver and kidneys. Pranayama is an excellent blood purifier as it flushes the body with oxygen and promotes lung capacity and heart health. It wonderful means for weight loss without any side effects. It slows the aging process and the related discomforts and extends life. It enhances the defense mechanisms of the body against diseases, psychosomatic illnesses, poisonous chemicals etc.
Pranayama has been proven to cure many debilitating, fatal diseases that no medicine is known to cure Regular practice of pranayama has the following mental benefits and more: Pranayama increases memory, sound judgment, enhances power of discretion, profound awareness and to be present in every moment in life. It promotes a calm mind and gives control over emotions. It propels one to be in a state of equilibrium or samana stithi.
Pranayama fills one with unconditional love, attitude of selflessness and propels one to lead a virtuous life. The person has a charming countenance and other people, animals, birds, essentially all living beings or prani (meaning any being that has prana) are attracted and react with love to the person practicing pranayama.
Pranayama grants freedom from six crocodiles of Kama, Krodha (anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (attachment), Madh (Pride) and Matsarya (Jealousy). Pranayama impacts not only you, but your surroundings as well. It fills the people around you and the environment with peace, calmness and joy. Pranayama promotes inner strength, will power, resilience, intuition, wisdom and expands the consciousness and awareness beyond the Self.
Regular practice of pranayama has the following spiritual benefits and more: Pranayama is the only means to transcend the sheaths or Kosha that are wrapped around the soul. For more information, see Kosha Regular and proper practice of pranayama may give rise to super natural powers or siddhis in the person. It promotes spiritual progress in all the 3 states of existence- Jagrut avasta (awakened state), Swapna Avasta (dream state) and Sushupti (deep sleep state) It helps one to transcend the rajo and tamo guna (attributes) and be established in the Satva Guna.
The entire nadi systems or the energy channel network in the body is purified, cleansed and charged. Through regular practice, a person's aura glows. The divine energies of Ojas and Tejas increases in the body It opens the chakra pathway and promotes kundalini awakening. Pranayama helps to attain the Samadhi stithi (see Samadhi) and break the cycle of birth and death. It serves to realize the true nature of the soul as well as the union of the soul with the cosmic consciousness.
Rules for practicing pranayama
Early morning and the Agnihotra times are the best time for practicing pranayama. At the agnihotra times, the circadian rhythms of the environment are in sync with the biorhythms in the body that propels the mind and consciousness to a state of oneness. If morning is unsuitable, then it can be done during the evening, in a cool and pleasant atmosphere.
Pranayama must be practiced in empty stomach. There should be a minimum of 3 hrs of gap after a full meal, at least 1 hr of gap after any meal and at least half an hour of gap after drinking water. Pranayama is best practiced when bowels are empty. If you are practicing more than one session, the sessions should be spaced evenly during the day. You can do 6 sessions in a day with a gap of 4 hrs between each session or you can do 2 sessions a day with 12 hrs between each session.
Regularity and consistency is the key to pranayama practice. Pregnant women should not hold their breath at all. Never struggle or strain or force any breath. It is a smooth and natural process of progress and evolution. Bath should be taken after a minimum of half an hour gap after the pranayama practice.
Follow all pranayama practice with at least 15 minutes of shavasana or the corpse pose and relaxation. Yoga Nidra is highly beneficial. Pranayama should not be practiced immediately after eating, after a bath or vigorous physical exercise like aerobics, swimming or running, or after sex or during menstrual periods.
Pranayama should not be practiced when the body has fever, intense physical pain or under conditions of depression. Pranayama should be practiced under supervision of an expert teacher, if you suffer from asthma, heart problems, blood pressure problems, illnesses like pneumonia or while undergoing chemo therapy or rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol addiction.
Pranayama should be practiced under expert guidance if you suffer from severe depression, mood swing, suicidal tendencies, trauma or grief. Pranayama practice is not to be taken lightly. When in doubt, consult an expert and your physician. Types of pranayama and practice The basic rules for any pranayama practice are Wear comfortable loose and breathable clothing Practice in a stress free, peaceful, silent environment.
