Category Archives: Boosting Immunity

Ayurvedic use of herbs and spices, lifestyle and diet choices, strengthening Ojas, detoxification programmes and the practice of meditation, yoga and pranayama to build better immunity.

Detoxification to Strengthen our Immune System

Summary: Practical Ayurvedic tips for detoxification and the role it plays in supporting a strong immune system

Ayurveda suggests that toxins in our system prevent it from working at optimum efficiency and ultimately this gives rise to disease.

Get rid of toxins and our immunity improves.

Ayurveda states that toxins arise due to ‘poor digestion’. The term ‘digestion’ does not only apply to food! According to Ayurveda, both food and all sensory inputs and experiences have to be ‘properly digested’. Otherwise they give rise to toxins. Emotional upsets, trauma, stressful experiences, watching violent scenes, frightening movies, even the news on TV, etc. all have to be ‘processed’ and ‘digested’ by the fire of Agni. Agni is the internal digestive fire (in some ways it is similar to Pitta dosha).

As Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention, it is far better to avoid the toxic by-products of a poor digestive system in the first place by following Ayurvedic guidance on good digestion, diet, lifestyle and strengthening our digestive fire.

Ayurveda has a range of purification and detoxification strategies. Some of these are very simple and can be done at home. Other, more complicated procedures are often Ayurveda clinic based.

Home Based Detox Tips

A very simple step to help the digestive fire or ‘Agni’ burn off toxins is to sip warm water at regular intervals throughout the day. This is fine for most people, but would not be recommended in the height of summer or for individuals with a predominantly Pitta constitution. There is strong anecdotal evidence that this simple step can even remove the toxins associated with arthritis. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the hot water stimulates the digestive fire (Agni) which then ‘burns off’ the toxins (Ama).

Another very simple detox step is to ensure we have regular elimination and bowel movements. Ayurveda suggests many toxins are lodged in our colon as a result of poor digestion. Drinking a full glass of warm water first thing upon rising in the morning also stimualtes elimination.

Triphala – an Important Detox Herbal Formula

An Ayurvedic mixture of herbs (Rasayana) called ‘Triphala’ promotes great digestive health and is an excellent cleanser of toxins in the colon. Triphala is readily available from herbal suppliers on the internet. Triphala contains three powerful Ayurvedic herbs: Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki. Tablets are nicer to take than the powdered form. It can be taken for several months at a time (before having a short break of a few weeks, then continuing to take it for a couple of months, then repeating this cycle). Taking the recommended dose with a glass of warm water before bedtime really helps cleanse the colon of toxins and helps with elimination the following morning. Maharishi Ayurveda provide a useful leaflet on Triphala (download via link). I have heard an enlightened Vedic Master say: ‘If we are only going to take one Ayurvedic supplement, it should be Triphala – it gives so many benefits’

Fasting for Detox

Fasting can help with the removal of toxins. During a period of fasting the internal fire or Agni gets kinlded and, as there is no food to digest starts to burn away toxins. The maximum length of fast is different for different mind-body types. Therefore a pure Vata type should fast for no more than three days – longer than this and the vata element will go out of balance and create weakness, anxiety etc. For pitta types four days is the maximum (longer than this and the out of balance pitta element causes anger, excessive heat etc.) Kapha types can benefit from longer fasting periods without problems. A warm water fast one day a week is fine for everyone and gives our digestive system a rest.

Pranayama for Detox

Yogic breathing or pranayama exercises can help in increasing the digestive fire and also in removing toxins associated with negative or stressful experiences. Bhastrika Pranayama is particularly effective at increasing the strength of the digestive fire – which then burns off the toxins. So pranayama helps detox our system. There are some contraindications with certain pranayama exercises – see precautions in article on ‘Strengthening Our Digestive Fire to Prevent Disease’ before starting a particular pranayama exercise.

Clinic Based Detox – Panchakarma

Ayurveda offers complete detoxification programmes called ‘Panchakarma’ (or the five cleansing actions). Although some of these procedures can be done at home, most are clinic based under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic Physician (look for someone with a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine degree and clinical experience.) The aim is to first detoxify the system and then re-balance the doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha).

