Different Types Of Pranayama – Yogic Breathing Techniques & Their Benefits

Breath is one of the most important aspects of Yoga. In the ancient Sanskrit language, the word ‘prana’ means the vital life governing energy or force. ‘Ayama’ means to control. The combination of these two words is ‘Pranayama’ or control of the breath. It is not just mere breath control but a technique through which the quantity of prana in the body is activated to a higher frequency.

The proper movement of the life energy or prana is also seen to have tremendous mental and spiritual benefits. 

According to the shloka in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 

Movement Of Prana Shloka - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Movement Of Prana Shloka – Hatha Yoga Pradipika

“When prana moves, chitta (the mental force) moves. When prana is without movement, chitta is without movement. By this (steadiness of prana) the yogi attains steadiness and should thus restrain the vayu (air).”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

There are 7 pranayama that are described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Lets have a look at them in detail

1. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

Nadi shodhana means ‘shodhan’ or purifying the nadis. It is also popularity known as anulom vilom pranayama or alternate nostril breathing.

Nadi Shodhana

It is performed by following these steps:

  • Sit in siddhasana. Although padmasana is recommended in yogic texts, siddhasana or a crossed legged posture in most easily practiced by everyone. Sit with spine comfortably erect.
  • Using the nasikarga mudra from your right hand, gently block the right nostril and take a breath from the left nostril. Take the breath as slowly as possible.
  • Gently block the left nostril using your small or ring finger. Slowly breath out from the right nostril. 
  • Again breath in from the right nostril and block the left nostril in the same manner.
  • Form a rhythm and continue this same cycle for 5 to 10 minutes. Build up slowly and start with just 5 minutes a day, slowly building up to 10 to 15 minutes.

Benefits

Nadi shodhana is said to purify the breath and control the flow of prana in the ida and pingala nadis. There are 72000 nadis in the human system which carry prana or vital life energy. It is obstructed by waste and residue of sensuous living and desires. This obstruction hampers the capacity of the nadis to carry prana. With any sort of pranayama, this obstruction is cleared. Nadi shodhana is specifically helpful in cleansing the ida and pingala (2 major nadis in the body).

If we just look at the health benefits from modern point of view, the practice of this pranayama makes the brain active and eliminates lethargy. It strengthens the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It reduces stress, anxiety and has a calming influence on the mind.

2. Bhastrika pranayama (Bellows Breath)

The word ‘Bhastrika’ means bellows. Like the blacksmiths bellow provides a constant supply to the fire for combustion creating metalwork, similarly, bhastrika pranayama increases the supply of oxygen in the blood and fuels the internal fire of the body.

blacksmith’s bellow

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit comfortably in siddhasana or padmasana with your hands in dhayana mudra.
  • Now rapidly exhale your breath and immediately inhale from the same force. The force should not be too intense or weak. Both the inhalation and exhalation should be using the same force.
  • Repeat till you feel tired. In your last breath, end with slow exhalation

Benefits

This pranayama is extremely beneficial for creating heat in the system. People who feel cold easily or are suffering from obesity are benefitted by performing this asana. Performing it in cold weather keeps the body warm. It is the most beneficial for the heart and the brain. The rhythmic pumping of the diaphragm and lungs stimulates the heart and blood circulation. 

Bhastrika heats the nasal passages and sinuses, clearing away excess mucus and builds up resistance to colds and all respiratory disorders like sinusitis, asthma, pleurisy, bronchitis. It is also excellent for improving digestion and increasing the metabolism.

According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the pranayama also helps in cases of tuberculosis, constipation, sciatica, spondylitis, arthritis, rheumatic problems, cancer and physical arid mental tension.

Caution

Those people with high blood pressure, heart disease, brain tumor, vertigo, stomach or intestinal ulcers, glaucoma, dysentery or diarrhoea must not attempt this practice.

3. Kapalbhati Prananyama

Kapalbhati is a very similar pranayama to Bhastrika, the difference being that the inhalation in kapalbhati is a consequence of rapid and forceful exhalation of air. In Bhastrika, the inhalation and exhalation are equal causing equal and systematic movement of the lungs.

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit comfortably in siddhasana or padmasana with your hands in dhayana mudra.
  • Now rapidly exhale your breath. The force should intense and rapid. Due to the rapid exhalation, there will be an immediate involuntary inhalation. 
  • Repeat till you feel tired. Start with 5 minutes in the morning and evening and you can take it unto half and hour two times a day.

