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Pranayama Deep Breathing Exercises

Updated on January 17, 2014
The three major Nadis
The three major Nadis

Pranayama (pran∙a∙ya∙ma) is more than just a fun word to say. It is a series of breathing exercises aimed at purifying our body, energizing us with fresh oxygen and cosmic energy, and returning our lungs to tip top shape.

Pranayama is often found in conjunction with yoga and meditation. But anyone can use the simple techniques listed below to help calm the mind, energize the body, and remove unhealthy toxins.

Why we need it

Your lungs decline as you age. Face it, a vast majority of us do little to give our lungs and organs anything near the proper stimulation they need; further aiding to the decline and opening the door to many preventable illnesses.

A daily practice of deep breathing ensures a healthy respiratory system; one that delivers fresh oxygen to the bloodstream, and removes impurities.

Ultimate healing

Pranayama is both a physical and spiritual practice. On the physical level, we are dealing with the lungs and respiratory system. On a spiritual level, we are dealing with the soul and astral system.

The word pranayama roughly translates to: controlling life force.

Think of that during your practice: controlling your life force. It is very hard for people to perceive the spiritual body. Everyone talks of a soul, but very few have experienced it. Why? Because there are a few different paths to experiencing your soul and achieving enlightenment.

Here is an ancient quote on the subject of paths towards enlightenment: "Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace".

Think of that and consider this:

Prana is the vital, life sustaining force found in every living cell in the universe. It is energy in the purest of forms. And it is the lifeblood of your spiritual being.

Nadis then, are the channels within our astral bodies in which this prana flows.

During pranayama, the nadis are opened and cleansed and the prana floods our system. The result is the most healing of states a human can achieve. Just try it and you will see.

Putting it all together

There are several ancient pranayama techniques. Here are three that are easy to do almost anywhere.

Feel free to perform pranayama in a chair or lying flat on the floor. Otherwise, a comfortable cross-legged position on the ground is preferred.

Good posture does play a role in these exercises; the key being a straight spine. This promotes good air flow and circulation.

Practice these techniques daily for optimum results. Beginners should aim for five minutes to start, with rests in between.

It may be challenging at first as you work to build stamina. But after several weeks of practice, you will have a greater understanding and increased strength.

*Note: for the following techniques, close your eyes and breathe only through the nostrils with a closed mouth and preferably an empty stomach.

There are many variations of these techniques. Feel free to research and find what suits you.

Bhastrika Pranayama: this pranayama is basic and simple, but intense.

  1. Relax your shoulders. Inhale deeply into your chest only. The breath should be long and forceful; filling your chest cavity to max capacity.
  2. Exhale through the nose. Empty the rib cage fully. Aim to make the inhale and exhale even and intense.
  3. Repeat. Establish a smooth and powerful rhythm. Think of your chest as a bellows: expanding and contracting over and over with vigor. Try this for thirty seconds to a minute at first and rest. Soon you will build the endurance to go longer.

Kapalbhati Pranayama: cleanse your body and lose weight.

  1. This exercise focuses on the exhale only. Sit up straight and practice rapid, forceful exhales through the nose, contracting the stomach muscles with each push.
  2. Your nose should make little “huff” sounds: huff, huff, huff…as you exhale.
  3. Relax your face. The inhale should happen on its own without much thought.
  4. Try counting about thirty quick exhales to start, then rest. It is said that the practitioner will develop a beautiful glow about the face.

Anulom-vilom—this gentle exercise is great for purifying the three major nadis along your spine and balancing the left and right hemisphere of your brain.

  1. With your right hand, gently curl your index and middle finger.
  2. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  3. Breathe into your left nostril using a long, gentle breath. Fill your chest and hold slightly.
  4. With your right ring and pinky fingers close your left nostril and open your right.
  5. Exhale out your right nostril.
  6. Inhale through your right nostril.
  7. Close your right nostril, open your left, and exhale.
  8. Repeat this process several times to restore the flow of prana in your body.

Final words

Pranayama can be practiced as a warm up to meditation, in conjunction with yoga poses, or as a separate entity.

Experiment with different speeds of the exercise. Concentrate on your body.

You can work on just one technique, or incorporate all three into a session. And I guarantee you, after two weeks you'll feel the results.

