Pranayama is a compound word in Sanskrit composed of ‘prana’ + ‘ayama’. Pranayama is a process of regulating the intake and outflow of breath in a firmly established posture. When the flow of breath is observed through its natural phases of inhale-pause-exhale-pause, the breath becomes smoother and its effects more subtle. Through delicate observation, the breath is refined. When breath is refined and steady, the mind also is refined and steady. Pranayama is the 4th limb of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patajanli and Patanjali reminds us that the 8 limbs must be done in sequence. Meaning we have to prepare the mind and body through Yama, Niyama and Asanas first before attempting to do Pranayama. If we attempt to do Pranayama prior to properly preparing the body and mind, tension might increase and cause harm.
Pranayama is one of the ways to attain peace and self awareness. Pranayama is channelling the energy to the 72 nadis in our body, helping us improve our well-being.
The 8 major pranayama types are:
Nadi Sodhana – this yoga pranayama is innovative and specialized in bringing balances of all the three doshas of the human body — the mind, body, and soul. For performing Nadi Sodhna, you need to sit in a comfortable in a cross-legged position. Now use the right hand to close the right side of your nose, inhale deeply with the left nostril. Repeat the same with left nostril. Practice it for 10 -15 times every day.
Shitali Pranayama – this is the most refreshing breathing exercise. You need to roll your tongue in an “O” shape and start to inhale through the mouth. Hold your breath and practice Jalandhar bandh. Do exhalation from your nostrils after some time. You can repeat it five to ten times. Shitali Pranayama mitigates pitta and increases Kapha and Vata doshas.
Ujjayi Pranayama – this type of pranayama is about mimicking the sound the ocean or waves by inhaling from your nostrils and making sound from the throat. Seat in a comfortable position, start inhaling, and exhaling from your mouth. Constrict your throat as if something is chocking, it will create an oceanic sound. Repeat it for ten to fifteen times; you will experience betterment in throat related issues.
Kapalabhati Pranayama – this type of pranayama is wholly related to deep inhalation and forceful exhalation of air in a yogic position. Air from the lungs is exhaled forcefully, but inhalation is done involuntarily. Kapalabhati Pranayama is liked for improving alertness and concentration. It also strengthens abdominal muscles and helps to burn calories.
Bhastrika Pranayama – this pranayama is best for increasing the blood circulation in the body. It also activates body channels. For practicing Bhastrika Pranayama, you need to sit in a Padmasana position, keeping your spine straight and eyes close. Inhale deeply with nostrils; fill your lungs with air and then exhale forcefully through nostrils so that your stomach will go deep inside. Bhastrika Pranayama helps a lot in calming your mind. Any asthma patient can practice it to remove inflammation of the throat.
Bhramari Pranayama – this is the humming bee pranayama that mimics the sound of a bee. Bhramari Pranayama is done by closing your ears with the thumb and eyes with the help of fingers. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly making a buzzing sound like that of a bee. Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama are an increase in concentration and memory improvement.
Anuloma & Viloma Pranayama – this is alternate breathing exercise. It involves pausing of breathing at regular intervals. It is divided into two stages called as paused inhalation and paused exhalation. You need to lie down in a comfortable position and relax your body and mind. Now inhale for 2 to 3 seconds and pause, then again restart inhalation and pause after 2 seconds. Repeat the process until the lungs feel full of air. Exhale slowly. It is known as Viloma pranayama. Whereas, Anuloma pranayama is breathing nostrils in an alternative way. Both are almost same and help in cleansing of nasal passages.
Sheetkari Pranayama – this is more like the Shitali Pranayama but with changes in practice. In this pranayama, you have to produce “Sheetkar” sound from the mouth. Inhale air by keeping your tongue behind the teeth. Apply the Jalandhar bandh and hold your breath. Exhale air using the nostrils. This pranayama should be practiced in summer for five to ten times. It will keep your body temperature under control.
I have been trying to incorporate pranayama on my routine lately and have been doing Kapalabhati more than the rest. To do kapalabhati one has to do the exhalations active and the inhalations passive thus sucking in the belly during exhalation. At first I didn’t know how to do it that I tucked my belly during the inhale. After a while I got it right and have been doing it everyday in the morning. One thing I noticed is that even if I didn’t have enough sleep after doing kapalabhati I would have enough energy to last through the day and also my bowel movement somehow improves. I also like Nadi Shodana or the alternate nostril breathing as it relaxes me especially during those stressful days at work and when I feel anxious with everything that’s happening around. At night, I usually just do deep breathing to prepare before sleep, those that the exhales are longer than the inhales.
Mastering pranayama is still a long way for me and I know for sure that I will be doing this more often and cultivate this together with meditation. Yoga, for me, is one big tool to learn to feel the fullness of life, to live joyfully and blissfully and I am still a work-in-progress and still a very long way ahead. I feel demotivated sometimes as I am struggling with many poses (asanas), regardless, I am continuing on in this journey.