What Is Yoga ? Part 8

The following series of articles, an in-depth look at Yoga has been compiled by Merel Martens founder of Parimukti Yoga and produced and packaged by Avdhoot Limaye for Parimukti.com. In Part 8 we will examine the Deeper nuances of Pranayama practice.

Paranayama Continued……

Tranquilizing Pranayama: Sheetali, Sheetkari, Kaki, Brahmaria and Chandra Bheda Pranayama

These practices cool both they physical body and the mind. They stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and therefore relax and/or draw the awareness inwards. They are usually practicsed after brining about a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and the flow of air between the two nostrils. Over-sensitive or introverted people are advised not to practice these particular techniques, as they may experience some difficulty in controlling the increased manas shakti (mental energy).

Sheetal, Sheetkari and Kaki are used to reduce the body heat. ‘Sheet’ means ‘cold’ and ‘sheetal’ menas that which is calm, passionless and unemotional. Kaki means crow. In these practices inhalation occurs through the mouth, by-passing the nose and its warming effect of the blood-sinusoids in the mucous membrane. Because there is less filtering of the air people with asthma, bronchitis and excessive mucus should not practice this Pranayama


  • Breathe a couple of times in a relaxed manner and finish with an out breath
  • Extend the tongue outside the mouth as far as possible without strain
  • Roll the sides of the tongue up so that if forms a tube. Inhale and draw the breath in through this tube. At the end of the inhalation, draw the tongue in, close the mouth and exhale through the nose. The breath should produce a noise similar to rushing wind. A feeling of icy coldness will be experienced on the tongue and the roof of the mout
  • Benefits: a tranquilizer before sleep, muscular relaxation, mental quietude, lowers blood pressure, reduction of bile and acidity, elimination of peptic or mouth ulcers


  • Breathe a couple of times in a relaxed manner and finish with an out breath
  • Hold the teeth lightly together. Separate the lips, exposing the teeth. The ongue may be kept flat or folded against the soft palate in Khechari Mudra. Breathe in slowly and deeply through the teeth. At the end of inhalation, close the mouth, keeping the tongue either flat or in Khechari Mudra. Breathe out slowly through the nose
  • Benefits: as for Sheetali Pranayama plus that it keeps the teeth and gums healthy

Kaki Pranayama (Crow’s beak breath)

  • Breathe a couple of times in a relaxed manner and finish with an out breath
  • Purse the lips, as for whistling, leaving a hollow space in the middle. Focus the eyes on the nose tip in nasikagra dristhi. Inhale, drawing the air in through the lips. Hold the breath comfortably then exhale through the nostrils. Keep the eyes in the same dristhi, close them if they become tired.
  • Benefits: as in Sheetkali

Bhramari Pranayama (humming bee breath)

Bramari is the name of the humming sound made by the black bee. In this pranayama the practitioner imitates the same deep, low pitched sound as the bee. It is used in to awaken awarenss of the inner psychis sounds. The vibrations of bhramari produce a soothing effect on the mind and nervous system.

  • Breathe a couple of times in a relaxed manner and finish with an out breath
  • Plug the ears with the thumbs, resting the other four fingers on the head. You can place the other fingers just above the nasal and nasal cavaties so to feel the vibration of air later on during the practice. The lips should be gently closed with the teeth slightly apart throughout the practice. Make sure the jaws are relaxed.
  • Breathe in through the nose, keep the mouth closed, exhale slowly and in a controlled manner while making a deep steady humming sound like that of a honey bee (or chant AUM with a long M, AUMmmmmmmm). Listen to the sound with the awareness focused in the centre of the head. The sound must be soft and deep, making the front of the skull reverberate.  At the end of exhalation, breathe in deeply and repeat.
  • When the practice is finished, keep the eyes closed and listen for any subtle sounds occurring within the mind, beyond the sense of normal hearing.
  • Benefits: very useful for the relief of mental tension and anxiety. Helps pacify anger and make the mind one-pointed. Arouses awareness of subtle vibrations and sound. For awakening psychic sensitivity, practise at night before sleep or in the early morning while it is still dark


Chandra Bheda Pranayama (moon piercing breath)

Chandra is the moon and indicates ida nadi in this context. Bhedan means ‘to pierce’. This pranayama practice is the means of piercing ida nadi and filling it with shakti by breathing in through the left nostril only and out through the right nostril only. In this way there is a predominant stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system and right brain hemisphere.

  • Breathe a couple of times in a relaxed manner and finish with an out breath
  • Close the right nostril while inhaling slowly and deeply through the left. At the end of the inhalation close both nostrils and retain the breath inside. Lower the head in jalandhara mudra, engage mula bandha and hold for as long as possible. Raise the head and only when the head is completely raised exhale slowly through the right nostril.
  • Work up to a ratio of 1:4:2
  • Beneftis: creates mental introversion and calmness, and stimulates psychic capacities. Cools the system and helps arouse all the attributes associated with ida nadi
  • Contra-indications: people who are introverted by nature or have serious mental disturbances should avoid this pranayama. Those suffering from sluggish digestion or excess mucus should also not practise it

Vitalizing Pranayamas: Bhastrika, Kapalbhati and Surya Bheda Pranayama

In general all pranayamas are vitalizing and give energy but these practices heat the body on both physical and subtle levels. In contrast, tranquilizing Pranayamas are cooling and sooth the physical and mental body. Vitalizing techniques may be regarded as more advanced techniqes. They should not be practiced in hot weather or before sleep

Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath)

Bhastra are the bellows used to pump fire. Bhastrika is the name of the particular pranayama in which the diaphragm movement imitates a pair of bellows, and fans the internal fire, creating physical, pranic and psychic heat. It is therefore best to practice during cool conditions. Bhastrika is divided in six stages. Here we will describe the last stage and give you the table with details for you to work gradually from the first to the last stage.

