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What is Pranayama breathing in yoga

As the sage Patanjali recorded in his famous collection of Sanskrit sutras entitled Yoga Sutras, Pranayama is defined as the regulation of incoming and outgoing breath coupled with retention.

tasminsati svasaprasvasayoh gattiviccedah pranayamah” 

The Sanskrit word Pranayama is composed of two parts, namely Prana (vital energy) and Ayama (control). Simply put, it is the yogic practice of focusing on controlled breath. It is said that Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called the Nadis (energy channels) and energy centres (junctions where the Nadis meet) called Chakras. 

See more: How To Unblock Chakras For Astounding Energy (Must Know!)

It is essential that we have a good quantity and quality of vital energy flows through the Nadis and Chakras, for the reason that it greatly impacts one’s state of mind.

Let’s use cars as an analogy. Having a good flow of quality gas provides better performance. Similarly, having a continuous, smooth, steady flow and high level of vital energy (prana) keeps the mind calm, and positive.

However, just as a car’s performance might deteriorate with continuous usage, time and other factors, so does our mind. It needs some sort of servicing just like vehicle to keep performing at its best.

As aforementioned, it is the vital energy that nourishes the mind and keep the body alive, hence Pranayama is one of the best ways to “service” our mind. 


General features of Pranayama technique

Puraka (controlled inhalation)

Puraka is a phase of complete and controlled inhalation. Inhalation are slow and rhythmic in one long and unbroken breathe.

Rechaka (controlled exhalation)

Rechaka is a phase of complete and controlled exhalation. The time of exhalation is twice the time of exhalation, which means we breathe out much slower than in Puraka.

woman breathing in yoga

Yoga Breathing Practices for Mind-Body Balance and Healing


Kapala = cranium, Bhati = light

Also known as the Skull Shining Breath or the Breath Of Fire, Kapalabhati emphasise on vigorous exhalation that moves the navel back to the spine. the inhalation is normal or slow.

The quick and strong breathing action works well to clear mucus, tension, and clears the air passages from the lungs to the nostrils.

How to practice Kapalabhati:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation pose with your spine elongated and shoulders relaxed
  2. Inhale deeply through both nostrils and feel your abdomen expands
  3. Exhale strongly while forcefully contracting the abdomen (do not strain)
  4. Continue with another effortless inhalation with emphasis on the exhalation
  5. Start with 10 breaths and gradually build up to 20 breaths in one round
  6. Complete 3 rounds in quick succession. Allow yourself a small break in between each round
  7. If dizziness occurs, stop and sit quietly until the sensation has passed. Then, recommence the practice with less force

Benefits of Kapalabhati:

  • purification of the lungs and the mind
  • clear numbness around the eyes and alleviate sinus problems
  • improve digestion as abdominal muscles are cleansed and toned during forceful exhalations
  • good for people with respiratory problems

Avoid practicing Kapalabhati if pregnant or suffering from vertigo, epilepsy, heart disease, high blood pressure, gastric ulcer.



Bhastrika = bellow

This breathing technique is said to be able to purify the mind and clear panic blocks. Both the inhalation and exhalation are vigorous with Bhastrika.

How to practice Kapalabhati:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation pose with your spine elongated and eyes closed
  2. Exhale and empty the lungs
  3. Breathe in deeply and breath out forcefully through the nose. Immediately inhale again with the same force and repeat this practice for 10 breaths
  4. Both the inhales and exhales must be equal in length
  5. Expand the abdomen during inhalation and contract during exhalation
  6. At the end of 10 breaths, inhale deeply and exhale deeply through the nose
  7. Complete up to 5 round during each practice

Benefits of Bhastrika:

  • clears the nasal passages
  • eliminates toxins and balances the doshas 
  • reduces inflammation in the throat 
  • good for people with low blood pressure, asthma and/or other lung conditions

Avoid practicing Bhastrika if pregnant, menstruating, or suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, stroke, epilepsy.



Kumbhaka = breath retention

There are two types of Kumbhaka breathing technique:

  • Antara Kumbhaka (Breath retention after inhalation)
  • Bahya Kumbhaka (Breath retention after exhalation)

Antara Kumbhaka (Breath retention after inhalation)

How to practice Antara Kumbhaka:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation pose with your spine elongated and chin tucked in
  2. Lift the sternum to expand the chest cavity
  3. Inhale fully and hold the breath for as long as comfortable
  4. Release the breath slowly

Benefits of Antara Kumbhaka:

  • alleviates fatigue and sluggishness
  • builds confidence and increases concentration
  • provides energy of the large intestines, kidneys, anus and genitals

Avoid practicing Antara Kumbhaka before sleep as this practice keeps you alert. Overexertion might cause anxiety or irritation.

Bahya Kumbhaka (Breath retention after exhalation)

How to practice Bahya Kumbhaka:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation pose with your spine elongated and chin tucked in
  2. Inhale and exhale to empty the lungs completely
  3. Retain the pause for as long as it is comfortable before taking the next inhale

Benefits of Bahya Kumbhaka:

  • gentle practice can improve sleep quality
  • reduces high blood pressure and relieves anxiety



Ud = expanding, Jaya = success

Some people call this the victorious breath or the ocean breath. It can be practiced almost anytime and in any position.

How to practice Ujjayi:

  1. Start by inhaling long, slow, deep breaths through the nostrils
  2. Bring the awareness into the throat and exhale
  3. Inhale slowly and evenly while slightly contract the back of throat
  4. There should be a soft hissing sound as you inhale because of the resistance of air in your throat
  5. Exhale slowly with the glottis partially closed again. Let the sound of breath be smooth and gradual

Benefits of Ujjayi:

  • brings heat to the body
  • soothes and calms the nervous system
  • improves concentration while reserving energy
  • good for people with high blood pressure and asthma
  • people with low blood pressure can benefit by extending the inhale while people with high blood pressure can benefit by extending the exhale

Practice Ujjayi lying over folded blanket or bolster if suffering from irregular heartbeat or chest heaviness.



Vi = negate/intercede, Loma = hair

In this pranayama technique, the inhalation and exhalation are not a continuous process as it is interrupted by several pauses. Imagine sipping the breath as if through a straw.

How to practice Viloma:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation pose with your spine elongated and eyes closed
  2. Take a brief inhale and hold for a few seconds. (Inhale, pause, inhale, pause, etc.)
  3. On the fifth sip, inhale fully then exhale slowly and deeply

Benefits of Viloma:

  • brings lightness and calmness to the body
  • increases the capacity and elasticity of the lungs
  • calms the nerves and brain

Avoid practicing Viloma if experiencing ear or eyestrain.



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