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Benefits of Pranayama and How to Do it By Dr. Himani Bisht

By Dr. Himani Bisht +2 more

Introduction: 

Over the years, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has gained popularity worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes CAM as a wide range of healthcare practices.CAM can be classified into two general groups, natural products, and mind-body techniques. Yoga, which falls under the category of mind-body techniques, was developed to achieve harmony on physical, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual levels. Hatha Yoga is the variety of yoga that is most widely performed which includes physical postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama).1 


What is Pranayama?  

The word Pranayama, derived from the Sanskrit words ’prana’ meaning vital energy and ‘yama’ meaning control, consists of various breathing techniques which include making intentional alterations in breathing.1 When the body Prana is low, one feels uninterested, lazy, and sluggish leading to the accumulation of toxic particles in the body creating pain and illness. Pranayama helps ‘Prana’ flow through these parts and might help to release these toxic substances.2 

Pranayama has four essential facets: 

  • Breathing in (Puraka) 
  • Breathing out (Rechaka) 
  • Internal breath holding (Antah Kumbhaka)  
  • External breath holding (Bahih kumbhaka)1 

Pranayama has different variations, each having a unique technique of breathing: 

  • Dirgha pranayama 
  • Sitali Pranayama  
  • Ujjayi pranayama 
  • Anulom Vilom Pranayama 
  • Kapalbhati 
  • Bhramari pranayama 2 

Also Read: Benefits of Vrikshasana (Tree Pose) and How to Do it By Dr. Ankit Sankhe

How to do it? 

To obtain the maximum health benefit of any exercise, without any injuries, it is essential to do the exercise using the proper technique. 

  • For practising any form of Pranayama, sit erect in a comfortable position like Sukhasana (the simple cross-legged pose) or Padmasana (A cross-legged posture in which the foot of the leg is placed on the thigh of the opposite leg). For Kapalbhati you may sit in Vajrasana (a sitting pose formed by kneeling and sitting back on the lower limbs, so that the buttocks rest on the heels and the thighs rest on the calves).  
  • Close your eyes and relax. 

The steps to do different variations of pranayama are as follows: 

1. Dirgha Pranayama:  

In this, inhalation is done in three parts with small time intervals between them.  

  • Breathe deeply through the nostrils, expanding the abdomen and the chest.  
  • Next exhale in a reverse manner with short intervals of time. 
  • The air from your lungs must first be expelled before your collarbones may descend. Then the ribs and abdomen are the next areas to exhale. This may help in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in an efficient way.2 

2. Sitali Pranayama:  

Essentially aimed at cooling down the temperature of the body. 

  • Keep your hands on the knees in the Jnanamudra (joining the tips of the index finger and the thumb) or Anjali mudra (joining both the palms together in a Namaste) 
  • Open your mouth, roll up your tongue from the sides to form the shape of a tube and inhale deeply through this tube. 
  • Close your mouth and exhale slowly through the nostrils. 
  • This is one round. Repeat the above steps 4 times. 

3. Ujjayi Pranayama

It is also called ‘the ocean breath’ due to the sound that comes when inhaled air makes when it touches the constricted throat.2,4 

  • Inhale deeply and slowly from both nostrils, simultaneously constricting the throat. 
  • The inhaled air touches the throat and makes a soft hissing sound. 
  • Now close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale from the left nostril, producing the sound ’haaa’. 
  • This may be done 3-5 times, in the early morning or evening or before meditation, with or without kumbhaka (breath retention).4 

4. Anulom Vilom Pranayama:  

Also called Alternate Nostril Breathing, this may be done with or without holding the breath.3 

  • Keep the right palm in Nasagra mudra and the left hand in Jnana mudra on the left knee. Fold the middle and index fingers, then place them on the left nose with the ring and little fingers. 
  • The right nostril is closed with the right thumb and the left nostril should be opened. The inhalation should come from there.  The left nostril should be closed with the little and ring fingers, the right nostril should be free of the thumb, and the right nostril should be used to exhale. 
  • Inhale through your right nostril. Now close the right nostril, open the left nostril and exhale. 
  • This completes 1 round. Repeat for another 4 rounds. The breath should be smooth, unrestricted, and steady in a controlled manner. 
  • Those who are doing this for the first time may keep the duration of inhalation and exhalation the same and gradually make exhalation twice that of inhalation.3 

