Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Pranayama refers to the practice of controlling and regulating the breath in order to promote physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellbeing.
The word “pranayama” comes from two Sanskrit words: “prana” which means life force or vital energy, and “ayama” which means expansion or control. Together, pranayama refers to the expansion and control of the life force energy within us, which is said to be the foundation of our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
There are many different types of pranayama practices, each with their own specific benefits and techniques. Some common pranayama practices include:
Ujjayi Pranayama: This is a deep breathing technique that involves breathing in and out through the nose while constricting the throat muscles to create a gentle sound like that of the ocean. Ujjayi pranayama is said to help calm the mind, reduce stress, and improve concentration.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama: This is a alternate nostril breathing technique that involves breathing in and out through one nostril at a time, while using the fingers to alternate the nostrils. Nadi shodhana pranayama is said to balance the two sides of the brain, calm the nervous system, and promote relaxation.
Kapalbhati Pranayama: This is a forceful exhalation technique that involves rapid, short exhales while the inhales are passive. Kapalbhati pranayama is said to improve digestion, boost metabolism, and energize the body.
Bhramari Pranayama: This is a humming bee breath technique that involves inhaling deeply and exhaling while making a humming sound like that of a bee. Bhramari pranayama is said to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation.
Through regular practice of pranayama, we can improve our respiratory function, increase oxygenation to the body and brain, reduce stress and anxiety, and cultivate a greater sense of inner peace and wellbeing. It is important to learn pranayama practices from a qualified teacher and to practice under their guidance, as some practices may be contraindicated for certain individuals.