Prana is the Sanskrit term for universal life energy. Pranayama (“prana”, meaning life energy, and “yama” meaning to control) is an ancient practice that Hindus and Yogis perform to strengthen and increase the amount of prana within their bodies, and consequently the total health of their mind, body, and spirit.
For thousands of years healers have understood that our health greatly depends on the quality of energy that flows through and makes up our bodies. All things contribute to the flow of this energy, including the quality of our breath, the thoughts we think, emotions we feel, food we eat, and water we drink.
In China, Qi (or Chi, pronounced Chee) is their term for this life energy. The Chinese believe that illness occurs when something blocks or unbalances the flow of chi along the energy meridians within our bodies. Acupuncture and Qigong are their most popular methods of cultivating Chi.
All around the world this concept of Life Energy is known. Each culture has a different name for it, but they all recognize that our breath is synonymous with our life energy, and that the quality of our life energy determines the quality of our health and total wellness.
Pranayama is the conscious practice of controlling prana through the regulation of breathing and concentration of mind. Through this discipline, the body can be rejuvenated to optimal beauty, strength and wisdom and is more likely to thrive in even the most stressful of circumstances.
Within this post are a few of many powerful breathing practices to help you strengthen your life force and improve your overall health. But before practicing these there are a few points that are important to remember.
- For beginners, practicing twice or even once a day is sufficient.
- Assume your favorite or most comfortable posture – laying, sitting, standing, or a comfortable cross-legged position.
- Advancement may be slow, but you will see weekly improvement.
- Practice on an empty stomach if possible.
- Breathe through the nostrils unless instructed otherwise.
- Never exceed what you are capable of, stay within your limits.
- Practice in a well ventilated room, free from noise or distractions. Wear comfortable clothing.
- It is wise to seek assistance from a teacher for perfecting the practices, as well as further instruction.
Every cell in your body is performing respiration, but the lungs and skin are the main systems of breathing which consist of these processes:
- Puraka – state of inhalation, lungs are filled with air.
- Kumbhaka – state of rentention. Toxic gas from cells enters the lungs. Prana and oxygen from lungs enter the bloodstream to be delivered to all body cells.
- Recaka – state of exhalation of toxic substances from the body.
One should practice the cleansing breath several times a day, especially before a meal, and whenever opportunity presents itself in a pollution-free setting. It should be used especially when one is feeling drowsy from inactivity. Other breathing practices should always be preceded by the cleansing breath.
Assume a comfortable posture, relax the body, calm the mind. Concentrate on the normal breathing for a few minutes.
First exhale as deeply and vigorously as possible then take a deep breath. Exhale immediately through the nose strongly contracting the abdomen. Repeat rhythmically five to ten times. Then take a deep breath, retain for a comfortable period and expel. Continue the exercise five to twenty times or until you perspire and feel fatigue, but do not overstrain. Take a few normal breaths and rest. After finishing the exercise, assume a relaxation pose for 5 minutes.
This exercise clears the entire sinus and respiratory system, enabling you to benefit more from other exercises.
One Nostril Breathing
Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Slowly inhale deeply through the left nostril, then exhale through the same nostril. This is one cycle, 6 cycles make up one round. Daily, increase the number of rounds from one to as many as twelve.
Next, inhale through the right nostril by closing the left with the pinky and ring finger of the right hand. Then exhale through the same nostril. Repeat as with the left nostril.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Close the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the pinky and ring finger of the right hand, remove the thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Then inhale through the right nostril, and close it with the thumb, then exhale through the left nostril. Do this half a dozen times. This is one round. According to your capacity, increase to twelve rounds.
Complete Yoga Breath
To increase lung capacity, do deep breathing for at least ten minutes. This exercise expands the chest cavity in all directions; all parts of the lungs are brought into activity, including the most remote air cells.
Practice occasionally in front of a large mirror, hands over abdomen to feel the movement. You may lay, sit or stand. Breathe steadily and continuously through both nostrils.
- Fill the lower abdomen by lowering the diaphragm as the abdomen gently expands.
- Then fill the middle part of lungs, pushing out the lower chest.
- Then fill the upper portion of the lungs, expanding the upper chest, thus lifting the chest.
- Then fill to the uppermost part of lungs, slightly draw in the lower abdomen.
- At the end of inhalation, occasionally raise the shoulders slightly, thus permitting air to enter the extreme lobe of the right lung.
- Retain the breath for at least fifteen seconds.
- Exhale slowly, slightly contracting the abdomen. When the air is completely exhaled, relax the chest and abdomen.
Practice this exercise; eventually it will become your normal way of breathing. The healthy primitive and any healthy infant breathe in this manner, but civilized adults have adopted unnatural breathing.
Even when we inhale an average amount of air, this exercise can distribute oxygen to all parts of the lungs. However, to facilitate optimal breath, one should do deep breathing several times a day at least.
Breath of Fire
Breath of fire increases oxidation in the cells, purifies the blood, and stores up pranic energy. Keep the spine straight. Place great emphasis on the exhalation; don’t strain, begin slowly. Initially do no more than three minutes continuously. Increase the time weekly up to twenty minutes. Exhale forcefully and rapidly through both nostrils. The diaphragm should expand like bellows down and out on the exhale, and contract in and up on the inhale. Do for 30 seconds, then inhale deeply and hold for 15 seconds.
Concentrate on the solar plexus to store up the pranic energy. Exhale forcefully and deeply. Take a few slow deep relaxing breaths, then repeat.
This practice might require some visual observation to replicate:
The initial application of pranayama exercises can be done by anyone, but those seeking advancement, especially those concerned with kundalini energy, should seek guidance from an experienced teacher or reside in an ashram.