The feeling of being out-of-breath or short-of-breath after light physical exercise or a startle can be very uncomfortable. And this could also be a sign of being out-of-tune with your body. This is where Pranayama breathing comes in; engaging in an activity that is all about rituals and holistic living enables you to become more in-tune with your mind, body and abilities.
Pranayama yoga has been adopted by cultures around the globe over centuries in order to find the ultimate ‘Chi’ or ‘Zen’ with the body which enables us to live a long and happy life with those we love.
With this, learning Pranayama breathing techniques for beginners is becoming an increasingly popular pastime and hobby for everyone from the Western continents to the traditional roots of the Eastern Kingdoms. From runners looking to increase their stamina and swimmers needing to hold their breath for longer durations underwater all the way to religious rituals and new mums finding paths for a pain-reduced welcome for their little one; there is always room for the learnings of Pranayama.
So, as part of our series dedicated to being mindful and engaging in hobbies that improve our mental and physical wellbeing, the team here at The Hobby Kraze wanted to touch base on the practice of Pranayama.
Here’s what we’ll be covering in this article:
- What is Pranayama Breathing?
- Where did the Practice of Breathing Control Originate?
- The Benefits Behind Unlocking Pranayama Breathing
- Understanding How to Enable Pranayama Techniques for Beginners
- Important Aspects of Pranayama Breathing to Keep in Mind
- The 18 Types of Pranayama Techniques for Beginners
- Agni Sara
- Anulom Vilom
- Chandra and Surya Bhedana
- Dirga (Also, Deerga)
- Moorchha (Also, Murcha)
- Nadi Shodhana
- Nauli Kriya
- Sama Vritti
- Sitkari (Also, Sitali)
- Ujjayi Breathing
Before we delve into discovering secrets of breath control with Pranayama breathing, it’s useful to know how it ties-in with other practices such as meditation or asana. In reality, the benefits of Pranayama are simply one part of the eight lifelines of yoga. These are also called ‘the eight limbs’ as it represents the limbs that derive from the holy divinity.
The importance of yoga stretches into many areas of the mind, body and soul. This is to enable self-love and self-care throughout all the physical and mental manifestations of life. With this, yoga features a holistic method for training whereby you can choose a limb to focus on and develop a routine that suits your individual mind, body and soul.
The eight limbs are: Yama (connection to the environment), Asana (physical abilities), Dhyana (mindful meditation), Pranayama (breathing control), Niyama (due care to the self), Pratyahara (exemption of senses), Dharana (concentration capabilities) and Samadhi (total integration).
In a Western world, many people only focus on Asana yoga or Dhyana yoga, neglecting the core benefits to be had just by allowing the time to practice other important yoga limbs such as the Pranayama yoga for breath stability.
Yet, as we move on, it’s time to provide time for understanding how the importance of yoga reaches through each of the individual limbs such as with Pranayama techniques for beginners.
What is Pranayama Breathing?
Pranayama is a word that can be broken down from its Sanskrit origin to mean the expansion of air control. With ‘Prana’ roughly relating to ‘life force’ and ‘Ayama’ meaning ‘control’, they come together to denote the practices of air tide in the lungs in order to maximise oxygen flow through the body, lung capacity, health restoration and more.
The exercise involves thinking about mindful breathing to improve air flow, oxygen intake, stamina, activity options, posture and relaxation.
For example, it could involve creating a morning routine that implements a seated Asana yoga position and some exercises that cover ‘belly’ breathing, ‘chest’ breathing and rhythmic breathing in order to regain control of the mind and body.
Traditionally, it has been used as a preparation tool for meditation and other practices stemming from the importance of yoga. For example: if after reading “The Ultimate Guide to Yoga for Daily Stretching and Stillness” you decide to begin a yoga class and your teacher mentions Pranayama at the start, they just want you to take a seat and think about regaining control of your breath.
Where did the Practice of Breathing Control Originate?
With being such a key tool to open the gates for other forms of relaxation, meditation or religious practice for the body, Pranayama breathing has been around for a long time. In fact, it dates back as far as the other 8 limbs of yoga in the 5th and 6th centuries (BCE) of Ancient India.
There are many masters of yoga and spiritual practitioners who have said that benefits of Pranayama training span into the entire body’s ability to continue a healthy energy flow. With that, they’ve said that the root of all disease can be traced back to fluctuations in the body’s flow of energy and that enabling the intentions to relax through Pranayama techniques for beginners is what will empower healing.
The earliest mention of Pranayama yoga being used to improve the body’s health is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad hymn around 700 B.C., and it stated that people should breathe-in to arise and then breathe-out to release negative thoughts, feelings and motions in the body.
