What Is Pranayama? Definition and Meaning
Pranayama is a yogic term that means to develop control of the breath. Prana refers to the vital energy in the body, which is represented by the flow of the breath throughout the entire body, and ayama translates to the ability to control or direct.
While control of the breath is the most literal definition of pranayama, there is a more subtle meaning to the phrase as well. As implied by the idea of prana as vital energy, or life-force, pranayama techniques can also be considered tools for developing mental and physical control that extent to other areas of your life.
There are many different types of pranayama techniques to choose from, and in the below list you’re sure to find one that is right for you.
I’ve broken this post down into two categories of techniques. The first discusses different types of pranayama, and deals with fundamental differences in how you can engage with your breath. The second then outlines specific pranayama techniques and exercises you can do to develop control of the breath, and gain mastery of the flow of energy through your body.
Types of Pranayama
The following are different types of breathing you can use to direct the flow of air into and out of your body. These are the general categories of breath and may encompass many different types of exercises for each.
- Natural Breathing
- Abdominal Breathing
- Thoracic Breathing
- Clavicular Breathing
- Yogic Breathing
- Breathing with Ratios
- Fast Breathing
How To Do Pranayama: Techniques and Exercises
The following are specific exercises and breath techniques you can use in order to begin to breath more consciously and use your breath to experience higher levels of bliss. They represent the primary types of breath exercises used in traditional yogic practices.
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you may already be familiar with Ujjayi Pranayam. This is one of the easiest and most basic breath techniques you can work with and is a great starting point for beginners. Ujjayi breath involves a slight constriction of the throat as you inhale and exhale through the nose, creating a soft, ocean-like sound while you breathe.
Kapalabhati – Skull Shining Breath
Kapalabhati breath is also known as the breath of fire or the skull-shining breath. It is a fast breath technique that requires a sharp exhalation through the nostril, with a contraction of the abdominal muscles, such that the inhale then follows as a reflex from the firm exhalation.
Nadi Shodana – Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi Shodana is another great beginner breath exercise to work with, as the core technique is very simple to achieve. By using your fingers to block each nostril in turn, you can alternate your breath cycles between the left and right nostrils, helping you to develop increased awareness and lightness in your third-eye center.
This is a powerful warming pranayama technique that boosts your immune system, expands lung capacity, and works as a checkpoint to see how your respiratory system is doing if suddenly you are not able to perform this practice. It is accessible to everyone including pregnant and menstruating women.
- Murcha Pranayama
- Anuloma Viloma – Nostril Breathing
- Surya Bedhen
- Sheetali, Sitkari, Kaki
See yogapoint.com/types-of-pranayam for more info.
For more ideas on how to gain control of your breath, see our complete list of breath exercises.