Pranayama-The Art of conscious breathing

The word Pranayama is a combination of two Sanskrit words, ‘Prana’ meaning life force, ‘Ayama’ meaning to restrain. Pranayama flushes away all the toxins and rectifies disturbances of the doshas, wind (Vata), bile (Pitta), and phlegm (Kapha). All the yoga texts, including Patanjali Yoga Sutras, are emphatic in their view that one must gain perfection in asanas before practicing pranayama. This point is overlooked today, and many people think that any comfortable sitting asana is good enough for pranayama practice and that pranayama may be safely practiced without the foundation of asana. I think that everyone can benefit from pranayama with the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher.

Prana is an auto-energizing force. The in-breath fans and fuses the two opposing elements of nature fire and water, so that new, bioelectrical energy, called prana, is produced. Prana neutralizes the fluctuations of the mind and acts as a spring−board towards emancipation. Pranayama stores prana in the seven energy chambers, or chakras, of the spine, so it can be discharged as and when necessary to deal with the upheavals of life.

“Mastery in pranayama removes the veil that covers the lamp of intelligence and heralds the dawn of wisdom.” – Patanjali.

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These instructions are meant to provide a safe, general introduction to these pranayamas. It is always best to learn a new technique in person, with a qualified yoga teacher.

There are eight main pranayamas:
Surya Bhedana Pranayama
Ujjayi Pranayama
Sheetkari Pranayama
Sheetali Pranayama
Bhastrika Pranayama
Bhramari Pranayama
Moorchha Pranayama
Plavini Pranayama

Before you start to practice any kind of pranayamas, you should understand the bandhas and breath retention.
Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention)
Make a deep inhale through the nose and then hold for 10 seconds, you will be able to inhale a bit more after that. Why? Holding your breath increases pressure inside the lungs and gives them time to fully expand, increasing their capacity. As a result, the blood that then travels to the heart, brain, and muscles will be more oxygenated.
Start with General Breath Awareness
Sit in any comfortable cross-legged position, observe your breath. Start breathing through your nose, observe the inhalation and exhalation. Which happens faster? Which is longer? Don’t manipulate them. Just watch and feel the flow. Continue for 2–3 minutes.

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Pranayama-The art of conscious breathing

Surya Bhedana Pranayama
Hatha Yoga Pradipika defines Surya Bhedana pranayama or right nostril breathing as one of the most beneficial yoga techniques. The prime focus of this pranayama technique is to activate the sun element in your body. Right nostril, which is energetically associated with our body’s heating, symbolized by the Sun, and syllable HA, our left nostril with our body’s cooling energy, symbolized by the “Moon” and the syllable THA.
Sit in a comfortable asana and make Mrigi Mudra*. Inhale through the right nostril, hold the breath (Kumbhaka) and exhale from the left nostril. Maintain the breathing time ratio of 1:2:2 in the beginning, which can be increased later with practice. Continue in this manner, inhale right, exhale left, for 1 to 3 minutes.
For Chandra Bhedana Pranayama, simply reverse the instructions, inhale always through the left nostril, exhale through the right. This Pranayama will activate the Moon element and cool the body. It can be very effective to overcome insomnia.
*Mrigi Mudra. Ball your right hand into a fist. Press your index and middle fingers into the base of your thumb. Stretch out the ring and pinky fingers. Align the fingertips as best you can, as if the two fingertips are one. Bring your hand to the nose, make sure that your shoulders are aligned, tuck your right elbow in close to the side of your torso without hardening your armpit. The ring finger and pinky together will close the left nostril, the thumb the right.

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Pranayama-The art of conscious breathing

Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breath)
This pranayama practice, known for its soft, soothing sound similar to ocean waves, can further create the relaxation response of deep and slow breathing,
Sit in any cross-legged position and begin to breathe through your mouth. While you inhale and exhale, try and constrict your throat, make it a little bit smaller. The result will be a sound “HA” that is similar to ocean waves. In the second phase of the Pranayama, you close your mouth and breathe through your nose. However, you must continue to use the same constriction on your throat. You can repeat this 10-15 times in total.
Sheetali and Sheetkari Pranayama
Sheetali, which means “cold” or “frigid” in Sanskrit. Also known as Cooling Breath, is a breathing practice that very effectively cools the body, the mind, and the emotions. It removes the excess heat in the body to further cool the body by reducing anxiety, fear, and depression. Sheetali requires an ability to roll the tongue by curling the lateral edges upward to form a tube. If you do not have this ability, an alternate variation of the cooling breath (known as Sheetkari)
Sheetali technique: Stick your tongue out and roll the lateral edges upward so that your tongue forms a tube and inhale through the mouth. At the top of the inhale, draw the tongue in, close the mouth, and hold the breath (apply Jalandhara bandha), just as long as feels natural—without any tension. Then, slowly exhale through the nose.
Sheetkari technique: Gently press your lower and upper teeth together. Separate your lips as much as possible. Inhale deeply and gently through the teeth with a hissing sound. Close the mouth, and hold the breath (apply Jalandhara bandha).
According to Ayurveda, the body has three vital doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Both Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayama are balancing the pitta or heat and neutralizing the other two doshas.

