What is Pranayama ?

Pranayama - (from Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga)

The word 'Prana' means Breath that is the fundamental energy in one's body. On certain levels, Prana is a representation of the pranic energy that is liable for life and its force and the term 'Ayama' means control. Thus Pranayama means control of breath. By controlling the tempo of pranic energy by doing pranayama, one can get a healthy body and mind.

In Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has written that pranayama is the way by which an individual can achieve higher states of consciousness. He further adds that holding breath is a significant part of attaining Samadhi. Hatha Yoga focuses on 8 kinds of pranayama for getting a healthy body and mind.

Several pranic activities in the body depend on 5 kinds of prana- Apana, Prana, Samana, Udana and Vyan. From the list of 5, Apana and Prana are the most significant one. While Apana is downward flowing and Prana is upward flowing. By practicing Pranayam, an individual attains balance in the activities of Pranas that lead to a happy body and mind.

Types of Pranayama

  • Quiet, Deep and Fast Breathing
  • Pranayama and Tribandha
  • Bhramari Pranayama
  • Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama or Anuloma - Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing - I)
  • Anuloma - Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing - II)
  • Ujjayi Pranayama
  • Suryan Bhedan Pranayama (Right Nostril Breathing)
  • Pranayama from Hatha Yoga

Surya Bhedan, Bhasrika, Ujjayi, Shitali, Sitkari, Bhramari, Murchha & Plavini Pranayama

Preparing for Pranayama

Pranayam is as attractive and interesting as other Yoga asans. This art is mainly related to breathing, the pointer to life and thus doing it in a wrong way can be harmful for an individual. Because of this fear, many do not practice Pranayam. The other reason is that the unavailability of teachers who teach this art in a right way. And the fact cannot be ignored that doing Pranayam is a wrong manner, can really harm an individual. However, it does not mean that it is a difficult art and a common man cannot do it. On the other hand, if an individual learns and practices this art properly under the guidance of an expert, he learns quickly can even see the changes his life benefiting his hugely.

Significant Write-ups on Pranayama

  • Pranayama - Deep Breathing and Fast Breathing (Physiology & Techniques)
  • Pranayama - A Science of Breathing
  • Pranayama - Nadi shodhan, Anuloma - Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breathing

In Ashtanga Yoga by Patanjali, Pranayama comes on the 4th stage. This means that if an individual is practices Yama-Niamaya and Asanas in a correct way, only he can arrive at this state. By doing the preliminary asans correctly, one can do Pranayam. Even after one has mastered all the asans, preparing for Pranayam is an important thing and the same preparation is discussed here. Pranayam actually means taking hold of the process of exhaling and inhaling air during breathing. In Yogabhyasa's beginning, it is not possible to discuss about this. This discussion about preliminary exercises and the starting of Paranayam can be done here. Prior to the fact that you start breathing exercise, it is important that one understands the breathing process that mainly consists of exhaling and inhaling. In Yoga Shastra, the former one has been called Rechakra and the later one is called Puraka. These 2 actions start right from an individual's birth and goes till his death. In Yoga Studies, the action of halting these 2 activities is called Kumbhaka. The stop after exhaling is called Bahya Kumbjaka and that after inhaling is Abhyantara Kumbhaka.

Depending upon the speed of breathing, it has three divisions:

  • Quiet Breathing-Smooth breathing that goes on in a natural manner effortlessly
  • Deep Breathing- Prolonged breathing that happens because of deliberately slowing down breathing
  • Fast Breathing- Rapid breathing when the speed of breathing is increased deliberately.

Pranava Mudra for Pranayama (body gestures and mental attitudes)
While the right hand palm’s first 2 fingers have to be curved, the last 2 fingers have to be kept straight, held together. Thereafter, straighten-up your thumb. Now, bend your right hand in the elbow, keep the curved fingers in such a way that they come close to your lips. Place the hand from your shoulder to your elbow attached to your chest. Now keep the thumb of your right hand on the right side of your nose and the last 2 fingers on the nose’s left side. Press your thumb to close the right nasal cavity and close the left nasal cavity from the last 2 fingers. Light pressure must be applied right below the nasal bone. Close any 2 cavities by correct arrangement of your fingers and thumb.

Avoid moving the other parts. Keep your face relaxed for effective breathing. For practicing the actions of inhale and exhale, one is given 6 supplementary types are given where breathing speed is more. Practice these types by following any of these Asanas- Vajrasana, Padmasana or Swastikasana. After this, make Dyana Mudra from your left hand and Pranava Mudra from your right hand. Keep your eyes closed and concentrate on breathing.

Type 1

Keep both nostrils open and inhale and exhale from both the nasal passages. This type involves quick breathing from both the nostrils. Inhale and exhale in a quick speed and for comfortable duration.

Type 2

Keep your hand in Pranava Mudra and close your right nostril using your right hand’s thumb. Now use left nostril for inhaling as well as exhaling. This type is quick breathing using the left nostril.

Type 3

Close your left nostril in this type and use right nostril for quick breathing.

Type 4

In this type, first close your right nostril and inhale using your nostril. Now quickly close your left nostril and exhale from your right nostril. This is quick breathing by changing the nostrils.

Type 5

In this type, breathing action is just opposite from the above mentioned.

Type 6

This type of breathing is a combination of type 4 and 5. First you inhale from left nostril and exhale from the right one, after this you inhale from right nostril, exhaling from the left one. After this, you follow the same process- inhaling and exhaling from left and right nostrils, one by one alternately. Now, you increase the breathing speed that gets better after adequate practicing.

In the beginning, an individual must start with 11 cycles of breathing, increasing it to 121 easily after practice. This will happen if you will make breathing a part of all your Asanas on a daily basis. Practice this regularly for 2-3 minutes. Involve slow inhale and exhale in the case of all types. However, practicing these breathing types does not mean Pranayam. This is just preparing for actual Pranayam practice.