Pranayama is beneficial for everyone, in various different ways.
Who doesn’t want high levels of energy, and high immunity? Who doesn’t want a glowing skin, and radiant health?
Pranayama benefits have been documented not only in ancient texts, but also by modern methods of testing and analysis, as well as practitioners all over the world.
Pranayama is excellent for young people, in the cusp of modern life, to help achievement and productivity.
It is excellent for people in middle age, to cope with stress, and give calmness of mind.
For older people, pranayama is a boon to reduce pain and stiffness, and increase vitality and well-being.
For women, pranayama balances the hormones, helps fight obesity and reduce weight, and gives mental focus and strength.
For men, pranayama is good for chronic stiffness and pain, boosting energy levels, better sleep, and overall sharpness, focus, performance and well-being.
Pranayama is the fourth limb in the eight limbs of yoga as explained by Sage Patanjali, who, nearly 2000 years ago, codified ancient, timeless, and life wisdom revealed to seers and sages. Ashtanga yoga, or the eight fold path of Raja yoga consists of Yama and Niyama, (personal and social ethics of living), Asanas (science of postural practices which make the body strong and disease free); Pranayama (discussed below); Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana (the higher, more subtle practices of withdrawing the body, the senses and the mind to a state of stillness) and finally Samadhi, (a state of super consciousness).
Pranayama is the practice and science of working with the breath, and raising the “electrical current”, or energy. According to yoga, the breath connects the body, the mind and the spirit. Any change of breathing patterns reflects in changes at any, or all these levels. Looked at from another point of view, when we are disturbed, we notice our breath is disturbed, and when we are calm, the breath is calm too. Awareness and control of breathing through various techniques, therefore, brings about magical changes in our state of physical, emotional and mental health.
Loud noises, and a noisy environment; a disturbed work or home atmosphere; long hours of work on the computer; television; company of negative people; mobile phones; financial stresses; non-vegetarian, heavy, oily, spicy, salty, poor quality food; smoking; alcohol; excess work; pollution,; drugs and heavy medications; sickness; mental and physical trauma; excess sleep and a variety of similar factors disturb our energy levels.
The first step in pranayama, therefore, is not the breathing practices, but the control and regulation of the internal and external environment in which we find ourselves in. Only then will the breathing techniques explained below have any useful and lasting impact. This is usually called a change of lifestyle. It is also important to keep the body and mind purified, using various cleansing techniques, so that the prana, or energy can flow freely.
Kapalabhati, Neti, Agnisaar, Nauli, Trataka, Dhauti, Kunjar and Basti are all kriyas, or yogic cleansing techniques. These practices help to detoxify not only the physical system, but also makes the mind light and free. After practicing kriyas regularly, you automatically start respecting the body’s demands and use it more carefully. You start eating ‘right’, avoiding tamasic, and rajasic foods. Kriyas help to cleanse and re-energize the internal systems of digestion, circulation, assimilation and elimination. The result is vibrant good health, a shining face, and a radiant outlook.
Surya Namaskar (Sun salutation)
Basic set of twelve postures, or asanas , strung together in a sequence.
Done before any asana practice, it aims to warm up the body and awaken the energy
One of the oldest forms of aerobic and cardiovascular exercise
Tones the legs, thighs, abdomen, arms, waistline, tightens and tones the skin, improves stamina and flushes out toxins, and moves the prana, the subtle energy
Do a minimum of six rounds (or twelve sets, one on each leg), and upto 21 rounds
The movements of the surya namaskar work to awaken the prana, build it in an efficient manner and finally channelise it for the use of the body and mind. When practiced with the right attitude, timing, regulation of breath and concentration, surya namaskar itself acts as a wonderful pranayama, or regulator of internal energies.
The first breathing practice in the Sivananda system is Kapalabhati.
Kapala in sanskrit, means skull
Bhati means shining
We do three to five rounds of Kapalabhati for optimum benefit
Each round consists of 60, 70, or a maximum of 80 pumpings
The breath is retained briefly at the end of each round; do not hold the breath if this makes you uncomfortable, or you have any heart, blood pressure or lung condition.
Practice peacefully, without the use of undue force
Do not practice when you have a severe cold or asthma attack, or you are feeling ill. Practice another day.