After a few centuries, another text named the Bhagavad Gita would reference the practice of Pranayama breathing as a daily exercise. However, unlike in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad hymn, the Bhagavad Gita encouraged regular practice in order to gain and maintain control of the body.
As we progress into the time of Anno Domini, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was published as an amalgamation of all previous texts surrounding the concepts of yoga, in which was the powerful tool for healing of Pranayama breathing. In Patanjali’s sutras, he makes reference to four practices of Pranayama yoga whereby there is the inhale, the exhale, the retention and the link to an external process that goes beyond the other three.
In the 16th century, we can trace the roots of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This text was written by a student of Maha Siddha Goraksha Nath who was a supported practitioner of yoga practice with many followers in the region. However, it’s key to note that this text was one of the first to provide a holistic view of how Pranayama breathing was to be used alongside the importance of yoga such as physical postures and mindful meditation. As well as this, it is one of the first to provide instructions of Pranayama techniques for beginners.
Fast forward to modern practices and technology has enabled us to look into the true anatomical benefits of Pranayama breathing. As well as this, it has allowed practitioners of yoga and medical professionals the insight needed to help attain peak physical and mental wellbeing in those around them through the inner pharmacy of breathing.
The Benefits Behind Unlocking Pranayama Breathing
Now that we have proof of the transformational tool of Pranayama breathing, it’s far easier to reap the benefits and encourage those around us to also engage in just 10 minutes each day dedicated to mindful breathing and yoga practices.
And it’s not all about the mind; it’s about the body, your energy levels, your communication and the ways you can help others around you with stark positivity. In fact, there are many different benefits of Pranayama yoga that can be unlocked just by exploring the different Pranayama techniques for beginners.
- Anxiety Reduction
- Stress Reduction
- Better Sleep
- Heightened Energy
- Positive Energy
- Mindful Communication
- Increased Health
- Sped-Up Healing
- Reduced Depression
- Improved Digestion
- Healthy Skin
- Increased Stamina
- Opportunity to Venture
- Reproduction Improvement
- Increased Muscle Capacity
- Heightened Reflexes
- Reduced Nausea
- Control of Body
- Better Stability
- Posture Improvement
- Workload Output
- Mental Focus
- Unblocked Energy Channels
- Core Strength
- Appetite Stimulation
- Calmed Mind
- Balanced Nervous System
- Increased Power
- Reduced Headaches
- Psychological Control
- Decreased Irritability
- Improved Mood
Understanding How to Enable Pranayama Techniques for Beginners
Much alike what was outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, modern day adopts three parts to Pranayama breathing. The first – Purak – refers to the inhale, while the second – Kumbhak – refers to the hold and the third – Rechak – refers to the exhale of the movement. During these three stages, it’s important to be in a wide and open space (such as outside) while practicing in the morning to allow yourself the energy and strength for the day.
Often in the yogi community, Pranayama, Dhyana, Niyama and Dharana will all work hand-in-hand using the same Asana poses. Unless the types of Pranayama require a different pose such as Child’s Pose or Shavasana, it’s quite common to begin in a seated pose.
Here are five of the most-common sitting Asanas for yoga practice:
- Ardha Padmasana: Half-lotus
- Padmasana: Lotus
- Siddhasana: Pose of the adept
- Sukhasana: Cross-legged
- Vajrasana: Kneeling on the heels
When you’ve found the pose that is most comfortable for you, your body and your surroundings, it’s time to think about hand positioning. Often, your hands will be placed over the knees, in Sun Salutation (palms together and over the head to open the chest), on the abdomen or completing an action around the nostrils.
However, to find lasting harmony between the body, mind and spirit while in Pranayama yoga practice, a top tip is to get a Pranayama rod (a Yoga Danda). This is a small rod with a platform at the top allowing you to prop the elbow for a relaxed hold of the nostrils.
Important Aspects of Pranayama Breathing to Keep in Mind
While the relaxation response might be a goal for many practicing their Pranayama breathing technique, there are some considerations to take in prior to starting.
For one, while most limbs of yoga are gentle on the body such as Dhyana (mindful meditation), Pranayama includes a physical exercise that places a strain on the mind, lungs, internal organs and other muscles in the core abdomen region. Therefore, it’s advised (especially in the case of learning Pranayama techniques for beginners) to engage in controlled breathing under the watchful aid of a Guru.
As well as this, there are some side-effects of practicing Pranayama breathing techniques incorrectly. Such as: blurry vision, dizziness, indigestion, tiredness, nausea and more. So, it’s important to prepare for Pranayama exercise.
