Types of Pranayama (And Benefits) To Fuel The Beginner Yoga Practice

Pranayama is to yoga (and meditation) what breathing is to exercise.

Quite literally.

Pranayama is a form of breathing, or several forms of it rather, that supplement your yoga practice the way good nutrition and stretching supplement your workout routine.

Where regular breathing is automatic and unconscious, pranayama is breathing done with intention.

It’s a point of focus and meditation during a yoga workout that brings attention to that which we normally do unthinkingly.

Along with serving as a guide through the meditative part of your yoga practice, pranayama has several proven health and brain benefits.

These include:

  • Improved lung function (including reduced asthma symptoms)
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased focus

Pranayama has also proven effective against individual symptoms of stress and anxiety, including a reduction in frequency of both migraines and ulcers.

Like most things yoga and meditation, there is no definitive number of how many forms of pranayama exist (though, 8 types of pranayama is a popular figure), but here are a few forms of pranayama that can help you as a beginner to yoga.

These pranayama styles should give you a good idea of how pranayama affects the body and why a little mindful breathing may be worth incorporating into your health routine.

Different Types of Pranayama in Yoga

man doing pranayama breathing in bedroom

The different types of pranayama in yoga (and meditation) serve different purposes.

Some warm the body. Some cool it down.

Some focus on sound. Others on sensation.

Some bolster energy. Others have a calming effect.

For beginners, we like these three pranayama, which give you a good combination of all the above things, to really give you a feel for pranayama practice:

Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama)

Distinguishing feature: Measured inhalations

One of the simplest pranayama is also one of the most effective at calming the mind and focusing the attention.

To do Dirga Pranayama –

  1. Sit with a straight spine or lie on your back. (Knees bent and feet on the ground is most comfortable for many.)
  2. Inhale into the belly. (Focus on filling the belly with air first and keeping the chest still.)
  3. When the belly is filled with air, breath in more so the chest beneath the breast and under the ribcage fills and expands.
  4. Once the ribcage and lower chest have fully expanded, inhale further to fill the upper chest with air.
  5. Reverse it as you exhale, slowly releasing the breath from the top of the chest, then the ribcage, then the belly.

Tips for Performing Dirga Pranayama For Beginners

Start with belly breathing.

If you have never done deep breathing exercises before, it may take a while to get a feel for filling the belly before the chest.

So, you may want to practice some simple belly breaths first, drawing air so that it fills the belly instead of the chest and then releasing it.

Take it in parts.

This three-part inhalation can feel long at first, because you continue to draw in air after both your belly and lower chest feel full.

With practice, you will be able to increase the rate of your inhalations and the three-part breath will become more natural.

Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama)

Distinguishing feature: Sound

Another simple pranayama that helps calm the mind, the bhramari pranayama has an essential claim to fame when it comes to overall health –

It is one of the most effective pranayama techniques at stimulating the vagus nerve. (All pranayama benefit the vagus to some extent, but the humming bee is a real humdinger – Sorry, that is an absolutely awful pun.)

The humming aspect of bhramari pranayama is where a lot of this technique’s effectiveness comes from.

And the sound will likely be the most noticeable aspect when you’re just starting to practice.

To get started with Bhramari pranayama–

1 – Sit on a cushion or pillow with a straight spine and legs crossed.

(If this is uncomfortable for you, you can sit with the legs straight out, legs slightly bent, kneel, or sit on a chair.)

2 – Close your eyes and ears.

When first getting started, you need only block external light and sound.

You can do this by simply closing your eyes and pressing your ears lightly shut with your fingers.

3 – Take a deep breath through your nose, filling your entire belly.

4 – Hum as you exhale the breath back through your nose.

Tips for Performing Bhramari Pranayama For Beginners

Start with belly breathing.

If you have never done deep breathing exercises before, it may take a while to get a feel for filling the belly before the chest.

So, you may want to practice some simple belly breaths first, drawing air so that it fills the belly instead of the chest and then releasing it.

Touch your face.

Touching your face with your fingers while covering your ears intensifies the effect of bhramari.

Once you get the hang of this breathing technique, try closing your ears with your thumbs and placing two fingers softly against each eyelid at the same time.

