Prāṇāyāma Techniques – overview

School of Yoga explains prāṇāyāma techniques – overview

Pranayama techniques

Yogacharya Sundaram performing prāṇāyāma is the 1920’s

The process: Oxygen filled air goes into the lungs during inhalation. Here, oxygen is transferred to the blood in exchange of carbon dioxide and water vapour which get removed during exhalation.

Breathing is an involuntary process. This means that it occurs without us being aware of it. Prāṇāyāma is the technique of making our breathing a conscious and controlled process.

School of Yoga explains – prāṇāyāma benefits

Breathing is affected by stress (click for stress and breathing). Therefore, proper breathing can alleviate stress and increase situational awareness (prajñā).

Since, oxygen is critical for conversion of food into energy, proper breathing also impacts all oxidation processes which occur in the body, thereby directly affecting quality of health.

Finally, prāṇāyāma is one of the most critical aspects of Hatha-Yoga and Raja-Yoga.

School of Yoga explains – nāḍī or energy channels:

It is important to understand nāḍī when practicing prāṇāyāma. Subtle energy channels (nāḍī) and vortices (cakras) within the body which act as conduits of motility (prāṇa) and impact the physical, emotional and intellectual well-being of the practitioner.

Shiva Samhita designates 14 important nāḍīs, and the most important ones are:

Idā-nāḍī (comfort in Sanskrit): This channel runs to the left of the suṣumṇā-nāḍī. It is pale in colour and associated with the Lunar energy. Therefore, it is associated with cooler energy. Also, it moves from the left testicle to the left nostril and is associated with right hemisphere in the brain.

Piṅgalā-nāḍī (orange-brown in Sanskrit): This channel runs to the right of the suṣumṇā-nāḍī. It is light brown in colour, associated with the solar energy. Therefore, it is associated with hot energy. Also, it moves from the right testicle to the right nostril and is associated with left hemisphere in the brain.

Suṣumṇā-nāḍī (which runs in the back bone) – is the central nāḍī, running along the backbone. It comprises 3 subsidiary nāḍīs called vajra, chitriṅi and brahma which act as the channels through which the kundalini moves upwards from the mūl̄adhāra to the sahasrāra.

At the mūl̄adhāra, the junction of the id, pingala and suṣumṇā-nāḍī are called yuktā-triveni (yuktā = combines + tri = three + veni = streams). When they meet again at the ājñā-cakra, they are called muktā-triveni (muktā liberated three streams).

School of Yoga explains – some prāṇāyāma terminologies;

A – Pūraka (inhalation): A single inhalation is termed pūraka. It is a process of drawing in air or inhalation. Also, it should be smooth and continuous. Breaks in pūraka must be eliminated with practice.

B – Abhyantara-kumbhaka (hold after inhaling): kumbhaka consists of deliberate stoppage of breathing and retention of the air in the lungs.

C – Recaka (exhalation): The third stage, exhalation, is called recaka. Like inhalation, it too should be smooth and continuous, though often the speed of exhaling is different from that of inhaling. But attempts should be made to keep pace, quality and flow of exhalation equal to inhalation.

Normally, when inhaling, the abdominal wall descends, drawing down the viscera and stretching it. During kumbhaka, breath is held and this exerts a strain on the abdominal wall. During recaka, the wall is relaxed and collapses inward, pushing the viscera against the diaphragm, emptying the lungs.

D – Bāhyā-kumbhaka (hold after exhaling): The fourth stage, the retention of breath after exhaling, is called bāhyā-kumbhaka.

The fourth stage completes the prāṇāyāma cycle when the retention ends and a new inhalation begins.

School of Yoga explains – stages of prāṇāyāma.

A – Ārambha-avastha – In this stage, prāṇa is stabilised within the body. The various vāyus (airs) such as  (prāṇa-vāyu / apāna-vāyu / vyāna-vāyu / udāna-vāyu / samāna-vāyu) are balanced. When a person practices prāṇāyāma sincerely, the following changes occur;

  • He begins to perspire profusely. This sweat should be rubbed into the body.
  • There is involuntary trembling.

Sometimes, the body jumps and jerks like a frog.

B – Ghata-avastha – This is the second stage of prāṇāyāma. This occurs when there is constant suppression of breath. Then, there is a perfect union of prāṇa-vāyu and apāna-vāyu, manas (cognition) and buddhi (logic). Here, the yogi practices sama-drishti (viewing all creation equally). Here, the yogi experiences clairvoyance, telekinesis, erudition, ability to become invisible and take up any form he desires.

C – Parichaya-avasthaVāyu or breath-flow, pierces the kundalini, which along with agni, enters the suṣumṇā and merges with it. At this stage, the yogi’s karma is destroyed. The yogi is able to see and manipulate prāṇa.

D – Niṣpatti-avastha (consummation stage) – Here, the yogi’s identity merges with the universal identity and all cycles of birth and death are burned away. This is the final state and is also called samādhi, mokṣa. 

School of Yoga explains – recommended daily prāṇāyāma practice:

There are many techniques such as sama-vṛtti (even condition), visama-vṛtti (uneven condition), śītalī (tongue curled between the lips), śītkārin (tongue curled between the teeth), udgīta (prāṇāyāma with chanting). However, the following schedule is adequate to meet daily requirements;

Prāṇāyāma

Cycles

Benefits

Nāḍī-śuddhi with kumbaka 5-20 Overall lung functioning, balancing of left/ right brain, balancing of id and pingala-nāḍī.
Bhastrikā 20-50 Increases lung capacity, transfer capacity, activates dead alveoli, increases lung elasticity and strengthens diaphragm.
Kapālabhātī 20-50 Increases volumetric efficiency of the lungs, strengthens the trachea and all pulmonary vessels. Strengthens the abdominal walls.
Ujjayi 5-20 Improves the autonomous nervous system, the heart, clears ears and sinuses.
Bhramari 5-10 Opens the nasal passages, clears all the sinuses, removes mucous.
Nāḍī-śuddhi 5 Close with nāḍī-śuddhi to reset the system.

Finally, it is important to practice breathing on an empty stomach and in a clean room with the windows open. prāṇāyāma, when done after āsana, increases its effectiveness as the entire body is rejuvenated.

Points to ponder on prāṇāyāma

Internal Links: Dharma (conditioning), Stress and Situational Awareness, Prana, Asana overview 1, Asana Overview 2, Asana Focus or gazingHatha Yoga Pradeepika, Nadi Shuddhi,

External Links: Prana, Chakra, Pancha Tattva, Pancha Prana, Pancha Kosha, NadiBreathing

  • How does prāṇāyāma impact stress situations?
  • How can we enhance our prāṇāyāma capability?
  • Therapy and prāṇāyāma.
  • Patience and prāṇāyāma.
  • Right time to do prāṇāyāma.
  • Prāṇāyāma and its impact on Situational Awareness
  • Diet and prāṇāyāma.
  • Can controlled breathing be practiced at a bus-stop, when waiting at a signal etc. without conventional setting?
Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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