Types Of Pranayama


Natural Breathing

Natural breathing is basically breath awareness. It is the starting point of working with the breath. It allows us to understand how we are breathing and our breathing patterns. It is relaxing, soothing, can be practiced at any time and is the basic starting point of meditation.

Sit in a comfortable position. The body is stable, the shoulders are relaxed, chest is open and eyes gently closed. Become aware of the breath. Notice if it is shallow or deep. Notice what part of the body is moving, the abdomen or the chest. Notice if there is any sound with the breath. Try to focus only on the breath. Try to become aware of the temperature of the breath. When the air is inhaled it is a little cool, when it is exhaled it is a little warmer. Notice the difference. Notice if the breath is becoming smoother and deeper. Notice if there is any strain. Be aware only of the breath. Now try to become more aware of the breath entering the nostrils. Focus only on the nostrils. Now notice the breath flowing down towards the lungs. Focus only on that area. Now focus on the lungs, only on the lungs. Now try to follow the air flowing from the nostrils and down into the lungs. Follow the breath with the inhalation and exhalation. Try to focus only on the breath. Continue with this practice for as long as is comfortable.


Basic Abdominal Breathing

This should be practiced before any pranayam for at least a few minutes and we should always breath with our diaphragm for all breathing techniques. Sit in a comfortable sitting position, using the wall, a chair, cushions or bolsters as support if needed. Alternatively lie in shavasan or tadagasan. Tadagasan is useful during pregnancy as it allows the lower back to relax, however in the later stages of pregnancy sitting is preferred.

Place one hand on the belly and the other on the chest. Inhale deeply, using the diaphragm. If one is using the diaphragm then as one inhales the diaphragm will move downward, pushing the abdominal contents down and out, making the abdomen rise. On exhalation the diaphragm will move upward and the abdomen will fall. Continue the practice. This is the type of breathing we want to practice. If the chest is moving then we are still breathing shallow, without the diaphragm. If we use the diaphragm then the lower lobes of the lungs are being used, improving their efficiency and giving a positive effect to the heart, liver, stomach and intestines. It is the most natural and efficient way to breathe, however many people do not breathe in this way due to the modern lifestyle. Just by altering the way we breathe we can see huge benefits.


Thoracic Breathing

This type of breathing is mostly helpful to create awareness in how we breathe and as a stepping stone to learning yogic breathing. It is the common way many of us breathe which expends more energy than abdominal breathing.

To practice thoracic breathing one starts with breath awareness and then tries to focus on expanding the ribcage only, without using the diaphragm. The focus should be only on the expansion of the chest as one inhales and the contraction of the chest as one exhales.


Clavicular Breathing

This type of breathing is generally done in combination with thoracic breathing in periods of great stress such as strong physical exertion or obstructive airways problems such as asthma or emphysema. The upper ribs and collar bones are pulled upward by the sternum and neck and this allows more air into the lungs. In yoga we only use it alone to create awareness and then afterwards combine it with thoracic and abdominal breathing to form yogic breathing.

To practice clavicular breathing one starts with breath awareness and then thoracic breathing for a few minutes. After that breathe in fully, into the chest, from there try to breathe in a little more so that one can feel the expansion right into the upper lungs. The collar bones and shoulders will raise up slightly. Next exhale, first relaxing the neck and upper chest and then the ribcage. Continue a few rounds.


Yogic Breathing

This involves the use of the abdomen, chest and clavicular region. It can also be practiced before other breathing techniques. It allows one to have maximum inhalation and exhalation. It can be combined with deep breathing (using a ratio).

Inhale slowly, allowing the abdomen to rise. When the abdomen had expanded as much as it can allow the chest to expand outward and upward. Once the ribs have expanded as much as they can inhale a little more so that the collar bones move up slightly. Then slowly exhale first allowing the collar bones to move downward, then the chest and finally the abdomen. Continue the practice without any strain, jerks or tension. The breath should feel natural and after some time it should be mostly thoracic and abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing should be at least 70% of the breath.


Deep Breathing

Begin with normal breathing, ideally abdominal or yogic breathing, bringing awareness to the movement of the abdomen and the chest. Inhale deeply and smoothly in counts (use a timer, metronome, clock or count in your head, a nice way is to say 1 aum, 1 aum etc) according to the ratio you are following (see below). Exhale smoothly in the required counts. Continue this process. Be aware of the abdomen rising and falling with the breath. Return to normal breathing. Practice another round if desired.

