Pranayama

Original Editor - Ashmita Patrao

Top Contributors - Ashmita Patrao  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The air that we breathe is a passport for life. Through exercise we take in huge amount of oxygen for existence. Pranayama is the science of breath control first practised in India. It is a concious control of breathing in the life giving oxygen into our body. The ancient texts say that retention of air, increases the level of prana (energy) in the body, also it regulates the flow of pranic energy through out the body. So Pranayama helps remove all the ailments and also can stop the aging process of the body.

Prana means 'life force' and ayama is 'the extension of life force'. When breathing the inhalation and exhalation of breath cleanses and purifies an individual, energize an overexcited body and yet calm the agitated mind.

Mind and breath: The mind, consisting of thoughts and emotions is closely related to the breath. When the mind is calm and relaxed, the breathing is smooth and slow.

If you are stressed breathing is fast & shallow but mostly through chest. When one gets angry, the breathing becomes fast and forceful. In depressed states sighing. When in pain gasping. In anxiety shallow and rapid. In this way, the mental and emotional states affect breathing.[1]

Physiology of Pranayama breathing[edit | edit source]

In process of breathing, one uses diaphragm, intercostals muscles in the chest. The diaphragmatic breathing is called vertical breathing and is considered a more efficient way to inhale air than inhaling while expanding the chest which is called horizontal breathing. The diaphragm helps utilise more oxygen. As this huge muscle is attached to the internal organs like the spleen , liver, pancreas and stomach, its movement helps in the smooth functioning of these vital organs [2]

Benefits of Pranayama[edit | edit source]

Pranayama has demonstrated improvement in various cardiorespiratory conditions.

  • Asthma: It has reduced the following parameters systolic blood pressure, pulse rate, functional vital capacity, peak expiratory flow rate and FEV1. Additionally it demonstrated a reduction in the frequency of attacks, severity, medication requirement in addition to an improved quality of life.
  • COPD: there was a reduction in attacks, medication requirement and symptom severity, and an improved quality of life. Activity and impact scores also improved significantly.
  • Cancer patients: Improved emotions, fatigues, reduced anxiety and increase sleep.
  • Cardiac patients and hypertensive patients: Both SBP and DBP were reduced incase of pranayama, with a reduction in anxiety. Thus pranayama has proved beneficial indicating physiological and psychological benefits.[3][4]

Steps in pranayama[edit | edit source]

1. Pooraka (Inhalation)

2. Rechaka (Exhalation)

3. Kumbhaka (Retention): this step includes breath holding after inhalation and breath holding after exhalation

Types of Pranayama[edit | edit source]


Observation of normal breathing process which involves observation of the normal inhalation process ie inhalation through the nose or mouth. Awareness of chest and stomach movement in breathing, feeling the oxygen entering.

Energy enhancing breaths:[edit | edit source]

Kapalabhati (Skull shining): To perform the kapalabhati pranayama technique, sit in a comfortable position crossing your legs. Perform two to three deep inhales and exhales. Now inhale deeply and exhale forcefully drawing all the air out. Your belly should be drawn in, as you exhale. When you inhale, let it happen passively without you making any effort to inhale as the belly goes back to normal position. Exhale forcefully again and continue doing this for about 20 to 30 times.

Bastrika (Bellous breathing): This literally means one has to operate lungs like the bellow, fast inhalation and fast exhalation.it can be performed with kumbhaka and bandhas. This is vitalizing type of Pranayama. This rhythmic inhalation and exhalation stimulates the circulation of cerebral fluid, creating compression and decompression in the brain. Rhythmic diaphragm movements stimulate heart & lung muscles improving blood circulation. Accelerated blood circulation and rate of gas exchange in each cell produces heat and washes out gases.

Murcha (the retraining breath): This type of Pranayama induces a state of "conscious unconsciousness" (in the words of Swami Satyananda of Bihar School of Yoga). One should inhale through both the nostrils, the kumbhaka with Bandhas, but while exhaling the Jalandhar Bandha (Chin Lock) is kept intact and then exhalation is done through mouth. Excess pressure is exerted on carotid sinus during exhalation with Jalandhar bandha, which further reduces blood pressure and one can experience a state of unconsciousness with practice.

Kumbhaka (the pure breath): This helps to raise both physical and mental energy. This process starts with inhalation through the right nostril followed by exhalation till the count of one, two, three, four....six the 1st time, followed by an exhalation to the count of one, two, three .... twelve. This is performed alternatively on both sides, with exhalation till a maximum count of twelve.