What exactly are the five cleansing actions? This really depends very much on the individual and an Ayurvedic professional will recommend appropriate actions. One detox  route might involve strategies to loosen the toxins from the underlying tissues (e.g. via ‘oil based’  therapies and warm oil massage), then to enable them  to move (e.g. via steam ‘baths’) to the colon, and then to finally eliminate them (e.g. by medicated enemas) from the system.

Panchakarma purification therapy offers many benefits as a result of getting rid of toxins. It slows down the ageing process, helps remove the long term effects of stress, brings more energy to the body and clarity to the mind, promotes a sense of well-being and, most importantly, strengthens our immune system.

These purification procedures can have dramatic results on health and can eliminate many long term diseases – often without the need for Western style surgery!

Other Key Strategies to Boost Immunity

Or, return to Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview article

Additional Information on Ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda. A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Vedic Meditation. Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.

Ayurvedic Diet to Increase Resistance to Disease

Summary: Recommendations from Ayurveda for an ideal diet. Helping us maintain balance in our doshas, good health and resistance to disease. 

Ayurveda places great emphasis on diet. But the foods recommended vary with an individual’s mind-body type.

So, before recommending any specific foods, Ayurveda categorises an individual according to the Vata-Pitta-Kapha system. Only then can Ayurveda give specific recommendations regarding the ideal diet. For example, some oily foods and dairy products would generally suit a pure Vata type (provided they can digest them adequately), but long term consumption would not be good at all for a pure Kapha type. Ayurveda actually views food as ‘medicine’! Eating the ‘right’ foods for our doshas can maintain their balance. It can even re-balance them – if they were already out of balance to start with.

Following Ayurvedic dietary advice is therefore important in maintaining balance in our system. This promotes overall good health, a sense of well-being, and immunity too. We don’t need to become obsessive about diet, but generally keep in mind the principles.

We should really regard following an Ayurvedic diet as a long-term investment in health.

An Ayurvedic Diet to Boost Immunity

Ideal Diet Depends on our Mind-body Type

A great deal has already been written on the ideal diet for different mind-body types. Once we know our predominant doshas e.g. Vata-Pitta, we can then reference a list showing what foods to favour and what to mostly avoid. Of course, this is very generalised advice. We really also need to take into account the strength of our digestive fire, the particular season (e.g. avoid a lot of chillies in the height of summer!), any allergies we might have and how out-of-balance our doshas already are. But we can get some useful self-help advice from these charts. One of the most comprehensive lists available is on the Ayurvedic Institute’s website. This information can also be downloaded in pdf format from their site.  There is a simpler list, plus some sound advice targeted to specific doshas on the Goop website.

Ayurveda suggests we should generally favour fresh, home prepared dishes over pre-prepared, packaged, tinned, or frozen foods. Freshly cooked food is higher in life force (prana). Most pre-prepared, packaged, tinned or frozen foods are lower in life force, as are left-overs. Meals prepared with fruits and vegetables that are in season and available locally are also favoured. An Ayurvedis diet is inherently an anti-inflammatory diet.

 An Ayurvedic expert from India, when asked for the best dietary advice for Westerners, said: ‘if a foodstuff is advertised on TV don’t eat it!’

Seasonal Changes

Ideal dietary recommendations are not fixed. They change with the changing seasons. This reflects changing environmental conditions such as seasonal temperatures, wind and rainfall. Ayurveda therefore recognises the inherent connection between us and our environment.

Increasing Ojas with Diet

Ayurveda recommends foods that increase a subtle substance called ’Ojas’ in our bodies. A high level of Ojas corresponds with a high level of immunity. So, dietary recommendations will include foods that naturally increase Ojas. These recommendations, together with seasonal advice, sit alongside the ideal diet for our specific mind-body type (Prakriti). Foods that increase Ojas will be ‘Sattvic’ in quality (a detailed explanation of the classification of foods into ‘Sattvic’, Rajasic’ and ‘Tamasic’ is given in the Deola Ayurvedic Blog).

