Pranayama is the art or yogic breathing or breathing control and is the heart of yogic exercises. The yogis and Buddhists have always claimed that Pranayama or breathing control can help us to focus on our tasks.

In this article, I am trying to explain the following –

  • Scientific facts about Pranayama
  • How to implement Pranayama in day to day life
  • What are the positive effects of Pranayama on health

Scientific facts about Pranayama

All the orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy have one goal in view, the liberation of the soul through perfection. The method is by Yoga.

 

– Swami Vivekananda.

Pranayama is the art of prolongation and control of breath helps in bringing conscious awareness to breathing and the reshaping of breathing habits and patterns. A growing body of research evidence supports the belief that Pranayama has a wide range of benefits in the body, Let us check the scientific studies on Pranayama.

  1. Breathing through one nostril or alternate nostrils affects the nervous system and it has been studied that right nostril yoga breathing facilitates the activity of the contra lateral (left) cerebral hemisphere. 1
  2. The stress and stress-induced disorders like hypertension and angina are fast growing epidemics and bane of “modern” society. The holistic science of yoga and Pranayama is the best method for prevention as well as management of stress and stress-induced disorders. Numerous studies have shown yoga to have an immediate down-regulating effect on both the HPA axis responses to stress.2
  3. Four weeks of Nadisuddhi pranayama has shown significant decrease in pulse rate, diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressure along with significant increase in pulse pressure.3
  4. A new study by researchers at Trinity College Dublin explains for the first time the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention. The research shows for the first time that breathing — a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices — directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertilizer. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

Now let us look at the different types of Pranayama

Types of Pranayama

Name of Pranayama Features Dosha Pacification
Kapal Bhati Inhalation is made involuntarily but the air from lungs is forcefully expelled in Kapal Bhati. It improves alertness and concentration. It also strengthens the abdominal muscles and helps to burn the excess calories. Beneficial for Kapha balance
Agni Sara When the air is exhaled out, the abdominal muscles are fanned in Agni Sara Pranayama. This Pranayama helps in improving the digestion. It increases Pitta and Vata
Bhastrika It is of 2 types – Chandranga bastrika, in which breathing is done through the left nostril and Sooryanga Bhastrika where breathing is performed through right nostril. The first one influences Ida nadi and the second one influences Pingala nadi. Chandranga bastrika will not increase Pitta, but slightly aggravates Vata and Kapha. Sooryanga bastrika increases Pitta more than vata
Ujjayi It involves making of sound from the throat. It regulates the blood pressure and is useful in ENT disorders. Stimulates Udana vayu
Bhramari Make a buzzing sound of moderate volume. Prolong the buzzing sound on the exhalation if it’s comfortable and you can still inhale smoothly, without gasping for air. Back off and return to normal breathing.  It is more targeted towards mind and spirituality of the body. Balances all the three doshas
Nadi Shodhana Fold the tips of the index and middle fingers inward until they touch the palm at the base of the right thumb (Vishnu mudra). You will alternately use the right thumb to close the right nostril and the right ring and pinky fingers (together) to close the left nostril. Use the right thumb to close the right nostril. Exhale gently, but fully, through the left nostril. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril and deep into the belly. Use the ring and pinky fingers of the right hand to gently close the left nostril and simultaneously release the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril. This pranayama Infuse the body with oxygen and helps in releasing the toxins. Balances all the three doshas
Sheetkari Roll the tongue upwards so that the lower part of the tongue touches the upper palate. Clench the teeth together. Pull the lips apart so that the teeth are exposed. Breathe in slowly. First fill the abdomen, then the chest and finally the neck region. This is the complete yogic breath. When breathing in, a slight hissing sound is produced. This is similar to the hissing of a snake. Bend the neck forward to do the chin lock, also called the Jalandhara Bandha. Hold the breath for some time, as much as you are comfortable. Release the bandha and exhale through the nose. It is good for health of teeth and gums. It also produces a cooling effect on the body. Pacifies Pitta and aggravates Vata and Kapha
Sheetali Practice Sheetali by inhaling through a curled tongue and exhaling through the nose. During each exhalation, lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, inviting the cool tip of the tongue to send coolness toward the upper palate. This pranayama improves digestion and provides a cooling effect to the body. Pacifies Pitta and aggravates Vata and Kapha
Surya Bhedana For Surya Bhedana block your left nostril and inhale through your right. Then close the right and exhale through the left. Continue in this manner, inhale right, exhale left. It stimulates the brain and increases body heat. Increases Pitta and pacifies Kapha
Anuloma viloma The forefinger and middle finger of the right-hand rest between the eyebrows while the thumb closes the right nostril. The inhalation is through the open left nostril. Then the thumb is released, and the ring and little fingers close off the left nostril, allowing the exhalation of the right nostril. This calms the nervous system and strengthens the respiratory system. Balances Tridoshas

 

How to implement pranayama in daily life?

Pranayama is said to cleanse 72,000 nadis or channels in the body. It helps purify the blood and the respiratory system. The deeper breathing enriches the blood with oxygen. Hence it is good to practice it in day to day life.

I would recommend Nadi shodhana to begin with.

  • Nadi Shodhana – This can be done either sitting or while lying down. Exhale deeply and empty the air from lungs. Close your right nostril with thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Try to inhale deeply and feel the breath up to the belly. Once you are full of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril only. Pause before inhaling through the same side. A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. Begin with a four-count inhalation and then when you have enugh practice gradually increase the count.

The more you practice, the longer you’ll be able to perform the exercises, and eventually, you’ll be able to use more of your lung capacity. Practice and patience are the two important factors you need to do Pranayama.

Positive effects of Pranayama on health

It is recommended to do pranayama early in the morning, one to two hours before sunrise when oxygen content is maximum in the air. Also, early morning body is fresh, and mind is clear from any thought processes. An empty stomach is ideal for pranayama.

When done daily Pranayama can have immense positive effects on your health.

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Stabilizes blood pressure
  • Improves sleep patterns
  • Supports the circulatory system and nervous system

 

 

References –

  1. Telles S, Joshi M, Somvanshi P. Yoga breathing through a particular nostril is associated with contralateral event-related potential changes. Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul;5(2):102–07.
  2. Sengupta P. (2012). Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review. International journal of preventive medicine, 3(7), 444–458.
  3. Upadhyay Dhungel K, Malhotra V, Sarkar D, Prajapati R. Effect of alternate nostril breathing exercise on cardiorespiratory functions. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008;10:25–7.

Photo by Le Minh Phuong on Unsplash

Article by Arya Krishna