Table of Contents  
REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 54  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 140-146

General features, types, techniques, benefits, safety and adverse effects related to Pranayamas mentioned in traditional Hatha Yoga texts: A review on Pranayama chapters


1 Department of Yoga Science, University of Patanjali, Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India
2 Department of Yoga Science, Shri Guru Ram Rai University, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India
3 Department of Yoga Science, Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India
4 Department of Nepali, University of North Bengal, Siliguri, West Bengal, India

Date of Submission09-May-2022
Date of Decision15-Jun-2022
Date of Acceptance20-Jul-2022
Date of Web Publication15-Dec-2022

Correspondence Address:
Mr. Dipak Chetry
Department of Yoga Science, University of Patanjali, Patanjali Yogpeeth, Haridwar - 249 405, Uttarakhand
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ym.ym_56_22

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  Abstract 


Pranayama is one of the most important and widely practiced components of Hatha Yoga. Among the traditional Hatha Yoga texts, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) and Gheranda Samhita (GS) (written between 1200 A.D. and 1857 A.D.) are the two most influential and practical foundational texts on Pranayama, which are very useful even till date. Previously published reviews on Hatha Yoga texts only cover the brief overview, concept of Kundalini, concept of Pranayamas, and comparative study on Asanas. The present study was conducted to systematically review: (1) the general features of Pranayama practices, (2) types and techniques of Pranayama practices, (3) the benefits of Pranayama practices, and (4) safety and adverse effects related to Pranayama practices mentioned in HYP and GS. The original verses written in Sanskrit were translated into English for correct interpretation of the general features, types, techniques, benefits, safety, and adverse effects related to Pranayama as mentioned in the two Hatha Yoga texts. In this review, the verses on Pranayama are systematically reviewed, arranged, and presented under the four mentioned points.

Keywords: Breath work, breathing exercise, Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Hatha Pradipika, yoga breathing


How to cite this article:
Chetry D, Prerna, Rajak DK, Chhetri A. General features, types, techniques, benefits, safety and adverse effects related to Pranayamas mentioned in traditional Hatha Yoga texts: A review on Pranayama chapters. Yoga Mimamsa 2022;54:140-6

How to cite this URL:
Chetry D, Prerna, Rajak DK, Chhetri A. General features, types, techniques, benefits, safety and adverse effects related to Pranayamas mentioned in traditional Hatha Yoga texts: A review on Pranayama chapters. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 6];54:140-6. Available from: https://www.ym-kdham.in/text.asp?2022/54/2/140/363809




  Introduction Top


Pranayama is the yoga breathing practice focusing on breath described in various traditional Indian texts written in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, “Prana” means vital life force and “Yama” means to gain control.[1] Among the traditional Sanskrit texts, i.e., the Hatha Yoga texts, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) and Gheranda Samhita (GS) are the two most influential and practical foundational texts on Pranayama, which are very useful even till date.[2]

It is believed that the secret teachings of Pranayamas and other Hatha Yoga techniques described in Hatha Yoga texts were first heard by Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath from Adinath (Lord Shiva, originator of Hatha Yoga).[3] After that, these secret teachings were passed orally from Guru to disciple for at least several centuries.[4] These teachings were considered to have been written down systematically as Hatha Yoga texts during the Hatha Yoga period (i.e., between 1200 A.D. and 1857 A.D.).[5] It can be said that these teachings were written down for the benefits of the curious scholars who want to achieve Rajayoga.[3] The only purpose of Hatha Yoga is to achieve Rajayoga (the highest state of yoga).[6]

HYP was written by Yogi Swatmarama, a Hatha Yogi who originated the Chaturanga Yoga (four limbs of yoga). The text HYP is also known by the name Hatha Pradipika and Yoga Pradipika.[3] HYP was written in between 15th centuries.[3] The HYP is the first text that explicitly sets out to teach Hatha Yoga.[7]

