The A – Z Of Pranayama

Prāṇāyāma (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prāṇa or breath” or more accurately, “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāṇa, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and “ayāma”, to extend or draw out. (Not ‘restrain, or control’ as is often incorrectly translated from ‘yama’ instead of ‘ayāma’).

1- Bhastrika Pranayama

In Sanskrit Bhastrika means ‘bellows’. Rapid succession of forcible expulsion is a characteristic feature of Bhastrika. Just as a blacksmith blows his bellows rapidly, so also you should move your breath rapidly while practicing Bhastrika Pranayama.


  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Keep the body, neck and head erect. Close the mouth.
  • Next, inhale and exhale quickly ten times like the bellows of the blacksmith.
  • Constantly dilate and contract. When you practice this Pranayama a hissing sound is produced.
  • You should start with rapid expulsions of breath following one another in rapid succession. When the required number of expulsions is finished, the final expulsion is followed by a deepest possible inhalation.
  • The breath is suspended as long as it could be done with comfort. Then deepest possible exhalation is done very slowly.
  • The end of this deep exhalation completes one round of Bhastrika. Rest a while after one round is over by taking a few normal breaths. This will give you relief and make you fit for starting the second round.
  • Do three rounds daily in the morning. You can do another three rounds in the evening also.

Bhastrika is a powerful exercise. A combination of Kapalbhati and Ujjayi makes up Bhastrika. Practice Kapalbhati and Ujjayi to start with. Then you will find it very easy to do Bhastrika.


The number of exhalations or rounds is determined by the strength and capacity of the practitioner. You must not go to extremes. In starting you should do three rounds afterwards as per your strength and stamina you can increase it up to 12 rounds.

Bhastrika can be done both in the morning and evening in winter. In summer do it in the morning only during cool hours.


  • Bhastrika Pranayama should be practiced under supervision of a Yoga expert.
  • If you experience any giddiness stop the practice and take a few normal breaths. Continue the practice after the giddiness has vanished. If again you are feeling giddy; you should stop practicing Bhastrika and practice more with Kapalbhati and Ujjayi for few more days. Then you should try again.
  • Do not practice Bhastrika Pranayama  during Pregnancy. It may cause prolapse of abdominal organs or uterus while the breasts may sag, High Blood Pressure, Lung, Heart, eye and ear problems
  • Bhastrika Pranayama  should not be practiced by a fellow who is suffering from Vertigo or hernia


  • Bhastrika Pranayama relieves inflammation of the throat, increases gastric fire, destroys phlegm, removes diseases of the nose and chest and eradicates asthma, consumption, etc.
  • Bhastrika Pranayama gives good appetite.
  • Bhastrika Pranayama removes all diseases which arise from excess of wind, bile and phlegm.
  • Yogic importance: Bhastrika Pranayama breaks the three Granthis or knots viz., Brahma Granthi, Vishnu Granthi and Rudra Granthi. It enables a fellow to know the Kundalini.
  • Bhastrika Pranayama purifies the Nadis considerably. It is the most beneficial of all Kumbhakas.

2- Kapal Bhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breathing Technique)

Kapal = forehead; bhati = shining; pranayama = breathing technique

Here’s a very powerful breathing exercise that not just helps you lose weight but also brings your entire system into a perfect balance. Dr. Sejal Shah, Art of Living Yoga teacher, explains the importance of Kapal Bhati, “80 percent of the toxins in our body are released through the outgoing breath. Regular practice of Kapal Bhati pranayama detoxifies all the systems in our body. And the obvious sign of a healthy body is a shining forehead.” Kapal Bhati literally translates to ‘the shining forehead’ and this is exactly what happens with regular practice of this pranayama. A forehead that glows not just from outside but also an intellect that becomes sharp and refined.

How To Do Skull Shining Breathing Technique (Kapal Bhati Pranayama)

  1. Sit comfortably with your spine erect. Place your hands on the knees, palms open to the sky.
  2. Take a deep breath in.
  3. As you exhale, pull your stomach. Pull your navel in back towards the spine. Do as much as you comfortably can. You may keep your right hand on the stomach to feel the abdominal muscles contract. Pull the navel in.
  4. As you relax the navel and abdomen, the breath flows into your lungs automatically.
  5. Take 20 such breaths to complete one round of Kapal Bhati pranayama.
  6. After completing the round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body.
  7. Do two more rounds of Skull Shining breathing technique (Kapal Bhati pranayama).

The exhalation in Skull Shining Breathing Technique (Kapal Bhati Pranayama) is active and forceful. So just throw out your breath. Don’t worry about the inhalation. The moment you relax your abdominal muscles, inhalation will happen naturally. Just keep your awareness on breathing out. Learn this technique from an Art of Living Yoga teacher and then you can practice it at home on an empty stomach.

