“Thus being established in asana and having control (of the body), taking a balance diet, pranayama should be practiced under the instruction of the guru.” [Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.1]
Deep breathing helps to clean and nourish the physical body. Most people do not breathe correctly as each breath tends to be shallow and short. A full inhalation brings an abundant supply of oxygen which is essential to every cell in the body. As you exhale carbon dioxide and other waste products are expelled from the body.
Pranayama leads to the control of the mind. All diseases and ailments of the body can be destroyed at the root by controlling and regulating the prana.
Tasminsati svasaprasvasayorgativichchhedah pranayamah [Yoga Sutra 2.49]
The asana having been done, pranayama is the cessation of the movement of inhalation and exhalation.
After he has perfected yama, niyama and asana sufficiently, the aspirant should take up pranayama. It is the cessation of inhalation and expiration.
The word ‘Pranayama’ is composed of two roots: ‘Prana’ and ‘Ayama’.
‘Prana’ means “vital energy” or life force. It is the force which exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. It is more subtle than air or oxygen. Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana in nadis or energy channel of Pranamayakosha or energy body.
‘Ayama’ is defined as “extension” or “expansion”. Thus the word Pranayama means ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’ of the dimension of prana.
Four aspects of Pranayama.
- Pooraka or inhalation
- Rechaka or exhalation
- Anthar khumbaka or internal breath retention
- Bahir khumbaka or external breath retention
There is another mode of Pranayama which is called Kevala Khumbaka or Spontaneous breath retention. This is an advanced stage of Pranayama which occurs during high states of meditation.
The most important part of Pranayama is Khumbaka or breath retention. However, in order to perform khumbaka successfully, there must be a gradual development of control over the function of respiration.
The practice of Pranayama work mainly with Pranamayakosha. The Pranamayakosha is made up of five major Pranas which are collectively known as the pancha or five Pranas: prana, apana, samana, udana & vyana.
- Prana in this context does not refer to cosmic prana but rather to just one part of Pranayamakosha. It is the force by which the breath is drawn inside.
- Apana is concerned with the expulsion of waste from the body.
- Samana is responsible for the assimilation & distribution of the nutrients.
- Udana controls the area of the body above the neck, activating all the sensory receptors as the eyes, nose, & ears.
- Vyana acts as the reserve force for the other pranas.
Breath, Health & Pranayama:
The breath is the most vital process of the body. It influences the activities of each and every cell and most importantly is intimately linked with the performance of the brain and all the aspects of human experience.
Rhythmic, deep and slow respiration stimulates but is also stimulated by a calm and content state of mind, i.e. they both benefit each other. Irregular breathing disrupts the rhythms of the brain and leads to physical, emotional and mental blocks.
Pranayama establishes regular breathing patterns, takes control of the breath and re-establishes the natural, relaxed rhythms of the body and mind.
In the science of Pranayama, Swami Sivananda writes:
“There is intimate connection between the breath, nerve currents and control of the inner prana or vital forces”.
Pranayama is the means by which a yogi tries to realize within his individual body the whole Cosmic Nature and attempts to attain perfection by attaining all the powers of the Universe.