Pranayama – breathing techniques and mind control


In the yoga tradition, it is believed that breath carries Prana – the invisible life energy that sustains our existence. Through Pranayama, we can refine our control over this vital flow, improve respiratory function, and influence our physical and mental health. The idea of controlling the breath may sound abstract, but what we do with breath redirection (pranayama) is a fundamental part of yoga and its philosophy of harmony and spirituality.

In this article, we will delve into the world of Pranayama, exploring what it represents, what it means for yoga, and how it can help you in your daily life. The goal is not only to improve breathing but also to achieve a balance between the body and mind, while simultaneously enhancing physical and mental health. Are you ready to immerse yourself in the world of Pranayama?

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What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is an ancient yogic practice that focuses on consciously controlling the breath to improve physical and mental health. The term originates from the Sanskrit words “prana,” meaning life energy or breath, and “ayama,” meaning “to restrain or control.” Prana is believed in yoga to be the energy that flows through us and sustains life. Ayama refers to “to rule or control.” Pranayama directs attention to controlling the breath as a means to influence energy flows.

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of yoga, known as Ashtanga, which leads to Samadhi, or enlightenment. The practice of Pranayama aims to control the breath to achieve a meditative state of the body and liberation of the mind. Pranayama techniques can be practiced both in standalone sessions and in combination with asanas – the physical postures in yoga. It holds equal importance to asana, turning breathing into a powerful bridge connecting our consciousness with the subconscious.

Within yoga, breathing is a key process that unifies the physical and emotional aspects of our existence. Pranayama acts as a key unlocking the doors to physical and emotional blockages, allowing life energy (prana) to circulate freely. This balance restores harmony to the body, making the mind clearer and the body healthier.

Pranayama has a positive impact not only on breathing but also on cleansing the body of toxins and deeply affecting our minds and emotions. When prana flows freely through the body via breathing, the mind becomes calm and clear. Purifying the energy channels, called Nadis, removes the blockages that worsen our emotional state. This process contributes to creating inner peace and balance.

Furthermore, the practice of pranayama has the ability to regulate emotional states by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. The ability to control our breathing allows us to regulate our own emotions, thus learning to cope with challenges more effectively and maintain a more positive internal balance.

Main elements of Pranayama:

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In Pranayama, the four elements of breath are key to achieving control and balance. Here they are:

  1. Inhalation (Puraka): This element focuses on the act of inhaling when air is drawn into the lungs. Inhalation plays a crucial role in increasing energy within the body. Through inhalation, done mindfully and fully, oxygen is delivered to the cells, activating their energy.
  2. Retention after Inhalation (Antara-Kumbhaka): Here, the emphasis is on holding the breath after a full inhalation. This stage contributes to enhancing control over energy and focus. This moment of retention allows the body to more efficiently absorb oxygen and energy from the air. It serves as a time for purification and preparation of the body for the next cycle.
  3. Exhalation (Rechaka): Exhalation focuses on the process of releasing air from the lungs. This stage provides calming and stabilizing of energy in the body. Additionally, during exhalation, the body releases excess air and toxins. This moment calms the nervous system and promotes relaxation.
  4. Retention after Exhalation (Bahya-Kumbhaka): This final element involves holding the breath after exhalation. It aids in the sense of fullness and allows for a deeper connection with the inner self.

Of utmost importance in Pranayama is the emphasis on exhalation, considered one of the primary and crucial phases in the entire process. This is because complete exhalation prepares the body for the next inhalation cycle.

It is recommended to practice Pranayama with specific breath ratios, using the four key elements: inhalation (Puraka), retention after inhalation (Antara-Kumbhaka), exhalation (Rechaka), and retention after exhalation (Bahya-Kumbhaka). Regulating these ratios is essential, noting that retention of breath after inhalation and exhalation is considered an advanced technique. Lengthening the inhalation energizes the body. The inhalation process provides more oxygen to the cells and improves blood circulation, enhancing energy and alertness.

