Even if you are new to yoga, a term you are sure to hear early on is “prana”.
In short, prana means “life force” or “energy” in Sanskrit – the ancient Indo-European language of India from which many yoga poses, also called asanas, are named.
Breathing is very closely related to prana, and this is the reason why breathwork is a vital component of yoga, often incorporated before, after, or during yoga poses and flows.
As a result, a more commonly used term is pranayama, which refers to breathing in yoga that’s used to assist with yoga poses as well as promote a heightened state of awareness, calm, and mental clarity.
To understand more about prana, including the benefits of pranayama and various examples of prana breathing techniques, make sure to keep reading this short guide.
What Does Prana Mean In Yoga?
Prana, a Sanskrit word, means vital life force or energy.
Yoga is widely considered to be a spiritual and meditative practice due to its ancient roots, and is therefore closely related to energy imbalances and the power of breathing to promote mindfulness and healing.
Pranayama, as a result—yama meaning to “take control”—is using one’s breath to harness and control this inner bodily energy and life force.
Pranayama is not only used in meditative yoga practice, however, such as yin yoga or Kundalini yoga, but even “mainstream” yoga styles that require mindful breathing to assist various yoga poses and encourage general relaxation.
The Benefits Of Prana Yoga
Prana yoga is the practice of incorporating breathwork into yoga. Breathing is a vital part of all forms of exercise, including jogging and weightlifting, so it’s understandable that prana yoga offers a host of benefits.
The benefits of pranayama include physical and mental benefits, such as:
- Improving stamina and endurance
- Increasing mindfulness and awareness
- Supporting meditation
- Being “present”
- Increasing concentration and focus (and other cognitive functions)
- Improving lung and heart health
- Reducing stress
- Improving mood
- Improving sleep
- Lowering heart rate and blood pressure
- Increasing feelings of relaxation and euphoria
More advantages of prana yoga include the fact that it’s easy to practice, with many different breathing techniques to try.
These are all worth trying, since there may be a specific prana technique that you find more beneficial than others!
Pranayama Breathing Techniques
There are many types of pranayama in yoga, some more popular than others.
Despite that, each pranayama has its own special purpose and method, along with very specific benefits, making each pranayama unique and useful depending on the yoga style or desired benefits.
Pranayamas can be practiced before, during, or after yoga. These can also be done at various times of the day, depending on the purpose of the yoga session, current mood, and desired mood.
In most cases, prana yoga is practiced as a slow-paced exercise, typically with little to no movement.
Below, you’ll find three examples of prana breathing techniques, which are considered some of the most popular pranayamas used in yoga.
Ujjayi pranayama translates as “ocean breathing” or “ocean sounding breath”. Due to this, it’s a style of breathing that focuses on replicating the natural sound of waves ebbing and flowing on the shore.
Ujjayi pranayama is a very popular yoga pranayama, used to instill a sense of inner calm for meditation or relaxation. It’s also used as a means of “escape”, often done with visualizations of the ocean.
Performing ujjayi pranayama involves deep inhales and exhales with an “O” shape formed with the mouth. This causes each breath to be more vocal, mimicking the sound of ocean waves.
Sama Vritti Pranayama
Sama vritti pranayama translates as “equal breathing”. This simply means inhaling and exhaling for the same duration of time. For example, inhaling for six seconds and exhaling for six seconds.
This prana breathing technique requires more attention to detail (being aware of the duration of each inhale and exhale), making it harder to do.
Despite that, beginners are able to practice sama vritti pranayama by shortening the duration of each breath.
Sama vritti pranayama offers various benefits, including increasing lung capacity, reducing anxiety, and promoting a heightened sense of awareness.
However, it’s important to practice sama vritti pranayama safely, as it may lead to lightheadedness.
Udgeeth pranayama translates as “deep and rhythmic breathing” or “deep and rhythmic chant”. This is the style of breathing that’s most often linked to Om, the sacred syllable and sound linked to many Indic religions.
As a result, udgeeth pranayama involves vocalizing the word om with each exhale. This is a more spiritual pranayama, widely used for meditation, mindfulness, and feeling more present (connected to the senses).
Udgeeth pranayama also heavily involves the diaphragm when inhaling. This allows for longer inhales and therefore longer exhales that can extend the om chant for a longer duration of time.
The Disadvantages Of Pranayama Yoga
Since prana is breathing, it goes without saying that practicing prana yoga and pranayama breathing comes with its share of risks. These risks can include:
- Shortness of breath
Of course, these risks are very low – especially when breathwork is practiced with one’s limitations in mind. Needless to say, it’s important to breathe when needed and not continue the session if lightheadedness or dizziness is experienced.
Despite the risks, the physical and mental benefits of pranayama outweigh the disadvantages, and range from improving stamina and general lung health to increasing mindfulness, feelings of relaxation, and mood.
Prana means “energy” or “life force” in yoga. Harnessing prana is done through pranayama (yama meaning (taking control”), which is the practice of different breathing techniques that offer various physical and mental benefits.
Prana yoga, as a result, incorporates mindful breathing as a means to improve focus and concentration, increase awareness and relaxation, and circulate oxygen around the body to improve physical performance.
Prana yoga is not a yoga style in itself, but a foundation of yoga as a whole that’s practiced in almost all yoga styles, especially slow-paced, meditative yoga styles such as yin yoga, restorative yoga, and Kundalini yoga.