Benefits of Skull Shining Breathing Technique (Kapal Bhati Pranayama)

  • Effective in reducing weight by increasing the metabolic rate
  • Clears the nadis (subtle energy channels)
  • Stimulates abdominal organs and thus is extremely useful to those with diabetes
  • Improves blood circulation and adds radiance to the face
  • Improves digestive tract functioning, absorption and assimilation of nutrients
  • Results in a taut and trimmed down belly
  • Energizes the nervous system and rejuvenates brain cells
  • Calms and uplifts the mind

Who Should Avoid Doing Skull Shining Breathing Technique (Kapal Bhati Pranayama)?

  • Avoid practicing this breathing technique if you have an artificial pacemaker or stents, backache due to slip disc, recently went through an abdominal surgery, or are suffering with epilepsy or hernia.
  • Women should not practice Skull Shining breathing technique (Kapal Bhati pranayama) during and shortly after pregnancy, as well as during menstruation as it involves vigorous abdominal squeezes.
  • People with hypertension and heart problems should practice this breathing technique under a yoga expert’s guidance.

3- Bahya

Bahya Pranayama is miraculous breathing exercise for all stomach organs. Hernia, diabetes, uterus and prostate problems are affected. It helps to evolve ‘Kundalini Power’ upward as well.

How to do Bahya Pranayama?

‘Bahya’ means ‘outside’. As the name indicates, the breath is kept outside during practice.
Sit in a comfortable pose of Padmasana or Siddhasana. Breath inside deeply then exhale completely to evacuate lungs as much as possible.

Now, try to touch your chin to the chest (Jalandhar Bandha or Throat lock), lift upwards the muscles of diaphragm (Uddiyan Bandha or Abdominal lock) and also lift the muscles of groin area (Mulabandha or Root lock). These three Bandha all together called ‘Tribandha’ or ‘Mahabandha’.
Patients of Heart, Blood Pressure and Cervical Colitis should not over stretch.

Staying in this state for at least 10-15 seconds or as per your body stamina, release all Bandha one by one and breath in slowly.Repeat this process 1-3 times per day initially.

Bahya Pranayama should be practiced after Kapalbhati. In this way keeping the breath out, the vital energy  generated by Kapalbhati in ‘Mooladhar Chakra’ evolves into higher forms. Practicing with tribandha is extremely beneficial for Kundalini Power awakening as well.

How to do Agnisar Kriya?

Breath is completely exhaled and kept out. Then the stomach is pulled in and left loosen frequently several times. This is one round. Now, repeat these rounds several times as per body stamina.
Agnisar Kriya is amazing tool for take care of Pancreas and Diabetes.


‘Bahya Pranayama’ should be practiced initially 3-5 times per day and increased up to 21 times maximum.
‘Agnisar Kriya’ can be practiced 3-5 rounds per day.

Effects of Bahya Pranayama in the body (Scientific Explanation)

When a pressure exerted on a body then the force on different parts acts normally. If the duration of time increased then body starts expanding. The body must be an elastic one in which the body regains its original position after withdrawing the force.

During ‘Bahya Pranayma’ the elastic nature of different organs related to the cavity are expanded and contracted by external pressure. So the elastic nature of the parts of the body will be activated.

Again the same pressure factor imparts force on the digestive system so that the unwanted air in stomach completely move downwards.

Bahya Pranayama Benefits and Cures

  • Hernia is completely cured with regular practice.
  • All urinary and prostate problems are cured.
  • It is wonder remedy for gas, constipation and uterus problems if practiced with ‘tribandha’.
  • It is good for ‘Diabetes’ as well.


  • Heart, Blood Pressure and Cervical Colitis patients should avoid till they control the disease with practicing other Pranayamas. Also make sure to practice in the guidance of experienced yoga teacher.

4- Anulom Vilom Pranayama – Alternate Nostril Breathing

Anulom Vilom Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing exercise is one of the main practices of Pranayama. Anulom Vilom Pranayama is mentioned in the yogic texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita, Tirumandiram, Siva Samhita, Puranas and in the Upanishads.

In the practice of pranayama, inhalation (called Puraka), retention (called Kumbhaka) and exhalation (called Rechaka) is used. Anulom Vilom pranayama can be practiced with or without Kumbhaka (holding of breath). Beginners should start the practice without Kumbhaka.

The duration of inhalation and expiration depends entirely on the capacity of the practitioner. Start with whatever you are comfortable with – say 4 seconds inhalation and 4 seconds exhalation. Later it can be increased up to 20 seconds or even more.

In Anulom Vilom pranayama, breathing is done only through one nostril which is alternated. During this process, the other nostril is closed using the fingers. The thumb is used to close the right nostril and the ring finger is used to close the left nostril.

Anulom Vilom Pranayama is an advanced practice (esp. when done with retention of breath). It has to be learned from a yoga expert. Those suffering from heart ailments or blood pressure problems (high as well as low) should avoid retention of breath during the process. They may do the Anulom Vilom pranayama without holding the breath. Also, consult a doctor if you have any medical condition before taking up the practice.

