Regardless of if you are just starting to get into yoga or are curious about what Pranayama is, there is something you can take away from it. Pranayama is a practice that has a few different types depending on your level of expertise, but before you can know the different types of pranayama, you need to understand what Pranayama even is and how it works!
- What is Pranayama?
- 16 Types of Pranayama
- Dirga Pranayama or Three Part Breath
- Surya Bedhana Pranayama or Right Nostril Breathing
- Chandra Bedhana Pranayama or Left Nostril Breathing
- Sitcari Pranayama or Hissing Breath
- Nadi Sodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Shitali Pranayama or Cooling Breath
- Ujjayi Pranayama or Ocean Breath
- Udgeeth Pranayama or Chanting Breath
- Bhramari Pranayama or Humming Bee Breath
- Simhasana Pranayama or Lion’s Breath
- Bhastrika Pranayama orBellows Breath
- Viloma Pranayama or Against The Wave
- Sama Vritti or Square Box Breathing
- Kapalabhati Pranayama or Skull Shining Breath and Breath of Fire
- Murchha Pranayama or Swooning Breath
- Plavini Pranayama or Cleansing Breath
- Health Benefits of Pranayama Breathing Techniques
What is Pranayama?
When directly translated, Pranayama is an amalgamation of two words “prana” and “ayama” which mean life force and control. The life force in this scenario is breathing and controlling the rhythm of breathing and creating various patterns through the right inhalation and exhalation. Understanding and practicing the pranayama techniques in the right fashion is crucial to gain the best benefits even when you practice yoga. Pranayama involves a three-stage process of inhaling, holding, and exhaling.
When you inhale, a deep, steady breath is taken into the lungs. This process of inhaling is traditionally referred to as Puraka. You can actively control your inhale to be smooth and regulated. By doing so, you can even gain a balance in the next two stages of retention and exhale.
Retention, also called”kumbhaka”, is the holding of your breath either after an inhale (Antar Kumbhaka) or after an exhale (Bahya Kumbhaka). Both types have physical and mental benefits.
Much like the inhale, the exhale, traditionally called Rechaka, is also long and drawn out. Changes in the Rechaka are what usually make the different types of Pranayama.
Every single part of this process is necessary when practicing Pranayama. Remember to listen to your body. If you feel light-headed or sick at any point, start to breathe normally and tuck your head into your lap.
16 Types of Pranayama
There are a variety of breathing techniques that are practiced by different practitioners. Irrespective of the type of technique, the pranayama in itself helps regulate the five prana vayus, also called the life forces or vital energies referring to the flow of air inwards and outwards. These five forces are called Prana Vayu (inward breathing), Apana Vayu (downward breath), Samana Vayu (equalizing breath), Vyana Vayu (diffusive breath), and Udana Vayu (ascending breath).
Dirga Pranayama or Three Part Breath
The dirga pranayama is a technique that involves three parts of the body in the process of breathing, starting from the belly, lower chest, and finally filling the upper chest. It is a great exercise to practice before a yoga session.
How to do it – You can do Dirga Pranayama breathing by first laying down on your back, then breathing into your stomach. When you feel that you have reached your limit, take more breaths to fill your rib cage. Take in a smaller breath to fill the chest. Afterward, exhale slowly, starting from your upper chest, to your ribs, and to your stomach.
Reps – Beginners can start with a minimum of 3 times up to your comfortable state!
Benefits – Improves lung capacity, reduces stress, calms the mind, soothes the nervous system, and improves digestion. It improves the mood by releasing the happy hormone – endorphins. It also helps increase anti-aging hormones.
Precautions – Do it on an empty stomach. Do not overstrain your lungs with excessive breathing. Avoid this technique if you have any active nasal infections.
Surya Bedhana Pranayama or Right Nostril Breathing
This is a warming breath technique with a single-nostril breathing pattern. The Surya or sun is related to the right nostril and breathing through this awakens the Kundalini energy of the body.
How to do it – Sit in a relaxed and comfortable position. Close your left nostril and inhale slowly through your right nostril. Fill up your lungs and now close your right nostril too. Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds. Slowly exhale through your right nostril again. Release both nostrils and repeat again.
Reps – It is good to start with 5 to 10 repetitions and practice as long as you are comfortable.
Benefits – It helps alleviate mental disorders, supports fertility in women, and regulates blood pressure. It also helps replenish the oxygen levels in the body and improves energy levels.
Precautions – Avoid this technique if you are a person with heart disease, epilepsy, anxiety disorders, or high blood pressure. It is also recommended to avoid this practice during the night times.