The Six Tastes

Ayurveda identifies six tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent and astringent). The first four tastes are familiar to all of us. However ‘pungent’ is the slightly burning taste we get from certain spices such as black pepper, and ‘astringent’ is a slightly drying taste e.g. from beans and lentils. It is good to experience all six tastes at least once a day in our meals (ideally in every meal). Different tastes help balance different doshas – so knowledge of tastes is useful in balancing our doshas. Getting the six tastes each day also stops craving for certain foods (e.g. sweet foods). Further information on the six tastes is available on the ‘Joyfulbelly’ website.

Practical Ayurvedic Dietary Tips

It is not just what we eat that is important – but how we eat it matters too, so Ayurveda offers practical tips for mealtimes.  Even simple things like avoiding ice cold drinks before, during or just after a meal can really help digestion, and ultimately our immunity.

It is also good to have a strong digestive fire or Agni so we can properly digest any food without the toxic by-products caused by incomplete digestion. Ayurveda offers simple practical advice on how we can strengthen our digestive fire. A strong digestive fire also ‘burns off’ disease.

Contrary to advice given in many ‘health conscious’ blogs, Ayurveda certainly does not recommend eating raw or partially cooked vegetables. It is almost impossible for people with a normal level of digestive fire or Agni to be able to digest them. Raw vegetables induce Vata – ‘wind’. If you want to prove this experimentally, try eating some raw cauliflower! Well cooked vegetables can be easily digested and their nutrients absorbed. This is a really important consideration in Ayurveda where good digestion leads to good immunity.

What Foods to Avoid

It is probably best to avoid refined sugars if possible (sugar can appear as many different names in food products, e.g. sucrose, dextrose, fructose and even ‘agave nectar’.) Research showed substantial quantities of sugar intake can lower immunity for several hours after consumption. However, the actual effect of sugar on our immune system may be more complex than originally thought (Scientific American carried an informative article on this). Ayurveda tells us to avoid high sugar, carbonated drinks – these are even worse when ice cold. The carbonated bubbles disturb Vata, and the cold puts out the digestive fire.

Although Ayurveda recommends most vegetables (the exact recommendations depend on our mind-body type) it does not recommend  potatoes or other members of the nightshade family (e.g. tomatoes). This does not mean we should give them up completely – just be aware of their Rajasic and Ama (toxins) inducing properties.

As a final thought on diet, a great Indian Ayurvedic doctor was asked what was the most nourishing food to eat. To the surprise of his audience he said ‘The food your mother made you when you were a child. Why ? Because it was made with love’!

Other Key Strategies to Boost Immunity

or, return to  Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – an Overview article

Additional Information on Ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda. A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Vedic Meditation. Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.

Ayurvedic Lifestyle to Strengthen our Immune System

Summary: Practical lifestyle advice from Ayurveda for building a strong immune system. Covering the Ayurvedic daily routines (Dinacharya) that help us achieve balance in our system and contribute to our general well-being.

An Ayurvedic lifestyle can be a major contributor to health, well-being and a strong immune system.

Ayurveda gives simple, practical advice for daily and seasonal routines that can help us feel more energised, with greater enthusiasm to face life and all its challenges.

The concept is very simple. By following the daily and seasonal rhythms of nature we are more ‘in tune’ with our environment and, as a result, more healthy. In Ayurveda, different periods of the day are assigned the predominant qualities of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. So, by tuning our activities to suit the qualities of the time we are ‘going with the flow’ rather than doing battle with nature.

We don’t have to follow these guidelines too obsessively either. We just keep in mind the general principles and regard the ideal routine as something to aim for. To start with, we can pick a few of these health promoting tips and see if we feel better as a result.

The following are Ayurveda’s top tips for a lifestyle that promotes balance, health and well-being. This advice is general and applies to everyone regardless of dosha.

Although this may seem to take a lot of time and effort to follow, we really gain far more than we lose. As a result, our time in activity is much more efficient and productive; we find ourselves being full of energy, enthusiasm and focus. And we naturally develop a stronger immune system simply as a by-product of these daily routines.

