Yoga places a great deal of emphasis on the way you breathe. In fact, it prescribes varied breathing techniques that help benefit different parts of the body and mind. This article seeks to explain what pranayama (or controlled breathing) entails.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama refers to the practice of controlling your breathing. Each time you breathe in, you are believed to consume “prana” which is a vital life force. In fact, pranayama can be broken down into two Sanskrit words i.e., “prana” and “yama” which mean “life energy” and “control” respectively. There exist 8 types of pranayama which each involve purposeful inhalations and exhalations wherein the practitioner is expected to hold his/ her breath in a specific sequence.
Types of Pranayama
There exist 8 different forms of pranayama each of which has been briefly explained below.
1. Bhramari Pranayama
Also called Humming Bee Breath, this form of pranayama is particularly helpful for those who suffer from hypertension.
2. Kapalbhati Pranayama
This form of pranayama helps detoxify the body and clears energy channels.
3. Bhastrika Pranayama
Also called Bellows Breath, this form of pranayama helps pump in more oxygen into the body.
4. Nadi Shodan Pranayama
This alternate nostril breathing technique helps calm the mind and helps harmonise both hemispheres of the brain.
5. Shitali Pranayama
This form of pranayama helps reduce anxiety and helps cool the body.
6. Ujjayi Pranayama
This breathing technique is often used to support Vinyasa style yoga postures.
7. Anulom Vilom Pranayama
This breathing technique helps relax the body and cleans the nasal passages.
8. Sheetkari Pranayama
This breathing technique helps cool the body.
Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama yoga is understood to provide practitioners with the following benefits.
The increased oxygen uptake that constitutes each form of pranayama helps reduce stress. Oxygen provides your vital organs with energy including the brain and nerves.
Improves your Quality of Sleep
Bhramari pranayama has been shown to reduce the pace of breathing and heart rate when it is practised continuously for 5 minutes. It can help your body calm down such that it is better prepared to sleep.
Pranayama encourages you to be aware of your breath and how it feels against your upper lip. It teaches you to focus on the present instead of thinking about the past or future. This in turn allows you to be more mindful. As pranayama increases the amount of oxygen concentration, it is able to fuel your brain cells such that you are able to focus with greater ease.
Improves the Way Your Lungs Function
Since pranayama requires you to take slow, forceful breaths, it can strengthen your lungs. People suffering from asthma and allergic bronchitis will find that pranayama helps provide relief.
How to Practise Pranayama?
Different forms of pranayama require the practitioner to control his /her breath in different ways. The list featured below briefly touches upon how different forms of pranayama are practised.
This breathing technique requires practitioners to create a humming noise as they breathe.
This involves a number of rapid breathing techniques wherein the practitioners place their hands on their knees with their palms open to the sky. They must then take a deep breath in and once they exhale, they must pull their navel back towards the spine.
Practitioners are required to rapidly inhale and exhale oxygen which gives their body a boost of energy.
Nadi Shodhan Pranayama
Practitioners use their hands to block their nostrils in alternate sequences. This means that they first block their left nostril and breathe in and exhale and then repeat this cycle by blocking their right nostril.
Practitioners roll their tongue in an O shape and inhale oxygen through their mouths.
This breathing technique requires you to breathe through your mouth while you sit in a cross-legged position and mimic the sound of the ocean.
Anulom Vilom Pranayama
This form of pranayama requires practitioners to pause their inhalation and exhalation in two stages.
Practitioners breathe in air while placing their tongue behind their teeth.
Beginner’s Tip for Pranayama
Beginners are often encouraged to first begin learning Bhramari pranayama before learning other forms of controlled breathing. This is because it is fairly easy to perform and helps enhance mental and physical endurance.
Beginners should not attempt to hold their breath when they first start practising pranayama. Only once they become comfortable with the basics of these breathing techniques should they attempt to hold their breath. This should be under the supervision of a trained yoga instructor.
How Often Should I Do Pranayama?
Once practitioners gain experience, they can easily do 20 rounds of pranayama in a day. These can either be done in one go or can be spread out across the day.
Precautions to Take to Perform Pranayama
Before attempting to practise any form of pranayama, it is important to take into account the following considerations.
Pranayama should ideally be practised on an empty stomach.
Try to practise pranayama in a place that is quiet and well ventilated.
Unless a certain form of pranayama requires you to breathe through your mouth, you must always breathe through your nose.
If you have any chronic medical issues, you must first consult your physician and yoga teacher prior to practising any form of pranayama.
Pranayama should not be practised if you are tired. It should only be practised if you are relaxed.
Do not practise pranayama if your lungs are congested.
Pranayama provides practitioners with a number of ways to regulate their breathing. People often use these breathing techniques to lead healthier lives. However, regardless of how healthy a person tries to be, they still stand the chance of falling ill. In order to be prepared for these situations, it is recommended that you invest in a good health insurance policy such that your medical expenses are provided with coverage in case you fall ill or sustain an injury.