14 Types of Pranayama and Their Effects on Body

types of pranayama
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The breath and mind are very closely linked. By the practice of Pranayama, you can effectively control your physical and mental state. However, different types of pranayama have different effects on the body & mind.

How Many Types of Pranayama

According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, traditionally there are 8 types of pranayama combinedly called ‘8 Kumbhakas’. All other pranayamas that we do in yoga merely modified variations of these traditional techniques.

To know the better classification of pranayama techniques, one can break down breathing into its 3 basic components, Inhale-exhale, and retention. It should be noted, all types of pranayama have one aim, to extend breath retention hence it’s also known as Kumbhaka.

types of pranayama
8 traditional types of pranayama. Image By: fitsri

However, beginner’s most practiced pranayama like Nadi Shodhan, Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, and Sama Vritti, aren’t part of traditional techniques. While some pranayama techniques like Pranav pranayama and Udgeeth pranayama are known to induce a better environment for meditation practice.

Other than these, there are some advanced pranayama yogis used to stimulate kundalini and attain a higher state of chakras (energy centers). These types of advanced pranayama comprise the incorporation of Bandhas and mudras along with regular breathing.

1. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

nadi shodhan pranayama
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This is the first type of pranayama and most practiced because of its soothing effects on the brain. Popularly known as alternate nostril breathing, it’s a slow and deep breathing exercise.

In this pranayama, we close nostrils alternatively in a way that balances the activity of both sides of the brain.

To assess the effects of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama on coronary heart disease patients, an experimental study was carried out in 2019. In individuals who undergo Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery, it’s found in this study 1 on practicing Nadi shodhan pranayama;

  • A significant reduction in both state and trait anxiety has shown after 6 weeks
  • Post-operative pain and suffering of patients has reduced
  • A significant reduction in depression, stress, anxiety, and peak expiratory flow rate has measured in the pre and post-surgery

However, another experimental study shows the immediate effects of Nadi Shodhan on the healthy individual’s heart rate, blood pressure, and problem-solving ability. It’s found in this study 2;

  • Nadi shodhan refreshes air throughout the lungs and alter autonomic activity. It significantly declines the heart rate and systolic blood pressure.
  • Peak expiratory flow rate improved that show a healthy lung condition.
  • Due to better adaptability for mental stress-induced after practicing nadi shodhan participant’s mathematical problem-solving time reduced significantly.

2. Bhastrika Pranayama

bhastrika
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In contrast to slow and deep breathing, bhastrika comes in fast and shallow breathing type pranayama. Bhastrika literally means “bellows breath”

In this pranayama, exaggerated and forceful breathing is performed engaging the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.

Rapid expansion and contraction of abdominal muscles create a bellows action to ignite the body’s heat, hence also known as breath of fire.

Bhatrika pranayama is very effective in revitalizing the working of the lungs. In a 2019 study, bhastrika pranayama effect on lung function is tested among 30 healthy individuals and it has found 3;

  • A significant increment is observed in the Forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in the first second, Peak expiratory flow rate, and maximum voluntary ventilation.
  • The elastic recoil of the lungs and chest wall increased thereby strengthening the respiratory muscles.

In 2009, 4 another scientific study on the effects of bhastrika on heart rate and blood pressure was conducted.

This time slow type of bhastrika pranayama is performed for 5 minutes followed by the measurement of blood pressure and heart rate. The comparative study between the readings of given parameters before and after bhastrika concluded that:

  • There is a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
  • A slight decrement in the heart rate.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system is also stimulated which bought a sense of calmness and reduced stress.

3. Kapalbhati Pranayama

kapalbhati pranayama
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Kapalbhati is a type of pranayama that can be categorized under fast, asymmetrical, diaphragmatic breathing.

In kapalbhati Pranayama, forceful exhalation is attributed to the complete detox of the body by cleansing the Kapal (skull).

Besides pranayama, kapalbhati is one of the purification techniques of shatkarma.

Forceful exhalation in kapalbhati decompresses the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. It massages the brain cells and you feel lighter after performing it.

Many studies done in the past has evaluated the effects of Kapalbhati on the body and mind.

