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'Prana' stands for life, and as the name suggests, it is instrumental in keeping us alive. 'Pranayama' is the process that helps us control 'Prana', and thus in a way, control our life. On careful observation, it is clear that there exists an intimate connection between the breath and nerve-currents. Proper coordination of the breathing process leads to the control of vital inner-currents and energies. It ultimately results in the control of the body, mind and soul continuum.

Meditation is all about developing a full consciousness of the self and within the self. It aims to diminish the number of random thoughts. With practice, our attachment to thoughts, and their identification, progressively becomes less. The mind activity settles down, imparting peace, calm and focus. We are able to appreciate the present moment without external leanings.

There are certain preparatory factors to be looked into before practicing meditation.

Sahita Kumbhaka1.Tandem Breathing ('Sahita Kumbhaka')

It has 2 types, based on whether or not there is any concomitant chanting of Mantras with the Pranayama exercise.

Steps:

1. Comfortable aasana like Padma-asana or Swastika-asana.
2. Slow inhalation; with concomitant chants of the mantra 'OM AARAH', if possible.
3. Hold the breath for a short period of time.
4. Slow Exhalation.

Significance:

  • It's a daily and constant process, which we seldom appreciate.

Benefits:

  • It encourages concentration with closed eyes while we inhale and exhale.

Method 1:

Steps:

1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana / Swastika asana / Siddhasana. Concentrate with eyes closed.

2. Rest the right thumb on the right nostril (Avoid applying any pressure or blocking the nostril). At the same time, rest the right index finger on the space between 2 eyebrows and close the left nostril with the right ring and little finger.

3. Slow inhalation through the right nostril is pursued, till comfortable.

4. With the thumb applied to the right nostril, retain the breath firmly pressing the chin against the chest. There is no specific limit to this and it can be pursued till there is discomfort.

5. Slow and silent exhalation through the left nostril. It is followed by a short gap wherein inhalation is avoided. This same procedure is to be repeated again.

Time limit: Hold your breath till you perspire. This point cannot be reached at the very outset. The period of retention of breath needs to be gradually increased.

Advantages:

  • It cures the diseases caused by excess of Vata & Kapha
  • Improves digestion
  • Awakens 'Kundalini Shakti'

Indications:

  • Intestinal worms
  • Arthritis
  • Sinusitis

Ujjayi pranayama3. Hissing breath ('Ujjayi')

Steps:

1. Sit comfortably in Padma-asana / Swastika asana / Siddhasana. Close the mouth.
2. Fold the tip of the tongue and rest it on the palate. The tongue will appear to be 'twisted'.
3. Inhale air slowly through both the nostrils in a uniform manner till the breath fills the chest. This results in a peculiar sound uniform in pitch and continuous in nature.
4. Retain the breath as long as you can, till there is any discomfort.
5. Close the right nostril with the right thumb.
6. Exhale slowly through the left nostril.

Time limit: 3 min to hr

Advantages:

  • Strengthens the nervous system
  • Improves the tone of voice
  • Relieves stress
  • Increases lung capacity

Indications:

  • Indigestion
  • Koch's
  • Bronchitis
  • Pharyngitis
  • Spleen disorders
  • Tonsillitis
  • Cough
  • Ascites

Seetali pranayama4. Serpent's Breath (Sheetali) It is an imitation of the respiration of a serpent.

Steps:

1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana/Swastika-asana/ Siddhasana/Vajrasana.

2. Rest the hands on the knees.

3. Fold the edges of an outward-extended tongue to resemble a round hollow tube.

4. Draw in the air through the mouth with a hissing sound 'Si' and feel the air touching the tongue while inhaling.

5. Retain the breath as long as you can till there is any discomfort.

6. Slowly exhale through both the nostrils.

Time limit: 1 - 5 minutes. Practice regularly in the morning, 15 to 30 times.

Advantages:

  • Purifies the blood
  • Quenches thirst and appeases hunger

Indications:

  • Spleen disorders
  • Chronic dyspepsia
  • Indigestion
  • Bilious disorders

Sitkari pranayama5. Cooling Breath (Shitkari)

Steps:

1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana.
2. Fold the tongue so that its tip is brought to rest over the upper palate. Inhale air through the mouth accompanied by a hissing sound 'Si'/ 'C'.
3. Retain the breath as long as you can, till there is any discomfort.
4. Slowly exhale through both the nostrils.

Time limit: Gradually increase by 1 minute every week, till 5 minutes.

Advantages:

  • Helps to keep the body cool in summer
  • Improves vigor & beauty
  • Helps quench thirst when thirsty

Indications:

  • Dental carries
  • Bleeding and inflammation of gums
  • Ulcers
  • Colitis
  • Throat infection
  • Hypertension patients can practice this type of Pranayama to decrease blood pressure.

Bhastrika pranayama6. Bellow Breath (Bhastrika)

It draws similarity with the bellows of a blacksmith. It involves rapid expulsion of breath and is a powerful exercise. It can be termed as a combination of Kapalabhati and Ujjayi.