GS was written by Maharshi Gheranda, originator of Ghatastha Yoga or Saptanga Yoga (seven limbs of yoga). GS was written in 17th centuries. There were 14 available manuscripts found in northern and eastern India and used for critical editions of GS, the earliest copy dates back to 1802.[4]

Previously published literature on Hatha Yoga texts covers the following topics: (i) book review on HYP,[8] (ii) brief overview on Hatha Yoga texts,[2],[3],[7] (iii) comparative study on Hatha Yoga texts (i.e., on HYP, GS, and Shiva Samhita) as well as comparative study on Asanas in HYP and GS,[9],[10] and (iv) concept of Kundalini in Shiva Samhita as well as concept of Pranayama in Yoga Vasishtha (Nirvana Prakarana), Patanjali Yoga Sutra, and HYP.[11],[12]

The purpose of this present study is to systematically review: (1) the general features of Pranayama practices, (2) types and techniques of Pranayama practices, (3) benefits of Pranayama practices, and (4) safety and adverse effects related to Pranayama practices mentioned in HYP and GS.


  Methods Top


The chapter on Pranayama from two traditional Hatha Yoga texts (i.e., HYP, GS) was sourced to obtain the general features, types, techniques, benefits, safety, and adverse effects related to Pranayamas. At first, all original obtained verses related to Pranayamas from both texts written in Sanskrit were translated into English properly, secondly, these translated verses were reviewed and interpreted correctly, and finally all the translated verses were arranged systematically under the following four mentioned points: (1) the general features of Pranayama practices, (2) types and techniques of Pranayama practices, (3) the benefits of Pranayama practices, and (4) safety and adverse effects related to Pranayama practices.

The general features of Pranayama practices were further subdivided into: (i) importance of Pranayamas, (ii) preparation for Pranayamas, (iii) mental state for Pranayamas, (iv) selection of places for Pranayamas, (v) time for Pranayamas (daily practice and seasons), (vi) balanced diet, prohibited foods, and list of prescribed foods, and (vii) role of Bandhas (body locks) in Pranayamas.

General features of Pranayama practice

In HYP, 60 verses are related to Pranayama practices (i.e., Chapter 2, Verses 1–20 and 39–78).[6] In GS, 98 verses are related to Pranayama practices (i.e., Chapter 5, Verses 1–98).[4] The Pranayama chapters and related verses describing the general features, types, techniques, benefits, safety, and adverse effects related to Pranayama practices mentioned in HYP and GS are listed in [Table 1].
Table 1: The Pranayama chapters and related verses describing the general features, types, techniques, benefits, safety, and adverse effects related to Pranayama practices mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita

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Importance of Pranayamas

According to HYP, there has a vital role of Pranayama to control the states of mind. When we stop the Prana through retention (through Kevala Kumbhaka), the mind becomes free from all modifications, Sushumna Nadi (the central channel) becomes unobstructed, Kundalini (a divine feminine energy believed to be located at the base of the spine) is aroused, and one achieves the stage of Rajayoga (supreme union) and perfection in Hatha Yoga. The author also used simile to describe the importance of Pranayama that even Brahma and other gods in heaven devote themselves to practice Pranayama because it purifies the Nadis (energy channels) and Chakras (psychic centers) to open the doorway of Prana (subtle energy) to Sushumna Nadi (the central channel) and ends the fear of death (Verses 2, 3, 39–41, and 75–77; HYP).[6]

According to GS, the importance of Pranayama is described using the simile that by practicing Pranayama, a human being becomes like a deva (God) (Verse 1; GS).[4]

Preparation for Pranayamas

According to HYP, before practicing Pranayama, one must being established in Asana (having control of the body). After that, he/she should follow the balanced diet and the instructions of the Guru to practice Pranayama. Before practicing Pranayama, the purification of Nadis is very important because the Nadis and Chakras are full of impurities which caused blockage in Nadis and obstruction to flow the vital air in the middle channel, and without purification, one cannot attain the state of Unmani (a thoughtless state of mind/Samadhi) (Verses 1 and 4–6; HYP).[6]

