What are the Different Types of Pranayama?
The Nivesaa Studio
Indira nagar, Bengaluru Feb 10, 2017
Yoga is a discipline that includes various physical, mental and spiritual practices, originating from ancient India. People have been practising yoga since the Indus Valley Civilisation. Yoga has also been mentioned in various Hindu, Buddhist and various other religious texts.
With time Yoga grew as a discipline in India, and later on, was spread to the West. Now it is a global practise, and outside West, it has now been reduced to a posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique. But yoga is a lot more than physical exercises; it includes both mental and spiritual development of a person.
Various texts divide yoga into various aspects focusing on developing a part of an individual, be it physical, mental or spiritual. One such element is pranayama.
Pranayama has been mentioned in the Rig Veda, Upanishads, and is also a part of Yoga Sutra, Patanjali's Yoga, and various forms of yoga over time. Prana means life-force, which for us is our breath and this form of yoga teaches us the art of skilful breathing. It is a set of breathing exercises that helps with asanas and concentration.
Pranayama is practised along with asanas, and it helps regulate our breathing while we exercise. Pranayam is also a separate exercise on its own, that is practised after performing the various asanas.
Some religious texts refer to pranayama as a complete cessation of breathing; meaning its a way our body can take control of how we breathe.
Once you master pranayama, you will be able to heal your inner self, while your mind will reach a point of relaxation, and you will understand concentration.
Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our body. It is important for the integrity of the brain, nerves, glands and internal organs. The science of breathing is called pranayama. It is best to do pranayama while sitting on the floor on a folded blanket. A poorly performed pranayama will end up with an individual taking shallow breaths while having low endurance. It is important to empty the bladder and bowels before starting pranayama yoga.
Yoga must be performed on an empty stomach, and it is best to perform it in the early morning before sunrise when the pollution is at the lowest level. If someone is not able to perform it in the morning, then do it after sunset, when the air is fresh and pleasant. The place must be clean and calm.
Practising the above will bring in a lot of benefits such as;
Complete stress relief
A clear mind due to which you will have an improved thought process and better judgement
Helps with concentration, and rods you of unwanted distractions
Regulates and maintains blood pressure
Improves breathing and relieves asthma and breathing difficulties
Breathing properly leads to having healthier internal organs and improving their respective body function
It helps a person heal from the insides and gives them a sense of perception
In some cases, it is useful in weight loss
Helps us relax our body and muscles
Boosts energy levels
Since you can now control your breathing, it prevents easy fatigue and keeps your energy up throughout the day
Types of Pranayama
Pranayam is a whole sutra in Sage Patanjali’s texts of yoga. There are various ways you can perform pranayama, based on what you hope to achieve. Below are some different types of pranayama and how to implement them
This is one of the easiest and simplest ways to perform pranayama. Here is how you perform Nadi Shodhana. Here, Nadi means “channel” or “flow in Sanskrit, while Shodhana refers to “purification. Basically, this form of pranayama is performed to cleanse and purify various channels of the mind and body of an individual, while also balancing their feminine and masculine aspects.
Find a comfortable spot and sit down, assuming a cross-legged position.
Take your thumb of your right hand and close the right side of the nose. Now, inhale deeply using the open left nostril.
Next, close the left nostril and exhale using the open right one.
Now keep your left nostril closed, and inhale through the right nostril. Then cover the right nostril and exhale through your left nostril.
Do this exercise for around 10-15 times.
Shitali or Sheetali Pranayama roughly translates to Cooling Breath. This form of pranayama helps an individual effectively cool their body, mind, and keep their emotions in check.
The word Sheetali means “cold” or “frigid” in Sanskrit. In this context, it means “that which is calm, passionless, and soothing”.
Steps involved in performing Shitali Pranayama:
Sit in a comfortable position, cross legs and take five to six deep breaths to make yourself prepared.
Now open your mouth creating an “o” shape and inhale through the mouth. Follow this by exhaling through your nose.
This can be repeated five 5 to 10 times.
Ujjayi Pranayama is a type of pranayama that is effective in calming the mind and warming the body. This technique involves filling your lungs, while slightly contracting your throat, and breathing through your nose.
Unlike most other types of pranayama, the ujjayi pranayama is typically done along with asanas, i.e. in some styles of yoga as exercise, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Steps involved in performing Ujjayi Pranayama:
Ujjayi refers to “Ocean”, and this pranayama is about mimicking the oceanic or the sound of the waves.
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Begin with inhaling and exhaling deeply using your mouth.
While inhaling and exhaling the air, constrict your throat as if something is choking it. The sound produced will sound similar to the ocean when you breathe.
Now close your mouth and start to breathe through your nose, while maintaining the same constriction in the throat, as you still continue to make the same sound as you breathe.
Do this exercise for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Kapalabhati, which means breath of fire, is a type of pranayama involved in hatha yoga that helps with inner purification. Kapalabhati is an amalgamation of two Sanskrit words: ‘kapāla’which means 'skull', and ‘bhāti’ which translates to 'shining’ or ‘illuminating'.
This technique mainly helps clean the sinuses, but certain scriptures claim that it has magical curative effects. The Kapalabhati Pranayama mainly involves making short and strong forceful exhalations, and while the inhalation process is natural.
Steps involved in performing Kapalabhati Pranayama:
Sit in a comfortable position and cross your legs and inhale and exhale deeply
Now take a long, deep breath and let it out forcefully drawing all the air out. Your abdomen should draw in, as you exhale.
When you inhale, don’t make any effort to inhale as the belly goes back to normal position
Exhale forcefully again and do this for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Dirga Pranayama, which means three-part breath, is a calming and grounding breathing exercise. This technique helps an individual focus entirely on the present and tune in with the various sensations in the body, the physical aspects. This is one of the first things taught to beginners in yoga, as it helps them transition from their busy lives to a calming time that is hugely required while practising yoga.
This technique can also be practised at home and is effective at helping you shake off a hard or terrible day, and calm you entirely.
Steps involved in performing Dirga Pranayama:
Lie down on your back and close your eyes. Breathe normally and then slowly take a deep breath, relaxing your body.
Inhale a lot of air in slowly to fill the belly up, in such a way that your abdomen rises, almost looking like a balloon. Stay in this position for a few seconds and breath out, drawing the abdomen inwards until there is no air left.
Next, inhale deeply to fill up the belly, inhale a bit more to fill up air in the lungs. When you exhale, exhale from your lungs and then from your abdomen.
Now, the third step involves inhaling deeply and filling up your belly and lungs with air. Now, breath in a bit more to fill up the centre of your chest with air. When you exhale, exhale air from the centre of the chest, then the lungs and finally, the abdomen.
Repeat this breathing technique five to six times.
These are the most common forms of pranayama. But yoga is a complex practise that has been developing for a long time, and now what we have is an amalgamation of practices from various scriptures. There are other types of pranayama that help achieve different goals. But for now, learning the above will help you heal internally, and cleanse your body, while also being an effective technique to relax your mind.
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