Pranayama is a form of breathing exercises invented in India thousands of years ago by the sages, who realized the importance of these exercises as vital to human existence. The word Pranayama literally means, ‘consciously controlling one’s breath (prana) to obtain specific results’. The mind is continuously trained to focus on the breath and with practice, the exercises lead to the union of the body and the mind. Systematic and regular practice of Pranayama can help prevent and cure most diseases. In fact, Pranayama is a prerequisite to meditation.
The deep breathing exercises mentioned here are not only simple, but are powerful methods to relax the body and mind. Deep breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). While most people can practice these exercises without any problems or adverse effects, some people with health conditions must consult their physician before taking up the practice of these methods.
For effective results, perform these breathing exercises sitting comfortably in Padmasana (lotus pose), Siddhasana (perfect pose) or Sukhasana (easy pose). Eyes must be closed, the spine must be straight and the concentration must be only on the breathing. After regular practice, increase the number of cycles. Maintain a balanced diet for best results.
1. Bhramari Pranayama
The sound produced while practicing this type of breathing exercise is similar to the sound of a buzzing honey bee or Bhramari in Sanskrit. Hence the name Bhramari Pranayama.
- Sit comfortably in a well-aired room or better still, outdoor in a garden or a park.
- Close both your ears with your thumb fingers.
- Keep your index fingers on your temple and close your eyes with the other three fingers.
- Inhale slowly through your nose and contain the fullness for 5-10 seconds.
- While keeping your mouth closed, create a humming sound as you exhale slowly through your nose.
Practice this exercise at least five times, preferably early morning or evenings, on an empty stomach.
- Helps in achieving concentration and cleanses your lungs
- Makes the tone of your voice melodious and rhythmic
- Prevents and cures throat related ailments
- Relieves tension, refreshes your mind and relaxes brain cells
2. Anulom-Vilom Pranayama
This type of deep breathing is also called as Sukha Pranayama. In this method, air is inhaled from one nostril and exhaled through the other, without making any sound. This exercise is performed using the right hand while seated comfortably in Sukhasana (easy pose) in a well-aired room. Imagine your stomach to be a balloon being filled and emptied with air.
- Close the index finger and the middle finger of your right hand.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and slowly exhale from the left nostril.
- Contain the emptiness in the stomach for 5-10 seconds (depending on your comfort level). Then, slowly inhale through the same (left) nostril.
- Contain the fullness in the stomach for 5-10 seconds.
- Now, close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.
- Again, hold the emptiness for 5-10 seconds and then inhale from the right nostril and contain the fullness for 5-10 seconds.
- Next, close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale from your left nostril, while keeping the right nostril closed with your thumb.
This is considered as one full cycle. Perform this cycle for 5-8 minutes. Remember to always begin the cycle with exhalation and finish it with inhalation.
- Improves eyesight
- Increases memory power
- Prevents heart diseases
- Normalizes blood pressure
- Stops carbon dioxide flow into the arteries and helps in blood purification process
3. Kapalbhathi Pranayama
This method of deep breathing involves forceful exhalation. It is very important to imagine that all your mental and physical disorders are being thrown out of your body with each exhale.
- Sit comfortably in Sukhasana (easy pose) or Padmasana (lotus pose), close your eyes and keep your spine straight.
- Inhale deeply through both nostrils until your lungs fill up with air.
- Exhale forcefully through both nostrils, causing your stomach to deflate and resulting in pressure in your stomach as you exhale.
- Forceful exhalation causes a hissing sound, during which you must imagine that all your disorders are being expelled through your nose.
- Repeat this process for 5 minutes.
- Generates heat in the body that helps dissolve toxins and waste matter
- Improves the function of kidneys and liver, and aids digestion
- Regular practice of Kapalbhati cures all intestinal problems
- Facilitates weight loss and balances sugar levels
- Helps reduce stress in the eyes and prevents dark circles around the eyes
- Improves blood circulation throughout the body
- Helps balance the emotions
Note: Persons with artificial pacemakers or stents, backache due to slipped disc, or those who have recently undergone abdominal surgeries, or those suffering with epilepsy or hernia must avoid performing Kapalbhati. Women should not practice Kapalbhati during and shortly after pregnancy, as well as during menstruation, since it involves vigorous abdominal contractions. People with hypertension and heart problems may practice this breathing technique only under the guidance of an expert.
4. Ujjayi Pranayama
In this deep breathing exercise, inhalation and exhalation are are equal in duration. Both inhalation and exhalation are done through the nostrils. A soft hissing ocean-like sound is caused due to the moving glottis as air passes in and out of your throat. This technique is very helpful to those suffering from chronic respiratory problems or bronchial asthma.
- Sit comfortably in Sukhasana (easy pose) or Padmasana (lotus pose) with eyes closed and keep your spine erect.
- Take a long, deep breath (inhale) slowly through both the nostrils.
- While inhaling, contract the throat and feel the air passing through your throat.
- As air touches the glottis, a hissing sound is produced.
- Regulate the quantity of air entering your throat by contracting the rear of your throat, making a gentle hissing sound as you inhale.
- The sound occurs naturally and is loud enough to be heard by a person standing near you.
- Increases body heat and the amount of oxygen in the blood
- Regulates blood pressure and relieves tension
- Clears blocked arteries and regulates cholesterol
- Helps in treating cataracts, migraine, sinus problems and rheumatism
- Lowers the risk of heart attacks
- Detoxifies mind and body
- Clears the wind pipe, cures thyroid and reduces snoring
5. Bhastrika Pranayama
Bhastrika or bellows breath is a powerful and energetic deep breathing exercise that involves both rapid inhalation as well as exhalation. Most deep breathing exercises either increase or decrease the body temperature, but Bhastrika maintains the body temperature. Bhastrika can be practiced both in the morning and evening, and is aimed at maximizing the oxygen supply to the body. Bhastrika is beneficial to those who are trying to lose weight. Performing a few cycles of this deep breathing method helps increase your digestion and metabolism.
Bhastrika breathing exercise is considered as a combination of Kapalbhati and Ujjayi. The exhalation is similar to that in Kapalbhati and inhalation is similar to that in Ujjayi. If you have practiced Kapalbhati and Ujjayi, then Bhastrika is easy.
- Sit comfortably in Sukhasana (easy pose), Padmasana (lotus pose) or Siddhasana (perfect pose).
- Keep the spine erect and close your mouth.
- Start with deep inhalation, causing the stomach to expand to its maximum.
- Exhale deeply, sucking your navel towards the backbone.
- Inhale and exhale in rapid succession, which causes a hissing sound.
- Begin with 10 inhalations and exhalations per round. With practice, increase the number of rounds. Some practitioners perform this method till they begin sweating.
- Practicing at least one round in a day is good, but doing it once in the morning and once in the evening is recommended.
- Strengthens the lungs
- Helps in treating allergies, asthma, respiratory diseases, tonsil and thyroid
- Calms the mind and balances the three Doshas
- Purifies the blood and removes toxins from the body
- Supplies ample oxygen to the body, which improves overall health
- Heats up the body and cures common cold
- Improves the immune system
Note: Do not practice Bhastrika if you’re pregnant, have heart diseases or hypertension, epilepsy, seizures or panic disorder. Practice Bhastrika only on an empty stomach or wait at least two hours after eating. If you have undergone any surgery recently or have any existing medical conditions, consult your doctor before attempting Bhastrika.