A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]

Many believe that meditation and pranayama are both the same. They are not. Pranayama in other words is a stepping stone to meditation. It involves breathing and being in control of your breath. Meditation on the other hand is the mere act of being focused. Having said that, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to it.

Even though people confuse both to be one. Pranayama and Meditation are two different practices. The main difference between the two is – one involves heavy breathing and the other does not. Pranayama helps us have control over our breath. Meditation on the other hand is focusing on one thought or no thought at all.

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Pranayama

Pranayama is a system of techniques used to harness and manipulate universal energy known as “prana”. The name “Pranayama” has been picked from various Sanskrit terms. “Prana” meaning “vital life force”, “yama” meaning “control” and “ayama” meaning “expansion”.

Benefits Of Pranayama

Extensive research over the years proves the various benefits of Pranayama. Some of which include the following:

1. Promotes a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Pranayama is useful for those that go through various sleep disorders. Practicing pranayama on a daily basis improves sleep quality. In addition to that, pranayama decreases snoring and daytime sleepiness.

2. Advances Mindfulness

A study by IJOY (International Journal of Yoga) states – people who practice pranayama on a daily basis experience higher levels of mindfulness. The reason being, the calming effect it has on people. Due to this effect, it causes one to be more mindful. The same study explains how pranayama can increase oxygen intake. This fuels brain cells which in turn helps with concentration and mindfulness.

3. Reduces Stress

A study by IJOY in 2013 came across a discovery after performing research on young adults. It states that pranayama is effective in reducing stress. They saw a significant decrease in stress levels. Another study explains how people who practice pranayama were less stressed before a test.

4. Aide to Weight Loss

A study by IJOY states that regular practice can lead to weight loss. When you perform Pranayama, it activates the abdominal muscles. This is because it involves heavy breathing techniques. This process helps burn not only calories but also fat. As a result, it is an aide to weight loss.

5. Improves your Skin

When you perform Pranayama, you take in a lot of oxygen. There are some types of Pranayama that encourage you to hold your breath in. This process leads to taking oxygen to your skin cells. Bhramri Pranayama and Bhastrika Pranayama are 2 types of Pranayama among many others. When you perform these 2, you take in a lot of oxygen. This helps fuel oxygen to cells in your body. As a result, it leads to glowing skin.

5. Improves Lung Health

Pranayama requires heavy and forceful breathing. This helps strengthen your lungs. A study in 2019 states the various benefits that Pranayama has on lung health. It is said that Pranayama can help with various respiratory disorders. Since Pranayama involves breath retention, this strengthens respiratory muscles. As a result, it improves and keeps the lungs in good condition.

6. Enhances Brain Function

Due to the level of oxygen intake during pranayama, one feels less stressed. It helps the mind become free of anxiety. Pranayama increases the gray matter in the brain. Gray matter is a part of the brain that consists of cells of the nervous system. As time goes by, this gray matter decreases. One of the main causes of memory loss. Pranayama helps provide energy to the brain cells. As a result, it improves brain function.

7. Helps Fight Cigarette Cravings

A study from 2012 proves that even 10 minutes of yogic breathing helps fight nicotine cravings. Regular practice of Pranayama can ease the effects of withdrawal from smoking. It helps control the urge to smoke.

It is true that Pranayama is effective. Having said that, one should avoid it in case of chronic illnesses. It is best to consult a doctor before starting. Some types should be avoided during pregnancy and menstruation. It is advisable to not perform Pranayama in case of lung congestion.

The best time to perform Pranayama is during the mornings. Ideal time is 1-2 hours before sunrise. This is because during that time oxygen levels are at its peak. The air during that time is fresh and could give you best results. One can perform it in the evening as well. You must keep in mind to not eat anything 1 hour prior to your routine. An empty stomach is advisable whenever you perform Pranayama.

One can perform Pranayama at home or outdoors. In case of indoors make sure that your room has proper ventilation. Make sure that there are enough windows for air to come in. Having said that, the best option is performing it outdoors. This will help you inhale fresh air and give you best results. It will help keep your mind fresh and make you feel more relaxed.

Types Of Pranayama

1. Nadi Shodhana

You start by sitting upright with your spine at stretch. Place your thumb on the right nostril and inhale through your left. Hold your breath for a few seconds. Switch your thumb to your left nostril and exhale through your right. Repeat the same 10-15 times.

