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The 6 Pranayamas Every Yogi Knows and So Could You

The practice of Pranayama, or controlled breathing techniques, is the peak of yoga practice. Pranayama has a vast number of wonderful physical, mental, emotional, and etheric benefits that clean and purify your energy channels and blow your mind! 

New to Pranayama? Read more about it in my other blog, The Power of Yogic Breathing. Also, do check out my website’s Practice Online section for videos of me teaching pranayamas. I explain how to do them so you can learn and experience their amazing benefits.

There are many different types of pranayamas, or breathing techniques. Before I decide which one I will practice I tune in to my body and see if I need more energy, cooling, release tension or stress, I ask my body and wait for an answer from my higher self.

Here are some of the most well known and powerful ones that you can practice daily to boost your mental, emotional and physical health:

1. Breath of Fire (Agni Pranayama) Breath of Fire is a rhythmic breath with equal emphasis on inhaling and exhale powered from the navel point and solar plexus. A foundational breath technique in Kundalini Yoga, this practice is powerful cleansing pranayama. The purpose of this breathing technique is to increase the flow of prana in the body.

These are some of the benefits:

  • Purifies and oxygenates the blood

  • Increases lung capacity

  • Detoxifies the body by removing harmful toxins and other substances

  • Strengthens the abdomen

  • Strengthens and balances the nervous system

  • Clears nasal passages and removes excess mucus

  • Improves digestion

  • Reduces addictive impulses for alcohol, drugs and smoking

How to practice Breath of Fire:

Sit tall while placing your hands in your lap or in Gyan mudra. Close your eyes and focus just above your eyebrows in the centre point. Relax the upper abdominal muscles while inhaling through the nose and powerfully exhale the air through the nose with no pause between the inhale and exhale. Breath of Fire is rapid, rhythmic and continuous. Practice this for 1- 3 minutes at a time and repeat upto 3 times with a stillness and observation of your breath in between the rounds.

Contraindications: If you have high blood pressure, heart problems or pregnant you should avoid breath of fire.

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing ( Nadhi Shodhana / Anulom Vilom)

This simple yet powerful breathing technique involves inhaling from one nostril and exhaling the other. This type of breathwork is useful to quiet your mind, body and emotions. There are different variations of this pranayam also called nadi shodhana when there is Kumbhaka, retention of breath, although they all serve to restore balance by regulating the flow of air through the nostrils.

These are some of the benefits:-

  • Improves our ability to focus the mind and enter a meditative state

  • Improves mindfulness in the moment

  • Expels toxins from the body

  • Reduces stress and anxiety

  • Rejuvenates the nervous system

  • Reduces fatigue

  • Promotes overall well-being

  • Harmonizes the left and right hemisphere of the brain

How to practice Alternate Nostril Breathing: To practice sit tall with your spine erect. Place your left hand on your leg in Gyan Mudra. Raise your right hand to your face, placing your index and ring finger between your eyebrows, your thumb on the right nostril and ring and little finger on the left nostril. Inhale, press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril. Now breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger and little finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right. Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. Do 5-10 such repetitions while keeping your eyes closed, and following your breath with your mind.

3. Lion’s Breath (Simha Pranayama)

The name refers to the fierce lion-like expression of the yogi's face and the roaring sound of the breath made when performing this pranayama. While this breath might look silly, it is an energetic and awakening breath to help you relax and destress through forceful exhalation. It lets you blow off steam and pent up anxiety in a fun and crazy way while at the same time building confidence.

These are some of the benefits:-

  • Stretches the entire face including the jaw and tongue

  • Clears the vocal cords and balances the throat chakra

  • Stimulates the parasympathetic system

  • Reduces stress

  • Relieves anger

How to practice Lion’s Breath: To practice Lion’s Breath, kneel down and sit on your heels, placing your hands in a relaxed position on your thighs. While focusing on your third eye, inhale deeply, open your mouth as wide as possible, stick out your tongue and exhale forcefully making ‘rrrhhaaaaaah’ sound. This is the Lion’s Breath. Practice this breath 4-10 times.

4. Breath Retention (Kumbhaka Pranayama)

One of the traditional pranayamas of Hatha Yoga, breath retention is the practice where you hold your breath either in or out for 10 second while relaxing the muscles of the diaphragm, ribs and abdomen that are responsible for the constant motion of the breath. As a result, this practice increases lung capacity and the blood that then travels to the heart, brain, and muscles will be more oxygenated.

These are some of the benefits:-

  • Promotes Shunya / emptiness

  • Clears the mind and boosts concentration

  • Activates prana promoting mental & physical vitality

  • Greatly improves lung and respiratory function

There are two Kumbhaka Pranayama practices namely antara which is holding the breath on inhale and bahya which is holding the breath on exhale.

How to practice Breath Retention: To practice antra, sit with your spine erect and inhale slowly and deeply. Bring the attention to the clavicle and upper ribs. Lift the upper ribs slightly and fix them in place. Relax the shoulders, throat and face. Pull the chin in. Become still and calm. Hold the breath for 10 seconds and then exhale gently without avoiding any hasty movements.

To practice bahya start with a complete exhale. Pull the naval point back towards the spine, life the lower chest and diaphragm. Let the upper ribs relax and compress. Pull the chin in. Make sure not to bend the spine and ribs while exhaling fully. Exhale gently without any strain or struggle.

5. Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Breath)

Ujjayi breath is a diaphragmatic breath filling the belly and lungs as it rises. This classic pranayama, is the most common breathing practice used while practicing any form of yoga. The victorious breath sounds similar to breaking ocean waves and is great for relaxation and is used for calming the mind and nervous system quickly.

These are some of the benefits:-

  • Increases appetite

  • Creates internal heat

  • Boosts energy

  • Increases the flow of prana in the physical body

  • Increases concentration

  • Strengthens the immune system and improves sleep

  • Controls high blood pressure and thyroid problem

How to practice Ujjayi Breath: Close your eyes, constrict your throat and take a deep steady breath beginning from your diaphragm. Continue inhaling till you feel a sense of fullness in the chest. Make sure your spin, head and neck are erect. Hold the breath for 4-6 seconds and exhale slowly and gently without any hasty movements. You can continue with the pranayama for the length of your yoga practice. Silently chanting Haaa on the inhale and exhale will allow the breath to be felt in the throat.

Do join my Practice Online section for the Ujjayi Pranayama guided practice video.

6. Bellows Breath ( Bhastrika Pranayama) This is an energetic breathing practice to clear and focus the mind. It is especially effective to pull you out of laziness, sluggishness and depression. The technique involves an equal inhalation and exhalation which creates a sound similar to a bellows blasting air onto coals of a fire.

These are some of the benefits:

  • Boosts metabolism

  • Cleanses and strengthened the parasympathetic nerves

  • Improves digestion

  • Strengthens the lungs

  • Calms and focuses the mind

  • Improves blood circulation

  • Boosts immunity

How to practice Bellows Breath: Sit comfortably with your spine erect and hands in Gyan Mudra. It is an equal inhalation and exhalation through the noise. Keep mouth relaxed a keep focus on your abdomen pumping. Practice this for 1- 3 minutes at a time and repeat upto 3 times with a stillness and observation of your breath in between the rounds.

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