There are a number of different breathing techniques in yoga that can ease stress, and make you feel less anxious and calm.
We use the term ‘Pranayama’ for a collection of yogic breathing exercises. However, one must know breathing exercises are different from Pranayama breathing techniques.
Mechanically a Pranayama practice may look similar to a simple breathing exercise but actually, in pranayama, we don’t just focus on the movement of air in and out of the lungs, as we do in a breathing exercise.
Pranayama practice focuses on consciously expanding the breath through various means of techniques, which slow down the whole breathing cycle to a state of stillness, resulting in a meditative state of calm.
First of all, The Eight Classical Pranayama
According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika (an ancient text of yoga), there are 8 number of pranayama combinedly called ‘8 Kumbhakas’, and known as ‘Eight classical pranayamas’. All the pranayamas that we do in yoga are somehow modified variations of these 8 classical pranayamas.
- Suryabhedana pranayama
- Ujjayi pranayama
- Seetkari pranayama
- Sheetali pranayama
- Bhastrika pranayama
- Bhramari pranayama
- Moorchha pranayama
- Plavini pranayama
Types of Pranayama Breathing Techniques and Benefits
Master yoga gurus suggest that the best time to practice pranayama and yoga, in general, is Brahmamuhurta – early in the morning and on an empty stomach. Ideally, pranayama should be practised in an open space with good air quality.
It’s advised to practice pranayama in seated comfortable postures only. Initially one can begin by simply watching their natural breath and then try different techniques. It’s also recommended to combine different types of mudras with pranayama breathing to deepen its effects.
Each type of pranayama can arouse particular regions of the brain and affects the body differently. You can give each a try. Here are 15 types of pranayama breathing techniques.
- Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate nostril breathing)
- Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breathing)
- Kapalbhati Pranayama (Skull shining breath)
- Bhramari Pranayama (Bee breathing)
- Anulom Vilom Pranayama
- Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling breath)
- Surya Bhedna Pranayama (Right nostril breathing)
- Chandra Bhedna Pranayama (Left nostril breathing)
- Sheetkari Pranayama (Hissing breath)
- Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious breath)
- Plavini Pranayama (Floating breath)
- Murcha Pranayama (Swooning breath)
- Sama Vritti Pranayama (Equal/square breathing)
- Dirgha Pranayama (Three-Part breathing)
- Udgeeth Pranayama (Chanting breath)
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This is the first type of pranayama and is most practised because of its soothing effects on the brain. Popularly known as a form of alternate nostril breathing, it’s a slow and deep yoga breathing exercise.
In this pranayama, we close our nostrils alternatively in a way that balances the left and right brain hemispheres.
To assess the effects of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama on coronary heart disease patients, an experimental study was carried out in 2019. In individuals who undergo Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery, it’s found in this study on practising Nadi shodhan pranayama;
A significant reduction in both state and trait anxiety has shown after 6 weeks
Post-operative pain and suffering of patients have reduced
A significant reduction in depression, stress, anxiety, and peak expiratory flow rate has been measured in the pre and post-surgery
Another experimental study shows the immediate effects of Nadi Shodhan on healthy individuals’ heart rate, blood pressure, and problem-solving ability. It’s found in this study;
Nadi shodhan refreshes air throughout the lungs and alters autonomic activity. It significantly declines the heart rate and systolic blood pressure.
Peak expiratory flow rate improved which shows a healthy lung condition.
Due to better adaptability for mental stress-induced after practicing nadi shodhan participant’s mathematical problem-solving time reduced significantly.
2. Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath)
In contrast to slow and deep breathing, bhastrika pranayama comes in fast and short breathing type pranayama. Bhastrika literally means “bellows breath”
In this pranayama, exaggerated and forceful breathing is performed engaging the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.
Rapid expansion and contraction of abdominal muscles create a bellows action to ignite the body’s heat, hence also known as breath of fire.
Bhatrika pranayama is very effective in revitalizing the working of the lungs. In a 2019 study, bhastrika pranayama effect on lung function is tested among 30 healthy individuals and it has found;
A significant increment is observed in the Forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in the first second, Peak expiratory flow rate, and maximum voluntary ventilation.