Pranayama
Benefits:
  • Calms your mind.
  • Helps with respiratory conditions.
  • Maintains body temperature.
  • Reduces stress.
  • Helps purify the nadis.
  • Helps with mental clarity.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Do not practice if you have cold or any sort of flu.
  • Do not force the breathing, go with the flow.
  • Do not apply pressure to either of your nostrils.
  • Make sure that your exhalation is longer than your inhalation.

2. Shitali Pranayama

Sit in the same position as you did for Nadi Sodhana. You make an “O” and inhale. Exhale through your nose. Repeat 5-10 times.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Helps cool down the body.
  • Promotes better digestion.
  • Helps improve your skin.
  • Extenuates acidity.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Do not perform if you have low blood pressure or respiratory disorders.
  • For those with heart problems, perform without breath retention.
  • Do not perform in areas with high pollution.
  • Do not perform if you face chronic constipation.
  • Stop practicing if you feel dizzy.
  • Do not force your breath.

3. Ujjayi Pranayama

Start by sitting in cross-legged position. Inhale through your mouth. Exhale in a way that resembles someone is choking you. It should sound like ocean waves. Move on to phase 2. Here you will inhale through your nose. Use the same constriction on your throat when you exhale. Repeat 10-15 times.

Pranayama
Benefits:
  • Increases appetite.
  • Clears your voice.
  • Helps balance thyroid.
  • Benefits those with chronic cold cough, indigestion, liver problems, dysentery, fever and other diseases.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Do not perform if you have any heart problems.
  • Avoid if you have hypertension.
  • Do not strain your breath.
  • Do not tighten your throat too much. A little constriction is enough.
  • If you have respiratory disorders like asthma, make sure you are breathing enough.
  • Stop if you feel dizzy or light headed.

4. Kapalabhati Pranayama

Begin in the seated position. Inhale and exhale with force. When you exhale suck your belly in. Go back to the same position when you inhale. Repeat 20-30 times.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Helps with weight loss.
  • Improves blood circulation.
  • Results in radiant skin.
  • Clears the nadis.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Beneficial to those with diabetes.
  • Energizes the brain cells and the nervous system.
  • Calms the mind.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Avoid if you have a stent.
  • Do not perform in case of epilepsy, hernia or backache.
  • Do not perform if you have slip disc.
  • Do not perform if you have recently gone under abdominal surgery.
  • For this, breath is forceful. Just let it out.
  • Perform on an empty stomach.

5. Dirga Pranayama

This has 3 parts. You start with lying down on a flat surface. For the first half, you inhale and fill your belly with air. Hold for a few seconds. Exhale and draw your belly inwards. For the second half you will inhale deeper. You will fill up your belly and rib cage with air. Hold and exhale again like you did the first time. For the third half you will inhale even deeper. Fill your belly, rib cage and heart center with air. Hold and exhale again. Repeat 5-6 times.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Can nourish your body.
  • Calms your mind.
  • Helps you focus better.
  • Relieves tension.
  • Beneficial for those who face panic attacks.
  • Can destress you.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Do not fill up your lungs too much. It should feel full but not like it is going to burst.
  • Your breath should be smooth.
  • Stop immediately if you feel faint or dizzy.

6. Viloma Pranayama

This is divided into 2 parts.

  1. Paused Inhalation – Lie down on a flat surface. Start inhaling and then pause for 2-3 seconds. Inhale again and pause for another 2-3 seconds. You will repeat this until your lungs are full of air. Exhale at slow speed until you let out all the air.
  2. Paused Exhalation – For this, you will inhale as usual without pauses. While exhaling, you will take pauses in a periodic manner.
A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • It can calm the body and mind.
  • Known to reduce anxiety and tension.
  • Can strengthen lung capacity.
  • Cools down the body.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Helps with menorrhagia and metrorrhagia.
Things you can keep in mind:
  • Do not perform if you have backache, diarrhea or constipation.
  • If you feel faint, dizzy or out of breath, finish your set and take rest for a while.
  • If you are the beginner, do not go beyond 6 cycles.
  • Swallow saliva only after you finish exhaling.

