Prana is the life force which is the underlying, activating power within all creation. ‘The word prana translates as breath, life and energy. Yogananda gave us the example of a car battery: if there is no energy in the battery nothing will make the car move. You can fill it with gas and water, yet nothing will happen without the battery power. It is the same with us; no amount of nutritious food, water, etc, will power the body if prana is not present.
The breath acts as a strong stimulus to the flow of life force in the body. These pranayama (prana – life force; yama – control) exercises enable us to, through the medium of the breath, strengthen, control and harmonize the flow of prana in the body.
As we work with the breath/prana within us, we can profoundly change our consciousness.
Practice one or two at a time. If you ever feel agitated during or after your practice it means you’ve done too much. Before beginning, close your eyes and center yourself. After your practice take the time to sit calmly and experience the after-effects of the pranayams. They are an ideal prelude to meditation.
ENERGIZING / HEALING BREATH – Lying on your back or sitting in an upright posture, begin by inhaling slowly and deeply, and imagine that the breath is filling your feet. Feel the muscles, bones, send skin becoming permeated with the breath’s energy. Continue breathing into each body part, moving upward all the way to the head. Make every breath slow and deep, with full attention. Another variation is to hold the breath in each body part before exhaling.
Benefits: This simple exercise has the power to energize your body and to heal it of many ailments.
BREATH OF JOY – Sitting up with spine straight, inhale very slowly and deeply. Feel that you are inhaling, not only oxygen, but also joy, peace, strength, or courage – -whatever positive quality you want to draw into yourself. Imagine the breath to be filling not only your lungs, but also your whole body, from the feet all the way up to the point between the eyebrows. Focus the breath at that point, and hold it there without straining; feel that your are burning up all negative thoughts in the blaze of divine light. Exhale fully, expelling from your body and mind all negativity. Practice 6-12 times.
Benefits: Dynamically releases blocked energy (physical& emotional) and uplifts our consciousness into joy, peace, love, etc.
DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING -The diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle/membrane which separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity) works by a downward movement (as you inhale) that causes the lungs to expand, creating a lower air pressure within the lungs than outside the body. In this way air is drawn into the lungs. The downward movement of the diaphragm (as you inhale) expands the abdomen a little outward. As you exhale the diaphragm moves back up towards the chest allowing the abdomen to come in towards the spine. In it’s resting position, the diaphragm is dome-shaped, with it’s top located underneath the heart, and the sides and front attaching to the inner ribcage and the tip of the breastbone. Lying on your back, sitting, or in a standing position, place your palms on your abdomen, and observe your inhalation coming in through your nostrils and drawing the breath into the lower lungs. Visualize/feel the diaphragm descending as you inhale. Feel your abdomen pushing out gently into your hands. Exhale and observe the diaphragm moving upwards towards the chest and your abdomen moving back in. Remove your hands and breathe this way for a few minutes. Ideal for using with the yoga postures.
Benefits: An excellent way to release mental / physical stress & tension. It calms the mind and induces a state of relaxation in our body. It gives an internal massage to our abdominal organs, improving digestion and relaxing blocked energy.
FULL YOGIC BREATH – The diaphragmatic breath is the first stage of the Full Yogic Breath. The second part is the expansion of the ribcage. As the inhalation flows upward from the diaphragm the ribcage expands outward to the sides and a little in back. The third phase is the expansion of the lungs in the chest area. All three phases should flow together smoothly. Exhale slowly in reverse order. You may hold the breath for a few seconds before exhaling. Never strain as you do this breath; the entire inhalation from the diaphragm, into the ribcage area, and into the upper lungs should be one smooth, flowing motion.
Benefits: Maximizes the intake of oxygen and the expelling of carbon dioxide. Relaxes muscular restriction in and around the diaphragm, ribs, and chest, allowing for them breath to flow freely and naturally at all times. It is very energizing for the body; excellent for fasting. Used with visualization, it’s great for drawing vitality into every body cell (as you inhale) and expelling all fatigue (exhaling).