Chandra Bedhana Pranayama or Left Nostril Breathing
This is a cooling breath technique with a single-nostril breathing pattern. The Chandra or moon is related to the left nostril and breathing through this awakens the Kundalini energy of the body.
How to do it – Sit in a relaxed and comfortable position. Keep your back straight. Keep your right nostril closed and inhale slowly through your left nostril. Fill up your lungs and now close your left nostril too. Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds. Slowly exhale through your left nostril again. Release both nostrils and repeat again.
Reps – It is good to start with 5 to 10 repetitions and practice as long as you are comfortable.
Benefits – This technique helps reduce the heat in the body and is therefore good to lower heartburns and fevers. It lowers the flow of bile juice from the gallbladder and alleviates high blood pressure. It helps reduce stress, anxiety, and mental tension.
Precautions – Avoid this pose if you are a person with low blood pressure, severe cold, acute asthma, or phlegm issues. It is recommended to avoid practicing this technique in cold climatic conditions.
Sitcari Pranayama or Hissing Breath
The word “Sitcari” in Sanskrit refers to hissing or sipping. This technique works with breath retention and is suitable to practice during hot conditions.
How to do it – Sit comfortably with your legs crossed and your spine in an erect position. Smile wide with your upper and lower teeth drawn closer and your mouth clearly showing off your teeth. Inhale through these teeth with a soft sipping sound. Now close your mouth and slowly exhale through your nose. Repeat the cycle to experience the cooling effect.
Reps – Repeat the cycles for 8 to 10 times as a beginner and slowly progress with the count.
Benefits – This technique is best used for cooling down after an intense yoga workout. It helps regulate the nervous system and stimulate the endocrine glands. It regulates the body temperature and cools the mind and body. It is good to practice this when you experience hot flashes.
Precautions – Avoid this technique if you are someone with low blood pressure, asthma, bronchitis, or someone with sensitive gums and teeth.
Nadi Sodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
This technique involves alternate-nostril breathing and is quite popular with yoga as well as mind relaxation methods.
How to do it – First, sit on the ground cross-legged. Place your left hand on the corresponding knee. Exhale completely before using your right hand to close your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril before closing it with your spare fingers. Open the right nostril and exhale completely through it. Do the same thing you did before but with the now open nostril. Doing both sides is one cycle.
Reps – A minimum of 10 cycles is recommended
Benefits – Nadi Sodhana helps you bring balance to the mind, body, and soul, also known as the three doshas of the human experience. This technique helps balance the hormones, supports clean respiratory channels, and creates a balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It also helps stimulate metabolism and relieves anxiety.
Precautions – Do not practice this technique with a blocked nose. If you are a person with heart ailments or suffering from asthma, do not hold your breath for long. Discuss with your teacher and change the breathing ratios accordingly to suit your medical condition.
Shitali Pranayama or Cooling Breath
This technique provides a refreshing experience and is excellent for summer days. Just as the name suggests, it helps cool you down your mental and physical self.
How to do it – Begin in the same position as Nadi Sodhana. Begin preparing by taking a few deep breaths in and out. Then roll your tongue into an O shape, stick it out through pursed lips, and slowly inhale through your mouth. Hold your breath and press your chest firmly against your chest. After a few moments, exhale through your nostrils.
Reps – Begin with a repetition of 8 to 15 times.
Benefits – This technique helps alleviate stress and lower anxiety levels. It helps promote digestion, alleviates acidity, soothes inflammation, and supports mental calmness.
Precautions – Avoid this technique if you are a person with low blood pressure. It is recommended to avoid this technique if you are experiencing a cold and cough or are sensitive to cold climates or products in general.
Named after the sound you make when you breathe with this technique, the Ocean Breath is a very rhythmic and relaxing form of Pranayama. You can feel a soft hissing sound during this practice. This famous technique is also referred to as the Victorious Breathing Technique.
How to do it – You can start in any position that is comfortable for you. Breathe through your mouth and, after you inhale, manually close the back of your throat. It should feel like you are trying to fog up a mirror. You then close your mouth and exhale through your nose, the back of the throat still closed.
Reps – Try to start with 5 to 8 times of repetitions in a comfortable period. There is no rush but learn the technique gradually. Progress slowly to a greater count. It is recommended to do a 12-cycle practice regularly.
Benefits – This technique helps lower the heart pace, increases psychic sensitivity, stimulates the oxidation process, promotes longevity, improves body heat, and relieves insomnia. It also helps to regulate cholesterol levels and clear blocked arteries.