Sit comfortably in an erect posture like padmasana (Lotus pose), artha padmasana (Half Lotus pose), Vajrasana (Thunderbolt pose), Sukhasana (easy pose) or siddhasana (the perfect pose). If you cannot sit on the floor or in any of these poses, sit in a high backed, straight chair that will keep your spine and torso erect, knees close together, with both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Before practicing advanced breathing techniques like Bhastrika or Ujjayi, practice the cleansing breath of Nadi shodana for purifying the nadi or energy channels. Relax the body, while keeping the head, neck and the spine erect and in a straight line. No slouching or bending. The erect posture opens the pranic pathways, making energy flow possible. Bring your attention to the breath. Calmly watch the breath. Become one with the breath and watch the breath slow down. Now you are ready for practice.
Anuloma-viloma: or alternate nostril breathing or nadi shodana is the first breathing technique taught in the practice of Hatha Yoga. This technique purifies all the energy channels. It fills the body with strength, vigor and vitality. Regular practice brings a shine to the face. It rejuvenates the nervous system, floods the brain with oxygen and blood, flushes out the toxins from blood and the cells of the body.
Nadi shodana means cleansing of the nadi or the pranic pathways. It floods the body with prana and prepares the body for spiritual advancement. It energizes and balances both the right and left sides of the brain and enhances cognitive functions and logical thinking.
Sit erect in a comfortable posture. While breathing, breathe into the lungs and not into the stomach. Using the right hand thumb, close the right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril calmly as per your lung capacity. You can count 1,2,3... to estimate the length of your breath. After complete inhalation, close the left nostril with your right hand ring and pinky fingers. Exhale completely through the right nostril by removing the thumb. Do the reverse- Inhale again through the right nostril, and close it with the right thumb Exhale through the left nostril by removing the pinky and the ring fingers. This is one round of Anuloma-Viloma.
After you practice 3-10 rounds, change position. Start by closing the left nostril by the left thumb and inhaling through the right nostril. After complete inhalation, close the right nostril with the left ring and pinky fingers. Now open the left nostril by removing the thumb and exhale completely. Inhale again through the left nostril, close it with the thumb Exhale through the right by removing the ring and pinky fingers. There is no retention of breath here. Do 3-10 rounds in the alternate position. Your session is complete. Try to practice with sama vrutti or equal duration of breath during inhalation and exhalation. Start with 3-10 rounds on each side and slowly increase it to 30 rounds on each side per session by 45 days. Try to breathe without making any sound. If done properly, you will feel a surge of energy, a sense of peace, relaxation and calmness immediately after practice. This pranayama can be done in all the seasons and throughout the year.
Bhastrika: or the Bellows breath is an intensely stimulating pranayama. It rejuvenates the entire body, giving it a new life. It increases supply of blood to the brain and increases memory. It improves eyesight, hearing and gives clarity of speech. It recharges the respiratory system. It stimulates digestion and enhances metabolism. This pranayama in combination with Jalandhara bandha activates the manipura chakra and pulls the kundalini up towards the vishudda chakra. Hence the focus for this pranayama is the Manipura chakra.
Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Using the right hand thumb, close the right nostril in such a way that the right elbow is on the same level as the right shoulder. Inhale and exhale in a fast and rapid pace for 20 breaths, through the left nostril as per your lung capacity. You can count 1,2,3... to estimate the number of breaths. The abdominal wall pushes in and out like the movement of bellows.
After the 20th breath, deeply and slowly inhale, retain for as long as easily possible and exhale through the left nostril. Now close the left nostril with your right hand ring and pinky fingers. Inhale and exhale in a fast and rapid pace for 20 breaths, through the right nostril as per your lung capacity. You can count 1,2,3... to estimate the number of breaths. The abdominal wall pushes in and out like the movement of bellows.
