PRANAYAMA

From Swami Atmachaithanya's book "The Art and Science of Ayurveda" (Appendix - Yoga Vidya):

"Yoga Shastra proclaims that Prana (life force) is the creator and protector of the body … Pranayama is a method of expanding and regulating this Prana."


Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Chapter 5, verse 2:

"When the breath 'wanders' (i.e. is irregular) the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath."

Chapter 5, verse 5 and 6:

"Only when all the nadis which are still impure are purified can the yogi practice pranayama successfully. …  Therefore one should practice pranayama with the mind in sattvic condition until the sushumna is free from impurities."

Pranayama is practised via breathing exercises (inhaling, exhaling, holding the breath). There are various pranayama which are mentioned in the classical hatha yoga scriptures such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita. Benefits of Pranayama: strengthens the heart, lungs and various internal organs, calms the nervous system, alleviates many illnesses such as high blood pressure, asthma; purifies the nadis etc.

Most people use only 50 per cent of their lung capacity and expel only half the waste (e.g. carbon dioxid) through the lungs. In the latter case the residual air (waste product) remaining in the lungs is pushed deeper in the body, with the result that the level of fresh oxygen circulating through your body via the blood is much lower which effects organs, brain, nerve cells etc.

Deep breathing supplies all cells and organs with fresh oxygenated blood. Your body will function more efficiently when you learn how to breathe with your diaphragm. Then proceed by expanding your lungs to its full capacity - known as the full yogic breath.

Everyone can engage in simple pranayama for health improvement and wellbeing. Advanced pranayama need to be taught by an experienced yoga teacher or yogi as the prana is manipulated in various ways as well as often engaging locks (bandhas) which could result in harm of the practitioner if he practices incorrectly or if he does not adhere to certain lifestyle restrictions (e.g. food).

Correct breathing is crucial for achieving and maintaining good health. The daily practice of 5-15 minutes will have a great impact on your wellbeing.

Preliminaries

Pranayama is practised by sitting comfortably in one of the seated meditative yoga postures such as lotus, siddhasana, cross-legged or in vajrasana (sitting on the heels) (see photos on this page and on e-info "meditation"). If any of the aformentioned positions are uncomfortable then you can commence your pranayama practice by sitting on a chair with legs hip width apart and feet flat on the floor (take your shoes off). Relax your body. Sit with erect spine and head. Some pranayama may also be practiced walking or lying down, for example the diaphragmatic breath (abdominal breath).

1. Abdominal Breathing 

Inhale and exhale slowly and smoothly through your nose. The abdomen expands forward when inhaling, and contracts back towards the spine when exhaling - this is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. Apply the hand mudra.

Beginners can either sit on a chair or in the cross-legged pose or lie on the floor.

To feel the abdominal breathing process easier the following can be practised by beginners: put both hands on the belly, palms down and fingertips of middle fingers touching; inhale into the belly, your belly will come up and the fingers will come apart, exhale by contracting the belly towards the spine and your middle fingers will touch or slightly slide passed each other (see photos).

   

 
2. Full Yogic Breath

 

 

Slowly breathe in smoothly, expanding first the abdomen, followed by the rib cage and finally the upper area of the lungs (the clavicular). Then exhale by contracting the abdomen first then followed by the rib cage and clavicular. The seated position on the left is vajrasana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

 Sit in a comfortable sitting position (see preliminaries above). 


Bend the index and middle fingers of your right hand into the palm, and close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale slowly through the left nostril. When the lungs are full, close the left nostril with the ring and small fingers, remove the thumb from the right nostril and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Still keeping the left nostril closed with the ring and little fingers, inhale slowly through the right nostril. When the lungs are full, close the right nostril with the thumb, remove the ring and little fingers and exhale slowly through the left nostril. Repeat this process for 5 minutes to start with, gradually increase to 15 minutes.

Benefits: Calms the nervous system, balances the two hemispheres of the brain; helps to keep colds and congestions at bay; balances ida and pingala; purifies the nadis; cleanses the lungs and the respiratory systems; makes the body feel light; and increases the prana which can be stored.

 

 

 

 

 

After you finish your breathing exercises it is beneficial to lie down on your back in Shavasana (see photo below) to relax for 5 or 10 minutes.