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METHODS OF PRANAYAM

There are more than ten types of Pranayam. But most commonly used and the most
effective are three. These are Kapalbhati, Bhramari, and Kumbhak pranayams. All
the Pranayams are basically related with the control of the respiratory movements.
RESPIRATORY CYCLE AND PRANAYAM
It is advisable to know normal respiratory movements before starting the practice of
Pranayam. Normal respiration can be divided into three main components: A]
Inhalation i.e. incoming of the air. B] Momentary stoppage of air. C] Exhalation i.e.
outgoing of the air.
In yogic terms the first component is called Purak, the second component is called
Kumbhak, and the third component is called Rechak. If the movement of air is
observed very closely, it will be seen that as such there are four components: 1) Air
going inside (Purak) 2) Air stopping for the moment (Kumbhak) 3) Air coming out
(Rechak) 4) Again air movement is stopped for the moment i.e. Kumbhak and
again air going inside.
So the respiratory cycle is like Purak-Kumbhak-Rechak- Kumbhak-Purak. So the
component of Kumbhak occurs two times in one normal respiratory cycle. As such it
is difficult to perceive Kumbhak in a normal cycle. In normal circumstances the
person breathes 15-16 times per minute. So it takes 4 seconds to complete one
respiratory cycle. Normally
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spiratory movements are not very deep. At the time of sleep the respiration is
slower. While at the time of physical labor or mental excitement it becomes faster.
Respiration has direct relationship with the thinking process. When person is calm
and quiet his respiration is slow and when he is mentally agitated, his respiration is
faster. Hence if a person acquires the control over his respiration (so that it can be
kept slow and uniform) then he can control his thought process. The ability to
control thought process, helps the person to achieve control over his mind. Once
the mind is controlled, the person can direct his thinking process as per his own
desire. He can control his emotions. He can strengthen his will power. Such a person
can achieve anything in the world, as he is the master of his mind.
With the practice of Pranayam one can control his respiratory movements. In
Pranayam the length of all the components of respiration are increased. Ordinarily
one respiratory cycle takes four to five seconds. In Pranayam one cycle may take 30
to 60 seconds. Pranayam means controlled, uniform, and measured process of
respiration.
NORMAL RESPIRATION
One should understand the mechanism of normal respiration before starting the
practice of Pranayam. Respiratory organs are nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea,
bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli of the lung. There are two lungs in the body. One is
on the right side of the chest and the second on the left side of the chest. The lungs

are like sponge. It expands when filled with air and contracts when there is no air in
the lung. Small
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alveoli are connected with small tubes, which are called bronchioles. These tubes
are connected to form bigger tubes, which finally connects with the bronchus. The
left and right bronchi are joined to form the trachea. The trachea opens into the
larynx. Larynx opens into the pharynx. This finally opens into the nose. During the
process of inhalation, the air passes through the nose and then to the pharynx,
larynx, trachea, bronchi and finally through the bronchioles to the alveoli of the
lungs. Here the fresh air comes in contact with blood. The oxygen part of the air is
taken away by the blood. And the carbon dioxide part of the blood is taken away by
the air. Air full of carbon dioxide comes out through the same route during
exhalation.
The body requires oxygen for various chemical processes. The glucose in the blood
is chemically processed with the help of oxygen to produce energy. The energy is
required for various functions of the body. As a result of these chemical processes
the oxygen of the blood is utilized, and thus there is accumulation of carbon dioxide
in the blood. This accumulated carbon dioxide is removed from the blood by the
process of respiration. The process of inhalation and exhalation is done involuntarily
without the conscious knowledge of the person.
Lungs are covered on the outer surface by a thin layer of tissue. This is known as
the pleura. The pleura are double layered. The inner layer is attached with the outer
surface of the lung; and the outer surface of pleura is attached with the inner
surface of inter-costal muscles. These inter-costal muscles, are the small muscles
which connect various ribs with each other. These muscles are responsible for
expanding or contracting the chest cavity. When these muscles are
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contracted, the angle of the ribs are changed, with the result the chest cavity is
expanded. The outer layer of pleura is attached with chest cavity. So with the
expansion of the chest, pleura also gets expanded. This situation creates negative
pressure between the two layers of the pleura. With the result the lungs get
expanded. This situation creates negative pressure in the lungs. Now there is
negative pressure inside the lungs, and positive pressure in the atmosphere. As
there is unequal air pressure between atmosphere and the lungs, air from the
higher pressure moves to the lower pressure. That means the outside air (higher
pressure) will rush to the lungs (lower pressure area). This is the process of
inhalation. This situation remains for few moments.
Now inter-costal muscles start relaxing. With the result the chest cavity is
contracted. Along with that pleura get contracted. This whole process creates
positive air pressure in the chest cavity and finally in the lungs. Again there is
unequal air pressure between the lung and outside atmosphere, with the result air
from the lung, rushes out. This is exhalation. It is the common belief that when a
person inhales deeply, his chest is expanded. As such, the truth is that the person

