Pranayama breathing is the practice of controlling one’s breath for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. The term “pranayama” is derived from the Sanskrit words “prana” (life force or vital energy) and “ayama” (extension or expansion). Pranayama breathing exercises include a variety of techniques aimed at increasing the flow of prana in the body and gaining greater control over one’s physical, emotional, and mental states.
Pranayama is the practice of controlling the length, duration, and rhythm of inhalation, retention, and exhalation through conscious regulation of the breath. Pranayama techniques vary in the ratios of inhalation, exhalation, and retention, as well as the types of breathing patterns used, such as deep, slow, fast, or alternate nostril breathing.
Pranayama breathing is frequently practiced in conjunction with yoga asanas or postures and is regarded as an essential component of yoga practice. It is believed that pranayama can cleanse the body, calm the mind, and awaken spiritual energy.
Importance of Breathing – Source of drawing prana within
Breathing is the most important process in the body. It has an impact on every cell’s activity and, most importantly, is inextricably linked to brain performance. Humans breathe 15 times per minute, or 21,600 times per day. Respiration is responsible for the combustion of oxygen and glucose, which generates energy for every muscular contraction, glandular secretion, and mental process. The majority of people breathe incorrectly, using only a portion of their lung capacity. Breathing is shallow, insufficient, and insufficiently complete.
The body is then deprived of the necessary oxygen and prana for good health. Pranayama establishes consistent breathing patterns, breaking the cycle and reversing the debilitating process. It achieves this by restoring control over the breath and re-establishing the body’s and mind’s natural, relaxed rhythms.
Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing calms and relaxes the mind. Breathing irregularly disrupts brain rhythms, causing physical, emotional, and mental blocks. Internal conflict, an unbalanced personality, an unhealthy lifestyle, and disease are the results. Although breathing is mostly unconscious, it can be consciously controlled at any time. As a result, it shapes both the conscious and unconscious minds. Through pranayama practice, the energy trapped in neurotic, unconscious mental patterns can be released and used in more creative and joyful activities.
Prana and Lifestyle
Lifestyle has produced impact on our pranayamaya Kosha and its prana. Physical activities like sleep, exercise, work, intake of food and sexual act all dissipates our prana or affects its distribution and flow. Faculties of mind like emotion, thought, and imagination affect the pranic body even more. Irregularities in lifestyle, dietary indiscretions and stress deplete and obstruct pranic flow. This result in what people experience the “drained energy experience”. Dissipation of prana – vital life force eventually results to revitalization of the organs and bodily systems it governs and ultimately to disease or metabolic dysfunction. The techniques of pranayama breathing reverse this process, energizing and balancing the different pranas within the pranayama Kosha. Pranayama practice should be integrated along with asana for complete benefits.
Breathing and Life Span
Breath not only decides the quality of your life but also the length and quantity of life. The state of your health is directly linked on the quality of your breath. Rate of your respiration decides how long you are going to live on this Earth. Slow, long deep, full and rhythmic breath leads to long and disease free life. Amazing but true, we are so unaware about our breath that we forget the basic rule for being hale and healthy and keep chasing other methods to remain fit.
The secret lies in your breath. Ancient Indian Yogis had this basic wisdom that our most modern scientist failed to notice in the first place. Our parents didn’t learn from their parents and teachers. So this so important health and spiritual secret couldn’t help the mankind. They noticed that animals with a slow breath rate such as pythons, elephants and tortoises have long life spans whereas those with fast and rapid rates such as birds, dogs and tigers lived only for few years.
From this observation they realized the importance of slow breathing for increasing the human lifespan. Those who breathe in short quick gasps are likely to have shorter life span then those who breathe deep, full and slow( Yogic Breath). On the physical level, this is so as respiration is directly linked to the heart. A slow breathing rate keeps the heart strong and nourished and leads to a longer life. Deep breathing also increases the absorption of energy by pranayama kosha ( Body), enhancing dynamism, vitality and general well- being.
Pranayama and Spiritual Progress
Pranayama breathing practice is actually a pathway to rise spiritually. Our mind is like an uncontrolled horse doesn’t want to rest and still. It is the biggest obstacle on the path of our self realization as we are always immersed in the five states of mind and thus trapped in the clutches of the Maya (Illusion). For spiritual advancement, we must learn to be a master of our mind and make it our slave which is actually the reverse right now. We need to use mind as an instrument and medium not as means.
Our breath acts like a bridge between our body and mind. Our mind is so full of complexities that it becomes quite difficult to get a hold of its reigns. The only way we can reach our mind is to start controlling our breath. Once breath is mastered and controlled, mind surrenders like a tamed pussy cat. Practice of pranayama breathing controls our breath. Initially it makes our breath full, deep, slow and rhythmic and later on it starts quieting our mind slowly and gradually.
The spiritual seeker requires tranquility of mind as a prelude to a spiritual practice. To this many pranayama techniques like Kumbhaka (Breath Retention) actually establishes control over the flow of prana, calming the mind and controlling the thought process.Once the mind has been stilled and pranas flows freely in nadis and chakras, the doorway to the evolution of consciousness opens, leading the aspirant into higher dimensions of spiritual experience.
“Pranayama breathing is the means by which the 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.”
“May all Breathe deeply and slowly”