5. Kapalbhati: 

Kapalbhati (Kapal: skull, Bhati: shining) involves an intentional reversal of the normal process of breathing.5 

  • Breathe deeply through the nostrils, expanding the chest. 
  • Now exhale with vigorous contractions of the abdominal and pelvic muscles. 
  • Again, breathe in passively. Do not strain yourself. 
  • Continue these active exhalations and passive inhalation for 30 rapid breaths and take a full inhalation. 
  • Now exhale slowly and relax. 
  • This completes one round. Repeat the above steps for two more rounds. 
  • Those practising Kapalbhati for the first time can do up to 3 rounds of 20 fast breaths each. You may increase the counts and the rounds of Kapalbhati over time.3 

6. Bhramari Pranayama

The name Bhramari is derived from the word Bhramara meaning ‘Black bee’. They can be done in 2 ways. 

Method 1:  

  • Deeply inhale through nostrils and then exhale gently in a controlled manner generating a strong, steady buzzing sound like that of a black bee. 
  • This completes one round. 
  • Repeat the same steps for more rounds. 

Method 2:  

  • Place your palms over your face in such a way that the index fingers close the eyes, the middle fingers are placed over the nostrils (do not close them shut), the ring and pinky fingers are kept over the mouth and the thumbs are over the ears (Sanmukhi mudra). 
  • Now exhale steadily while producing a humming sound. 
  • This constitutes one round. Repeat the above steps to do four more rounds.3 

Practising sitali and shitkari pranayama during summer might be quite useful. Due to the breathing technique involved, it might help in combating stress due to heat. Practising it might help in preserving body fluids and may provide better thirst control.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Also Read: Benefits Of Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose) and How to Do it

Do You Know?  

Some interesting facts about pranayama are:  

  • The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, defines Pranayama as the fourth component of the eight-part comprehensive system called Yoga.1 
  • The term ‘Pranayama’ occurs multiple times in the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu guide, written by Vyasa in 2500-5000 years BC.2,6 

Benefits of Pranayama: 

Breathing is just one of the many techniques through which one can reach the real Pranayama.2 The various benefits of pranayama are as follows: 

1. Benefits of Pranayama for Bronchial Asthma: 

The slow deep breathing in Pranayama relaxes the mind and may reduce stress stimuli for asthma which in turn may reduce asthma attacks. Pranayama may clear airway secretions and increase lung compliance. It may enhance respiratory muscle function during breathing, thus strengthening them.7 Kapalbhati may be beneficial for asthma as it may remove secretions accumulated in the respiratory tract.3 

2. Benefits of Pranayama for the Mind:  

In Bhramari pranayama, the soothing effect of the vibration created by the humming sound may help in reducing stress, anxiety, tensions, anger, and over-excitement. Anulom vilom may help in increasing focus and managing stress and anxiety.3 

3. Benefits of Pranayama for Respiratory System: 

Pranayama may help in expanding the lung bronchi by correcting abnormal ways of breathing and by reducing muscle tone.1 Kapalbhati may specifically purify the sinuses in the forehead (frontal sinuses) proving to be beneficial for cough, cold and running nose.3 Dirgha Pranayama might improve the oxygen intake and enhance the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange in the lungs.2 

4. Benefits of Pranayama in People Having Malignancy: 

The effect of pranayama was studied on patients with breast cancer undergoing radiotherapy. It was found that practising pranayama may help in reducing tension, disappointment, and fatigue associated with malignancy. It was also found that Pranayama helped improve the antioxidant levels in these patients.1 

5. Other benefits of Pranayama: 

  • Ujjayi pranayama may increase calmness and oxygen levels. It may bring harmony.2 
  • Anulom vilom may reduce cough.  
  • Sitali pranayama may benefit people having high blood pressure. It pacifies hunger and thirst and might be useful for people suffering from digestive diseases. It may also benefit the skin and eyes. 
  • Bhramari pranayama may be valuable as preparatory pranayama for practising meditation.3 
  • Kapalbhati may strengthen the digestive system.3 

Though Pranayama has many benefits, it should not be used as a treatment for any health issues. If you suffer from any medical conditions, you must consult a qualified medical practitioner who will assess and treat you appropriately. Moreover, Pranayama is a powerful practice, which must be done under the proper guidance of a trained Yoga expert. 

