According to ancient yogic science, ‘prana’, or the fundamental basis of life force, is a universal energy that gives vitality and life to all living beings. Pranayama refers to techniques that are used to harness and control this life-giving energy for our physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. It is a compound of three breath exercises of purak (inhalation of the breath), kumbhak (retention of the breath), and rechak (discharge of the breath). These broadly concentrate on lengthening, expanding, restraining, extending, and stopping of the breath in precise patterns to help us gain tremendous health and neurological benefits.
When pranayama is combined with yoga, which is a group of spiritual, mental, and physical poses or asanas aimed at unifying the mind and the body and bringing harmony between them, it leads to one attaining supreme control of the mind over the body, liberation, and self-purification. The lack of a constant flow or blockages in one’s breath is said to lead to a ruffled state of mind, feelings of perturbation, stress, and inability to control one’s emotions. Not paying attention to one’s breath and how it flows through the body may also lead to obstructions in the chakras i.e. the energy centres of the body. This often results in physical manifestations in the form of several illnesses and disorders. Pranayama asanas can be practiced as either distinct breathing exercises i.e. without yoga poses or can be done between the asanas.
The essence of the ancient art of pranayam lies in the fact that it is extremely easy to practice it in the comfort of your home. You don’t need to visit a yoga studio every time you want to practice pranayama, and can practice it at home by following these easy steps: Before starting the practice of pranayama at home, it is essential to learn it. Without getting proper guidance, your pranayama exercise may do more harm than good. Make sure to get good yoga pranayama video or audio tutorials at home. For practicing pranayama asanas, you should choose a corner in your house that is calm and free of noisy distractions. The spot that you choose for your pranayama asanas must be clean and free of dirt and pollution. For doing pranayama exercises at home, you need very basic things like a yoga mat, yoga blocks, and a cushion to sit on. You may want to get CDs of relaxing music to help you practice mindfulness during yogasana pranayama. Pranayama, due to its calmness inducing effects, has a great benefit for people who are undergoing treatments like chemotherapy. It helps them in not only handling aggressive treatments but also helps in reducing their anxiety and improving the quality of life.
Pranayama exercises can be done by anyone who wants to attain the purification of mind and healthy life. Pranayam can be done by: Children above the age of 8 years can do pranayama for beginners. Seniors can incorporate pranayama steps in their routine. Pranayam serves as a very effective restorative process for people who have undergone surgeries. People who are recovering from injuries or illnesses can do yoga pranayama to help them recover. Pranayama, except Kapalbhati, can be practiced during and after pregnancy. However, a doctor’s approval is mandatory before starting.
There are certain categories of people and conditions that may render pranayama ineffective or even risky. These include: Children below the age of 8 years. Pregnant women and those who have just delivered a baby should not perform Kapalbhati. People who have been feeling stress and anxiety should avoid practicing pranayam since it may increase the body’s heat and lead to anger and irritability. People suffering from heart diseases, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, or hernia are not allowed to do types of pranayama like Kapalbhati, Bhastrika, Agnisar, and Shitkari. People who have undergone stomach surgeries should not perform Kapalbhati and Agnisar types of pranayama.
Here is a list of some of the most effective types of pranayama: Anuloma viloma Dirgha Shitali Ujjayi Bhramari Bhastrika Kapalbhati Sheetkari
Here is a step-by-step explanation of the various types of pranayama:
This is one of the most effective pranayam for lung health and for reducing stress and inducing calmness. This is also considered to be amongst the most effective techniques of pranayama for weight loss. Sit in a cross-legged position and exhale. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril and inhale deeply from the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with your spare finger and open your right nostril and exhale completely. Inhale through the right nostril and close it. Time: 5 minutes 5-6 times in a day Repetitions: 60 times
This is one of the easiest pranayama techniques for beginners and involves breathing into three separate parts of your abdomen. This is also one of the best types of pranayama for lungs. Lay down on your back and breathe into the belly as you watch it expand. Draw more breath to fill your rib cage with oxygen. Draw even more breath and feel your chest filling up with it. Begin to exhale starting with your chest and then the rib cage. Finally, release air from your belly. Time: 5 minutes 5-6 times in a day Repetitions: 10-12 breaths make one cycle.
This is an easy technique of pranayama for beginners and is very effective to cool down your body, especially in summers. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position and take a few deep inhales and exhales to warm-up. Roll your tongue in an ‘O’ shape and stick it out through your curled lips. Start inhaling slowly through your mouth and hold your breath for a few seconds. Exhale through your nostrils. Time: 3-4 minutes 5 times in a day Repetitions: 8-15 cycles of 10-12 breaths.
