Yoga Pranayama



The science of pranayama was developed by highly evolved yogis through an intuitive and experiential understanding of Prana and its influence on the human mechanism at various levels. The agency of the breath was used to access the pranic field, to attain balance in the body and control of the mind. The practices would render the body-mind instrument capable of experiencing higher states of consciousness so that the ultimate union with the transcen-dental reality could be experienced.


The breath being the medium of pranayama, the system is based on the three stages of respiration: inhalation (Pooraka), retention (Kumbhaka) and exhalation (Rechaka). By permuting and directing these three stages, the different practices of pranayama are obtained. Technically speaking, pranayama is actually only retention. Maharshi Patanjali's Yoga Sutras state. Pranayama is the pause in the movement of inhalation and exhalation when that is secured. Inhalation and exhalation are methods of inducing retention. Retention is the key because it allows a longer period for the assimilation of Prana, just as it allows more time for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the c ells. As the breath is also intimately connected with various functions and organs of the body as well as the mind, by controlling the breath we also influence all these dimensions. At the pranic level, in their initial stages the practices of pranayama clear up the nadis, energy pathways in the body. The scriptures say there are over 72,000 Nadis or pathways of Prana in the pranic body and six main chakras. However, in the average individual, many of these pathways are blocked and the chakras release energy only partially. In other words, we do not utilize our full potential in terms of energy, mind and consciousness. The negative conditions we experience, whether physical or mental, are the cause as well as the consequence of the blockages. The state of our nadis and chakras are defined by our Samskaras, conditionings carried in seed form, as well as Purushartha, self-effort and Anugraha, grace. With the practice of pranayama, these pathways of energy are gradually freed so that Prana moves through them smoothly.


At higher levels of practice, the direction of the pranic flows is influenced and a greater quantum of energy is released from the chakras. As these processes are activated, many new experiences unfold. Expert guidance is essential to steer the practitioner through these stages. Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. Although this interpretation may seem correct in view of the practices involved, it does not convey the full meaning of the term. The word pranayama is comprised of two roots: 'Prana' plus 'Ayama'. Prana means 'vital energy' or 'life force'. It is the force which exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. Although closely related to the air we breathe, it is more subtle than air or oxygen. Therefore, pranayama should not be considered as breathing exercises aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs. Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of Prana in the nadis or energy channels of the Pranamaya Kosha or energy body. The word Yama means 'control' and is used to denote various rules or codes of conduct. However, this is not the word which is joined to Prana to form pranayama; the correct word is 'Ayama' which has far more implications. Ayama is defined as 'extension' or 'expansion'. Thus, the word pranayama means 'extension or expansion of the dimension of Prana'. The techniques of pranayama provide the method whereby the life force can be activated and regulated in order to go beyond one's normal boundaries or limitations and attain a higher state of vibratory energy and awareness.


Four aspects of pranayama.

In the pranayama practices there are fo ur important aspects of breathing which are utilized. These are:

1. Pooraka or inhalation
2. Rechaka or exhalation
3. Bahir Kumbhaka or external breath retention.

The different practices of pranayan1a involve various techniques which utilize these four aspects of breathing. There is another mode of pranayama, which is called Kevala Kumbhaka or spontaneous breath retention. This is an advanced stage of pranayama which occurs during high states of meditation.
During this state, the fluctuation of Prana ceases. At this time, the veil which prevents one from seeing the subtle aspect of existence is lifted and a higher vision of reality is attained.
The most important part of pranayama is actually Kumbhaka or breath retention. However, in order to perform Kumbhaka successfully, there must be a gradual development of control over the function of respiration. Therefore, in the pranayama practices more emphasis is given to inhalation and exhalation at the beginning, in order to strengthen the lungs and balance the nervous and pranic systems in preparation for the practice of Kumbhaka. These initial practices influence the flow of Prana in the nadis, purifying, regulating and activating them, thereby inducing physical and mental stability.

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