Pranayama - Breathing Techniques


“When you inhale you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world.” — B.K. Iyengar

Introduction & Meaning

“Pranayama” is a Sanskrit word composed from two words “prana” or ‘life force’ breath and “ayama” or extend or draw out or discipline.

It is a yogic discipline for extension or control over the breath or life force.  It disciplines and extends the breathing whereby the duration of each breath or entire life is enhanced. 


Life means breath. We are alive as long as breath moves. It simply means that movements of breath are necessary for living. Comfortable movements of breath mean proper health whereas any obstruction or blockage in breathing means disease on uneasiness. Here, middle and upper part of the body are basic whereas legs and hands as its outposts or peripherals in supporting basic parts and life.  Pranayama in itself can help us attain balanced helath of our body, mind and consciousness.

It is a means for connecting to Self (conscious) through Chakras or Psychic Centres and to the Divinity or space through astral tubes, which even the modern medical science is conducting researches to analyse.

Pranayama vitalizes our Respiratory and Immune Systems. Breath is life and principal carrier for the flow of life-force vitality throughout our body. With breath we remain intimately connected to our emotions and state of mind. Without breath none of our senses can function.

In focussed practice with closed eyes, our concentration is absorbed into our breath. Then this breath takes the form of Individual Self or Soul and connects to vast cosmos, nature or source matching our vibes with nature. It is Realization of the Self, Oneness or Ultimate Reality. It is integration of body, mind and soul where our body is simply manifestation of breath and soul. With its regular practice we can effectively face any disease or virus.

Pranayama is the union of Prana and Apana consisting of Inhaling (inspiration, creative or Purak), expiration exhaling (expiration, ending or Rechak), and retention (holding, absorbing or Kumbhak). It is the only way through which breathing, brain, body and conscious can be disciplined or controlled for awakening and sharpening the dormant or hidden powers lying asleep within us.

It cleans the blood and body from all the impurities and makes life liveable and purposeful.

Pranayama is a process of coexistence and consolidation. What we usually breath is air from open environment wherein everyone else also inhales and exhales. We are taking within at least a fraction of what others have exited from their within. Thus, we all coexist and have adjusted it for our living. We have accepted and consolidated everything and made it an integral part of our life, as there is no alternative. The option for a Yogi is to inhale as pure air as possible in early morning, though the process of their inhaling-exhaling goes on forever.

From the time we are born we start breathing and it continues non-stop all the time. We are always breathing in new life from source and breathing out from the body which is dead. Kriya Yoga is union of breath, body and soul leaving no conflict in the consciousness. It takes us to the subtle levels in consciousness. Prana helps in spiritual attainment by neutralizing the fluctuations of mind. Breathing is the unique connection between physical consciousness and the divinity. Ever going continuous changes in us are due to breathing. Proper practice of asanas helps in eradicating duality between body cells, senses, mind and consciousness. Therefore, asanas are necessary for having optimum benefits from Pranayama. Asanas provide complete benefit to bones when done with Pranayama. Pranayama provides optimum benefit when practiced with closed eyes, detached from outside world, feeling within the activities and their impact while enjoying the changes within due to the stability of body and brain. It is only after properly practising Pranayama that entire system is rejuvenated and then Chitta-Vriti-Nirodh helps in meditation and Samadhi for ultimate salvation. It enhances one’s consciousness, focus and concentration. Faulty practice of Pranayama results in several diseases as it saps the energy of practitioner. It is necessary to study and ascertain the capacity of respiratory system so as to tame the process of inhaling and exhaling for making the mind passive.

Prana is a supreme and free source of energy and not merely oxygen in air. It is vital for life and in-fact there is no life without it. If practiced regularly for 45 to 60 minutes, over 80% of physical disorders get cured because other two Doshas (defects) i.e. Pitta and Kapha are under its control and it can carry them anywhere in the body. It provides vitality, self-confidence and subtle changes like peace of mind and clarity in our thinking by restraining its fluctuations. Nutrients and blood are supplied to our body and its organs by Prana Vayu oxygen through circulation of blood and non-stop heart beat of about 100,000 times every day. We are blessed with a life span of fixed number of breaths. Due to lower breath rate animals like the Giant Tortoise can live over 150 years, which is also linked to our metabolic rate and for this Pranayama helps us in slowing down rate of breathing to about one third from about 15 breaths to 5-6 breaths per minute. 1:2 Ratio of inhaling: exhaling supplies oxygen with 1:2 ratio. It results in lesser wear and tear of internal organs with relaxed and quitter nerves. Pranayama thus provides us immunity and vitality by better functioning of heart, lungs, diaphragm, abdomen, intestines, kidneys, pancreas & digestive system etc.


Yoga and Ayurveda

Ayurveda said to be 5000 years old, is equally relevant today, as holistic, comprehensive and simple pattern of treatment to enjoy a healthy and happy life. We are born with a very specific elemental composition called our constitution, or nature (Prakruti) which is influenced by many factors like the constitution with which we are born, heredity, our parents’ health at our conception, astrology and our past life karma. Our constitution since our birth remains with us for the entire life.