To avoid these types of side effect, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have some tips and medical considerations. For example: if you are pregnant, Pranayama can be invaluable to helping ease pain and ensure the body is as relaxed as can be for the birth. However, if you’re not practicing correctly, you can cause nausea and abdominal pain. So, consult your Ob Gyn or GP beforehand and ensure you’re following the guidelines of Pranayama and practicing in the Asana yoga poses that benefit you and the little one on the way.
Best practices of Pranayama include:
- Make sure you’re in a bright and well-ventilated room for optimum airflow.
- Ensure you’re going into Pranayama with a positive mindset.
- Don’t begin practicing Pranayama breathing when angry or hurried.
- Never plug your ears to drown out noise: either embrace or relocate.
- Keep a straight-back and seated posture.
- Always commence Pranayama techniques for beginners a minute at time.
- Eat before you meditate: an empty stomach can cause many issues.
- Begin concentration with eyes closed and on the nose before moving up.
- Enter your Pranayama yoga time with an open mind.
- Stick to the right types of Pranayama practice for you: all bodies are different.
- Don’t push yourself if your Pranayama requires you to hold your breath.
- Avoid high-frequency Pranayama yoga with high blood pressure.
- Never avoid a yawn: allow the natural bodily response.
- See a GP first if you are pregnant or have a chronic health condition.
The 18 Types of Pranayama Techniques for Beginners
Many will say there are hundreds of rhythmic forms of Pranayama breathing, and they’d be right. However, they won’t all have their Sanskrit origins that tie them into the practice of yoga. So, we’ve included the 18 known types of Pranayama yoga in order to enlighten the body by connecting to the spirit and subsiding the energy-draining aspects of life such as stress and anxiety.
While there is no particular order to these practices, it’s important to remember that some will be beginner level, some novice, others intermediate and a few at an advanced yogi level. So, always use the level you’re comfortable at and allow your body to slowly open itself to the relaxation response.
Agni Sara is one of the more intermediate types of Pranayama and is sometimes even described as an inward journey due to the intense abdominal contractions that are needed in order to harness the energy that gives us the strength to conquer other physical and mental struggles in life.
Anulom Vilom is a definitive practice of Pranayama that is identified through the distinctive rituals and routines of the inhale and exhale. When sat in Ohm, you can place one finger over one nostril for the inhale, changing hands and nostril for the exhale and continuing the pattern. It is then reversed and repeated in order to improve the body’s balance and circulation.
Bahya Pranayama is very commonly seen as an intermediate form of restorative yoga. This is because it requires a breath hold after the exhale which can be much harder than a breath hold on an inhale. In Sanskrit, ‘Bahya’ means ‘external’, hence the focus on the exhale. However, on the breath hold, it’s time to engage Asana practice for abdominal strength.
Also known in the yogi community as the “breath of fire”, it involves a rapid succession of inhalation and exhalation. The aim of Bhastrika breathing patterns is to increase the oxygen flow and the energy in the body. It can be a very quick practice of around 20 breaths in a seated position to help with any respiratory issues.
Bhramari is a type of bee found in the Indian regions. This bee makes a distinct low humming sound and can be emulated by us non-bees by exhaling and engaging our voice box; doing so is often called humming bee breath. It is the perfect Pranayama exercise as an instant de-stressor.
Chandra and Surya Bhedana
Said to be a source of stimulating the brain and increasing body heat, this is another one-nostril pose whereby sounds are engaged. Opposite to Chandra Bhedana, Surya Bhedana breathing provides the body with a cooling effect. In Sanskrit, ‘Chandra’ can be recognised as meaning ‘Moon’ and is symbolised by the vocal noise ‘Tha’, while ‘Surya’ means ‘Sun’ and can be recognised by the sound ‘Ha’. To engage in in Chandra Bhedana, simply place the finger over the right nostril and inhale, then place the finger over the left nostril and exhale while making the ‘Tha’ sound. For Surya Bhedana, practice the opposite movement with the ‘Ha’ sound.
Dirga (Also, Deerga)
Also commonly known in the yogi community as the ‘three-part breath’ practice, it involves the abdomen, diaphragm and chest as the ‘three parts’. This is a soft and introductory level Pranayama breathing practice often taught by Gurus as one of the Pranayama techniques for beginners. By meaning, ‘Dirga’ constitutes a long and deep movement. To engage Dirga Pranayama, simply lie in Corpse Pose, place your hand on your belly and feel your body lift through the three parts as you breathe to increase awareness and decrease anxiety.