On the other hand, lengthening the exhalation has a calming effect. During exhalation, the body releases carbon dioxide and waste, while simultaneously stimulating relaxation. Prolonged exhalation helps reduce stress, soothe the nervous system, and achieve a calmer and more balanced mind. Thus, through breath control, practitioners of Pranayama can manage the energy in their bodies and minds, combining energizing and calming aspects into a unified whole.

For optimal results, Pranayama is recommended to be performed after asanas as part of a comprehensive yogic regimen. The best time to practice is in the morning or immediately after sunset. These practices can also be particularly beneficial before sleep or in situations requiring calmness and relaxation.

What are the different types of Pranayama

There are numerous different types of Pranayama, each with its own unique techniques and benefits. Here are some of them:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing (Ujjayi): This type of Pranayama involves deep breathing through the diaphragm, followed by breath retention and controlled exhalation. It improves lung capacity and strengthens the diaphragm. Ujjayi is also known as “Victorious Breath.”
  2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anulom Vilom): This practice involves alternating breathing through the left and right nostrils. It helps balance energy in the body and improves nervous system function.
  3. Kapalabhati: This energizing type of Pranayama focuses on rapid and forceful exhalations, followed by automatic inhalations. It stimulates circulation, cleanses the bronchial passages, and strengthens the abdominal muscles.
  4. Bhramari: The name of this Pranayama type comes from the Indian goddess of wisdom and music, Brahma. The practice involves inhaling, followed by exhaling while making a sound similar to that of a humming bee. This method soothes the nervous system, improves concentration, and reduces stress. Bhramari is also known as the “Humming Bee Breath.”
  5. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing with Breath Retention): This Pranayama technique involves alternating breathing through the left and right nostrils with breath retention. It helps balance energy, promotes relaxation, and enhances focus.
  6. Sheetkari: This method involves breath retention and prolonged, noisy exhalation. It aims to cool the body and calm the mind. During Sheetkari Pranayama, inhalation is done through the teeth, creating a sound similar to that of a cicada. This action has a calming effect on the mind and stimulates the respiratory system.
  7. Noli (The Sound of Dedication): This type of Pranayama involves producing the sound “Om” during exhalation. It is used to calm the mind and prepare for meditation.
  8. Kriya Yoga: This type of Pranayama involves a combination of breathing techniques, meditation, and gestures called “mudras.” It is practiced for spiritual awakening and development.

The different types of Pranayama offer flexibility and the opportunity to choose the appropriate practice based on your individual needs and goals. Before starting any practice, it’s important to consult with an experienced instructor or yoga teacher, such as those at Ayurveda Clinic Bansko, to guide you properly, especially if you’re a beginner.

Chest Breathing and Its Benefits


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Chest breathing in pranayama is a technique focused on inhaling and exhaling with the chest, activating the respiratory muscles in the chest and neck area. This practice aims to improve physical and emotional well-being.

Physically, chest breathing improves blood circulation by directing a richer flow of oxygen to the upper part of the body. This process increases energy levels and stimulates overall vitality. At the same time, the technique helps relieve tension in the muscles of the chest and neck.

From an emotional and psychological perspective, practicing chest breathing encourages a state of relaxation and calmness. This type of breathing contributes to reducing stress and anxiety by providing an easy method for coping with daily challenges. Additionally, chest breathing enhances the quality of breathing by promoting full utilization of the lungs. This is crucial for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body.

One variation of pranayama that focuses on chest breathing is called “Ujjayi Jeevana Pranayama” or “Chest Breathing with Prana.” This technique emphasizes inhaling and exhaling through the chest while controlling the flow of prana (life energy) in the upper body.

During the practice of this pranayama, the practitioner consciously extends their chest breathing, directing attention to inhaling and exhaling through the nose. This can be done with various techniques, including breath retention after inhaling and exhaling, by adjusting the ratios of the different phases of breathing.

The combination of relaxation, improved circulation, and energization makes chest breathing an essential element of yoga practice, contributing to the harmony and balance of the body and mind.