Daily Routines (Dinacharya) for a Strong Immune System

First thing in the morning: 6 to 8 am

    • Best to wake up naturally (no alarm) somewhere between 6 am and 8 am [1]
    • Maybe scrape tongue if it is coated in toxins
    • Drink a glass of warm water to stimulate a poo
    • Have a sesame oil self massage (Abhyanga) [2]
    • Take a warm shower
    • Yoga exercises; do a set of simple yoga postures [3] taking between 10 and 15 minutes to complete
    • Meditation; 20 minutes of mantra based Vedic meditation is ideal
    • Breakfast; a light breakfast is fine


    • A good time to take a brisk 20-30 minute walk

Lunch: around Mid-day

    • Lunch should be our biggest meal of the day – taken around mid-day (12.00 to 13.00). This is because our internal digestive fire or Agni is greatest at this time. A strong digestion means no toxic by-products clog up our system from poorly digested food.
    • Follow Ayurveda’s top tips for mealtimes
    • Sit for a few minutes after eating
    • Go for a short walk, say 10 minutes, to help digestion

Late Afternoon

    • Meditation; 20 minutes of mantra based Vedic meditation is ideal

Dinner: best to finish by 7 pm

    • Eat smaller portions than for lunch
    • A lighter dinner without heavy food is good
    • Sit for a few minutes after eating
    • Go for a short walk, say 10 minutes, to help digestion

Bedtime: best around 10pm

    • Make sure we have left at least 3 hours after dinner before going to bed to ensure we have properly digested our evening meal
    • Don’t go to bed too late (say after 10.30) as we then start getting into a Pitta period that promotes wakefulness rather than sleep!
    • It has been said that ‘an hour before midnight is worth two after it’
    • Follow Ayurveda’s top tips for getting better sleep

General Advice for a Strong Immune System

Following simple Ayurvedic advice for meal times helps improve our digestion. This in turn fights off disease. For example, just having our main meal at mid-day, without any cold drinks, promotes excellent digestion. Very simple!

An Ayurvedic lifestyle will also incorporate dietary advice about which foods to eat, but the ideal diet will be very different for each predominant dosha type. So a diet for a Vata type will be completely different from the dietary advice for a Kapha type. Our ideal diet will also change with the seasons [4]

Getting the right amount of good quality sleep is also important for health. Ayurveda has some top tips for getting good quality sleep. For example, going to bed around 10 pm enables us to be in tune with the changes in the natural daily rhythm. If we leave it too late the Pitta period of the night begins and we find ourselves awake and alert when we should be sleeping.

Ayurvedic recommendations for an ideal lifestyle actually fall into two categories: general advice (as stated above) that applies to everyone and specific advice that depends on our individual Prakriti (mind/body type or dosha). For example, exercise falls into the ‘specific’ advice category. The ideal amount is not the same for everyone. It varies greatly with our predominant dosha. Vata types require far less exercise than that recommended for Kapha types. But Kapha types can get by on much less sleep than Vata types. As we become more familiar with Ayurveda we can ‘fine tune’ our lifestyle to suit our predominant doshas. But this requires a bit more advanced understanding.


[1] Most Ayurvedic advice tells us to ‘get up before dawn’. This is perfectly sensible for a country like India where the length of daylight does not vary greatly with the seasons. Countries further away from the equator can have very early sunrises in summer and very late ones in winter. So the general advice of between 6 am and 8 am seems a reasonable compromise for everywhere.

[2] For most mind-body types this will be with sesame oil (first ‘cured’ by heating once to around 120 C, then cooled – take great care when doing this! Always use a cooking thermometer). If sesame oil too heating for pure Pitta types then use coconut oil. If we can’t do a whole body massage, then a mini-massage of just head and feet is helpful. If we can’t do a full massage daily then doing it at least a couple of times a week promotes health and pacifies the Vata element (an out of balance Vata is the driving force behind many diseases). There are lots of web based resources for abhyanga and good instructional videos on YouTube

[3] Any simple ‘set’, or sequence of yoga postures will do. A properly designed sequence is better than a random selection because one asana can provide the ‘warm up’ for the next and all ‘flexural modes’ (spinal twists, extensions, backwards and forwards bends, side bends), of the spine are considered. The Art of Living organization has an excellent yoga sequence shown in their YouTube video.