(There are more intensive hand positions as well, but this simple alternative will help you experience the more advanced ways in which bhramari pranayama can be performed and experienced.)

Light Skull Breath (Kapalbhati Pranayama)

Distinguishing feature: Forceful exhalation

A pranayama with a little more intensity, kapalbhati is about pushing the bad air and toxins out of your respiratory system to make room for fresher, cleaner air.

It’s a bit more advanced than the two pranayama above, so it’s not advised as a true breathing technique for beginners. Not yet.

But just doing it a couple of times will give you an idea of the sort of advanced breathing techniques of some pranayama, and how quickly they can change the way you feel.

To do Kapalbhati pranayama

1 – Sit with a straight spine and legs crossed or out in front of you.

(If this is uncomfortable for you, you can sit with the legs slightly bent, kneel, or sit on a chair. Just make sure your abdomen is not restricted.)

2 – Take a deep inhalation through the nose, filling the belly and chest.

3 – Contract the abdominal muscles (suck your belly button inward) quickly and powerfully to force the breath from your lungs.

4 – Release your abdominal muscles to let air flow back in.

You should not need to consciously inhale. As soon as you release your ab muscles, air should fill the space.

5 – Contract the abdominal muscles to breathe out forcefully again.

Tips for Performing Kapalbhati Pranayama For Beginners

Let air flow slowly back in.

Once you get familiar with pranayama techniques (and perfect some easy ones), you’ll be able to do this technique as it’s meant to be done – rapidly.

But, as a beginner, you shouldn’t try this technique more than a couple of times and you should do it slowly.

You’re just getting a feel for pranayama breathing, not trying to pass out.

The Stages of Pranayama

As you may have picked up from our above descriptions, pranayama consists of three parts or stages. These are:

  • Puraka: the inhalation stage in which you draw breath into the body
  • Kumbhaka: the retention stage or space between breaths
  • Rechaka: the exhalation stage in which you release the breath

Depending on the type of pranayama, any of these stages may be longer or shorter than the others.

But all pranayama (and all breathing!) comes in three stages.

Pranayama Precautions

While pranayama can be a boon to your health, strengthening the lungs and activating the nervous system, it also disrupts the body’s autonomic functions, and, as such, does have the potential to cause harm.

The following people should consult a doctor before practicing pranayama:

  • Anyone with a preexisting condition (especially a heart or respiratory condition)
  • Anyone with an unhealed injury
  • Pregnant women

It is also advisable menstruating women avoid difficult pranayama, though some light pranayama can actually help alleviate the symptoms of periods and PMS.

When practicing pranayama:

Don’t attempt pranayama breathing unless you have mastered belly breathing.

When belly breathing, each breath should feel natural and satisfying.

You should never feel starved for breath.

Never attempt a full practice of advanced pranayama techniques before you have mastered the most basic pranayama breathing techniques.

Consider getting help from a certified instructor.

Learning pranayama in a class or one-on-one yoga session is the safest way to start practicing.

Never practice a pranayama technique alone the first time.

Even if you don’t want to take a class or get help from an instructor, you should have someone around while attempting pranayama breathing patterns for the first time in case you get dizzy or ill.

Practice pranayama on an empty stomach.

Many pranayama breathing techniques require contraction of the abdominal muscles.

An empty stomach makes these techniques more effective (and less likely to make you feel sick).

Start slowly.

Every time you start a new pranayama technique, take a few slow practice breaths to see how the breathing style affects you before attempting a full set.


Most importantly, when practicing pranayama, whether you are brand new to it or teach it for a living, pay attention to your body.

If you feel any lightheadedness, dizziness, or discomfort, stop the technique immediately and take slow, deep breaths.

If you are sitting up, lie down until any dizziness passes.

Pranayama is good for respiration and the nervous system when done well and in moderation.

But since it does disrupt the body’s natural breathing function, it can be dangerous when done improperly or too often.

So, always pay attention to your body and practice pranayama in moderation.

More On Yoga

Pranayama is just one type of practice you can add to your yoga routine.

New to yoga? Check out our articles for beginners:

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