Benefits

The word Kapalbhati means ‘frontal brain purification’. Due to the emphasis on exhalation, the frontal region of the brain gets purified. It is so powerful that it is included in ‘shatkarma’  which are six yogic body purification techniques performed by seasoned yoga practitioners. The six practices are neti, dhauti, nauli, basti, trataka and kapalbhati.

The benefits of Kapalbhati are same as bhastrika, but it stimulates the brain in a different way. It rebalances the mucus, bile and wind in the system and gets rid of old leftovers to provide more cleansed body. It improves memory, concentration and revitalises the brain cells. 

The famous yoga guru Swami Ramdev, greatly emphases on the benefits of kapalbhati for weight loss and improving the metabolic rate. It tones the abdominal muscles and is also great for people suffering from digestive issues like constipation. It balances the kapha dosha and increases pitta in the body. It also increases the lung capacity and cleans the blockages of the nadis. 

4. Bhramari Pranayama

Bhramari is also called the humming bees breath due to the humming sound created while respiration.  

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit in sidhasana or padmasana. Sit in a meditative pose and keep your body stable and unmoving.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose. Listen to the sound of your breath.
  • Close the ears with the index and middle fingers by pressing the middle outer part of the ear ligament into the ear hole. Make sure that the ears are closed properly.
  • Exhale while making a deep soft humming sound.
  • Concentrate on the sound, keeping it low pitched. When exhalation is complete, lower the hands to the knees and breathe in slowly.
  • Repeat this for unto 10 times.

Benefits

Bhramari pranayama is most beneficial for calming and soothing the brain. It is helpful in reducing anxiety, stress and mental tension. It awakens the psychic sensitivity and awareness to subtle vibrations. It is also greatly beneficial in anger management.

Caution

This pranayam should always be done after asana practice, nadi shodhana, bhastrika or kapalbhati. It should always be performed empty stomach in early mornings or late nights. It should be avoided in case of ear infections.

5. Moorchha pranayama

The word ‘Moorchha’ in Sanskrit means the ‘faint’. While practicing this pranayama, the practitioner feels a sense of fainting or unconsciousness while still being conscious. The person breaths and then retains the breath for as long as he can which gives a feeling of lightheadedness. It is also a meditative pose and it helps to expand the consiousness.

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit in siddhasana
  • Keep your focus at the centre of your eyebrows.
  • Place the palms of the hands on the knees and close the eyes.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply. 
  • Gently lean the head and neck backwards.
  • Hold your breath as the inhalation end. Hold for as long as you are comfortable. Do not forcefully hold the breath.
  • Slowly exhale as you bring your head to normal position.
  • Repeat a few cycles.

Benefits

The main benefits of the practice are more spiritual than physical. It can help you deal with negative emotions. It brings about a state of joyfulness and satisfaction. It raises the level of prana in the system.

 

Caution

Do not practice in case of high blood pressure, heart disease, aneurysm in the brain, vertigo and glaucoma. 

This practice is only for experienced practitioners. It should be learned in the guidance of a guru or trained yoga practitioner.

6. Ujjayi pranayama

The word ‘Ujjayi’ in Sanskrit means victorious hence the practice is known as ‘the victorious breath’. It is popularly known as ‘psychic breath’ in English language as it has immense impact on the mind. It can be done in any position, sitting, lying down or standing.

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit in siddhasana or lie down in shavasana.
  • Feel your breath as it moves through the nose to the wind pipe to the lungs and in reverse.
  • Slightly contract the region at the back of the throat as you do when you swallow.
  • Inhale and exhale slowly through the nose normally, but keep a partial contraction of the glottis which produces a light snoring sound. The sound must come from the throat and not forced to come through the nose. 
  • Inhalation and exhalation should be controlled and deep with full awareness of the breath. It should also be slow and fluid and never be strained.
  • Continue till you are fully aware of the breath. Do everyday for 10 to 12 minutes.

Benefits

Ujjayi is a meditative pranayama. It is generally a part of meditation and kriya yoga and it helps relax the mind and body. It promotes memory, focus, concentration, and clarity of mind. It also helps cleanse the nadis or the energy channels and prevents insomnia and mental tension. It is an immensely beneficial pranayama for the mind and increasing awareness. Apart from mental benefits, it is also considered a great practice for curing thyroid related issues.

Also Read: Top 7 Yoga Poses For Thyroid Issues

Caution

For people suffering from low blood pressure, it is not recommended to practice this pranayama.

