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You’ll often see the words Pranayama Yoga written together and this gives people the idea that it’s a type of yoga but it’s really a technique rather than a style and is part of yoga rather than a type of yoga itself.
It actually means to take control of one’s breathing in order to correctly to control the body’s energy. When the breathing function is out of whack, it follows that everything else within the body follows suit.
Pranayama is ‘control of Breath’. “Prana” is Breath, or the vital energy in the body. On subtle levels, prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means control.
So Pranayama is: “Control of Breath, or breathing”. One can control the rhythms of pranic -breath – energy with pranayama techniques and achieve a healthy body and mind.
Patanjali, in his text of Yoga Sutras, mentions pranayama as means of attaining higher states of awareness, he describes the holding of breath as an important practice of reaching Samadhi.
Hatha Yoga also addresses the 8 types of pranayama which will make the body and mind healthy.
Five types of prana are responsible for various pranic activities in the body, they are Prana, Apana, Vyan, Udana & Samana. Out of these Prana and Apana are most important.
Prana is upward flowing and Apana is downward flowing. The practice of Pranayama achieves the balance in the activities of these pranas, which results in healthier body and mind.
Uneven breathing during times of stress or strenuous exercise can lead to the organs in the body not getting enough oxygen. The lungs were meant to fill deeply with oxygen and to exhale, releasing carbon dioxide. Not knowing how to breathe properly can cause an imbalance in releasing that carbon dioxide.
The correct breathing patterns can help the body to properly function and it’s one of the reasons why it’s an important part of training in yoga postures. If you’ve ever been angry, you might have heard the phrase, “Take a deep breath and count to ten.”
Many people assume that the counting to ten is what helps to calm the mind and to let go of the anger but it’s the deep breathing that controls the emotions and helps to focus on behavior. It makes a person think before acting and to make better decisions over out of control actions done in anger.
In Pranayama Yoga, breathing is the core of the yoga practice, it is the self discipline that will help take you from doing the asanas, to experiencing the asanas on a different level. Proper posture during the yoga allows the lungs to fill to capacity and lets the body receive the oxygen it needs. Having a correct breathing function benefits every one of your bodies organs and promotes a vigor to help sustain energy.
There are different stages of breathing in yoga and each one is necessary for the various asanas to progress to the next one. Each stage works together to function as a cycle. Inhale. Exhale. There are four types of breathing associated with yoga.
In the first stage, the Puraka, it’s an inhale. The second stage is the Kumbhaka which means to hold on to the breath that was inhaled. Rechaka is the next stage and is a slow exhale. The final stage is a brief wait after the exhale.
Kriya Pranayama Yoga Techniques Video
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Prāṇāyāma yoga techniques and forms include:
- Agni-prasana or Agni Prana (“Breath of Fire”) like kapalabhati.
- Agnisar prāṇāyāma – an abdominal breath.
- Anuloma prāṇāyāma – a form of alternate nostril breath (distinct from nadi shodhana).
- Bhastrika prāṇāyāma (“bellows breath”) – fast and forceful inhales and exhales driven by diaphragmatic breathing. Bhastrika is a cleansing kriya to clear the nadis, nostrils, and sinuses for prāṇāyāma.
- Bhramari prāṇāyāma (“bee breath”) – making a humming sound while breathing.
- Chandra Bhastrika prāṇāyāma.
- Chandra bheden prāṇāyāma.
- Kapalabhati prāṇāyāma (“skull shining breath”) – similar to bhastrika, but with a passive inhale and a forceful exhale, powered mainly by the diaphragm and the external and internal obliques.
- Kumbhaka prāṇāyāma (“Breath retention”) – controlling both antara (holding in) and bahya (holding out).
- Lom Anulom Vilom prāṇāyāma.
- Murchha prāṇāyāma.
- Nadi Shodan prāṇāyāma.
- Pratiloma prāṇāyāma – the inverse of anuloma: the inhale is drawn through one nostril (alternating sides each time) and the exhale is released through both nostrils.
- Sama vṛtti prāṇāyāma (“Even breathing”) – the inhale and exhale are of equal size and duration. The opposite of visama vṛtti.
- Shitali prāṇāyāma (“Cooling breath”) – Inhalation is drawn over the curled and extended tongue.
- Shitkari prāṇāyāma – Similar to shitali but the tongue is held between the teeth.
- Surya Bhastrika prāṇāyāma.
- Surya bhedana prāṇāyāma and Chandra bhedana prāṇāyāma – Channeling breath in one side and out the other without alternating, meant to energize ida or pingala nadi. The right nostril is associated with the sun (surya) and left nostril with the moon (ida).
- Surya Chandra Bhastrika prāṇāyāma.
- Udgeeth prāṇāyāma (“Chanting prāṇāyāma”) – often done with the chanting of the Om mantra.
- Ujjayi prāṇāyāma – also known as “victorious or conquering breath” is breathing with the glottis slightly engaged, producing a soft sound. Considered to be the only prāṇāyāma one can safely practice while walking or engaged in other activities (e.g. during āsana practice. Some older versions require digital prāṇāyāma (the fingers controlling the nostrils). The slightly closed airway creates a valsalva maneuver and typically results in a parasympathetic response (lowered heart rate, lowered blood pressure, increased digestive activity, stimulation of the vagus nerve, etc…)
- Viloma prāṇāyāma – “the air is inhaled with pauses and exhaled as one breath or vice-versa, usually with added kumbhaka”.
- Visama vṛtti – “Uneven breathing” where specific ratios (e.g. 1:4:2) are maintained between inhale, retention, and exhale. The opposite of sama vṛtti.
The purpose of the stages of breathing in Pranayama Yoga is to free the body from the toxic impurities that trap the flow of energy and keep the body from experiencing the release that yoga can bring.