After the 20th breath, deeply and slowly inhale, retain for as long as easily possible and exhale through the right nostril. Now place the palms on your knees. With both the nostrils, inhale and exhale in a fast and rapid pace for 20 breaths, through the both the nostrils as per your lung capacity. You can count 1,2,3... to estimate the number of breaths. The abdominal wall pushes in and out like the movement of bellows.
After the 20th breath, deeply and slowly inhale, retain for as long as easily possible and exhale through both the nostrils. This is one round of Bhastrika.
Take rest for a few breaths and repeat this entire cycle starting the next round with the right nostril. This pranayama can be done to a maximum of 4 rounds for beginners. The count should not be increased without the expert guidance of a teacher. Before the practice of this pranayama, nadi shodana pranayama should have been performed regularly for at least 3 months.
Ujjayi Pranayama: or the Conqueror's breath. This is a purifying or detoxifying pranayama that purifies the physical body and the subtle body. It also purifies the antahkarana, the karmendriya and the jnanendriya.
It drives away, negative thoughts, negative attitudes, laziness, depression and other negative emotions. This pranayama has profound effects when done in conjunction with the Mula Bandha. This pranayama is capable of destroying any poison in the body. There is a hissing sound produced when doing this pranayama.
This pranayama brings ekagratha or one-pointedness to the mind and silences the mind. Process Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Inhale deeply and slowly through both the nostrils Retain the breath for as long as easily possible Exhale slowly through the open mouth with a HAAAAAA sound or a whispering sound, by contracting the glottis or contracting the air passage. The breath actually hits the back of the throat.
Repeat 5 times and close the mouth Now inhale deeply and slowly through the nostrils and exhale deeply and slowly through the nostrils, while focusing the breath towards the back of the throat. This will result in a hissing sound. Start the cycle again
This pranayama can be done for 3-5 times initially. Before the practice of this pranayama, Anuloma-viloma pranayama should have been performed regularly for at least 3 months.
Bhramari: or the Bee breath is a wonderful aid to combat depression and mental tension. This breath opens the pranayama and very beneficial to the Vedic mantra chanters and singers.
It also promotes intellectual wisdom, intuition and intelligence. Bhramari when practiced with shanmukhi mudra gives immense mental relaxation and spiritual progress.
Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Inhale deeply and slowly through both the nostrils, drawing the base of the tongue to the throat wall. This can also be done by closing your ears with the index fingers and inhaling the breath through the nostrils. Retain the breath for as long as easily possible. Slightly tilt the chin and keep the lips closed tight. Exhale slowly through the nostrils, making a deep buzzing sound at the throat.
It sounds like a swarm of bees. Repeat 3 times and practice no more than 10 times.
Sitali: This is a cooling pranayama. It is practiced mostly during the summer months to cool the body down. Sitali. when done with the Jalandhara bandha cools the entire body when it feels hot. It stabilizes the body temperature. This pranayama can be practiced when thirsty to moisten the throat. Sitali controls the pitta prakruti of the body.
Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Relax head and shoulders, but stay erect. Stick the tongue out while curling the lateral sides of the tongue to form a channel or tube. Close the lips around the tongue channel in order to form an "O" around it. Such that the air can pass only through the tongue channel and there is no other gap available. Now draw the air in through the tongue channel slowly and deeply.
Feel the cooling air. Hear the smooth, hissing sound. Practice so that the sound is not rough or raspy or quivering. Then use the tip of the tongue to softly touch the inner top roof of the mouth and exhale deeply. The breath will come out of the nose. Repeat 3 times and practice no more than 10 times.
Sitkari: or the Teeth hissing breath. Sitkari controls hunger, laziness, excessive sleep and fatigue. The benefits are the same as sitali pranayama. Process Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Relax head and shoulders, but stay erect. Stick the tongue out. Curl the tongue in such a way that the tip of the tongue touches the upper palate and the mid part of the tongue touches the lower lip to form a horizontal channel or tube from left to right. Now draw the air in through the tongue channel slowly and deeply with a sli..sli...sliii sound. Feel the cooling air. Exhale deeply and slowly through both the nostrils. Repeat 3 times and practice no more than 10 times.
