Breathing is life. The ancient yogis knew the intimate connection between breath and mind, and the control of the breath leads to the control of the life force or prana.
The word Pranayama is made up of two words, Prana and Yama. Here Prana means life force and “absolute energy.” Ayama means expansion, stretching or extension and control of breath.
Thus Pranayama means the art of controlling breath. Pranayama can be used to clear and cleanse the body and mind. Ancient Sanskrit texts state that Pranayama, when done properly, can cure all diseases.
Types of Pranayama
There are several types of Pranayama, each for a different function such as purification, cleansing, balancing, cooling, and stilling. Here we will cover two-Bhastrika Pranayama and Uijayi Breathing.
Some pranayamas are useful for curing diseases, some for the purification of the nadis, and some for the arrest of the mind. All are important, however, though their practice requires that the preceding step – namely asana – be practiced as well.
Sri K Pattaubhi Jois
The Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama has several benefits, including increased oxygen to the body, which helps cleanse the blood and is vital for proper functioning of the brain and internal organs. Pranayama has been known to increase metabolism, improve focus, and relieve stress and tension.
Bhastrika, meaning “bellows”, is a dynamic Pranayama which increases fire in the body and is cleansing. The diaphragm is moved by forcible in and out breaths, creating physical and pranic heat within the body.
First, sit in a cross-legged position, with hands on knees and eyes closed. Breathe vigorously but deeply through both nostrils, then exhale forcefully through both nostrils. The inhalation should be as vigorous as the exhale.
This technique cleanses the lungs and respiratory tract. The increased exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream stimulates metabolism, helping to eliminate toxins. It is believed to remove bile and phlegm.
Also known as The Victorious Breath, Ujjayi is a calming technique which can be applied to sectional breathing or used during Yoga. This type of breathing helps to increase lung capacity and mental clarity.
In this technique, partially close the back of your throat, so that as you inhale and exhale through your nose, the air passes through a narrower air passage in your throat. This will create the sound made by your breathing while you are in a state of deep sleep. This sound is similar to a long “hhhhh” sound.
The Ujjayi Breath is said to have therapeutic effects on sore throats, bronchial asthma, and chronic colds.
Useful Tips for Starting a Pranayama Practice
1 Find the Right Place
Ensure you start your practice in a place and at a time where you won’t easily be distracted.
2 Lie down
Breathing fully at first can make one dizzy. First practice lying down, and gradually aim to sit cross legged.
Breathe evenly through the nose and progress slowly, gradually increasing the amount of time doing Pranayama.
3 Start with a Short Session
Start with five minutes a day, working up to a full 20 minutes, preferably in the morning. Pranayama should be done on an empty stomach.
As a consistent practice is put in place, a reduction of the six enemies – lust, anger, miserliness, infatuation, ego, and jealousy – is experienced. Instead of stress, practitioners feel more enthusiasm, bliss, lightness, energy, and harmony. A Pranayama practice is fantastic for detoxing negative emotions.
It is recommended to attend a Pranayama class or have a Pranayama instructor cover the basics.
For more tips, check out this Yoga Journal article.