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Add These Ten Powerful Pranayamas To Your Happiness Routine

Pranayama is one of the most important and powerful practice of classical Hatha Yoga. Although Pranayama is commonly equated with breathing exercises, it's far more than that. Prana is the life energy and Ayama is its proper control. Just like any other form of energy Prana is also invisible and difficult to manipulate directly (at least during initial stages). Pranic energy manifests itself through several means - bodily movements, breathing, heartbeats, digestion, brain functions, and many more. Some of these manifestations are beyond our control. For example, most of us can't control digestion or heartbeats directly through the power of will. However, bodily movements and breathing are manifestations that we can control at our will. Out of these two breathing is subtler form of pranic manifestation. Therefore, ancient Yogis devised a whole system centered around this theme.

Pranayama is such an important aspect of Hatha Yoga that the word Hatha (Ha + Tha) itself hints at the pranic energy moving through left and right nostril energy channels. Hathayoga Pradipika, one of the authoritative yogic scripture, details several forms of Pranayama as listed below:

  • Nadishodhana
  • Kapalabhati
  • Surya Bhedan
  • Ujjayi
  • Sitkari
  • Sheetali
  • Bhastriks
  • Bhramari
  • Moorchha
  • Plavini

Strictly speaking the first two kriyas, aren't classified as Pranayamas by classical yogic scriptures; they are cleansing techniques or Shuddhi Kriyas. The remaining eight types of Pranayamas are chief techniques. The first two techniques are important for success in the remaining eight. This is because as long as bodily energy channels (called Nadis in Yoga) are full of impurities Prana can't pass through them property causing many diseases. Nadishodhana and Kapalabhati cleanse 72,000 energy channels and hence act as a catalyst in the success of other Pranayamas. They also have their own health and spiritual benefits.

Now that you know about the ten important Pranayamas mentioned in ancient Yogic texts, let me quickly enumerate them in an attempt to elaborate their procedure and benefits. Remember, however, that this article is not aimed at teaching you the precise technique of these kriyas. They are best learned under the guidance of a teacher. You may also take help of other resources such as videos and books that explain them at length. Let's begin.

1. Nadishodhana

Nadishodhana is also called Anuloma-Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breathing (although there are a few subtle differences). In Nadishodhana, inhalation-retention-exhalation cycle is repeatedly performing through alternate nostrils. For example, inhale through left, retain, exhale through right, inhale through right, retain, exhale through left makes one cycle of Nadishodhana. You need to pay attention to three aspects of Nadishodhana:

  • Number of cycles
  • Period of breath retention (Kumbhaka)
  • Time

Classical yoga texts suggest that Nadishodhana should be done at four twilight periods morning, afternoon, evening, and night. They are called Sandhya and Pranayama done at this particular time gives best results. At each such twilight period one should do eighty cycles of Nadishodhana. One should also follow good yogic diet. By such a practice all the energy channels are cleansed in three months.

A word of warning - This can be a strenuous routine for many of you. Don't attempt to master it at once. Begin slowly and gradually improve your practice. You should adjust this routine as per your capacity and body type. Don't copy someone else's routine just because it gave good results to them. During my "awakening" days I used to do this overall routine by skipping the afternoon practice (because I used to do job at that time).

In recent years a lot of research has been done on Pranayama and their healing power. Nadishodhan is one of the chief "Pranayama for health" ingredient in many fitness routine recipes propagated by various yoga institutes today.

2. Kapalabhati

Kapalabhati is an excellent cleansing technique for those suffering from Kapha (Phlegm) related problems. Kapha is related to Earth element and therefore it is also good for people suffering from obesity due to imbalance of Kapha and Earth. When your body has excess Kapha, it blocks various bodily cavities and channels. Hence, Prana cannot enter through major nadis. By the practice of Kapalabhati all these impurities are "washed" out and other Pranayamas give better results.

A word of warning - it seems to be fashion these days to practice Kapalabhati for a very long duration such as 45 minutes to 1.5 hr. This can produce undesired effects. Remember that your aim should be to build a personalized routine and not to replicate something shown on TV or videos. Be gentle with your body. Although Kapalabhati reduces Kapha, it can trigger Pitta and Agni (that's why it is common to experience increase in appetite after doing Kapalabhati). So, if you are suffering from any Pitta ailment consult your doctor before taking to the practice of Kapalabhati. Begin with just 5 minutes and carefully observe the effects of kriya on your body. Then gradually increase the duration further.

3. Surya Bhedana

In Hatha Yoga, energy channel flowing through the left nostril is called Moon Nadi (or Ida) and the energy channel flowing through the right nostril is called Sun Nadi (or Pingala). In Surya Bhedana (literally meaning piercing of Sun)Pranayama you inhale through the right nostril, retain breath as per your capacity, and then exhale through left nostril. Do this repeatedly for certain number of rounds or duration. Surya Bhedana is a heating Pranayama and triggers Pitta in the body. This pranayama is advised only when you are suffering from Kapha and Vata disorders. It is also known to kill intestinal worms and parasites (possibly due to its heating nature). Avoid this Pranayama in summer or hot weather conditions.