Precautions – If you are a person with low blood pressure then it is recommended to practice under the supervision of a trained expert. It is best to avoid this technique if you are pregnant or menstruating as it puts a strain on your abdominal organs.
Udgeeth Pranayama or Chanting Breath
This technique finds a fine balance of chanting the “OM” mantra while exercising the breathing technique. This is a rhythmic practice that uses chanting to make it even more powerful and this technique dates back to the Chandogya Upanishad.
How to do it – sit comfortably with your spine straight. Relax your shoulders and neck and close your eyes. Slowly inhale through your nose and focus on the breath. With each exhale, chant the “OM” mantra in an elongated manner. Chant the mantra loud enough for you to stay attentive throughout the practice.
Reps – Recommended to practice 1 to 2 times a day for a period of 5 to 10 minutes.
Benefits – This practice helps improve concentration and alleviates negative thoughts like stress, sadness, anxiety, and fear. It also supports weight loss, strengthens the lungs, improves sleep cycles, and enhances energy levels.
Precautions – Avoid this technique if you are pregnant.
Bhramari Pranayama or Humming Bee Breath
Named after the Indian black bee, this technique involves breathing practice with a sound that resembles the humming of a bee. This is the best breathing technique that is recommended to soothe an agitated mind.
How to do it – When practicing this breathing technique, you should sound like a bee, as seen in the name. Begin by finding yourself in a comfortable position. Then, close your eyes and ears with your thumbs and fingers, and inhale deeply. When exhaling, make a buzzing sound similar to that of a bee, or hum. Completing your exhale signifies the end of one cycle.
Reps – Repeat this cycle for 5 to 10 minutes or for 5 to 10 cycles, whichever if comfortable.
Benefits – Bhramari Pranayama can increase concentration, improve memory and relieve stress. It also helps release cerebral tension and stimulates the hormonal balance by supporting the pineal and pituitary glands. It also leaves a positive impact on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems in the body.
Precautions – If you are a person with high blood pressure, heart ailments, or with active ear infections, it is recommended to avoid this technique. Remember not to practice this technique while lying down in a supine position.
Simhasana Pranayama or Lion’s Breath
This technique works on all three “bandhas” or locks – “jalandhara bandha”, “uddiyana bandha”, and “moola bandha”; which are together called the “mahabandha” or “tribandha”. It collectively stimulates the vitality center of the body.
How to do it – This technique is practiced while sitting in Lion’s pose or “Simhasana”. If you are not comfortable sitting in that pose, try practicing this technique in any other seated or kneeling posture. Keep your spine erect and inhale through your nose. Now open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue towards your chin. Now, exhale through your mouth. Focus on the tip of your nose by stimulating your third eye while you exhale.
Reps – Repeat this pattern for 5 times if you are a beginner and gradually increase the counts.
Benefits – This technique helps improve blood circulation to your face and relieves the tension in your face and chest. It helps treat bad breath and eyes sparkling and shining by stimulating the nerve endings. It also helps cure throat infections, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.
Precautions – Avoid this technique if you have weak joints, neck injuries, or discomfort sticking your tongue out.
Bhastrika Pranayama orBellows Breath
Bhastrika Pranayama is similar to Kapalabhati Pranayam or “Breath of Fire,”. In this technique, the entire process of breathing including inhaling and exhaling are done forcefully.
How to do it – Begin by crossing your legs (your feet should be resting on your thighs) with your eyes closed and your spine straight. Inhale deeply through your nostril and forcefully exhale, using your diaphragm to “pump” or push the air out. Inhale and forcibly exhale about ten times before taking a deep breath. Hold this breath as long as you can, then slowly exhale deeply. Afterward, rest by taking normal breaths before another cycle.
Reps – 3 to 5 cycles, if you are a beginner. You can increase the count at your own comfort!
Benefits – This technique helps clear the windpipe, improve lung capacity, and strengthen the lungs. It helps lower blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, and increases blood circulation throughout the body. It also helps alleviate stress, anxiety, and mental health issues.
Precautions – Avoid practicing this technique if you are pregnant. It is also recommended to avoid this if you are someone with prior medical conditions like heart strokes, abdominal surgeries, high blood pressure, detached retina, hernia, epilepsy, vertigo, or glaucoma. Please avoid this if you are a person who experiences nose bleeds quite often.
Viloma Pranayama or Against The Wave
This technique introduces an interrupted breathing pattern where the breath is held for small pauses by working on the breath-holding capacity.
