Pranayama is the conscious and deliberate control and regulation of the breath (Prana means breath, ayam means to control, to regulate). With each breath we absorb not only oxygen, but also Prana. Prana is cosmic energy, the power in the Universe that creates, preserves and changes. It is the basic element of life and consciousness. Prana is also found in food, therefore it is very important to have a healthy and wholesome vegetarian diet.
The conscious guidance of Prana in the body gives rise to an increase in vitality, physical detoxification and improved immunity, as well as the attainment of inner peace, relaxation and mental clarity.In mythology it is said that the length of a person's life is predetermined by the number of breaths. The Yogi tries to “conserve time” and lengthen life by slowing down the breath.

The Sanskrit word Pranayama comes from Prana (life energy) and Ayama (to extend, draw out). The practice of Pranayama dates back to ancient India and the origins of yoga, said to be around sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Pranayama is mentioned in early yoga texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Pranayama is the fourth of Patanjali’s 8 limb path of yoga following the Yamas, Niyamas and Asana. It prepares the mind and body for the next four limbs of yoga:
"When we practice Pranayama the veil is gradually drawn away from the mind and there is growing clarity. The mind becomes ready for deep meditation"

Key principles of practice

Clearing the obstacles so that breath and prana (life energy) can flow

The guiding principle behind Pranayama is that we all hold physical or emotional blocks in our bodies which inhibit the flow of breath and of prana - life energy. This can leave us feeling unwell and “stuck” or blocked physically and emotionally. By practising Pranayama (and asana) we are clearing these blocks so breath and prana can flow freely, our bodies can then function properly and our minds can become calmer and clearer.

Pranayama techniques focus on one or more of the four parts of the breath.
Inhalation (puraka)
Internal retention (antara-khumbaka)
Exhalation (rechaka)
External retention (bahya-khumbaka)

Practice should be built up gradually starting with simple breath awareness exercises and Ujjayi breathing then Nadi Shodhana (Alternative Nostril Breathing) before moving onto retention of the breath. The aim is not to see how long you can hold your breath for. The breath to be smooth and even and never strained even after breath retention.

Most kinds of Pranayama are practised sitting down with an upright spine for example in Sukhasana / Cross-legged Pose, Virasana / Hero’s Pose (on props if needed) or Padmasana / Lotus Pose.

Some Pranayama practices should be avoided by certain groups of people. For example, Nauli Kriya (Abdominal massage) and Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath) are very strong on the abdominal muscles. While this is a benefit for many people, they are not suitable for pregnant women and women who are menstruating. Any practice which includes breath retention is not recommended for people who have issues with their heart or blood pressure. If in doubt consult your doctor or health professional if you have health conditions before starting a yoga or Pranayama practice.

For more details about different Pranayama techniques, take a look at the Ten Days of Pranayama programme.

The benefits of a regular Pranayama practice

Practising Pranayama regularly helps to improve general health and wellbeing by allowing the breath and prana to flow freely in the body. It can improve mood, sleep, energy levels and digestion. Different types of Pranayama have specific benefits. For example, some such as Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath) are energizing and detoxifying with a fast rhythm. They use strong abdominal contractions to expel the breath so they tone the abdominal muscles as well. Other types of Pranayama are balancing or relaxing like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) or Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing) where inhalations and exhalations are equal length.

Effects of Pranayamas

Physical Effects
Preservation of the body’s health
Detoxification of the blood
Improvement in the absorption of oxygen
Strengthening the lungs and heart
Regulation of blood pressure
Regulation of the nervous system
Supporting the healing process and healing therapies
Increasing resistance to infection.

Mental Effects
Elimination of stress, nervousness and depression
Quietening of thoughts and emotions
Inner balance
Release of energy blockages.

Spiritual Effects
Deepening of meditation
Awakening and purification of the Chakras (energy centres)
Expansion of consciousness.

Anulom Vilom

Anulom Vilom Pranayam is an alternate breathing technique. ... Then, breathe in from right nostril closing left nostril with middle finger and ring finger and breathe out from left nostril closing right nostril with thumb. Do it continously and it is known as Anulom Vilom Pranayam.


Treats snoring.
Controls obesity.
Beneficial for arthritis.
It treats constipation.
Controls allergic problems.
Manages blood circulation.
Improves muscular system.
Diabetics can be controlled.
Maintains digestive system.
Blood pressure can be cured.
Decreases stress and anxiety.
Effects on brain positive thinking.
Helps in making heart health healthy.
Transfers negative to positive thoughts.
Increases pure oxygen supply throughout the body.


“When you do pranayama, 80% of the toxins in our body are released through the outgoing breath. Regular practice of Kapal Bhati Pranayama detoxifies all the systems in our body. And the obvious sign of a healthy body is a shining forehead,” shares Dr. Sejal Shah, a Sri Sri Yoga teacher.

Kapal Bhati literally translates to ‘the shining forehead,’ and this is precisely what happens with regular practice of this pranayama – a forehead that glows not just from outside, but also an intellect that becomes sharp and refined.


Increases the metabolic rate and aids in weight loss
Clears the nadis (subtle energy channels)
Stimulates abdominal organs and thus is extremely useful to those with diabetes
Improves blood circulation and adds radiance to the face
Improves digestive tract functioning, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients
Results in a taut and trimmed down belly
Energizes the nervous system and rejuvenates brain cells
Calms and uplifts the mind