Pranayama - Breathing Techniques

August 22, 2018


Written by Yadla Vishwa Sree

PRANAYAMA (Prana = vital force energy & vyama = control by stretching and expanding) is the formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana or vital life force. Hence pranayama translates to “control of the life force” which is accomplished by manipulating our breathing.

The orientation of Pranayama in Patanjali Yoga Sutras lays emphasis on breathing (inhalation, exhalation, retention). Patanjali says that pranayama happens when there is a break in the pace between inhalation and exhalation. According to Patanjali, there are four types of pranayama (modification of inhalation, modification of exhalation, stoppage of breath as a modification, and the fourth which transcends the subject matter of inhalation and exhalation). Pathanjali, pranayama as a means of becoming fit for the higher practice Dharana as also for removing the shroud of impurities covering our inner light.

In Hatha yoga, Prayanama is equated to kumbaka or retention.

 Benefits of Pranayama

  1. Increases the stock of prana in the body and frequency of pranic vibrations
  2. Increased energy levels and increased awareness level
  3. At physical level maintains the natural rhythm of all body organs and allows them to function properly for a major time of our lives
  4. Reduced breathing rate benefits like slowing down the heart rate, minimizing the wear and tear of the internal organs, improving the blood circulation lowering the blood pressure and slowing down the aging.
  5. Increases lung capacity and those suffering from respiratory difficulties
  6. Controls the fluctuations of the mind and prepares for meditation
  7. Increases the oxygen supply to the brain and relaxes the nervous system
  8. Manipulating the breath can alter how we feel. Negative emotions such as anger, depression, greed, arrogance are controlled.
  9. Yogic breathing increases the secretion of a hormone Leptin which inhibits hunger.
  10. Production of stress hormones is reduced.

Rules – Niyamas for Pranayama practice

  1. Eyes should be kept closed
  2. Spine (upper body) should be erect
  3. Head, neck, and chest, back should be aligned to a straight line
  4. Shoulder, abdominal muscles should be relaxed
  5. Hands to be resting on the knees in any comfortable mudra
  6. Body remains motionless
  7. The mood should be tranquil and relaxed
  8. Exhalation in pranayama practices should be approximately twice as long as inhalation.

Some of the conducive postures for pranayama/meditation are :

Siddhasana (Accomplished pose)

Padmasana & Ardha Padmasana (Lotus Pose)

Swastikasana (Auspicious pose)

Sukhasana (Easy pose)

Vajrasana (Adamantine pose)

Siddhasana is given a place of the price among all the asanas as

  1. It offers the widest base of support and maximum balance and stability
  2. the heel touching the perineum region stimulates the muladhara chakra thereby facilitating the kundalini awakening.
  3. Holding the pose for a longer period, 72000 nadis are said to be purified
  4. The three bandhas are happening at the same time in Siddhasana.

(Source HYP)




  1. Abdominal breathing or vertical breathing or diaphragmatic breathing (Adhama svasa) Abdomen bloats inhaling and falls in exhaling.
  2. Thoracic breathing or chest breathing (Madhyama Svasa) – The rib cage expands in all directions inhaling and revert to their original position exhaling.
  3. Clavicular breathing or collarbone breathing (Adya Svasa) – Collar bone and shoulder lift during inhaling and lower during exhalation.


During abdominal breathing – chest is kept still; the only abdomen moves during the entire process

During chest breathing – the abdomen is kept still, only the chest moves during the entire process

During clavicular breathing – only the collarbone should rise to prevent shoulders from rising up and down


abdominal breathing

Anyone can safely perform

Thoracic breathing

Expands the chest cavity and fills the lungs with air and frees the heart from pressure. There is more resonance to the voice when the ribcage is open and relaxed – very beneficial technique for singers and speakers. Very powerful technique for healing respiratory ailments. Unconscious use of this more rapid form of breathing creates a heightened state of tension. To break this unfavorable cycle, slow and deep abdominal breathing is of great assistance.

Clavicular breathing

Happens in situations of extreme stress and panic or where there is difficulty in breathing. Breath is very shallow and rapid.


The movements during breathing are no longer separated. One full yoga breath includes one smooth, continuous flow of breath in and out, involving non-jerky movement of the abdomen, chest and collarbone.

Must be practiced in a physically and mentally relaxed state. A physically relaxed body is necessary to stretch and relax properly without creating any kind of tension and a mentally relaxed state is necessary for full concentration, relaxation and proper breathing. By exhaling consciously, one can considerably assist in the relaxation of the muscles.

Frequent mistake done in breathing is drawing the abdomen in while inhaling which will hamper deep breathing. Comfortable clothes are a must.

C         DIFFERENT KINDS OF PRANAYAMA – knowledge/benefits/cautions

  1. Anulom Vilom or Nadi Shodhan (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
  2. Bastrika pranayama (bellows breath)
  3. Chandra Bhedan Pranayama (Left Nostril breathing)
  4. Surya Bhedana Pranayama (Right nostril breathing)
  5. Ujjayi pranayama (victorious breath)
  6. Brahmari pranayama (humming bee breath)
  7. Sheetali Pranayama
  8. Sheetakari Pranayama



1.       Imbalance between the Ida and Pingala nadis are corrected.

2.       Removes blockages in pranic energy channels

3.       Conducive to meditation

4.       Allows deep breathing and improves lung function.

5.       Helps more intake of oxygen and efficient removal of waste gas

6.       Manages stress, calms the mind, and reduces anxiety, depression and mental illnesses. Reduces hyperactive disorders of the mind

7.       Improves blood circulation and purifies blood. Useful for patients with heart related problems.

8.       Cleanses, strengthens and tones the nervous system, enhances concentration.

9.       Keeps diabetes under control

10.    Relieves hypertension

11.    Increases glow of the skin

12.    Benefits asthmatic, migraine, neuro, gastric problems.

1.     Pranava mudra should be adopted while practicing.

2.     Should be practiced in morning fresh air in empty stomach

3.     After emptying the bowels and bladder

4.     Forced breathing should be avoided

5.     Children and pregnant women should practice under expert guidance.

6.     Those undergone heart, abdominal, brain surgeries should have medical clearance before practicing.

7.     Duration of inhalation /exhalation should be as per physical strength and fitness of the practitioner.








Considered as a kriya – nadi shodhana kriya when not accompanied by Kumbaka.