The elastic recoil of the lungs and chest wall increased thereby strengthening the respiratory muscles.
In 2009, another scientific study on the effects of bhastrika on heart rate and blood pressure conducted. This time slow pace bhastrika pranayama is performed for 5 minutes followed by the measurement of blood pressure and heart rate. The comparative study between the readings of given parameters before and after bhastrika concluded that:
- There is a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- A slight decrement in the heart rate.
- The parasympathetic nervous system is also stimulated which bought a sense of calmness and reduces stress.
3. Kapalbhati Pranayama
Kapalbhati is a type of pranayama that can be categorized under fast, asymmetrical, and diaphragmatic breathing. In kapalbhati Pranayama, forceful exhalation is attributed to the complete detox of the body by cleansing the Kapal (skull).
Besides pranayama, kapalbhati is one of the purification techniques of shatkarma.
Forceful exhalation in kapalbhati decompresses the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. It massages the brain cells and you feel lighter after performing it.
Many studies done in the past have evaluated benefits of Kapalbhati on the body and mind.
Kapabhati is like warm up exercises for respiratory muscles to increase lung capacity.
It also increases the circulation of oxygen-rich blood in the body which in turn increases melanin proportion to glow skin.
Kapalbhati increases the metabolic rate of the body. Faster metabolism leads to increased calorie consumption and further, helps in weight loss.
It has been shown in a study, just one month of kapalbhati has decreased the blood sugar level in diabetic individuals.
The pelvic floor muscles are strengthened after practising kalpalbhati for four weeks and proved to be effective in reducing menopausal complications.
4. Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath)
Bhramari pranayama is the most relaxing breathing technique anyone can do easily to get rid of stress and anxiety instantly. Bhramari means humming bee.
In Bhramari pranayama, as you exhale, the ear canal is closed with index fingers and a humming sound is produced from the back of the throat. The mind is focused on the vibratory sound of a humming bee in prolonged exhalation.
When you practice it long enough, little impulses of soothing humming sound continue vibrating in your head. It keeps stress and anxiety away from you.
In a yogic intervention, it has been seen, Bharamari pranayama immediately affects the cardiovascular system which in turn reduces high blood pressure and heart rate.
Bhramari pranayama relieves the symptoms of sinusitis by increasing nitric oxide levels in the blood cells and reducing anxiety and other psychological symptoms in patients with chronic sinusitis.
In the treatment of tinnitus and sensorineural deafness, bhramari pranayama with shanmukhi mudra is a very effective breathing technique.
5. Anulom Vilom Pranayama
Anulom Vilom pranayama is a type of alternate nostril breathing performed with the right hand in Vishnu Mudra.
To perform Anulom Vilom, close the right nostril with the right thumb inhale from the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with the ring and little finger, exhale from the right nostril. Repeat in this manner alternatively.
To some extent, anulom vilom similar pranayama to Nadi Shodhan pranayama.
Although there is a quite difference between both; Anulom vilom is a balancing type of pranayama that maintains the flow of Prana in Ida and Pingala Nadi equally. Whereas Nadi shodhana is a cleansing pranayama type that serves the purpose of Nadis purification.
Some scientific studies have proven benefits of anulom vilom;
In a study, It has shown anulom vilom significantly improves the lung function of swimmers. It increases lung capacity and period of breath retention.
Anulom Vilom Pranayama for 30 minutes a day (for 40 days) can resolve sinus inflammation (rhinosinusitis), an RCT concluded.
It also affects the cognitive functions of the brain including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, and problem-solving skills in comparison to Vinyasa flow type yoga poses.
Whether you are looking to reduce stress or high blood pressure, improve concentration or find stillness in your spiritual journey, there are differentf pranayama breathing techniques one can choose from.
Different pranayamas come with numerous benefits and choosing one totally depends on when you’re doing it or what you’re expecting.
For example, after a vigorous yoga session, you want your body to relax and mind to calm down. In this condition, pranayama like left nostril breathing or sitali which have cooling effects will be beneficial instead of doing kapalbhati or right nostril breathing.