Pranayama is much more than a technique to control our breathing and induce relaxation of the mind and body.
Pranayama is an ancient science that goes deeper than just the study of breath. It also deals with many unseen energies that work behind the scenes and beyond the physical.
The word Pranayama is derived from the Sanskrit word Prana, which is a combination of two Sanskrit syllables, Pra and Na, which is an energy in constant motion, existing throughout the universe, on every plane of existence and within you. This energy is in sync with the breath which we will discuss later, prana can manifest as energy in anything in the universe. So the purpose of pranayama is to gain control over this energy and increase the flow of prana in the physical body and vitalize the mind, body and spirit.
“Breathing is the bridge that connects life with consciousness, that unites your body with your thoughts”-Budha.
Mind and breath (prana)
As you read this article, your attention is on each word and these words are processed by your mind and intellect. In addition to your attention, there are background noises, but you don’t hear them, there are many other objects in your field of vision but only the screen you are reading on is visible. In other words, all the physical organs/senses are working but you are not aware, it is the intentional awareness that makes you aware and the will is just another manifestation of prana.
Voluntary Breath = Controlled Prana (Will)
There are several mental processes that make us react and behave in a certain way, such as selfishness, the faculty of discrimination, etc., which makes each individual unique. Thoughts are called Vrttis (whirlpools), vrttis can be any type of external or internal impression that may occur in the mind. As we can see in the following example:
“We cannot see the bottom of the lake, because its surface is covered with waves. Only when the waves have subsided and the water is calm can we see the bottom. If the water is cloudy, or if the water is agitated all the time, the bottom will not be visible. But if the water is clear and there are no waves, we will see the bottom. That bottom of the lake is our true Being; the lake is the Chitta, and the waves are the Vrttis”.~ Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda
A thought is a manifestation of prana, in fact everything is a manifestation of prana. Thus, with control of the breath comes control over the mind.
“The mind is everything, what you think you become”~ Buddha.
Science of pranayama
We breathe 24 hours a day since we are born, it is vital for the human being. In each cycle of our breathing we inhale and after a very short space (retention) we exhale, this process continues unconsciously, but the moment we begin to breathe consciously by observing the incoming and outgoing breath, we will be able to see how the way we perform this physiological action is a true reflection of our mental state, we can act on breathing to balance our energies, lengthening each cycle we tend to be more relaxed, we establish the body-mind connection through breathing (that connection is prana) .
“Breathing, directed by thought under the control of the will, is a vitalizing and regenerating energy that you can consciously use for self-development; to cure many incurable diseases in your system; to heal others and for various other useful purposes”~ Swami Sivananda
Every time we breathe, even right now, there is more breath flow in one nostril than the other. Even though it seems like the same amount of air is flowing through both nostrils, you can try breathing one nostril at a time and feel the difference. This is because there are 3 main Nadis or energy channels: Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.
Ida Nadi, of cold air, represents the feminine principle, the lunar energy and the negative pole, it is the one that calms. It starts on the left side of the genitals to the left nostril. The pranayamas that start from this nostril and when there is more flow of breath in this nostril, Ida is in active flow, stimulating creativity, mental clarity, relaxation and longevity.
Pingala nadi, of hot air, represents the masculine principle, solar energy and the positive pole, it is the one that activates and stimulates. It starts on the right side of the genitals to the right nostril. The pranayamas that begin with this nostril, and with the right nostril active, stimulate the practical and rational part of the being, its vitality and balance.
Sushumna usually flows for a much shorter period of time, that is, when there is an equal flow of breath in both nostrils. That is why pranayamas such as Nadi Sodhana in which alternate breathing is performed are balancing, while Kapalabhati, for example, is very stimulating.
Inspiration – Expiration: if you emphasize inspiration, pranayama will be more active, while if I give more time to expiration, the result will be more relaxing. Match the times the effect will be balancing.