“When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still.” (2:2) – Hatha Yoga Pradipika

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Pranayama-The art of conscious breathing

Bhastrika Pranayama
The Sanskrit word “bhastrika” means bellows and it describes the active filling and emptying of the abdomen and lungs. Like the bellows fan the fire similarly Bhastrika Pranayama surges the flow of air into the body to produce heat at both the physical and subtle levels. Bhastrika is suitable for asthmatic patients as it removes blockages from the nose, throat, and chest.
Make a fist and fold your arms, placing them near your shoulders. Inhale deeply through the nose, raise your hands straight up and open your fists. Exhale forcefully through the nose, bring your arms down next to your shoulders and close your fists. Continue for 20 breaths.
Bhramari Pranayama
Bhramari is a Hindu Goddess. She is an incarnation of the Goddess Shakti. Bhramari means ‘the Goddess of bees’ or ‘the Goddess of black bees’. The bee produces a humming sound and in this pranayama, we produce sounds and vibrations to connect to our mind, regulate our breath, and achieve higher levels of concentration.
Sit down on the floor cross-legged. Remember, it is important is to keep the spine straight. Relax your body. Close your eyes, keep your thumb on your earlobes and press it gently, keep your index fingers on the top of your eyebrows, keep your middle fingers on your eyes, and press gently on the sides of your nose with the remaining fingers. Concentrate at the center of your forehead. Breathe in slowly through the nose, and exhale slowly emulating a deep, low-pitched ‘hmmm’ sound at the back of your throat. If the sound resembles the humming of a bee, then you are doing it right. You can also chant “Om” and produce a vibration effect. Feel the vibrations in your body, observe your feelings. Repeat the process 3-5 times.

The present study investigated the effect of Bhramari pranayama on the acoustic and aerodynamic parameters of voice in healthy normal individuals. The results revealed significant improvement in the maximum phonation duration, glottal airflow and pressure, average fundamental frequency, and cepstral peak prominence after practice sessions of bhramari pranayama suggesting that bhramari pranayama affects voice-related acoustic and aerodynamic parameters. – by the Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India (DST-SATYAM) [Grant no. SR/SATYAM/12/2015 (C)].

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Pranayama-the art of conscious breathing

Moorchha Pranayama
Moorchha Pranayama means “fainting” or loss of sensation in Sanskrit. This is an advanced pranayama technique, that involves continuous exhaling without any inhaling.
Inhale slowly and deeply and as you do so gently lean the head and neck backward. Retain the breath at the end of inhalation for as long as possible. As you exhale, come back to the normal posture. The duration of Kumbhaka is very important. The longer you can hold the breath in, the better it is.
Plavini Pranayama
Plavini pranayama means to regulate Prana in such a way that the practitioner’s body is light enough to float. The Sanskrit root of the word ‘Plavini’ means to float or swim. The main aim behind this Pranayama is to swallow air like a fluid and lighten the body to gain its natural shape so it can levitate.

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Pranayama-The Art of conscious breathing

Kapalabhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath)
This rapid breathing technique is energizing and activates the sympathetic nervous system, blood circulation, and metabolism. It helps in cleansing the body of Kapha and ultimately leads to a gradual awakening of energies along the Nadis and Sushumna(energy channels).
“Kapalabhati” is a compound word. “Kapala” means skull; “bhati” means to shine. This breathing technique is cleansing the nasal passageways and sinuses, and ultimately supplying the brain with a fresh supply of oxygen-rich blood. It also cleanses the throat and lungs and stimulates the abdominal muscles and organs.
Kapalabhati is one of six practices taught in hatha yoga for internal cleansing. Although it is not a formal pranayama practice, because there is no retention of the breath involved. It is said that Kapalabhati has no equal as an exercise for enhancing oxygenation of the blood.
Kapalabhati is invigorating and warming. It helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system, which can help to prevent illnesses and allergies. Regular practice strengthens abdominal muscles and diaphragm. This breathing technique also increases blood circulation, the body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energizes the brain. Add Kapalabhati to your daily morning routine, you will not regret it.

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Pranayama-The Art of conscious breathing

Pranayama practices offer quietness, stillness, and focus as meditation, making it worthy to try in those times when you just can’t calm your monkey mind. And often, the focus involved with manipulating the breath can be just what it takes to effortlessly clear your head and slip into a meditative state.

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Pranayama-The Art of Conscious breathing

Despite all the benefits of Pranayama, these techniques may harm, if it is performed incorrectly; in the case of certain diseases; or conditions of the body.

Do not practice in such cases:

  • presence of umbilical hernia (is an abnormal bulge that can be seen or felt at the belly button);
  • hypertension (high blood pressure);
  • severe heart disease;
  • the period after 1-2 months after the operation (any);
  • stones in the gallbladder;
  • peptic ulcer;
  • pregnancy;
  • menstruation.

Please comment below if you have any questions. I would be happy to help!

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