Pranayama is control and awareness of breath. ‘Prana’ means breath, energy, life or strength and ‘Ayama’ means to control or restrain. Pranayama signifies an extension of breath and its control. It is typically defined as a set of breathing practices designed to control prana (energy) within the human body.

By controlling the pranic energy one can achieve a healthy body and mind. It’s a great way of meditation. In ‘Patanjali Yoga Sutras‘, it is the 4th limb out of 8 limbs which talks about pranayama as means of attaining a higher state of awareness.

It focuses on all the 3 aspects of breathing. Inhalation is termed as ‘puraka’, exhalation termed as ‘rechaka’ and holding of breath is called kumbhaka. Right breathing practices strengthen the respiratory system. They help in pacifying the nervous system and detoxing the body.

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Learn Abdominal Breathing With Ease

Diaphragmatic breathing is also referred to as abdominal breathing, or deep breathing since the belly expands and contracts with each inhalation and exhalation.

Steps:

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface with knees bent.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
  4. Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.

Benefits:

  • It helps you relax and lower the stress hormone cortisol
  • It helps lower your blood pressure
  • Increases supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body

2. Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath)

Simple Ways To Practise Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi is the most basic breathing practice done in yoga. In this process, lungs are fully expanded and filled with air.

Steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position – sukhasan, siddhasan, vajrasan or padmasan.
  2. Keep back straight and eyes closed.
  3. Close the mouth and lower your head. Rest the chin in the notch between the collar-bone. This is called Jalandhara Bandha.
  4. Stretch your arms and rest the back of your wrist on your knees. Join the tip of index finger and thumb and rest of the fingers stretched. This is called Jnana Mudra.
  5. Exhale completely and now slowly take a deep breath.
  6. Allow the air to pass through the constricted throat, creating a friction sound, maintaining Jalandhara Bandha.
  7. Fill your lungs up with air, this is called puraka.
  8. Retain the inhaled air for a few seconds (preferably double the period of inspiration).
  9. Now exhale as naturally as possible – gradually, avoiding jerky or hasty movements. Exhale fully, this is called rechaka.
  10. Hold this emptiness for a few seconds before you breath fresh air again.
  11. Repeat this whole sequence for a couple of minutes.
  12. This pranayama can be done without Jalandhara Bandha.

Benefits:

  • This pranayama ventilates the lungs and gives you strength
  • Improves your concentration
  • Releases tension throughout the body
  • Regulates heating and cooling of the body, warming the core from the inside
  • Ujjayi is practised without holding breath (Kumbhaka) and is beneficial for people suffering from blood pressure problems

3. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing)

Alternate Nostril Breathing Tutorial

Nadi Shodhana, also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, is a powerful breathing practice. Nadi means channel and Shodhana mean purification.

Steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position like sukhasan, siddhasan, vajrasan or padmasan.
  2. Keep back straight and eyes closed.
  3. Exhale completely.
  4. Block the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril.
  5. Now block your left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand, release your right nostril and exhale.
  6. Keep your left nostril blocked and inhale via the right one.
  7. Now release the left nostril and exhale.
  8. This completes 1 full cycle.
  9. Repeat 10-12 cycles.

Benefits:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Calms and rejuvenates the nervous system
  • Helps balance hormones
  • Supports clear and balanced respiratory channels
  • Enhances the ability to concentrate
  • Brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain

4. Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention)

Learn All About Full Breath Retention

Kumbhaka is the retention of the breath in the hatha yoga practice of pranayama. It has two types, accompanied whether after inhalation or after exhalation and, the ultimate aim, unaccompanied. That state is kevala kumbhaka, the complete suspension of the breath for as long as the practitioner wishes.

Steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position like sukhasan, siddhasan, vajrasan or padmasan.
  2. Keep back straight and eyes closed.
  3. Take a deep inhalation until a sense of fullness is experienced in the chest.
  4. Hold the inhaled air for a period of 8-10 seconds.
  5. Now exhale as naturally as possible – gradually and slowly.
  6. Take a few normal breaths and relax.
  7. Repeat for a few cycles.

Benefits:

  • Clears your thoughts and develops concentration
  • Activates prana or vital energy, thus promotes mental and physical vitality
  • Supports the purification process and thereby is a great help in attaining the best possible health
  • Develops the capacity of your respiratory system

5. Kapalabhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath)

Yoga For Respiratory Problems

Kapala’ means skull and ‘Bhati’ means light. It is also referred to as Light Skull Breathing or Skull Brightener Breath.

Steps:

  1. To begin, sit in a comfortable position – sukhasan, siddhasan, vajrasan or padmasan.
  2. Keep back straight and eyes closed.
  3. Rest your hands on your knees, palms facing upward.
  4. Inhale through both nostrils deeply.
  5. Contract your low belly, forcing out the breath in a short burst.
  6. As you quickly release the contraction, your inhalation should be automatic and passive — your focus should be on exhaling.
  7. Aiming for 100- 120 exhalation/inhalation cycles per minute. Do not force yourself. Always go at your own pace and stop if you feel faint or dizzy.
  8. Try to at least do it for 2 mins.

Benefits:

  • Kapalabhati is a warming pranayama. It helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system
  • Regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles
  • This exercise also increases your body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energises the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus

Note: People with poor lung capacity and low or high blood pressure must avoid Kapalbhati.

Paramita Singh
Paramita Singh

A business analyst in a former life, Paramita Singh is a certified Sports Nutritionist who specialises in micro and macro nutrition. This Sadhguru disciple changed her life course when she was dealing with post-pregnancy weight gain, and has now been a yoga practitioner for 15 years.