How to do it – You can do this technique in two different ways; either a paused inhale or paused exhale. To start the paused inhale Viloma Pranayama, you lie down on your back. Slowly inhale for 2 to 3 seconds, then stop for a few seconds. Repeat this cycle until your lungs are full, then slowly exhale.
To start the paused exhale Viloma Pranayama, lie on your back, and take a deep breath. You exhale in increments of 2 to 3 seconds until your lungs are empty. Upon this, you take another deep breath and start over.
Reps – Start with a 10-minute beginner practice with small pauses of 3-5 seconds and slowly increase the breath-holding capacity with regular and consistent practice.
Benefits – this technique helps your body to cool down after an intense yoga class. It improves breath control, cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and brain functioning. It also helps improve focus and control with a positive impact on overall well-being.
Precautions – If you are someone with high blood pressure or acute asthma, it is recommended to avoid this practice.
Sama Vritti or Square Box Breathing
The words “sama” and “vritti” mean equal and flow respectively. This technique is referred to as square box breathing as it involves an equal four parts breathing ratio. The body experiences the deepest relaxation in this process.
How to do it – Assuming you are just starting to learn this technique, inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale slowly for 5 seconds, and again hold for 5 seconds. Do this all over again.
Reps– This simple four-step process can be repeated up to 5 times with a gradual increase in the ratios.
Benefits – This technique helps maintain a balance in the body, soothes the mind, and alleviates stress. It also helps bring clarity to a confused and agitated mind. It also helps release toxins from the body.
Precautions – Though this is safe with hardly any contraindications, it is recommended not to hold your breath if you are pregnant or suffering from high blood pressure or heart conditions. Instead, it is best to practice equal parts of inhalation and exhalation only.
Kapalabhati Pranayama or Skull Shining Breath and Breath of Fire
The kapalabhati pranayama is commonly used with the Kundalini yoga practices. Instead of using the colling breathing technique, also called the shitali pranayama, the kapalabhati is used to warm-up your body.
How to do it – Start this off by sitting down, with full awareness of your diaphragm. Your inhales in this exercise will be passive, while your exhales will be aggressive. You can even press on your belly to make this happen. Focus solely on the exhalation aspect to get the most out of this type.
Reps – A beginner can start with a minimum of 10 reps and gradually aim for 65 to 70 cycles. But do not be afraid to bump this number up.
Benefits – This technique helps strengthen the abdominal muscles, increases focus, lowers anxiety, strengthens the diaphragm, and energizes nerve endings. It also helps detoxify the skin and improve hair growth. It is also known to support weight loss and helps in losing belly fat too!
Precautions – If you are a person with high blood pressure then it is recommended to go slow and easy with this technique. Avoid this practice completely if you are pregnant. Additionally, if you are a person with heart ailments, spinal complaints, migraine, epilepsy, or brain-related problems, it is best recommended to avoid this technique.
Murchha Pranayama or Swooning Breath
As the name suggests, this swooning breath technique allows you to experience a light-headed and dizzy feeling. It is believed that this euphoric experience allows the practitioner to experience a state devoid of all senses.
How to do it – Start this technique in a comfortable sitting position with your spine erect and your shoulders relaxed. Roll your tongue to the nasal cavity and engage yourself in the “kechari mudra”. Using the victorious breathing technique inhale the air with your head slightly tilted backward. Keep your gaze locked between your eyebrows, lock your chin, and press your palms against your knees. Begin to exhale when you start experiencing slight dizziness. Regain a relaxed body and experience tranquility.
Reps – Do not repeat more than 5 times.
Benefits – This practice helps bring in a blissful state and energizes all the “nadis” of the body. It helps bring in mental calmness, clarity, and steadiness.
Precautions – Avoid this technique if you are a beginner to pranayama as this is an advanced level practice. If you are a person who has heart ailments, high blood pressure, or mental health disorders, or if you are pregnant, it is recommended to avoid it completely.
Plavini Pranayama or Cleansing Breath
Unlike most of the pranayama techniques discussed so far, this technique can be practiced in seated, supine, or even standing positions. The word “plavini” is derived from Sanskrit and refers to “floating”. This technique allows full chest expansion and as a result, an expert practitioner can float for hours in water.