7. Sheetkari pranayama

Sheetkari is named so as a it is a combination of sound ‘seet’ and the Sanskrit word ‘kari’ which means ‘that which produces’. It is also known as the ‘hissing breath’. 

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit in siddhasana or siddha yoni asana. 
  • Place your hands on your knees and remain still for a minute while closing your eyes.
  • Press your teeth together and separate the lips as much as you comfortably can.
  • Breath in slowly through the teeth. Concentrate on the sound produced by the breath.
  • Close the mouth at the end of inhalation and slowly exhale through the nose.
  • Repeat unto 20 times.

Benefits

Seetkari cools the body as well as the mind. Due to this reason, it must only be practiced in summer season. It is generally practiced after bhastrika or kapalbhati to balance the heat produced in the system. It is also helpful in regulating the hormonal secretions of the reproductive organs. It improves the attractiveness and aura of a person and helps retain vital energy or prana. 

The hatha yoga pradipika also mentions the regular practice of sheetkari also eliminates lethargy, and bodily needs and desire to eat, drink and sleep. It increases the satva guna and brings the body to a harmonious state of being. 

Caution 

Coolness produced may affect people suffering from severe constipations so they should avoid practicing this pranayama.

People suffering from low blood pressure or cough, cold or other respiratory health issues should avoid this practice.

8. Sheetali pranayama

Sheetali means ‘the cooling breath’. It is similar to sheetkari in a way that it is specifically beneficial for reducing body temperature. It cools the body as well as the mind. The difference between sheetali and seetkari pranayama is that seetkari is performed by breathing in slowly through the mouth and teeth. Sheetali on the other hand is done by breathing in through the rolled tongue.

It can be performed in following steps

  • Sit in siddhasana or siddha yoni asana and close your eyes.
  • Place your hands on your knees.
  • Protrude the tongue out of the mouth and then roll the sides to make form a tube like shape.
  • Breath in slowly through the tongue.
  • Close the mouth at the end of inhalation and slowly exhale through the nose.
  • Repeat for 9 rounds to begin with and slowly increase it upto 10 minutes

Benefits

It calms the body and mind and helps fight mental tension. It is also quite beneficial for high blood pressure. It improves digestion and liver function and works as a blood purifier. It is extremely beneficial in pitta related diseases like skin problems, fever, indigestion, insomnia etc where body heat is out of balance. 

Caution

Do not practice in case of low blood pressure, asthma, bronchitis or excess cough or mucus formation.

9. Suryabheda pranayama

Suryabheda or Suryabhedi pranayama is a breathing technique to activate the pingala nadi (also known as sun). It is also known as surya bhedi as it harnesses the energy of the sun and activates it in the body creating warmth and enthusiasm. In this practice, the breathing is only done through the right nostril which activates the prana shake in pingala nadi.

It can be performed in following steps

1. Sit in siddhasana or siddha yoni asana and close your eyes.

2. Sit with spine comfortably erect and be in a meditative posture for a minute.

3. From your right hand perform nasikagra mudra, and make dhyana mudra from the right hand.

4. Close your left nostril and start breathing slowly through the right nostril.

5. Wait for as long as you can and then exhale from the left nostril.

6. Repeat this till 10 rounds.

Benefits

This pranayama is excellent for creating warmth in the body and mind. It calms the mind. It stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and decreases the parasympathetic functions. It balances the vitiated vata dosha in the body and balances pitta and kapha. It burns up body’s impurities and removes dullness and lethargy in the system. 

Since it balances kapha dosha in the body, it is good for losing weight also. It helps clear blockages in the nadis or energy channels which can have spiritual significance as it can help awaken kundalini. It also greatly helps in dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.

 
 

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Swati

Writer & Blogger, Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and CTO Turiya Infotainment Private Limited I am an Ayurveda enthusiast and have a deep love for everything natural. I am also a software engineer by degree and now I work as a full time blogger on Honey Fur! I have been learning about Ayurvedic principles for past 7 years now and have completed certificate courses from the Kerala Ayurveda Academy. The courses I have completed are: Ayurveda For Women Care: A course which deeply dives into women health problems like menorrhea, leucorrhea, amenorrhea. It also gives a detail study of child birth and pregnancy care, pre and postpartum. Ayurvedic Cosmetology: This is a lecture and video course which deeply dives into Skin Care, Hair Care, Eye & Oral Care & Common Issues and solutions pertaining to the same.

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