Pranayama is the foundation of all Yogic practices. It is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prana or breath” or more precisely, “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and “āyāma”, to extend, draw out, restrain, or control.
In simple words “Pranayama is control of Breath”. Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions. One of the Five Principles of Yoga is Pranayama or Breathing Exercise which promotes proper breathing. In a Yogic and therapeutic point of view, proper breathing is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control Prana or the vital life energy. Pranayama Yoga also goes hand in hand with the Asanas or postures. The union of these two Yogic Principles is considered as the highest form of purification and self-discipline, covering both mind and body.
As people have attraction towards Yogasanas, similarly they have attraction to Pranayama Breathing. It is so simple and so obvious that we often take it for granted; ignoring the power it has to affect body, mind and spirit. With each breath we inhale we bring oxygen into the body and spark the transformation of nutrients into fuel. Each exhale purges the body of carbon dioxide, a toxic waste. Breathing also affects our state of mind. It can make us excited or calm, tensed or relaxed. It can make our thinking confused or clear. What’s more, in the yogic tradition, air is the primary source of prana or life force, a psycho-physio-spiritual force that permeates the universe.
The process of Pranayama is concerned with the breathing, the indicator of life. And therefore, if it is done wrongly, it may do harm to the person. This fear dissuades many from taking up Pranayama. The second reason for its unpopularity is the absence of teachers who can teach it scientifically. However, it is true that if one does Pranayama unscientifically, without proper guidance, one certainly suffers. But it does not mean that it is such a difficult process, that it cannot be done by a common man. On the contrary, if it is learnt and practiced under an expert’s guidance, one learns soon and experiences the wonderful and even unimaginable benefits.
Types of Pranayama
- Quiet Breathing, Deep Breathing, Fast Breathing
- Tribandha and Pranayama
- Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama or Anuloma – Viloma
- Shitali Pranayama
- Kapalabhati Pranayama
- Udgit Pranayama
- Suryan Bhedan Pranayama (Right Nostril Breathing)
- Ujjayi Pranayama
- Bhramari Pranayama
- Bhastrika Pranayama
- Bahya Pranayama
- Pranayama from Hatha Yoga which includes Surya Bhedan, Bhasrika, Ujjayi, Shitali, Sitkari, Bhramari, Murchha & Plavini Pranayama.
Apart from the basic breathing techniques i.e. Quiet Breathing, Deep Breathing, Fast Breathing few commonly used Pranayama in Yoga Therapy are
Ujjayi is often called the “sounding” breath or “ocean sounding” breath, and somewhat irreverently as the “Darth Vader” breath. It involves constricting the back of the throat while breathing to create an “ah” sound, thus the various “sounding” names. It focuses the mind, increases mindfulness and generates internal heat.
Dirga Pranayama is known as the “complete” or “three-part” breath. Dirga pranayama teaches how to fill the three chambers of the lungs, beginning with the lower lungs, and then moving up through the thoracic region and into the clavicular region. This helps in Promoting proper diaphragmatic breathing, relaxes the mind and body, oxygenates the blood and purges the lungs of residual carbon dioxide.
Nadi Shodhana, or the sweet breath, is a simple form of alternate nostril breathing suitable for beginning and advanced students. Nadi means channel and refers to the energy pathways through which prana flows. Shodhana means cleansing. so Nadi Shodhana means channel cleaning. This is beneficial in calming the mind, soothing anxiety and stress, balancing left and right hemispheres, promoting clear thinking.