What Is Pranayama : 3 Basic Techniques and Their Benefits

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Pranayama is a set of yoga breathing exercises that can help cleanse your mind and body from the inside out.

Pranayama breathing exercises allow you to relax and focus on the present moment and reach deep states of meditation.

The literal translation of pranayama means ‘breathing control’ or ‘controlled breath’ and has been practised by Yogis in India for over 3,000 years to increase our flow of prana energy – life force energy.

Traditionally Pranayama is practised with different styles of yoga (asana practices) and meditation (Dhyana).

The benefits of Pranayam can be gained when done alone or as part of a yoga practice.

3 Forms of Pranayama

Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Sodhana

This is probably the most well-recognised Pranayama breathing technique and an easy technique for beginners to try that can help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

In a traditional yoga practice, this type of pranayama is performed with a Vishnu Mudra, where the index and middle finger are curled in to the palm, and the thumb, ring and little finger are left fully extended. You then use your ring finger to push one of your nostrils closed.

If you find this hand gesture (mudra) hard to hold, then block your nostrils with your thumb and then your index finger.

(Just don’t stick anything up your nose)

  1. Sit in a quiet, comfortable position.

  2. With your right hand, place your thumb over your right nostril. 

  3. Once your nostril is covered, close your eyes and fully exhale out of your left nostril.

  4. Release your right nostril, and with your ring finger, if you’re using the Vishnu mudra or your index finger if your not, cover your left nostril.

  5. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your right nostril.

  6. Exhale fully through your right nostril.

  7. Release your left nostril and cover your right nostril with your thumb.

  8. Breathe in and out fully with your left nostril.

  9. Alternate this process for 5- 10 minutes.
Pranayama - Alternative nostril breathing
Alternative nostril breathing

Bellows Breath - Bhastrika Pranayama

Bellows breath is a Pranayama exercise designed to increase Prana, which in Vedic tradition means ‘life force energy and is also a beginner-friendly breath technique.

It involves quick breathing in and out of the nose and can give you a quick boost of energy. For this reason, you should be mindful of the time of day you decide to practice!

In the morning or before going for a run is perfect, just before bed, maybe not.

  1. Sit up tall in a comfortable position with a straight back.

  2. Breath in and exhale through your nose. 

  3. Breath deeply and quickly on the inhale and exhale forcefully.

  4. Keep your head, neck and shoulders straight and still and make sure your breath is coming from your diaphragm. 
Pranayama - Bellows Breath
Breathe in from the diaphragm

Cooling Breath - Shitali Pranayama

If our last technique was all about raising our energy levels and preparing ourselves for a hard workout or hot yoga session, then this next one is perfect for when we’ve finished and need to cool down.

This process of breathing involves sipping air through a rolled tongue and is used to bring our vital energy (pranic energy) back into balance.

Because it uses a basic breath, it can also be practised inconspicuously in any hot environment you want to cool down from.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Your posture isn’t so important for this one. Just make sure you’re relaxed. 

  2. Curl your tongue into an ‘O’ shape and stick the end of your tongue out between your lips. 

  3. Breath in slowly through your tongue. Let your breath fill up your lungs and fill your belly. 

  4. Close your mouth and breath out through your nose. 

  5. Repeat this 10 to 15 times

Note: If you can’t roll your tongue, you can still do this practice, but breath in through pursed lips and push your tongue against your bottom teeth to still feel the cool air pass over it. 

Benefits of Pranayama Breath Control

The most well-known benefit of Pranayama is that it regulates the rate at which we breathe with our mental state, thus alleviating stress and anxiety.

With regular practise of any breathing exercise, you will increase your lung capacity and breath volume. Scientific research has found after six weeks of daily practice; lung function rises dramatically. 

Different types of Pranayama have been practised for centuries in conjuncture with Hatha Yoga and meditation to improve physical health and mental health.

Key Facts

  1. Pranayama refers to different breathing methods, including Breath retention and deep breathing, to open energy channels and improve quality of life.

  2. Alternative nostril breathing is good for increasing blood circulation and resolving blood pressure issues.

  3. Bellows Breath raises heart rate and is an ideal to practise before any active period.

  4. Cooling breath is a breathing practice used to lower internal body temperature.