How to do it– Sit in a comfortable position with your neck, chin, and head all in a straight line. Keep your spine erect. Take a deep breath through your nose. Feel your chest expanding and the air filling your lungs. Now lock your chin by tilting your head down. This will help you lock the air inside and the retention will expand the abdominal cavity creating buoyancy. Hold as long as you are comfortable. Now, slowly lift your chin up to release the air and exhale through your nostrils. Relax with normal breathing before you repeat this cycle.
Reps – Try to repeat 5 times if you are a beginner. You can slowly increase your counts with gradual practice.
Benefits – The technique helps improve lung capacity, increases blood circulation, removes toxins from the body, and opens the chest.
Precautions – This is an advanced-level technique that is best practiced only under the guidance of an expert teacher. Avoid attempting this if you are a person with high blood pressure, a hernia, or heart ailments.
Health Benefits of Pranayama Breathing Techniques
Through research, people have found that there are a lot of benefits to Pranayama. Some of them are listed below and a few of them are also backed up by scientific studies.
- Controls hypertension
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Improves lung function and breath-holding capacity
- Alleviates depression
- Helps in detoxification
- Improves Digestion
- Reduces Stress
- Enhances the immune system
- Regulates the parasympathetic nervous system
- Supports weight loss
- Improves blood circulation
- Develops concentration levels
- Improves Sleep Quality
- Brings in mental and physical awareness
- Improves patience
- Helps to remain calm, stable, and clear in thought
When should I practice pranayama?
Pranayama is best practiced in the early mornings or late evenings. If you are accustomed to the techniques and would also like to have a quick 10-minute practice during mid-day or noon then that is totally fine too! The only thing you need to remember is to practice with an empty stomach wearing comfortable clothes and in a distraction-free place.
Is it advisable to practice pranayama every day?
Yes, it is advisable and recommended to practice pranayama every day. But if you are a beginner and find it overwhelming to do so, it is totally fine to practice in your own comfort. At the end of the day, you must find this process relaxing and rejuvenating rather than taxing yourself.
What are the different stages of breath or breathing ratios?
There are four different stages of breath in pranayama.
- Puraka or Inhalation
- Antara Kumbhaka or Internal Retention
- Rechaka or Exhalation
- Bahya Kumbhaka or External Retention
The different types of pranayama techniques are all derived from a permutation and combination of these four breathing ratios. The effects of these ratios could also result in varied results such as creating a balancing, calming, or an energizing impact on the mind and body.
What are some of the tips to keep in mind while practicing pranayama?
Breathing is a crucial process that happens so casually and unknowingly every second of our life. But when you have to do the same thing in a conscious manner following certain patterns and techniques then it is good to follow these below-mentioned tips to achieve the best results.
- Wear comfortable clothes while sitting for pranayama. They could be stretchy or loose-fitted, depending on your comfort.
- Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position. If you have issues like back pain or knee pain, use the blocks or cushions for adequate support.
- Choose a place that is calm, well-ventilated, and fresh. The space you choose must also be distraction-free for you to be able to focus on your breath.
- Prefer a place with natural air, instead of places with ceiling fans, air-coolers, and air-conditioners. These could disturb and alter your prana vayu.
- Try to practice with a discipline of time and period every day. If you are comfortable practicing early morning then try sticking to the early morning practice only to maintain consistency and see better results.
- Do not rush and push yourself for quick results. Pranayama is a process that gives positive benefits slowly but steadily with gradual practice.
- Last but not the least, do not force practice if you experience any discomfort or sensations of pain.
What precautions should I follow while practicing pranayama?
Though pranayama offers a huge list of physical and mental health benefits, it is possible that you might end up harming yourself if the right precautions are not taken. Remember the following cautions:
- Avoid pranayama practice if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous
- Avoid the Sitcari, Shitali, or Chandra Bhedana Pranayama techniques, if you are sensitive to cold
- Avoid the Bhastrika, Kapalabhati, or Surya Bhedhana Pranayama techniques, if you are sensitive to heat
- Avoid Kapalabhati and Bhastrika Pranayama techniques, if you are pregnant or have undergone abdominal surgery
- Consult your doctor about your blood pressure or any other medical conditions before you start practicing the pranayama regularly. We always recommend learning the techniques from a trained and experienced teacher rather than picking it up from self-learning videos.
There are several different types of Pranayama, each type has its benefits with various difficulty levels. If you plan on practicing breathing techniques, be sure to research the types that fit best with the amount of experience you have and the benefits you desire.
Be sure to be safe when practicing. If you start to feel pain or light-headedness, you are most likely doing something wrong and need to stop. Remember, your comfort and safety are the priority when practicing. Do not push yourself when it comes to the intensity of the technique.