Kapalbhati: or the Skull shining breath. Kapalbhati consists of short rapid, forceful inhalations and exhalations that expels all the negative energy, pain, fear, misery, grief or stress. It is a very powerful pranayama technique that purifies the physical, subtle and the causal bodies. It is a wonderful pranayama for weight loss. It stimulated digestion and metabolism. It promotes healthy circulation, digestive and excretory systems. It floods the body with prana or the life force.
Regular practice of the pranayama actually gets the aura of a person to shine brilliantly and can be seen even by an untrained eye. It strengthens the will, enhances the power of discretion, tones and energizes the physical body. The effects are best realized when practiced.
Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Keep you're the eyes and the mouth closed and focus on the lower belly. After a few deep inhalations and exhalations, quickly contract the lower belly muscle, forcing and expelling the air out of the lungs. It creates a "Hisshh" like sound. The other way to do it is to forcefully inhale and exhale out of the lungs. Due to the movement of the air, the belly will automatically move in and out. The belly is drawn in while you exhale. Inhale passively without any effort as the belly goes back to the original position. Exhale forcefully again. Repeat the steps continuously for 20 times and increase practice to upto doing atleast a 100 times continuously in one cycle.
Antar Bahya Kumbhaka Pranayama
Antar Bahya Kumbhaka: or the Internal and External retention on breath. Kumbhaka means retention of breath. This is the most highest and very powerful spiritual practice. Here the in-going breath, the out-going breath and the retention is controlled. This is the highest form of Agnihotra, where the out-going breath is offered as the ahuti or offering into the in-going breath.
When a seeker achieves perfection in this state, he is absolved from all the duties and karma. He easily attains the state of infinity or kaivalya stithi or state of Samadhi.
It is a very powerful pranayama technique that purifies the physical, subtle and the causal bodies. During this breathing cycle, no strain should be felt.
Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Keep you're the eyes and the mouth closed and focus on the breath. When one with the breath, do 4 cycles of Anuloma-Viloma pranayama. Now you are ready for Antar Kumbhaka, i.e. Retention of breath after inhalation. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril for a count of 2. Now close the left nostril with the right ring and pinky fingers. Hold the breath within. If you inhale for the count of 2, then you should hold the breath for 4 counts. Now open the right nostril by removing the right thumb and exhale for 8 counts.
If you can do the mula and jalandhara bandha during the retention, along with this pranayama, you would achieve tremendous spiritual progress. Repeat the steps with the other nostril. This completes one cycle of Antar Kumbhaka pranayama Repeat for 3- 10 cycles, as you feel comfortable. End with at least 15 mins of shavasana or yoga nidra.
For Bahya Kumbhaka Pranayama, i.e, Retention of breath before inhalation Sit erect in a comfortable posture. Keep you're the eyes and the mouth closed and focus on the breath. When one with the breath, do 4 cycles of Anuloma-Viloma pranayama.
Now you are ready for Bahya Kumbhaka, i.e. Retention of breath before inhalation. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril for a count of 2. Now close the left nostril with the right ring and pinky fingers. Now open the right nostril by removing the right thumb and exhale for 8 counts. Once you exhale completely, do not breathe in for 4 counts. Now start the inhalation for 2 counts in the nostril that you exhaled with. Repeat the steps.
This completes one cycle of Bahya Kumbhaka pranayama Repeat for 3- 10 cycles, as you feel comfortable. Both of these pranayama, help tremendously to silence the mind and give tremendous concentration.
A seeker can make phenomenal progress in a short time of sincere practice. The count should not be increased without the expert guidance of a teacher. Before the practice of this pranayama, nadi shodana pranayama should have been performed regularly for at least 3 months.