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Pranayama is known as a Hatha Yoga practice to control and expand the vital energy (prana). In traditional texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gherand Samhita, there are many different types of pranayama and their benefits are immensed. Each technique of pranayama is used specifically to bring about a specific change and benefits in the body-mind complex.

Broadly speaking all the different pranayama techniques are categorized under four different categories-

Types of Pranayama and their Benefits

  1. Balancing Pranayama: (Nadi Shodhana)

According to the science of Hatha Yoga, the flow of breath in each nostril is intimately connected with various opposite and dual functions such as right and left hemisphere activities, sympathetic and Para sympathetic dominance, action and relaxation in the body. It can be said that we are dominated by cyclic fluctuations, and that these fluctuations are reflected in the breath. Most notably in the breath in each nostril.

The science of Hatha Yoga, more specifically named as Swara Yoga also observes that the predominance of breath in the right and left nostrils alternates on an average of ninety minute cycles. Between the changes in dominance, there exist a state of balanced flow which is the period when all systems operate at optimum level and capacity and the spiritual energy (Atma Shakti awakened).

According to Swara Yoga and Hatha Yoga tradition, predominance air flow in one specific nostril signifies predominant state of one of the specific nadis (energy flow) in the body. For an example predominance of right nostril signifies dominance of Pingala Nadi (Solar energy or vital energy current) whereas predominance of left nostril represents predominance of Ida Nadi or the psychic or mental pranic force. Once these two are in the state of balance and harmony then the third energy force is active which is Sushumna Nadi or uplifting spiritual energy.

Literally Nadi Shodhana means purification of Nadi (energy channels). This is one of the most significant pranayama practices in Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga tradition.

Technique

types of pranayama and benefits
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

To perform Nadi Shodhana pranayama one may sit in any one comfortable position with the spine erect. Then bring right hand in front of the face in Nasagra mudra (hand gesture) with first two fingers resting on at the eyebrow centre and placing the thumb on the right nostril and ring finger on the left to close and open the nostrils.

Now to start the first stage of the practice start inhaling from the left nostril with slow, deep and rhythmic breath while keeping the right closed with the thumb. At the end of inhalation close the left nostril and open the right and breathe slowly and deeply.

After exhalation through the right nostril now inhale through the right and exhale through the left. This completes one round of the practice. This stage of Nadi Shodhana pranayama is also called alternate nostrils breathing. As this basic stage of the pranayama is mastered then gradually one is graduated to other stages of the technique which incorporates different breathing ratios.

Benefits

  1. Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing as practiced in Nadi Shodhana has far reaching effects on the entire system. It results in enhancing the vital capacity of our lungs and helps to relax the rhythms of the heart and nervous system. Inhalation is active process and exhalation is relatively passive in nature. These two stages of breathing are also associated with sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems. During inhalation sympathetic system is active whereas during exhalation parasympathetic system is predominant. In Nadi shodhana one has to be able to control respiration and expiration, which balances out the whole respiratory cycle.
  2. From the physiological point of view, Nadi shodhana is the perfect balancing practice. Alternate nostril breathing stimulates the left and right sides of the brain equally and there by the left and right sides of the body. Energetically, it directly balances the two major nadis Ida and Pingala, which play a major role in determining our thinking and behaviour, deciding whether we are internalized or externalized. Furthermore, it is stated in the yogic texts that when ida and pingala are balanced and purified. Sushumna Nadi which is responsible for spiritual experience begins to flow. This leads to heightened awareness and spontaneous meditative states.
  3. When we follow the ration of 1:2 it imposes a smooth and even rhythm on the normal rhythm of the brain. By using the ratio of 1:2 which means keeping the length of exhalation double that of inhalation helps to provide ample time for brain and heart to relax. It also activates the functions of parasympathetic response in the body.

