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Pranayama literally means to ‘to expand prana’

Pranayama literally means to ‘to expand prana’. Pranayama has been defined as a process in which respiration is interrupted and Prana is controlled and regulated. Prana is the combined mental and vital force that keeps us alive, it goes beyond mere air that we breathe in.

In Yogashastra Pranayama has a lot of importance attached to it. It is the fourth and important stage of Ashtanga yoga. Pranayama is called the soul of Yoga. 

The advantages of pranayama are

- Pranayama keeps the body fit and healthy. It reduces excessive fat.

- One can live a long life through pranayama. Pranayama improves the power of memory and eliminates mental disorders.

- It tones up the stomach, the liver, the bladder, the small and the large intestines and the digestive system.

- It purifies the tubular channels and removes sluggishness from the body.

- Pranayama kindles gastric fire, the body becomes healthy.

- The constant practice of pranayama strengthens the nervous system. The mind becomes calm and capable of concentration.

Pranayama is based on techniques of inhaling, retaining breath and exhaling. Pranayama has many variations depending upon the type and duration of retaining one’s breath. The following are the some of the most beneficial pranayamas -

1. Surya Bhedana - This exercise stimulates the part of the brain which contains the life-force. The practice of surya bhedana produces heat in the body.

Benefits – The constant practice of this pranayama purifies the mind and cures intestinal diseases. It cures rheumatism and is the best remedy for blood impurities, skin diseases, and leukoderma. It kindles gastric fire and invigorates the liver so bile is produced in sufficient quantity.

2. Ujjayi – Heat is created in the body with the practice of ‘Ujjayi’ Pranayama. So, it is advisable to practice it in winter. 

Benefits – This pranayama cures asthma, tuberculosis and other diseases of the lungs. It kindles the gastric fire and activates the digestive system, the respiratory system, and the nervous system.

3. Kapalbhati – This pranayama is very effective in curing stomach disorders, obesity, digestive disorders etc. It helps one get rid of excess fats and lose weight effectively. 5 minutes of continuous kapalbhati equals 30mins of brisk walking, in the amount of cardio vascular activity achieved. 

Benefits – It improves the function of the lungs, respiratory system, reproductive system, and digestive system. It helps in curing erectile dysfunction, breast cancer, asthma, allergies, sinus troubles, constipation, acidity, diabetes, hair loss and kidney problems and helps lower high creatinine levels. It improves the functioning of the pancreas and kidneys. It helps in eliminating toxins from the body.It is extremely beneficial for weight loss and fat loss.It also calms the mind and brings a stability to it. It helps in keeping depression at bay by promoting easy flow of happy thoughts.

4. Sitakari – The practice of Sitakari has a cooling effect on the body and hence it is beneficial to practice it in summer.

Benefits – This pranayama relieves one of hunger, thirst, sluggishness, and drowsiness. It prevents the formation of an excess amount of bile. The constant practice of this pranayama increases the physical strength and elevates the mental power of the aspirant.

5. Shitali – This pranayama is beneficial in the spring and the summer seasons. It cools the body and the mind. It should be practiced for fifteen to twenty minutes daily in the morning.

Benefits – It purifies the blood relieving the body of toxic elements accumulated in it. It cures diseases like a tumor, enlargement of the spleen, skin diseases, fever, indigestion, and constipation. It helps one keep one’s temper under control. 

6. Bhastrika – In Sanskrit, Bhastrika means ‘bellows’. This exercise is characterized by continual exhalation of breath, producing a sound like a blacksmith’s bellows. It is a combination of Kapalbhati and Ujjayi. Bhrastrika is one of the most beneficial pranayamas.

7. Anulom Vilom – This pranayama purifies the mind the body. Regular practice of this pranayama can increase energy in the body and release stress and anxiety. It is advisable to practice this pranayama in the morning on an empty stomach.

Benefits - This pranayama improves blood circulation, removes blockage of arteries, cures asthma, headache, migraine, neurological problems, heart problems, gastric problems etc. It strengthens the nervous system and the respiratory system along with the heart and lungs. It helps to prevent diabetes or keep it under control. It also helps the body regulate the hormones and keep them at an optimum level. It also calms the mind, provides relaxation to the body and mind, gives one a glowing skin and relieves stress, depression, and hypertension.

8. Bhramari – The word Bhramari is derived from Bhramara which means a black bee. While practicing this pranayama the sound produced through the nostrils resembles a black bee’s buzzing.

Benefits - The practice of this pranayama centers one’s mind. It creates vibrations through the buzzing sound that invigorate one’s brain. It helps in relieving tension, anger, and anxiety. It cures hypertension and sinus problems. It helps one stay calm. It cures problems related to the nervous system. This pranayama is especially beneficial for women during pregnancy.

9. Udgeeth – This pranayama involves the chanting of ‘OM’. This is a simple breathing exercise and should be practiced daily. 

Benefits – This pranayama cure hypertension, insomnia, nightmare, acidity and problems related to the nervous system. It can calm the mind, bring stability, relieve tension, anger, and anxiety. This pranayama can also improve memory power.

10. Moorchchha – The final stage of this pranayama involves falling into a swoom and remaining in an unconscious state. Hence this pranayama is called Moorchchha.

Benefits – This pranayama enables one to reach a state of utter quietude. Mind and body become very light. Body fats are removed, headaches and weakness of muscles are the cure and one reaches a higher level of awareness.

11. Plavini – Plavini means that which makes one swim. This pranayama enables an aspirant to swim in water for a long time. Some skill and guidance are required for practicing this pranayama. The prolonged practice of this pranayama enables one to hold his/her breath under water for a long time. 

Benefits - It stimulates blood circulation. Consequently, all the toxic elements or impurities in the body are expelled.