Yogic breathing is called pranayama. Pranayama consists of two words- Prana that means Life in Sanskrit and Yamaha that means Discipline and Control. Therefore, prayanama is the art of controlling the prana (life force).
In Sanskrit, the word for breath is the same as the word for life - prana. The first thing you do as you enter this world is to inhale. Your last act in this life is to exhale. When prana leaves the body, we die. The breath is a metaphor for life energy. In yoga, we seek to sustain and enhance the life force as much as possible - absorbing as much prana through breath, food, visual surroundings, sound, all our senses as possible. The most significant way of doing this is through the practice of pranayama (prah-nah-yah-mah), breathing techniques or breath control.
Breathing is one of the few autonomic functions of the body that we may also control (although more experienced yogis and yoginis may control heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, and other functions previously believed to be autonomic). The breath is seen as an important link between our body, our mind, and our spirit - moving from the purely physical realm, to the mental, to the spiritual.
Guidelines to practice Pranayama
- Blow your nose, clearing your nostrils before beginning.
- Begin practicing pranayama in a room-temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit) environment. Extremely cold or hot air can affect your health adversely. Also, please do this in fresh air that is free of smoke, chemicals, or other harmful elements. Air will be pulled more deeply into your lungs, and it need to be clean and fresh.
- Breathe through the nostrils only, unless otherwise specified.
- The fluidity of your breath is the priority - if your breath begins to be choppy or uneven, stop what you are doing and allow your breath to return to its own, natural rhythm.
- If you begin to feel faint, dizzy, flushed, or light-headed, stop what you are doing, and allow your breath to return to its own natural rhythm. This is a result of the increased oxygen levels in the body, which your body may not be accustomed to. You can increase your pranayama practice and use of oxygen gradually.
- Strictly avoid too much talking, eating, sleeping, mixing with friends and exertion. Take a little ghee with rice when you take your meals. This will lubricate the bowels and allow air to move downwards freely.
- Pranayama can also be performed as soon as you get up from bed and just before Japa and meditation. It will make your body light and you will enjoy the meditation. You must have a routine according to your convenience and time.
- Do not shake the body unnecessarily. By shaking the body often the mind also is disturbed. Do not scratch the body every now and then. The Asana should be steady and as firm as a rock when you do Pranayama, Japa and meditation.
- In all the exercises, repeat Rama, Siva, Gayatri, or any other Mantra. Gayatri Mantra or OM is the best mantra for Pranayama. When you have advanced in the practice, you need not count or keep any time unit. You will be naturally established in the normal ratio through force of habit.
- For some days in the beginning you must count the number and see how you progress. In the advanced stages, you need not distract the mind in counting. The lungs will tell you when you have finished the required number.
- Do not perform the Pranayama till you are fatigued. There must be always joy and exhilaration of spirit during and after the practice. You should come out of the practice fully revived and refreshed. Do not bind yourself by too many rules (Niyamas).
- Do not take bath immediately after Pranayama is over. Take rest for half an hour. If you get perspiration during the practice, do not wipe it with a towel. Rub it with your hand. Do not expose the body to the chill draughts of air when you perspire.
- Always inhale and exhale very slowly. Do not make any sound. In Pranayamas like Bhastrika and Kapalabhati, you can produce a mild or the lowest possible sound.
- You should not expect the benefits after doing it for 2 or 3 minutes only for a day or two. You must have a daily practice of 15 minutes in the beginning regularly for days together. There will be no use if you jump from one exercise to another every day.
- Abdominal Breath - also called the "Diaphramatic Breath", "Natural Breath" - allows one to breath deeply into the lungs, using the diaphragm. Begins to reset our patterns from shallow chest breathing to deep, healthy, belly breathing.
- Dirgha Pranayama - also called the "Yogic Breath", "Three-part breath" and "Complete Breath" - completely fills the lungs with oxygen. Expands and stretches the lungs gently, increasing lung capacity. Brings a higher level of oxygen into the blood stream
- Ujjayi Pranayama - "Ocean Sounding" or "Victorious" breath (in Kids Yoga we call it the "Darth Vader" breath). The sound created by this breath has been described as a "soft hissing sound" or a "gentle snore." This in one of the most important breathing techniques in yoga. Increases body heat, the sound calms and focuses the mind, allowing you to relax more deeply, can be used to either lower blood pressure and slow heart rate, or to increase blood pressure and heart rate, depending upon whether one is utilizing the Ashtanga style of forceful ujjayi or the meditative style of slow and soft ujjayi. Used for pain reduction, insomnia, and migraines.
- Nadi Shodhana - the "Sweet Breath", "Channel Purification Breath" or "Alternate Nostril Breath"- brings balance to the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
- Kapalabhati - "Skull Polishing Breath" - increases circulation, energizes the body, and brings a high level of oxygen into the blood stream.
- Breath of Fire - "Bellows Breathing" - strengthens chest and diaphragm, loosens spine, stretches lungs, controls the breath at a different level.
- Analoma Veloma - Advanced Breathing Technique for experienced meditators and yogis who already have an established breathing practice. Brings one to a deep, contemplative state of mind, and mastery over the physical breath.
Benefits of Pranayama
Through Pranayama, the body becomes
- Strong and flexible.
- Sturdy and healthy.
- Too much fat is reduced.
- There is luster in the face.
- Eyes sparkle like diamonds.
- Voice becomes sweet and melodious.
- The student is free from all sorts of diseases.
- The Jatharagni (gastric fire) is augmented.
- The student becomes so perfected in Brahmacharya that his mind will not be shaken even if a fairy tries to embrace him.
- Appetite improves.
- Nadis are purified.
- The mind is prepared for Dharana and Dhyana.
- The excretions become scanty.
- Steady practice arouses the inner spiritual force and brings in spiritual light, happiness and peace of mind.
- All psychic powers are obtained.