 

  1. Tranquilizing Pranayama (Ujjayi)

Technique

This process of Ujjayi breathing works on extending the breath with complete comfort, awareness and relaxation. Ujjayi pranayama involves a very gentle contraction of glottis in the throat while breathing in and out. This gentle contraction of the throat helps controlling and regulating the flow of each inhalation and exhalation. As a result each breath becomes very smooth, conscious and deep.

Benefits

  1. Normal respiration is very weak and only uses a very small percentage of the lung capacity. Ujjayi uses the complete respiration capacity & has very powerful effect. There is proper gaseous exchange happening during the process in the blood.
  2. This process of Ujjayi pranayama imposes a conscious control over the process of inspiration and expiration. Otherwise breath is controlled by unconscious areas of the brain. This conscious control over the breath helps resetting the autonomic functioning of the brain.
  3. The smooth and the relaxing rhythm of conscious breath initiated by Ujjayi helps in de-emotionalize the breath. It is one of those pranayama techniques which is highly beneficial for people suffering from anxiety or panic attack. This practice of Ujjayi leaves a profoundly relaxing effect at the psychic level the deeper level of our being. For this reason Ujjayi is one of the most useful of all the Pranayama practices in Yoga therapy.
  4. Practice of Ujjayi also has an effect on Carotid Sinuses in the region of throat. Carotid sinuses regulate blood pressure in the arteries. These sinuses control the blood pressure through feedback mechanisms. Once Ujjayi pranayama is performed is exerts a mild pressure on these sinuses which in turn send message to the brain to lower the blood pressure. Therefore it is highly recommended practice for people suffering from high blood pressure, stress and anxiety.

3.     Heating Pranayama (Kapalbhati and Bhastrika)

There are number of heating pranayama techniques in Hatha Yoga which activate, vitalize and distribute prana in the body. By nature this activating group of pranayama techniques are highly vitalizing and energizing.

Kapalbhati Pranayama (Frontal brain cleansing pranayama)

Technique

The technique of Kapalbhati pranayama is performed by reversing the normal breathing cycle. By making inhalation passive and exhalation active. It initiates action by activating the vertical movements of diaphragm in the body. During the practice exhalation is forced out of the body by contraction of abdominal muscles and upward movement of the diaphragm followed by subsequent passive inhalation and relaxation of abdominal muscles. Normally Kapalbhati pranayama is performed at the rhythm of each contraction per second. But later on with practice rhythm of the breath can also be increased.

Benefits

  1. This dynamic and activation pranayama alters the level of carbon dioxide and other chemicals, acids and alkalis in the blood. This is an excellent technique to mobilize stagnant air in the lungs and expels high quality of carbon dioxide. Kapalbhati pranayama is also part of six cleansing techniques (shatkarma) in traditional Hatha Yoga. The intention of the pranayama is to cleanse the body, the nervous system and removing accumulated gases that build up in the upper part of the lungs.
  2. On the pranic level, the constant abdominal movements in the body activates Samana Vayu which is responsible for better exchange of energy. This activation of Samana Vayu and upward movement of prana stimulates the higher centers of the brain.
  3. On the physical plane constant contraction and relaxation of the abdominal muscles result in improved distribution of blood and other digestive fluids in the abdominal region. Hence helps in improving the functioning of the system.

Bhastrika (Bellow breath)

Bhastrika belongs to the same category of heating or activating pranayama. Effect wise, Bhastrika pranayama is physically and energetically more intense and demanding than Kapalbhati pranayama. It is called bellows breath because it activates metabolic and pranic fire (agni) by initiating movements in the abdomen as similar as that of bellows.

Technique

Technically it is quite similar as Kapalbhati pranayama. Only difference is here is that in Bhastrika both inhalation and exhalation are active and forceful whereas in Kapalbhati pranayama only exhalation is active. In Bhastrika pranayama one requires a control over the diaphragm. During this practice it is very common that one may start feeling dizzy and feel hyperventilated. Therefore to do this pranayama effectively one has to gradually develop control over inhalation and needs to regulate it consciously to avoid dizziness. This entire practice should be performed in relaxed state of body and mind.