According to GS, before practicing Pranayama, one must being follow the perfect time, place, balanced diet, and the purification process of the Nadis. Without purification of Nadis, one cannot manifest Tatva Jnana (subtle knowledge) and perfection in Pranayama. The purified Nadis help do a faultless performance of Pranayama (Verses 2, 32, 34, and 38; GS).[4]

Mental state for Pranayamas

According to HYP, Pranayama should be practiced daily with a Sattwic (pure) state of mind which helps flow out the impurities of Sushumna Nadi and purification occurs. The Prana moving in the Sushumna Nadi makes the mind still and the steadiness of mind is achieved which is called the stage of Manonmani (mind devoid of thoughts). There is also an important relationship between the Prana and the Chitta (mind). When Prana moves, then Chitta also moves; when Prana is without movement, then Chitta is also without movement. By this steadiness of Prana, one attains steadiness. Hence, therefore, restrain of the Vayu (air) is important. As long as the Vayu (air and Prana) remains in the body, that is called life, and when it leaves, that is death (Verses 2, 3, 6 and 42; HYP).[6]

Selection of places for Pranayamas

According to GS, for the successful practice of Pranayama, one should practice Pranayama in a good welfare state where one can get alms easily and where there is no nuisance. One should make a hut having an enclosed compound there with well availability of water (there should be a well or a pond). The cottage should be situated neither on too high nor on too low a side, and it should be free from insects and smeared over with cow dung. In such secluded place, one should practice Pranayama. One should avoid the practice of Pranayama in three places: (i) a far-off place, (ii) in a forest, and (iii) in a capital city or in the midst of a crowd. In a far-off place, there is no one can be believed; in a forest, there is no security; and in the mid of crowd, there is the fear of distraction due to publicity (Verses 3–7; GS).[4]

Time for Pranayamas (daily practice and seasons)

According to HYP, Pranayama should be practiced four times in a day: (i) early morning, (ii) midday, (iii) evening, and (iv) midnight. One should gradually practice held up to eighty counts in one sitting with a Sattwic state of mind (Verses 6 and 11; HYP).[6]

According to GS, one should start practicing Pranayama in Vasanta or Sarada (spring or autumn), then it is said to be easily successful, and verily, he/she becomes free from diseases. One should not begin the practice of yoga in the seasons, Hemanta, Sisira, Grisma, and Varsa (prewinter, winter, summer, and rainy season). If practiced, yoga causes sickness (Verses 8–15; GS).[4]

Balanced diet, prohibited foods, and list of prescribed foods

According to HYP, in the beginning stages of practice, food consisting of milk and ghee is recommended (Verse 14; HYP).[6]

According to GS, to make progress in the practice of Pranayama, Mitahara (controlled diet) is recommended for beginners. One who begins the practice of yoga without controlling his/her diet; she/he suffers from many diseases and does not make progress in yoga. While after being established in the practice, such restrictions are not necessary. (i) One should fill half the stomach with pure, sweet, lubricated diet devoted to God; (ii) one quarter with water, and (iii) the fourth quarter should be reserved for the movement of the air; which is called Mitahara (controlled diet). Practitioners should eat desirable and proper food which is easily digestible, soft, lubricating, strengthening, acceptable to the mind and nourishes the Dhatus (elementary substances of the body). Taking clean and husk-free food prepared from rice, flour, barley, wheat, pulses such as green gram, black gram, and horse-gram are also recommended. The practitioner should eat fruits, seasonal fresh leafy green vegetables, medicinal roots, and stems such as pointed gourds, jack fruits, bitter gourds, cucumber, figs, bananas, and brinjals. The practitioner also should eat fresh butter, ghee, milk, jaggery, sugar, sugar cane, ripe bananas, coconut fruit, pomegranate, anise, grapes, cloves, myrabolan, juice which is not sour, cardamom, nutmeg, rose apple, malay apple, black myrabolan, and dates. Five leafy vegetables are recommended to eat for the practitioner, i.e., Balasaka, Kalasaka, Patolapatraka, Vastuka, and Himalocika (similar to spinach) (Verses 14, 16–22, and 27–29; GS).[4]

