"When prana moves, chitta (mental force) moves. When prana is without movement, chitta is without movement. - Hathayoga Pradipika 2.02."
Pranayamas are breathing exercises developed by the ancient yogis. They are used to purify the Pranic nadis in the Pranamaya Kosha by controlling, regulating, and channelizing the Prana in the body.Prana is taken in through the air we breathe,...
...and since the breathing exercises increase the amount of air we take in, they also increase our intake of Prana.
In Sanskrit Prana means energy or vital force and yama means control. So, in English this would translate into control of the vital breath. However, there's much more to Pranayama than just control of the vital force. Pranayama essentially involves three things: regulating the breath, controlling the vital force and chanalizing the Pranas in the right directions.
The principle of in Yoga is that, order to alter a situation we must make changes in the energy that governs it. To bring about positive changes in body and mind we must understand and work upon the energies through which they work. This is done through a set of exercises that entail synchronized breathing. In Yoga the right or solar nadi is considered masculine or solar in nature. The left is feminine or lunar in nature. It is Pitta or fire predominant and increases energy on the right side. The left or the lunar nadi, is Kapha or water predominant, and increases energy on the left side of the body. To maintain harmony in our Pranic or Subtle body, we should have an equal number of breaths from both nostrils. Since this is not always possible through normal breathing, Pranayama helps chanelize them.
It is also for precisely this reason that Yoga also prescribes a sattvic diet, rich in Prana i.e., foods full of the life-force and a mind rooted in moral and ethical values like truth and non-violence. An impure or toxic body and mind cannot remain healthy for long.
But, before we proceed further, there is something else we must understand. You might have noticed the use of the word Pranas in the last line of the first paragraph. Essentially, and little known to the general public, the Prana consists of 5 different Pranas, viz Prana, Apana, Samana, Vyana and Udana, each performing a different function.
They are all contained in a sheath called the Pranamaya Kosha consisting of roughly 3,64,000 nadis or subtle nerve channels that are connected to out other gross and subtle bodies and sheaths. Thus, the one primary Prana is divided into five, basis their movement, direction and function. Further, they can be classified as energies and processes occurring on different levels in our system.
Literally meaning "air flowing forward", it governs the flow of energy from the head down to the navel, the Pranic center in the physical body. It is responsible for all types of inward reception from inhalation to eating, drinking to reception of sense perceptions and experiences. Propulsive in nature, it sets and guides things in motion, thereby governing the basic energy that sustains our lives.
Apana, means "regressing air" and, like the name suggests, it moves downward and outward. It governs the movement of energy from the navel down to the root chakra and is responsible for all forms of systemic discharge, including carbon dioxide in the breath, stools, urine, semen, menstrual fluids and the fetus. On a deeper level it forms the basis of our immune system and governs the expulsion of all negative sensory, mental and emotional experiences.
Meaning "balanced air", Samana flows from the perimeter to the center, in a judicious churning movement. It chanalizes the flow of energy from the entire body back to the navel. Primarily, though, it governs the gastrointestinal tract, i.e. it facilitates digestion of food and absorption of oxygen in the lungs. Mentally it serves to digest and assimilate all sensory, mental and emotional inputs.
Vyana, means "air flowing outward". Contrariwise Samana, this one governs flow of energy from the navel throughout the body. Flowing from the center to the periphery, it governs all circulatory functions and, in the bargain, assists the task of all other Pranas. It regulates the flow of oxygen, nutrition and water throughout the system, as well as disseminates our thoughts and emotions.
Udana, "upward moving air," literally moves upwards. It governs energy movement up from the navel to the head. Naturally, it is responsible for growth, aids and abets all bodily effort, enthusiasm and will, including the ability to stand and speak. Our main positive energy in life, it facilitates development of our different bodies as well as in evolving consciousness.
In summation, Prana governs the intake of all forms of nutrients, Samana regulates their digestion, Vyana sees to their circulation, Udana administers the release of positive energy and Apana, the elimination of waste matter from the system. Pretty much like operations of an organization, Prana fetches the fuel, Samana transforms it into energy, Vyana distributes it to the various departments and Apana discharges the waste matter produced in the process. Finally, Udana decides how the positive energy generated is to be used.
The secret of good health lies in balance and harmony. Since all the Pranas are interlinked, if even one becomes unstable, the others are susceptible to similar imbalance. Result, the working of the entire machine goes out of gear. This gets translated into mental and physical afflictions and indispositions.
The Art of Pranayama
Pranayama is both the science and art of purifying the nadis in the Pranamaya Kosha. Through regulated breathing i.e. altering the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation, it is possible to control the prana, vital force in the body. Pranayama is the process by which such conscious control is achieved through synchronized breathing. Purifying the channels along which the life stream of 'prana' flows, helps prevent and even cure a variety of physical and mental ailments. In the process, it also increases one's overall immunity and resistance to disease.