Benefits

  1. Practice of Bhastrika pranayama fans the digestive fire and massages all the internal organs of the body. During the process there is intense activity of the diaphragm and the lungs which results in better oxygenated supply of the blood to all the different areas of the body and brain especially.
  2. In Bhastrika most of the carbon dioxide is expelled out of the system as a result one is prepared to hold retention of the breath (kumbhaka) for a long period of time. In traditional Hatha and Kundalini Yoga, Bhastrika is often used to prepare one for a longer Kumbhaka experiences.
  3. Bhastrika is an excellent practice for those who live a very sedentary life. It helps activating the metabolic fire and purifying all the different Dhatus (7 different bodily constituents according to Ayurveda).
  4. According to the Yogic texts and Ayuveda, formation of the three Doshas or humors known as Vata (air), Pitta (bile) and Kapha (phlegm) can be managed and balanced by the practice of Bhastrika. One of the major causes of diseases according to both Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda is blocking of Agni (fire). Through Bhastrika pranayama this blocking is removed and Manipura chakra is vitalized.
  5. Unblocking pranic flow from Manipura Chakra (solar plexus or Navel chakra) help activating and piecing of the Granthis (psychic knots) and awakening the Brahma nadi, according to Kundalini Yoga.

 

  1. Cooling Pranayama (Sheetali or Sheetkari)

There are number of pranayama techniques which leave a cooling effects on the body. These cooling pranayamas have effects on the mouth and all the blood vessels located there. There are many blood vessels in the mouth and the tongue, these techniques of cooling pranayama directly cool down the body because blood carries heat in the body. Once mouth and tongue are cooled down then the circulation of cooler blood result in cooling down the rest of the body and especially the brain.

Sheetali Pranayama

Technique

types of pranayama and benefits
Sheetali Pranayama

Literally Sheetali means cooling. In this technique of Sheetali pranayama breathing take place through the mouth by rolling the tongue from the sides. With the rolling of the tongue a tube like structure is created through which one inhales deeply and then at the end of inhalation one closes the mouth and exhales through the nose. This entire process is repeated a number of times with long, slow and deep full yogic breathing (incorporating three stages of breathing- abdominal, chest and clavicular breathing). For a better cooling effect one should perform it for 10-15 times with relaxed body, breath and mind.

Sheetkari Pranayama

Technique

types of pranayama and benefits
Sheetkari Pranayama

Sheetkari also means cooling breath, it is another variation of cooling category of pranayamas. It is more convenient for people who cannot roll the tongue from the side. In the practice, lips are opened and teeth are exposed and then a long, slow and deep breath is taken through the mouth and at the end of inhalation lips are closed and exhalation happens through the nose. Once one inhales through the teeth, breath creates a hissing sound and results in cooling effects in the entire mouth region. Like Sheetali pranayama, Sheetkari can also be repeated for 10-15 times.

Benefits

  1. Through these techniques a control is developed over temperature controlling mechanisms in the brain. These techniques are performed in Yoga Sadhana to cool down the excessive heat generated during the practices.
  2. This is excellent practice for those who have excessive Pitta activities. Regarding the benefits of this technique, it has been mentioned that one again control over sleep, lethargy, thirst and hunger. These effects are possible because of cooling or lowering the body temperature which automatically activates ida. With Ida activation there is natural effect on the mind to get internalized. And with the cooling of the body, there is a tendency to relax more deep and fall asleep.
  3. These practices which cool down the physical systems and activate Ida Nadi, are recommended for anger management, excessive anxiety and insomnia.

 

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About author
Sushant Pandey

Sushant is Meditation & Philosophy Teacher and Academic Director at Rishikesh Yogis. Sushant carries long years of experience teaching practical as well as philosophical aspects of Kundalini yoga, Kriya yoga, Hatha Yoga and Tantra philosophy.