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Pranayama Definition

Shanti Yoga School - India - Pranayama

The Pranayama Definition

What is the Pranayama definition? The word pranayama is Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient language originating from the Indus valley, in modern day India. It’s complex and beautiful. The root sounds have different meanings depending on how they are combined and separated.

Breaking down the pranayama definition

For example, the word “pranayama” can be broken down into these parts:

Pra: First

Na: Smallest unit of energy

Prana: Vital life force

Ayama: Dimension, restraint, expansion, stoppage, or control

Therefore, pranayama means awareness and control of the vital life force. A more practical pranayama definition is to think of it as simple breathing exercises.

Types of Pranayama definition

There are many forms or types of pranayama. At Shanti Yoga School we teach from all classical Pranayama schools: Visishtha, Patanjali, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Here are some of the pranayama techniques you will learn:

Yogic Breathing

Most agree this is the simplest breathing technique to get you started. First, you inhale and expand the belly like a balloon. Then, breathe into the chest and feel the ribs expand outwards, away from the center line of the body. Next, feel the upper lungs expand pushing the clavicles up and shoulders away. Finally, you exhale in reverse order. First, by dropping the clavicles and shoulders. Next, by contracting the ribs back inward. And finally, you bring the belly button in towards the back of the spine.

Anuloma Viloma

Another term for this type of pranayama is Nadi Shodhan. First, you cover the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril. Then, pinch both nostrils and retain the breath. Next, release the right nostril and exhale. Then, inhale from that same right nostril. Next, pinch both nostrils and retain the breath again. Finally, release the left nostril and exhale. This completes one round.


This word means “skull shining breath”. First, exhale forcefully and draw the belly button in towards the spine. Focus on the forceful exhale only. When done correctly, the inhale becomes spontaneous and effortless.


Ujjayi means victorious. First, constrict the back of the throat. Then, inhale through the nostrils. Next, you can either relax the throat or keep it tense. Finally, exhale through the nostrils. How do you know you’re targeting the right muscles? They are the same ones used when trying to fog up a mirror. You know you’re doing it correctly if your breathing sounds like the ocean.


The word is translated as “bellows”, like the instrument used to stoke a fire. First, forcefully inhale and push the belly out like a balloon. Then, forcefully exhale and draw the belly button in towards the back of the spine. Finally, repeat for as many rounds as you feel.


Translated as “female bee”, this one has you mimicking the aforementioned sound. Start by inhaling fully through the nostrils. Then, exhale from the nostrils while squeezing the voice box. When done correctly you will make a high-pitched sound similar to a female bee.


Sitali means “cooling” or “soothing”. And that’s what this pranayama does: cools and soothes. First, stick your tongue out. Then, roll it into a tube. Next, inhale from the tube. Finally, exhale from the nostrils.


Similar to Sitali, Sitkari is a cooling pranayama meant for lowering your body temperature. The word means “sipping”. First, you either bite down with teeth touching, or stick your tongue between your front teeth. Next, inhale from the sides of your mouth. Finally, exhale through your nostrils. Similar to Sitali, the effect of sitkari is cooling and soothing.

Surya Bhedan

“Surya” is “sun” and “Bhedan” (sometimes “bhedana”) is “piercing”. So, “sun piercing”. First, block the left nostril. Next, inhale from the right nostril. Then, release the left nostril and pinch the right nostril. Next, exhale from the left nostril. Finally, release the right nostril and pinch the left nostril. This completes one round. This pranayama is heating.

Chandra Bhedan

“Chandra” is “moon” and “Bhedan” (sometimes “bhedana”) is “piercing”. So, “moon piercing”. First, block the right nostril. Next, inhale from the left nostril. Then, release the right nostril and pinch the left nostril. Next, exhale from the right nostril. Finally, release the left nostril and pinch the right nostril. This completes one round. This pranayama is cooling.

More Practice of Pranayama Definition

Would you like to know more about pranayama? Also, would you like to practice pranayama yourself, or learn how to teach others? Click here to learn more about pranayama at one of our teacher trainings.

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