How to Practice 5 Different Types of Pranayama

Pranayama is one of the most powerful tools in Ayurveda to harmonize your body, mind, and spirit. Regular practice of pranayama promotes physical well-being, mental clarity, muscle relaxation, stress reduction, reduced anxiety, optimal energy, and cellular regeneration. In this article we will cover 5 different approaches to pranayama.

General guidelines:

Do not practice pranayama if you are pregnant, have uncontrolled hypertension, or suffer from any other serious medical problems. Do not practice on a full stomach; wait at least 2 hours after meals in order to practice. If at any point you feel lightheaded or dizzy immediately stop the practice and lie down if you need to.

  1. One of the most well-known types of pranayama, Anuloma Viloma or alternate-nostril breathing, is very calming for the mind and body and helps with balancing the doshas. Here’s how to practice:

    Sit comfortably with your spine erect but relaxed. You can either close your eyes or keep a gentle gaze on a point in front of you. Start by using your right ring finger to cover up your left nostril. Take a deep breath in through your right nostril to a count of 4. Then cover your right nostril with your thumb and hold your breath for a count of 8. Then release your left nostril and exhale to the count of 4. Next, inhale through your left nostril to a count of 4, hold a count of 8, and exhale through your right nostril to a count of 4. You have just completed one cycle. To start, complete around 5 cycles daily and gradually increase up to 10 cycles per day. It can be a powerful practice so if you feel dizzy at any time just stop and take a break.

  2. A more activating and stimulating technique is Bhastrika or Bellows Breath. Because it is energizing, this pranayama technique can be practiced when you are feeling a little sluggish or in need of an energy boost.

    To start, sit comfortably with your legs crossed on the floor or on a chair. Begin by taking a few full, deep breaths, lifting up your shoulders and pushing out your abdomen as you breathe in, and expelling the ear fully when you breathe out. In this technique, you will be breathing in and out through your nose and not through your mouth. Start the technique by rapidly expelling the breath through your nostrils with your mouth closed, and then breathing in with a complete, deep inhalation through your nostrils while lifting up your shoulders and chest and pushing out your abdomen. The inhalation should be somewhat slow and full taking about 2 seconds; the exhalation is rapid and abrupt. Practice about 20 times which should take about 40 seconds, and then rest for 30 seconds. You have just completed one cycle of Bhastrika. If you feel well, begin another round of 20 rapid exhalations and inhalations over about 40 seconds, followed by a 30 second rest period. Finally, repeat this process to complete your 3rd cycle. Perform no more than 3 cycles per day unless supervised by a trained teacher.

  3. Another activating pranayama is Kapala Bhati. This is also a stimulating technique best done in the morning. It is especially important to practice this technique on empty stomach.

    To start, sit comfortably with your legs crossed on the floor or on a chair. During this technique, your entire focus will be on exhalation through the nose; keep your mouth closed during the exercise. You will not think about breathing in but inhalation will happen automatically. You will be making rapid exhalations originating from your abdominal muscles. To start, rapidly exhale through the nose while pulling in your abdominal muscles, almost as if you were blowing your nose. Immediately repeat and continue performing these rapid exhalations a total of 100 times. If you feel well, rest for 1 minute and perform a 2nd cycle of 100 rapid exhalations. After another minute of rest, you can perform your 3rd and final cycle of 100 exhalations. Perform no more than 3 cycles per day unless supervised by a trained teacher.

  4. A more relaxing, cooling technique is Sheetali pranayama. The word “Sheetali” means cooling in Sanskrit, and this pranayama is designed to calm the mind, cool the body, and reduce tension. You may also notice some cool sensations in your mouth and in your body.

    To start, sit comfortably or stand in a relaxed position. This is one of the few pranayamas which can safely be performed standing if the situation requires. You will be inhaling through your mouth and exhaling through your nose. The only difference is that you will be making a roll out of your tongue – someone sitting across from you would see a “U” shape when looking at your tongue. After a few slow deep breaths, begin by inhaling through your mouth while your tongue is rolled into this U shape. Take about 4 seconds to perform the inhalation. Then close your mouth and exhale through your nostrils, taking 4 seconds to release the air. If you are feeling well, you may practice this for a maximum of 5 minutes per session, up to twice per day.

  5. A powerful technique to improve digestion and boost metabolism is Agnisar pranayama. “Agnisar” means “the essence of fire” in Sanskrit and refers to the ability of this technique to help stimulate the Agni or digestive fire. It is a traditional therapy for constipation and may be a good practice for patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome.

    To start, sit comfortably with your legs crossed on the floor or on a chair. An alternate position is to stand up and bend slightly forward placing both hands on your knees; this position really targets your digestive organs and is beneficial for patients with constipation. Take a full deep breath and then slowly exhale and stop at the point when you have completely exhaled. Then pull your stomach in rapidly as far as it will go; next, push it outward again quickly as much as you can. This constitutes one cycle. Continue bringing your belly in and out like a bellows another 8 times, making the movements as rapidly as is comfortable for you. This concludes one cycle of Agnisar pranayama. Rest for a minute and repeat the technique. You can perform a maximum of 3 cycles of Agnisar pranayama per day.