But you must practice every day.

For best results, find a quiet place with no distractions. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders as you breathe. Go ahead and feel spiritual in your practice. Your body should vibrate and tingle all over with this rush of oxygen and prana. Within weeks of practice your body will be healthy and glowing. You will heal illnesses and prevent future ones. Try it right now, and you will feel the difference from day one.

I work to stimulate my respiratory system

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    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 3 years ago from Savannah, GA

      Eric, that was the first breathing exercise I learned and it seems to do wonders for opening up and balancing out the major energy pathways. In fact, I believe it aided heavily in my Kundalini experience I had a while back. Notice how during the day one of your nostrils will be more "stuffed up" than the other. They alternate every so many hours. After practicing this exercise, your nadis will be cleansed and both nostrils will be even flowing.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Just practiced what I call Nodi shodina and I really do not worry how to write it, Three fingers to the forehead and in left nostril and out right, and continue using little finger and thumb to close one nostril.

      Works for me. (but do not it in church ;-)

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 3 years ago from Savannah, GA

      michaelrbasso, I think we're pretty fortunate to have this information passed down to us from thousands of years ago. Those guys back then had to figure this all out. We simply have to apply it. Thanks so much for your comments.

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 3 years ago from Savannah, GA

      FlourishAnyway, start slow and take breaks. At first you might feel like you're hyperventilating. Focus on what you are doing and you will achieve great internal power.

    • michaelrbasso profile image

      Michael R Basso, PhD, MBA, 3 years ago from USA Greater NYC area

      I think that the topic of pranayama is a very ineresting & important one from both ancient and modern perspectives. Thanks for posting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Brian - I've printed this hub out to be sure I am doing them right. Hopping over now to read the chi hub.

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 3 years ago from Savannah, GA

      FlourishAnyway, If you are at all curious about these exercises then I highly recommend giving them a shot. I choose one or two and do a couple sets with small, relaxing, breaks in between. The benefits become noticeable after a week or so of practice. They're especially great if you believe in "chi" and all that. Your body just becomes so alive. It's awesome! Lovely to hear from you as always and thanks for the votes.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Specific, useful step-by-steps. I like that and will use these breathing exercises. Everyone could benefit from this tutorial. I read recently in some medical literature that people who are obese breathe in more pollutants; seems like that could be an important connection between your exercise hub and this one. And I'm definitely glad you stopping smoking! Voted up +++ and more.

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 3 years ago from Savannah, GA

      justmesuzanne, thank you for stopping by and for the nice praise. I agree with you and I'm amazed at what a difference these exercises make to my body. I try to preach the word to friends, but most people look at me like I'm crazy lol.

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas

      Breathing properly is so essential, yet so many people don't know how and/or neglect to do it. Great information, well presented! Voted up and awesome! :)

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 4 years ago from Savannah, GA

      Well that's interesting, Bill. Too bad their location isn't someplace I often pass, or I could think of you more.

      On the subject of deep breathing, I have definitely noticed a change in my circulatory system with a daily practice. I do believe all those years of smoking have finally caught up with me. Glad I quit!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information, Brian. I do practice deep breathing exercises and they help greatly.

      This is completely unrelated to anything, but I write for a customer in Savannah....Cash-n-Carry Salvage Yard. I always mean to mention that when I write to you and today I remembered. :)

    • passionate77 profile image

      passionate77 4 years ago

      you most welcome dear. blessings!

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 4 years ago from Savannah, GA

      Thank you so much. I practice every day and feel such wonderful results that I want to pass on the good word.

    • passionate77 profile image

      passionate77 4 years ago

      so nice explanation about the techniques of deep breathing, that has soooooooooo many health benefits and highly recommended since ages, enjoyed reading your hub and going to your profile page now, blessings dear!

    • Brian Prickril profile image

      Brian Prickril 4 years ago from Savannah, GA

      You're welcome, Eric. Yes, there seems to be many different varieties and traditions and titles to these practices depending on what part of the globe you're from.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wow you really explained those well. For some reason I want to call the nose breathing with fingers on one side Nadi Shodana (sp) and I do it with thumb and little finger with index and third finger on forehead.

      thank you for a great refresher and a good read.