purpose of Yoga postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama) is to
develop a healthy and balanced body and mind.
is a Sanskrit word formed by two words – Prana and Ayama. Prana means
life-force, giving energy to the body and the mind. Ayama is the voluntary
effort to control and direct this prana. Pranayama in essence is the way to
control the flow of the breath.
can also be translated as ‘vital energy’ and ‘breath of life’. Yogi Svatmarama
in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:3 states that
there is prana in the body, it is called life; when it leaves the body, it
results in death. So one should practice pranayama.’
is just one indication of how important prana and breathing actually is.
Everything in the human, animal and plant kingdom is dependent on air in order
to survive. There is not one life form that can live without breath or prana.
is also linked to the mind. When there are fluctuations in the mind the breath
is also restless. We are all aware of how our breathing is affected during
emotional states such as anger, fear or nervousness. For example, when we
become angry, the breath becomes faster and we can lose control of a regular
breathing pattern. The emotions and mental processes are related to our nervous
system and through it they change our breathing. That is why it is so important
to develop positive attitudes and thoughts.
The Practice and Benefits of Pranayama
basic principles behind breathing are inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka)
and retetion of the breath (khumbaka). These are practiced in various ways
providing numerous benefits for the body and mind. During deep meditation
breath becomes suspended for a short period of time, it is this interval that
constitutes itself as Pranayama.
purpose of Pranayama is two-fold. It helps to not only improve the quality of
the breath, but also to remove distractions from the mind enabling easier
concentration and meditation.
Svatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:16-18 states that
proper and careful practice of pranayama one attains optimum health, a
peaceful, steady mind and a firm and lustrous body free from disease.’
practicing Pranayama find a place that is warm and comfortable where you will
not be disturbed. Sit on a folded blanket or cushion in a suitable meditative
position. The posture you choose to sit in should allow you to keep your back
erect and you should be able to sit comfortably and relaxed with your eyes
not practice asanas immediately after long periods of pranayama.
not practice pranayama immediately after meals.
practicing pranayama do not force or strain the breath.
Abdominal Breathing (Adham Pranayama)
the palms of your hands lightly on your abdomen and be aware of the movement in
this area as you breathe in and out. Breathe out slowly, as you exhale feel
your abdomen contract, your navel will move toward your spine.
your breath for a count of one or two.
without expanding your chest or moving your shoulders. Feel the abdomen expand,
the navel moving upwards. The breathing should be deep and slow.
the breath for one or two counts.
again slowly and completely. Feel the contraction in your abdomen. Hold the
breath for a short time, inhale and repeat the whole process twice more.
move your hands to your back and rest the palms on your lower back, with the
fingers pointing towards the spine. Concentrate on the movement of the lungs
beneath your hands as you breathe in and out.
the same breath work as you did for the abdomen.
Equal Breath (Sama Vritti Pranayama)
practice is good for stress relief and helps to develop an awareness of the
breath. It helps to focus the mind and is good for concentration. It is a
balancing practice and is helpful to calm the mind.
aware of your normal breathing pattern. Sit quietly for a few minutes.
make the exhalation and inhalation last for four counts. Continue this practice
for five rounds.
increase the length of the inhalation and exhalation to six counts. Continue
this practice for five rounds.
the breath is still comfortable increase the inhalation and exhalation to eight
counts. Again practice five rounds.
begin to reduce the length of the breath. First inhale and exhale for a count
of six for five rounds. Then inhale and exhale for a count of four for five
return to breathing naturally without controlling the breath.
how your body and mind feels. It should feel relaxed, calm and balanced.
Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari)
is a restorative and soothing practice helping to take the focus internally. It
helps to calm the emotions and relieves anxiety. By listening inwardly it helps
us to become aware of ourselves and helps to improve our sense of well-being.
a comfortable sitting position and focus on the rhythm of your breath.
your index fingers over the lobes of the ears and gently press. Try to keep the
face, neck and shoulders relaxed during the practice.
your eyes and slowly take the awareness first to the abdomen, then to the
chest, the throat and then the head.
a long inhalation and as you exhale make a humming sound. This is one round.
Repeat for ten rounds.
aware of your exhalation and inhalation lengthening.
your awareness to the humming sound and observe any vibrations in your face,
throat, head and chest.
After the practice sit quietly keeping your eyes closed, aware of how
the body and mind feels.
