DOs and DONTs

of Pranayam


In the traditional texts, there are innumerable rules and regulations pertaining to pranayama. The main points are to exercise moderation, balance and common sense with regard to inner and outer thinking and living. However, for those who seriously wish to take up the advanced practices of pranayama, the guidance of a guru or experienced teacher is essential.


Breathing: Always breathe through the nose and not the mouth unless specifically instructed otherwise. The nose should be cleaned regularly by jala neti prior to the practice session. Be aware of the nostrils throughout the techniques. While inhaling, the nostrils should dilate or expand outwards and while exhaling, they should relax back to their normal position.


Time of practice: The best time to practise pranayama is during the early morning when the body is fresh and the mind has very few impressions. If this is not possible, another good time is just after sunset. Tranquillising pranayamas may be performed before sleep. Try to practise regularly at the same time and place each day. Regularity in practice increases strength and willpower as well as acclimatising the body and mind to the increased pranic force. Do not be in a hurry; slow, steady progress is essential.


Place of practice: Practise in a quiet, clean and pleasant room which is well ventilated but not draughty. Generally, avoid practising in direct sunlight, as the body will become over-heated, except at dawn when the soft rays of the early morning sun are beneficial. Practising in a draught or wind, in air-conditioning or under a fan may upset the body temperature and cause chills.


Sitting position: A.comfortable, sustainable meditation posture is necessary to enable efficient breathing and body steadiness during the practice. Siddha/siddha yoni asana is one of the best postures for pranayama. The body should be as relaxed as possible throughout the practice with the spine, neck and head erect. Sit on a folded blanket or cloth of natural fibre to ensure the maximum conduction of energy during the practice.

Sequence: Pranayama should be performed after asanas and before meditation practice. After practising pranayama one may lie down in shavasana for a few minutes.


Clothes: Loose, comfortable clothing made of natural fibres should be worn during the practice. The body may be covered with a sheet or blanket when it is cold or to keep insects away.


Bathing: Take a bath or shower before commencing the practice, or at least wash the hands, face and feet. Do not take a bath for at least half an hour after the practice to allow the body temperature to normalise.


Empty stomach: Wait at least three to four hours after meals before starting pranayama. Food in the stomach places pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making full, deep respiration difficult.


Digestion: When commencing pranayama practice, constipation and a reduction in the quantity of urine may be experienced. In the case of dry motion, stop taking salt and spices, and drink plenty of water. In the case of loose motion, stop the practices for a few days and go on a diet of rice and curd or yoghurt.


Diet: A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals is suitable for most pranayama practices. A combination of grains, pulses, fresh fruit and vegetables, with a little milk product if necessary, is recommended. The more advanced stages of pranayama require a change in diet and a guru should be consulted for guidance on this.


Avoid strain: With all pranayama practices it is important to remember that the instruction not to strain, not to try to increase your capacity too fast, applies just as it does to asana practice. If one is advised to practise a pranayama technique for a specific length of time, before moving on to a more advanced practice or ratio, it is wise to follow that instruction. Furthermore, breath retention should only be practised for as long as is comfortable. The lungs are very delicate organs and any misuse can easily cause them injury. Not only the physical body but also the mental and emotional aspects of the personality need time to adjust. Never strain in any way.


Side effects: When practising for the first time, various symptoms may manifest in normally healthy people. These are caused by the process of purification and the expulsion of toxins. Sensations of itching, tingling, heat or cold and feelings of lightness or heaviness may occur. Such experiences are generally temporary but if they persist during the practice, check with a yoga teacher.


Contra-indications: Pranayama should not be practised during illness, although simple techniques such as breath awareness and abdominal breathing in shavasana may be performed. Always consult a yoga therapist or teacher before using any pranayama for therapeutic purposes.


No smoking: It is not advisable for pranayama practitioners to smoke tobacco or cannabis.