Pranayama is a combination of two Sanskrit words: Prana, meaning breath or life force, and yama, meaning control or restraint. Pranayama consists of many different types of breathing techniques that help us develop focus and connection to the present moment.
The benefits of pranayama are far-reaching. Consistent practice is associated with improved stress management, cardiovascular health, respiratory function, immunity, focus, and detoxification.
Read on to learn more about some common types of pranayama.
Types of Pranayama
Pranayama is one of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, making it a part of a Yogic and Ayurvedic lifestyle. No matter what type of pranayama you practice, there are three parts to our breath: Purak (Inhalation), Kumbhak (Retention), and Rechak (Exhalation). Various types will recommend various lengths of each of the three parts, but the breathing practice always consists of Inhalation, Retention and Exhalation.
Here are 5 major types of pranayama.
Sheetali is a cooling breath that is great to practice in the summer or when feeling Pitta imbalance in the body or mind. To practice, curl the edges of the tongue up and inhale through the mouth. Then exhale through the nose with lips sealed. You can feel the cooling energy and air entering on the inhale!
Nadi Shodhana, also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, involves breathing in through one nostril, then sealing the nostril with your finger and exhaling through the other nostril. Repeat on the other side. Continue the pattern for several rounds. This breath is very balancing to both sides of the body and helpful for feelings of anxiety.
Ujjayai, also known as Victorious Breath, is often used in vinyasa yoga classes. To practice, inhale through the nose to fill up and exhale through the nose, lips sealed, with an audible exhale. Think of trying to fog up a mirror to create an oceanic sound with the muscles in the back of the throat. This breath builds heat from the inside of the body out.
Kapalabhati, also known as Breath of Fire, is a powerful pranayama designed to elevate your pranic energy. This pranayama is often practiced in Kundalini Yoga. Avoid this breath if you are pregnant, menstruating, or have high blood pressure. This breath focuses on a forceful exhale through the nose with lips sealed, allowing the inhale to naturally occur.
Bhramari, also known as Humming Breath, brings balance to the Throat Chakra and thyroid. Use your thumbs to seal the ears and use your index fingers over the eyelids. Take an inhale with lips sealed and hum the exhale out. The vibration of the hum though the body relaxes and calms the nervous system.
When you first learn pranayama, work with a trained teacher until you feel comfortable practicing on your own. Then add pranayama into your morning routine to experience physical, mental and energetic benefits!
Alexa Bull is an Ayurvedic Health Coach, Yoga Teacher and Aromatherapist based in Brooklyn.