Steps:

1. Upright position (with a straight neck) in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana.
2. Body, head and neck in erect posture. Close the mouth.
3. Inhale air (chest expands and abdominal muscles are pulled in) and quickly exhale 10 times (1 set). While doing so a hissing sound is produced.
4. When 1 set is on the verge of completion the final expulsion should be followed by a deepest possible inhalation.
5. Retain breath as long as you can till there is some any discomfort.
6. Follow it with a complete slow exhalation. This marks the end of one round.
7. After a short rest (with normal breathing pattern) begin the next round.

Time limit:

Practice three rounds daily in the morning and evening.

Advantages:

  • Decreases anxiety and depression
  • Stimulates appetite
  • Improves resistance power
  • Gives warmth to the body
  • Purifies 'Nadi' and awakens the 'Kundalini' quickly

Indications:

  • Abdominal disorders
  • Throat and chest infection

Note:

  • In case you encounter any giddiness, stop the practice and take a few normal breaths. Continue after the giddiness has subsided.
  • In summer, practice it in the morning only during cool hours.
  • Those wishing to practice it in the long-term and in an intense manner, should live on 'Khichdi', and take an Enema ('Bhasti') in the morning before starting the practice.
  • People suffering from heart or lung disorders should do it slowly.

Bhramari pranayama7. Humming Breath (Bhramari) Its name is derived from the fact that a sound like that of 'humming of bees' is produced when it is practiced.

Steps:
1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana or Swastika-asana. Keep the neck and back erect.
2. Place your thumbs on the ears, index fingers just above the eyebrows (near the sinuses) and the remaining three fingers on the eyes. The finger-tips should slightly press the ridge of the nose on each side.
3. Inhale and exhale air rapidly through both the nostrils, making a humming sound resembling that of a Bee ('Bhramara'). Concomitantly chant 'Om'.
4. The process can be continued till you perspire profusely.
5. Next inhale through both the nostrils and retain the breath as long as you can, till there is some discomfort.
6. Exhale slowly through both the nostrils.

Time limit: Beginners may practice it 3 times, and advanced practitioners 11-21 times.

Advantages:

  • Improves speech and voice-quality
  • Helps in the achievement of ultimate peace ('Samadhi')

Indications:

  • Sinusitis
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Stress
Contraindications
  • Epilepsy
  • Head injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Migraine
  • Severe or persistent headaches

Murcha8. Supreme Breath ('Murcha Pranayama')

Steps:

1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana.
2. Close the eyes and concentrate on the space between the 2 eyebrows ('Trikuti').
3. Inhale slowly through the mouth and retain the breath till you feel faint.
4. Sever off your connection with the surroundings and focus on the center-point between the 2 eyebrows.
5. Apply the chin on the chest and then exhale slowly.

Advantages:

  • Practice without distraction endows divine happiness
  • Makes you feel pleasant and relaxed

Indications:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mental disorders

Kevala kumbhaka9. Unconditioned Breath ('Kevala Kumbhaka')

Perfection in Tandem breathing (mentioned earlier) paves the way for Kevala Kumbhaka. Thus, an existence devoid of inhalation and exhalation and unconditioned by space, time and number is unconditioned breath.

Steps:

1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana.
2. It involves the sudden stopping of the breath without resorting to inhalation or exhalation.

Advantages:

  • Attainment of Raja Yoga and perfection in Hath Yoga
  • Arousal of Kundalini Shakti
  • Cures diseases and promotes longevity

Alternate nostril breathing10. Alternate Breath

A simple, yet scientific exercise that can be practiced virtually anywhere. It is based on the fact that we alternate between the two nostrils when we breathe.

Steps:

1. Upright position in a comfortable asana like Padma-asana. Tilt your head slightly forward.

2. First half round:

  • Fold the index and middle fingers of the right hand into its palm. The other fingers should be extended.
  • Close the right nostril with your right thumb.
  • Inhale through the left nostril for a definite period of time – say 5 seconds.
  • Close the left nostril with the right ring-finger and little-finger.
  • Concurrently remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale.
  • This is to be done for twice the inhalation period, i.e. for 10 seconds.
  • This completes the first half of one round. 3. Second half round
  • Inhale through the right nostril for a definite period say 5 seconds.
  • Close the right nostril with the right thumb.
  • Exhale through the left nostril for a period that is twice that of inhalation i.e. 10 seconds.
  • This completes the other half of one round.

3. Second half round:

  • Inhale through the right nostril for a definite period – say 5 seconds.
  • Close the right nostril with your right thumb.
  • Exhale through the left nostril for a period that is twice that of inhalation i.e. 10 seconds.
  • This completes the other half of one round.

Time limit:

If there is no discomfort of any kind after practicing as instructed above, increase the inhalation period gradually second-by-second. Correspondingly change the exhalation period.

Number of Rounds:

Begin with 3 rounds. If there is no discomfort, 1 round can be added every week, until you are doing 7 rounds.

This exercise can be practiced as often as you wish, but do remember to do it at least once a day.

Advantages:

  • Cleanses/detoxifies the Pranic channels
  • Regulates Prana
  • Imparts relaxation
  • Improves mental functioning and alertness
  • Imparts optimum creativity and optimum logical, verbal activity of the brain
  • Improves sleep

Indications:

  • Stress and related disorders
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Tension headaches

Contraindications

  • Cold/ Nasal block (Stuffed nose). Forced breathing is not advocated and can lead to complications.
 
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