Pranayama Benefits for the Mind and Body

Pranayama is the yogic practice of focusing on the breath. In Sanskrit, prana means “vital life force”, and Yama means to gain control. In yoga, breath is associated with the prana, thus, pranayama is a means to elevate the prana shakti or life energies. Pranayama is described in Hindu texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Later in Hatha Yoga texts, it meant the complete suspension of breathing. Pranayama and meditation are also a part philosophy of the Siddha Spirituality of Swami Hardas Life System. So, let us know in-depth about pranayama for the well-being of every one of us.

Pranayama Meaning

Pranayama is derived from Prana, which means life force. Ayama means control. Combine the two words Pranayama means controlling the breath. Patanjali in his text of Yoga Sutras mentioned Pranayama. In his literature, he said that practicing these asanas causes the practice to attain a higher state of awareness and also mentioned if he holding his breath of reaching Samadhi. The practice of Pranayama helps to make the body and mind healthy.

Benefits And Importance of Pranayama (Art of Breathing) The Essence of Yoga | KANNADIGA WORLD
Pranayama Posture

Types of Pranayama

‌Pranayama practices have both slow and fast variations‌. While there are many different types of practices, some popular ones are:

  • Bhastrika, or bellow breath, is used to boost energy levels.
  • Kapal Bhati, or skull shining technique, is practiced for energy clearing and its detoxifying effects on the body.
  • Nadi Shodhan, or alternate nostril technique, is believed to center your mind by joining the right and left sides of your brain.
  • Bhramari, or bee breath, is used to help calm the mind and racing thoughts.

Many practitioners follow pranayama to gain the traditional benefits of these breathing exercises. Modern science has also found pranayama to hold a wide range of benefits for the mind and body.

Pranayama in Hinduism

Bhagavad Gītā

Pranayama is mentioned in verse 4.29 of the Bhagavad Gītā.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Pranayama is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali, a Hindu Rishi, discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51 and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice. Patanjali does not fully elucidate the nature of prana, and the theory and practice of pranayama seem to have undergone significant development after him. He presents pranayama as essentially an exercise that is preliminary to concentration.

Yoga teachers including B. K. S. Iyengar have advised that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yamas, Niyamas, and Asana.

Hatha yoga

The Indian tradition of Hatha Yoga makes use of various pranayama techniques. The 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a key text of this tradition and includes various forms of pranayama such as Kumbhaka breath retention and various body locks (Bandha). Other forms include:

  • Ujjayi breath (Victorious Breath),
  • Sitali (breathing through the rolled tongue), 
  • Bhastrika (Bellows Breath), 
  • Kapalabhati (Skull-shining Breath, a Shatkarma purification), 
  • Surya Bhedana (Sun-piercing Breath), and
  • The soothing Bhramari (buzzing like a bee). 

B. K. S. Iyengar cautions that pranayama should only be undertaken when one has a firmly established yoga practice and then only under the guidance of an experienced Guru.

According to the scholar-practitioner of yoga Theos Bernard, the ultimate aim of pranayama is the suspension of breathing (kevala kumbhaka), “causing the mind to swoon”. Paramahansa Yogananda writes, “The real meaning according to Patanjali, the founder of Yoga philosophy, is the gradual cessation of breathing, the discontinuance of inhalation and exhalation”.

Yoga as exercise

The yoga scholar Andrea Jain states that pranayama was “marginal to the most widely cited sources” before the 20th century and that the breathing practices were “dramatically” unlike the modern ones; she writes that while pranayama in modern yoga as exercise consists of synchronizing the breath with movements (between asanas), in texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, pranayama meant “complete cessation of breathing”, for which she cites Bronkhorst 2007.

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Pranayama in Hinduism

Pranayama in Buddhism

According to the Pali Buddhist Canon, the Buddha prior to his enlightenment practiced a meditative technique that involved pressing the palate with the tongue and forcibly attempting to restrain the breath. This is described as both extremely painful and not conducive to enlightenment. In some Buddhist teachings or metaphors, breathing is said to stop with the fourth jhana, though this is a side-effect of the technique and does not come about as the result of purposeful effort.

The Buddha did incorporate moderate modulation of the length of breath as part of the preliminary tetrad in the Anapanasati Sutta. Its use there is preparation for concentration. According to commentarial literature, this is appropriate for beginners.

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Pranayama in Buddhism

Pranayama Indo-Tibetan tradition

Later Indo-Tibetan developments in Buddhist pranayama which are similar to Hindu forms can be seen as early as the 11th century, in the Buddhist text titled the Amṛtasiddhi, which teaches three bandhas in connection with yogic breathing (kumbakha).

Tibetan Buddhist breathing exercises such as the “nine breathings of purification” or the “Ninefold Expulsion of Stale Vital Energy” (rlung ro dgu shrugs), a form of alternate nostril breathing, commonly include visualizations. In the Nyingma tradition of Dzogchen, these practices are collected in the textual cycle known as “The Oral Transmission of Vairotsana” (Vai ro snyan brgyud).

