An Introduction to Pranayama and the Chakras
Is There Really a Technique to Breathing?
Begin to Tap Into Ancient Yogic Wisdom and Breathe Your Way to Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Health
Breathing is an involuntary act. Virtually all your biological functions such as digesting, moving your muscles, or even thinking require oxygen. And your body gets its supply of oxygen through breathing. However, that’s only a part of the functions of breathing. Apart from the biological functions of breathing, it can provide several therapeutic benefits like improving cognitive functions, improving mindfulness, and reducing anxiety among others. That’s what the concept of Pranayama captures.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama refers to the science of breath or techniques (ayam) of breath (pran). It’s an ancient breathing technique that originated from yogic practices in India. The word Pranayama comes from two different words: Prana and Ayama. Prana means breath or more accurately ‘life force’ in a proper contextual translation, and Ayama has various meanings such as length, rising, and expansion. Hence, we can define Pranayama as the prolongation of the breath and its control or restraint. Even though this practice started in India, it has gained more popularity in the western world due to its immense health benefits.
Types of Pranayama
There are different types of pranayama which range from simple to the more complex ones that yoga enthusiasts love. Here are some popular types very briefly summarized:
Dirga Pranayama or Three-Part Breath
Dirga Pranayama is a simple breathing exercise performed at the start of a yoga session to relax your body and mind. It also helps you to discard distractions and improve concentration. It also calms your mind and your nervous system and improves your awareness of your breathing pattern.
Technique: Expand and retract your upper body deeply and consciously as you breathe. Start with the belly, then the ribcage, and end with your upper chest. For proper step-by-step guidance, please check out:
Ujjayi Pranayama or Ocean’s Breath (Victorious Breath)
Ujjayi Pranayama helps to restore focus, improve oxygen consumption and reduce blood pressure. It also stimulates some key functions such as speech, memory, and immunity. It’s termed Ocean’s breath due to its rhythmic nature and mimics the sound of ocean waves.
Technique: Breath deeply through your mouth, constrain the back of your throat as if you were trying to fog up a mirror, and then close your mouth. Then breathe through your nose, keeping your throat constricted. For proper step-by-step guidance, please check out:
Kumbhaka Pranayama or Full Breath Retention
Kumbhaka Pranayama entails inhaling deeply for as long as you can without straining, before exhaling slowly. It helps to strengthen the diaphragm and makes the respiratory system healthier and cleaner, and is linked to a healthier, cleaner respiratory system. Deep breathing also ensures more oxygen supply and better absorption.
Technique: Hold in your breath for as long as you inhale, then take double the time to exhale. For proper step-by-step guidance, please check out: For proper step-by-step guidance, please check out:
Kapalabhati Pranayama or Skull Shining Breath
Kapalabhati Pranayama entails simple, natural inhalation and then forceful exhalation. It helps to strengthen your abdominal muscles and clear your mind. It also helps with weight loss and better digestion.
Technique: Inhale naturally and simply, and then exhale forcefully. It can be complicated so you need to carry it out under supervision. There is often confusion on the differences between the Breath of Fire and the Skull Shining Breath. This video explains the difference between the two well.
For proper step-by-step guidance, please check out:
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi Shodhana, which is one of the most common pranayamas, involves holding the breath and then exhaling alternatively through the nostrils. It is useful in easing stress and anxiety and brings balance to our mind, body, and soul.
Technique: Close your right nostril with your right thumb, and hold your breath as long as possible (but don’t be too forceful), then close your left nostril and exhale deeply from your right nostril. A pranayama cycle involves this process on the two sides. Close your eyes through this practice and take long and natural breaths. For proper step-by-step guidance, please check out:
There are several other types of pranayama not featured here simply because this is an introductory summary.
Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama has grown in popularity and gained many practitioners all over the world due to its immense range of benefits (benefits the ancient yogis knew far before ‘science’ validated them). Some of the benefits are described below:
Improved Cognitive Function: Fast and slow types of pranayama can enhance your cognitive functions. From previous studies, fast pranayama is particularly important in enhancing sensory-motor and auditory skills.
