Pranayama (प्राणायाम) is the practice of breath control in yoga. In modern yoga as exercise, it consists of synchronizing the breath with movements between asanas but is also a distinct breathing exercise on its own, usually practiced after asanas. In texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and later in Hatha yoga texts, it meant the complete cessation of breathing. Siddha Spirituality of Swami Hardas Life System recommends our valuable readers to regularly do Pranayama for well-being.
Pranayama Definition (प्राणायाम की परिभाषा)
Pranayama is a system of techniques used to harness and manipulate universal energy known as prana. It is an integral aspect of yoga, often incorporated into asana practice or used as a preliminary step for meditation.
Pranayama in Hinduism (हिंदू धर्म में प्राणायाम)
Bhagavad Gītā (भगवद गीता)
According to “Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is”, prāṇāyāma is translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing”, also being made from the two separate Sanskrit words, prāṇa and āyām.
Yoga sutras of Patanjali (पतंजलि के योग सूत्र)
Pranayama is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali, a Hindu Rishi, discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51 and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice.
Patanjali does not fully elucidate the nature of prana, and the theory and practice of pranayama seem to have undergone significant development after him. He presents pranayama as essentially an exercise that is preliminary to concentration, as do the earlier Buddhist texts.
Hatha yoga (हठ योग)
The Indian tradition of Hatha Yoga makes use of various pranayama techniques. The 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a key text of this tradition and includes various forms of pranayama such as Kumbhaka breath retention and various body locks (Bandha).
Other forms of pranayama breathing include:
- Ujjayi breath i.e. Victorious breath
- Bhastrika i.e. Bellows breath
- Kapalabhati i.e. Skull-shining breath, a Shatkarma purification
- Surya Bhedana i.e. Sun-piercing breath, and
- Soothing Bhramari i.e. buzzing like a bee.
Yoga as exercise (व्यायाम के रूप में योग)
Andrea Jain writes that while pranayama in modern yoga as exercise consists of synchronizing the breath with movements, in texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, pranayama meant “complete cessation of breathing”, for which she cites Bronkhorst 2007.
Pranayama in Buddhism (बौद्ध धर्म में प्राणायाम)
According to the Pali Buddhist Canon, the Buddha prior to his enlightenment practiced a meditative technique that involved pressing the palate with the tongue and forcibly attempting to restrain the breath, which is extremely painful and not conducive to enlightenment. In some Buddhist teachings or metaphors, breathing is said to stop with the fourth jhana, though this is a side-effect of the technique and does not come about as the result of purposeful effort.
The Buddha did incorporate moderate modulation of the length of breath as part of the preliminary tetrad in the Anapanasati Sutta. Its use there is preparation for concentration. According to commentarial literature, this is appropriate for beginners.
Indo-Tibetan tradition (भारत-तिब्बत परंपरा)
Later Indo-Tibetan developments in Buddhist pranayama which are similar to Hindu forms can be seen as early as the 11th century, in the Buddhist text titled the Amṛtasiddhi, which teaches three bandhas in connection with yogic breathing (kumbakha).
Tibetan Buddhist breathing exercises such as the “nine breathings of purification” or the “Ninefold Expulsion of Stale Vital Energy”, a form of alternate nostril breathing, commonly include visualizations. In the Nyingma tradition of Dzogchen, these practices are collected in the textual cycle known as “The Oral Transmission of Vairotsana” (Vai ro snyan brgyud).
Pranayama Medical effectiveness (प्राणायाम चिकित्सा की प्रभावशीलता)
Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders. A Cochrane systematic review on the symptomatic relief of mild to moderate asthma by breathing exercises said there was limited evidence they might bring about improvement in the quality of life, hyperventilation symptoms, and lung function.
Pranayama Types (प्राणायाम के प्रकार)
Some important types of Pranayama include:
- Natural Breathing
- Basic Abdominal breathing
- Thoracic breathing
- Clavicular breathing
- Yogic breathing
- Deep breathing with ratios
- Fast breathing
- Viloma – Interrupted Breathing
- AnulomVilom – Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Cooling Breath – Sheetali, Sitkari, Kaki mudra
- Ujjayi – Victorious Breath
- Bhramari – Humming Bee Breath
- Bhastrika – Bellow’s Breath
- Surya Bhedan – Right Nostril Breathing
Pranayama Risks (प्राणायाम के जोखिम)
Although relatively safe, Hatha Yoga is not risk-free. Beginners should avoid advanced moves and exercise within their capabilities. According to at least one study, pranayama was the yoga practice leading to most injuries, with four injuries in a study of 76 practitioners. There have been limited reports of adverse effects including hematoma and pneumothorax, though the connections are not always well established.
Pranayama Health benefits (प्राणायाम के स्वास्थ्य लाभ)
Just for a better understanding, If you want to know how pranayama works, its whole science stands on the 5 Prana Vayu within the human body.
In many pieces of researches, pranayama’s effects on the physical body have been evaluated before and after the practice (yogic intervention).
Weight loss (वजन कम होना)
When you modify the technique of breathing and focus on certain parts of the body, energy is released along with increased sweating. This process burns calories as well as fat.
Pranayama aims to regulate the process of breathing. For beginners, it consists of some special breathing techniques to lose weight easily.
Pranayama for Skin health (त्वचा की सेहत के लिए प्राणायाम)
The Yogic breathing technique like Bhramari Pranayama and Bhastrika pranayama especially have positive effects on the facial skin. Bhramari pranayama with shanmukhi mudras and chin lock is especially beneficial to supply ample oxygen to body cells, thus it glows the skin.
