Pranayama Benefits

By on May 7, 2015


Prana is the vital or etheric force which pervades the whole cosmos. It is in all things, whether animate or inanimate and is closely related to the air we breathe but is not exactly the same thing. Prana can be defined as the energy essence that is within everything in the universe. Yama means to control.

Pranayama thus is a series of techniques which stimulate and increase the vital energy, ultimately bringing about perfect control over the flow of prana within the body.

It is not mere breathing exercises to introduce extra oxygen into the lungs. Breathing is the technique used in pranayama to influence the flow of prana in the pranic channels of the body. the oxygen inhaled purifies them and induces physical and mental stability. The practice of breath retention brings about control of the prana and eventual mastery of the mind.

Traditionally, the prana in the body is divided into five elementary parts which are collectively known as the pancha pranas (five pranas). They consist of prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana.

This is not the overall prana but belongs to a specific part of the body located in the region between the larynx and the top of the diaphragm. It is associated with the respiratory organs, the organs of speech, and the gullet, together with the muscles and nerves that activate them. It is the force by which the breath is drawn inside.

This is located below the navel region and provides energy for the large intestines, kidneys, anus and genitals. It is concerned with the expulsion of prana through the rectum and the nose and mouth.

This is concerned with the region between the heart and navel. It activates and controls the digestive system: liver, intestines, pancreas, stomach, and the secretions they supply. Samaria also activates the heart and circulatory system. It is responsible for assimilation of nutrients.

The body above the larynx is controlled by udana. Thus the eyes, nose, ears, and all sensory receptors are activated by this prana. This provides us the ability to think or be conscious of the outside world.

This vital force regulates and controls all movement of the body and co-ordinates the other vital energies. Vyana pervades the whole body and harmonizes and activates the limbs, their associated muscles, ligaments, nerves and joints. It is also responsible for the erect posture of the body.

Upa pranas
There are also five upa pranas: naga, koorma, Arikara, Devadatta and Dhananjay. They are concerned with minor actions such as sneezing, yawning, scratching, belching, hiccuping and hunger.

All these pranas are controlled by the vayus. Each vayu is associated with one prana, and has the same name. For example, apana vayu controls the apana vital energy. These vayus are generated by the breathing process, and it is through them that pranayama can influence the vital forces in the body.

Air is the vital force for rejuvenation of the body energy. Man’s lifespan depends much on his mode of respiration. A person who breathes in short, quick gasps is likely to have a shorter life than a person who breathes slowly and deeply. The Indian mythology defines a person’s lifespan, not in years but by the number of his respirations. It stipulates that everyone is allocated a fixed number of respirations in his life, differing for each person. By making each respiration longer, one’s life is prolonged. By breathing deeply one is able to gain more vitality or prana from each respiration.

The ancient yogis carried out a detailed study of the wild animals in great detail. Animals with a slow breathing rate, such as snakes, elephants and tortoises have a long lifespan. Animals with fast breathing rates, such as birds, dogs, rabbits, etc. live only a few years.

Respiration is directly related to the heart. Slow respiration occurs with a slow-beating heart, and a slow-beating heart is conducive to long life. The heart of a mouse beats one thousand times per minute. It only has a short lifespan. A whale’s heartbeat is about sixteen times per minute and an elephant’s about twenty five. Both are renowned for their long life.

As already established, breathing essentially is the energy providing process of the body. Obtaining the maximum amount of air with least effort is important. Most of us breathe incorrectly, using only a small part of our lung capacity. Our breathing is shallow and the result is that our body and brain are starved of oxygen. By shallow respiration, we also build up stagnant air in the lower regions of the lungs.

The importance of supply of the correct amount of oxygen to the body is essentially felt during sickness and pure oxygen is pumped in to the body. It is necessary to learn to breathe properly and gain good health.

With­out breathing we cannot live; by half breathing we only half live.



The breathing process is divided into two parts:
The diaphragm is a strong muscle membrane which separates the lungs from the abdominal organs. The lower it moves during inhalation, the more air is sucked into the lungs. It is best experienced by sitting or lying flat on the back and placing one hand on the navel.

Inhale deeply and your hand will rise as the abdomen expands. Exhale deeply and notice how the hand moves down as the abdomen contracts. The diaphragm will move higher if the contraction of the abdomen is accentuated. Maximum expulsion of air from the lungs will occur thereby. During this practice do not move the chest or shoulders.

This is achieved by no or least movement of the abdomen.
Inhale while expanding the chest or ribcage so that the ribs move outward and upward. Exhale and the ribs will move inward and downward.
A combination of these two, to inhale maximum amount of air and expel maximum amount of stale air, is yogic breathing.
It is practiced as follows:

  • Inhale by expanding first the abdomen and then the chest in one slow, smooth motion until the maximum amount of air is drawn into the lungs.
  • Exhale by relaxing first the chest and then the abdomen.
  • Finally, accentuate the contraction of the abdominal muscles, so that the maximum amount of air is expelled from the lungs.
  • The whole movement from abdomen to chest and from chest to abdomen should be very smooth, almost like a wave.

