What is Pranayam?
Pranayam is the practice of breath control in yoga. It is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.
Prana refers to the life force and ayama means to control it (suspension of breath).
According to Bhagavad-Gita, pranayam is translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing”.
Prana is the vital life energy needed by our physical and inner dimension.This life force in us nourishes the mind and keeps the body alive.
What is the importance of Pranayam?
The practice of pranayama achieves command over the life energy in the body, i.e. it is conscious breathing.
What are the main points to consider when doing Pranayam?
Perhaps the most important instructions in pranayama practice are that:
· the practitioner should be completely relaxed; and
· the spine – the main body – is completely straight during every technique. The two major energy channels in the body, called nadis (ida and pingala) runs along each side of the spine, so if the spine is straight then it will facilitate spontaneous flow of prana starting at this area and helping it move throughout the body. If the spine is bent or curved, then the entire energy passage is distracted.
When should one not practice Pranayam ?
Pranayama should not be practiced if one is unwell or has a fever.
Why people fail at doing Pranayam effectively?
When practicing pranayama for the first time, very few new practitioners understand the concept of working with the breath in such an intensive way.
After having tried it for some time, many people stop practicing pranayama because they don’t understand it properly.
How to learn Pranayam easily?
It is important that people ease into the Pranayam practice and be aware of the benefits of staying with it. It is more important to go slowly and build up your capacity.
Since most people do not have a deep understanding of their breath, it is important that practitioners do not over-extend themselves in the beginning of pranayama practice.
Different Breathing techniques
Before detailing the techniques of the Pranayam and their categories, we need to become more aware of our breathing generally, so first we will provide techniques for basic breathing methods.
BASIC BREATHING METHODS
There are three basic mechanisms of breathing:
- Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing;
- Thoracic or chest breathing; and
- Clavicular breathing.
Although abdominal breathing is not natural for many people, with persistence, abdominal breathing does become automatic. Practice first in Shavasana, then in a sitting or standing position.
To know in details about basic breathing techniques , check here Basic Breathing Techniques
What are the different type of Pranayam ?
Types of Pranayam
There are five major categories of pranayama:
- Balancing breathing – There are two types of breathing practice which balance the prana: Anulomaviloma and Nadi Shodana.
- Cooling (or tranquillizing) breathing – This type of breathing is mostly used in extremely hot weather when the body needs to be cooled naturally. There are two categories of cooling breathing: Sheetal and Sheetkari.
- Calming breathing – Ujjayi pranayama helps to calm the system.
- Vibrative breathing – Brahmari breathing is performed to achieve a vibrative sound which is a powerful tool to help remove blockages of prana from the astral body.
- Dynamic breathing – This cleans the system and helps bring the mind into the present. It is a powerful method for reaching a state of thoughtlessness. There are two categories of dynamic breathing: Kapalabhati and Bhastrika. Both methods create the same effect – cleaning the system and bringing the mind into the present. The difference is the awareness (abdomen vs chest).
Some of the Pranayama to practice
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- Sit in a comfortable cross legged position.
- Using Nasikagre mudra, block off the right nostril with the thumb and breath in evenly through the left nostril.
- At the completion of inhalation, close the left nostril, open the right and exhale through the right nostril.
- Keep the right nostril open and inhale through it; then close the right, open the left nostril and exhale through it. This is one round.
- Practice up to 15 rounds.
- Respiration should be slow and soundless, and awareness should be maintained on the breath.
If any tension, tightness or breathlessness is experienced, it is an indication that the body has gone beyond its capacity and you need to return to the previous stage of the practice.
Brahmari Pranayama (humming bee breath)
: Basic method
- Sit in a comfortable meditative pose.
- Close the eyes and relax the whole body.
- The lips should remain gently closed with the teeth slightly apart throughout the practice. Make sure the jaws are relaxed.
- Raise the arms sideways and bend the elbows, bringing the hands to the ears. Use the thumb to plug the ears, and cover the eyes with the remaining fingers. The flaps of the ears may be pressed without inserting the fingers.
