In this hectic world, where it is very difficult to take the time out of your busy schedule for body and health. Pranayama or breathing exercise is the answer to your overall fitness be it physical, mental or spiritual. After reading this article, you would end up knowing about what is pranayama? Different forms of breathing exercises and How to practice it correctly?
Pranayama is generally defined as control of breath. The word ‘Pranayama’ has two words, Prana and Ayama. Prana means essential energy or life force. This is the force that is present in all things, whether conscious or unconscious. Ayama means extension or expansion. Thus, the word pranayama means extension or expansion of life force. Regular practice of pranayama can activate the life force and regulate it to make one go beyond one’s normal limitations and attain a higher state of energy.
Now, let’s jump right onto How to practice pranamaya or breathing exercises.
5 breathing exercises or Pranayama.
1. Kapalbhati pranayama ( Frontal brain cleansing breath )
Sit in any comfortable position with head & spine straight and hands resting on the knees. Close the eyes. Relax the whole body for a while. Take a deep breath, expand
the abdomen and exhale with a little force while contracting the abdominal muscles. Do not strain. The next inhalation takes place by naturally, you should not make any effort by your side. Just allow the abdominal muscles to expand.
Practice 10 rounds of this breathing exercise to start with. Take the count of each respiration mentally. After completion of 10 rapid respiration, inhale and exhale deeply. This is 1 round. Practice 3 to 5 rounds. Once the practice is complete, constantly be aware of the forehead, feeling an all-pervading emptiness and calm.
Breathing – In kapalbhati it is very important that the rapid breathing is done from the abdomen and not from the chest. Through constant practice number of counts can be increased from 10 to 20, as the abdominal muscles
Duration – Do 5 rounds of 10 to 20 breaths. Advanced practitioners may extend the number of rounds to 10 or more; longer periods than this should only be practiced under expert guidance.
Awareness – Physical – on rhythmic breathing, keeping count of the respirations. Spiritual – on chidakasha or the void at the eyebrow center.
Precautions: In case if you feel pain or dizziness is experienced, it is advised to stop the practice and sit quietly for some time. When the sensation has passed, recommence the practice with more awareness and less force.
Benefits – Kapalbhati removes sensory distractions from the mind. This breathing exercise energizes the mind for mental work, removes sleepiness and prepares the mind for meditation. This breathing exercise is a good practice for asthmatics and those suffering from emphysema, bronchitis and tuberculosis. The nervous system gets strengthened and balanced through this breathing exercise and digestive organs get toned.
Contraindication: Kapalbhati should not be practiced by those who are suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure. This practice should be avoided by those having vertigo, epilepsy, stroke, hernia or gastric ulcer.
2. Anulom viloma ( Alternate nostril breathing )
This breathing practice simply aims towards the control of inhalation/exhalation.
Sit in any comfortable position with the spine and head straight and hands resting on the knees .Close your eyes and relax the whole body for a while. Close your right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Breathe deeply. Do not strain. Now, Close the left nostril with the ring and index finger, release the thumb from the right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril. Time for inhalation and exhalation should be in equal proportion.
Now, inhale through the right nostril. At the end of inhalation close the right nostril and open the left nostril, exhale through the left nostril. One breath in and one breath out is one round. Practice 10 rounds.
Breathing – The flow of breath must be smooth, with no jerks, throughout the practice. Always use the chest and diaphragm muscles and practice yogic breathing.
Duration – Five to ten rounds or ten minutes daily.
Awareness – Be aware of the breath and the counting. Your mind is likely to wander during anulom vilom pranayama. Be conscious of this wandering tendency of the mind, continue the practice and count.
Precautions – You should never force the breath in this breathing practice. Don’t ever try to breathe through the mouth. If you feel discomfort, gently reduce the duration of inhalation/exhalation and, if you feel dizzy, discontinue the practice for the day. This breathing exercise should never be done rapidly.
Benefits – Anulom vilom ensures that the whole body is nourished by an extra supply of oxygen. Through this breathing exercise, Carbon dioxide is expelled out and the blood gets purified of all the toxins. The brain is stimulated to work to their optimum capacity. It also increases tranquillity, clarity of concentration and thoughts, and is advised for those engaged in mental work. Anuloma Viloma strengthens the immune system and decreases the levels of stress and anxiety.
3. Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breathe)
This breathing exercise increases the flow of air into the body which produces inner heat at both the physical and mental levels.