These breathing techniques increase the supply of oxygen which increases the blood thrush and improves the appearance of skin.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are nowadays very common digestive disorders accompanied by gastritis and acidity. IBS and IBD are the diseases which are not treated completely in allopathy.
There is a very famous saying:
There is a brain in the head and there is also a brain in the gut.
By stimulating the brain activity, pranayama monitors the digestion and improves that too.
Diseases like diarrhea and hyperacidity can also be caused by stress and anxiety by affecting the gut-brain axis. Pranayama helps to calm the mind and provide relief from anxiety which in turn reduces these digestive issues.
Pranayama trains you to improve your expiratory power to enhance the airflow by decreasing resistance to the lungs. Simply pranayama practice is the best exercise for the human respiratory system.
It trains you to voluntarily keep a hold over your breath which in turn maintains the isometric contraction of respiratory muscles. Ujjayi breathing, which requires forceful respiration, increases respiratory endurance by acting on the respiratory muscles, which causes increased expansion of the chest wall and lungs. It improved lung capacity and all lung functions.
With regular practice, inflation, and deflation of lungs reach to the fullest and start working at the maximum extent possible, which also brings positive changes in the respiratory pressure and cycle.
Nasal passages and sinuses (नाक मार्ग और साइनस)
Pranayama like alternate nostril breathing (anulom vilom) helps to clear the blockages in the nasal cavity. The regular practice of pranayama helps the nostrils to become free of allergies and enhance the filtering capacity towards the foreign element which causes inflammation.
The inflammation in sinuses can cause throbbing headaches, nasal congestion, and running noses. Pranayama not only improves the ventilation but also acts on the proper drainage of the sinuses and in turn relieves the symptoms of sinusitis.
The pranayama, like Bhramari, creates humming sound, encourages air movement between the sinuses and nasal cavity by to and fro motion. It leads to clearing away the blocked Ostia. It prevents the foci of microbes and allergens.
Cardiovascular health (हृदय स्वास्थ्य)
Pranayama plays an important role in modifying the heart rate by stimulating cells of the body. It also increases oxygen intake. Sukha and Pranava Pranayama improve the circulation to the heart, decrease the heart rate, and improves blood pressure.
Studies done on yogic breathing techniques have already proved its immediate effect on the hypertensive subjects. It shows a significant reduction in the heart rate, Systolic Blood Pressure, Pulse pressure and mean arterial pressure.
Immunity (रोग प्रतिरोधक शक्ति)
Deep breathing exercises which focus on the abdomen with breath retention or kumbhaka, improves the defense mechanism of the body and boosts your immunity. Hence, breathing exercise helps to boost immunity.
Yogic exercises along with pranayama cleanse the body as well as mind. The process of exhalation not only concerned with breathing out the air but also, along with it, waste from the body. This is the body’s natural phenomenon to throw the poisons out of our system and make the body function properly and to its maximal.
Prana or breath can only flow freely if there is no or very little unwanted stuff in the system. By detoxifying, it helps to achieve the pure, happy, and tranquil state of mind and body.
Pranayama like Nadi Shodhana and Anulom Vilom has proved to regulate the autonomic response by strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system.
By increasing the oxygen supply to the brain, pranayama not only calms it but also makes it free of anxiety. It enables you to take charge of your thoughts. Thoughts no more control you, rather you become the master of your mind. As it nullifies the distractions, your concentration increases manifold.
Sleep disorder (निद्रा विकार)
The people with insomnia and other sleep-related disorder, if start performing the routine yogic breathing along with Yoga Asanas and meditation religiously get benefitted. They can get a sound sleep free of negative thoughts and nightmares.
You do not only remain irritated or agitated but also lower your potential to work with full efficiency when depressed, anxious, or fearful. Regular practice of Yoga and Pranayama eliminate all these negativity and charges your aura with optimism and relaxation.
The gray matter of the brain (मस्तिष्क का ग्रे पदार्थ)
Orientation of mind (चित्त की अभिवृद्धि)
Pranayama is helpful to bring focus into the mainstream. The most common reason for failure or delay in the desired outcome, whether it is related to studies or work, is a distraction.
Brain disorders (मस्तिष्क संबंधी विकार)
Pranayama helps to release the toxins not only from blood but also enhances the filtering capacity of the brain. It increases the passage of nanoparticles to the brain through the Blood-Brain Barrier and also filters the unwanted toxic materials which you often inhale in the polluted environment. It also filters the toxin which gets accumulated due to smoking.
Pranayama Spiritual benefits (प्राणायाम के आध्यात्मिक लाभ)
Pranayama, whether it’s the slow breathing or fast breathing, it helps you to grow spiritually. It calms your mind by muting the unnecessary chatter going at the back of your head. As pranayama increases the olfactory senses, the fragrance and smell in the environment also becomes a relieving factor and helps our mind and soul to rejuvenate.
All the physical and psychological benefits of yoga and pranayama eventually brighten the spiritual aspect of your life. Yoga is the union of self to the higher self, i.e. the body and soul grow together for connecting you to the ultimate divinity of the Universe. Pranayama being an integral part of Yogic practice helps to manifest the same.
It enhances your clairvoyance and sixth sense. Your wisdom achieves its highest state and you start exhibiting the highest potential in decision making and actions. Hence, pranayama is not only an exercise to regulate your Prana but also channelizes the positive effects it has on your overall body, mind, and behavior.
What are benefits of pranayama?
With the regular practice of Pranayama, the benefits e.g. improvements are achieved in medical and psychiatric disorders, mental health is achieved, and specifically autistic children have been benefited as per the research carried out. Since it is one kind of breathing exercise does need no specific qualification and has no side effects. Regular practice of pranay amar helps control tension, stress, anger, depression, anxiety, and improves concentration.