Kapalabhati is a cleansing practice, a kriya
It clears the sinuses and opens up the breathing passages
It invigorates and improves the functioning of the lungs
It stimulates all the abdominal organs and improves digestion and assimilation of nutrients
It also improves the functioning of the hormonal glands, and brings a glow to the face, thereby justifying the name
An exaggerated normal breath, or breathing in and out with a little more vigour
Bhastrika, or bellows breath is an energizing pranayama
If you have high blood pressure, a heart condition or any ailment that requires the attention of a medical practitioner, do not practice bhastrika until the condition has improved
Do not practice bhastrika in between april and october if you are in north India, or any other hot region of the country
In this, the intake of oxygen and the expulsion of carbon dioxide increases, nourishing all internal systems
You can practice a few rounds every day for maximum benefit
Take rest in between each round
A maximum of five minutes is sufficient for a person of normal health
Bhastrika improves immunity, increases the internal digestive fire, activates the nervous system, drives away sluggishness and indolence and promotes overall vitality
Anuloma Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing)
Is a pranayama
The breathing is done alternately with each nostril
Initially, and also for as long as you wish, only breathing in and breathing out can be maintained, without any breath retrention
The classical ratio is 1:4:2
You breathe in to a count of 4
You retain the breath for a count of 16
And you breathe out from the opposite nostril on a count of 8
The practice always begins by breathing in from the left nostril
It always ends by breathing out from the left nostril
Anuloma Viloma calms the mind and balances the hormonal glands
It purifies all the nadis or astral channels, detoxifies the blood, improves hemoglobin levels
It balances the activities of the left and right hemispheres of the brain
It brings about physical, mental and emotional balance
We do eight to twelve rounds of alternate nostril breathing in a session
This pranayama brings about supreme mental and physical health and very high levels of energy
Ujjayi (the Victorious breath)
Is a tranquilizing pranayama
It is done by gently contracting the glottis (the throat)
Just imagine that you have a tiny hole in the throat
Breathe in and out without strain
A soft hissing sound will come from the throat area
This pranayama calms down the mind and feelings
Stimulates, and harmonizes the thyroid and parathyroid glands
It promotes concentration and a sense of well being
And is an ideal step before sitting for meditation practice
You can do a few minutes daily for maximum benefit
Along with ujjayi, bhramari, or the humming bee breath gives the mind a calming influence and prepares it for meditation
Regular practice makes the voice sweet and melodious
Bhramari is very good to reduce mental anxiety, stress and anger
Breathe in, and then make a slightly high pitched sound of ‘om’ without opening the mouth, even while letting the breath out
The exhalation should be long, as long as you can make it
A deep humming sound will be felt in the cranium
Keep the eyes closed and concentrate on the sound
In the initial stages of this pranayama, it is enough to make the humming sound while breathing out, though the sound of bhramari can be made while inhaling as well as exhaling
You can safely practice bhramari for about five minutes every day
Sheetali and Sheetkari are two pranayamas which cool the internal system. In sheetali the tongue is extended from the mouth and rolled like a straw pipe. Breath is slowly inhaled from this pipe and exhaled from the nose. In sheetkari the mouth is opened but the teeth are clenched and the tongue sits on the upper palate while the breath is taken in. Exhalation once again is from the nose.
These are meant primarily for hot seasons, or when the body feels very hot. They purify the blood and cool down the body almost magically. Consequently it is good to cool down your feelings and you mind as well. In the city, be sure to practice these pranayamas indoors only. A couple of minutes is more than sufficient.
The gift of yoga is good health, the route is asana and pranayama, and the vital bridge is savasana or relaxation. Without savasana, the benefits of pranayama and yoga are doubtful and unsure. With the regular and authentic practice of savasana, the yogi can get whatever he/she desires – a slim body, glowing skin, a bright countenance, good sleep, immunity to disease, a clear mind and a calm attitude towards the daily stress of life. 10 minutes a day is more than enough to give you all these benefits.
The bandhas are the yogic way of raising the energy in the body by locking it in. moola bandha is the root lock, held by tightening the anal sphincter muscles. uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock, which is held by tightening the abdomen inwards and upwards. jalandhara bandha is the chin lock held by dropping the chin towards the chest. The three locks, held together (called maha bandha) with the breath exhaled out, tremendously increases the internal energy or fire, aiding supreme digestion. Health and high prana are a matter of good digestion!
Asanas, or physical postures, when held correctly, bring the body back into equilibrium.
while each asana may have some specific benefits, it is the combination of asanas that provides the holistic, all-round and full benefit.
asanas are gentle, and relaxing, and put minimum pressure on the joints and the muscular system, the opposite of vigorous exercises, which tend to injure and tire the body.
asanas work powerfully on the endocrine system and the production of hormones, particularly the thyroid, para thyroid, the thymus, and the adrenal glands. the internal fire, or metabolism is raised. this in turn makes for good, lasting and vibrant health.
held for a certain period of time, asanas bring about physical, mental and spiritual balance. excess weight gets dissolved magically, ailments become better and an overall sense of stamina, fitness, and well-being develops.
practice at least 10-12 asanas, 30 minutes daily to keep you glowing, in the pink of health.
calms the mind
heals the tissues
helps in all breathing disorders
burns fat (aids weight loss)
strengthens the nerves
improves lung capacity
improves digestion and aids assimilation
helps in detoxification
purifies blood and all internal organs
activates the endocrine glands
helps in the fighting of illness
increases metabolic rate
reduces catabolic activity (decay and degeneration)
increases anabolic activity (rejuvenation)
good to fight depression
brings about mental, emotional and physical balance
excellent for the brain
brings a glow to the face and a shine to the skin
efficient and simple to practice
requires limited time, space and effort
can be adopted by anyone and everyone