As per Ayurveda, the entire universe is composed of 5 elements i.e. air, sky/space, earth, water and fire. Our body is also made up of same 5 elements. Further, Air or Life-Force is an element which is present in all these 5 elements and in every part of our body. Hormones and various chemicals inside our body have this main element oxygen as the basis of life. Every nutrient has oxygen as its essential element. Most of the diseases and disorders in our body are due to imbalance of internal secretions or hormones and various chemicals in our body. Yoga-Pranayama provides adequate and necessary oxygen to our body which balances these internal secretions or hormones and chemicals in our body and then proper functioning of organs of our body is restored. In case of emergency, Allopathic Treatment uses Oxygen to save life. Supply of Oxygen or Life-Force to our body by way of Yoga-Pranayama or Prana-Vidya is a unique medicine or Self-Healing which retards Aging-Process and gives us longer life. Our ancient Vedas have similar basis of Prana-Vidya.


Ayurveda and Tridosha

The 3 defects or Doshas described in Ayurveda namely Vata (Air), Pita (Bile) and Kapha (Phlegm or mucus) are responsible for physiological and psychological processes going on in our body and mind. The central concept of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory that health exists when there is a balance between three fundamental bodily bio-elements or doshas called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Vata (Air & Space)

Vata Is elemental composition of air & space. Its characteristic are light, minute, cold, dry, movement, changing, irregular and rough.They tend to always be on the go, with an energetic and creative mind. As long as Vata is in balance, you will be lively and enthusiastic, with a lean body. Vata controls and balances other two Doshas in the body. Those with a predominance of Vata dosha usually have a thin, light frame and excellent agility. Their energy comes in bursts and they are likely to experience sudden bouts of fatigue. Vatas typically have dry skin and hair and cold hands and feet. They sleep lightly and their digestion can be sensitive. Vatas love excitement and new experiences. They are quick to anger but also to forgive. When Vatas are in balance, they are energetic, creative, and flexible. They also take initiative and are lively conversationalists. 

The main locations of Vata in the body are the colon, thighs, bones, joints, ears, skin, brain, and nerve tissues. Physiologically, Vata governs anything related to movement, such as breathing, talking, nerve impulses, movements in the muscles and tissues, circulation, assimilation of food, elimination, urination, and menstruation. Psychologically, Vata governs communication, creativity, flexibility, and quickness of thought.

When the Vata dosha becomes imbalanced, it manifests in the body as weight loss, constipation, hypertension, arthritis, weakness, restlessness, and digestive challenges. They are prone to worry and anxiousness and often suffer from insomnia. When they feel overwhelmed or stressed, their response is, “What did I do wrong?” You may start skipping meals, resulting in unintended weight loss, and your digestion may become irregular. If you notice these early symptoms of a Vata imbalance, slow down, take time to meditate, don’t skip meals, and get to bed earlier. A regular lifestyle routine helps ground Vata so you’re not carried away into the ethers.

To balance Vata, make choices that bring warmth, stability, and consistency to your life. Try to get to bed early, wake up early and eat your meals at regular times. Message your body with warmer and heavier oils like sesame and almond oil. Do light exercise like yoga, dance and aerobatics.

Since Vata is drying, cooling and light, you should favor foods that are oily, warming, or heavy. The best tastes to pacify Vata are sweet, salty, and sour. Minimize foods that are pungent, bitter, or astringent. Use up to three teaspoons daily of ghee or extra virgin olive oil. Milk is easier to digest when warm or heated.

Pita (Fire and Water)

Pita Is elemental composition of fire & water. Its characteristic arethinner, medium physique, strong, well-built, sharper and longer, medium breadth, sharp mind, aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance, competitive, enjoy challenges, good concentration powers, orderly, focused, assertive, self-confident, aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance, competitive, enjoy challenges, passionate and romantic, strong digestion, strong appetite.

They are generally less fat than kapha but not skinny like vata, physically active than the vata or kapha types, more sensitive to sensory stimuli than kapha, especially light, heat and sound. They have coordinated, quick and efficient movement, sometimes aggressive, act with determination and purpose. The skin is often quite ruddy and there is a general tendency to excessive heat.Pitta governs joy, courage, willpower, anger, jealousy, and mental perception. It also provides the radiant light of the intellect. The body is of average build, with a well-developed musculature. Warm temperatures and hot climates are poorly tolerated.  There is a tendency to excessive bile production and gastrointestinal secretions, loose bowel movements, and more frequent urination. They have strong metabolism, strong digestion and a general tendency to mild inflammatory states.

It governs important digestive fires of the body. It is a stage of decreased acid. It also governs all heat, metabolism and transformation in the mind and body. It controls how we digest foods, how we metabolize our sensory perceptions, and how we discriminate between right and wrong.

The main locations of Pitta in the body are the small intestine, stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, blood, eyes, and sweat. Physiologically, Pitta provides the body with heat and energy through the breakdown of complex food molecules. It governs all processes related to conversion and transformation throughout the mind and body.

