Living in uncertainty in the midst of the worldwide pandemic, most of us experience stress and an increase in anxiety. Fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. We all are trying to find our ways to cope with this global uncertainty and calm our minds. Yoga and meditation have become more popular than ever. And pranayama, as a mind-calming tool, is increasing its popularity among conscious people. Many people who ever tried pranayama would agree that there’s nothing like indulging in a breathing break to calm the mind and relax the body. In this article, I will share with you 8 essential types of pranayama to calm your mind and decrease your stress level so that you can get back to your daily routine happy and energized and live your life to the fullest despite any challenges you might face!
What Is Pranayama?
‘Prana‘ is the Sanskrit word for breath, “life force”, or “vital principle”. ‘Ayāma‘ can be translated as “the suspension of breath” or “control”. Thus, “pranayama” can be translated as “control over vital energy”.
Usually, pranayama is associated with breathing exercises that have a beneficial effect on the body, saturating it with oxygen. However, yogis use this technique not only for the purpose of improving their physical bodies but also as a way of controlling the flow of prana (vital energy).
According to Patanjali, pranayama is the length of time between inhalation and exhalation. During this period, the time of assimilation of prana increases, the fluctuations of the mind decrease and the perception expands.
You may ask: “how is it possible to reduce the excitation of the brain by holding the breath?” Well, this is due to the fact that nerve impulses in some parts of the body are suspended, and the structure of brain waves is harmonized. Therefore, pranayama is one of the most important elements of Hatha yoga.
How Does It Work?
Pranayama allows you to lengthen the breath, which increases longevity. Thanks to pranayama, we learn how to properly use our lungs.
The fact is that in everyday life, most often only the top of the lungs is involved, which leads to oxygen starvation and accumulation of stagnant air in the lower part of the lungs. The ability to use the entire volume of the lungs allows us to become less exposed to respiratory diseases, increases the level of vital energy, and makes it easier to cope with stress and anxiety.
Pranayama practice affects our Central nervous system. Breathing affects the hypothalamus, which is responsible for emotional responses and the transformation of perceived reality into the experience. It helps us to reach emotional balance, calm our minds, relax the body, and let go of negative emotions. Pranayama practice allows our bodies to release stress and tensions which helps in bringing down hypertension and achieve a balanced state of mind.
8 Types Of Pranayama For Calming Your Mind
Now let me introduce you to different types of pranayama that you can use for calming your mind and getting rid of stress and anxiety.
#1: Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- Sit comfortably on flat ground.
- Now close the right nostril with your right thumb and breathe from the left nostril. Then close your left nostril with middle and ring finger and breathe out from the right nostril.
- Now closing in the left nostril breathe in deeply with the right nostril and then close the right nostril and breathe out deeply with the left nostril. Do the repetition.
‘Sheeta’ means ‘cooling’, which is exactly the effect of this pranayama. This is one of the most effective types of pranayama for stress, anxiety, and tension relief.
- Sit in a comfortable position with the back and head erect, hands on the knees in Jnana mudra, and eyes closed.
- Make a puckered circle with your mouth then stick out your tongue and curl the edges inwards to form a tube.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through the tube as if sucking air through a straw to the count of 4.
- Fill up your abdomen and chest to full capacity.
- Retain the breath.
- Straighten your head and exhale through the nostrils until all air is expelled.
#3: Sheetkari Pranayama
This pranayama is also known as the hissing breath. Similar to Sheetali pranayama, this pranayama is a cooling breath that does wonders for anxiety and depression. This is one of the most effective types of pranayama for mental tranquility, calming yourself before sleep, and relaxation.
- Sit in a comfortable position, lengthen your spine.
- Rest palms on your knees.
- Close your eyes, turning awareness inward.
- Gently hold teeth together and allow teeth to be exposed.
- The tongue may remain flat, or folded against the palate.
- Inhale slowly through your teeth, allowing the breath to cool.
- At the end of the inhalation draw your tongue inside your mouth.
- Exhale through your nose.
Repeat the cycle (steps 6-8) for 9 to 15 rounds.
#4: Anuloma Viloma
Anuloma Viloma pranayama is one of the most simple types of pranayama for everyday use. This breathing practice increases the resistance to stress, stabilizes the nervous system, improves mood, profoundly calms the mind, increases the clarity of thought, improves the immune system, lowers stress, and anxiety.
Note that Anuloma Viloma should be practiced on an empty stomach!
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine.
- Rest the left palm on the knee in Jnana Mudra (thumb and index fingers touching) to create a pranic circuit that drives energy toward the brain.
- Place the right hand in Vishnu Mudra (by tucking the index and middle fingers into the palm). The thumb, ring, and pinky fingers will be more or less extended.
- Close your eyes. Inhale comfortably. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Exhale slowly and completely through the left nostril.
- Now for the first round, inhale slowly and comfortably through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring or pinky finger – and then release the thumb from the right nostril.
- Exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril. Now breathe in through the right nostril. Close the right with the thumb, release the ring or pinky finger from the left, and exhale through the left.