  • Kapabhati is like warming up exercise for respiratory muscles to increase the lung capacity.
  • It also increases the circulation of oxygen-rich blood in the body which in turn increases melanin proportion to glow skin.
  • Kapalbhati increases the metabolic rate of the body. Faster metabolism leads to increased calorie consumption and further, helps in weight loss.
  • It has shown in a study, just one month of kapalbhati has decreased the blood sugar level in diabetic individuals.
  • The pelvic floor muscles are strengthened after practicing kalpalbhati for four weeks and proved to be effective in reducing menopausal complications.

4. Bhramari Pranayama

bhramari pranayama
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Bhramari pranayama is the most relaxing breathing technique anyone can do easily to get rid of stress and anxiety instantly.

Bhramar is called to a humming bee.

In Bhramari pranayama, as you exhale, the ear canal is closed with index fingers and a humming sound is produced from the back of the throat. The mind is focused on the vibratory sound of a humming bee in prolonged exhalation.

When you practice it long enough, little impulses of soothing humming sound continues vibrating in your head. It keeps stress & anxiety away from you.

  • In a yogic intervention 5, it has seen, Bharamari pranayama immediately affects the cardiovascular system which in turn reduces high blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Bhramari pranayama relieves the symptoms of sinusitis by increasing nitric oxide levels in the blood cells and reducing anxiety and other psychological symptoms in patients with chronic sinusitis 6.
  • In the treatment of tinnitus and sensorineural deafness 7, bhramari pranayama with shanmukhi mudra is a very effective breathing technique.

5. Anulom Vilom Pranayama

anulom vilom
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Anulom Vilom pranayama is a type of alternate nostril breathing performed with the right hand in Vishnu Mudra.

To perform Anulom Vilom, close the right nostril with the right thumb, inhale from the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with the ring and little finger, exhale from the right nostril. Repeat in this manner alternatively.

To some extent, anulom vilom similar pranayama to Nadi Shodhan pranayama.

Although there is a quite difference between both; Anulom vilom is a balancing type of pranayama that maintains the flow of Prana in Ida and Pingala Nadi equally. Whereas Nadi shodhana is a cleansing pranayama type serves the purpose of Nadis purification.

Some scientific studies has proven positive effects of anulom vilom;

  • In a study 8, It has shown anulom vilom significantly improves the lung function of swimmers. It increases lung capacity and period of breath retention.
  • Anulom Vilom Pranayama for 30 minutes a day (for 40 days) can resolve sinus inflammation (rhinosinusitis), an RCT concluded 9.
  • It also affects the cognitive functions of the brain including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, and problem-solving skills in comparison to Vinyasa flow type yoga poses 10.

6. Sheetali Pranayama

sitali pranayama
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Sheetali pranayama is a cooling breathing technique. Ancient yogis derived it to reduce body temperature.

In Sheetali Pranayama, the tongue is rolled in a ‘U’ or ‘O’ shape and extends out of the mouth. This is followed by long inhalation – the air is sucked in through rolled tongue and exhaled out through nostrils. Salvia on the tongue moisturizes the air in its way through the mouth and we feel instant coolness.

Inhaling through rolled tongue in Sheetali pranayama moisturizes the dry mouth which in turn relives from bad breath.

  • In some yogic text, Sheetali pranayama is described to have hunger and thirst control ability. It has a calming effect on the entire nervous system which gives the practitioner a sense of control.
  • It reduces the production of bile waste that causes heartburn.
  • It has the ability to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients. It has found in a study 11, Sheetali lower high bp through a combination of stress reduction and modification of the physiology of the autonomic nervous system.

7. Surya Bhedna Pranayama

surya bhedna pranayama
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In contrast to alternate nostril breathing, Surya Bhedna pranayam is a type of uninostril breathing in which inhalation and exhalation are limited to the right nostril and left nostril respectively.

As the right nostril is said to the gate of ‘The Sun’, Surya Bhedna pranayama increases body temperature and gives vitality to the yogi. It can be referred as ‘hot pranayama’ or ‘right nostril breathing’.