Alternate Nostril Breath (Nadi Sodhana)
practice helps to balance the flow of energy between the left and right side of
the body and helps to purify the energy channels (nadis). It is beneficial
prior to meditation helping to balance and re-center the mind.
comfortably with a straight spine. Allow the back of the left hand to rest on
the left thigh. Touch the thumb and index finger together – this is chin
the right arm and place the thumb over the right nostril and the ring finger
over the left nostril with the middle fingers resting between the eyebrows.
This is called nose mudra.
close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril. At
the end of the inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring finger and
exhale through the right nostril.
the left nostril closed now inhale through the right nostril. After the
inhalation close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. This is
the practice for up to twelve rounds.
you become more comfortable with the practice begin to lengthen both the
inhalation and the exhalation, making them even in length.
try to force and the breath. Make the breath relaxed so that it flows
comfortably without strain.
you have finished the practice place your right hand onto your right thigh and
practice chin mudra. Sit for a few minutes allowing the breath to flow
aware of the quality of the breath a how your body and mind feel.
Warming Breath (Ujjayi)
breath is quite an energising breath and is also known as the ‘victorious’ or
‘expanding’ breath. The breath is kept high in the chest rather than in the
abdomen. It can be used throughout asana practice. When practicing this breath
there is a soft sound in the back of the throat. This is due to a slight
contraction in the throat causing a hissing sound. As with most pranayama the
breath is taken through the nostrils and not through the mouth.
a comfortable seated position with the spine upright. Relax your shoulders and
close your eyes. During the practice try and keep the awareness on the throat,
chest and abdomen.
slowly and deeply through both nostrils. Partially close the glottis (as if
swallowing) to produce a hissing sound. The sound should be soft and the breath
contract the abdomen so that on the inhalation the chest fills with air.
exhale keeping the throat constricted to produce the soft hissing sound. This
is one round.
this practice whilst the breathing feels relaxed and comfortable.
practicing remain with the eyes closed and allow the breath to return to
normal. Be aware of how the body and mind feel.
Controlled Breathing (Viloma Pranayama)
is a revitalising breath that helps to develop conscious breathing and enables
one to use the lungs to their full capacity. The lungs are filled in three
stages to help this practice.
comfortably and focus on the breath. Try and inhale to a third of your lung
capacity filling the bottom third of the lungs. Feel the rise in the abdominal
region. Pause for a few seconds.
inhale into the middle part of the lungs and feel the expansion in the chest.
Pause for a few seconds.
inhale into the top third of the lungs. Feel the sternum lift as you fill the
entire lungs. When practicing try not to strain the breath. Pause for a few
release the breath in one long exhalation.
the breath to return to normal and repeat the practice two more times.
in one steady flow until the lungs are full. Pause for a few seconds.
exhale out of the bottom third of the lungs. Try not to tighten the abdominal
muscles. Pause for a few seconds.
exhale from the middle section of the lungs. Try and maintain the rise in the
sternum. Pause for a few seconds without inhaling.
exhale completely letting the air flow gently out of the lungs. Pause for a few
seconds and be aware of the stillness.
you need to inhale allow it come naturally in one smooth long breath. Rest the
lungs with relaxed breathing then repeat the practice two more times.
awareness of the body, mind and breath after the practice. Focus on the
Bellows Breath (Bhastrika)
pranayama practice draws air in and out of the lungs with force. It helps to
rid the body of toxins and works around the abdominal region. As this is a
strong practice beginners should begin slowly. Practice a few rounds to begin
with and build it up slowly as you become more experienced. If you experience
any dizziness allow the breath to return to normal. Do not practice this
pranayama if you are pregnant or suffer with pressure in your eyes or ears.
by blowing your nose so that your nasal passages are clear. Then find a
comfortable sitting position with the spine straight. Press the sitting bones
down so that your spine elongates and the neck lengthens.
slowly through the nostrils then exhale sharply through the nostrils 5 to 10
times tightening the abdominal muscles at the same time. This is one round.
breath can be heard passing though the nostrils. Complete ten to twenty rounds
of inhalation and exhalation, expanding and contracting the abdominal muscles
in time with the breath.
you have finished take a comfortable inhalation. Perform chin lock (jalandhara
bandha) and root lock (mula bandha). This helps to maintain the prana within
the body. Hold the breath for thirty seconds. Release the bandhas and exhale.
the breath to flow naturally. Repeat two more cycles of ten to twenty breaths
then rest in savasana.