The first thing we do when we are born is breathe. As adults, we take between 12 to 20 breaths per minute, thus supplying oxygen to our cells and also eliminating toxins from the body. Yet most of us don’t give much attention to it.
Pranayama is control of breath. Let’s have a quick look at the word itself. Prana stands for life force, while yama means control. According to classical yogic texts, prana is the energy of the universe. Through breathing, we can control its intake. By breaking our unconscious breathing patterns, we are able to embark on a journey towards purification and a higher state of awareness.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is the control and extension of breath through breathing exercises that help balance the right and left brain, helping you calm down and be more productive. Through Pranayama, toxins in the body are released, which leads to better health. The toxins of the mind are released as well, making you more confident and positive.
How does Pranayama remove physical toxins?
Everyone knows that we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But how do we know that we have exhaled all the carbon dioxide?
This is done through abdominal breathing where the ratio is 1:2. For example, if you inhale to 4 counts, you exhale to 8 counts – double. When inhaling, your abdomen expands like a balloon (it inflates when filled with air) and deflates when you exhale, thus emptying the lungs of carbon dioxide.
- Through Pranayama, you not only detox the body but also boost energy levels - prana.
- A correct way of breathing will help you improve your flexibility while doing asanas.
- Mentally, it helps calm the mind by releasing stress and helping you become more positive.
- On a spiritual level, it helps you dig deep within yourself for a better understanding of the mysteries of life.
Joy of Yoga Pranayama class in Bhutan
At Joy of Yoga, we mostly teach two types of Pranayama - one is Kapalabhati and the other is Anuloma Viloma.
Pranayama lecture in Uttarkashi at Sivananda Ashram
Kapalabhati means shining skull. This is not only a good breathing exercise, it is also a cleansing kriya.
In Kapalbhati the focus is on forceful exhalation and inhalation is passive. While exhaling you pull the abdomen in. You use only abdominal muscles – pulling them in (contraction) and pushing them out (expansion), without moving the chest up or down. This way all the carbon dioxide is eliminated and the toxins are removed from the body. Passive inhalation and forceful expulsion of breath follow each other continuously until one round is complete.
Beginners may undertake several rounds of 20-30 abdominal pumps each. Make sure the face is kept relaxed. Back and shoulders do not move.
Pranayama yoga class in Varanasi, India
Physical Benefits of Kapalabhati:
- it cleans the nasal passages, lungs and entire respiratory system;
- strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and ribcage muscles;
- lungs are cleansed and excess carbon dioxide is removed;
- red-blood cells breathe in more oxygen and the body gets an increased supply of oxygen to all cells;
- the blood is purified and toned;
- abdominal muscles are strengthened, digestion is improved.
Mental benefits of Kapalabhati:
- refreshes and invigorates the mind;
- creates a feeling of exhilaration;
- activates Pranic energy.
Neelkanth's pranayama yoga class in New Delhi
Anuloma Viloma is a very powerful Pranayama practice. If incorporated into daily life it helps improve our general stamina, relax our nervous system and increase our power of concentration. When you practice Anuloma Viloma you are building vital energy in your body. It cleanses and strengthens the lungs and entire respiratory system.
The highest rate of gas exchange in the lungs occurs during retention (holding the breath). Due to the increased pressure, more oxygen goes from the lungs into the blood and more carbon dioxide (and other waste products) pass from the blood into the lungs to be eliminated during exhalation. Exhalation being twice the time of inhalation, stale air and waste products are drained from the lungs.
The ratio is 1:4:2. Inhale for one count, hold your breath for 4 counts and exhale for 2 counts.
There are other benefits to be considered. Valuable nutrients are formed during retention. This way, you will not need to take any dietary supplements. I tell my students that doing six full rounds of Anuloma Viloma is like taking a capsule of multivitamins every day. It helps them stay healthy and fit.
How to do Anuloma Viloma
- raise right hand and make Vishnu mudra by folding down the index and middle fingers;
- exhale through both nostrils;
- close the right nostril with the right thumb;
- inhale to the count of 4 through the left nostril while keeping the right nostril closed;
- close the left nostril with the tips of the ring and little fingers so that both nostrils are closed;
- hold breath to the count of 16;
- release the right nostril and exhale completely to the count of 8;
- inhale fully through the right nostril to the count of 4;
- close both nostrils and hold your breath to the count of 16;
- release the left nostril and exhale completely to the count of 8;
- this is one full round.
When having blocked nose do not do the retention. Instead, inhale to the count of 4 and exhale through the alternate nostril for 8 counts. Inhale through the same nostril for 4 counts and exhale through alternate nostril for 8 counts.
Meet the teachers at Joy of Yoga
Neelkanth inherited the gift of yoga and Pranayama at the tender age of four. He would practice these ancient techniques every morning with his grandfather in a little village in Rajasthan. He went on to become a media advertising manager, serving in the industry for over three decades. He rediscovered his love for yoga while on a pilgrimage to the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwanthri Ashram with his wife Karoona.
Both of them have now fully dedicated their lives to spreading the message of Hatha Yoga, Peace, Love and Laughter wherever their journey takes them. Neelkanth holds the RYT-500 qualification, having completed both the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course and an Advanced Yoga Training.
Karoona is a compassionate and intuitive teacher of Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, meditation and yogic philosophy. After having a long and successful career of almost 20 years in the real estate business, Karoona found her hearts calling to renounce it all and study Yoga at The Sivananda Yoga Dhanvantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam, Kerala.
Karoona has completed RYT 200 hours (Yoga Teacher Training Course) as well as a Sadhana Intensive (Advanced Pranayama) course.
Curious to find how taking control of your breath can improve the health of both your body and mind? Go to BookYogaRetreats.com to choose among hundreds of pranayama yoga holidays and learn to master the art of breathing yourself.