“Prana” means life sustaining energy and “yama” means to control. Pranayama is the regulation of this vital life force. Thus by regulating the breath, one can gain mastery over body, mind and spirit. If we become conscious of our breathing, we can charge the whole body with fresh life. Deep full breathing takes in seven times more oxygen than our shallow breathing creating a greater purification of the blood. If we know how to do conscious breathing, we can live longer and in perfect health.
Level I Pranayama
Dirgha Swasam- Yogic Deep Breathing
In Sanskrit “dirgha” means to “lengthen.” This breath is a basic preparatory practice that forms the foundation of healthy breathing, The three-part breath is actually a family of breaths. Depending on how the breath is performed it will become more cooling (langhana) or energizing (brahmana). These basic breath awareness practices should be mastered before moving on to the other pranayamas.
TECHNIQUE: The three parts flow one into the next, as one complete, deep breath. It begins with a slow exhalation through the nose. At the end of the exhalation, pull the abdomen in slightly. Then begin the inhalation by slowly releasing the abdomen and allowing it to expand. Continue the inhalation as you expand the rib cage and then continue to inhale, allowing the upper chest to expand until the collarbones rise slightly. The collarbone rise as the chest expands fully, so there is no need to lift or tense the shoulders. To exhale reverse the order of the inhalation. First drop the collarbones, then contract the chest, and then the stomach—one section flowing into the other.
TIME: 3 to 5 minutes.
BENEFITS: This method of three-part breathing fills the lungs to capacity and empties them thoroughly, enabling you to supercharge the system with 7 times as much oxygen and prana as in a normal breath.
Kapalabhati “The Skull Shining”
The word kapalabhati comes from the Sanskrit words kapal, meaning skull, and bhati, which means to shine or make clean or brilliant. This cleaning happens in the physical body at the level of the air ducts in the head, and in the energy body at the level of the nadhis. (Nadhi refers to the energy channels in the body.)
TECHNIQUE: Only the abdominal area will move. The chest remains still. Spine should be aligned properly because it is easy to strain the chest muscles if you are in the wrong position. Placing the hands on the knees helps to spread the chest, yet be sure to keep your posture relaxed not stiff. Kapalabhati is rapid diaphragmatic breathing, a series of rapid expulsions. After every expulsion the air naturally flows into the lungs and you are ready for the next expulsion. This is done in quick succession. If you are new to this practice, it is a good idea to put your hand on the abdomen so you can feel if the abdomen moves in as the breath goes out. When you quickly and forcefully contract the abdomen, snapping it in, automatically the air will be forcefully expelled through the nose. Then the abdomen relaxes between contractions and the air flows back in on its own. After the last expulsion, inhale deeply and exhale as slowly as comfortable. Make sure the shoulders do not bounce up and down and the abdomen is the only thing moving.
TIME: 3 to 5 rounds of 15 to 20 breaths per round, gradually increasing over time.
BENEFITS: Cleanses the nadhis in the skull and helps to burn out the excess mucous that causes sinus problems and allergies.
Nadhi Sudhi – Nerve Purification
Nadhi refers to the energy channels in the body, in this case it refers specifically to the ida (feminine) and pingala (masculine) nadhis. The ida is a main channel on the left side of the spine and the pingala a main channel on the right. They are compared to the positive and negative poles in an electrical circuit. Their balance is critical for balance within the human being at physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
TECHNIQUE: This breath is similar to Dirgha Swasam, the Yogic Deep Breathing, with the addition of alternating the nostrils, isolating one at a time. Make a fist with the right hand extending the thumb and the ring and index together. Inhale through both nostrils, close off the right nostril lightly with the thumb, and exhale slowly and deeply though the left nostril, twice the length of the inhale. Begin a deep inhalation through the same nostril. Now close off the left nostril lightly with the fingers, release the thumb and exhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril. Inhale through the right again, then close off your right nostril with extended thumb and exhale through the left nostril. Continue with deep full breaths, starting each inhalation by releasing the abdomen and allowing it to expand, and continue while expanding the rib cage, and then the upper chest until the collarbones rise, exhaling in reverse. End your practice with an exhalation through the right nostril.
TIME: 3 minutes
BENEFITS: Brings lightness of body, alertness of mind, good appetite, proper digestion, and sound sleep. The Nadhis are the subtle nerves or channels through which the prana flows throughout the system. By ensuring the nadhis are clean and strong, this practice brings health and vitality to every part of the body at the most fundamental level. This practice is also extremely calming to the mind.
Ujjayi – Hissing Breath
Ujjayi comes from a Sanskrit root ujji meaning victory. It assist in victory over the vritis or fluctuations of the mind. There is also victory over fluctuations in the breath.
TECHNIQUE: After a complete exhalation, inhale slowly and evenly while tightening the glottis, which partially closes the opening in the windpipe, so that a continuous, soft hissing sound is heard. The exhalation is done the same way, producing the hissing sound. The sound should be a soft hiss and of even pitch and intensity throughout. The sound is completely from the back of the throat and not the nose. The same muscles used for ujjayi are also used for whispering. The sound should be audible only to the practioner. Excessively load ujjayi causes unnecessary stress on the muscles of the throat without increased benefit.
TIME: There is no time restriction. The breathing should be done evenly throughout the practice. Even the least strain is to be avoided.
BENEFITS: Strengthens and tones the muscles of the throat which is good for talking, singing and reducing snoring. Increases the control over the breath and is an aid to concentration. It relieves heat in the head and increases the digestive fire. It helps in the cure of asthma and other respiratory diseases. It adds luster to the face.