Ratio - This may be 4:4 to start. This means inhale to 4 counts and exhale to 4 counts. If this causes strain then start with 3:3 or 2:2. After some time, when it is very comfortable to practice 4:4 the ratio can be changed. Start exhaling for longer, 4:6. Later this can be increased to 4:8. Remember there is no rush to do this. After some time one can start 5:5 then 6:6 but at no time should it cause strain.

Benefits

  • Due to slowing of respiration rate the heart rate is reduced.
  • Blood pressure is lowered.
  • Stress and stress related ailments. Anxiety, tension, anger.
  • More oxygen is made available per breath, making the breathing most efficient.
  • Conscious deep breathing greatly affects the cortical activities, relaxing the nervous system, which calms the mind by removing thoughts and emotions.
  • Enhanced movement of the diaphragm gives a good massage to the internal organs as the liver, pancreas, stomach, heart and lungs are attached to the diaphragm which is moved up and down during the breathing.
  • Good preparation for labour
  • Gives us control over our breath

Precautions & Contraindications

There are no contraindications as such however the breathing must be smooth and rhythmic and not in steps. There should never be strain and one should not feel that they are running out of breath.


Fast Breathing

Types of Fast Breathing:
Type1: Inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils.
Type2: Close the right nostril and inhale and exhale through the left nostril.
Type 3: Close the left nostril and inhale and exhale through the right nostril.
Type 4: Inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
Type 5: Inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
Type 6: Inhale through the left nostril, exhale through the right, inhale through the right and then exhale through left.

Begin with normally breathing, bringing awareness to the movement of the abdomen and the chest. Place the right hand in Pranava Mudra and bring the hand to the lips. Block the appropriate nostril depending on the fast breathing type being performed. Begin inhalation and exhalation, building up speed. Practice fast inhalations and exhalations, about 30 times is enough when pregnant. Reduce the speed and return to normal breathing. Make sure the body remains relaxed and steady throughout the practice.

Benefits

  • Due to the fast inhalations and exhalations, the carbon dioxide levels in the blood fall and oxygen levels increase in the blood. Rich oxygenated blood is supplied to the vital organs, improving their function.
  • Due to rapid exchange of gases on a cellular level, toxins are removed and the cells are revitalized.
  • The fast movement of the diaphragm gives massage to the digestive organs, lungs and heart, increasing their efficiency.
  • Increases the overall prana in the body.
  • Gets rid of excess mucus which helps in removing sinusitis and common cold etc.
  • Clears blocked nostrils in preparation for pranayam
  • Increases lung capacity
  • Preparation for labour, particularly during contractions

Precautions & Contraindications

Should be avoided if one has high blood pressure, heart problems, ulcers or hernia.

Only a small amount (1-2 rounds) of fast breathing should be done during pregnancy and only if it feels comfortable to do so. It is not recommended in the first trimester and is generally not comfortable to do in the third trimester. If one feels any dizziness or light headedness it should be avoided. If this happens stop the fast breathing and hold the breath for about 10 seconds, or try to inhale and exhale in a paper bag, then continue normal breathing. If one has any complications during pregnancy then avoid fast breathing completely.


Viloma Breathing – Interrupted Breathing

Start with relaxed breathing. Imagine a set of stairs or imagine a ladder in one’s body, with the base at the pelvic floor and the top at the throat.

  • Start inhaling but instead of inhaling smoothly like in deep breathing inhale in steps. Imagine you are walking up the steps or visualise the prana moving up the ladder in your body. There should be between 3-5 steps. Keep inhaling till you reach the top and the lungs are full. Slowly exhale, smoothly, without steps till the lungs feel empty. Continue the practice.
  • Next inhale smoothly and completely then exhale in steps, moving down the stairs or ladder till the breath has been fully expelled and you have reached the bottom of the ladder. Continue the practice.
  • Next inhale and exhale in steps, a combination of the first two techniques.
  • Finish with a few rounds of relaxed breathing or continue with deep breathing.