  • Breathing in through the right nostril increases the oxygen consumption and thereby the overall metabolic status of the yogi.
  • Surya bhedana has shown a positive effect on the left hemisphere of the brain. It enhances a person’s logical and reasoning ability.
  • However, It’s evidence from a differential study 12, Surya Bhedna pranayama has sympathomimetic effects – means it can raise blood pressure to alarming heights, particularly in hypertensive patients.
  • The heat produced through this pranayama practice burns up impurities and can help eliminate pathogens from the body.

8. Chandra Bhedna Pranayama

chandra bhedna
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In this pranayama type, breathing is done in the opposite manner to Surya Bhedna pranayama i.e. Inhale – left nostril and exhale – right nostril.

Chandra Bhedna pranayama is a cooling breathing technique that activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system leads to;

  • Decreased oxygen consumption and load on the heart.
  • Immediate decrease in cardiovascular parameters such as heart rate, systolic pressure (SP), pulse pressure in hypertensive patients. 13.
  • Muscular tensions relaxation.

9. Sheetkari Pranayama

sitkari pranayama
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Sheetkari is another traditional cooling breathing technique of pranayama. In this pranayama, during inhalation, a ‘seeehh’ like hissing sound is produced which gives its cooling action. It’s also called the hissing breath.

It’s simply performed by closing the mouth and bringing the upper and lower teeth together. Expose them by parting the lips. Then perform Khechari mudra by folding the tongue to touch the soft palate. Inhale through the exposed teeth. Close the mouth to hold the breath for two seconds and then exhale through nostrils.

Although sheetkari produce similar effects as sheetali pranayama, in addition, Sheetkari pranayama is especially helpful in;

  • Lowering blood pressure and reducing symptoms of anxiety.
  • Releasing emotional and psychological knots present in the body.
  • Inducing relaxing brain waves like delta and alpha band power in the frontal and occipital regions 14.

10. Ujjayi Pranayama

ujjayi pranayama
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Among 8 traditional pranayama types, Ujjayi is the most satisfying deep breathing pranayama technique. It’s said, Ujjayi spontaneously occur in deep and intense concentration, hence, mainly performed during a meditation and Yoga Nidra session.

Ujjayi pranayama is performed inhaling from the nose, constricting the throat internally, and releasing the breath opening the mouth. The exhalation must produce an “HAA” sound as you open the mouth.

Many studies have shown the therapeutic effects of Ujjayi when incorporated with Bandhas, Mantra Japa, and yoga poses;

  • Incorporating Ujjayi pranayama in makarasana can release tension from the lower back and increase the supply of oxygen-rich blood down to the spine. It relives from sciatica or spinal spondylitis.
  • Ujjayi pranayama with short and prolonged breath retention has proven 15 positively affects oxygen consumption, leads to a higher metabolic rate of the body.
  • In a randomized control trial study 16, different physiological variables were measured after practicing ujjayi pranayama. A significant difference is observed in the resting heart rate and resting pulse rate after 8 weeks of training of Ujjayi.

11. Plavini Pranayama

plavini pranayama
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Plavini is an advanced type of pranayama that demands expertise in breath-holding for a prolonged period.

In Plavini Pranayama, the air is gulped into the stomach either by means of simple nostril breathing or through the mouth in kaki mudra. Then without any physical movement or expelling the air out, the air is retained inside the body for 30 to 90 minutes.

  • By stopping the air inside the stomach, the yogis do not feel hungry so plavini pranayama is a way of natural fasting.
  • It’s said in traditional texts, practicing plavini makes the body lighter enough so one can float easily on the water surface. It’s also called ‘floating breath’.

12. Murcha Pranayama

murcha pranayama
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After Plavini, Murcha is another traditional pranayama technique that emphasize on the breath retention.

In Murcha Pranayama, the air is inhaled through nostrils at fullest capacity. Then using Jalandhar Bandha (throat lock) breath is held and the air is retained inside for even longer than is comfortable.

It gives a feeling of fainting to the practitioner, however, according to Hatha Yoga Pradipika – Through this pranayama, the experience of conscious unconsciousness is meant to arise.

  • Murcha pranayama lowers the oxygen concentration in blood reaching the brain results in fainting sensation. Eventually, it clears yogis connection to the external world, hence helps in pratyahara (sense withdrawal).
  • Also, it gives mental clarity and induces relaxation and inner awareness.