Pause with lungs full or empty: Pause can be skipped at first. When inspirations are deep, a pause of at least two or three seconds is recommended, thus avoiding hyperventilation. As you deepen in the practice you can lengthen the pauses, they are important for the way in which the energy is mobilized and the internal consciousness is activated.
Speed of entry – exit of the air: the higher the speed, the greater the activity, the greater the energy. Prolonging the air outlet has relaxing effects (without hyperventilating).
Depth in inspiration – expiration: breathing can be natural or forced, giving it amplitude and completely emptying the lungs. If you are going to retain the air with your lungs full, I recommend staying a little before the maximum, to take in all the air you can so it will be easier for you to retain, always being careful not to hyperventilate.
The breathing zones: in general we are not going to direct the breathing as abdominal, thoracic or complete, only when we look for specific benefits we can direct it to a specific zone.
Continuity in the entry – exit of the air: some more advanced pranayamas such as pratiloma, viloma, require a fractional inspiration or expiration, in several times.
The activation of energy keys: the bandhas are used to work with the energy that is mobilized with pranayama. There are pranayamas that I can add these bandhas to as my practice evolves.
Exhale through the mouth: in some pranayamas you breathe through the mouth to obtain specific effects. Sometimes it may be convenient to release the air through the mouth even with a sigh, it will work as a support to express the emotional charge and release it.
Obstruction of a nostril: by covering the nostril if it is difficult for you or even prevents you from performing the exercise, you will be able to:
Make a nasal cleaning with a burbot (Neti Kriya).
Lie on the opposite side of the plugged hole for a few minutes.
Force breathing through the plugged hole for a few breaths to release.
Hyperventilation: Normally appears when you breathe too frequently and activity, taking in more air than the body needs. It is for this reason that if our pranayama is deep and energetic, it is convenient that we make the necessary pauses so that we do not take more air than necessary.
Before and after performing pranayama, it is convenient to prepare the body through asanas, stretching… in order to maintain a good posture and facilitate the freedom of movement of our rib cage.
Most of the Pranayamas will be practiced sitting down, with the chest free for proper mobility. Padmasana or Sukhásana would be ideal, but it can also be practiced in a chair (with free chest), and certain exercises could be done lying down.
In some pranayamas we will use the fingers to close the nostrils. The most suitable position for this purpose is Vishnu mudra, also called Prana mudra.
The thumb covers the right nostril and the ring and little fingers cover the left.
Antara Kumbhaka: pause with full lungs
Bâhya Kumbhaka: pause with empty lungs
These four beats, in this order, are simplified with numbers separated by dots and in parentheses. For example: (2:4:3:1). (I breathe in for a count of 2, pause with lungs full for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 3, and pause for a breathless count of 1)
There doesn’t have to be any pauses. In this case the fourth beat can be omitted
These are some benefits of pranayama, we will discuss many more in detail in another article:
♥ Increases the level of pranic energy.
♥ Greater concentration and awareness.
♥ Purifies the body, makes it healthy and strong.
♥ Brings happiness and tranquility.
♥ Strengthens the respiratory muscles and makes the lungs more elastic, resulting in a healthier breathing process.
♥ Improves the digestive, eliminatory and cardiac systems.
Just a few rounds of Pranayama performed with a simple breathing exercise will not help one reach higher states of mind and the greatest benefits of Pranayama. Only sustained and progressive daily practice will deepen your concentration and inner awareness. Getting into the habit of practicing pranayama on a daily basis can change your life. Take advantage of any time and place, choose an exercise that suits each moment and don’t hesitate.
For the prolonged practice of Pranayama we must be able to sit in a firm posture (Asana). A firm posture would mean that you will no longer feel uncomfortable with your body. In fact, you lose body awareness as in deep sleep, but you are aware. This leads to concentration and a greater awareness of breathing supported by active listening leading us to a harmonious practice with ourselves.
HARI OM TAT SAT