According to GS, the practitioner should avoid foods which are hard, polluted, stale, extremely hot, extremely cold, and stimulating items that produce heat inside the body. He/she should also avoid the habit of fasting, eating once a day, and frequently eating. One should also avoid early morning bath and works which causes fatigue. In the beginning of yoga practice, one should avoid bitter, sour, salty, pungent, fried food, curds, butter milk, heavy vegetables, liquor, palm nuts, and ripe jackfruits. Consuming foods such as horse gram, lentils, Paņdu (yellowish fruits), pumpkin, vegetable stems, gourds, berries, limes, garlic, and asafetida are also recommended to avoid. The practitioners should avoid sour juices. He/she should also avoid three things: (i) excess traveling, (ii) company of women, and (iii) basking himself/herself by the fire (Verses 23–29 and 31; GS).[4]

Role of Bandhas (body locks) in Pranayamas

According to HYP, Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock) is performed at the end of inhalation, while Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal lock) is performed at the beginning of exhalation as well as at the end of Kumbhaka (retention). These body locks help the Prana to flow into the Brahma Nadi (subtle channel located within the central channel) and stop the process of aging (Verses 45–47; HYP).[6]

Types and techniques of Pranayama practices

Concept of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (types and technique)

According to HYP, the technique of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama described as: after sitting in Baddha Padmasana (Locked Lotus Pose), one should inhale through the left nostril; hold the breath to capacity, and then exhale through the right nostril. Again, inhaling through the right nostril filling the abdomen gradually, hold the breath to capacity, and then complete exhale through the left nostril. Again, inhale through the same nostril (left nostril) which exhalation was done, hold the breath to capacity, and exhale through the other nostril (right nostril) slowly and not forcibly. When breath is inhaled through the left nostril, then it must be exhaled through the right nostril, and when it is inhaled through the right nostril, then it must be exhaled through the left nostril, alternately. Practice of this technique purifies all the Nadis within 3 months (Verses 7–10; HYP).[6]

According to GS, there are two types of Nadi Shodhan Pranayamas: (i) Samanu and (ii) Nirmanu. Samanu is practiced accompanied with Bija Mantra (one syllable sound used in meditation or yoga practice), and while Nirmanu is done with Dhauti Karma (a purification technique in Satkarma Sadhana). One should sit in Padmasana on a thick seat of Kusa-grass (Desmostachya bipinnata), deer skin, tiger skin, or a blanket with facing the east or the north. After that, he/she should invite the deities to the various parts of the body as advised by the Guru and should start the practice of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama. When the same technique of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama mentioned in HYP is performed with Bija Mantras (i.e., यं/Yam, रं/Ram, ठं/Tham, वं/Vam, लं/Lam) with the ratio of 16:64:32 inhalation, retain, and exhalation is called Samanu. The technique of Nirmanu is performed with Dhauti Karma (Verses 35–44; GS).[4]

Types of Kumbhakas/Pranayamas

According to HYP, Pranayama is said to be of three types: Puraka (inhalation), Rechaka (exhalation), and Kumbhaka (retention). Kumbhaka is again of two types: Sahita Kumbhaka (connected retention) and Kevala Kumbhaka (unconnected retention). In the beginning, Sahita Kumbhaka has to be practiced until Kevala Kumbhaka is perfected. When one is freed from inhalation and exhalation, then the Prana (breath) is retained easily is called Kevala Kumbhaka. One who has mastery of Kevala Kumbhaka can retain the breath as desired and nothing in the three planes of existence (Jagrat/conscious, Swapna/subconscious, and Sushupti/unconscious) in unobtainable by him/her. There are eight Kumbhakas mentioned in the text HYP are (i) Suryabhedi Kumbhaka, (ii) Ujjayi Kumbhaka, (iii) Seetkari Kumbhaka, (iv) Sheetali Kumbhaka, (v) Bhastrika Kumbhaka, (vi) Bhramari Kumbhaka, (vii) Moorchha Kumbhaka, and (viii) Plavini Kumbhaka (Verses 44–74; HYP).[6]

