The literal meaning of Pranayama is Prana's ayam that is an extension of the Prana. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning "extension of the prana or breath" or more accurately, "extension of the life force". The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, "Prana", life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and "ayama", to extend, draw out, restrain, or control.
In other words, the prana is related to the mind and mind is related to the brain and the brain is related to the soul (Atma) and the soul (Atma) is ultimately related to that eternal divine force called Paramatma. Thus the objective of Pranayama is to stimulate, communicate, regulate and control the vital life force that exist in the body.
Pranayama has the capacity of freeing the mind from untruthfulness, ignorance and all other painful and unpleasant experiences of the body and mind; and when the mind becomes clean it becomes easy for the Sadhaka to concentrate on the desired object and it becomes possible for him to progress further in the direction of Dhyana and Samadhi
By Yog asanas, we remove the distortions and disabilities of the physical body and bring it into discipline. However Pranayama influences the subtle and the physical bodies in a greater measure than Yogsanas do and that too in a perceptible manner. In the human body, lungs, heart and brain hold very important positions and they depend on each other heavily for their health.
Another benefit of Pranayama is that by its regular practice, habit of deep breathing is developed which results in several health benefits. It is said that the nature determines our life span on the basis of the number of respirations we do. Man gets the next birth in accordance with his karmas (deeds) done in the present life.
Our karmas (deeds) result in the formation of certain tendencies, which determine the nature of our next birth either as humans or as animals of various categories. A man, who regularly performs Pranayama, is required to take lesser number of breaths and therefore lives longer.
The different types of Pranayama are the Bhastrika Pranayam, Anuloma / Viloma, Kapalbhati, Bhramri, Sitlee, Sitkari, Ujjayi, Vedhene Bandh. The important ones are given below:
The word ‘Bhastrika' is a Sanskrit word which means leather bellow, which was used in the olden times to blow furnaces, where air is forcibly drawn in and out. This Pranayam increases the fire in the body.
In this type of Pranayam, the diaphragm movement is used for the internal fire creating physical, Pranic and psychic heat.
The Ujjayi technique is a very soothing technique which can be applied to sectional breathing or used while holding Yoga postures. This type of breathing helps to increase the lung capacity (and more oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream), energy levels, and also achieves a state of calmness and mental clarity.
In this technique, partially close the back of your throat, which cover the windpipe, so that as you inhale and exhale through your nose, the air passes through a narrower air passage in your throat, creating the sound made by your breathing while you are in a state of deep sleep.
Bhramri is known as the bee breath. Bhramri helps to clear and strengthen the respiratory system and improve vocal resonance. It has a calming effect on the body that uplifts the spirit, and clears and invigorates the mind.
In this Pranayam, keep your lips gently closed throughout, inhale deeply, then hum as you exhale, extending the exhalation as long as possible. Use your abdominal muscles to control the evenness of your breath on exhalation.
Sitali and Sitkari are the two breathing techniques which have a cooling effect on the body. This technique is very useful during the hot months of the year. They also calm the nervous system.
To perform Sitali, sit in a comfortable posture and draw the tongue about 1 inch outside the lips, rolled up from the sides to form a channel like a bird's beak. After inhaling the air through your mouth, close it; hold your breath and exhale through both the nostrils. Sitali can alleviate nausea and the symptoms of asthma. Sitkari is another technique which gives the same results as Sitali and is much simpler to do.
Many people cannot roll their tongues and Sitkari is prescribed for them. Inhale by opening the mouth a little, keeping the tip of the tongue touching the lower front teeth and then suck in the air slowly with a hissing sound. After holding breath, exhale through both the nostrils. This pranayam helps to control thirst, hunger and laziness.
Anuloma means with the natural order and Viloma means going against the order. This technique helps to balance and harmonize the functioning of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It has a soothing effect on the nervous system and calms the mind. Inhale through the left nostril, closing the right with the thumb, to the count of four.
Hold the breath, closing both nostrils, to the count of sixteen. Now, exhale through the right nostril, closing the left with the ring and little fingers, to the count of eight. Repeat the same with the other nostril. Because exhalations are longer than inhalation, it encourages the removal of state air and toxins.
Kapalbhati is a Sanskrit word. 'Kapal' means forehead and 'Bhati' means light. It refers that by this breathing exercise forehead becomes luminous and lustrous, which means all diseases disappears and body becomes pure, healthy and happy. The best time for pranayam is early morning along with empty stomach. It is very easy to practice for everyone.
The primary thing is to breathe in normally and breathe out forcefully so as to influence the organs of the abdominal area. Kapalbhati pranayam helps to detoxify lungs and respiratory tracks, and boosts the supply of oxygen and purifies blood. It helps to tone up the abdominal muscles and is also helpful in reducing belly fat.
Pranayam can be mastered only gradually. It may take months or even years before the practitioner mind becomes receptive to the regulated flow of breath and he experiences the full benefits of pranayam.