- Keeping the mouth closed, exhale slowly and in a controlled manner while making a deep, steady humming sound like that of the black bee. The sound should be smooth, even and continuous.
- Listen to the sound with the awareness focused in the centre of the head. The sound should be soft and deep, making the front of the skull reverberate.
- This is one round. At the end of the exhalation, breath in deeply and repeat. Practice 5-10 rounds.
Help remove blockages of prana from the astral body.
Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath)
Advantage of Bhastirka
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged pose. Padmasana, Siddhasana or Siddha Yoni Asana are the best as they provide the stable base needed for the rapid breathing. Close the eyes and place the hands on the knees.
- Breathe in deeply and slowly and breathe out forcefully through the nose, but without strain. Breathe in immediately afterwards with the same force.
- Continue to breathe in and out 10 times with slightly exaggerated movements of the diaphragm and abdomen. This is one round.
- Try to establish a perfect rhythm of equalised inhalation and exhalation; the movement of the abdomen must correspond with the breath.
- Practice slowly at first, with approximately one breath every 2 seconds, understanding the push-pull of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.
- As you become accustomed to the style of breathing, gradually increase the speed to one breath per second, then two breaths per second, without the breath becoming shallow.
- Hypo-ventilation can occur if the air is not fully expelled from the lungs on each exhalation; this shows that the technique is not being performed correctly.
- Practice up to 5 rounds, breathing normally in between each round.
· The rapid exchange of air in the lungs increases oxygen levels, and decreases carbon dioxide levels. This stimulates the metabolic rates throughout the body down to the cellular level, producing heat and flushing out wastes and toxins.
· The rapid, rhythmic movement of the diaphragm stimulates and massages the visceral organs, improving digestive and excretory functions in a sluggish system.
· Bhastrika builds up resistance to colds, excess mucus, and helps eliminate sinusitis.
· Bhastrika increases the generation of samana vayu, which replenishes the pranic store and stimulates the whole pranic system.
· Duration of breath retention can be increased, creating ideal conditions for Kevala kumbhaka. For this reason, it is a suitable preliminary practice for nadi shodhana.
· Bhastrika is also said to awaken kundalini.
Contra-indications (not to be done in following conditions)
· High blood pressure, ulcers, hernia and heart disease.
· People suffering from lung diseases, e.g. asthma and chronic bronchitis, or in the recovery of tuberculosis should practise Bhastrika only under medical guidance.
Kapalabhati Pranayama (frontal brain cleansing breath)
Advantages of Kapalabhati:
- Choose a stable asana such as Padmasana, Siddhasana or Siddha Yoni Asana.
- Place the hands on the knees in chin mudra to further stabilise the asana. Make the body and breath steady and relaxed, close the eyes.
- Close the right nostril and commence forceful exhalation through the left nostril, allowing inhalation to occur spontaneously.
- Practice to the speed of about one breath per second, for 10 breaths.
- On completion of the breaths, sit quietly and breathe normally for a minute or so before beginning the process on the other side.
- Practice up to 5 rounds on each side.
- When this can be done comfortably, increase the number of breaths to 20.
· Kapalabhati purifies the whole body by accelerating the replacement of alveolar air, stimulating the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, at the same time increasing oxygen concentration in the alveoli. The total effect is one of cleansing, and increasing metabolism throughout the body. The increased metabolic rate and oxygen supply to the brain have an awakening effect on the brain, while at the same time, excess thoughts are eliminated.
· It is a useful practice for sufferers of asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and tuberculosis.
Contra-indications (not to be done in following conditions)
· High blood pressure, vertigo, hernia and heart disease.
· If dizziness or fainting is experienced during the practice, have your technique checked by an experienced teacher.
MUDRAS (HAND GESTURES) RELEVANT TO PRANAYAMA
The following mudras are the ones most relevant to pranayama:
Pranau Mudra (nose mudra)
Jnana Mudra (psychic gesture of knowledge)
Chin Mudra (psychic gesture of consciousness)