According to GS, there are eight Kumbhakas: (i) Sahita Kumbhaka, (ii) Suryabhedi Kumbhaka, (iii) Ujjayi Kumbhaka, (iv) Sheetali Kumbhaka, (v) Bhastrika Kumbhaka, (vi) Bhramari Kumbhaka, (vii) Moorchha Kumbhaka, and (viii) Kevali Kumbhaka (Verses 46–98; GS).[4]

The types of Pranayama practices mentioned in two Hatha Yoga texts: (1) HYP and (2) GS are presented systematically in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Types of Pranayama practices mentioned in two Hatha Yoga texts: (a) Hatha Yoga Pradipika and (b) Gheranda Samhita. Note: Nadi Shodhan pranayama is described in both the Hatha Yoga texts as the process of purification of Nadis. In Gheranda Samhita, Nadi Shodhan Pranayama is divided into two types: (i) Samanu and (ii) Nirmanu. The technique of Samanu is practiced accompanied with Bija Mantra and while Nirmanu is done with Dhauti Karma

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The techniques of Kumbhakas/Pranayamas mentioned in the HYP and GS are presented systematically step by step in [Table 2.
Table 2: The step by step techniques of Kumbhakas/Pranayamas mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita

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Benefits of Pranayamas practices

According to HYP, the skillful practice of Pranayamas (skillful inhalation, exhalation, and retention) makes the body thin and glow, increases digestive power, purifies the Nadis, eradicates all diseases, awakes Nada (the inner sound), and attains Siddhi (perfection) (Verses 18–20; HYP).[6]

Symptoms of Pranayama Siddhi (perfection in Pranayamas)

According to HYP, three observational stages are mentioned for Pranayama Siddhi: (i) at first stage, there is perspiration in the body, (ii) in the middle stage, trembling is achieved, and (iii) in the highest stage, complete steadiness is achieved. The symptoms achieved after perfection in Pranayamas are lightness, thinness, and glow in body, happiness in face, sweetness in voice, brightness in eyes, control in Bindu (semen/ova), active digestive fire, purified Nadis, and diseaselessness (Verses 12, 19, and 78; HYP).[6]

The benefits of Kumbhakas/Pranayamas mentioned in the HYP and GS are listed in [Table 3].
Table 3: The benefits of Kumbhakas/Pranayamas mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita

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Safety and adverse effects related to Pranayamas practices

According to HYP, Pranayama should be practiced according to the instructions of the Guru after one should have established in Asanas (having control of the body) and taking a balanced diet. Improper practice of Pranayama aroused all diseases, and proper practice of Pranayama eradicated all diseases. Prana is gradually controlled through practice; if it is not controlled gradually, then practitioner may have many harmful effects. Hiccups, asthma, coughs, headache, ear pain, eye pain, and various other diseases are caused due to disturbances of the vital air (Verses 1 and 15–17; HYP).[6]

According to GS, the season's Vasanta or Sarada (spring or autumn) in a year is recommended to begin the practice of Pranayama. Beginning the practice of Pranayama in the seasons, i.e., Hemanta, Sisira, Grisma, and Varsa (prewinter, winter, summer, and rainy season), is avoidable, if practiced in these seasons, then it causes sickness (Verses 8–15; GS).[4]

Limitations

This study is limited to only two Hatha Yoga texts (i.e., HYP and GS) for reviewing the general features, types and techniques, benefits, safety, and adverse effects related to Pranayama.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]



 

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