Prānāyāma

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By 2018-01-07

BY PANCHAMEE HEWAVISSENTI

As the breath is of utmost important for human existence, so is Prānāyāma for Yoga. The Sanskrit word Prānāyāma is the combination of two words, Prāna and Ᾱyāma. Prāna means breath, respiration, life and energy and Ᾱyāma means the length, expansion or restraint. Thus, Prānāyāma means the 'length of life-giving breath and its control.' Prāna is the primordial life force of human beings that controls the psychological and the physical functions in the body.

Respiration or breathing is an involuntary activity that takes place in the body. We normally do not hold extended breath but often take short breaths. In Prānāyāma, breathing does not occur involuntarily but rather, it is deliberately controlled. By learning the techniques of regulating Prāna - the life-giving breath, a Yogi can relax, maintain equilibrium, invigorate and purify the body as well as the mind. By learning to regulate breath, a Yogi can integrate and unite different parts of the body and can stimulate and revitalize every cell of the body, the result of which is a healthier and dynamic mind and body.

As breathing is an involuntary act, it occurs unintentionally. But, if it is regulated by deliberation, one gains the mastery over ones physiological as well as psychological faculties of the body by gaining the ability of regulating other involuntary physiological processes such as the rate of heart beat, blood pressure, body temperature, activities of the digestive system and activities of the immune system etc .
Regulating breath

Yogis have experienced that by learning to regulate breath, they can also regulate the other functions of the body such as those mentioned above. Even modern neurologists have found out through research that a person, if well trained in breathing techniques, can regulate the bodily processes such as blood pressure, sweating, activities of digestive system, secretion of hormones, the urge of urinating and defecating etc. and can attain a healthy body.

Thus, by the conscious regulation and alteration of the involuntary respiration, a person can reap numerous health advantages. Yogic practice of regulating the breath and the length of the breath is known in Yoga scriptures as Prānāyāma. By the practice of Prānāyāma, a Yogi can gain mastery over physical and psychological states. Prānāyāma is easy to practice but should be carried out under the guidance of a Yoga Guru or an experienced Yoga instructor until you master the art of breathing. Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, instructs the Yogi of how to master the science of breathing or the Prānāyāma thus; "As lions, elephants and tigers are tamed very slowly and cautiously, so should Prāna be taken under control gradually according to one's capacity and physical limitations. Otherwise it will kill the person who practices it." Experienced Yogis warn the beginners of Prānāyāma, to follow correct scientific procedures of breathing. If not practiced in a proper manner, a beginner can experience hiccough, cough,

catarrh, headache, painful eyes, irritation in the nervous system etc. Moreover, the person can develop asthma if the correct practices and techniques are not adhered to. So, if anyone is willing to master the art of breathing, he should never be in haste. Learners should be patient as it takes time to take deep, proper, slow and steady breaths.
Interestingly, the life of a Yogi is not counted by the number of days or the years that he lives, but by the number of breaths that he takes. Yogis engage in rhythmic breathing which involves deep and slow chunks of breaths. The rhythmic patterns of breathing helps the Yogi strengthen his respiratory system and to tranquilize the nervous system.

Stages of respiration
Respiration in human body happens in three stages; inhalation, exhalation and retention. Inhalation or the inspiration is known in Sanskrit as Püraka which means the filling up of lung with Prāna Vāyu - the vital energy or the life-giving breath. The exhalation or the expiration is known in Sanskrit as Rechaka which means emptying the lungs. Retention stage is known as Kumbhaka in which the breath is held or retained where neither inhalation nor exhalation take place. Kumbhaka literally means the pitcher or the pot. At times, the pitcher or the pot may be completely filed with water and in the absence of water, it is completely filled with air. Likewise, in breathing, there are two states of Kumbhaka. One is Anthara Kumbhka where lungs are filled with Prāna Vāyu (life-giving air) at inhalation and the other one is Bāhya Kumbhaka, the empty state of lungs at exhalation.

Prāna Vāyu
Prāna Vāyu is the vital energy that prevails in a human body. Yogis have identified that Prāna Vāyu dwells in five areas of the body which are known as follows;
Prāna - Prāna air circulates in the area of heart and controls respiration.

Apāna - Apāna air circulates in the areas related to the lower abdomen and controls the ejection of urine and faeces.
Samāna - Samāna air helps digestion by kindling gastric gases.
Udāna - Udāna air is circulated in thoracic cavity helping the intake of air, food and liquid.
Vyāna - Vyāna air circulates in the entire body transporting the energy that is derived from food and the breath that we intake.
There are five types of auxiliary Vāyus found in human body:

Naga - this air helps relieve abdominal pressure by taking air upward from the stomach in the form of burps.
Kürma - this air protects the eyes from foreign matters by enabling the movement of the eyelids
Krakra - this air is responsible in sneezing and coughing to prevent foreign matters from entering into the nasal cavity and below the throat.

Devadatta - allows the intake of extra air into the body in the absence of sufficient oxygen in the body by yawning.
Dhanamjaya - this air remains in the body even after the person is dead and causes the bloating of the corpse.
The Pinda Prāna and Brahmānda Prāna
It is mentioned in Yogic scriptures that Prāna which is in humans, are a part of the Cosmic Breath of the Universal Spirit. An individual Yogi's breath is known in scriptures as Pinda Prãna and the Cosmic Breath is called Brahmānda Prāna. The scriptures also elucidate that through the union of Cosmic Breath and Yogi's breath, a yogi can reach supreme bliss.

A seventeen century mystic says that in order to foster a calm and tranquilized spirit, regulating the breath is of vital importance and if the breath is under control, the heart is at ease and peace. He further explains that if breathing is spasmodic, the heart will be distressed. So he explains that by regulating breath, one can subdue mental distress and tension.Emotional breakdowns affect the rate of breathing in a person. If he is trained to regulate his breath and has a control over it, he can easily get rid of the negative emotions when he is encounters them. Negative emotions can boost the secretion of certain hormones which may detrimentally affect the health of a person.

The objective of Yoga is to attain a healthy body as well as a healthy mind. By practicing Prānāyāma, one can attain the goal of having control of breath to achieve a calm and controlled mind and healthy body.

Model - Sihanga Ravidev
Pic: Avinash Malhara

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