Pranayamas are Basic Spiritual Practices that lead one to experience the higher dimensions within.
Pranayama is a combination of two words, “Prana” which is life-force energy and “Ayama” is elongating the Prana.
Pranayama even though it might seem to be just as an exercise where you inhale and exhale and try to fill more oxygen to the body at the gross level.
There is more to it, which involves the circulation of the life-force energy across the subtle energy channels in the body called “Nadis”.
Pranayama directly affects your second body called “Pranamaya Kosha” (Sheath of Pranic Energy).
Prana word itself has two syllables which means constancy.
It is a method by which internal storage in Pranic Body can be increased.
Four Aspects of Pranayama
There are four important things involved in performing Pranayama.
- Pooraka or Inhalation.
- Rechaka or Exhalation.
- Antar Khumbhaka or Internal Breath Retention.
- Bahir Khumbhaka or External Breath Retention.
There is another important aspect named “Kevala Khumbaka” automatic breath retention which happens during meditation practices of an advanced practitioner of yoga asana, pranayama, mudras, bandhas, and kriya.
Do check out the Mudras for increasing the energy field of your human body.
According to Yoga, whatever gets manifested in the Physical body happens depends on the pranic structure of the subtle body or the energy body.
According to Tantra whatever there exists on the world is the manifested forms of the same divine energy called “Shakti” which is roughly equated to the same “Prana”.
The power “Shakti” has been formed by the ever-present supreme consciousness called “Shiva”.
The purpose of Tantra and Yoga is to realize this potential energy Shiva through Shakti or Prana.
Breathing is a method by which we absorb the Prana. Different Pranayama techniques affects our whole being in a different manner.
Diet is also to be controlled for performing the Pranayama as eating is a direct means of Pranic absorption which affects the body, mind, and pranic vibrations.
Pranic Body and the Mental Body are interlinked so does the Prana and the Mental activities.
The two paths of Yoga Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga both suggest the same thing in the opposite way.
Hatha Yoga suggests control of prana leads to the control of Mind.
Whereas Raja Yoga suggests control of Mind leads to control of Prana.
Brain and Pranayama
The way we breath is directly connected to the brain and the central nervous system.
It also has a connection with the hypothalamus which is responsible for emotional responses.
There are certain areas of the Nasal Mucous Membrane which are connected to the Visceral Organs. The breathing affects these organs based on whether we breathe arrhythmically or rhythmically.
If we are able to be aware of our own breathing pattern and restrain it, we can control the whole system.
Breath retention plays a major role in nerve impulses in different parts of the body and the brain.
Retaining the breath will help harmonize the brain wave patterns.
Longer the breath retention greater the gap between nerve impulses and their responses in the brain.
Mental agitation can be curtailed with longer breath retention.
In fact, Patanjali says Pranayama is breath retention. He says it is the gap between inhalation and exhalation.
Pranayama helps in Union of two poles of energy within us.
In today’s world, it is very difficult to follow Yama and Niyama (Rules and Regulations on how to live a balanced life).
Practicing Pranayama, Asana, Mudra, Bandhas, and Kriya would help one live a balanced life as he don’t have control over the external circumstances.
It is said in the scriptures of Sufisim, Buddhism, and Yoga that concentrating on the breath leads to stillness of the mind, helps develop one-pointedness of the mind, and gain entry to the deeper realms of the mind and consciousness.
Pranayama or breathing practices would help improve the health.
5 Prana Vayus (5 Subtle Winds/Energies)
Vayu has manifested itself into 5 main vayus (Winds).
- Prana Vayu.
- Apana Vayu.
- Vyana Vayu.
- Udana Vayu.
- Samana Vayu.
It helps prana to get absorbed into the thoracic region of the body.
It helps in the assimilation of prana in the stomach region.
This helps in the movement of prana in the throat and facial expressions.
It helps with the circulation of the prana throughout the body.
Upa Prana Vayus
Upaprana Vayus are derived from the 5 main vayus.
Below are the Upaprana Vayus and their workings in the human system.
- Koorma Vayu.
- Krikara Vayu.
- Devadatta Vayu.
- Naga Vayu.
- Dhananjaya Vayu.
Koorma Upaprana Vayu
This is responsible for the blinking of the eyes.
Krikara Upaprana Vayu
It is responsible for the feeling of hunger, thirst, sneezing, and coughing.
Devadatta Upaprana Vayu
This is responsible for sleep and yawning.
Naga Upaprana Vayu
It is responsible for Hiccups and Belching.
Dhananjaya Upaprana Vayu
It is responsible for the releasing of the prana slowly after death.
According to Yogic Physiology, there are 5 sheaths that cover the soul. Each of these sheaths has a different dimension to it.
- Annamaya Kosha.
- Pranamaya Kosha.
- Manomaya Kosha.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha.
- Anandamaya Kosha.
Annamaya Kosha is formed by the food we eat.