This same procedure should be followed for each exhalation and inhalation. At first, because of lack of training, you will have to do it consciously for a few minutes every day, preferably before starting pranayama. Eventually, however, the process will become automatic and should be done throughout the day.

The benefits of correct breathing are clearly evident as:

  • Reduced susceptibility to minor illnesses such as colds and coughs as well as more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.
  • Improved vitality and reduced fatigue.
  • Better thinking power.
  • Lesser susceptibility to anxiety or stress.

It is imperative to cleanse the breathing organs of stale air that collect in the lower portions of the lungs. These simple exercises are useful for that and for deriving maximum benefit from pranayama


  • Assume a standing or sitting position.
  • Keeping the back straight, place the hands on the floor if sitting, on the thighs if standing.
  • The arms should remain straight.
  • Inhale from the abdomen and simultaneously raise both arms over the head in one slow, smooth motion.
  • This raising of arms will expand the chest and induce the maximum amount of air into the lungs.
  • Exhale while lowering the arms and contracting the abdominal muscles. This will expel maximum air from the lungs.
  • Repeat for a few minutes.


  • Maintain the same pose as exercise I.
  • Inhale while expanding the abdomen and raising the arms above the head.
  • Then complete the inhalation by spreading the arms sideways and expanding the chest.
  • Exhale while bringing the arms together, lowering them and then contracting the abdominal muscles.
  • Repeat for a few minutes.


  • Stand erect with the feet one and a halffeet apart.
  • Inhale deeply while raising both arms over the head.
  • Then bending from the waist, let the body slowly flop forward as you breathe out.
  • As you lean forward make the sound ha – ha – ha up to ten times until the lungs are completely empty.
  • Inhale slowly while rising to the standing position with the arms again above the head.
  • Repeat for a few minutes.

These exercises are an excellent method of ventilating the lungs and removing stagnant air.

Pranayama is an important energy giving experience in the yoga exercise schedule. As such it is necessary to follow strict guidelines before and during its practice. These are listed below:

  • Having clear bowls is essential for better benefits from the exercise. Wait for at least 4 hours after meals before practicing pranayama to ensure an empty bladder, stomach and intestines.
  • It is best practiced after other asanas and after meditation.
  • Practice with a total state of mind and body. The spine, neck and head should be erect and centered.
  • Do not strain during the entire process. Breathing should be as comfortable as possible- do not hold the breath for longer than comfortable. And strain is likely to cause injury to the lungs.
  • This exchange of energy requires a well ventilated- not windy, clean, dust and smoke free environment. Foul smelling or dingy environment is likely to cause infections or give negative results.
  • During initial days of practice, constipation and reduced urine output may result. Stop taking salt and spices to treat dry motions caused for a few days. In case of loose motions, stop practicing pranayama for some days and take rice and yogurt (curd).
  • Cover yourself with some garment to avoid external disturbances caused by insects etc.
  • Sidhasana and sidh yoni asana are the best asanas because of the increased shoulder span in these asanas.
  • Advanced stages of pranayama are not listed here and these should be practiced under the guidance of a yoga expert.
  • Stop use of tobacco, cannabis or any other addictive substance inhaled in to the lungs, before starting practice of pranayama.



Nadi shodhana (The psychic-network purification)

  • Sit in any of the meditative poses such as padmasana, siddhasana, sukhasana, etc., but not vajrasana.
  • It should be a pose which can be comfortably main­tained for at least 15 minutes.
  • Place your hands on the knees, straighten the spine, hold the head upright so that it faces directly forward and relax the whole body.
  • Close the eyes and mentally prepare the mind and body for the forthcoming practice.
  • For a few minutes be aware only of the body and the breath.
    Now start the practice.

Practice- I: one nostril breathing

  • Keeping the left hand on the knee, raise the right hand.
  • The index and middle fingers should remain at the eyebrow center (bhrumadhya) throughout the whole practice.
  • The thumb should be near the right nostril so that it can control the flow of air by press­ing the side of the nostril.
  • The third finger should be placed beside the left nostril so that it can control the flow of air in the left nostril.
  • Close the right nostril with the thumb.
  • Inhale through the left nostril and then exhale through the same nostril.
  • The rate of inhalation and exhalation should be normal.
  • Breathe in and out 5 times.
  • Release the pressure of the thumb on the side of the right nostril.
  • Press the side of the left nostril with the ring finger to prevent the flow of air.
  • Inhale and exhale through the right nostril.
  • Again the rate of respiration should be normal.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Do not breathe heavily and there should be no sound as the air passes through the nostrils.
  • Respiration through each nostril 5 times in turn is one round. Practice 25 rounds.