This is a very effective technique of pranayam for high BP. Since this pranayama breathing technique focuses on creating an ocean-like sound, it induces calmness and mindfulness. Sit cross-legged and breathe through your mouth. Constrict the back of your throat and close your mouth. Continue to breathe through the nose, keeping your throat in a constricted position. Time: 3-4 minutes 5 times in a day Repetitions: 5-10 cycles
This is one of the most effective pranayama breathing techniques for calming the mind and strengthening the lungs. Sit in a cross-legged pranayama posture and close your eyes. Cover your eyes and ears with your fingers and thumbs. Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly as you make a buzzing sound like that of a bee. You can also recite ‘OM’ instead of the buzzing sound. Time: 5-10 minutes 5 times in a day Repetitions: 5-10 cycles
This is one of the most effective techniques of pranayama for strengthening the digestive & respiratory systems and tightening the abdominal muscles. This is also counted amongst the best techniques of pranayama for weight loss. Sit in a cross-legged position and inhale deeply through your nostrils. Exhale forcefully through the nostrils as you use your diaphragm to pump out the air. Keep inhaling and exhaling. Then take a deep breath and hold it in for as long as it feels comfortable. Slowly release the breath with a deep exhalation. Time: 7-8 minutes 10 times in a day Repetitions: 3-5 cycles
This is one of the most effective techniques of pranayama for weight loss and is also helpful in reducing the risk of diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure. This pranayam technique also helps in fighting stress and depression. Sit cross-legged and place your hands on your knees. Inhale deeply through both the nostrils. Exhale forcefully. You can also use your hands to put gentle pressure on your belly. Your inhalation should be passive. Time: 7-8 minutes 2-3 times in a day Repetitions: 65-70 cycles
Sit in a comfortable meditation pranayama posture with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Place your hands on your knees and close your eyes. Join your upper and lower teeth and fix the front portion of your tongue against the front teeth. Separate your lips and inhale from the mouth making an ‘OM’ sound. Hold your breath for as long as you can. Exhale through both the nostrils.
Pranayama has tremendous benefits for our physical and neurological health. Some of the most important benefits of pranayama yoga steps include: Our digestive system is closely linked to our nervous system and the health of one mirrors the other. Pranayam helps in calming the mind that reduces the occurrence of gastrointestinal problems like gas, constipation, hyperacidity, etc. Due to controlled and patterned breathing involved in asanas, pranayama is very beneficial for maintaining the health of our respiratory system. It helps in improving the endurance of our respiratory system and in preventing asthma, shortness of breath, etc. Due to the rhythmic breathing asanas, pranayama is helpful in reducing the inflammatory effects of the sinus, filtering the allergens, and improving the draining of sinus passages. The importance of pranayama for high bp is well-known. It helps in stimulating the cells of the body resulting in better oxygen intake. This helps in better blood circulation and reduces pulse pressure and mean arterial pressure. Deep breathing pranayama exercises help in regulating the inflammatory markers in the body. This in turn helps in improving immunity and preventing infections. Yoga pranayama, when combined, has a great impact on improving the quality of our sleep patterns. This helps in reducing fatigue and improving our personal and professional productivity. There is a tremendous impact on our cognitive functioning when yoga pranayama is combined. They help in inducing a state of mindfulness that helps in improving our reactions, memory, and retentive power. When combined with Surya Namaskar yoga, pranayama helps in improving women’s reproductive health and assists in childbirth. The combination of yoga pranayama helps in stimulating the pancreas that in turn helps in releasing insulin. This is beneficial in reducing the occurrence of diabetes and management of its symptoms.
While there are no inherent disadvantages of pranayam, some risks may occur due to not following pranayama steps properly. These include: Pranayam is much more than simple and gentle breathing exercises. Not learning how to do its steps from an expert may cause more harm than good. Not maintaining the correct pranayama posture while practicing it may lead to backache or strain. Doing yogasan pranayam without proper guidance may lead to strains and sprains in your muscles and limbs. Since yogasan pranayama produces body heat, overdoing these postures may cause fatigue and stress. Doing yoga asana pranayama in a hurry may lead to illness or injuries.
Here are some tips that one must follow to gain the benefits of pranayama. Dos: Practice pranayam on an empty stomach. When combining yoga pranayama, always incorporate a warm-up and cool-down session to avoid fatigue.
Don’ts: Don’t perform pranayam when you are stressed or anxious. It may put unnecessary pressure on your heart. Pranayama techniques for beginners must not be started without proper guidance to avoid illnesses and injuries. Overdoing pranayama yoga steps may lead to destabilisation in the joints and sprains. Pregnant and menstruating women must never do pranayama steps without consulting their doctor. People with a hernia, high blood pressure, heart diseases, celiac disease, and those who have undergone stomach surgeries must always consult their doctor before doing pranayama breathing exercises.
Here are the things required to do pranayam at a yoga studio: Comfortable and breathable clothing Yoga blocks Towels for your hands and the yoga mat A water bottle Things that you may require while doing pranayam at home include: Comfortable and breathable clothing Yoga blocks Yoga mat Water