7. Anuloma Pranayama

This is similar to Viloma Pranayama. Begin by being seated in Padmasana. You will place your thumb on one nostril and breath in through the other. You will not block the nostril, keep it partially open.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Oxygenates the blood.
  • Treats respiratory disorders.
  • Can relieve you from headaches, stress and anxiety.
  • Calms the nervous system.
  • Gives glowing and radiant skin.
  • Keeps diabetes under control.
Things you can keep in mind:
  • Cardiac or blood pressure patients should not hold their breath.
  • Keep your breath steady and slow.
  • Do not practice if your stomach is full.
  • If you suffer from arthritis and cannot sit down, use a chair.

8. Bhramri Pranayama

Begin by sitting upright. You will close your ears with your thumb. Close your eyes with your index and middle finger. Inhale and then exhale by chanting “OM” . You can repeat this 10-15 times.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Relieves you from tension, stress and anxiety.
  • Helps with headaches and migraines.
  • Improves concentration and memory function.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Do not put your thumb inside your ear. Keep it on the cartridge. Do not press too hard.
  • Do not overdo.
  • Do not apply pressure on your face.
  • Make sure that you perform it on an empty stomach.
  • Do not practice if you are pregnant or menstruating.
  • Do not practice if your blood pressure is too high.
  • Avoid in case of epilepsy, chest pain or a ear infection.
  • Do not practice it when you are lying down.

9. Bhastrika Pranayama

Most suitable during winter. This helps keep your body warm and retain its heat. Begin by sitting in Vajrasana. Make a fist and keep your hands next to your shoulders. Inhale, raise your hands and open your fist. Exhale with force and bring back your hands to its initial position. Keep going for 20 breaths. Relax for a while with your palms on your thighs. Go on for 2 more rounds of the same.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Energizes the body and the mind.
  • Increases lung capacity.
  • Helps with respiratory issues.
  • Increases awareness.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Practice on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid if pregnant or menstruating.
  • Perform at your own speed.
  • In case you feel dizzy, take longer breaks.
  • Those that suffer from hypertension or panic disorders should perform under supervision.

9. Moorchha Pranayama

Sit upright with your neck, spine and back straight. Inhale and take your head and neck backwards. Hold your breath for a while after inhalation. As you exhale, move back to your initial position.

A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
A Guide to Meditation & Pranayama For A Healthy Lifestyle [2021]
Benefits:
  • Calms your mental state.
  • Clears anxiety, stress and negativity.
  • Relaxes you but keeps you alert and conscious.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
  • Can cure muscle weaknesses.
  • Reduces body fats.
Things you should keep in mind:
  • Do not perform if you have a mental disorder.
  • Avoid if you face high or low blood pressure.
  • A cardiac patient must perform under supervision.
  • Stop if you feel faint or dizzy.
  • Do not perform if you have epilepsy, brain disorders or glaucoma.

Most Important Pranayama’s you should do every day – Bhastrika Pranayama, Anuloma Pranayama, Viloma Pranayama, Bhramri Pranayama, Ujjayi Pranayama, Kapalabhati Pranayama. These will relieve you from any tension, stress or anxiety. They will help you remain in a state of peace. It can reduce blood pressure. In addition, it can keep you healthy and alert each day. These pranayama’s would make a great addition to your routine.

The best way to go about is to ask for help from a professional. For beginners, it is advisable to have someone supervise you. Pranayama is effective but if done the wrong way you may face difficulties. If Pranayama is not done properly one may face the following side effects –

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lassitude
  • Lethargy
  • The feeling that something is continuously moving when you close your eyes
  • Lack of stability in thoughts
  • Nausea
  • Uneasiness
  • Easily excitable mind
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Asthma getting worse
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Psychological imbalance
  • Restlessness
  • Worsening of depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Increase in internal fear
  • Phobia
  • Unstable mind
  • Excessive perspiration or salivation
  • Variation in blood pressure and blood glucose levels
  • Increase in stress
  • Lowered immunity
  • Body ache, back ache and blurred vision

There are several reasons why one would face side effects. If you try to do it by yourself or in rooms that do not have enough ventilation. If the room you are practicing in is too noisy. Of course, wrong posture or overdoing it can cause side effects. It is advisable to perform most Pranayama’s on an empty stomach. If you perform when you are too hungry or soon after food, you may face side effects.

Meditation

Meditation is the act of being aware of your thoughts or one particular thought. It is the skill of being mindful about what goes on in your head. More than an act, it is a state. The state of awareness or consciousness. This is when the mind is at peace, calm and alert.