expands his chest to inhale deeply. In fact inhalation is due to the process of
expansion of the chest.
There is one muscle called diaphragm. This muscle divides the chest cavity from the
abdominal cavity. When diaphragm is contracted, it helps to expand the cavity of
the chest. So in the process of respiration, diaphragm also plays some part.
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PRACTICE OF PRANAYAM
With the practice of Pranayam, the person has to get control over his chest muscles
and the diaphragm so that he can control the speed of various components of
respiration, i.e. Purak, Kumbhak, and Rechak. These three components can be
lengthened to a certain extent but not beyond a certain point. This fact should be
kept in mind while performing the practice of Pranayam. The person can slow down
the process of inhalation and exhalation to a certain limit. One can hold the air for
some time. But there is limitation to this voluntary ability. One can not hold the air
(Kumbhak) for more than two minutes normally. Any attempt to hold the air beyond
a certain point can cause serious damage to the vital organs.
As such the success of Pranayam does not depend upon the ability of holding the air
in the lung. One should keep it in mind that Pranayam is not the breathing exercise.
Success of pranayam does not depend upon, persons ability to hold the breathe for
longer time.
Pranayam means a controlled practice of respiration. In Pranayam, one has to
maintain a uniform speed (length) of Purak, Kumbhak, and Rechak. The proportion
of all the three components should be uniformly maintained throughout the practice
of Pranayam. Pranayam can be very beneficial to the physical and mental health, if
it is systematically practiced. But the same process can be harmful to life, if it is not
done scientifically. So
it is always advisable to perform Pranayam, in the presence of a person who is an
expert in the art of Pranayam. Persons having lung or heart diseases should not try
to practice Pranayam without medical advice.
Pranayam is the art and not the exercise. One should know the art of Pranayam.
That can be partly compared with playing the flute. A flute is played by blowing the
air in some hollow
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wooden pipe. Armature player will blow it hard. With the result there will be harsh
and high pitch sound from the flute. But such strong and irregular blowing of air in
the flute, can not produce good music. The expert player knows how to play
uniformly and artfully on the flute. He has control over his capacity to blow the air in
the flute. He blows the air uniformly and tactfully to produce great music.
Same way one should perform his Pranayamic practice very calmly, uniformly and
effectively. Like flute playing, one has to practice for long time, under expert
guidance to get mastery over Pranayam.

Preparation (before starting Pranayam)


Selection of place
The place where Pranayam is to be practiced regularly should be neat and clean.
The room should be spacious with comfortable temperature and enough ventilation.
The room should not be congested with too much furniture. The place should be
quiet and noiseless. Abnormal noises will not allow the mind to concentrate, and
concentration is very essential for getting success in Pranayam and meditation.
Clothes
One should put on loose and clean clothes while practicing Pranayam. During the
practice of Pranayam, the body and mind should be completely relaxed. It is not
comfortable to do Pranayam with tight clothes. Specifically the clothes should not
be tight around the chest and waist. Tight clothes around the waist and chest, will
not allow free movements of chest and abdominal muscles, which are responsible
for the respiratory movements. Dhoti or Pajama can be quite comfortable for the
purpose.
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Time
It is advisable to practice Pranayam in the early morning hours, because after a full
night sleep, our body and mind is quite fresh. If it is not possible to practice
Pranayam in the morning hours, then it can be practiced at evening hours. As per
the Vedic scriptures, it should be practiced three times a day that is in the morning,
noon, and evening.
Bath
It is advisable to take a good bath before practicing Pranayam. The body will be
clean and fresh after a good bath. Cold water bath can lower down the body
temperature.
Air passages
Both the nasal passages should be properly cleaned in the morning, because
blocked- nostrils will cause obstruction, which will not allow easy passage of air
during Pranayam. In yogic practice, students are advised to drink water through the
nose in the morning, so that both the nostrils will be thoroughly cleansed. This
practice should not be practiced without an expert guidance. It may cause allergic
reaction with severe attack of common cold.
Meal
Pranayam should not be practiced after a heavy meal. After heavy meal most of the
blood is diverted towards the digestive system. The digestive system is more active
after a meal in comparison to other systems of the body. Secondly full stomach will
not allow easy movements of the diaphragm which will hamper the process of
Pranayam.