Sit in a comfortable position. Make sure your head & spine is straight and hands resting on the knees. Close the eyes. Relax the whole body. Take a deep breath and exhale forcefully through the nose. Do not strain. Instantly afterward breathe in with the same force. During inhalation, the diaphragm goes down and the abdomen goes outward. At the time of exhalation, the diaphragm goes upward and the abdomen goes inward. the whole movement should be slightly exaggerated. Continue in the manner and count to ten breaths. By the end of ten breaths, inhale deeply and breathe out slowly. This is one round.
Keep the eyes closed and concentrate on the breathing and the counting.
Duration – Up to 5 rounds.
Awareness – In this breathing exercise focus should be on breathing and the movement of the abdomen and mental counting.
Precautions – When you start to feel faintness, excessive perspiration or vomiting indicates, it means practice is being performed incorrectly. Avoid forceful respiration, facial contortions and too much movement of the body.
Benefits – This breathing exercise burns up toxins and removes diseases. Due to the rapid exchange of air in the lungs, oxygen and carbon dioxide swapped rapidly in and out of the blood, which increases the metabolic rate, produces the heat and wastes and toxins out of the body. Through the rhythmic and fast movement, the diaphragm gets massaged and tones the digestive system.
Contraindication – Bhastrika pranayama should not be practiced by those who are suffering from high blood pressure, hernia, heart disease, ulcer, epilepsy and stroke.
4. Bhramari Pranayama ( humming bee breath )
Brahmari means Bee. In this breathing, practice sound like a black bee is produced that is why this practice is called Bhramari.
Sit in any comfortable position with head & spine straight and hands resting on the knees. Close your eyes. Relax the whole body. Jaws should be relaxed.
Raise both hands and bend the elbow, bring it to the ears. Use the index finger to plug the ears or press the flaps of the ears without inserting the fingers. Bring the awareness to the center of the head and keep the body still, inhale through the nose. Breath out slowly and deeply i.e in a very controlled manner and while exhaling makes a deep humming sound like the black bee. Throughout the duration of the exhalation, the sound of humming should be smooth, even and continuous. This is one round. By the end of exhalation, inhale deeply and repeat the whole process. Perform five rounds.
Duration: five to ten rounds is enough to start with, then slowly increase to ten to fifteen minutes.
Awareness: In this breathing exercise, awareness should be on humming sound and on making the breath steady, calm and even.
Benefits: Stress and cerebral tension are released through this breathing exercise. It also elevates anger, anxiety and insomnia, reduces blood pressure as well. It boosts the healing of body tissues that is why it advised being practiced after operations. This breathing exercise strengthens and improves the voice and eradicate throat ailments.
Contraindication: It is advised to not to perform Bhramari while lying down. Those who are suffering from ear infections are not advised to perform this breathing exercise until the infection is recovered. People with heart problems must practice this breathing exercise without breath retention.
5. Ujjayi Pranayama (the psychic breath)
Ujjayi is also known as the psychic breath, as it takes you to subtle states of mind. Sit in any comfortable position with head & spine straight and hands resting on the knees. Close your eyes. Relax the whole body. Bring the focus to the breath in the nostrils and let the breathing to become calm and in a rhythm. After a few seconds, bring awareness to the throat. Try to feel or to imagine that you are breathing through the throat; as if inhalation and exhalation are taking place through a small hole in the throat as you start to breathe deeper and slower, contract the glottis in order to make a snoring sound, a sound like a sleeping baby that is produced in the throat.
If this breathing exercise is done perfectly there will be a contraction of the abdomen. This happens all by itself, without any effort from your side.
Breathing i.e inhalation and exhalation must be long, deep and in a controlled manner. It is advised to concentrate on the sound that is being produced. The sound of your breath must not be very loud.
Duration: Practice ten to twenty minutes.
Precautions: In this breathing exercise facial muscles should not be contorted. This is unnecessary. Try to relax the face as much as you can. Don’t press the throat very hardly. The contraction must be slight and this contraction should be continued throughout the whole practice.
Benefits: Ujjayi pranayama gives a heating effect on the body. In yoga, this breathing exercise is used as a therapy to soothe the nervous system and stable or calm the mind. Ujjayi helps to get rid of insomnia.
Contraindications: This breath practice must not be performed by those who are too introverted by nature.