The best position to be assumed for these practices is sukhasana or the easy pose it also happens to be the most comfortable. The critical thing to bear in mind, however, is posture. The back, neck and head should be kept erect, i.e. in a straight line. And yet, the body should not be stiff. It should be in its natural relaxed condition. You can prepare for this by practicing shavasan, the corpse pose, for a few minutes. To prepare for pranayama it is first better to breathe relaxed in the abovementioned ratio. Do this a few rounds, for a few days. The next step is to learn the knack of full yogic breathing. This is also called Dirga Pranayama the three part breath. Known as the "complete" or "three-part" breath, Dirga Pranayama teaches you how to fill the three regions of the body with Oxygen.
Once you have got a good feel for this style of breathing, start practicing without the aid of your hands. Finally, relax and breathe in the three positions quietly feeling the waves of breath move in and out, up and down the body.
The practice of Dirga Pranayama inculcates correct diaphragmatic breathing, relaxes the mind and body, optimally oxygenates the blood and cleanses the lungs of residual toxins.
For all Pranayama the right fingers and thumb should be used to control the right and left nostrils, unless one is otherwise naturally left-handed. A ratio of two to one is generally maintained, that is, the inhalation time should be half that of exhalation. For example, if inhalation takes 5 seconds, exhalation should take 10 seconds. Breathing should be slow and steady, in and out of the nose, unless otherwise advised.
Please Note: Not all Pranamayas can or should be mastered in a day or week or month. The process may and should take a few months. Even after that, it is not necessary to do all 8 Pranamayas daily. The daily mandatory Pranamayas are Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma. The rest may be done at one's own convenience
The 8 Pranamayas are:
Take into consideration your own time and convenience but see that all 8 Pranayamas are covered in a week. The same goes for asanas.
But remember, even though Kapalabhati is not a Pranayama, yet it is a vital part of the program. As the name suggests, it is a cleansing technique in preparation for Pranayama and should be done everyday, without fail. For complete, step by step details of how it should be done, kindly refer our section - Cleansing Techniques
For optimum benefits, yoga practices should be coupled with a balanced diet, Naturopathy, Ayurveda and Aromatherapy.
Alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana is a technique of breathing in which the individual breathes in and out through one nostril and then goes on to the next. Alternate nostril breathing helps in directing the flow of prana or the life force of the body through the entire body. Alternate nostril breathing benefits by bringing about a state of deep relaxation, clearing the mind, and calming the body. This breathing technique also helps in balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain. You can enhance the benefits of yoga by practicing alternate nostril breathing after the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) sequence.
The one nostril breathing pranayama is a breathing exercise that helps in stimulating memory. The simple technique of left nostril breathing helps in improving spatial memory. This type of memory enables you to remember effectively where you have placed your things. To practice this breathing exercise you should close your right nostril and breathe slowly and deeply through your left. Continuing this exercise regularly will slow down the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and increased heart rate. Another breathing exercise you could try is alternate nostril breathing, which is considered to be a very effective stress reliever. It is also essential that you maintain a proper diet to maximize the benefits.
Teeth hissing or Sitkari refers to the sound that is made when air is drawn in through the front teeth either slightly opened or tightly closed, with the tip of the tongue regulating the pressure of air and sound. This technique refers only to breathing in, while exhalations take place normally through both the nostrils. Properly practicing the teeth hissing exercise one can help reduce the effects of thirst, hunger as well as laziness and sleepiness. The teeth hissing exercise is also considered to be effective in preventing the increase of bile in the body, and it also helps improve physical and mental performance.
When the diaphragm gets weak, individuals with lung diseases develop a pattern of breathing that makes use of accessory muscles like the rib, shoulder, and neck muscles to breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing technique that helps in correcting this habit by making the abdominal muscles and diaphragm strong. The advantage of this abdominal breathing technique is that more air will go in and out of the lungs without the chest muscles getting tired. Abdominal breathing in children tends to come naturally, but as we grow, with the tensions and pressures of everyday life, we start to breathe from the chest. Therefore, make sure to check you breathing technique and bring about the necessary changes for better health.
Bumblebee yoga is a breathing practice in which the lips are to be kept shut and one needs to smoothly and gently make the sound of a humming bee in the throat. This pranayama exercise is considered to be very effective in making the breath smooth and the mind quiet. Some of the other benefits of the bumblebee exercise are the reducing of migraine headaches, bringing better concentration in the mind, and getting rid of mental agitation. Advanced practitioners can get into deep meditative states with this exercise. This exercise also helps in inducing sleep, stability, and relaxation. However, make sure to practice this breathing exercise under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
To perform the bumblebee breath asana you should practice Tadasana with your spine straight and tall. Take a deep and slow breath through your nose and exhale making the sound ‘hummmm’ as long as you can. Then, do it again with your eyes closed, concentrating on the sound. Then, try it again with your eyes closed and your hands blocking your ears. Practicing the bumblebee breath meditation can help soothe anxiety and bring calmness to the mind. It also helps with concentration and memory. Pranayama and pratyahara comes in to enable a transition from the asanas to meditation. Pranayama helps us control vital energies and pratyahara helps us master unruly senses.