MEASURED BREATHING – From a sitting position, inhale to the count of 8, hold me breath for 8, and exhale for 8. Adjust the count so there is no straining involved. Use the Full Yogic Breath. Feel the breath flowing up the body as you inhale; hold, concentrating at the spiritual eye; exhale, feel the descending breath taking you deeply into inner peace.
Benefits; Excellent preparation for meditation. It deeply relaxes body and mind. Measured breathing will help you release the stress that can cause mental and emotional pain; bringing us to a place of deep peace and tranquility.
DOUBLE BREATH – Begins with a two-part inhalation, inhale through your nose with a short, sharp inhalation, followed by a long, strong inhalation-completely filling the lungs. Then without pause, exhale through your mouth, again with a short, then a long exhalation-making a breathy sound:
“Huh, Huhhhhhh,” emptying the lungs completely. This breath is a part of Yogananda’s Energization Exercises.
Benefits: Powerfully energizes the body and brings clarity to the mind. May be used with tensing the body as you inhale (in a smooth flow, from low tension to high), and relaxing the body as you exhale (in a flow, from tension to complete relaxation). A great tool for releasing all residual tension in body and mind.
SITKARI PRANAYAMA – Sitting in a meditative posture, place the teeth together. Put the tongue against the teeth, and inhale forcibly through the mouth with a hissing sound. Hold the breath in the lungs as long as you can do so comfortably. Exhale through the nose, closing the lips, and feel the coolness of the breath penetrating up into the brain, and spreading out into the entire nervous system. Make the inhalation and exhalation equal in length, breathing diaphragmatically. Practice 3-6 rounds.
Benefits: Helps to make you more aware of the breath and energy as it enters the lungs. It strengthens the diaphragm and induces muscular and mental relaxation. It soothes the nervous system and is excellent to do on a hot day as it eliminates thirst. In addition, sitkari purifies the blood.
SITALI PRANAYAMA – To practice this pranayam you must be able to curl your tongue into the form of a tube. If you are unable to do this, stick with the above exercise (Sitkari). Place the tongue at the lips. Inhale through the tube of your tongue, and concentrate on the coolness that you feel at the back of the throat. Hold the breath, then exhale through the nose, and feel this coolness spreading out into your nervous system, and up into the brain. Begin with a 1-1-1 ratio, then change to a 1-4-2 ratio. Make your inhalation gentle and even. Practice up to 6 cycles, concentrating on the cooling effects.
Benefits: Very cooling for the brain and nervous system. Helps to cool the body on a warm day. Similar benefits as Sitkari Pranayam.
ALTERNATE BREATHING – Begin by sitting in a meditation asana and take a few deep Full Yogic Breaths. Center yourself in your spine. Using the right hand, bring the index and middle finger into the palm. Extend the thumb and ring and little fingers. The thumb will be next to the right nostril and the ring and little finger at the left nostril. Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left to a count of 8; close off the left nostril and hold the breath to a count of 8; lift the thumb off the right nostril and exhale (through the right) to a count of 8. Repeat six times. If 8 is too long of a count (or too short), use whatever count works for you. Do not strain. You can slowly increase the count as you are able to. A slight constriction in the throat, so as to make a gentle sound there during respiration (Ujjayi Breath), will help to increase the consciousness of the movement of energy in the spine. The sound of the breath in the throat will remind you of ocean waves washing up a beach. After approx. two weeks of practice you may change the ratio to: 1-2-2. For example, inhale through the left nostril mentally counting to 4; hold the breath 8 counts; then exhale through the right to a count of 8. Repeat up to 6 times. Remember not to strain.
Benefits: Helps to balance and harmonize the two currents in the spine (the pran and apan). This results in a state of mental poise and in a deepening inner awareness. An excellent preparation to meditation. Can be used with visualization to draw in positive qualities as you inhale; holding the breath fill your consciousness with these qualities; exhaling throw out all opposing states of negativity. Or, as you exhale, surrender yourself into the arms of Infinite Peace.
