Updated: May 2
Pranayama is one of the main components of yoga which includes various breathing techniques. As one of the limbs of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, yogic breathing, or pranayama, is defined as the “control of life force,” and is aimed at increasing vital energy in the body and mind. Most of us have noticed that the way we breathe can impact both our body and mind. Yoga students report feeling calmer and more centered; being better able to navigate intense feelings and sleeping more soundly. For most yoga students, the practice of conscious breathing is foundational to the practice of yoga. Breath work can also help mitigate the negative impact of stress and trauma. Breathing practices can balance, strengthen, and increase the adaptive flexibility of stress response systems, potentially counteracting the detrimental effects of excess stress, neglect, and trauma on emotion regulation, physical health, and the ability to experience love and compassion. The goal of pranayama is to connect your body and mind. It also supplies your body with oxygen while removing toxins. Here are some scientifically proven benefits of taking up a regular pranayama practice:
1) Increases lung capacity:
One of the biggest benefits of diaphragmatic breathing in yoga is how it improves respiratory
health by strengthening the respiratory muscles and improving the body’s airways. One study
determined that 6 weeks of practicing pranayama for 1 hour a day could have a significant effect on lung function as well as a strengthening tool for many lung conditions such as asthma, allergic bronchitis, and recovery from pneumonia and tuberculosis.
2) Can relieve stress:
The way you breathe determines the stress response of your body. When we are under stress
generally, we take small breaths by raising the shoulders and collarbone, known as shallow or
clavicular breathing. Practicing deep or slow pranayama breathing brings the diaphragm into
active use to move air in and out of the lungs. While doing the deep pranayama breathing
exercise of yoga, your sympathetic nervous system gets quiet – the part of the nervous system
which induces a stress response, and therefore you feel less stress and anxiety in no time.
Pranayama also enables more oxygen to flow into your body and brain which helps calm your
nerves and improve vital organ functions.
3) Improves concentration:
Pranayama breathing is an excellent yoga exercises to increase concentration and sharpen
memory. Its meditative approach of focusing on breathing in different styles and patterns
conditions the mind to live in the present moment. It also increases mindfulness. Practicing
pranayama stimulates the cerebral cortex and other main portions of the brain which play a key role in attention, awareness, thought, and consciousness. A 2017 study in the Journal of
Neurophysiology shows that brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath.
4) Boosts the immune system:
Pranayama is a holistic yoga practice to boost immune system efficiency. It comprises
diaphragmatic breathing exercises which engage the entire digestive system that is home to
almost 80% of immune tissue. In this way, practicing deep pranayama breathing can improve
the body’s immune response. The immune system’s ability to provide resistance against
infection and toxins gets reduced when we are stressed. Pranayama is effective in reducing
stress and therefore boosts the immune system. Through pranayama, we expand each breath
length to provide more oxygen in our blood and thus it activates the parasympathetic or ‘rest
and digest’ nervous system.
5) Lowers high blood pressure:
Yogic breathing can help maintain an ideal level of blood pressure, especially in those who are prone to spikes when under stress. In a 2014 study, participants with mild hypertension received antihypertensive drugs for 6 weeks and half the participants also received pranayama training for 6 weeks. By the end of the study, the latter group experienced a greater reduction in blood pressure.
6) Improves digestion:
Pranayama practice can aid in digestion by increasing the oxygen supply to the gut. More
oxygen supply to the gut implies more blood flow and better intestinal strength which promote
absorption and digestion of food. When we practice slow diaphragmatic breathing like full yogic breath before a meal (at least 3 hours before) it reduces tension in digestive organs’ muscles and keeps them active for upcoming food.
7) Promotes better sleep:
Pranayama breathing helps slow down the heart rate by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It brings a relaxing effect on the body and mind which in turn promotes better sleep. According to a study, slow pace breathing pranayama before going to bed prepares the body and mind for better sleep. It has an immediate effect on lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Moreover, it helps clear the mind from workplace negativity, tension, anxiety, or emotional blockages that may restrict your sleep.
8) Helps clear sinus congestion:
Pranayama like alternate nostril breathing helps to clear the blockages in the nasal cavity.
Regular practice of it can keep nostrils free of allergies and enhance the filtering capacity
towards foreign elements reducing inflammation. The inflammation in the sinuses can cause
throbbing headaches, nasal congestion, and running noses. Pranayama not only improves the
ventilation but also acts on the proper drainage of the sinuses and in turn relieves the symptoms of sinusitis. Pranayama techniques work for the sinus because it promotes balanced breathing through the nose which encourages the nasal passages to widen. In contrast to mouth breathing (that we often do unconsciously) nasal breathing exercises prevent mucus production and keep your airways free.