[4]  An Ayurvedic diet is not the same throughout the whole year. There are seasonal changes that reflect the changes in the external environment.  For example, it is good to eat heavier, more warming foods in the winter and lighter foods such as salads in the summer. Our natural inclinations favour these changes in diet with season – we just need to follow them.

Other Key Strategies to Boost Immunity

Or, return to Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview article

Additional Information on Ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda. A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Vedic Meditation. Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.

Yoga and Pranayama to Boost Immunity

Summary: Examining the health promoting benefits of yoga and pranayama (breathwork), with tips for practicing yoga to create wellness, together with main types of pranayama known to support a strong immune system

Sections in this article:

Boosting Immunity with Yoga and Pranayama – Overview

Can a few simple yoga stretches and a bit of ‘breathwork’ (pranayama) really boost our immune system? Apparently, yes! There is now a growing amount of scientific research showing that yoga and pranayama can significantly contribute to our health and wellbeing. These ancient practices seem to slow the harmful effects of stress and inflammation.

In fact, the prestigious  Harvard Medical School Blog quotes: ‘Several recent studies suggest that yoga could slow the harmful physical effects of stress and inflammaging’. Inflammaging is the low grade inflammation responsible for many disease. Even more surprising is that some of the research was based on a very modest programme of yoga and pranayama following participants over a twelve week period.

These findings come as no surprise to followers of the Vedic Sciences. In fact, one enlightened Yogi and Meditation Master used the analogy: ‘Stress exists in our nervous system like tight knots, or sun-baked balls of clay. Yoga asana break up the balls into tiny pieces. And meditation flushes them out of our system!’[1]

Yoga and pranayama work synergistically with other Ayurvedic practices to produce an exceptionally strong immune system. In fact, Ayurveda has a whole range of strategies to boost immunity.

The term ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit actually means ‘union’. We can think of this, at least on one level, as meaning harmony between our mind, body and spirit [2]. A harmonious and properly functioning system automatically creates wellness .

Pranayama (yogic breathing) helps balance or activate the prana or life-force in our bodies. If we are feeling anxious and unsettled certain pranayama can calm us down and help us feel more balanced. If we are feeling tired and dull other pranayama techniques can wake us up.

In Ayurveda, a strong immune system is also linked to good digestion and specific yoga postures and pranayama exercise can help improve it.

Yoga for a Strong Immune System

The mantra with yoga is little and often! Ideally we should incorporate 10 or 15 minutes of yoga into our daily health creating routine. We don’t have to be obsessive about this, but if we can achieve this 5 days a week we will definitely see the benefits.

On a personal note, I have managed to do this for the last 40 years and although I am now 70 years old, I have maintained the same level of flexibility I had when I was 30. Wow.

What type of yoga to do? A good question, as there are quite a few different ‘schools’ of yoga around. Personally I have tried both Iyengar Yoga and Vinyasa ‘Flow’ Yoga and enjoy both. However, the style followed by the enlightened Masters I have met seems to lean more towards the classical yoga poses – typically of the sort practised by the Iyengar school. This also usually involves holding the position for at least 4 or 5 deep long breaths (20 to 30 seconds).

It’s good to do a sequence of asana too – rather than just picking random postures. When properly designed one asana becomes the warm up to the next. In fact, a brief warm up before beginning any sequence is useful in itself.

Do we need to go to a yoga class first? A class can be a good motivator and it is useful to ask for advice about existing or old injuries or health conditions. Also in a class the teacher can make subtle adjustments to our positions which can make big differences to the benefits. There is a Vedic saying: ‘well begun is half done’; so going to a class is ideal. But we also need to practice regularly at home to achieve maximum benefits.

However, if we can’t get to a class there are now some excellent yoga sequences on YouTube. If we are fit and well we can try these (but be aware of some contraindications – not all asana are suitable for pregnant women, those with heart disease, high blood pressure,  etc.).