PRACTICE- 2 : Alternate nostril breathing

  • Close the right nostril with the thumb.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • At the end of the inhalation close the left nostril with the ring finger, release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril.
  • Then inhale through the right nostril.
  • At the end of the inhalation close the right nostril, open the left nostril and exhale through the left nostril.

  • This is one round.
  • In this practice, start counting the length of each inhalation and exhalation. The counting should be done mentally by repeating 1 – Om, 2 – Om, 3 – Om, etc.
  • The time for inhalation and exhalation should be equal. For example, in 5 and out 5, or whatever number is comfortable.
  • Do not strain under any circumstances.
  • After a few days try to increase the period of inhalation and exhalation
  • maintaining the same 1 to 1 ratio. In other words, try to increase the time of inhalation to 6 counts and the time of exhalation to 6. When this is easily achieved try to obtain a count of 7 for inhalation and 7 for exhalation.
  • Do not force the breath in any way.
  • Be careful not to speedup the counting during exhalation to compensate for shortage of breath.
  • At the slightest sign of discomfort reduce the time of each inhalation and exhalation or discontinue the practice for a day.


PRACTICE- 3 : Antaranga kumbhaka (Inner retention)

  • Close the right nostril.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • At the end of the inhalation, close both nostrils.
    Retain the breath for a count of 5.
  • Exhale through the right nostril.
  • Then inhale through the right nostril, the left nostril remaining closed.
  • Again retain the breath for a count of 5, closing both nostrils.
  • Exhale through the left nostril by opening the left nostril and keeping the right nostril closed.
  • This is one round. Practise 21rounds.
  • After some days of practice, alter the ratio of inhalation, retention, exhalation to 1:2:2. For example, if you breathe in for a count of 5, try to hold the breath inside for a count of 10 and breathe out for a count of 10.
  • After a few days add, 1 unit to the inhalation (i.e., from 5 to 6), add 2 units to the retention and 2 units to the exhalation (to make them 12).
  • When this long inhalation, retention and exhalation has been perfected so that there is not the slightest discomfort, again increase the length of each round.
  • Keep the ratio the same.
  • After some weeks or months of practice, the ratio should be changed to 1:4:2.
  • When this has been mastered change the ratio to 1:6:4.
  • When this is mastered change the ratio to 1:8:6.


PRACTICE- 4 : Antaranga and Bahiranga kumbhaka (Internal and external retention)

  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • Retain the breath inside.
  • Exhale through the right nostril.
  • Retain the breath outside.
  • Breathe in through the right nostril.
  • Retain the breath inside.
  • Exhale through the left nostril.
  • Retain the breath outside.
  • This is one round. Repeat 15 rounds.
  • The ratio should start off as 1:4:2:2 for inhalation, internal retention, exhalation, external retention.
  • Slowly increase the duration for inhalation from 5 to 6 counts and then from 6 to 7 and so on. Increase the duration of the exhalation and retention accordingly.
  • Advanced practitioners can perform jalandhara or moola bandha during the retentions of stage 4.

Sequence-Practice this after asanas and before meditation.


  • Do not retain the breath for longer than is comfortable.
  • Proceed to the next practice level only when perfection is achieved in the preceding stage.

Limitations-Learn carefully and cautiously, if possible, under expert guidance.


  • Nadi shodhana is an indispensable prelude to the advanced meditative practices.
  • It induces calmness and tranquility.
  • All the pranic passages are cleared of blockages.
  • The flow of prana in the ida and pingala nadis is equalized.
  • The blood system is purified of toxins.
  • The whole body is nourished by the extra supply of oxygen, and carbon dioxide is efficiently expelled. The overall result is a vast improvement in health.
  • By purifying the brain cells, the brain centers are encouraged to work nearer to their optimum capacity.
  • All stale air is removed from the lungs.

Surya Bheda Pranayama (The vitality stimulating technique)

  • Assume a comfortable meditative asana.
  • Keep the spine and head erect and place the hands on the knees.
    Close the eyes and relax the whole body.
  • Raise your right hand, placing the middle and index fingers on the forehead and the thumb and ring finger gently on each side of the nose.
  • Close the left nostril with the ring finger.
  • Inhale deeply through the right nostril.
  • Close both nostrils,
  • Retain the breath and perform jalandhara and moola bandha.
  • Maintain for as long as is comfortably possible.
  • Release moola bandha then jalandhara bandha.
  • Exhale through the right nostril by keeping the left nostril closed with the ring finger.
  • This is one round. Repeat the same process.


  • Perform up to 10 rounds.
  • Try to slowly increase the length of retention over a few weeks.


  • Do not practice before or immediately after meals, because the body needs the energy for digestion.
  • Should be learned carefully and cautiously under expert guidance.


  • This pranayama activates pingala nadi and therefore gives the
  • practitioner dynamism to perform physical activities more efficiently.

About Sharat S.

To keep my friends and readers Healthy, I love to write and share articles on Fruits, Vegetables, Yoga Exercise and more. Importantly, I always promote natural remedies to keep your body healthy.

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