Benefits

  • Preparation for deep breathing
  • Helps give finer control over the flow of air
  • Helps to expand breath capacity
  • Preparation for labour

Precautions & Contraindications

There should be no jerking movements in the steps and no strain at any time.


Anulom Vilom – Alternate Nostril Breathing

Make the pranava mudra with the right hand. Pranava mudra is made by bending the index and middle finger towards the palm. When we bring the right hand up to the nose we can block the right nostril with the thumb and then change to blocking the left nostril with the ring finger, which may be supported with the little finger. In this way we can move the hand from side to side, as needed.
Slowly inhale through the left nostril, close the nostril and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril and then exhale through the left nostril. This is one round. Continue at your own pace. If that is comfortable a ratio can be added, such as 4:4 or 4:8. Always start by inhaling through the left nostril and finish by exhaling through the left nostril. The left nostril relates to the calming energy in our body so it will give us more benefits to practice in this way.

Benefits

  • The whole body is nourished by the extra supply of oxygen
  • Blood is purified of any toxins
  • The brain centres are stimulated to work to their optimum capacity 
  • Gives tranquility, clarity of thoughts and improved concentration
  • Lowers levels of stress and anxiety
  • Increases vitality  
  • Function of all systems (endocrine, digestive, excretory, reproductive, nervous, respiratory, circulatory) are improved
  • Balances left and right energy pathways, ida and pingala, clearing pranic blockages. This can awaken sushaumna.

 
Precautions & Contraindications

There are no contraindications as such however the breathing must be smooth and rhythmic and not in steps. There should never be strain and one should not feel that they are running out of breath. One should choose a ratio that suits them. If one has a cold or one nostril is blocked then it can be better to practice deep breathing or do a round of fast breathing first.


Cooling Breath

Sheetali (Sheetal - that which is calm and soothing)- Open the mouth and extend the tongue outside of the mouth, rolling it from the sides to form a tube. Inhale through the tube. Close the mouth and exhale through the nose. Make sure the breaths are slow, deep and comfortable.

Sitkari – Bring the teeth together lightly. Separate the lips so that the teeth are exposed. Fold the tongue so that it touches the soft palate in kechari mudra. If that is uncomfortable keep the tongue flat. Inhale slowly, through the teeth. Close the mouth and exhale slowly through the nose. Keep the breaths slow and relaxed.

Kaki MudraThough this is a mudra we are including it here due to its cooling effect.- Keep the eyes open and focus on the nosetip. Purse the lips into the shape of a beak. Relax the tongue and inhale through the lips. Close the lips and exhale through the nose. Let the breath be slow and relaxed.

  • Cooling breath can be practiced in combination with other breathing practices such as Ujjayi and Bhramari. Either cooling breath can be practiced, whichever is most comfortable.

Benefits of Cooling breath

  • Acidity such as heartburn
  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Muscular relaxation
  • Peptic or mouth ulcer
  • Controls hunger or thirst, gives feelings of satisfaction
  • Helpful for nausea
  • Removes excess heat
  • Allows prana to flow more freely through the body
  • Can help cool the body, such as during hot weather or a hot flush
  • Cools, calms and tranquilises  the mind, in cases of anger or frustration
  • Reduces emotional excitation
  • Balances endocrine system
  • Purifies the blood
  • Useful to practice before going to sleep if one suffers from insomnia
  • Sitkari has a beneficial effect on the teeth and gums which is beneficial during and after pregnancy when mouth health can be compromised.

Precautions and Contraindications

  • Low blood pressure
  • Asthma, respiratory disorders, excessive mucous, cold or flu
  • Chronic constipation
  • Avoid in a cold climate
  • Avoid if one feels cold easily
  • Addition for sitkari – sensitive teeth

Ujjayi – Victorious Breath

Focus the awareness on the throat. Imagine you are inhaling and exhaling through the throat. Start to contract the throat slightly on inhalation and exhalation. Keep the breath, slow, relaxed and deep. Focus on the breath and sound. The sound should not be very loud and will be like a baby snoring. The breath will become slower as one continues.

