Pranayama is popularly understood as a variety of breathing exercises. However there is more to it. Apart from filling the lungs with fresh oxygen, the purpose of Pranayama is to use the effective air circulation in the physical body to influence the flow of Prana or energy in the Pranamaya Kosha or the energy Sheathe enwrapping our body.
Before a child is born, it gets its entire oxygen supply from the mother. After birth, the doctor, nurse, parents, all wait anxiously for the baby to start breathing. If there is slight delay, there is a panic. The nurse holds the baby upside down, the doctor slaps the baby’s back. Then when a shrill cry is heard, all tension melts away – the baby is breathing! From that moment onwards the breathing process remains involuntary. However, what we fail to understand is the difference between a voluntary beneficial way of breathing and the automatic breathing for survival. In general, humans breathe badly. Shallow, brisk, involuntary breaths. Thus we develop improper breathing habits, using only a small part of the lung capacity. This causes shallow breathing and deprives the body of sufficient oxygen and energy or prana, essential for good health and leads on to lack of resistance to disease, making us easy prey to extreme stress and chronic ailments.
An essential prerequisite for a calm and contented state of mind is a consciously controlled rhythmic deep and slow respiration. Untrained, irregular breathing disrupts the rhythm of the brain and causes physical, emotional and mental blocks. Through a deliberately controlled breathing practice or Pranayama, an immense amount of energy, trapped in the dark neurotic thought patterns, can be released for use in creative, rewarding and joyful activities.
In simple words, Pranayama consists of breathing in, breathing out, inward breath holding and outward breath holding. Literally speaking ‘Pran’ means energy or life force that exists in all things and the definition of ‘Ayama’ is, extension or expansion. Hence true Pranayama is the unique technique or proven, age old tools, to activate, circulate and strengthen the energy system, which then permeates into other dimension like vibration and resonation. The undeniable consequences of serious Pranayama techniques are rapidly getting acceptance of modern science and medical faculties.
Yoga-meditation breathing is based on natural breathing, consisting of the rhythmic inward and outward flow of the breath through nose. Consciously observe this flow of cool air reaching throat, chest and lungs. Bring full awareness of the expansion and subsiding of ribcage, rising and falling of the diaphragm. Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. However, often under extreme stress, poor posture, and to a certain extent, lack of guidance from guardians, this procedure is flouted. Irregular breathing throws into disarray the regular rhythms of the brain, causing physical, emotional and mental blocks. In the long run afflicted individuals show signs of inner conflict and personality disorder, leading to chaotic lifestyle and diseases. When correct form of breathing is restored, healing and repairs begin and one starts to experience an improved state of physical and mental well-being. Thoracic breathing uses the expansion of the rib cage, to make more room for extra air in the middle lobes of the lungs. Yoga meditation uses all these methods to optimize inhalation and exhalation.
There are various Pranayama techniques. Each technique concentrates on a specific area of human body and enriches the entire body mind and soul.
It is believed that there is an intimate connection between the breathing process and the flow of energy or prana along the nadis (energy channels) and chakras or energy grids. Prana, the life energy manifests in physical platform as movement and action and on mental platform as conscious, subconscious and unconscious thought process. Through committed Pranayama practice, the performer attempts to fathom the cosmic nature and partake the supreme wisdom to conquer afflictions and petty limitations. The basic requirements for success with yoga-meditation are sincere determination, an ethical livelihood and a well structured livelihood in which unselfish thoughts and controlled breathing play an important role.