This completes one round. Practice 5 to 10 rounds.
#5: Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi breathing is a breathing technique employed in a variety of Taoist and Yoga practices. It is sometimes called “the ocean breath”. It is due to the fact that the ujjayi breath is meant to mimic the sound of ocean waves. This rhythmic sound can help you focus your mind and link your movements to the sound of your breath.
This pranayama helps to balance and calm your mind and reach the inner peace similar to a day by the ocean brings.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes. Let your mouth drop open slightly. Relax your jaw and your tongue.
- Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
- On your exhalations, slightly contract the back of your throat, as you do when you whisper. Softly whisper the sound, “ahhh,” as you exhale. Imagine your breath fogging up a window.
- As you become comfortable with your exhalations, maintain the slight constriction of the throat on your inhalations, as well. You will notice your breath making an “ocean” sound, softly moving in and out, like ocean waves.
- When you can comfortably control your throat during the inhalations and exhalations, gently close your mouth and begin breathing only through your nose. Keep the same constriction in your throat as you did when your mouth was open. You will continue to hear the “ocean” sound as you breathe through your nose. Direct the breath to travel over your vocal cords, across the back of your throat. Keep your mouth closed, but your lips soft.
- Concentrate on the sound of your breath. Allow it to soothe your mind. It should be audible to you, but not so loud that someone standing several feet away can hear it.
- Let your inhalations fill your lungs to their fullest expansion. Completely release the air during your exhalations.
Start by practicing Ujjayi pranayama for 5 minutes while you are seated. For deeper meditation, increase your time to 15 minutes.
#6: Sahita Kumbhaka Breath
We’re often so concerned with our inhales and exhales that we completely forget about the space found between. Kumbhaka is the state of pause, or suspension, between the breaths, and helps us find stillness through focused mindfulness.
- Inhale slowly.
- Pause and hold for a few moments at the top of the breath.
- Exhale slowly.
- Hold for a few moments at the bottom of the breath.
- Repeat for five minutes, then return to a normal breath.
This pattern of breathing may feel a bit unnatural at first – after all, we’re typically rushed in our busy lives – but in time you will become more mindful of your breathing patterns (and the stillness found within) and will find that your breath naturally becomes more steady, deep, and intentional with practice.
#7: Samavritti Pranayama
This pranayama is also known as Balancing Breath or Counting Breath.
When the mind is spinning, counting the breath is one of the most effective ways to slow down. The steady rhythm of the count helps to settle the mind’s fluctuations and reestablish balance. This makes Samavritti Pranayama one of the most powerful types of pranayama for calming your mind.
The most common practice is maintaining a one-to-one ratio. For example, inhaling and exhaling to the count of three. It’s natural to begin at a faster pace and gradually slow down as the mind begins to quiet.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Rest your palms on your lap.
- Inhale smoothly as you count to three.
- Exhale smoothly as you count to three.
- Continue for three to five minutes, or until you feel mentally and physically settled.
You can practice this type of pranayama any time of day or night, whenever you feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. It will help you to enhance calmness, steadiness, and serenity in body and mind.
To enhance the relaxation response, lengthen the exhalations. For example, inhale to the count of four, then exhale to the count of six or eight.
#8: Humming Bee Breath
This is one of the best types of pranayama for anxiety relief.
This pranayama is named so because of the humming sound produced at the back of the throat during the practice – like the gentle humming of a bee.
The technique of performing Bhramari Pranayama is quite simple and does not require special training. It can be performed at any time of the day and even after having a meal. Also, it has no age restrictions.
- Sit in any position that is comfortable for you with a straight back and relaxed shoulders.
- Close the lips, keeping the teeth slightly apart.
- Bring the tip of your tongue to the space behind the upper front teeth. Maintain this position throughout the practice, frequently checking to ensure that the jaw remains relaxed.
- Close each ears with the thumbs, place the index fingers at the midpoint of the forehead – just above the eyebrows – and reach the middle, ring, and pinky fingers across the eyes so that the tips of these fingers press very gently against the bridge of the nose.
- Take a long, deep breath in through the nostrils, bringing the breath all the way into the belly.
- Drop the chin to the chest and begin to exhale slowly, making a steady, low-pitched ‘hmmm’ sound at the back of the throat – like the humming of a bee. Focus on making the sound soft, smooth, and steady.
- Keep the body completely still and bring your awareness to the center of the head – to your Third eye chakra – letting the sound fill the head and spread to the body.
- At the end of the exhalation, slowly straighten your neck as you inhale again through the nostrils to repeat the process.
This is one breathing cycle. Start mastering this pranayama with 7 breathing cycles and gradually increase to 20-30.
The Bottom Line
Uncertainty can be stressful. Therefore, make sure that you doing everything to help yourself to manage stress and anxiety. Even 10 minutes a day spent on pranayama practice can do miracles for your mental health. Use the above types of pranayama to calm your mind and stay balanced. Remember that only a balanced mind can solve any problem and make the right choices!
Stay safe, stay calm!