Benefits

  • Decreases high blood pressure
  • Activates the natural relaxation response
  • Good for any heart problems
  • Insomnia
  • Mental tension, stress, anxiety, tranquilising effect
  • Helpful for fluid retention
  • Encourages introversion
  • Increases psychic sensitivity and relaxes on a psychic level
  • Stimulates parasympathetic nervous system and inducing muscular relaxation
  • Useful preparation for meditation
  • Helpful to balance the emotions
  • Helpful during labour

Precautions and  Contra-indications

  • Very introverted people should avoid
  • Low blood pressure
  • Avoid contracting the throat too strongly, it should be relaxing and soothing.

Bhramari – Humming Bee Breath

Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose. On exhalation make the sound of ‘m’, as in the third letter of ‘aum’, like the humming sound of a bee. Exhale slowly and do not strain. The sound should be smooth, even and controlled. The exhalation will naturally be longer than the inhalation. Continue. If that is comfortable block the ears with the fingers to increase the vibrations through the body. One can block the ears by placing the thumbs in the ears and elbows pointing out, arms by the sides of the head and fingers around the head or by blocking the ears with the index fingers and elbows pointing down, arms in from of the chest.

If bhramari exhalation is comfortable one can start inhalation with ‘m’ sound. It is higher and more difficult to create but very beneficial and comes with practice. Again the sound should be slow and controlled, without strain.  Ujjayi is a good alternative to the bhramari inhalation and can be substituted, or bhramari exhalation can be practiced with a normal inhalation.

Benefits

  • Mental tension, anxiety, anger, stress.
  • Insomnia, especially when done before bed
  • Strengthens the throat and voice, useful for any throat problems
  • High blood pressure
  • For healing of body tissue after operation, useful postnatally
  • Improves hearing
  • Useful to practice postnatally when soothing a baby
  • Allows one to becomes more introverted.
  • Useful preparation for meditation.
  • Can be helpful during labour
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing muscular relaxation
  • Good for the thyroid’
  • increases psychic sensitivity and awareness of subtle sound vibrations which is useful for Nada Meditation

Precautions & Contra-Indications

  • Severe ear infections

Bhastrika – Bellow’s Breath

One has to operate the lungs like bellows.

Take a deep breath in and breathe out forcefully through the nose. Do not strain. During inhalation the abdomen moves outward as the diaphragm descends and as one exhales the abdomen is pulled in. The movement should be slightly exaggerated. Do not expand the chest or raise the shoulders. There should be no jerk to the body. Continue with this type of breathing but increase the speed. This is basically fast breathing. After practicing one round inhale through the right nostril slowly and then exhale through the left nostril. This is one round.

*Note – 100 repetitions of kapalbhati can be done, before inhaling through the right nostril, instead of a round of fast breathing if preferred.

Benefits

  • Practice is ideal for purifying blood
  • Improves complexion.
  • Clears the air passages.
  • Gives massage to the chest area.
  • Warms the body up
  • Used for reducing fats
  • Speeds up the metabolism.
  • Tones digestive system.
  • Helps remove excess mucus, helpful when there is cough or cold.
  • Helps to balance the doshas.
  • Can be helpful during labour.
  • Balances the nervous system.
  • Brings focus and calmness.
  • Gives energy.
  • Helps with depression.
  • Improves circulation to the heart and lungs.

Precautions & Contra-indications

If there is feeling of faintness, dizziness, excessive perspiration or a vomiting sensation it should be stopped immediately. It should not be stressful or uncomfortable to practice. The respiration, though exaggerated should still be calm. The face should remain relaxed and there should not be shaking of the body. One should build up slowly with bhastrika as it is a very powerful and dynamic practice. It should be avoided if there is too much heat in the body, high blood pressure, heart disease, recent abdominal surgery, stroke, eye problems, epilepsy, ulcer, acidity, headache, vertigo or menstruation.


Surya Bhedan –Right Nostril Breathing

Surya means sun, bheda means to pierce/awaken. In the body pingala nadi represents the energy of the Sun or vital energy, Surya bhedan therefore means to pierce or purify pingala nadi.

Inhale through the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril.

Benefits

  • Increases vital energy in the body.
  • Heats the body.
  • Stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the left part of the brain.
  • Eliminates wind or gas related trouble (Vata) and
  • Helps to balances mucus (Kapha)
  • Helps to balance acidity (Pitta)

Precautions & Contra-indications

Avoid if there is high blood pressure, heart disease, epilepsy, ulcer, acidity, hyperthyroidism, anxiety, headache or menstruation.


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