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Pranayama Indo-Tibetan Tradition

When to Practice Pranayama?

Different forms of pranayama are more appropriate for the morning, mid-day, and evening. The time of day also depends on how we want our body, mind, and heart to feel after our practice. Early morning around sunrise is the ideal time for practicing. The second best time is in the evening around sunset.

You can practice invigorating breathing methods during the morning or mid-day to boost your energy and focus. Slow and calming pranayamas are best practiced in the evenings. Different schools of yoga incorporate pranayama into their asana practices. You will find breathing practices taught before, during, and after hatha yoga or meditation. It’s best to honor what your tradition dictates.

Tips for practicing Pranayama

  • Wear loose-fitting or stretchy clothes to feel comfortable and relaxed.
  • Find a comfortable seated position. If needed, use props to support you.
  • Establish a regular practice every day or several times per week for 15-20 minutes.
  • Practice in a well-ventilated room that is neat and clean and free from distractions.
  • It is best to practice at the same place and time.
  • If the weather is pleasant, you can practice pranayama outdoors.
  • Avoid practicing yoga under a fan or next to an air conditioner as it may disturb the prana and be distracting.
  • Daily practice should be done on an empty stomach.
  • It is recommended to clear your bowels before a vigorous practice.
  • Keep your mind focused on the sensation of the breath as you practice.
  • If you feel any sensations of pain, tension, or weakness in your body, focus on relaxing that area and directing your breath into it.
  • Take your time, slow and steady practice is essential to progress and integrate pranayama’s effects.

How to Practice Pranayama?

Learn the proper way to breathe

Practicing Pranayama one can control the energy within and learn the proper way to breathe. With the technic of breathing, we can increase the capacity of the Lungs and supply oxygen to every organ of the body properly. The benefits of the Pranayama were proved by scientists.

The speed of breathing is divided into three parts. They are:

  • Quiet Breathing – It is smooth breathing that is continuous without any effort.
  • Deep Breathing – Protracted breathing, means deliberate storing down of the breathing.
  • Fast Breathing – Caused by the deliberate increase in the speed of breathing.

The four stages of Pranayama

  • Aramba – This is the first stage. When a person is interested, he is awakened to start the Pranayama.
  • Ghata – Second stage, where three carries gross and subtle merges to cover the soul.
  • Parichay – This is the third stage where the practice gets familiar with the knowledge of Pranayama.
  • Nispati – This is the final stage where the practice goes beyond his physical body and unites with the supreme.

Practice styles of Pranayama

1: Keep both the nostrils open and then inhale and exhale with as much speed as possible and as much time as feasible.

2: Take up Pranava Mudra and close the right nostril with the help of the thumb of the right hand, and inhale and exhale through the left nostril.

3: Same here left nostril closed and do the inhale and exhale quickly with the right nostril.

4: In this close the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril and immediately close the left nostril and exhale with the right.

5: Doing opposite the previous one.

6: This is practiced quickly by following type-4 and type-5.

Important instruction

If you feel dizzy lightheaded winded or gasping for air, stop the pranayama and take slow, relaxed normal breaths until you have recovered. Do not strain your body while practicing. When you feel fatigued, stop, and rest. After practicing, lie down to rest in Shavasana or practice a few minutes of meditation.

Cautions for Pranayama

  • If you have any breathing or respiratory issues, consult your doctor before doing pranayama.
  • If you have asthma or high blood pressure should not hold your breath.
  • Avoid Kapalabhati, Bhastrika, and Surya Bhedana pranayama in the summer months or if you have a health condition that is aggravated by heat.
  • Sit Cari, Shitali, and Chandra Bhedana pranayama in the wintertime or if you have a health condition that is aggravated by the cold to be avoided.
  • Avoid Breath of Fire and Bhastrika pranayama during pregnancy, hernia, or recent abdominal surgery.
  • If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or lightheaded stop practicing and rest.
  • It is best to learn from an experienced yoga teacher who can provide detailed and individual instruction and helpful advice.

Pranayama Etymology


Prāṇāyāma (प्राणायाम) is a Sanskrit compound. It is defined variously by different authors. Macdonell gives the etymology as prana (prāṇa), breath, + āyāma and defines it as the suspension of breath.


Monier-Williams defines the compound prāṇāyāma as “of the three ‘breath-exercises’ performed during Saṃdhyā (See pūrakrechak (English: retch or throw out)kumbhak“. This technical definition refers to a particular system of breath control with three processes as explained by Bhattacharyya: 

  • Pūrak (to take the breath inside), 
  • Kumbhak (to retain it), and 
  • Rechak (to discharge it).

There are other processes of prāṇāyāma besides this three-step model.

