Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. The word pranayama is comprised of two roots: Prana and Ayama. Prana means life force. It is the force which exists in all things, therefore, pranayama should not be considered as mere breathing exercises aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs. The word yama means ‘control’ and is used to denote various rules or code of conduct. But Ayama is defined as extension or expansion. Thus pranayama means extension or expansion of the dimension of Prana. The techniques of pranayama provide the method to activate and regulate beyond the one’s normal boundary or limitations and attain a higher state of vibratory energy and awareness.
Four Aspects of Pranayama
1. Poorka (Inhalation)
2. Rechaka (Exhalation)
3. Antar Kumbhaka (Internal Breath Retention)
4. Bahir Kumbhaka (External Breath Retention)
In each pranayama, breath goes into above four stages but with a different rhythm. There are several Pranayama, mostly done in seating position but I found that following are the most commonly taught, because they are
Simple but Powerful Pranayama
1. Ujjayi (Victorious breath) – It removes the phlegm, gives endurance, soothes the nerves and tones the entire system
2. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) – It balances the breath and the brain hemispheres. It has calming effects and relives anxiety, and improves concentration.
3. Suryabheda Bhedana (Sun Piercing) and Chandra Bhedana (Moon Piercing) - Increases digestive power, soothes and invigorates the nerves, and cleans the sinuses.
4. Sheetali (Cooling breath) or Sheetkari (Hissing Breath) – It cools the body and affects important brain centers associated with biological drives and temperature regulation. It cools and reduces mental and emotional excitation, and encourages the free flow of Prana.
5. Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath) - It relieves stress and cerebral tension, and also helps in alleviating anger, anger, anxiety and insomnia, increasing the healing capacity of the body. It also strengthens and improves the voice.
6. Bhastrika (Bellows Breath) – It burns up the toxins and helps to balances the doshas or humours. It also stimulates the metabolic rate, producing heat and flushing out wastes and toxins.
7. Kapalbhati (Frontal Brain cleansing Breath) – It has a cleansing effect on the lungs and a good practice for respiratory disorders. It balances and strengthens the nervous system and tones the digestive organs. It energizes the mind for mental work and removes sleepiness.
Note: Kapalbhati is technically a Kriya but some teachers teach as Pranayama.