Improved Mindfulness: Like other types of yoga, pranayama helps to improve mindfulness. It also helps to improve focus and awareness to help you live in the present.
Stress Reduction: Due to its ability to enhance mindfulness, pranayama helps to reduce stress and aggression in students taking difficult exams. It can also change the level of stress molecules because of its focus on breathing and relaxation.
Psychosomatic disorders: Pranayama helps to manage psychosomatic disorders such as migraine headache, psoriasis, and migraine headache.
Improving Lung Capacity: Pranayama can also aid lung function. It involves assisting you to hold your breath longer and improving strength in your respiratory muscles. Also, Pranayama can assist with lung diseases and help you recover from pneumonia and asthma.
Quit Smoking: Pranayama can help in cutting off cravings if you desire to quit smoking.
Reduce Anxiety: Pranayama can reduce anxiety levels and any negative emotions related to it. Consistent pranayama reduces anxiety. It also improves mental focus, awareness, and attention.
Pranayama’s Relationship with the Chakra Points
The chakra system consists of the different energy points within the body beginning from the base of the spine (the Root Chakra) to the top of the head (the Crown Chakra). The chakra system has seven major chakra points, which are located vertically in the middle of our body. The 7 chakras possess the ability to improve your mind-body connection and they are something that must be activated to reap their benefits.
Pranayama practices can cleanse and charge your root chakra centers. As you control your inhalation and exhalation, you will cleanse your chakras. While most pranayama exercises can be used for all the chakra points, some tend to be more useful for certain chakras. Below is a chakra correlation for the few types of pranayama covered in this article: Anulom Vilom
Dirga Pranayama (The Three Point Breath Technique)-Root, Crown, and Heart
Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean or Victorious Breath)-Sacral, Third Eye
Kumbhaka Pranayama (Full Breath Retention-Heart
Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath)-Sacral, Third Eye, Crown
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (The Alternate Nostril Breath)-Root, Third Eye
Practice for the Root Chakra
Even though Pranayama is extremely useful for the 7 chakras, it is particularly beneficial to the Root Chakra. Being ungrounded and lacking vitality are parts of the signs of a low Root Chakra power. This can lead to numbness and dissociation. It can also lead to hypo states such as hypoglycemia, hypotension, and hypothyroidism. Other effects are depression, fatigue, weakness, and general body under-functioning. Pranayama can effectively alleviate these effects and revitalize the Root Chakra.
Even though some consider Pranayama as breathwork, it has far-reaching effects. It can direct energy, coordinate breathing, and attunement. Here is a guided Pranayma exercise:
Find a quiet spot.
Get into a sitting or standing position.
Focus on your inner stillness and focus on your breathing.
Follow your breath for a few moments, inhaling through the nose and allowing the breath to expand the belly, lungs, and ribcage.
Exhale through the nose
Continue with the breathing pattern above before using the following visualization technique:
Imagine that roots are spreading down from the soles of your feet to the Earth’s center, anchoring you to the ground.
As you inhale, imagine you’re inhaling red life-sustaining energy from the Earth, up to the roots and through the soles of your feet.
Keep breathing in this energy upward through the legs and into the pelvic floor and the Root Chakra’s revolving, rich red cortex. This is where you’ll feel the absorption and distribution of the power through your body.
If you wish, hold the breath for a short natural pause at the end of your exhale
From the Root Chakra, exhale down the legs, through the feet, and down your roots back to the Earth’s center
Repeat this exercise several times, focusing on how grounded your hips and legs feel with the flow of energy
Pranayama practice possesses immense health benefits which have made it widely known across the world both in and out of ‘official’ medicine. One of its great benefits is in cleansing the chakras and unblocking the energy points that enable our bodies to heal themselves. The wonderful thing about Pranayama is that you can do it just about anywhere, at just about any age, and in just about any physical condition. So breathing just got a whole lot more attractive, didn’t it?