Posture
Kapalbhati or Bhramari Pranayam can be performed in the sitting or standing
position. But Kumbhak Pranayam can be
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done only in the sitting position. Three types of Asanas (sitting postures) are
advocated for the purpose of Pranayam. These are Padmasan, Sidhasan, and
Sukhasan. Any of these three can be selected for the practice of Pranayam. The
process of Pranayam and meditation lasts for 25 to 30 minutes. The person should
remain comfortable during this period. So only that Asan should be selected which
will not cause any discomfort during the practice of Pranayam. In Kumbhak
Pranayam one should keep his back straight during the process. Straight back will
facilitate easy passage of vital energy from one centre to other centre. If it is not
possible to sit straight without support due to weakness or old age, one can take the
support of wall or straight back-rest. It is advisable to sit on the floor rather than to
sit on a chair. It is advocated to keep thick cotton or woolen cloth piece (Asan) on
the floor. Cotton piece is preferred as it can absorb perspiration and it is bad
conductor of heat and electricity. One should not practice Pranayam during any
episodes of sickness like fever, cough, diarrhea, asthma, or heart disease. The
person having any chronic disease should take the advice of the doctor before
starting Pranayam practice.
Kapalbhati Pranayam
This Pranayam can be practiced in any position. It can be practiced in either
sleeping, or standing, or sitting position. If it is to be performed in standing position,
then one should take the precaution of not keeping any hard furniture near the
place of Pranayam. One should have loose clothes while performing the Pranayam.
In sitting posture, Sukhasan is the most suitable for the purpose. Both the hands
can be kept on the knee joint if it is a sitting posture, or it can be kept on the waist if
it is a standing posture. Eyes should be kept closed.
Start taking deep and quick breaths. Respiration should be fast and deep. In normal
breathing the respiratory rate is 15 to 18 per/minute. But in Kapalbhati Pranayam,
the rate can reach up to 60 to 100 per/minute. Breathing should be
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forceful. Most of the time breathing is abdominal; i.e. abdominal muscles are more
active than chest muscles. There should be more emphasis on the Rechak
component. Efforts should be made to have a forceful Rechak. Exhalation is the
active process in this Pranayam. The practitioner tries to bring out the air forcibly.
With the forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles; one can create positive
pressure in the chest. The positive pressure in the chest will push the air outside. As
soon as the air is pushed outside, there will be negative pressure in the chest. This
negative pressure will pull the air inside the lung. Again with the movement of the
abdominal muscles one can push the air outside. So in the Kapalbhati Pranayam,
Rechak is an active componant, while Purak is a passive componant. Kapalbhati can

be done for 50 to 60 times in the beginning. Later on with practice, the number can
be raised to 100 to 200 times. In the later stage one can perform Kapalbhati
Pranayam, for 7 to 10 minutes. As soon as the process is completed, one should
relax completely for 8 to 10 minutes. A person in the standing posture can lie down
on the ground and relax. While a person in the sitting or supine position can remain
in the same position and relax. One should keep the eyes closed while relaxing. This
state of relaxation may lead to the state of meditation. It is easier to enter into the
state of meditation after Kapalbhati.
Speedy breathing helps to clear all the thoughts from the mind. Thus the mind will
attain the state of thoughtlessness for a short period of time. In Yogic terms,
Kapalbhati is meant for Deh-shudhi. It means internal cleansing of the body. There
are five types of cleansing procedures in yoga. These are known as Neti, Dhoti,
Basti, Nehli, and Kapalbhati.