Pranayama for Beginners

Pranayama for beginners introduces a practice in the realm of yoga philosophy aimed at awareness and control of breath. Here are some basic techniques and simple exercises for beginners in pranayama:

Breath Awareness

Sit in a comfortable position with an upright spine and relaxed shoulders. Close your eyes. Direct your attention to your breath without altering it. Feel the inhalation and exhalation, focusing on the passage of air through the nasal passages. Continue to breathe mindfully for a few minutes, concentrating entirely on the process of breathing.

Chest Breathing

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Inhale deeply through the nose, feeling your chest rise. Exhale gently through the mouth, feeling your chest lower. Repeat the exercise for 10-15 cycles.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Sit or lie down with an upright spine. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Inhale deeply through the nose, allowing your abdomen to rise. Exhale through the mouth, controlling the descent of your abdomen. Practice this exercise, focusing on using the diaphragm for deep breathing.

Rhythmic Breathing “Four-Four”

Sit comfortably and place your hands on your knees. Inhale through the nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Exhale through the mouth for four seconds. Rest for four seconds before repeating the cycle.

Start with short sessions and gradually increase the duration of your practice. Practice the exercises in a calm and quiet environment. Focus on your sensations and your breathing, avoiding distracting thoughts. If you experience discomfort, stop the exercise and consult a healthcare professional.

These simple exercises are a suitable way for beginners to start the practice of pranayama and to cultivate more mindful breathing. Don’t worry and don’t try to increase the duration of your practice at the beginning. Start with short sessions and gradually extend the time as you feel ready. Pranayama for beginners requires patience and consistency. Don’t strive for perfectionism and enjoy the process of discovering the inner world of breath.

A few important warnings about Pranayama


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When practicing pranayama, despite its benefits, it is important to consider some precautions. If you suffer from respiratory or other health problems, it is advisable to consult with your doctor before starting the practice. For people with asthma or high blood pressure, it is important to avoid breath retention during pranayama, as this may affect their health condition.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, or discomfort during practice, it is important to stop immediately and rest. Techniques such as “Breath of Fire” and “Bhastrika Pranayama” should be avoided during pregnancy, hernia, or after recent abdominal surgery. They are quite intense and involve rapid and rhythmic inhalations and exhalations, which can cause strain and stress in the abdominal area, which is not desirable, especially during pregnancy.

It is best to learn pranayama under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher, such as the specialists at the Ayurveda Clinic Bansko, who can provide you with personalized advice and guidance. This will ensure safe and effective performance of the practices tailored to your individual needs and health condition.


In conclusion, Pranayama represents a powerful practice embedded in the long yogic tradition, providing people with tools and techniques for breath control and management of life energy. It is an important element of yoga philosophy and can be practiced both independently and in conjunction with asana practice.

Over the centuries, people have derived benefits from pranayama, including improvement of physical and emotional well-being, increased energy, and attainment of inner balance. Today, studying and incorporating pranayama into our daily lives can be the key to achieving harmony between the mind and body. Whether you are a beginner in yoga or already advanced, at the Ayurveda Clinic Bansko, you can enjoy various types of Pranayama with a qualified instructor in a cozy environment.

In the control of breath lies the art of directing life force, which not only regulates oxygen but also alters our consciousness and perception of the world.


Frequently Asked Questions

Are there age restrictions for practicing Pranayama?

As a general rule, Pranayama can be practiced by people of various age groups, including children. However, for school-age children or individuals with health issues, it’s important to consult with an experienced yoga instructor or healthcare professional before starting a regular practice of Pranayama. This ensures a personalized approach and ensures that the techniques are performed correctly and safely.

Which types of Pranayama are suitable for absolute beginners?

For absolute beginners in Pranayama, simple techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) are recommended. These exercises help to become aware of and improve one’s breathing before moving on to more complex techniques.

How much time is needed for an effective practice of Pranayama?

The time dedicated to the practice of Pranayama can vary depending on individual preferences and schedule. For beginners, it’s recommended to start with shorter sessions, such as 10-15 minutes per day, and gradually increase the duration of time.

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