Any adverse effects of pranayama can be handled with simple precautionary steps and minimal Ayurvedic medication.
Many people take up practicing pranayama after getting to know that it is good for general wellbeing. However, Ayurvedic practitioners come across anxious queries from people practising pranayama exercises about various side effects. These include headache, dizziness, lethargy and lack of stability in thoughts. Some people experience uneasiness and get quickly excitable, and even a vomiting sensation. There are also instances of blurred vision, excessive perspiration, salivation and variations in blood pressure.
Key reasons of negative side effects of Pranayama
Many side effects are due to one or more of the following reasons.
- Problem with holding breath
While an average healthy person with no special training can hold his breath for about half a minute, many people try to undertake a tougher routine of inhaling, retention and exhalation, without proper preparation and training. Increasing the hold time lets the inhaled air pass through the thin lining of the air sacs and into the blood vessels to help the brain stimulate breathing.
But this requires care and guidance from the right persons. If you find difficulty in holding breath, avoid the ones that you find tough, and practice only the ones which are a lot easier, like simple anuloma – viloma pranayama. Anuloma in Sanskrit means successive, or in accordance with the natural order.
Viloma means produced in reverse order. Normal breathing does alternate from one nostril to the other at various times during the day, being more predominant through one particular nostril at a time. This has been termed as the 'nasal cycle'.
- Too much concentration in between-the-eyebrow area
It is generally understood that focusing between your eyebrows helps achieve peace of mind, and it is an aid to remove all types of depression. Usually, eyes are kept closed during meditation and you are asked to concentrate on the Shringataka region. But concentrating too hard on that area may lead to dizziness. First, concentrate on the tip of the nose, and gradually, over a period of several days, raise the concentration point to between-the_eyebrows-point.
Another way to learn is to hold your right arm out in front of you with your thumb pointing upward. Then lift the arm so that the thumb is level with the top of your head. Gaze at your thumbnail. Your eyes should now be gently uplifted. Close your eyes and keep this gently uplifted gaze. You should never feel any pain.
- Closed room, without windows
Pranayama should be done in a well-ventilated room. There should be freshness in the air. If not, it may lead to breathing difficulty, or interrupt the free thinking process of the brain, leading to side effects. What if your room does not have any windows at all? Go to an open terrace or any open space, and practise.
Some people prefer to keep the air-conditioner on and practise pranayama. You need fresh air, fresh supply of oxygen. You will perspire profusely when you are actually able to do pranayama. It is not advisable for chilled air from the air-conditioner to touch the body during the practice.
- Wrong sitting posture.
Wrong posture may cause irregular flow of prana or the vital energy through body channels and may cause side effects. The general rules are to keep the upper body straight and erect; head, neck and back in alignment; shoulder and abdominal muscles in relaxed condition; hands rest on the knees, and the body remaining motionless during the practice. Some sitting postures cater to comfort, others to hip stability or spinal elongation, and some facilitate the optimal expansion of the lungs.
As a rule of thumb, it is better to select a seated pose based on low body flexibility and range of motion, level of your skill and knowledge and physical and spiritual goals. In case you have back pain and cannot sit straight, you will have to consult your expert to do a milder form of pranayama.
- Doing it when hungry
We have learnt that hunger should not be suppressed, as per Ayurvedic principles. If you are hungry and you do pranayama, you will end up hurting your Agni – digestive fire, pitta and vata, leading to digestive issues, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, migraine etc. If you are hungry, better to have some vegetable-fruit salad, wait for an hour or so, then do pranayama.
Stick to the dosage of your doctor when it comes to Ayurvedic medicines. Likewise, stick to the number of repetitions when it comes to yoga or pranayama. Over-doing may cause your vata to go awry.
From a health and Ayurvedic perspective, a pranayama schedule of just 10 minutes daily is ideal. The purpose of pranayama is to get the mind concentrated and to get the body still and ready for medi_tation. Once you achieve this, you should move on to meditation, japa etc.
If there are side effects such as dizziness, increased blood pressure, nausea, breath-lessness etc., Ayurvedic medicines for a short period of 4- 6 weeks can be useful. The choice of such medicine depends on the type and extent of side effects.
Written by Dr. Janardhan V. Hebbar from EasyAyurveda