Pranayama is often termed “the science of breath control” however this does not fully explain its true meaning.
“Prana” translated from India Sanskrit means life force or vital energy and exists in all things. It is a subtle force of energy that is carried in air, food, water and sunlight and animates all forms of matter.
“Ayama”translated from Indian Sanskrit means extension or expansion, so the term Pranayama translates to the extension or expansion of prana.
Through the techniques of Pranayama we can expand or extend the vital life force in the body.
Breath, Health and Pranayama
Breath is life; we can live for days without food or water but without breathing we cannot survive. Most people today breathe incorrectly by breathing through the mouth and very shallowly utilizing only a small part of the lung capacity. Breathing in this way depletes the body of oxygen and prana resulting in the lack of vitality and a low resistance to disease. Irregular breathing can also disrupt the rhythms of the brain and lead to physical emotional and mental blocks which in turn lead to inner tension and conflict. In moments of stress, the breath often becomes very quick and shallow depleting the body/brain of an adequate supply of oxygen, the effect of this on the body/brain is quite detrimental to the situation that may be faced, the mind may not be able to think very straight, be clouded and confused, the functions of the body system may also go into overdrive (fight of flight response) which if experienced over a long term can cause other health issues.
Practising Pranayama reverses these bad breathing habits, it creates regular breathing patterns to re establish the natural relaxed rhythms of the body and mind for optimum health and vitality.
At the back of the nose lie the olfactory organs through which prana passes to reach the central nervous system and brain. By breathing through the nose whilst practising yoga and the practises of Pranayama filters and warms the air before it reaches the lungs to maximize the amount of prana taken in the body.
Threes Parts Of The Breath
In Pranayama there are three parts to the breath; inhalation, exhalation and retention. It is often thought that the inhalation is the most essential stage of breathing but in fact it is the exhalation that holds the key. The more stale air that can be exhaled, more fresh air can be inhaled. Yogic breathing practises in Pranayama lay special emphasis on prolonged retention and exhalation.
Before any Pranayama techniques are taught, learning to breathe correctly is necessary. The first practise to be taught is called the “Full Yogic Breath”. This technique teaches the practitioner to breathe correctly using the full lung capacity, the technique is taught in stages so that the practitioner gains awareness and control of the three areas of the lungs (bottom – abdominal, middle – thoracic and upper – clavicular). Once the “Full Yogic Breath” is mastered the practise of other Pranayama techniques will be taught systematically.
NB: Pranayama techniques should only be practised under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher.