Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. The word pranayama is comprised of two roots: Prana and Ayama. Prana means life force. It is the force which exists in all things, therefore, pranayama should not be considered as mere breathing exercises aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs. The word yama means ‘control’ and is used to denote various rules or code of conduct. But Ayama is defined as extension or expansion. Thus pranayama means extension or expansion of the dimension of Prana. The techniques of pranayama provide the method to activate and regulate beyond the one’s normal boundary or limitations and attain a higher state of vibratory energy and awareness.
Three Aspects of Pranayama
1. Poorka (Inhalation)
2. Rechaka (Exhalation)
3. Kumbhaka (Retention)
In each pranayama, breath goes into above four stages but with a different rhythm. Pranayama can be divided based on practitioner's level, they are mostly done in seating position. Following are the major pranamaya, the first seven pranayama are considered basic classical pranayma, next two are considered intermediate level and last two are advanced.
Powerful Classical Pranayama
1. Ujjayi (Victorious breath) – It removes the phlegm, gives endurance, soothes the nerves and tones the entire system
2. Kapalbhati (Skull Shining Breath) – It has a cleansing effect on the lungs and a
good practice for respiratory disorders. It balances and strengthens the
nervous system and tones the digestive organs. It energizes the mind
for mental work and removes sleepiness.
3. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) – It balances the breath and the brain hemispheres. It has calming effects and relives anxiety, and improves concentration.
4. Bhastrika (Bellows
Breath) – It burns up the toxins and helps to balances the doshas or
humours. It also stimulates the metabolic rate, producing heat and
flushing out wastes and toxins.5. Sitali (Cooling breath) – It cools the body and affects important brain centers associated with biological drives and temperature regulation. It cools and reduces mental and emotional excitation, and encourages the free flow of Prana.
6. Sitakari (Hissing Breath)- Similar to Sitali this is alternate option for Sitali, it also brings cooling and soothing affect to the body.
7. Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath) - It relieves stress and cerebral tension, and also helps in alleviating anger, anger, anxiety and insomnia, increasing the healing capacity of the body. It also strengthens and improves the voice.
8. Chandra Bhedana (Calming Breath) - It reduces body heat, fever, lowers high blood pressure, stress and heart burn.
9. Surya Bhedana (Stimulating Breath) - It increases energy, digestive fire, reduces dullness and lethargy, treats low blood pressure and helps in weight loss
10. Murchha (Fainting Breath) - Draws the mind inwards, cuts the distractions and brings mental tranquility. Alleviate tension, anxiety, anger and increases prana.
11. Plavini (Floating Breath) - Improves the blood flow in the body, brings alternateness and inner clarity, cures hysteria, abdominal diseases or parasites, expels all kind of toxins and reduces the hunger and obesity
Note: Kapalbhati is technically a Kriya but also used as a Pranayama in some traditions. Chandra and Surya Bhedana are considered as intermediate level pranayama, Murchha and Plavini are advanced pranayama practices.
Though information about practicing these pranamaya is widely available on internet, but it is highly recommended to get guidance of a competent yoga teacher, because each pranayama has powerful affect on the nervous system, and some have contraindications, thus they must be practiced under guidence.