13. Sama Vritti Pranayama

Popularly known as box breathing, Sama vritti is a very easy pranayama technique. It’s a slow and deep pranayama type that focuses on all 3 parts of breathing – inhale, exhale, and retention.

In Sama Vritti Pranayama, a practitioner has to ensure an equal period of their breath including inhale, holding the breath in, exhale, and holding the breath out.

  • It enables the lung to work evenly and equally during inhalation, retention, and exhalation, ultimately increases lung capacity.
  • Sama vritti pranayama has a stress-busting effect as breathing evenly directly affects the autonomic nervous system.
  • By reducing stress response, this pranayama also lets you sleep well with full efficiency in very little time.

However, in advanced yogis, a variation of Sama Vritti called Visma Vritti pranayama or uneven breath is more practiced.

14. Dirgha Pranayama

dirgha pranayama
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Dirgha pranayama is a full yogic breathing technique in which inhalation and exhalation are done in 3 parts.

  • First, complete filling of the lower abdomen
  • Second, complete filling of the thoracic region by the extension of side ribs
  • Finally extension of upper chest area by lengthening of collarbone and shoulders

Like any other deep breathing, Dirgha pranayama relaxes the blood vessels and widen them, which reduces the high blood pressure. Its effects on the body come by its action on belly movement

  • When abdomen moves with breathing, internal abdominal organs also make movement. It gives them internal massage and enhances the digestive system function.
  • Dirgha pranayama effects the oxygen concentration in blood to the brain.

Conclusion

Whether you are looking to reduce stress or high blood pressure, improve concentration or find stillness, there are number of pranayama type you can choose from.

Different pranayamas come with numerous benefits and choosing one totally depends on when you’re doing it or what you’re expecting.

For example, after a vigorous yoga session, you want your body to relax and mind to calm down. In this condition, pranayama like left nostril breathing or sitali which have cooling effects will be beneficial instead of doing kapalbhati or right nostril breathing.

References

  1. Effects of Nadi- Shodhana Pranayama on Depression, Anxiety, Stress and Peak Expiratory Flow Rate in Post CABG Patients: Experimental Study https://www.ijhsr.org/IJHSR_Vol.9_Issue.10_Oct2019/7.pdf
  2. immediate effect of ‘nadi shodhana pranayama’ http://www.j-pbs.org/pdf/182/subbalakshmi.pdf
  3. Changes in Lung Function Measures Following Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath) and Running in Healthy Individuals https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6746052/
  4. Immediate Effect of Slow Pace Bhastrika Pranayama
    on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate http://transformationalchange.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/67411123/breathing.pdf
  5. EEG Changes After Bhramari Pranayama https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/softscis/2006/0/2006_0_390/_pdf
  6. The Efficacy of Yogic Breathing Exercise Bhramari Pranayama in Relieving Symptoms of Chronic Rhinosinusitis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521749/
  7. Bhramari (Shanmukhi Mudra) Pranayama in presbyacusis and dementia https://www.indianjotol.org/article.asp?issn=0971-7749;year=2016
  8. Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0975947616300675?via%3Dihub
  9. Endoscopic evaluation of therapeutic effects of “Anuloma-Viloma Pranayamahttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3968697/
  10. Effect of short-term practice of pranayamic breathing exercises on cognition, anxiety, general well being, and heart rate variability https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24968492/
  11. Effects of Sheetali and Sheetkari Pranayamas on Blood Pressure https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6438091/
  12. Differential effects of uninostril and alternate nostril pranayamas on cardiovascular parameters and reaction time https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097918/
  13. Immediate effect of chandra nadi pranayama (left unilateral forced nostril breathing) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410188/
  14. Impact of Sheetali and Sheetkari Pranayama on the Topographic Mapping of the Brain Waves http://iosrphr.org/papers/v4i10/J041051057.pdf
  15. Oxygen consumption during pranayamic type of very slow-rate breathing https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1794892/
  16. effect of ujjayi on selected physiological variables https://www.analefefs.ro/anale-fefs/2011/issue-1/pe-autori/30.pdf

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