Types of Pranayama

types-of-pranayama

There are various techniques of Pranayama. Here we will discuss some of them from the beginner to the advance levels. Please note that we are only discussing the techniques and their benefits. This article is in no way meant to serve as a guide. Pranayama must always be learned from a competent teacher and only when you have reached certain levels of discipline in your practice.

What are the benefits of practicing Pranayama:

  • The techniques and regular practice help to calm and center the mind and relieve stress.
  • It is therapeutic for most circulatory and respiratory problems.
  • It harmonies the left and right hemispheres of our brain which correlates to the logical and emotional sides of our personality.
  • It helps to ensure a smooth flow of prana in our bodies.
  • It helps to relieve headaches, migraine, sinuses and removes toxins from the body.
  • It increases our lung capacity and improves a person’s blood glucose level.

Types of Pranayama



surya-bhedana-pranayama

1. Surya Bhedana (or bhedi) and Chandra Bhedana (or bhedi)

To talk about this we first have to refer to the Nadis. The human body is made of  72,000 Nadis. These are invisible energy channels in the body. However, there are 3 main nadis and these are the Ida, Pingala and Sushumana nadis.

The Ida is said to be connected to our left nostril which is connected to the Moon energy. When we breathe through our left nostril, we are actually using the right side of our brain which is more creative and artistic. The moon energy is also cooling, calmer and positive.

The Pingala Nadi is connected to our right nostril which is connected to the Sun energy and here we are using the left side of our brain which is more analytical and logical. The sun energy is said to be warmer, strong and active.

Sushumana Nadi is when we breathe through both nostrils and in these moments there is a sense of calm energy flow throughout the body because Ida and Pingala are in balance. The practice pranayama is to help activate the Sushumana nadi.

Hence when we practice Surya bedi, we inhale and exhale through the right nostril while in Chandra bedi, we inhale and exhale through the left nostril.

Practice of Surya bhedi:

Surya - Sun       Bhedi - awakening / activating.

Sit in a comfortable position, preferably on the ground. With your spine erect, shoulders pulled back and your legs crossed. With the left hand, make the Nasagra mudra, ie. you will use your thumb to close your left nostril, your little finger and ring finger stay curled inside. If you wish, you many rest your index and middle finger on the centre of your forehead or leave it loose the air. Your right hand will remain loose on your knee, palms up or down is up to you in gran mudra. While closing your left nostril, exhale through your right nostril and inhale through the same nostril. Repeat the process of Inhalation and Exhalation at least for 3 minutes. Gradually with practice, you can increase this time.

Please note that the Surya Bhedana shouldn’t be practiced if you are suffering from anxiety or depression or other mental illnesses, if you have a fever, if you have a dominant pitta personality or during the summers.

Benefits of Surya Bhedana:

  • It improves blood circulation and purification
  • It improves digestion and increases the pitta in the body
  • It increases the amount of Oxygen in the blood flow
  • It is good to practice this in winter as it increases the heat the body and helps you feel warmer
  • If one is feeling sluggish or sleepy, it can take you up and make you more active
  • It increases your metabolism
  • Helpful whence has cold, cough or asthma
  • It aids in recovery of low blood pressure
  • It stimulates the Pingalanadi
  • It is also useful in treating low blood pressure and infertility in women
  • The Hatha YogPradipikasayas that Surya bhedana cleans the frontal sinuses, destroys the disorders of Vata and intestinal worms.

Practice of Chandra Bhedi:

Chandra - Moon          Bhedi - awakening / activating.

The practice is the same as the Surya Bhedi but practiced with the right hand on the right nostril. So we inhale and exhale through the left nostril thus activating the Chandra Nadi and the Moon energy. 

Please note that Chandra Bhedana should not be practiced if you are suffering from a cold or cough, have heavy sinuses nori winters.

Benefits of Chandra Bhedi:

  • it aids in cooling down the system and is advised to be practiced in summers
  • It can help reduce High Blood Pressure
  • It is good to practice Chandra bed before going to bed as it aids in a sound sleep.
  • It is helpful when one has a fever
anulom-vilom-pranayama

2. Anulom Vilom or alternate nostril breathing

In this practice we inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other. We create a sort of circular flow.

Technique:

Sit in a  comfortable position. It is preferable to sit on the floor in a cross legged position. If this is difficult  for you to do, sit on a chair and cross your legs at the feet. Place your hands on your knees, palms facing up and your fingers can assume the Gyan mudra or any other mudra of your preference. Assuming a mudra helps contain the energy that would escape from your fingers. Make sure that your back is straight and your spine erect. If you are sitting on a mat, you can place a block or cushion below to help lengthen your spine, it will assist you in siting on your sitting bones inserted of your bum cheeks.

Now when you are ready, with your right hand, assume the Nasagra mudra. Close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale fully from the left nostril. Inhale deeply from the same nostril, close the left nostril with your little and ring finger , release your thumb and exhale out from the right nostril. Now inhale from the right, close the nostril with your thumb, release your ring and little finger and exhale from the left. This is one round. Inhale from the left, exhale from the right. inhale from the right and exhale from the left. The length of the inhalations and exhalations should be the same on both sides. Repeat the process and make sure to keep flowing in a circular motion with the breath. Do not take breaks or pauses in between. One can maintain a count to make sure that the time taken for each breath is the same on both sides.