A good sequence is provided by the Art of Living organisation. This takes around 12 minutes to do (although the instructional video is longer) and has been designed by experts in India. I do this routine daily and feel much better for it!

In addition to our favourite yoga sequence, we can also add specific asana to target our digestive system (improving digestion in Ayurveda is seen as a key way of improving immunity).  The sequence of eight poses to improve digestion given on the Yogajournal website is a good starting point. A set of asanas to help digestion was published on the Huffpost website – although some of these are more advanced.

Even the well-respected ‘Times of India’ carried an article on several yoga poses known to boost immunity. Another respected source – The Yoga Journal carried an article on ‘16 Poses to Boost Your Immune system’. These are aimed at heating the body and clearing congestion (important in the flu season) and also at restoring Ojas.

Practical Tips for Practicing Yoga for Health

As a yoga class participant (and not as a teacher) I offer the following tips based on my experience:

    • Yoga is best done on an empty stomach!
    • I find it good to do some form of warm-up before a yoga sequence. This can be something very simple such as shaking the hands, arms, legs, body or running on the spot, etc. I know I have done enough when I just start to breathe through my mouth – and no longer through my nose
    • Yoga is not about pain. If we get pain we stop! Yoga exercises are the complete opposite of being at the gym (where ‘no pain – no gain’ is the mantra)
    • Yoga is not competitive. We don’t need to go into the extreme positions shown by a teacher, or on a video, or from another class participant. Just moving towards these positions and remaining comfortable is good enough
    • Gravity is our friend – let it do the work! For example, we don’t need to use our own force to go further into positions such as deep forward folds, the plough, etc. The force of gravity ‘will do nicely’
    • An enlightened Yogic Master [3] said ‘the in-breath energises the body and the out-breath brings relaxation’. So we can use this principle to our advantage – on every out-breath we can relax more, and go deeper into the stretch
    • We can combine yoga with a pranayama technique called ‘Ujjayi breathing’ for even more benefits. This builds heat in our body and is fine to do with most asana and for a short sequence of asana (although some sources [4] advise against doing it continuously for a whole 90 minutes of a yoga class)
    • As a final ‘tweak‘ to our practice we can keep an almost ‘mindful state’ of awareness when doing our asana by trying to:  maintain stability, practice with gracefulness, having an awareness of what we are doing and aiming for perfection of the postures. Not easy, but worth a go

Pranayama Breathing Techniques to Strengthen Immunity

Pranayama is the name given to a wide variety of ‘breath-work’ or ‘yogic breathing’ techniques or exercises.

The ancient sages realised that the breath was a key connection between body and mind. Even if we are not able to control our mind we can control our breath. And certain patterns or rhythms of breath can help our mind settle down to a quiet and restful state where stress is released.

If we read books on pranayama we often find many different and conflicting instructions for the same named technique. Newcomers can find this very confusing. That is why it is good to get personal instruction in these techniques from properly trained teachers of yoga or meditation. Failing this there are now a few well informed resources on YouTube which I will discuss in the next section on specific pranayama.

The ‘Art of Living Foundation’ (a large Indian based, non-governmental organisation) teaches worldwide a range of pranayama techniques as part of its ‘Happiness Programme’ (Personal note: highly recommended). The techniques have been well researched in terms of their health benefits and published in prestigious scientific journals. The results are now available on the US National Library of Medicine:

‘Various studies have shown that the technique is simple and cost effective and can be used as a complementary therapy, together with ongoing conventional treatments, to help people suffering from extreme levels of stress, anxiety, and other physical problems. Studies have demonstrated that SK can play an important role in promoting a healthy lifestyle by improving immunity, antioxidant status, hormonal status, and brain functioning’ [5]. (SK is short for Sudarshan Kriya – a rhythmic breathing technique)

Pranayama techniques generally fall into two distinct categories. Firstly, there are those that are calming and balancing – for example, alternate nostril breathing or ‘Nadi Shodana’ pranayama. Secondly, there are those that are activating and energising, in that they put energy into the body and nervous system – for example, ‘Bellows Breath’ or ‘Bhastrika’ pranayama.

