Pranayama Techniques – overview

School of Yoga explains praaNayama techniques – overview

Pranayama techniques

Pranayama Techniques – Yogacharya Sundaram performing pranayama 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. PraaNayama is the technique of making our breathing a conscious and controlled process.

School of Yoga explains – praaNayama benefits

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

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

School of Yoga explains – nadi  or energy channels:

It is important to understand nadi’s when practicing praaNayama. Subtle energy channels (nadi) and vortices (chakras) within the body which act as conduits of motility (praaNa) and impact the physical, emotional and intellectual well-being of the practitioner.

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

Ida (comfort in Sanskrit): This channel runs to the left of the sushumna nadi. 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.

Pingala (orange-brown in Sanskrit): This channel runs to the right of the sushumna nadi. 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.

Sushumna (which runs in the back bone) – is the central nadi, running along the backbone. It comprises 3 subsidiary nadis called vajra, chitrini and brahma which act as the channels through which the kundalini moves upwards from the mooladhara to the sahasrara.

At the mooladhara, the junction of the ida, pingala and sushumna nadi are called yukta- triveni (yukta = combines + tri = three + veni = streams). When they meet again at the ajna chakra, they are called mukta-triveni (Mukta liberated three streams).

School of Yoga explains – some pranayama terminologies;

A – Puraka (inhalation): A single inhalation is termed puraka. It is a process of drawing in air or inhalation. Also, it should be smooth and continuous. Breaks in puraka 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 – Rechaka (exhalation): The third stage, exhalation, is called rechaka. 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 kumbaka, breath is held and this exerts a strain on the abdominal wall. During rechaka, the wall is relaxed and collapses inward, pushing the viscera against the diaphragm, emptying the lungs.

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

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

School of Yoga explains – stages of praaNayama

A – Arambha-avastha – In this stage, praNa is stabilised within the body. The various vaayus (airs) such as  (prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana) are balanced. When a person practices praNayama 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 praaNayama. This occurs when there is constant suppression of breath. Then, there is a perfect union of prana-vayu and apana-vayu, 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-avastha – Vayu or breath, pierces the kundalini, which along with agni, enters the sushumna and merges with it. At this stage, the yogi’s karma is destroyed. The yogi is able to see and manipulate praaNa.

D – Nishpatti-avastha – 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 samaadhi, moksha. 

School of Yoga explains – recommended daily pranayama practice:

There are many techniques such as sama-vritti (even breathing), visama-vritti (uneven breathing), shitali (tongue curled between the lips), shitkar (tongue curled between the teeth), udgeeta (pranayama with chanting). However, the following schedule is adequate to meet daily requirements;

Pranayama

Cycles

Benefits

Nadishuddhi with kumbaka 5-20 Overall lung functioning, balancing of left/ right brain, balancing of ida & pingala nadis
Bhastrika 20-50 Increases lung capacity, transfer capacity, activates dead alveoli, increases lung elasticity and strengthens diaphragm.
Kapalbhati 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.
Nadishuddhi 5 Close with Nadishiddhi to reset the system

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

Points to ponder on praaNayama

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 praaNayama impact stress situations?
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  • 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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