Pitta becomes imbalanced due to eating Pitta-aggravating food, eating while angry, drinking coffee, black tea, or alcohol, smoking cigarettes, over-working and being overly competitive. Early signs of pitta imbalance in the digestive system include intense hunger, excessive thirst, and a sense of insatiability. As pitta accumulates further, it can cause nausea, vomiting, hiccups, acid reflux, heartburn, loose stools, diarrhoea, low blood sugar, and sensitivity to spicy and/or fried foods. Excess pitta in the blood can result in breakouts on the skin such as hives, acne, and red rashes. Cleansing the body, particularly the liver and blood, through diet and herbs can result in clear, radiant skin and more balanced pitta-dosha. To stay cool, calm and hydrated need to eat more foods that are sweet, bitter, astringent / cold, heavy, oily such as salads, steamed vegetables, fruit and coconut oil. Eat less foods that are pungent (spicy), sour, salty / hot, light, dry such as coffee, chips and salsa and spicy foods. Do light exercise like yoga, swimming and walking.

Kapha (Earth and Water) 

Kapha Is elemental composition of earth & water. Its characteristics are heavy, dull, soft, sticky, cold, moist and static. A Kapha individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and imbalanced state. It is the energy of building and lubrication that provides the body with physical form, structure, and the smooth functioning of all its parts. Kapha can be thought of as the essential cement, glue, and lubrication of the body in one.

The main locations of Kapha in the body are the chest, throat, lungs, head, lymph, fatty tissue, connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons. Physiologically, Kapha moistens food, gives bulk to our tissues, lubricates joints, stores energy, and relates to cool bodily fluids such as water, mucous, and lymph. Psychologically, Kapha governs love, patience, forgiveness, greed, attachment, and mental inertia. With its earthly makeup, Kapha grounds Vata and Pitta and helps offset imbalances related to these doshas.

Just as a nourishing rainstorm may turn into a rampant flood, the fluids of the body may flood the bodily tissues, contributing to a heavy dampness that weighs down the body and clouds the mind. This dense, cold, and swampy environment becomes the breeding ground for a number of bodily disorders such as obesity, sinus congestion, and anything related to mucous. Mentally, the loving and calm disposition of the Kapha individual may transform into lethargy, attachment, and depression. Kapha becomes Imbalanced due to overeating of food, eating to offset emotions (like indulging in sweets when depressed), spending too much time in cool, damp climates, not engaging in physical activity, spending most of one’s time indoors especially on the couch watching TV and avoiding intellectual challenges.

To balance Kapha eat in a loving environment, avoid a luxurious, leisurely lifestyle, focus on detachment in daily life, do emotional housekeeping regularly,
make time for introspective activities like meditation and writing, make a distinction between being nice and being taken advantage of and go to bed early and rise early with no daytime naps.

Vata or Vayu Dosha regulates all functions of other Doshas as self-rejuvenating force 

A balanced proportion of these three facilitates proper body functions, but if there is excess of one and shortage of another, ailments develop due to overheating or not enough heat in the body. So, before commencing pranayama, any imbalance in the doshas should be removed. Vata (Vayu or wind) is main dosha as its element air is present in all three doshas and therefore it regulates all the functions of other doshas. Prana is a self-rejuvenating force. Breath fans and fuses the two opposing elements of nature i.e. fire and water resulting in production of Prana. Pranayama stores Prana in Energy Centres or Chakras of the spine and astraltubes for discharging and utilising when urgentlyrequired to meet the difficult situations of life. Pranayama clears the blockages in thinking and guides into intelligence and wisdom. Thus Pranayama in itself is an overall balancing activity for the complete health of body, brain and conscious.

Five Vayus, Pranas or Senses

Five Pranas are said to be the domain of Gayatri, the Five-Faced Goddess. This Prana or life energy has been vividly invoked and described in the ancient Vedas and Upanishads.

The Gayatri Mantra or Guru Mantra or Savitri (Sun) or Mother of Vedas “Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha — ” is said to be the highest and most powerful Mantra. Its proper pronunciation and enunciation are important. It protects from harm wherever you are, makes your intellect shine, improves power of speech, dispels the darkness of ignorance.

Five Pranas, a kind of air in the body, are as under: 

1.Prana Vayu: Life force or basic vayu (air) from which all the other vayus arise. It is the air that maintains vitality in the body.

2.Apana Vayu: It eliminateswaste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems.

3.Samana Vayu: The digestion of food and cell metabolism i.e. the repair and manufacture of new cells and growth. Samana also includes the heat regulating processes of the body. It maintains the body temperature.

4.Udana Vayu: it stopsbody from falling, supplies blood to all organ and gives the higher centres total control over the body. It represents the conscious energy required to produce the vocal sounds corresponding to the intent of our being including the sound production through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing and crying.

5.Vyana Vayu: The energy circulation throughout the body. The expansion and contraction processes of the body, e.g. the voluntary muscular system.