Pranayama techniques in yoga focus on regulating and balancing your breathing to improve your health. The benefits of different methods include maximum oxygen supply to the lungs, an efficient expulsion of carbon dioxide, better blood circulation, regulated heart rate and blood pressure, and most importantly reduced stress. It helps keep you calm throughout the day in any situation.
We all go through stressful lives that give us a very little reprieve from day-to-day worries. A good way to relax your mind and your body is to control your breathing. Your mind and your breathing are interrelated, which makes pranayama a very effective way of controlling your nerves.
Effect Of Breathing On Your Body
Your breathing will typically be slow and momentarily arrested when you’re lost in deep thoughts or when you’re calm. If you’re agitated, you’re likely to breathe in quick bursts and in an irregular rhythm. This shows that your body’s vital energy or prana is directly related to the mind and vice versa. Here’s a simple test to observe the effect of regulated breathing.
When you step into a cold shower, the body naturally reacts with a gasp and by tensing the body. Instead, consciously regulate your breathing when you step in. Breathe out slowly and steadily and observe how it minimizes the effect of the temperature. Try it out.
What Is Pranayama?
Some of the sources of our vital energy or prana are food, water, and sunlight. Pranayama is how we try to control this prana and all vital energies in our body.1 And the way you do this is not by regulating the inhalation but exhalation. Inhaling comes automatically. But you control the flow of energy only by slowing down the release of breath.
Benefits Of Pranayama
Pranayama improves your quality of life for a longer period, keeps you calm and steady, and keeps away diseases – both psychological and physical.
Regulates the rate of breathing and heart rate2
Regulates blood pressure3
Stimulates blood circulation
Expels toxins from the body via enhanced and effective breathing
Improves digestion and increases immunity4
Can regulate your mood and calm you down5
Can assist in weight loss: this is probably due to dietary changes that are generally suggested when following a yogic life.6 Although pranayama techniques such as kapalabhati work on the abdomen, this alone will have only a minimal influence on weight loss.
Eases your way into meditation: Meditation requires a calm and relaxed state of mind and body, and this requires a steady breath. Practicing pranayama will help you find a balanced way of breathing that keeps you naturally calm.
Pranayama techniques can be different in different schools of yoga and are also of different types. Here we give you the benefits of different pranayama techniques:
1. Benefits Of Abdominal Breathing
This is one of the three prominent types of breathing: abdominal, chest, and clavicular (shallow). Abdominal breathing supplies the maximum oxygen to your lungs and benefits your health in many ways:
Massages the heart as the abdomen contracts and the diaphragm moves up when you exhale
Massages the abdominal organs as the abdomen expands while the diaphragm goes down when you inhale
Reduces tension and stress that comes with shallow breathing
Slows down the heart rate and regulates blood pressure and contributes to managing hypertension7
2. Benefits Of Yogic Breathing
Here, you use all three respiratory muscles, i.e., abdomen, chest, and clavicle. Chest breathing considerably increases the capacity of the lungs. But abdominal breathing fills up most of the lungs. Clavicular breathing, on its own, is quite shallow. But it polishes your breathing technique by completely expanding the chest and also helps with rounded shoulders. Some of the other benefits are as follows:
Increases the oxygen supply to all the cells in the body
Freshens up your mind and stimulates your sensory perception
3. Benefits Of Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma)
Benefits Of Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma)_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
Anuloma viloma literally means controlling the prana and is also called nadi shodhana pranayama. The right nostril or nadi is called the sun breath (pingala) and the left nadi is called the moon breath (ida). Breathing through different nostrils are said to be connected to your brain functions: The left (logical) side of the brain is said to be more active when the right nadi is more open and the right (creative) side of the brain is active when the left nadi is more open.8
The benefit of right nadi breathing is that it produces heat, which improves metabolism. Left nadi breathing cools the body and helps you relax. However, prolonged right-side breathing causes psychological issues, whereas left-side breathing causes severe lethargy.
Alternate nostril breathing focuses on balanced breathing through both nostrils and has multiple benefits:
Cleanses and strengthens the lungs
Expels carbon dioxide better
Increases the oxygen supply to the blood
Prevents health issues caused by single nostril breathing and thus balances the brain hemispheres
Helps you focus better
4. Benefits Of Kapalabhati
This is one of the sat kriyas or six cleansing exercises for the body. Since it stimulates your nervous system, preferably practice this in the morning (and not in the evening) to keep you active throughout the day. Apart from this, its benefits are as follows:
Cleanses the nasal pathway and the respiratory system
Strengthens and increases lung capacity
Cures bronchial congestion
Cures asthma over time with constant practice
Increases oxygen flow into the body and the outflow of carbon dioxide
Massages the liver, stomach, heart, and pancreas
Tones the circulatory and digestive systems
You might hyperventilate when practicing kapalabhati for the first time. If so, lie down and relax. Once you feel better, check if your chest is moving. Only the abdomen should move while breathing. Do not practice it before going to bed.
5. Benefits Of Bhastrika
Benefits Of Bhastrika_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
The difference between bhastrika and kapalabhati is that it uses the whole respiratory system while kapalabhati uses just the diaphragm. Here are its benefits:
Reduces throat inflammation
Increases gastric fire
Cures all diseases that result due to excess bile, wind, and phlegm
6. Benefits Of Ujjayi
Benefits Of Ujjayi_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
While kapalabhati and bhastrika use rapid breaths to cleanse your system, ujjayi involves deep, slow breathing that fills the lungs comfortably and helps you in many ways:9
Increase the vital capacity of the lungs
Expels phlegm from the throat and reduces cough
Regulates the nervous system and calms you down during stressful situations
7. Benefits Of Sitali
Benefits Of Sitali_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
Sitali is where you breathe in through your mouth and breathe out through your nostrils. It is compared to breathing air through a straw and has multiple benefits:
Purifies the blood
Cools the entire bodily system
8. Benefits Of Kumbhaka
Benefits Of Kumbhaka_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
Kumbhaka means retaining breath and is used in many other forms of pranayama. You practice kumbhaka in two ways – restraining the intake of breath (antara kumbhaka) or restraining the exhalation (bahya kumbhaka).10 This breathing technique is said to be capable of increasing the period of life. If you hold your breath for 1 minute, you can supposedly increase the span of your life by 1 minute.11
9. Benefits Of Agnisar Kriya
Benefits Of Agnisar Kriya_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
Agnisar kriya is also a cleansing technique of pranayama with many benefits on your health:
Improves metabolism and digestion12
Might help with reducing tummy fat
Makes you feel energetic
Helps with treating asthma and tuberculosis
10. Benefits Of Udgeeth Pranayama
Benefits Of Udgeeth Pranayama_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
This combines chanting “Aum (Om)” and regulating your breath. It helps you in the following ways:
Calms you down
Can help deal with acidity
Might improve memory
11. Benefits Of Murcha Pranayama
Benefits Of Murcha Pranayama_The Healing Benefits Of Different Pranayama Techniques
Murcha pranayama, which literally means “to faint or expand” makes use of kumbhaka and has many uses:
Relaxes your mind and body
Do not practice this if you suffer from cardiac issues, vertigo, or high blood pressure.13
Pranayama is beneficial for people of any age. However, avoid practicing it if you’ve severe heart-related issues. If pregnant, follow pranayama only if your yoga teacher and your doctor approve. In general, always practice pranayama under the guidance of a yoga teacher to get the technique right and get optimum benefits out of it.