Advices for pranayama practice

There are two type of pranayama: sahita-kumbhaka (intentional holding of breath) and kevala-kumbhaka (spontaneous, instinctive hold). First, one should practice various types of sahita-kumbhaka, which then smoothly and naturally turns into kevala-kumbhaka. 

In the very beginning it is very important to master full breathing, in which both inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (rechaka) start from the abdomen. In abdomen kanda (the area where the main energy channels originate) is localized. It can be noted that when we breathe with our belly, this, in a certain way, affects both body and consciousness: the body becomes more relaxed and the mind becomes more open. This unites yogic and Chinese breathing techniques, and it is basic in both systems. Full breathing is used in almost all types of pranayama — in all sahita-kumbhakas, only in kevala-kumbhaka the abdomen is not involved, because kevala is intended for the higher sections of hatha- and raja-yoga. When mastering correct breathing, you need to breathe smoothly and evenly, starting from the lower abdomen, gradually involving the chest and, further on, the collarbone. Full breathing together with ujjayi can be mastered directly in asanas. 

When sadhaka has mastered the technique of full breathing, the rest of the pranayamas can be performed. Usually, nadis are purified first by means of kapalabhati (in the form of kriya and pranayama), then anuloma-viloma and nadi-shodhana. Anuloma-viloma differs from nadi-shodhana in the way there is no holding of breath in anuloma-viloma, only alternating breaths are made. 

It is recommended to master nadi-shodhana starting from 5 cycles, gradually increasing both the number of repetitions and the time of proportions. In no case should one force inhalation or exhalation in sahita-pranayamas, it may be unsafe. Then one can gradually move on to such pranayamas as ujjayisurya-bheda and others, they eliminate the imbalance in doshas and therefore cure many diseases. For example, ujjayi reduces the dominance of kaphasurya-bheda reduces the dominance of vatashitali and sitkari are effective to balance pitta when it is increased. Bhastrika balances all doshas, ​​it has an impact on samana-vayu, which balances prana and apana. In the area of ​​samana there is nabhi, and since bhastrika affects this center, it contributes to the awakening of Kundalini-shakti. Murchha-pranayama is useful for meditation, bhramari — for calming the nervous system, and also promotes better quality of dhyana. Sitkari and shitali purify blood, yogis believe that with regular practice of these pranayamas even poisons will not harm you, these pranayamas are recommended for summer season. Surya-bheda is useful during the winter. In general, the task of all types of pranayamas is to purify nadis and prepare the mind and senses for meditation. 

Usually, bandhas or mudras are not used immediately in pranayamas, as a rule they are gradually included into the practice after 2-3 years of exercising. Sometimes, with a separate practice of mudras, some types of pranayamas are used; in some mudras is used kevala-kumbhaka, for example in khechari

Before practicing pranayama, one can read special prana-gayatri, prana-mantras, mantras for asana, and mantras in pranayama itself — bijas.

Here are the articles that help to understand the foundation of Pranayama-practice:
Prana and Pranayama
Nadi-shodhana pranayama

Pranayama webinar with Guruji Matsyendranath Maharaj

English subtitles are availible.