Pranamaya Kosha is responsible for storing of Prana Vayu and the circulation of it throughout the system.
Manomaya Kosha is the mental body.
Vijnanamaya Kosha is the psychic or higher mental body.
Anandamaya Kosha is the transcendental bliss body.
Thus being established in asana and having control (of the
body), taking a balanced diet; pranayamas should be
practised according to the instructions of the guru.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:1)
Types of Breathing
There are mainly 5 types of breathing. They are listed below.
- Natural Breathing.
- Abdominal Breathing.
- Thoracic Breathing.
- Clavicular Breathing.
- Yogic Breathing.
It is a simple practice which involves focusing your awareness on to your own breath.
It is practiced by enhancing the action of the diaphragm and minimizing the action of the rib cage.
It is practiced by using middle lobes of the lungs by expanding and contracting the rib cage.
It happens at the end of total rib cage expansion.
It is a combination of Abdominal Breathing, Thoracic Breathing, and Clavicular breathing.
Pranic Energy and Subtle Energy Channels
There are main 3 Nadis or Subtle Energy Channels which are responsible for the energy flow in the system.
They are said to be, Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna Nadi.
- Ida helps in maintaining the body’s cold energy.
- Pingala helps in maintaining the body’s heat energy.
From a yogic point of view, there said to be 72,000 nadis which is responsible for the energy flow in the human system.
Out of 72,000 Nadis, one half of it is spread across Ida Nadi and the other half is spread across Pingala Nadi.
Sushumna Nadi, which is dormant in all human beings gets activated only when we manually activate it by balancing the other two Nadis, Ida, and Pingala.
Prana Vayu is related to Ida Nadi and Apana Vayu is related to Pingala Nadi.
The most important Vayu which is Samana Vayu is related to Sushumna Nadi.
Pranic Body is an intermediate link between the physical body (Body) and the mental body (Mind).
Therefore, it is easier to control and purify the mind using the physical body by practicing the Pranayamas.
Practicing Pranayama will eventually lead to the purification and strengthening of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which is directly linked to the subtle existence of the Nadis (subtle energy channels) Ida and Pingala.
Once both the Nadis gets strengthened and purified, it is easy to activate the central nervous system which is directly linked to the subtle existence of Sushumna Nadi.
Note of Caution
- Breathing – Always breath through your nose not through your mouth unless it is specifically instructed in particular pranayamas.
- Time – Pranayamas are best to be practiced daily early morning when the body is fresh and the mind has very few impressions.
- Speed of Breathing – Never ever try to breathe fastly or slowly. The breathing should be like smooth and steady without a jerk or tension.
- Place – Practice the Pranayama in a quiet, clean, and pleasant place specifically allotted for your spiritual practices. If you are a having room, it is better if you practice at the same place and at the same time regularly.
- Sitting Position – Body should be relaxed yet firm. Ensure you keep your head and spine erect but not stiff. You can be in positions like Padmasana or Siddhasana (Siddha Yoni Aasana for Women).
- Sequence – If you are practicing the Yoga Asanas then you should practice Pranayama after that.
- Clothes – Keep a separate cloth for your spiritual practices especially Pranayama. Pranayama help store the Pranic energy including your clothes.
- Bathing – Bathing is not a mandatory thing to do early morning. But, if you are comfortable taking the bath then no issues. Ensure you stick to activities you do every day as it forms the habits.
If you are unable to take a bath, you can wash your face, feet, and hands.
- Empty Stomach – Your stomach should be empty and you need to give at least 3-4 hours of the gap after consuming the food.
- Diet – There is no restriction in the diet but it is good if you eat half stomach as it helps digest the food within 2-4 hours before you start practicing pranayama.
- Smoking – It is highly recommended to avoid smoking as you are doing pranayama it does affect your quality of the breath and directly impacts your lungs.
- Contra-Indications – Pranayama should be practiced under the guidance of a yoga teacher in the most critical health issue cases.
Otherwise, it is perfectly okay to follow simple practices like observing the breathing and abdominal breathing in Shavasana.
तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वास्योर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः ॥४९॥
tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsyor-gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ ॥49॥
Once harmony with the physical body has been achieved, through interruption of the movement engendered by inhaling and exhaling you attempt to harmonize your energy (pranayama). ||49||
YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI
9 Pranayama Types
There are 9 Pranayama Techniques which are responsible for enlarging the pranic body to the highest states of superconsciousness like Samadhi.
Please find the below types of Pranayama which have been given an elaborate description on each pranayama.
- Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
- Sheetali Pranayama.
- Sheetkari Pranayama.
- Bhramari Pranayama.
- Ujjayi Pranayama.
- Bhastrika Pranayama.
- Kapalabhati Pranayama.
- Moorchha Pranayama.
- Surya Bheda Pranayama.
How to do Pranayama?
Do check out each section to learn and practice the Pranayama.