The art of breathing
“Pranayama is the conscious, deliberate regulation of breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing.” (Yoga Sutra)
Pranayama is a traditional system of yogic breathing exercises. The aim of Pranayama is to control our breathing and thus help to control our thoughts. The meaning of Pranayama is “Prana” means life breath and “Yama” means control. Practicing Pranayama in a correct way can bring peace and purity into our inner system. Five things are necessary for practicing Pranayama. First a good place; second, a suitable time; third, moderate, substantial, light and nutritious food; fourth, patient and persistent practice with zeal, ease and earnestness and lastly the purification of Nadis (the Sanskrit for "tube, pipe"). When the Nadis are purified the aspirant enters the first stage in the practice of Yoga—‘Arambha’. A Pranayama practitioner has a good appetite, good digestion, cheerfulness, courage, strength, vigor, a high standard of vitality and a handsome appearance.
The volume of Prana that circulates inside of our bodies determines the level of our vitality. One can extract this vital energy from many different sources: from the light and the heat of the sun; from the elements that we eat in our food; from the water that we drink; and mainly from the air that we breathe. It improves the concentration and physical health. It is essential that one should avoid negativity and impure thoughts, and make an effort to keep our mind completely still and quite, when practicing Pranayama.
· When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the Breath is still, so is the mind still." - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Pranayama is merely breathing for relaxation. Pranayama is the measuring, controlling, and directing of the breath in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution. Our state of mind is closely linked to the quality of Prana within. The more content a person is, the better he or she feels, the more Prana is inside. The more disturbed a person is, the more Prana is dissipated and lost. Because we can influence the flow of Prana through the flow of our breath, the quality of our breath influences our state of mind and vice versa. In a Yogic point of view, proper breathing is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain. Prana is power. Proper acts of breathing are ways of harnessing that power, it gives control of breathing processes and control of vital force. When a person attains a feeling of oneness with the rest of the universe, his anxiety tends to disappear. When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realized. When one acquires an intuitive apprehension of ultimate power and of his own identity with it, he loses his fear of external powers and develops a trust which is conducive to confident living.
In pranayama there are three basic stages of systematic breathing. The first stage is inhalation, called Puraka, the second stage is retention, where we hold our breath, called Kumbhaka and the final stage is exhalation, called Rechaka. When we breathe in, we can repeat silently Puraka and when exhaling, we can repeat like a mantra Kumbhaka. The yogic systems suggest when practicing pranayama to try this basic 1 – 4 – 2 exercises. We breathe in for 1 count, and then hold our breath for 4 counts; our exhalation should then last for a count of 2. The act of breathing should be natural and gentle, and should never strain the breathing organs otherwise it can cause damage to one’s health. It is true that if one does Pranayama unscientifically, without proper guidance, one certainly suffers. But it does not mean that it is such a difficult process, that it cannot be done by a common man. On the contrary, if it is learnt and practiced under an expert's guidance, one learns faster and experiences the wonderful and even unimaginable benefits.
One of the five principles of Yoga is Pranayama or the science of breath control. This is an overview of what Pranayama is and the breathing exercises practiced in Yoga. In our normal mechanical way of breathing, we superficially incorporate vital energy into our system. When we bring our attention to the assimilation of prana through our breathing, the level of this energy becomes stronger in our bodies. If our breathing is blocked, our sensibility, intuition and connection with the inner and outer world becomes difficult. Normally our breath is superficial and short, and we don’t complete a full exhalation. As a result, we always keep a small quantity of air in our lungs. This can produce toxins in our inner organs and block the passage of energy into the nadis (the Sanskrit for "tube, pipe").
Use Pranayama as a tool for your practice of introspection and self-knowledge, to get in touch with your Inner Sacred Space, creating the opening to connect with the Universal Nurturing Source.