9) Increases mindfulness:
For many of us, breathing is automatic. We do it without giving it much thought at all. But
during pranayama, you need to be aware of your breathing and how it feels. You also practice focusing on the present moment, instead of the past or future. This is known as mindfulness. In a 2017 study, students who practiced pranayama displayed higher levels of mindfulness than those who didn’t. The same students also showed better levels of emotional regulation. This was associated with the calming effect of pranayama, which supports your ability to be more mindful. The researchers also mentioned that pranayama helps remove carbon dioxide and raises oxygen concentration, which fuels brain cells. This may contribute to mindfulness by improving focus and concentration. The sutras, which are the ancient texts that describe yoga, set out different breathing techniques for different purposes. Scientific studies backing the claimed benefits for each individual technique are sparse. Different teachers may also have slightly different approaches. Here are some of the many possible options. While it is possible to try these at home, it is always safest and most effective to seek guidance from a qualified yoga teacher.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana):
A popular pranayama yoga breathing technique that involves cyclical nostril breathing in yoga to
reduce stress levels and benefit the respiratory system. This exercise is great for calming the
mind and body, as well as releasing toxins built up in the body. It can also be combined to
create an alternate nostril breathing yoga practice.
How to do it:
1) Begin breathing in and out through the nose. When ready, curl the index and middle fingers
of the right hand into the palm. Alternatively, place them gently on the bridge of the nose.
2) Gently close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril.
3) Release the thumb from the right nostril and gently close the left nostril with the ring finger.
Exhale through the right nostril.
4) Inhale through the right nostril. Release the ring finger from the left nostril and close the
right nostril with the thumb. Exhale through the left nostril.
5) Begin the sequence again, breathing in through the left nostril. Practice 10 rounds.
- Ujjayi Breathing:
Ujjayi Breath, also known as Victorious Breath, is a yoga breathwork meditation used to
promote relaxation. This is a popular technique often used to calm anxiety and racing thoughts.
This can be practiced at any time during the day, whenever needed.
How to do it:
1) Sit in a comfortable position, with your shoulders relaxed.
2) With your mouth closed, attempt to constrict the muscles in your throat.
3) Inhale through your nose, allowing air to pass through your constricted throat.
4) Keep inhaling until your chest feels full.
5) Pause for 6 seconds.
6) Exhale through your nose, attempting to keep your face and nose relaxed.
7) Relax and spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
8) Repeat these steps as many times as desired, up to 8 times per day.
- Kapalbhati pranayama (Skull shining breath):
Skull Shining Breath, also called Breath of Fire or kapalabhati, is a type of belly breathing yoga
involving forceful breathing. The technique is primarily done for relaxation and to cleanse the
respiratory system. It’s best practiced early in the morning on an empty stomach.
How to do it:
1) Sit up and cross your legs.
2) Inhale through your nose.
3) Immediately after, exhale using your abdominal muscles to force the air out in a short burst.
4) Inhale again, relaxing your stomach.
5) Continue to inhale and exhale in this way up to 20 times.
6) Once you’ve completed a round, close your eyes and reflect on how the different parts of
your body feel.
7) Repeat these steps up to 2 times, if desired.
- Bhramari pranayama (Humming bee breath):
Humming bee breath, also known as bhramari, is a yoga deep breathing exercise that makes use
of humming. Like many others, this technique is great for promoting relaxation, especially in
those who are anxious or need help falling asleep. It’s also effective at improving mood and
helping soothe physical ailments.
How to do it:
1) Sit up or lie down with your eyes closed.
2) Place your index fingers inside your ears.
3) Inhale deeply through your nose.
4) As you exhale, press down on your ears and hum. You can choose to keep your fingers
pressed down or continuously lift them up and press them back down.
5) Inhale deeply again.
6) Repeat these steps as many times as desired.
- Lion’s Breath:
Lion’s Breath, also called simhasana, is a breathwork exercise that can be performed on its own
or as part of the Lion’s Pose in yoga. This technique is great for improving breathing, as well as
relieving stress and anxiety. It’s also great for general relaxation and enhancing athletic
How to do it:
1) Sit down in a comfortable position.
2) Lean forward slightly and place your hands on your knees or the floor.
3) Spread your fingers as wide as possible.
4) Breathe in through your nose.
5) Open your mouth as wide as possible, sticking out your tongue down towards your chin.
6) Breathe out forcefully through your mouth, making a “ha” sound as you do so.
7) Spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
8) Repeat these steps up to 7 times.
9) End the exercise with a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing yoga.
- Sitali Breath:
Sitali, also known as Cooling Breath, is a breathwork yoga exercise that helps cool the body. In
addition to helping with body temperature, it’s also great for relaxation and physical health. It’s
one of the easiest exercises to learn, but it can also be practiced for longer periods of time with
How to do it:
1) Sit in a comfortable position.
2) Spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
3) Stick out your tongue, curling the sides to create a tunnel.
4) Inhale through the tunnel. Notice the cool air as it enters your mouth, throat, and torso.
5) Relax your tongue and exhale through your nose.
6) Repeat these steps as many times as desired.
People have been practicing pranayama for thousands of years. The goal is to strengthen the
connection between your body and mind. If you haven’t practiced pranayama before, you may want to
join a yoga class or find a teacher who can teach the proper techniques for these breathing exercises.