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Pranayama: The Yogic Breathing

Sage Patanjali describes pranayama, that is, yogic breathing, as the control of Prana by regulating the motions of inhalation and exhalation.

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In other words, yogic breathing is the regulation of the incoming (svaasa) and outgoing (prasvaasa) flow of breath with retention (Tasmin sati svaasa prasvaasayah gativichedah pranayamah) (Yoga Sutra II-49).

Pranayama is the fourth and most important part (anga, step) in Asthanga yoga.1

Studies on breathing have shown that the method of respiration affects the whole organism. Calmness can actually be induced by deep, steady inhalations and exhalations.

Pranayama is principally a breathing exercise as air possesses several unique qualities and is the life force, or Prana Sakti. Air not only purifies the inner organs of the body, but also a giver of life.

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By regular and correct practice of pranayama, the body makes the best use of the air and brings into one’s life a number of good things like removal of diseases, increase of memory power, concentration and alertness. It is basically a physician means to a spiritual end and is a part of Hatha Yoga, which is designed to prepare the practitioner for spiritual experience by perfecting his/her body. Although Prana is sometimes translated as ‘breath’, it has a much broader reference.

The human body consists of five elements (panchabhutas), namely,

  • Ether
  • Air
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Earth

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And besides these, speech, mind, vision and the rest of sense organs, and it is the Prana that holds and supports it. Prana manifests primarily in the function of breathing and control of prana may be obtained by the practice of breathing exercises.

Pranayama is a most important part of life and an integral part of yoga. Breathing is a normal rhythmic process, consisting of inhaling and exhaling of air cyclically throughout our life.

Breathing cycle in a normal and healthy person is around 15 cycles per minute, that is, 4 seconds for one cycle (1:2:1 for Puraka or inhalation, Kumbhaka or retention and Rechaka or exhalation). Accordingly, normal cycle of a man in one day is around 21,600 cycles, which corresponds to a life-span of 78–80 years.

Dogs whose breathing rhythm is about 30–35, have a life-span of about 15–20 years only. Much importance is therefore given in yoga therapy for slow, deep rhythmic breathing, covering not only lungs but also abdomen. This is called complete breathing, and if practiced properly and correctly, will work as a remedy for cold, cough, allergy and many other ailments.

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Quick and shallow breathing is not beneficial, as almost 80% of oxygen intake is wasted by letting it out. Right breathing coupled with scientific approach to yoga will ensure one to remain fit and healthy lifelong.2

There are 72,000 nadis (pathways for flow of pranic energy) in the human body described in yoga sutras

Following three are most important nadis play a big role

  • Ida
  • Pingala
  • Sushumna

When we breathe through the left nostril, Ida nadi and the right hemisphere of the brain are stimulated. Breathing through the right nostril stimulates the Pingala nadi and the left hemisphere of the brain. The flow of Ida (mental) and Pingala (pranic) energy spreads throughout the body and controls different organs of the body including heart and kidneys.

“The body is a product of the mind” as told by Swami Sivananda.3 The common goal of practicing pranayama is to control the mind to achieve peace and tranquility ultimately. It is a great enabler of people who suffer from anger. Anger is a negative emotion and can lead to illnesses and ruin relationships. Angry people are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, and cardiac problems and constant practice of pranayama is known to help such persons in overcoming anger and achieve peace and tranquility of mind. With the development and control of a steady mind, strong willpower and clear judgment can be accomplished through yogic breathing, that is, pranayama.


The science of pranayama is based on the retention of prana called ‘kumbhaka’. Inhalation and exhalation are merely incidental. Those who are serious in awakening the hidden recesses of the brain need to perfect the art of retention (kumbhaka). During kumbhaka there is an increased blood flow into the brain and simultaneously heat is generated in the system.

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Techniques of pranayama

Types of pranayama

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1. Iyengar BKS. Light on Pranayama, Harper Collins Publishers India, 1993.
2. Swami Prabhavananda. Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Ramakrishna Mutt, Chennai, 2001.
3. Swami Sivananda. Practice of Yoga, The Divine Life Society. Sivanandanagar, Rishikesh, India, 1979.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: February 05, 2016

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