V. S. Apte

V. S. Apte’s definition of āyāmaḥ derives it from ā + yām and provides several variant meanings for it when used in compounds. The first three meanings have to do with “length”, “expansion, extension”, and “stretching, extending”, but in the specific case of use in the compound, he defines āyāmaḥ as meaning “restrain, control, stopping”.

Medical Benefits of Pranayama

Pranayama, the practice of controlled breathing, can be found as a part of many types of yogas. This practice is believed to help encourage relaxation and improve breathing. Although limited in nature, research studies on a small group of subjects indicate to have a positive impact on lung function and lung parameters as an adjunctive treatment.

Long-term and large-scale studies would be needed in order to validate the research and confirm the effects of pranayama and reach global acceptance.

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Benefits of Pranayama

What are the health benefits of Pranayama?

Cognitive function

Both slow and fast kinds of pranayama can help improve your cognitive functions. Studies show that fast pranayama in particular can help to improve auditory and sensory-motor skills.

Lung capacity

Practicing pranayama can help improve lung function. This includes helping you hold your breath longer and increasing strength in your respiratory muscles. Pranayama has the potential to help with all sorts of lung issues. It may aid recovery from pneumonia and strengthen lungs that suffer from asthma.

Quit smoking

Speaking of lung health, the breathing techniques in pranayama can help to cut cravings if you want to quit smoking.


Much like the more popular forms of yoga, pranayama can increase mindfulness. Its meditative method of breath focus and awareness can aid your ability to live in the present moment.

Stress and emotional regulation

Pranayama’s ability to improve mindfulness has also been found to lower stress and aggression among students taking particularly stressful exams. Its focus on breathing and relaxation may alter the levels of stress molecules.


Pranayama can significantly lower anxiety levels and any negative feelings associated with it. Regular practice can help with anxiety. Just one session can help you noticeably reduce anxiety.

Reduce hypertension

Bee breath pranayama and chanting may help reduce hypertension or high blood pressure. The benefits of such stress reduction include reducing the chance of various conditions, such as strokes, peripheral vascular disease, and coronary heart disease.

Psychosomatic disorders

Psychosomatic disorders are diseases involving both the body and mind. Some psychosomatic diseases include migraine headaches, ulcers, and psoriasis. By joining the body and mind through the breath, pranayama may help manage these.

Mastering your mind

If you’re feeling tired, heavy, dull, or emotionally off-balance, a few minutes of yogic breathing can energize, renew, and sustain you through your day or a challenging yoga class. There are a number of different breathing methods in yoga that can influence and affect your experience in asana, relaxation, and meditation.

Having a stronger connection and control of your breath will give you a deeper attunement of your physical, mental, and emotional bodies and help anchor your awareness in the present moment. Yogis believe that if you can master your breath through pranayama practices you can master your mind!

Regulates emotional state

When your prana flow or energy channels are blocked or restricted, you may experience a lack of focus and negative emotions like anxiety, fear, worry, tension, depression, anger, and grief. When your prana or energy channels are open and flowing freely and smoothly the mind becomes calm, focused, happy, positive, and enthusiastic. Thus, through the skillful and conscious use of our breathing, we can affect and regulate our emotional states.


A Cochrane systematic review on the symptomatic relief of mild to moderate asthma by breathing exercises stated that there was limited evidence they might bring about improvement in quality of life, hyperventilation symptoms, and lung function. A study from 2017 proves that regular practice helps decrease stress, and also improve sleep quality simultaneously.


Although relatively safe, Hatha Yoga is not risk-free. Beginners should avoid advanced moves and exercise within their capabilities. 

According to at least one study, pranayama was the yoga practice leading to the most injuries, with four injuries in a study of 76 practitioners. 

Frequently asked questions

Before posting your query, kindly go through them:

What is the meaning of Pranayama?

Pranayama is derived from ‘Prana’, which means life force and ‘Ayama’ means control. Combine the two words Pranayama means controlling the breath.

Where does Pranayama fit in Ashtanga Yoga?

It is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Which are the types of Pranayama?

Its practices have both slow and fast variations‌. While there are many different types of practices, some popular ones are Bhastrika, or bellow breath, which is used to boost energy levels. Kapal Bhati, or skull shining technique, is practiced for energy clearing and its detoxifying effects on the body. Nadi Shodhan, or alternate nostril technique, is believed to center your mind by joining the right and left sides of your brain. Bhramari, or bee breath, is used to help calm the mind and racing thoughts.

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    1. What a surprise! You’re most welcome, Prakash. Thanks for your kind words. Please stay tuned and avail of the benefits for well-being. Have a nice day!!

    1. Certainly, dear Rajesh. Pranayama, as a whole and regular practice helps relieve numerous disorders as well as improves mental health, which is most important during these days of stress and tension. Your affirmation of this fact is admirable. Thanks for your precious words. Kindly stay connected. Please take care and have glorious days ahead!!

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