A statue of yogue in India

Yogic wisdom has been around since ancient civilizations. A very important part of the practice is breathing. If you were ever curious about how yogic science utilizes breathing, you’ve come to the right place!

Here is everything you will need to know about Pranayamas; the benefits, the cons, the different types, and how to perform them.

What does Pranayama Mean?

The word Pranayama is a combination of two Sanskrit words:

  1. ‘Prana’ meaning life force
  2. ‘Ayama’ meaning to restrain or to draw out

The combined form – Pranayama – is roughly translated as breath control.

It is a practice in yoga that involves the regulation of your breathing through specific techniques and exercise. The purpose is to relax the mind and body through a combination of inhaling, exhaling, and retaining the breath.

What are the Benefits of Pranayama?

Woman practicing yoga outdoors

Practicing Pranayama is beneficial for a number of reasons:

  1. Focusing on your breathing helps in managing stress.
  2. Improves blood circulation
  3. Helps with a number of medical ailments such as anxiety, depression, hypertension, headaches, and gastric problems.
  4. Some research suggests that it can help with improved cardiovascular function.
  5. Provides deep relaxation for the mind and body.
  6. Increases respiratory function

Things to keep in mind before practicing Pranayama

Though most forms of yoga are safe to practice across the board, it is advised that people who want to practice different Pranayamas should at least have some prior experience doing yoga. And it is best if Pranayama is practiced under the supervision of a guru.

Certain breathing exercises are not advised for the following people;

  1. Those who suffer from hypertension or low blood pressure
  2. Those recovering from a recent heart attack
  3. Those with chronic heart conditions
  4. Pregnant women
  5. Women who are menstruating
  6. Those with bronchitis or severe breathing issues

It is best to be checked out by a professional practitioner before you begin your Pranayama journey.

How do you practice Pranayama?

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Experts advise that the best time to practice Pranayama is early in the morning, especially on an empty stomach. It is ideal to perform it outdoors so that you have plenty of fresh air.

There are three stages to practicing Pranayama:

  1. Purak (inhaling)
  2. Kumbhak (restraining your breath)
  3. Rechak (exhaling)

There are a number of different types of Pranayama. Some people debate about how many are authentic, however, that number varies from person to person. Here are twelve of the most popular types of Pranayamas.

Types of Pranayama

1. Nadi Sodhana

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You begin in a seated cross-legged position, your spine stretched and back straight. With your thumb, pressed down on your right nostril, use your left nostril to breathe in deeply.

Hold your breath for a beat and then switch your thumb so that you are now pressing down on your left nostril, and then exhale from your right nostril.

Repeat this process, alternating between your nostrils by breathing in through one and exhaling through the other. You can repeat this 10-15 times.

2. Shitali Pranayama

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This particular Pranayama is effective for cooling down the body. You begin in the same seated position and prepare your body for the Pranayama by taking five to six deep breaths

Then make an ‘o’ shape with your mouth and begin to inhale deeply. Always exhale through your nose. This can be repeated 5-10 times.

3. Ujjayi Pranayama

A woman practicing breathing techniques in yoga studio

This Pranayama is about mimicking the sounds of the ocean waves. It may sound a bit awkward to perform but it will help relaxation immensely.

You being in a seated, cross-legged position and begin to breathe through your mouth. While you inhale and exhale, try and constrict your throat in a way that resembles someone choking you. The result will be a sound that is similar to ocean waves.

In the second phase of the Pranayama, you close your mouth and breathe through your nose. However, you must continue to use the same constriction on your throat. You can repeat this 10-15 times in total.

4. Kapalabhati Pranayama

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This Pranayama begins in a seated position, with you breathing normally 2-3 times. After this, you must inhale deeply and exhale with force, sucking your belly in as you expel all the air. When you inhale again, your belly should go back to the same position.

You should repeat this 20-30 times.

5. Dirga Pranayama

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This is a Pranayama that is performed lying down instead of in a seated position. You begin by inhaling a lot of air, filling your belly, so that it rises up. You remain in this position for a few seconds and then exhale, drawing your belly inwards until you’ve exhaled completely.

In the second half of the Pranayama, you inhale even more deeply, so you’re filling your rib cage with air too. Exhale. The third time you inhale, you have to breathe even deeper. Imagine filling up your belly, rib cage, and heart center. Exhale slowly.

You can repeat this process 5-6 times.

6. Viloma Pranayama

group meditating indoors

This Pranayama can be divided into two parts;

  1. Paused inhalation

You begin by lying down in a comfortable position and breathe normally. Once you are relaxed, you inhale for 2-3 seconds and pause. Hold your breath for two seconds and then begin inhaling again. Pause inhaling for 2 seconds and then slowly begin again. Continue to inhale in intervals until your lungs are full of air. Exhale slowly and gently until you have expelled all the air.

  1. Paused exhalation

This is the exact opposite of what you do with paused inhaling. You inhale deeply and in one go but then remember to pause periodically while you’re exhaling.

7. Anuloma Pranayama

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This is similar to Viloma Pranayama since it also encourages alternate nostril breathing. Inhaling and exhaling is done with one nostril but the other nostril is partially open as opposed to completely blocked.

8. Bhramri Pranayama

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In this Pranayama, your eyes and ears will be closed. You close your ears with your thumb and close your eyes with the help of your fingers. Take a deep breath and exhale with a chant of OM. Repeat 10-15 times.

9. Bhastrika Pranayama

Woman sitting and practicing breathing

This is beneficial for the winter months when you need to retain warmth in the body. You begin in a seated, cross-legged position and begin inhaling and exhaling at a very fast rate continuously. It may be difficult to keep your breathing going continuously but try your best to stay consistent.

After a few rounds, hold your breath in the end and exhale slowly to finish.

10. Sheetli Pranayama

man practicing yoga outdoors

You begin by inhaling through your mouth. However, you have to keep your tongue rolled. Tilt your chin forward and hold your breath for a while. Then exhale through your nostrils. This is a great Pranayama for the hotter months as it keeps your body cool.

11. Moorchha Pranayama

Couple practicing breathing pranayamas

This is a difficult Pranayama that involves continuous exhaling without any inhaling. This increases the concentration of carbon dioxide in your body and renders you unconscious after a point. You slowly regain consciousness when your body automatically begins inhaling in your sleep.

12. Palawani Pranayama

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This is done in water and is only advised for more experienced yogis. It involves working with your breath in a manner that allows you to stay afloat in the water.