The Ultimate Guide To Pranayama: Definition, Types, And Benefits Unveiled

Pranayama has being practiced since time immemorial. If you delve into the Vedic texts and even before that, you will find its mention. It is so many centuries old that tracing its exact origins may be a tad difficult. The art and science of Pranayama have been passed on from one generation to another by the greatest yoga Gurus. They realized the importance of Pranayama so much, that the techniques are used in almost all rites. Priests still practice Pranayama during rituals related to birth, death, marriage, and other auspicious occasions. However, you can unearth the benefits of Pranayama, only if you know the background and understand its implications. Pranayama practices come under Hatha Yoga as well as Tantra Yoga

Patanjali recognized it as one of the important limbs of the eight-limbed theory as well. You must practice Pranayama, after performing the basic poses like Padmasana. It has meditative aspects associated with it. Without any doubt, Pranayama is an important part of yogic practice. Moreover, it is a science, which helps in the utilization of all vital resources, to regulate breathing and the flow of movement. The ultimate aim of Pranayama is to gain control of the Autonomous Nervous System. That is the reason, why you must include Pranayama in the Yoga practices for well-being. 

Introduction – Definition and Importance of Pranayama

Pranayama can be better described as ‘energy’ and ‘control’. It is basically a type of meditation technique that involves breath manipulation. Breathing techniques in this type of yogic kriya, help to withdraw from the external environment and concentrate within. You can raise your ‘Prana’, if you practice Pranayama in the correct manner. 

Pranayama, is the fourth limb of spiritual enlightenment, according to Sage Patanjali. There are various aspects that you have to consider while practicing yogic breathwork. You have to concentrate on the basic inhalation, exhalation, and retention. Additionally, the timings for which you hold your breath, also hold a lot of importance. The inflow and the outflow of each breath have huge effects on the human mind and body. 

Pranayama practice is extremely important in the yogic sphere, as it is said to energize the nadis. You must know, that there is a nadi or nerve channel on either side of the spine through which the Sushumna nadi passes. Ida is located on the left, and Pingala is located on the right. When you inhale, energy is pushed up the Ida nadi, and breath enters the lungs. The mind gets to focus on the external happenings at this point. On exhalation, the energy is pushed back through the Pingala nadi. The downward movement of the energy helps one to reject external occurrences. 

One can redirect the energy in the best possible manner, from the Ida and Pingala to the Sushumna nadi. When the energy in the Sushumna nadi reaches the Ajna Chakra, it leads to enlightenment. 

Ancient Roots in Yoga and Meditation – China and Egypt

Pranayama in yoga goes back to ancient texts like The Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. You will come across the mention of Pranayama in these yogic texts. It is the source of spiritual growth and emancipation, in a variety of contexts. Moreover, many renowned Gurus have attained enlightenment, or higher states of consciousness, through the practice of breath works or Pranayama. 

If you delve into the Upanishads, you will find it being described as a breath control technique that can aid in gaining control over the mind. By regulating your breath, you can develop total control over your mind. The importance of Pranayama also finds mention in the Bhagavad Gita. You can achieve absolute self-control and inner peace, through the practice. Moreover yoga Pranayama is known to purify the mind and the body, as well. 

It is not just the Indian spiritual texts that mention Pranayama. You will find a similar mention of breath works in the practice of QiGong and Heka. QiGong happens to be an ancient Chinese practice, which is also a form of Chinese medicine. The Chinese believed that controlling the breath can help in controlling the vital energy that flows through the body. The Chinese call this energy ‘Chi’ which flows through the channels called meridians. Most monasteries in China practice such techniques and methods, to date. 

Ancient Egyptians also had a very deep understanding of such breath control methods. The techniques were considered important not only for spiritual and physical health, but also in the context of religions. Heka is one of the ancient Egyptian practices, which deal with magical energy. The Egyptians stressed the fact that the unseen force could be harnessed for a greater purpose. Breathwork is a basic tenet of Egyptian rites and rituals.  

Types Of Pranayama

Types Of Pranayama – A Description Of Popular Techniques

You can segregate Pranayama in yoga, into many types. You will find these breathing practices in yoga as well as meditation. Some of the most popular Pranayama types are discussed below. 

  • Nadi Shodhana – It is one of the Alternate Breathing practices, which you can learn under experts. This Pranayama helps to bring balance between the three doshas.  You can also distribute the ‘Prana’ within the body, through the three nadis called Sushumna, Ida, and Pingala. 
  • Shitali Pranayama – This is another type of Pranayama, which you can practice in the summers. It is a refreshing breathing technique, which you can learn and then practice on your own. You will slowly see your anxiety going down, as well. 
  • Ujjayi Pranayama – This is another very common type of Pranayama, also called Ocean’s breath. It involves creating a rhythmic sound, which can help you to focus your mind and movement. 
  • Bhramari Pranayama – It emulates the action of a hummingbee. The humming sounds calm the mind and body. You can also combine mantra chanting with Bhramari Pranayama. Many practitioners have reported increased concentration and improved memory. 
  • Kapalbhati – If you want to warm yourself, then you must do Kapalbhati pranayama. It is also quite famous as the skull shining technique. Exhalation is more active, in this practice than inhalation. This breathing technique is also a part of Shatkarma Kriyas. 

Benefits Of Pranayama

  • You will be amazed to know of the myriad benefits of Pranayama. Slow and deep breathing techniques, help in reducing stress for Asthma. It can help in the reduction of Asthma attacks. Pranayama can also increase lung capacity. 
  • Pranayama practices, like Bhramari Pranayama, help in reducing stress and anxiety. 
  • Dirgha Pranayama is one of the best types of breathing techniques, which improves oxygen intake in the body. 
  • If you practice the correct Pranayama on a regular basis, you can reduce inflammation in the body. 
  • Kapalbhati Pranayama also improves digestion. 
  • If you have frequent coughs and colds, it can be helpful. 
  • If you have high blood pressure, you can practice Shitali pranayama. 

Pranayama is one of the best yogic practices, which you can do today. It can help in curing and managing a number of diseases. Most Western doctors today suggest patients go for alternate healing treatments, such as Pranayama for a better life. 

Abhrajita Mondal
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