Prana is all forms of energy, within and without- cosmic energy or creative energy, physical energy or mental energy. Ayama is an extension or expansion. Thus pranayama refers to the extension of the dimension of prana, by engaging the breath via various modes and methods.
The workings and effects of some of the major practices we now study –
Surya bhedana – This right nostril breathing stimulates the left brain and the sympathetic nervous system. The body is heated due to the activation of the Surya nadi or the Pingala nadi. This process increases the metabolism in the body, melting the deposits in the body. The practice also benefits conditions of cold and bronchial ailments. It reduces the kapha element and balances the vata dosha or vayu tattwa. It awakens the pranic energy bringing about extroversion in introvert personalities; those of tamasic tendencies of lethargy become dynamic. It alleviates psychological disorders of schizoprenia and depression, as the mind is rendered more alert, encouraging communication with the external world. It is useful in the treatment of debilitating conditions of low BP, infertility, and worms.
Nadi shodhana – This translates as purification of the energy channels. It essentially enhances the oxygen levels, and improves the digestion by the process of oxidation. Owing to the downward pressure generated, a condition of hiatus hernia wherein a part of the esophagus that is pushing out of the diaphragm, regains its original position.
Ujjayi pranayama – This victorious breath creates a sonorous sound, soothing the nervous system and calming the mind. The grazing action against the throat and the release of the breath via the ida removes the phlegm and treats hypersensitivity of the throat and conditions of tonsillitis. The practice of antar kumbhaka stimulates the digestive fire. Regular practice of this breath strengthens the muscles of the epiglottis, which reduces snoring and develops voice culture. The gentle contraction of the carotid nerves and the carotid sinus helps regulate the blood pressure. It relieves insomnia and produces an adequate amount of sleep. It nourishes the saptadhatu rasa building up the seven tissues that make up the body.
Cooling group of Pranayama – Sitali & Sitakari – The process of puraka along the tongue or the teeth, followed by kumbhaka, and finally rechaka via the left nostril gives immense benefits of cooling the body and the mind. The air flowing over the surfaces in the mouth evaporates the saliva and later the mucous in the inner surfaces of the trachea. The air moves in from the high pressure to low pressure and as the heat sensors on the tongue record a cooling effect, the taste buds are sensitized. It relaxes the muscles, soothes the nervous system, and reduces the basal metabolic rate effectively. As the air enters the lungs, it acquires the temperature of the body and this warmed up air moves upwards during exhalation. The vital capacity of the lungs is enhanced. The practice makes one feel light and fresh, reducing stresses and tensions effectively.
Bhastrika – This bellows breath involves working the diaphragm with forceful inhalations and exhalations repeatedly, which in turn exerts pressure onto the abdominal muscles against the spine. The rapid and rhythmic movement of the diaphragm massages and stimulates the visceral organs. It increases the functional activities of the cell as well as the secretions, thus improving the appetite. There is greater expulsion of carbon dioxide owing to the hyperventilation, causing respiratory alkalosis, characterized by decreased acidity and increased alkalinity of the blood, which leads to burning up of the toxins and removal of diseases of the doshas.
Bhramari – By quick forced inspiration one should practice a high humming sound like that of a male bee and by every slow expiration, a low sound should be produced resembling that of a female bee. By the continuous practice of producing resonant sound vibrations, it easily supervenes a condition of bliss in the minds of eminent yogis that defies all descriptions. Bhramari restores homeostasis as it works on the nervous system, relieves anxiety, anger, and insomnia, as also it reduces blood pressure. It cultures the voice by increasing the range of frequency and melody. It is known to speed up the healing of tissues, especially beneficial after operations.