4. Ujjayi

Ujjayi is a soothing pranayama if done properly. Inhale through both the nostrils. As you are inhaling contract the throat and glottis region as if breath is entering through your throat. This will produce a soft whistle like sound. Retain breath as much as you can and then exhale through the left nostril (some texts aren't particular about a specific nostril during exhalation). This Pranayama removes Kapha accumulated in the throat and also increases appetite. It maintains all the seven bodily tisses (Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, Meda, Asthi, Majja, and Shukra ). This Pranayama is suitable for all people and in all seasons. Ujjayi can also be used during meditative practices due to its soothing effects.

5. Sitkari

Sitkari is a cooling Pranayama and best done in summer season (and avoid in winter or cool weather). Open your mouth like a break of a crow and inhale through mouth such that air flows over your tongue and then enters lungs. Then retain the breath as per your capacity. Exhale through nostrils. Since this Pranayama involves inhalation through mouth, I would suggest that do this kriya in clean atmosphere only and that too in moderation. If you do this Pranayama in impure atmosphere (pollution, smoke, dust etc.) it can cause throat infections and other respiratory infections.

Due to its cooling nature Sitkari is useful in the conditions of Pitta and fever. One "extraordinary" benefit of this Pranayama is that it helps you control hunger and thrust for a longer time. Of course, don't expect this to happen from the very beginning of your practice.

6. Sheetali

Sheetali is very similar to Sitkari in terms of benefits and technique. The main difference  is - in Sheetali tongue is rolled to form a "tube" like appearance and is protruding out. So, it is as it you are inhaling air through the straw of tongue.

7. Bhastrika

Bhastrika or bellows breath is not only heating type of Pranayama but it also induces good amount of energy. In Bhastrika rapid inhalation and exhalation is performed through both the nostrils. Air should be filled in lungs such that your chest expands as you inhale and chest collapses as you exhale. Many people confuse Bhastrika and Kapalabhati. But they are quite different. In Kapalabhati inhalation is active and exhalation is passive (by means of abdominal push) whereas in Bhastriks inhalation as well as exhalation are active and forceful (no abdominal push here).

To do Bhastrika you require good amount of energy. Weak people should do this very slowly. Bhastrika done in a wrong way or done for a very long time can cause hyperventilation. So, don't overdo it.

8. Bhramari

Bharamari is yet another soothing and meditative Pranayama. It involves inhalation and exhalation accompanied with a humming sound. There are a few variations of this Pranayama that involve OM chanting instead of humming sound and closing of "six gates" by fingertips.

Bhramari doesn't have any restrictions and can be done by anybody and in any season. This Pranayama gives immense joy if done properly and for extended period of time.

9. Moorchha

Moorchha literally means swooning. By practicing this Pranayama you reach a state where mind becomes steady or "inactive" and hence the name. To do this Pranayama you inhale steadily through both the nostrils. At the end of inhalation retain the breath and also apply Jalandhara Bandha or throat-lock. As you reach your maximum capacity slowly release the throat-lock and exhale very gently. Do this repeatedly till you reach the "dead" state of mind.

Although appears simple, Moorchha is an advanced Pranayama and should be done only after you are comfortable with other Pranayamas.

10. Plavini

Plavini literally means - to float. This Pranayama is also an advanced Pranayama and yogic scriptures don't elaborate it in crystal clear terms. One of the accepted technique in Yoga fraternity involves a deep (very deep) inhalation such that lungs are filled beyond their ordinary capacity. Then exhale slowly. Some interpretations also suggest swallowing of air and pushing it in abdominal cavity. This sounds bit odd and can cause bloating. So, beginners should consult an expert before taking to this Pranayama.

 If you read the original Sanskrit text of Hathayoga Pradipika you will find that it does mention "filling of abdomen". But this can be interpreted in different ways. If you see the expected benefits of Plavini it is said that a Yogi practicing Plavini can float on water. This too can be interpreted differently. One of the logical interpretation is that huge amount of air intake (like a balloon!) makes you feel very light as if you are floating on water.

I always suggest my students to include Pranayamas as a part of their "Happiness" routine rather than merely looking at them for physical fitness. That's because Pranayamas have far subtler and deeper dimension than what appears at the beginning. As per Yoga system Prana and Mind exhibit a sort of "coupling". You control Prana, mind comes under control. You control mind, Prana comes under control. So, Yogis have been using them as companion on their journey to unending Happiness, Samadhi, and Self-realization.

With OM and Peace!


"Unless you learn to channelize three main dimensions of primordial energy - will, knowledge, and action - to manifest your life goals you aren't utilizing it in its true yogic sense."
#AjapaYogaByBipinJoshi

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant, trainer, author, yoga mentor, and meditation teacher with over 24 years of experience in classical form of Yoga. He is an internationally published author and has authored or co-authored more than twelve books on .NET technologies. He has been awarded as a Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. He has also written a few Marathi books including Devachya Davya Hati and Natha Sankentincha Danshu. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he also teaches Ajapa Yoga to selected individuals.

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Posted On : 30 September 2019




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