What is Pranayama and what is it for?

Conscious TV

20th May 2021

Pranayama are different breathing exercises that are performed in a Yoga class. There are different types of Pranayama and each has different objectives: to purify the body, to increase the heart rate, to clean the airways, to gain concentration, among many other things.

In Sanskrit, prana means energy and iama means control. So Pranayama means control of energy.  For the ancient Yogis, when we breathe, we absorb Prana or the energy of the universe through the air.  By this it is understood that to control energy is to control your breath.

Breathing - Pranayama

Although there are many pranayamas, the three best known are Kaphalabati "Shining Skull", Anuloma Viloma or "Alternating Breath" and Ujjaji or "Victorious Breath". Besides being among the most popular, they are also the simplest and are therefore the first to be taught to beginners.

  • In Kaphalabati breathing, the teacher invites students to breathe in normally but to breathe out short and hard, expelling all the air in one breath. This is done 50 to 100 times in a row. This exercise generates a lot of heat and increases the heart rate, so it is very common to do it before the start of class.
  • According to the Vedic tradition, the Nadis are channels that carry energy or Prana through the body. Although each person has about 72 thousand, there are 3 main ones. Ida, Pingala and Sushuma. When Ida and Pingala are in balance, Sushuma is activated. Ida and Pingala are related to the left and right nostrils respectively. Anuloma Viloma breathing seeks to activate these two Nadis by alternating the nostril through which one breathes, first through one and then through the other. The aim is to help students to concentrate. It is important to live the practice of Yoga in the moment, trying to keep thoughts in the here and now and avoiding distractions. This breath helps to achieve this.
  • Ujjaji breathing is common in Ashtanga style and its derivatives such as Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga. This pranayama, unlike the two previous ones, is performed throughout the practice: it is a way of breathing that is performed by closing the glottis, so that the inhalations and exhalations sound similar to the waves of the sea.  Ujjaji Pranayama is crucial in the dynamic styles as it keeps the heat and at the same time the heartbeat slower, so that the students do not speed up.

It is important to have the right teacher who can teach the pranayama properly in order to fully enjoy the benefits it brings.

"When we control our breath, we can control our mind" Sri K. Patthabi Jois, creator of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system.

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