Before I dive in going into the different methods of Pranayama it’s good to have a look at the meaning of the word. Prana means vital lifeforce, which is our breathing. And Yama means control. So, quite literally this word means control of breath. There is a story that says that we are all born with a limitless count of breaths. And how long you’ll live will depend on how much breaths you are using every day. You can also look at it a bit more scientifically, people who are in a lot of stress have more of a shallow respiration, and thus are prone to be sicker. While people who are in control of their breathing and are quite relax have a better immune system and lesser chances of getting stress-related illnesses.

With that said, in this article, I’m going to mainly talk about the different kinds of techniques there are. You can use them during one of your yoga routines, but some can even be done while you are at work, school, etc. One thing I’d just like to say, and this is very important, pranayama comes after doing the asanas.

Yoga and Pranayama are connected and there is a reason why pranayama comes after asana. While doing the asanas you’re giving your body a stretch. This means that you are opening your body to be more receptive to oxygen. And therefore you’ll benefit more from the pranayama techniques when you are doing them after your yoga practice.

The pranayama breathing techniques that I’ll be talking about are the following:

  • Kapalabhati
  • Nadi Shodana:
    • Surya Bhedi
    • Chandra Bhedi
  • Ujjayi
  • Bhastrika
  • Bhramari

Before You Begin

A small disclaimer before you start doing these pranayama activities: it might be advisable to check with your doctor if you don’t have any health conditions that will interfere with this practice. I will also put down the warnings with each breathing routine, but I’m not a doctor and I can’t give any medical opinions.

Besides that, here are some suggestions while doing pranayama:

  • Sit in a comfortable position where your abdomen won’t be obstructed;
  • Choose a space where you won’t be disturbed by external stimuli;
  • Crack the window open a little for good airflow in the room (if you are not living in a polluted area);
  • Make sure the room is enjoyable regarding temperature.

Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapala means skull and Bhati means shining. So this pranayama is translated into skull shining breath. It has this name because it’s not only a breathing method but also considered a cleansing technique. Because of the rapid breathings that you’ll be taking, you’ll be cleansing your blood as well. It’s been said that this causes a glow, which is why it has been named skull shining breath.

How to:

When you are seated in a comfortable position with your spine straight, focus on your breathing. First of all, start breathing normally and deeply. After that, you start focussing on your exhalations. Make them quick and deep, your breath is fast now. Be aware of the movement of your tummy, this is the only part moving at this moment. If you are experiencing difficulties doing this breathing technique, try to put your hand on your stomach to move your awareness there.

Start with 10 exhales and after that do 3 normal breathings. Do this series 3 times. When you are more advanced, you can go all the way up to 30 exhales and 3 normal breaths for three rounds.

 Effects:

  • Helps prevents pimples and wrinkles
  • Good for:
    • Sinusitis
    • Digestion
    • Gastritis
    • Dandruff
    • Headache

Contraindication:

Don’t do this technique when:

  • Pregnant
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Ulcer
  • Brain tumor
  • Epilepsy

Nadi Shodana

This breathing method is also known as the alternate nostril breathing. It is to clear your energy channels and align all meridians in your body.

 How to:

With your right hand place your middle finger and index finger on your third eye. The little finger and ring finger should be used to close the left nostril and the thumb to close the right nostril. Start closing off one of them to begin. Start your inhalation through the open nostril. When you’ve completed this, close this nostril off and open the other to exhale through there. Inhale through this open nostril, close off and open the other one for the exhalation.

 Effects:

This breathing exercise is said that it balances everything and if you decide to only do one technique, it should be this one.

 Contraindication:

With this technique, there aren’t any don’ts. This is a very safe technique, it’s only advisable not to retain the breath when you are having heart issues.

If you are having a cold, which makes it harder to do the full routine, try to use Surya Bhedi or Chandra Bhedi.

 Surya and Chandra Bhedi

These two breathing techniques are quite similar. The only thing is that you don’t shift your nostrils.

With Surya Bhedi you only use the right nostril. So inhaling and exhaling happen through the right hole. And with Chandra Bhedi it is the other way around.

Ujjayi Pranayama

With this one, I had difficulties myself in the beginning. It’s mostly used during the practice of vinyasa yoga. With this pranayama, you make a sound from your throat. It sounds a bit like a calm and soothing ocean.

 How to:

I used to have a lot of difficulties mastering this pranayama. And especially during the rapid movement within a vinyasa yoga practice. How I finally managed to do it was by practicing my Darth Vader voice. It has the same principle more or less. While breathing you control the movement of your larynx, closing it down a little to make a sound coming from your throat.

If you feel dizzy after 15 minutes, go back to your normal breathing.

 Good for:

  • Boost immune system
  • Bones

 Contraindication:

Don’t do when:

  • Throat or ear infections
  • Cancer or tumor in the neck

Bhastrika Pranayama

This one is focussed on dynamic breathing. Do this one during the winter to warm up your body!

 How to:

This pranayama is done by forcefully inhaling and exhaling. Watch out, this doesn’t mean that your breathing is superficial and fast. Try to manage deep breathing from your gut. Sometimes it even helps to forcefully push your belly in and out while doing this exercise. 20 breathings per round should be enough.

 Good for:

  • Cold (temperature and having a cold)
  • Sinusitis
  • Low blood pressure

 Contraindication:

Don’t do when:

  • Pregnant
  • High blood pressure
  • Brain tumor
  • Epilepsy
  • Asthma

Bhramari

Bhramari is Sanskrit for humming bee. And with the sound that you’ll be producing, you’ll immediately know where this name comes from.

 How to:

Close your eyes to draw your awareness within. Put your index fingers in your ears, if you happen to have a small ear infection, then put the fingers on the tragus to close down the entrance of your ear. Keep your mouth closed and start making a humming sound. If you do this for the first time, start by doing this breathing technique 5-10 breaths long.

 Good for:

  • Mental relaxation
  • Physical and mental diseases
  • Activates neurons and pineal gland

 Contraindication:

Don’t do when:

  • Brain tumor
  • Chronic migraine
  • Cold

Conclusion

The benefits of pranayama are huge. And they all come down to one thing: mental health and relaxation. I’ve done all of these exercises before and although I don’t know if they all have the beneficial effects, I know they always brought me to a tranquil state of being.

I suggest you try some of the techniques yourself if you want and let me know in the comment section below what you thought of them!

The next article will be about Pratyahara, so stay tuned in.

Nama-stay wonderful!