'Prana' means breath and 'aayama' means control hence pranayam is the exercise of controlling your breath. Why control your breath, you may ask. Pranayam enhances the amount of oxygen taken inside, removes the toxins and waste from the body and hence results in a healthy body and mind.
Normally, we do not pay attention to our breathing when, in fact, it is the most vital part of being alive! So a series of breathing exercises brings more oxygen to blood and to the brain and automates flow of blood throughout the body. It regulates the breathing and brings in the vital pranic energy and rejuvenates the mind and body.
Pranayam has innumerable benefits. Regular practitioners have reported relief to many problems like headaches, joint pains, acidity, asthma, diabetes, constipation etc. Even healthy individuals can practise pranayam to keep fit and reap the other intangible benefits.
Pranayam is best when done in the morning on empty stomach. But it can also be practised 4-6hours after meal. Take 2-3 deep breaths between every exercise to relax. One can sit in either padmasana, vajrasana or sadhasana, whichever one is comfortable with, while doing pranayam. One should learn pranayam under the supervision of a doctor or a yoga teacher before practising it independently.
Pranayam is practised as given below:
Sit in comfortable position in dhyan mudra*. Take a deep breath. Breath out forcefully and uniformly. Repeat this for 5 minutes. Point to note here is that the breathing in and out are done with equal force and pace.
Sit in comfortable position in dhyan mudra*. Inhale a little and exhale through both nostrils forcefully. Inhale again and follow with another forceful exhalation passively and effortlessly. Continue these cycles. The frequency should be about 60 strokes/minute. Kapalbhati can be done for 5-15min with short breaks in between.
Sit comfortably in dhyan mudra*. Close your eyes. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly through the left nostril. Close your left nostril with the ring and little fingers of the right hand and exhale slowly and completely with the right nostril. Again inhale through the right nostril.Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Breathe out slowly from the left nostril. This is one cycle of anulom-vilom. This pranayam can be done for 5-15min.
Sit comfortably in dhyan mudra*. Breathe air out, touch chin to chest, squeeze stomach completely and hold for a while. then release chin, breathe in slowly. This can be done 3-5times.
Sit in comfortable position. Inhale completely, press the base of nostrils with little fingers, close the ears with thumbs, keep the index fingers on the forehead, close the eyes with ring and middle fingers. And now breathe out through nose while humming like a bee. Repeat it at least three times and maximum up to 21 times.
Sit in comfortable position with dhyan mudra*. Breathe in deeply, and chant 'Om' while exhaling. One should inhale and exhale so slowly that he or she should not feel the sound of respiration.
The session is concluded with 5-10min of Shavaasan.
Your comments/experiences/thoughts are welcome.
Some links: DivyaYoga Pranayam on IndianEducation Pranayam Tutorial Pranayam on WikiHow
*dhyan mudra - Touch the tips of the thumb and index fingers with each other and keep the remaining three fingers straight.