The purpose of Pranayama is to control the breathing mechanism which is an involuntary process. Breathing goes on even in our sleep as it is controlled by the central nervous system. With regular practice of pranayama, this process can be brought into our conscious control to some extent. In the yoga text Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, the breath is compared to a wild animal. Just as elephants, lions and tigers can be controlled with steady and prolonged training, the yogi also brings the breath under his control with constant practice.

The practice of Pranayama should be taken up with care. Do not overdo the practice. Do not increase the duration of inhalation and exhalation beyond your limit. Also with Kumbhaka (retention), the practitioner should be very careful. It is said in Hatha Yoga Pradeepika that pranayama can cure all diseases. But, if done improperly, it may create diseases, which cannot be cured easily even through medical treatment. Hence one should be very cautious and increase the level of practice over a comfortable period of time. It is advisable to consult an accomplished yogi before taking up higher levels of practice.

Anulom Vilom pranayama should be done on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning after evacuation. It can also be done in the evening with a gap of 4 hours after the last meal. Also, avoid doing Anulom Vilom pranayama with retention of breath when the temperature is hot. Retention of breath can cause an increase in body temperature and should be done in a cool climate.

How to do Anulom Vilom Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)?

  1. Sit in a steady asana. Padmasana is most suited for the practice. Siddhasana and Vajrasana may also be used.
  2. Close the right nostril with your thumb and draw in air from the left nostril. Do this as slowly as you can, till your lungs are full.
  3. Now release the thumb and close the left nostril with your ring finger. Then breathe out slowly through the right nostril.
  4. Next take the air in from the right nostril and then release it through the left nostril (after closing the right nostril with the thumb).
  5. This is one round of Anulom Vilom Pranayama.
  6. Start with 5 rounds and increase it up to 20 rounds in one sitting.
  7. Also, the duration of inhalation can start from 2 seconds and go up to 20 seconds or even beyond.
  8. One can have one sitting in the morning and one in the evening. For advanced practitioners, the yogic texts recommends four sittings – one in the morning, one at noon, one in the evening and one at midnight. But for all practical purposes, two sittings (one in morning and one in evening) are enough.
  9. After one has reached a certain level of proficiency, one can add Kumbhaka or retention of breath to the practice.

Ratio of Inhalation, Retention and Exhalation

Pranayama practitioners start with the ratio of 1:1 for inhalation and exhalation. For example if you inhale for 4 seconds through one nostril, then the exhalation from the other nostril is also 4 seconds. As you progress, the ratio can be changed to 1:2, which means if inhalation is 4 seconds, then exhalation is 8 seconds.

Once you add Kumbhaka (retention of breath), the ratio can start with 1:1:1. For example, 4 seconds of inhalation, 4 seconds of retention and 4 seconds of exhalation. With further progress, the ratio can be increased to 1:1:2, 1:2:2, 1:4:2, etc. The ratio of 1:4:2 is mentioned in most classic yoga texts. Those who practice advanced ratios of this pranayama, should eat only Satvic food (pure, nourishing and light).

Benefits of Anulom Vilom Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

  1. Anulom Vilom Pranayama cleans the pranic channels and makes the prana flow freely in the entire body. The nadis or the pranic energy channels are purified. Hence this pranayama is also called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
  2. Purification of the energy channels ensures proper supply of pranic energy to all the organs enhancing the overall health of the body.
  3. Anulom Vilom Pranyama balances the two main energy channels – Ida and Pingala. It balances the two hemispheres of the brain, bringing about peace and tranquility.
  4. When the Ida and Pingala nadis are balanced, it awakens the central channel called Sushumna Nadi.
  5. It removes toxins from the body.
  6. Prolonged practice of Anulom Vilom Pranayama leads to next stage of yoga, which is Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses. This enables the practitioner to progress towards higher practices of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
  7. It can reduce weight in some practitioners depending on their body constitution and is a good practice for obesity.

5- Bhramari Pranayama

The original word in the term Bhramari is Bhramar (humming bee). The characteristic of this Pranayama is to create a sound like that of the humming bee.


  • Sit in Padmasana or Sukhasana.
  • Raise bent arms to shoulder level & close external ear canals with thumbs.
  • Place index & middle fingers gently on closed eyes which look upwards.
  • Place ring fingers gently on the sides of the nostrils.
  • Place little fingers on upper lip to feel flow of air through the nostrils.
  • Inhale and fill the lungs completely.
  • Exhale slowly and produce sound of the humming bee through larynx (sound box) while exhaling through nostrils.
  • Return to original position & gently open the eyes.


  • Initially do it for 5 to 7 times.
  • Gradually increase up to 15 times.


  • Bhramari Pranayamamakes the voice sweet and gently, and helps clarity of speech.
  • With regular practice of Bhramari Pranayama; Breathing becomes deep and subtle.
  • Bhramari Pranayama is useful for hypertension and depression and aids brain cells.

Originally posted 2016-04-04 13:46:46.

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