Not all pranayama techniques are suitable for everyone regardless of their underlying health issues. This is particularly true of the pranayama that fall into the activating category. We should therefore carefully check out any contraindications [6] before we start a particular practice.

Practical Tips for Practicing Pranayama

    • We should first research any contraindications for the particular pranayama
    • We can sit comfortably and easily with our spine erect ; but still relaxed
    • We can sit in a yoga asana such as ‘Diamond Posture’ (Vajrasana) – ideal
    • Or, we can sit in Lotus or Half-Lotus pose (Sukhasana) – good
    • We can even sit in a chair – provided we stay upright with our back straight – ok
    • We should practice on an empty stomach (say three to four hours after a meal)

Pranayama Breathing Techniques – Calming Category

 Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Shodana Pranayama

Nadi Shodana (Shodan) pranayama (NSP) or ‘channel clearing breath’ is both relaxing and calming.

This simple breathing technique clears and purifies the subtle energy channels, known in Ayurveda as ‘Nadis’ (the concept of Nadis corresponds very roughly with the idea of ‘meridians’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine). Our Nadis can get blocked due to a number of factors such as stress, physical and emotional trauma, and the accumulation of toxins in our system.

NSP also helps us reach a state of mental, emotional and physical equilibrium by balancing the energies in two of the principal Nadis – the Ida (associated with right brain, cooling aspects) and the Pingali (associated with left brain, heating aspects).

Nadi Shodana Pranayama is said to be one of the very best anti-inflammatory pranayama we can do [7]. This is particularly important as inflammation is associated with the root cause of many illnesses.

It involves breathing deeply in through the left nostril, blocking this nostril then breathing out through the right, breathing in through the right then blocking it, then breathing out through the left. This is one ’round’. Sounds complicated – but is very easy to do. There are some good instructional videos on this technique from the Art of Living Foundation together with more in-depth articles.

Some sources say we should not practice this if we have asthma, COPD, and either flu, or a cold or fever.

It is good to do ‘nine rounds’ of NSP before we start to meditate, and nine rounds again afterwards. This really helps quieten the mind to begin meditation and also means we come out slowly and gradually at the end.

Nadi Shodana pranayama is sometimes also called ‘Anulom Vilom’ pranayama.

‘Ocean Breath’ – Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi (pronounced ‘oo-jy’) is another very simple pranayama with multiple health benefits. It is both calming and also develops heat in the core of the body.

Because of the slight restriction in the throat needed to perform this, it is sometimes called  ‘Ocean Breath’ as it sounds a bit like gentle ocean waves breaking on the sea shore. Fans of the Star Wars movies also call it ‘Darth Vader breath’ – as it sounds well, just like Darth Vader! In Ujjayi we breathe through our nostrils and keep our lips closed (both when breathing in and out). Ujjayi is also called ‘Victory Breath’.

If you have not done this before YouTube carries an excellent demonstration of Ujjayi breathing: (but we don’t need to use the arm movements shown at the end of the video – which really demonstrates its use in yoga asana).

Ujjayi targets the third principal Nadi; the ‘Sushumna’ or ‘Central Nadi’, where the heat generated clears this channel allowing more life-force or prana to flow. Ultimately this process leads to the awakening of the yogic Kundalini energy.

People attending certain types of yoga classes (particularly Vinyasa or Ashtanga Yoga) may already be familiar with this practice where it is taught as an ‘add-on’ to the asana. For beginners, only the throat restriction is made on the out breath (with inhalation being normal), but once we are comfortable with the practice we can do it on both the inhalation and exhalation. However, while bringing many benefits for shorter yoga sessions there have been some warnings not to practice this technique for the duration of a whole 90 minute yoga class [4].

‘Bee Breath’  –  Bhramari Pranayama

This is called ‘Bee Breath’ because we make the buzzing or humming sound like a bee when we breath out through our nostrils. In fact we can hum the letter ‘M’ as we breathe out through our nostrils with our mouth closed. We use our fingers to close our ears so we hear the sound internally through our heads. Very Simple. There is a detailed and excellent explanation with video  on the UK’s Art of Living website.

