Breathing is indispensable for human existence. One can survive without food and water for few days, but it’s not so with air. As per yoga’s philosophy, body is composed of five elements, and air is most vital one among them. Life is continuo journey between first breath & last breath, which starts with inhalation and ends with exhalation.
Breathing comes naturally. But pranayama is voluntary for the beginner, as awareness is connected to breath. Inhalation & exhalation is ‘breathing’, the pause after complete inhalation or exhalation is ‘pranayama’. When you extend the pause, it expands your life energy. You have to bring awareness in inhalation, exhalation and holding of breath.
Pranayama is a purely Sanskrit word—“prana” means vital-force or life-force and “ayama” signifies dimension. To understand pranayama, you have to understand prana first. It is the fuel or power which charges your brain, body, awareness and senses. These gross or subtle organs of your body can’t operate on its own. It is prana and consciousness which sustains life.
Pranayama is yogic science of expansion of “prana” by various techniques of inhalation, exhalation and holding of breath. Elevating of vital energy level implies optimizing the capacity of mind and body. When everything works in perfect tune, it brings peace, joy and contentment in life. You attain success in your chosen career.
When you expand the ‘prana’ by pranayama, the mind automatically comes under your control. Pranayama is a border line between outer yoga & inner yoga. The components of breathing are inhalation, exhalation and retention. When you pause during inhalation and exhalation in desired ratio, it expands your vital energy (prana). You become familiar with extension or expansion of ‘prana’ through control of combined components of yogic breathing.
There are seven categories of pranayama. Awareness of breath is common feature in all. Speed, ratio and hold of breath vary, however retention of breath is avoided at beginner level of yoga. It starts with balanced breathing and abdominal breathing. Here are seven pranayama in brief:
The practice of pranayama starts with nadi shodhan pranayama. It is also known as alternate nostril breathing. It is balancing pranayama by switching inhalation and exhalation between left and right nostrils. There is no retention of breath in simple nostril breathing techniques. You can practice it 2-4 times in a day for complete inner purification.
A dynamic pranayama with rapid abdominal movement for inhalation and exhalation. It is also known as bellows breathing. Forceful inhalation and exhalation through nose is bhastrika. You can sit in lotus pose, half-lotus pose or any comfy pose to stat breathing with alternate nostrils. In higher practice, it is usually practiced retention of breath.
It is also known as humming bee breath. It is practiced by plugging both ears by hands (preferably index fingers). It generates smooth bee humming sound of bee while you exhale. In higher practice, you can practice with inner retention of breath.
“Sheetal” means cold, while sheetkari stands for calming. Both intended to regulate your body temperature especially during sweat and sultry summer. You inhale through rolled tongue in sheetali. You inhaled through the gap of teeth in sheetkari pranayam. In both, you exhale through the nose. Both can be practiced at any time of the day.
Ujjayi pranayama is also known as tranquilizing pranayama or psychic breath. The breath is calm and rhythmic. It generates sweet sound like that of a newborn baby sleeping in completely relaxed mood. It can be practiced in any position—sitting, standing or lying. The inhalation and exhalation are deep, long and in perfect coordination.
Chandra bhedi means moon-piercing, while surya bhedi tands for sun-piercing pranayama. In chandra bhedi pranayama, you close the right nostril, while in surya bhedi, you close the left nostril. You inhale deep and gently through the open nostril. Perform 5-7 rounds in each piercing pranayama practice.