Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that describes yoga breathing exercises. The western world has more recently started using the term breathwork to describe these breathing exercises or pranayama.The term Pranayama is a compound of two Sanskrit terms, namely prana, and Yama.Prana is often translated by texts as the life force or vital energy. The term Yama is often translated as control or restraint. Pranayama is typically defined as a set of practices designed to control the prana or the life force within the human body by using the means of various breathing techniques and meditative visualizations. The ancient yogic seers recognized the power of the breath in increasing a persons prana and developed special breathing techniques and practices to increase the life energy or force, maintaining health and creating a calm and clear state of mind that is beneficial for meditation.Pranayama involves breathing through the nostrils in a specific pattern of inhalation, breath retention, and exhalation. Pranayama finds an important place in yoga practices like yoga for relaxation. Another practice known as yoga nidra uses breathwork to relax the mind and aids in better sleep. A few common pranayama yoga exercises include Ujjayi breathing, Bhramari pranayama, Bhastrika pranayama, and NadiShodhan pranayama.The regular practice of pranayama can completely change the quality of life led by a person. There are numerous benefits of pranayama on mental, emotional, and physical levels. These include:

  • It raises and enhances the quality and quantity of prana in the body, leading to an increase in our energy levels
  • It clears blocked chakras and nadis, thereby expanding our aura and heightening our spirit
  • It calms our mind and reduces worries and anxieties
  • It improves our focus and our attention span while removing brain fog
  • It makes us more energetic, enthusiastic, and positive
  • It boosts our immune system
  • It rejuvenates the body and mind
  • It creates harmony between the mind, body, and soul, making us mentally, physically, and spiritually strong
  • It may slow down the aging process

All these pranayama benefits reflect its ability to strengthen the connection between our body and mind and promote relaxation and mindfulness. Pranayama has proven to support multiple aspects of our physical health including our blood pressure, lung function, and brain function.Let me take you through a few types of pranayama techniques that can be very beneficial when practiced regularly.

Ujjayi breathing or Victorious breath:

This breathing technique has many benefits including the lengthening of the breath, strengthening the lungs and diaphragm, warming the body, increasing our focus, creating stability in the body, stimulating our vagus nerves, and calming anxiety. It also works on improving sleep, reducing stress, detoxifying and clearing toxins of our body while bringing more life force into us.

  • Find a comfortable seat and sit with your spine tall and straight. Stack your head over your heart and your heart over your pelvis.
  • Once you are comfortable, close your mouth and constrict your throat. Make a short exhalation.
  • Start inhaling slowly and rhythmically through your nose and allow the air to pass through the constricted throat creating a friction sound.
  • Retain the breath at the top for a few seconds and then slowly, with control, exhale.
  • Try to find your rhythm and then elongate each inhale and exhale.

Bhramari pranayama or Bee breath:

This breathing technique frees the mind of agitation, frustration, or anxiety and gets rid of anger to a great extent. It works on calming and soothing the nerves, especially around the forehead and brain. The vibrations of the humming sounds gave a natural calming effect on the brain.

  • Find a comfortable seat and sit with your spine tall and straight. Stack your head over your heart and your heart over your pelvis.
  • Keep your eyes closed and release your lips, jaw, and the base of your tongue of any tension.
  • Place your thumbs on the cartilage between the cheek and ear on both sides. Close the opening of the ear by gently pressing the cartilage with the tip of the thumb.
  • Gently place your index and middle fingers over your eyes with the tips of the fingers on the inner eye and the bridge of the nose. Gently place the ring finger above the nostrils and the pinky finger above the upper lip. Do not press the fingers down.
  • Slowly inhale through the nose and as you exhale, make a humming sound like that of a bee.
  • Then breathe in again and continue the pattern for a few breaths.

NadiShodhana or alternate nostril breathing:

This is a simple yet powerful breathing technique that in addition to calming the mind and reversing the stress, improves our ability to focus, supports our lungs and respiratory functions, restores the balance between the left and right side of our brain, clears our energy channels, rejuvenates the nervous system and removes toxins.

  • Find a comfortable seat with your spine tall and straight.
  • Relax your left palm and bring your right hand near your face.
  • With your right hand, bring the pointer and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose.
  • Now close your right nostril with your right thumb and slowly and steadily inhale through your left nostril.
  • Close the left nostril as well with your ring finger and retain the breath at the top for a brief pause.
  • Open the right nostril and slowly exhale through it and pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
  • Now inhale through the right nostril. Close both nostrils at the top, before opening the left nostril and releasing the breath.
  • Repeat the cycle 5-10 times.

Kapalbhati pranayama or Breath of fire:

This technique works on detoxifying the system of our body by releasing toxins through the outgoing breath. It increases the metabolic rate and aids in weight loss, clears the energy channels, improves blood circulation, and the digestive tract functioning.

  • Find a comfortable seat with your spine tall and straight. Place your hands on your knees with your palms open to the sky.
  • Take a deep breath in.
  • As you exhale, pull your navel back in towards your spine by contracting your abdominal muscles.
  • As you relax the navel and the abdomen, the breath flows into your lungs. Contract your abdominal muscles and exhale sharply.
  • Practice 20 such breaths in one round.

Simhasana or lions breath:

This technique releases stress and tension by stretching the entire face, including our tongue and jaw. This practice helps in feeling more energized and is a powerful pranayama that leaves us with courage, energy, and laughter.

  • Sit down on your knees, or in a cross-legged seat.
  • Open your chest by pressing your arms into your knees. As you continue breathing, extend your fingers and straighten your arms.
  • Inhale through the nose and as you exhale forcefully through your mouth, open a big mouth and stick your tongue out towards your chin.
  • Return to your normal face position as you inhale.
  • Practice this for 4-7 times.

Practicing 30 minutes of pranayama regularly goes a long way towards mental, physical, and spiritual health. Cult.fit is a leading healthcare centre with an inhouse Pharmacy & Diagnostics set up for full-body health check-ups and doctor and medical and lifestyle coach consultations.

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