The Different Types of Pranayama

Breathing; an essential in our everyday life. But, just how much thought have people put into this element that enables our survival. Many people took breathing so lightly, that the inhalation and exhalation are so short which causes them to have an increase in breathes taken in a minute. This not only affects the mood but also made the heart work harder by pumping more oxygen and CO2 in and out of the physical body, as a result, reducing the life span of one. And people have not actually realised, all these small little things do link together.

In a yoga class, the first thing we do is to have the students do deep breathing, with inhalation and exhalation with a ratio of 1:2, to know their daily pattern of breathing. By being clear of one’s breathing patterns, they will be more clear as to what they want in life. This is similar to what you will hear people saying when your nervous/anxious, “take deep breaths”, however, to much dismay, the exhalation is much more important than the inhalation.

The different types of pranayama:

  • Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

The basic breathing exercise which allows one to concentrate on the breathe going in and out of one nostril. Many a times, we will be only breathing in and out through one very nostril even without us realising.  And in yoga, the breathe in the right nostril is termed as hot, while the one in left is cool. Therefore when the breathe continues to flow through one nostril for more than 2 hours, iy is a symptom of derangement caused by excessive heat or cold. Thus this exercise is mainly for maintaining the equilibrium in the left and right processes in the body.

  • Nadi Shodana (Full Alternate Breathing)

The only difference between this and the first is that we include retention of breathe here with a ratio of 1:4:2, and 1:2:2 for beginners. By retaining the breathe, the lungs and entire respiratory system are cleansed and strengthened. And also, the rate of gaseous exchange in the lungs is greatly increased as a result of the increase in pressure. This means that more oxygen from the lungs goes into the blood stream and more CO2 are eliminated during exhalation.

Both of this alternate nostril breathing calms the mind, purifies the nadis (nerves), making the body light and eyes shiny.

  • Ujjayi

Also known as the ‘Ocean breath’, it is created by creating a soft sound in the back of the throat while inhaling and exhaling through the nose . This ujjayi breath is practiced during asanas as it creates a rhythm in the breath that allows us to flow throughout the practice. In addition, the sound also sets as a mantra to put our minds in focus and awareness. With both energizing and relaxing benefits at the same time, it makes one’s asana practice to be done at ease; increasing the oxgen intake, building internal heat as well as removing toxins all at once.

  • Kapalabhati

An exercise for the purification of the nasal passages, bronchial tubes and lungs through continuous passive inhalation and active exhalation whereby large quantities of CO2 are eliminated. With the riddance of CO2, the intake of O2 makes the blood richer and renews the blood tissues. Also, the constant movement of the diaphragm acts as a stimulant to the stomach, liver and pancreas. When practiced on a regular basis, it strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and intercostal muscles and also shows on the face with shine of good health and radiance.

  • Bhastrika

This is termed as the ‘King of Pranayama’ as the action of active inhalation and exhalation penetrates through the nerves directly, which is the antidote for all diseases. This exerecise is practically the combination of Kapalabhati and Ujjayi.

Both Kapalabhati and Bhastrika are pranayamas practiced to to increase the heat in the body as both activates the sympathetic nervous system. Therefore it is preferably used  before the asanas as a preparation for the workout.

  • Sitali and Sitkari

The final two pranayamas are both with a cooling effect, thus usually done after the workout to bring the body back to the normal temperature or during a hot weather. Cold air is felt during inhalation as the air goes through the curled tongue or in the part jaw, cooling the rest of the body as it goes into the esophagus, down towards the lungs. 

Both techniques are also very useful in calming the nervous system, and sitali in particular can alleviate nausea and symptoms of asthma.

By being conscious of our own breathing pattern, it eventually increases our bodily awareness, aids in relaxation and even tension and mild depression. With so many benefits proper breathing provide, let’s all start being aware of our own breath and work towards good health and vitality!