Simple Pranayama for Beginners and How to Start

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. In the eightfold path of yoga, Pranayama is the fourth limb.

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.

Prana circulates through 72,000 nadis or channels in five directions. Each of these five vayus has a different role in the body. Prana vayu, flowing from the diaphragm to the throat, regulates blood circulation and heartbeat. Apana vayu, from the navel to the feet, is a downward and outward energy and governs functions such as elimination and menstruation. Samana vayu, which circulates around the navel, regulates digestion. Udana vayu, flowing from the throat to the top of the head, is for throat-related actions such as swallowing and coughing. Vyana vayu carries prana through all the channels to all the cells and integrates the other four.

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.

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

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 three – Bhastrika Pranayama, Uijayi Breathing, and Nadi Shodhana probably the most common pranayama for beginners.

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 helps to increase metabolism, improve focus, and relieve stress and tension. By leraning to consciously control your breath, you can deepen it whenever internal chaos increase to return to a calmer sate of mind.

 

 For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.

Sanskrit proverb

Bhastrika Pranayama

Bhastrika, meaning “bellows”, is a dynamic and energizing Pranayama which increases fire in the body and is cleansing. Forcible in and out breaths move the diaphragm, creating physical and pranic heat within the body.

First, sit in a cross-legged position, with hands on knees and eyes closed. Start with a few deep breaths and relax your shoulders. Breathe vigorously but deeply through both nostrils, then exhale forcefully through both nostrils. The inhalation should be as vigorous as the exhale. You will feel your abdomen moving in and out as well. Aim for one breath per second and keep your head, neck, and shoulders still and use your diaphragm.

Begin with ten breaths and continue with 20 breaths after pausing about 30 seconds. You can continue with 30 breaths for a third round. As pranayama for beginners, do what you can as you practice the technique and take longer breaks between the rounds. This is a very dynamic pranayama and many beginners get dizzy so be self-aware and adjust the pace and intensity.

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.

Bhastrika is not for people who are pregnant or have lung disease, seizures, panic disorder, glaucoma, or vertigo. Use caution if there is an underlying lung disease.

Ujjayi Breath

Also known as “The Victorious Breath”, Ujjayi (pronounced “oo-jai”) 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 or waves of the ocean. The Ujjayi Breath is also called the “Ocean’s Breath”.

Nadi Shodhana

Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing and can help someone to feel more grounded. By breathing equally into both nostrils, this ensures oxygen reaches both hemispheres of the brain. It also has a soothing effect on the nervous system and can help reduce anxiety.

  1. Place your right thumb over your right nostril to close it and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
  2. At the peak of your inhalation, use your ring finger to close off your left nostril. Lift your right thumb. Exhale through your right nostril.
  3. After exhaling, repeat by closing off your right nostril with your right thumb.

Continue breathing through alternating nostrils. Exhale and inhale as normal, allowing it to be smooth and as effortless as possible. Focus on the breath – in and out. Over time, extend your inhale and exhale. Start with 5 minutes.

Starting 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. Practice Pranayama on an empty stomach.

With consistent practice, practitioners experience a reduction in the six enemies – lust, anger, miserliness, infatuation, ego, and jealousy. Instead of stress, practitioners feel more enthusiasm, bliss, lightness, energy, and harmony. A Pranayama practice is fantastic for detoxing negative emotions.

Studying with a Pranayama teacher ensure the proper progression for people of all levels. If you are just starting out, you can attend a Pranayama for beginners class to get all the basics covered.

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All of this is taught in the Art of Living Basic course and beyond.

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