  • Breathe slowly and steady and finish with an outbreath
  • Use nasikagra mudra and close the right nostril. Breathe in slowly through the left nostril then begin rapid, forceful exhalations and inhalations, up to one hundred times. The diaphragm is used to create equal force on inhalation (and relaxes on exhalation), the abdominal muscles are used to create force on exhalation (and relax on an inhalation). Then fully exhale, slightly more forced and prolonged, and hold bahir kumbhaka for as long as possible. Practice Maha Bandha (Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula Bandha in the same time) while holing kumbhaka. Inhale fully through the left nostril.
  • Close the left nostril and open the right. Practice one hundred rapid breaths through the right nostril. Then exhale fully through the right nostril, close both nostrils and practice bahir kumbhaka for as long as is comfortable.
  • Exhale through the right nostril release nasikagra mudra and practise one hundred rounds of bhastrika breathing through both nostrils. After the last exhalation, hold the breath in kumbhaka for as long as is comfortable, then inhale through both nostrils.
  • Benefits: the rapid exchange of air in the lungs causes an increase in oxygen levels and a decrease in carbon dioxide levels. This stimulates the metabolic rates throughout the body, down to the cellular level, producing heat and flushing out the wastes and toxins. The rapid and rhythmic movement of the diaphragm improving the digestive and excretory functions of a sluggish system. Bhastrika builds up resistance to colds, excess  mucus and helps eliminate sinusitis.
Contra indications: bhastrika should not be practiced in cases of high blood pressure, ulcers, hernia and heart disease. People suffering from lung diseases such as asthma chronic bronchitis, or in the recovery techniques of tuberculosis, are recommended to practice bhastrika only under careful guidance. 

Kapalbahati Pranayama (frontal brain cleansing breath)

Kapal is the cranium. Bhati means ‘light’, ‘splendour’, ‘perception’ or ‘knowledge’. This pranayama invigorates the entire brain and the centres responsible for subtler perception and insight. Kapal is also the forhead, and kapalbhati is therefore considered as a shatkarma, the frontal brain cleansing technique. Although kapalbhatis is similar to bhastrika, there are important differences. Bhastrika uses force on both inhalation and exhalation, expanding and contracting the thoracid area above and below its resting or basal volum. Kapalbhati, however, only uses forced exhalation, reducing the thoracic volume in exhalation, while inhalation remains a restful active process from extreme exhalation to the basal volume. Where normal breathing is active inhalation and passive exhalation, kapalbhati reverses this procedure, making exhalation a forced active process while inhalation remains the same active but restful process. Kapalbhati further reverses the natural process by compressing the lungs below basal resting volume, whereas normal breathing expands and contracts the lungs, using an active process on inhalation and a passive process on exhalation. The brain centres which control normal breathing function are therefore trained to become more versatile through the practise of these techniques.

Kapalbhati is divided in six stages. Here we will describe the last stage and give you the table with details for you to work gradually from the first to the last stage.

  • Breathe slowly and steady and finish with an outbreath
  • Sit in a comfortable position, spine straight up. Place the hands in chin mudra.
  • Commence kapalbhati by forcing the breath out by puling the abdominal muscles in, allow the inhalation to occur spontaneously. Practise fifty kapalbhati breaths (gradually increase to one hundred). Perform both inhalation and exhalation through the nostrils; practice to the speed of about one breath per second.
  • After the last expulsion of air, inhale fully, then exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahir kumbhaka). Perform jalandhar, then uddiyana and finally mula bandha (maha bandha). Hold the retention, rotating your awareness through mooladhara, manipura and vishuddhi chakras; then release the bandhas and inhale.
  • Rest a short period before the next round is commenced. Practice up to ten rounds.
  • In stage 1-3 practice antar kumbhaka instead of bahir kumbhaka and only jalandhara bandha. Gradually work your way up to fifty kapalbhati breaths.
  • Benefits: kapalbhati purifies the whole body by accelerating the replacement of alveolar air, stimulating the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. At the same time increasing oxygen concentration in the alveoli. The total effect is one of cleansing and increasing metabolism throughout the body. The increased metabolic rate and oxygen supply to the brain have an awakening effect on the brain while at the same time excess thoughts are eliminated. It is a useful practice for sufferers from asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and tuberculosis.
  • Contra-indications: should not be practiced by people suffering from high blood pressure, vertigo or hernia.

Surya Bheda Pranayama (sun part breath)

Surya is the sun. Here it refers to pingala nadi. Surya bheda pranayama is similar to Chandra bheda except that you are stimulating the opposite energy force, prana shakti. By breathing in through the right nostril, activities of the left brain hemisphere and pingala are aroused. It is a very powerful practice.

  • Breathe slowly and steady and finish with an outbreath
  • Close the left nostril and inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril. At the end of the inhalation, retain the breath inside and close both nostrils. Lower the head in jalandhara bhanda and include mula bandha, hold the breath for as long as comfortable. Raise the head and only when the head is upright exhale through the left nostril.
  • Build up to a ratio of 1:4:2
  • Benefits: activates all the attributes connected with pingala, such as extroversion, dynamism, and physical warmth. Helpful for those individuals who find it difficult to communicate with the external world and express mental creativity

This concludes the Pranayama Chapter in Part 8 we will examine Pratyhara, Musras and the science od Dhyan and Dharanas.

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