Based on my observations, practising ujjayi pranayama have multiple health benefits. Based on some research, it might help in managing various diseases like dyspepsia, dysentery, spleen inflammation, cough, fever, and diseases of phlegm.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Also Read: Benefits of Anulom Vilom and How to Do it By Dr. Ankit Sankhe

Risks of Pranayama 

There are some situations where practising Pranayama can be harmful and must be avoided. They are: 

  • Bhramari pranayama must be avoided by those having infections of the ear and nose.3 
  • Those having intense cold cough and inflammation of the tonsils should not practice Sitali pranayama.3 
  • People with heart and blood pressure problems should avoid holding their breath in Ujjayi Pranayama.4 

Under the supervision of an experienced Yoga teacher, who can guide you appropriately regarding the precautions to be taken, you may continue to practice Pranayama. 

Conclusion  

Pranayama, a breathing exercise in Yoga, essentially involves making deliberate modifications in the process of breathing. It includes many breathing methods, each with its benefits. To get optimum health benefits and to avoid any health problems, one must practice Pranayama, preferably, under the guidance of a trained Yoga teacher. 

Also Read: Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama and How to Do it By Dr. Himani Bisht

Frequently Asked Questions 

1) What is Pranayama? 

Pranayama is a breathing exercise in Hatha Yoga involving different methods of making intentional alterations in the breathing process.  

2) What are the different types of Pranayama? 

The different types of Pranayama are Dirgha pranayama, Ujjayi pranayama, Anulom Vilom Pranayama, Sitali Pranayama and Kapalbhati.2 

3) How many times should one do Pranayama? 

The number of times Pranayama can be done may differ from person to person. A qualified and experienced Yoga trainer can advise you on the number of times that Pranayama may be done. 

4) Can Pranayama reduce stress? 

The slow and deep way of breathing in Pranayama may alleviate stress.7Bhramari and Anulom vilom may be beneficial in managing stress and anxiety.3 

5) As a beginner, which type of Pranayama should I start with? 

Each type of Pranayama has its benefits. You may start with a single type and gain proficiency in it. Any type of Pranayama is best practised under a Yoga expert.  

References: 

  1. Jayawardena R, Ranasinghe P, Ranawaka H, Gamage N, Dissanayake D, Misra A. Exploring the therapeutic benefits of “Pranayama” (yogic breathing): A systematic review. International Journal of Yoga [Internet]. 2020 [cited 25 August 2022];13(2):99. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7336946/pdf/IJY-13-99.pdf 
  1. Sengupta P. Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. International Journal of preventive medicine [Internet]. 2012 [cited 25 August 2022];3:444-58. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3415184/pdf/IJPVM-3-444.pdf 
  1. June INTERNATIONAL DAY OF YOGA INTERNATIONAL DAY OF YOGA Common Yoga Protocol, Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) [Internet] 4th Revised Edition, May 2019. [Cited: 2022 Aug 17] Available from:  http://mea.gov.in/images/pdf/common-yoga-protocol-english.pdf  
  1. Gupta PT D, Shokhand D. Ujjayi pranayama in hypothyroidism: A scoping review. International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health [Internet]. 2022 [cited 29 August 2022];9(1):107-110. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Aparna-Gupta-12/publication/358271065_Ujjayi_pranayama_in_hypothyroidism_A_scoping_review/links/61f989ca11a1090a79c7b0a5/Ujjayi-pranayama-in-hypothyroidism-A-scoping-review.pdf 
  1. Malhotra V, Javed D, Wakode S, Bharshankar R, Soni N, Porter P. Study of immediate neurological and autonomic changes during kapalbhati pranayama in yoga practitioners. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care [Internet]. 2022 [cited 29 August 2022];11(2):720. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8963645/ 
  1. Bhatia S, Madabushi J, Kolli V, Bhatia S, Madaan V. The Bhagavad Gita and contemporary psychotherapies. Indian Journal of Psychiatry [Internet]. 2013 [cited 28 August 2022];55(6):315. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705702/ 
  1. Lokhande K, Prasad R. Pranayam: Breath to Cure Bronchial Asthma. Current Trends in Cardio-Respiratory Medicine [Internet]. 2022 [cited 28 August 2022];:1-8. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rajendra-Prasad-31/publication/335795887_Pranayam_Breath_to_Cure_Bronchial_Asthma/links/5d7bab084585155f1e4bc8b7/Pranayam-Breath-to-Cure-Bronchial-Asthma.pdf 

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