Pranayama 101: techniques and benefits of breathing
Pranayama 101: techniques and benefits of breathing
Just like running, swimming or even singing, using specific breathing techniques during your yoga session can massively improve your practice. The benefits of conscious yogic breathing extend far beyond your mat, however. Pranayama breathing, when practiced correctly and regularly, is a valuable tool. It can help to restore balance in the mind and body and for maintaining good health.
In Sanskrit ‘pran’ means ‘breath’ and ‘ayama’ means ‘control’. It makes sense then that pranayama is a series of yogic breathing techniques. These use the breath to control, direct and expand the flow of prana, or universal life force, in our energy channels, or nadis. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, pranayama is the fourth of eight limbs of yoga. Our mind, body, and breath are connected and influence each other. So pranayama is considered important for a healthy body and mind and for gaining higher states of awareness.
Practicing pranayama breathing techniques helps clear blocked energy channels. It draws in more beneficial prana into the body. When there is more and better quality prana circulating throughout the body and flowing through the thousands of subtle energy channels, we benefit from a more positive state of mind and healthier wellbeing.
The physical practice of yoga encourages oxygen around the body. This nourishes our muscles and organs. The practice of pranayama increases the flow of prana to our energy channels. This nourishes the subtle layers of our being. If practiced regularly pranayama is believed to improve overall health and the functioning of the body while helping to release stress and ward off ill health.
Learning to breathe consciously is a skill, however. So how do we ‘do’ pranayama? It is believed that in the morning, after a bath, wearing loose, comfortable clothing is the best time to practice. They are best performed on an empty stomach while sitting on the floor, with good posture, on a folded blanket. But because life isn’t always practical, a time when you have a calm mind and a quiet environment is just as suitable.
Some major types of pranayama yoga, and how they should be performed, include:
Pranayama 101: Bhramari pranayama
Also known as ‘humming bee breath’, this is an effective technique for releasing anger and frustration and calming the mind.
Sit on the floor cross-legged with a straight spine. Press your tragus (the small triangular part of your external ear) with your thumb.
Place your index fingers on the temple and close your eyes with the other three fingers.
Start to breathe slowly and deeply through both nostrils.
Keeping your mouth closed, slowly exhale by making a humming sound.
Repeat for 5 – 10 minutes.
Pranayama 101: Nadi Shodhana pranayama
Believed to help purify the body and mind, and to even out the amount of oxygen in the left and right hemisphere of the brain.
Sit comfortably on the ground or on a chair.
Close the index finger and the middle finger of your right hand.
Close your right nostril with your thumb and slowly exhale from the left nostril. Then close your left nostril with the middle and ring finger and exhale from the right nostril.
Breathe in deeply through your right nostril, close your right nostril and exhale from the left nostril.
Repeat for 5 – 10 minutes on each side.
Pranayama 101: Kapalabhati pranayama
This technique is a process of passive inhalation and active exhalation and is believed to help cure stomach and digestive disorders.
Sit cross-legged on the floor, keeping the spine straight.
Place your palms on your knees.
Inhale deeply so that your stomach draws inwards then exhale through your nostrils with a hissing sound imagining that all disorders are coming out of your nose.
Inhale normally and repeat the exhalation.
Repeat for 2 -5 minutes and then rest.
Pranayama 101: Ujjayi pranayama
Ujjayi breath regulates heat of the body. The friction of the air passing through the lungs and throat generates internal body heat resulting with purifying and detoxifying the body.
Unlike some other forms of pranayama, the ujjayi breath is typically done in association with asana practice.
Seal your lips and start to breath in and out through your nose.
Take an inhalation through your nose that is slightly deeper than normal. Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat creating soft hissing sound.
Pranayama 101: Bhastrika pranayama
Sit cross-legged on the ground or on a chair.
Start with a deep breath in through the nostrils. Fill your lungs with air so that your stomach expands as far as possible.
Exhale completely and forcefully, sucking your navel towards the backbone, expelling all the air.
Do this pranayama for 2 – 5 minutes maximum and then rest.
Pranayama 101: Sheetali pranayama
The word ‘sheetali’ in Sanskrit means ‘cooling’ so it makes sense that this pranayama is known as the ‘cooling breath’. It is believed to cool the body temperature, calm the mind, reduce stress and lessen the fight or flight response.
Sit in a comfortable seated position and start with some deep breathing.
Start inhaling through the mouth by rolling the tongue, ensuring that the air being inhaled is cooled via the tongue.
To start with, inhale through the mouth while rolling the tongue and exhale through both nostrils.
Repeat for up to 5 – 10 minutes.
Pranayama 101: Sitkari pranayama
Another cooling breath, sitkari in Sanskrit means ‘sipping’ or ‘hissing’ and this technique is said to help regulate the body temperature and still the mind after asana practice. It is particularly useful in hot weather.
Sit cross-legged or in a comfortable seated position.
With your mouth open, slightly protrude the tip of your tongue between your teeth keeping your tongue flat.
Inhale, drawing in air past the sides of your tongue with a ‘ssss’ sound to completely fill your lungs. Withdraw your tongue and close your mouth.
Exhale slowly through the nose.
Repeat this cycle for 5 – 10 minutes.