A variation of the Alternate Breath: Inhale through the left nostril, hold the breath, exhale through the right nostril; then inhale again immediately in the right nostril, hold the breath, then exhale in the left. Begin again through the left and continue. To begin, have the ratio equal: 1-1-1; then you may change to 1-2-2. Repeat 3 – 6 times. In time you can change the ratio to 1-4-2. For example inhale left counting 2, hold 8, exhale right counting 4; then inhale right to 2, hold 8, exhale 4. Continue for 3-6 cycles. Adjust counts to your ability.
Benefits: Induces calmness and tranquility. The flow of prana is equalized as all blocks in the energy channels are cleared. The blood is purified of toxins and the lungs are cleansed of stale air. A very good practice for good health.
KAPALABHATI PRANAYAMA – Sit in a meditative position and take a few deep breaths. Then inhale and as you exhale draw the abdomen inward sharply, forcing the air out through the nostrils in a quick thrust. Let the inhalation flow in automatically; all of your effort should be focused on the exhalation. Continue for 12 to 24 times to begin with-then more as you become accustomed to it. Each respiration should take about one second. Keep the shoulders relaxed, focusing all movement in the diaphragm. Finish by taking 2 or 3 Full Yogic Breaths. Focus on the inner energy lifting upward to the point between the eyebrows. To assist this awareness, inhale with a Full Yogic Breath and hold the breath within for a few seconds, concentrating at the spiritual eye; then exhale and feel the breath flowing out from the spiritual eye. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Benefits: Kapalabhati is very good for strengthening the diaphragm. It helps to raise the energy to the brain. Excellent to do before meditation, as it helps you to dynamically bring all your attention to the Ajna chakra (spiritual eye). It purifies the frontal lobe of the brain. It also purifies the bloodstream and helps the lungs draw in more oxygen and expel toxins.
SURYA BEPHA PRANAYAMA – From a sitting posture/ and holding the right hand as you did for the Alternate Breath Pranayam, close off the left nostril and inhale slowly through the right. Next, close both nostrils, and retain the breath as long as it is comfortable. Concentrate at the spiritual eye and mentally chant Aum. Then exhale slowly through the left nostril keeping the right nostril closed. Repeat 3-6 rounds. Do not overdo.
Benefits; This pranayam is beneficial for the sinuses, the lungs, and the heart. It has a heating effect on the body and bestows dynamic physical energy.
UJJAYI PRANAYAMA – Inhale slowly through both nostrils, keeping the throat slightly constricted so as to make a gentle sound that will help you to feel the breath in the throat. The sound will remind you of ocean waves washing up the beach. Direct the breath to flow slow, even and smooth. Concentrate on the feeling of the breath moving in and out through the throat. A variation to deepen your awareness of the energy currents in the spine is to extend the feeling of the breath in the throat to the spine. With closed eyes, inhale with the Ujjayi Breath drawing a current of energy up the center of the spine from the tailbone all the way up through the medulla, through the brain, to the point between the eyebrows. Hold the breath for the same duration as the inhalation, then exhale (with Ujjayi) feeling the descending current moving down the center of your spine. Exhale to the same count. Practice this variation as long as there is no strain involved. Ujjayi can also be used in conjunction with the yoga asanas, helping you to control (slow) the flow of breath, thereby calming the heart and mind.
Benefits: This simple practice has a subtle influence on the whole body. It calms the mind and has a soothing effect on the nervous system. Ujjayi is very useful for people with high blood pressure as it slows down the heartbeat. It has subtle effects on the flow of life force in the astral (energy) body and helps you to be aware of its movement within the sushumna (astral spine).
“After practicing the breathing exercises, go into inner stillness. Feel the connection between your breath and the Cosmic Breath, as if your breath were but a function of the breezes of cosmic consciousness. In your breathing, as in your working, feel that you are an instrument of the Divine. ”