This pranayama also has many benefits such as lowering stress and anxiety, calming nerves, reducing anger, helping throat infections etc.  It is also said to help with the management of Diabetes.

There are no contraindications with this technique, but we should do it on an empty stomach. We can do three or four repetitions every day.

Pranayama Breathing Techniques – Energising Category

 ‘Bellows Breath’ – Bhastrika Pranayama

This is a really energising pranayama that literally puts ‘fire’ (increases the Ayurvedic principle of Agni) into our system.  It helps energize both our body and mind too. In terms of health, it can help with respiratory problems and remove toxins from our system.  Surprisingly for such an energetic practice, it can also balance our Doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). On a personal note I do this regularly and love it!

Bhastrika is a bit more of an advanced pranayama and, although it brings many benefits, there is a quite a long list of contraindications for this practice which we should check out before beginning it. There is a more in-depth article on Bhastrika on the website – including a detailed list of contraindications.

There are a number of variations of Bhastrika – and YouTube carries videos of them all! My personal favourite involves briskly moving the arms too. This feels perfectly natural and really empties the lungs on the out breath – provided it is done ‘like a warrior and not like a wimp’!

It is good to do three rounds of about twenty breaths each – with a reasonable pause (of a minute or so) between each round.

‘Shining Head Breath’ – Kapal Bhati Pranayama

This energising pranayama has many health benefits. It increases metabolism, clears the subtle channels, improves blood circulation and is also good for weight loss.

It is called ‘shining head’, or ‘shining skull’ breath because it makes us ‘glow with radiant health’! Kapal Bhati is sometimes written as ‘Kapalabhati’ – all one word.

Again, this practice is not for everyone and there are quite a few contraindications, such as if we have heart conditions, respiratory problems,  suffer from diabetes, high or low blood pressure, epilepsy or vertigo, have hernia or stomach surgeries, or are pregnant, etc.

This pranayama involves sitting comfortably with spine erect and forcefully contracting the stomach to expel air from the lungs. There is a YouTube video which demonstrates and  explains Kapalabhati well. It is good to do three rounds of about twenty breaths each – with a reasonable pause (of a minute or so) between each round.


    1. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speaking about the benefits of yoga asana before meditation. Yoga was an integral part of all his advanced residential courses.
    2.  Yoga could also be interpreted on a more abstract basis as the union between an individual’s consciousness and the consciousness of the cosmos – see Vedic Model of Reality.
    3. Quoted from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar from his guided meditations.
    4. The Himalayan Yoga Institute have cautioned about spending an excessive time doing Ujjayi, particularly when combined with asana
    5. Full quotation from article in US National Library of Medicine:“Yoga and breathing techniques have become increasingly popular in recent decades. Sudarshan Kriya (SK) is a type of rhythmic and controlled breathing that involves cyclic breathing in which long breaths are followed by medium and short breaths. Scientific research has been conducted to study the effects of SK on different physiological parameters. Various studies have shown that the technique is simple and cost effective and can be used as a complementary therapy, together with ongoing conventional treatments, to help people suffering from extreme levels of stress, anxiety, and other physical problems. Studies have demonstrated that SK can play an important role in promoting a healthy lifestyle by improving immunity, antioxidant status, hormonal status, and brain functioning. Through available scientific evidence and research, the current article aims to review the complementary role of rhythmic breathing (ie, SK) as a practical and effective tool to alleviate stress, improve health, and increase wellness.”
    6. Certain practices have specific contraindications which we should check out carefully before starting, for example: heart conditions, respiratory problems,  suffer from diabetes, high or low blood pressure, epilepsy or vertigo, have hernia or stomach surgeries, detached retina, pacemakers, asthma, COPD, back injuries or slipped discs, during menstruation, or are pregnant, etc.
    7. From teachers in the International Art of Living Organisation

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Additional Information on Ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda. A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Vedic Meditation. Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.