Practice at least 5 - 10 rounds. After a week of regular practice, if there has been no difficulty, then increase the length of the Inhalation and exhalation.

After a few months of regular practice, add an extra count to the inhalation and 2 extra counts to the exhalations. .i.e, your exhalations will become longer than your inhalations.

Remember to smile.

Benefits:

Over time you will start to notice your heartbeat and pulse rate slow down, people with respiratory problems such as asthma or bronchitis, experience a lot of relief. A calming rhythm is established in the brain and heart, it improves concentration, relieves anxiety, and other stress related disorders.

Please note:

Anulom Vilom can be practiced for a minimum period of 15 min and maximum period of 30. minutes.

Anulom Vilom is practiced with the right hand for those with High Blood Pressure and with the left hand for low blood pressure patients.

Before starting Anulom Vilom, one can also check your nostrils to see which is more active, then use the same hand as the active nostril and start with exhaling from that nostril chamber.

This technique should not be practiced by an individual who has just suffered from a heart attack.

When Anulom Viom can be performed with complete ease, then one can move onto Nadi Shodhana

nadi-shodhana

3. Nadi Shodhana

Nadi - subtle energy channel.

Shodhana- purification. By this technique were are working to cleanse the Nadis in our body thus bringing about a balance in our system.

This is made of 3 aspects:

  • Puraka - Inhalation
  • Rechaka - Exhalation
  • Kumbaka - Retention

Kumbaka is further divided into 

Antara Kumbaka -  retention after Inhale

and

Bahari Kumbaka - retention after Exhale. 

The main difference between Anulom Vilom and Nadi Shodhan is the Kumbaka or retention.

Antari or Inner Kumbaka:

Sit comfortably with your spine erect, legs crossed and in a comfortable position. Smile and follow the same procedure to get into the posture as AnulomVilom.

Close the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left nostril for a count of 5. Now close both nostrils and maintain the air in the lungs for the same count of 5. Open the right nostril and exhale slowly for a count of 5. Inhale through the right nostril for a count of 5, close the right nostril and maintain the air in the lungs for a count of 5 with both nostrils closed. Exhale from the left nostril with a count of 5. This is one round. Repeat for 5 - 10 rounds.

Over time, one can increase the counts to 6, 7 and. Eventually 10, with a ration of 10:10:10, ie. 10 counts the inhalation or Puraka, 10 counts on the inner retention or AntariKumbaka and 10 counts on the exhalation or Rechaka.

There are various stages of advancement and many months or years of practice before one can begin BahariKumbaka. Please ask and experienced teacher before proceeding further.

Antari and Bahari or External Kumbaka:

In this technique, one holds the breath in the lungs after exhaling as well.

Practicing Nadi Shodhan activates various brain centers and harmonizes the pranas. The benefits increase with the progression of the ratios. It gives profound psychological and pranic effects. s not recommended for asthmatics.

Some points to remember when practicing Pranayama:

  • Inhalations and exhalations should be slow and deep. Gradually with practice, the length of each inhale and exhale increases. 
  • Breathing should never be forced or restricted in any way.
  • All breaths should be soundless, without jerks and smooth throughout the practice.
  • One should not practice pranayama when one has a cold.
  •  As we move from one nostril to the next, there should be no pause and the flow should be continuous.
  • Increased ratios and breath duration should not be attained at the expense of relaxation, rhythm and awareness.
  • Never breathe through the mouth.
  •  At the slightest discomfort or strain, reduce the duration or discontinue the practice and consult your teacher.
  • Each pranayama technique is usually practiced for a minimum of 15 min or a maximum of 30 min.
  • All pranayama techniques are best practice early in the morning just after the sunrise. If practicing after food, please make sure to leave a gap of at least 4-5 hours.

Those suffering from heart diseases, high blood pressure or epilepsy , or anyone who has undergone brain, heart or abdominal surgeries should consult a as medical expert or consultant before starting any pranayama technique.

Other precautions:

It is believed that Prana travels in and out of the body through our hands and feet. This is why, we use Mudras or hand gestures to prevent the Prana from leaving our bodies during the practice and keep our feet in a cross legged position or cross our feet if we are sitting on a chair.

The most common Mudra used is the Gyan Mudra also known as Nasika Mudra or Vishnu Mudra.

This is done by placing the hands on the knees, palms facing upwards, and the thumb and index finger tips touch on each hand.

Our awareness during the any of the techniques should be placed on the breath and counting. It is quite easy for the mind to wander. Be aware of this and bring your attention back to the breath and count. Over time, this awareness will return automatically. How much time varies for each individual.

As a word of Caution:

we highly advise that all Pranayama practices must be learned in person from an experienced teacher. The teacher will help you work through your doubts and issues, guide your progress and let you know when you are ready to start pranayama, which pranayama technique you should use and when you can advance in your levels.

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