As ‘Kapala’ can be translated to ‘skull’ and ‘Bhati’ to ‘light’, this Pranayama breathing method involves picturing the head being filled with enlightenment and clear thinking on the inhale as a passive movement while the exhale is an active, fast and aggressive movement to remove negativity and increase energy.
Moorchha (Also, Murcha)
Meaning to ‘swoon’ or ‘feint’ this Pranayama exercise involves inhaling and retaining the breath for a prolonged period of time. Not quite to the point of feinting, the idea is to reach the point of heightened relaxation and euphoria. However, it is advised to never complete this Pranayama breathing technique alone and it should only be done by advanced practitioners of the yoga limbs.
Nadi Shodhana is a novice practice and involves another one-nostril manoeuvre to cleanse the body, increase oxygen and balance hormones. To begin, close your index and middle fingers into your palm, then place your thumb on one nostril and your ring finger on the other. Simply close one nostril as you inhale and the other as you exhale, however after exhaling, hold for a couple of counts.
Nauli Kriya is an advanced strengthening and cleansing technique that involves sucking-in your abdomen on the exhale and massaging the organs by releasing and contracting slowly. This is the only Pranayama breathing method that is recommended on an empty stomach and after a visit to the bathroom as such tight abdominal focus can cause nausea.
Plavini can be denoted as the floating Pranayama practice because it requires the swallowing of breath in order to increase the air inside the stomach and lungs for buoyancy in the water. In the sitting pose it can be as simple as inhaling, swallowing, holding and then bringing the chin to the chest for a few counts before exhaling while lifting your head. This small act improves airflow and increases the flow of blood while allowing for heightened survivability without food or water.
Sama Vritti is one of the most fantastic Pranayama techniques for beginners looking to increase breath control and reduce stress and anxieties. It surrounds the number four; inhale on a count of four, hold on a count of four, exhale on a count of four, hold on a count of four and so on.
Also called ‘cooling breath’ among practicing yogis around the world, Sheetali calms the mind, cools the body, relaxes the fight-or-flight response and lowers blood pressure (so, skip this manoeuvre if you’ve got naturally low blood pressure). In fact, the ancient text Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions the benefits of Pranayama in the Sheetali pose brings youth and cures fever. For cooling breath, simply inhale through the mouth while rolling the tongue and then exhale through the nose.
Sitkari (Also, Sitali)
A simple exercise, this involves sitting pose and a curled tongue. With the back and neck in alignment, gather your breath, then curl your tongue to form a tunnel. When ready, begin to take long and deep breaths through the tunnel of the tongue curl. Doing this reduces anger, cools the body, aids in digestion and allows you to focus your mind.
In order to truly feel the flow of energy and the importance of yoga, then you need to incorporate Udgeeth Pranayama yoga into your flow. Meaning “rhythmic chant” in Sanskrit, Udgeeth is the ultimate manifestation of Ohm; in fact, this is the rhythmic chant you’ll be making on your exhale.
Ujjayi Breathing is practiced by everyone who takes a second to monitor their breath. At every point you think about centring the breath with your mouth, you are aiming for the exact rhythmic breath that brings a sense of Chi and calm to the body. And, throughout all aspects and limbs of yoga, Ujjayi is part of it. This is the best starting point for any yogi to begin their practice, become mindful and invigorate the body with strength and energy.
Finally, we have Viloma Pranayama yoga. Broken down from the Sanskrit meanings, ‘vi’ means ‘against’ while ‘loma’ means the ‘flow of strands’. Together, this type of pranayama breathing is known as being against the current or grain or flow. This is because it aims to increase lung capacity through segmented halting of the breath mid-flow. For example: inhaling through the nose and pausing for a couple of counts before continuing the inhale and practicing the same on the exhale. With time, the aim is to be able to implement many pauses through the flow of air in order to gain control of the body, increase capacity, relieve tension and cool down.
Pranayama is more than worth the effort for just 10 minutes a day dedicated to the importance of yoga through the limb of Pranayama breathing. No matter whether you’re looking to run 5K for the first time, swim in the sea on holiday or reduce the pains of labour, creating the right Pranayama routine to enable controlled breathing to connect our mind and body to the spirit is a training plan sure to have you on the right track.
When you’ve journeyed into the world of controlled breathing, you’ll have the energy and capacity to achieve anything. If you’re wanting to join the next Quidditch team or if you simply want to go on a kayaking getaway with family, your lungs have become your world of adventure.
Don’t forget to share your progress with the team here at The Hobby Kraze on our social media channels or check out all the other fantastic hobbies that breathe air back into your soul.