Ujjayi (the hissing breath): Ujjayi means the ocean and this pranayama is about mimicking the oceanic sound or the sound of the waves. To do this, be seated in a comfortable position crossing your legs. Now start to inhale and exhale deeply using your mouth. While doing this, constrict your throat as if something is choking it when you exhale and inhale the air. This will produce a sound similar to the ocean when you breath. Now close your mouth and start to breath using your nose, but maintain the same tone to your throat so you still continue to make the same sound as your breath. You can repeat this Pranayama breathing exercise for about ten to fifteen times.

The calming breaths:[edit | edit source]

Sukka Purvaka (easy breath): This is about alternate nostril breathing. In this case, the inhalation and exhalation is done with one nostril blocked and the other partially open. Inhale through the right nostril with the left blocked , might hold for a few seconds and exhale through the same nostril. Repeat for 12 times after which the entire exercises is performed by inhaling through the left nostril. This type of Pranayama is particularly useful in cleansing the nasal passages and creating calmness within.

Sithali (cooling breath): Sheetal also means cool, and this Pranayama technique will help you achieve the same. To perform shitali Pranayama, be seated in a comfortable position. Cross your legs and take five to six deep breaths to get yourself prepared. Now open your mouth in a "o" shape and start to inhale through the mouth. When you exhale, do so with your nose. This can be repeated five to ten time

Sitkari (Sipping breath): This is done by opening lips, keeping the upper and lower teeth touching each other after inhaling through mouth with hissing sound, then performing kumbhaka with bandhas and then exhaling with nostrils. The air passing via tongue, cools the blood, lowering the temperature of the blood. This type of Pranayama removes excess heat in the body. Also the diseases like acidity, hypertension etc. This Pranayama harmonises the secretions of reproductive organs and all the endocrine system. Also it improves digestion, lowers High Blood pressure, purifies the blood.

Brahmari (Humming breath): In this Pranayama one has to make sound like humming bee while exhalation and inhalation as well. This Pranayama increases psychic sensitivity and awareness of subtle sound vibrations, this proves to be useful for Nada Meditation. This is useful in removing stress and mental problems like anxiety, depression, anger etc.

Nadi sudi (Nerve purifying breath): Sit down in a comfortable place assuming a cross legged position. Now use your thumb (right hand) to close the right side of your nose. Inhale deeply using the left nostril. Now close the left nostril and exhale using the right one. In the same way, now with the left nostril still closed, inhale using the right nostril and exhale with the left one. You can continue doing this exercise for around 10 - 15 times.

Pranayama in Motion[edit | edit source]

Traditional pranayama was based on various aspects of physical and spiritual well being, practised from a seated position. In the modern world where everyone is at their desks for long durations proceeding with pranayama in motion is a good option.

Pranayama while standing: This enhances rapid amounts of prana providing additional energy. The technique involves small. movements or rotations of the neck, spine and hips, feeling the blood flowing into the different parts of the body. This is followed by inhalation with some amount of spine extension, breath hold to feel the energy and exhalation with the spine returning to neutral.

Leaning pranayama: This is a tool for both body/mind coordination and energy revitalization. Taking a deep inhalation the subject is required to lean on the right side, releasing in 3 distinctive spurts. Bring body to erect position after which the same procedure is repeated.

Dynamic tension 1: push the mountain: This is ideal to tone your body. Inhalation with hands raised to shoulder level. Hold the breath feeling the energy at this point for 10 seconds. Exhalation bringing the hands down , pushing down like ones pushing the sky upwards[5]

Resources[edit | edit source]

add appropriate resources here, including text links or content demonstrating the intervention or technique

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Saraswati SN. Prana and Pranayama. Bihar: Yoga Publication Trust; 2009
  2. Sengupta P. Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. International journal of preventive medicine. 2012 Jul;3(7):444.
  3. Jayawardena R, Ranasinghe P, Ranawaka H, Gamage N, Dissanayake D, Misra A. Exploring the therapeutic benefits of Pranayama (yogic breathing): A systematic review. Int J Yoga. 2020 May;13(2):99.
  4. Bhavanani AB, Sanjay Z. Immediate effect of sukha pranayama on cardiovascular variables in patients of hypertension. InternatJ yoga therap. 2011 Sep 1;21(1):73-6.
  5. Shaw S. The Litte book of Yoga Breathing Pranayama made easy. Boston: Weiser books; 2004