Many consider meditation as a mere act of being in control of your mind. Sure, that is one part of it. Meditation consists of 3 ideas – Peace, Awareness and Consciousness. Today, most of us have to deal with a fast pace lifestyle. This causes stress and anxiety. Since meditation helps reduce stress, it is gaining popularity.

A great number of people have a misconception that meditation is a religious practice. It does have roots with many religious teachings. Having said that, mediation is not a religious practice. It is more about giving peace, making you aware and changing consciousness.

TYPES OF MEDITATION

1. Mindfulness Meditation

A type of meditation that encourages you to let go off the negative. It calms your body and mind. It helps you focus on the present. You pay attention to your thoughts and what goes on in your mind. You observe these thoughts without giving any sort of judgements. Focus on your breath. Start by being seated upright. Don’t be too stiff and wear clothes that are comfortable.

Start by 5 minutes each day. Extend your time by 10-15 minutes each day. Once you are comfortable, you can then set a timer for 30-40 minutes each day. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are a beginner. You will adapt as time passes. It is not necessary to practice mindfulness meditation every day. 3-4 times per week will suffice.

Mindfulness Meditation is the easiest form and can be done without supervision. One can perform it by themselves even at home. If done on a regular basis, you will see positive results. You will find yourself free of stress and anxiety. It helps with relationship issues and sleep disorders. In addition, it is beneficial to those who face depression or eating disorders.

2. Spiritual Meditation

One can perform spiritual meditation at home or a place of worship. People from different faiths like Hinduism, Daoism and Christianism use this. This type of meditation is done when one wants to grow their spiritual self. It helps you understand the “real you”.

Different individuals have various perceptions about themselves. When you perform spiritual meditation, you realize what is true and what is not. It helps you let go the past and the future. It rather helps you be in the present where you can thrive in.

Spiritual Meditation is similar to a prayer. Where you sit in silence and look for a deeper connection. To begin with spiritual meditation, you will sit in a position that is most comfortable. You will focus on your thoughts and acknowledge them. You could say a prayer and reflect on yourself. Make yourself aware of what goes on around you and observe.

Spiritual Meditation can de-stress you. It calms you down and helps you reach your higher consciousness. You will feel empowered and be one with who you really are. In addition, it helps calm the nervous system and gives you clarity.

3. Focused Meditation

Focused Meditation is when you concentrate on any 1 of your 5 senses. For example, you could concentrate on your breath or look at an object. You could listen to some music as well. Focused meditation is different from regular meditation. In regular meditation, one tries to remove all thoughts. Here, you focus on the present.

Although this sounds easy, it is not. Many struggle to hold their focus. Having said that, if you drift way, it is important to come back. You start with doing it for 4-5 minutes. You can increase your time when you are comfortable.

Practice this in a place that is not noisy. This is so that you are not interrupted. The best thing to focus on is your breath. Breathing is the start to meditation. As a result, it is best to focus on that. If your mind starts to wander, come back to what you were focusing on. The idea is not just to focus, but also to maintain a quiet mind.

As the name suggests, this is done by those who need more focus in life. By those that have trouble focusing on one single thing. Choose the best time for you. Some prefer morning for a mindful start. Some prefer the evenings where they can de-stress through focused meditation.

4. Movement Meditation

As the name suggests, movement mediation is when one is moving. It could involve any form of movement. For example, performing the sun salutation or surya namaskar. It is when you are moving with slow pace and mindful state.

During this meditation, you pay attention to aspects that you would ignore otherwise. For instance, you will pay attention to body parts like your elbow or cheek. You will become mindful of your body. This means that you will pay more attention to how it moves, bends or twists.

Movement meditation focuses on the movement rather than the end goal of it. On regular days, you may ignore picking up something. During movement meditation you will pay attention to each aspect of picking up something.

There are manifold ways to do this. No one way is the right way. Having said that, one way to do it is by sitting. You can sit in a comfortable position, sway from right to left or left to right. Inhale and notice your arms extend and return. You will observe all the movements your body makes.

Movement Meditation is best for those that cannot perform the regular meditation. Some find peace in moving a little. They allow themselves to wander through movement. If you opt for movement meditation, it is best to do something you know. Perform movements that you are familiar with. This will help you be more mindful. You could do this for 5 minutes.

5. Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation is a popular type. It is used in Hinduism and Buddhism the most. It is when you have a particular phrase or word to chant while meditating. The most common example is chanting “HARI OM”.

You could either say it out loud or say it in your mind. It does not matter how you say it. After a few minutes, you will achieve mindfulness. You will be able to concentrate better. It will help you stay in the right frame of mind.

You will become more positive towards things. It will help keep you calm and invoke a sense of self compassion. This form is best for those who feel like their mind wanders a lot during meditation. Chanting the mantra will help you maintain focus while meditating.

You can meditate anywhere from 3 – 30 minutes each day. Choose whatever works for you. Pay attention to your breath. You can perform this in a quiet room in a position that suits you best. You could do it sitting, standing, lying down or walking as well.

6. Transcendental Meditation

This type of meditation is similar to Mantra Meditation. The only difference is that transcendental meditation requires a professional. A Transcendental Meditation professional will present a 60-minute introductory lecture.

After which a 45-minute lecture will be given. People who still show interest go for further sessions. After this, each person is given a mantra that they will keep confidential. These practice Transcendental Meditation for 10-15 minutes twice each day.

7. Progressive relaxation

This is better known as body scan meditation. One can perform it when they want to relax their body. Sometimes we face so much stress that we forget about any physical discomfort. Progressive Relaxation is good to release any tension that you may not be aware of.

You can lie down and perform this. You start by paying attention to your feet and any discomfort you may feel. Acknowledge it and breath through it. Keep moving upwards and acknowledge any sensations.

You can perform this anytime during the day or whenever you feel stressed. It is ok to perform it several times a day as well. You will feel calmer and become more aware of any sensations in your body. It could be pain, tightening or pressure. It is best to perform during bedtime for a good night sleep.

8. Loving-Kindness Meditation

This is a self-care technique. It helps improve relationships. This is because those who practice it on a regular basis feel compassion. They tend to be much more forgiving and acceptable of others.

Some studies explain that Loving-Kindness Meditation may benefit those with chronic pain and borderline personality disorder. Further evidence is needed to confirm these promising effects. It could be useful in the management of social anxiety and marital conflict. In addition, it could tame anger, and help cope with the strains of long-term caregiving.

Another research suggests that this can enhance parts of the brain. This will help eliminate negative thoughts and give you a positive frame of mind. You can begin by sitting in a comfortable position. You will reassure yourself of how worthy you are and be thankful. You will repeat a few positive phrases like “May I Be Happy” or “May I Be Safe”. You could create your own phrases and repeat them.

You can then move on to think of a loved one and express your love for them. You will acknowledge the feelings you have for them. You could think of someone you have a conflict with. This will help you reach the level of being forgiving.

9. Visualisation Meditation

Visualisation Meditation is when you try to picture a positive scenario. It doesn’t matter if it is done or not. You could imagine something positive like getting a promotion or a raise. To add more detail, you will use all 5 senses to picture a scene. This will help you gain motivation and focus.

Loving – Kindness Meditation is one form of Visualization Meditation. Many use visualization meditation to boost their mood, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace. In Visualisation Meditation you will shift focus to creating an image in your head.

You can perform Visualization Meditation for a few minutes or longer. You can stay longer if you want to connect with yourself on a deeper level. One example of visualisation meditation is imagining yourself when you have achieved your goal.

It will help you stay calm when you pursue your goal in real life. This will help invoke positive thoughts and make you even more productive. You will achieve higher levels of focus and energy. It will help make you ready for action.

You can sit in a quiet place without disturbance and start visualizing. Make sure that your phone is on silent. This will help avoid distractions. Try to be realistic with your goals.

10. SOME COMMON MYTHS ABOUT MEDITATION

  • Meditation is a religious practice.
  • Meditation is like hypnotism.
  • Meditation is for old people.
  • Meditation is controlling thoughts.
  • If you meditate you will become a “sanyasi”.
  • You have to meditate for hours to experience pure bliss

CONCLUSION

Anything in excess is bad for your health. If you are a beginner, start slow. Increase the time or repetitions as time passes. The best way to go about is through a professional. Someone who has experience is always the best guide.

Do not force yourself into anything. Give it a shot, if it doesn’t agree, try again later. You could try out other things as well. Meditation and Pranayama, both cannot be forceful. You have to be present in the moment and enjoy the process. This will lead you to the best results!

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