Pranayama is a yogic discipline with origins in Ancient India. It is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The word Pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words – Prana (meaning life force or breath) and ayam (meaning control).
Prana is the bridge between mind, body, and our consciousness. Breath and mind are closely connected. According to Ayurveda, breathing is the physical part of thinking and thinking is the psychological part of breathing. Every thought changes the way we breathe and every breath changes the way we think. Through the practice of Pranayama (control of breath), we can gain control over our mind.
Health Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama breathing techniques have various health benefits. These include
- Relieving Stress and Anxiety
- Relieving Hypertension
- Improved Lung Function
- Relieving symptoms of Asthma
- Aiding in Weight Loss
- Lowering Blood Pressure
- Improving Physical Health of Cancer Patients.
The health impacts of Pranayama have been under constant scrutiny and there is now sufficient evidence to support the theory that Pranayama breathing techniques can improve our overall physical and mental wellbeing.
Pranayama Breathing Techniques for Beginners
The Pranayama techniques given below are meant to be followed by people who’ve never practiced Pranayama or are new to meditation in general. Pranayama is one of the most simple and effective techniques of meditation. However, it’s always better to do pranayama under the guidance of a good Yoga teacher as you get to learn different asanas which can help you practice these breathing exercises in a more effective manner and further your knowledge of yoga. Let’s get started:
1) Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Pranayama)
(Nadi – subtle energy channel; shodhan – cleaning)
Alternate Nostril Pranayama is one of the easiest techniques that helps keep the mind calm and peaceful. Only a few minutes of this technique can help you reach a state of blissful calm and happiness. It’s called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama because it helps clear the blocked energy channels in the body, thereby calming the mind.
How to Practice Nadi Shodhan Pranayama
1. Sit comfortably on the floor in a crosslegged posture (Sukhasana), keeping the spine erect. You can also sit in Vajrasana (diamond pose). Sukhasana and Vajrasana are the two best asanas for practicing Pranayama. If you’re not comfortable in these positions, don’t worry. Sit on a chair or couch with your spine straight and with feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and place your hands on your knees with palms facing upwards.
2. Close the right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Inhale into the belly, not the chest. Inhale for 4 seconds.
3. After inhaling, hold your breath for 4 seconds.
4. Exhale through your right nostril while closing the left with the ring and little finger of your right hand. Exhale completely – for 6 seconds.
5. Repeat steps 2-4, but this time start by inhaling through the right nostril while closing the left nostril with your ring and little finger).
Do this breathing exercise for 10 minutes.
2) Bhastrika Pranayama (The Bellows Breath)
This Pranayama breathing technique can cure symptoms of asthma, create warmth in the body, and can relieve symptoms of anxiety and stress.
How to Practice Bhastrika Pranayama
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine erect in Sukhasana (crosslegged) or Vajrasana (diamond pose). Place your hands on your knees with your palms facing upwards.
2. Just relax. Take a few deep breaths and keep your mind focused on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath.
3. Breath in by inhaling deeply, filling your lungs with air. Once you inhale fully, exhale with great force making hissing sounds.
4. Do one round which consists of 30 exhalations.
Do 5 such rounds in the morning and 5 in the evening.
3) Bhramari Pranayama (The Humming Breath)
Bhramari Pranayama instantly calms your mind. It is one of the best breathing techniques to release the mind of agitation, anxiety, anger, and agitation. The humming vibrates the nervous system and is a form of sound therapy for the brain.
How to Practice Bhramari Pranayama
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight in Sukhasana or Vajrasana. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing upwards.
2. Plug the ears with your index fingers.
3. Inhale deeply and make a humming sound as you breathe in. If you find it difficult to make the humming sound while inhaling, just breathe naturally.
4. Exhale deeply and make the humming sound. The sound should reverberate in your head. This completes one round of Bhramari Pranayama.
Start with 5 rounds and increase it as per your convenience.
These Pranayama breathing techniques are simple and effective. However, if you’re serious about practicing advanced Pranayama, it’s always better to do so under the guidance of a teacher. There are several yoga teachers who can teach you Pranayama breathing techniques along with other yoga asanas which can really improve your physical, mental, and spiritual health. But the aforementioned Pranayama breathing techniques are great to kickstart your yogic journey.
If you have any questions with regard to these techniques, please feel free to ask them in the comments section. We’ll be glad to help.
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