1.     Most energizing pranayama practice.

2.     Raises BMR thereby increasing the calorie consumption of the body provides effective cure for obesity.

3.     Rhythmic inhalation and exhalation stimulates circulation of the cerebral fluid.

4.     Accelerated blood circulation and rate of gas exchange in each cell produces heat and washes out gases


5.     Rhythmic diaphragm movements stimulates heart and lung muscles, improving blood circulation and strengthening of the lungs

6.     Relaxes mind and body and improves concentration

7.     Relieves stress, depression and hypertension

8.     Cures asthma, headache, migraine, gastric, arthritis, throat infections, neurological problems.

9.     Increases warmth in the body and helps prevent common cold.

10.  Flushes out toxins from body and cures illnesses of respiratory track.

11.  Imparts glow to skin.











People with following conditions should avoid bastrika :


high blood pressure or heart disease; people with low stamina







Keeping the health condition and endurance level in mind the force to be applied in breathing in and out should be determined by the practitioner.

Chandra bhedan

1.     Reduces the flow of gall

2.     Cools the body and body heat

3.     Gets rid of heart burn and laziness

4.     Beneficial in cases of mental tension, agitation, high bp, heart disease etc.

1.     Should not be done during winters. Should be practiced only in summers

2.     Right nostril should be pressed with thumb of right hand and left nostril pressed with ring finger of right hand

The para sympathetic nervous system is stimulated.
Surya Bhedana

1.      Boosts the sympathetic nervous system

2.      Regenerates the lung tissues and enhances their capacity

3.      Strengthens the immune system increases the efficiency of digestive system

4.      Soothes and invigorates the nerves and cleans the sinuses

5.      Purifies the brain, cures rhinitis and various sorts of neuroglia

6.      Relieves asthma, cold, low bp, gastric problems,

7.      Removes kapha (mucus) imbalance in the body

8.      Increases body temperature useful for people with cold hands/feet

9.      Helps weight loss and effective against obesity

10.   Beats anxiety, depression, low energy, stress and other mental illnesses.

1.     Should not be performed while suffering from fever as it increases the heat in the body

2.     Eyes, temples, eyebrows, skin on the forehead should not show any strain and should be passive.

3.     Persons suffering form high bp or heart troubles should not hold their breath after inhalation.

4.     Recently recovered from diarrhea conditions, high pitta or acidity conditions should avoid practice










Destroys intestinal worms and diseases arising from excess of wind (Vayu)


1.      Stimulates the thyroid gland

2.      Reduces risk of diseases caused by accumulation of bile, wind or phlegm

3.      Areates and clears the lungs, nasal cavity and strengthens the vocal cord

4.      Removes phlegm, soothes the nerves, gives endurance

5.      Eases diseases of the lungs, chest and throat

6.      Alleviates indigestion and irregular bowel movements, effective in pain reduction, insomnia and migraine.

Avoid in case of cardiac problems

1.   Uj = Upwards/Superiority

2.   Jay = Victory/triumph Lungs are fully expanded and the chest is puffed out like that of a proud conqueror

3.   Involves shallow breathing aimed at flexing the diaphragm

4.   When performed without retention of breath in a reclining position, is ideal for those suffering from high bp or coronary troubles.

5.   Ujjayi is the only breathing practice which is prescribed to be performed in all three positions – standing, sitting and lying down



1.      Excellent to help release agitation, frustration and anger and to calm the mind, nervous system

2.      Makes the voice meolodious, gives clarity of speech

3.      Cures hyper tension and depression, controls high bp

4.      Increases concentration

5.      Strengthens the vocal cord

6.      Useful for pregnant women for easy and trouble free childbirth

1.      Brahmari should be done on empty stomach

2.      In case of dizzy feeling, practice should be stopped and return to normal breathing



Brahmar – humming bee The pranayama involves creating a sound similar to the humming bee


Best results can be seen performing this in night or early morning.


1.      Calms the mind, reduces stress or flight-fight response. Cools the body and mind.

2.      Lowers blood pressure

3.      Effective in hyperacidity or ulcers

4.      Reduces body temperature, positively effects endocrine glands.

5.      As per Hatha Yoga pradipika, the practitioner becomes young and attractive by this practice.

6.      Removes excess heat accumulated in the system, reduces excess bile, corrects disorders of spleen and cures fever

7.      Controls hunger and thirst. Calms the entire parasympathetic nervous system inducing muscular relaxation, very effective in stress management.

1.      Sheetali can lower blood pressure. So caution must be observed during practice.

2.      Breathing should not be forced

3.      A little cold feel or tingling sensation in throat may occur, but it is normal

4.      In case of dizzy feeling, practice should be stopped and return to normal breathing


1.      Cools the body temperature

2.      Helps curing in spleen and indigestion

3.      Effective in dental problems like pyorrhea

4.      Calms the mind, reduces emotional excitement and stress, depression


1.      Avoid sheetakari if suffering from cold/cough/asthma/tonsilitis or other respiratory problems

2.      Those suffering from low bp should not attempt sheetakari


Effective in dental problems like pyorrhea