Pranayama (Breathing codes) in life​.​

Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. Although this interpretation may seem correct in view of the practices involved, it does not convey the full meaning of the term. The word pranayama is comprised of two roots: ‘prana’ plus ‘Ayama’. Prana means ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’. It is the force that exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. Although closely related to the air we breathe, it is more subtle than air or oxygen. Therefore, pranayama should not be considered as mere breathing exercises aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs. Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana in the nadis or energy channels of the pranamaya kosha or energy body. The word yama means ‘control’ and is used to denote various rules or codes of conduct. However, this is not the word that is joined to prana to form pranayama; the correct word is ‘Ayama’ which has far more implications. Ayama is defined as ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’. Thus, the word pranayama means ‘extension or expansion of the dimension of prana’. The techniques of pranayama provide the method whereby the life force can be activated and regulated in order to go beyond one’s normal boundaries or limitations and attain a higher state of vibratory energy and awareness.

Four aspects of Pranayama

  1. Pooraka or inhalation
  2. Rechaka or exhalation
  3. Antar kumbhaka or internal breath retention
  4. Bahir kumbhaka or external breath retention.

The different practices of pranayan1a involve various techniques that utilize these four aspects of breathing. There is another mode of pranayama, which is called kevala kumbhaka, or spontaneous breath retention. This is an advanced stage of pranayama which occurs during high states of meditation. During this state, the fluctuation of prana ceases. At this time, the veil which prevents one from seeing the subtle aspect of existence is lifted and a higher vision of reality is attained. The most important part of pranayama is actually kumbhaka or breath retention. However, in order to perform kumbhaka successfully, there must be a gradual development of control over the function of respiration. Therefore, in the pranayama practices, more emphasis is given to inhalation and exhalation at the beginning, in order to strengthen the lungs and balance the nervous and pranic systems in preparation for the practice of kumbhaka. These initial practices influence the flow of prana in the nadis, purifying, regulating, and activating them, thereby inducing physical and mental stability.

General notes for the practitioner

In the traditional texts, there are innumerable rules and regulations pertaining to pranayama. The main points are to exercise moderation, balance, and common sense with regard to inner and outer thinking and living. However, for those who seriously wish to take up the advanced practices of pranayama, the guidance of a guru or competent teacher is essential. Contra-indications: Pranayama should not be practiced during illness, although simple techniques such as breath awareness and abdominal breathing in Shavasana may be performed. Carefully observe the contra-indications given for individual practices. 

Time of practice: The best time to practice pranayama is at dawn when the body is fresh and the mind has very few impressions. If this is not possible, another good time is just after sunset. Tranquilizing pranayamas may be performed before sleep. Try to practice regularly at the same time and place each day. Regularity in practice increases strength and willpower as well as acclimatizing the body and mind to the increased prank force. Do not be in a hurry; slow, steady progress is essential.

Bathing: Take a bath or shower before commencing the practice, or at least wash the hands, face, and feet. Do not take a bath for at least half an hour after the practice to allow the body temperature to normalize.

Clothes: Loose, comfortable clothing made of natural fibers should be worn during the practice. The body may be covered with a sheet or blanket when it is cold or to keep insects away. 

Empty stomach: Practise before eating in the morning or wait for at least three to four hours after meals before starting pranayama. Food in the stomach places pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making full, deep respiration difficult.

Diet: A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and inerals is suitable for most pranayama practices. A combination of grains, pulses, fresh fruit, and vegetables, with some milk products if necessary; is recommended. When commencing pranayama practice, constipation and

a reduction in the quantity of urine may be experienced. In the case of dry motions, stop taking salt and spices, and drink plenty of water. In the case of loose motions, stop the practices for a few days and go on a diet of rice and curd or yogurt. The more advanced stages of pranayama require a change in diet and a guru should be consulted for guidance on this. 

Place of practice: Practice in a quiet, clean and pleasant room, which is well ventilated but not draughty. Generally, avoid practicing in direct sunlight as the body will become over-heated, except at dawn when the soft rays of the early morning sun are beneficial. Practicing in a draught or wind, in air-conditioning, or under a fan may upset the body temperature and cause chills.

Breathing: Always breathe through the nose and not the mouth unless specifically instructed otherwise. Both nostrils must be clear and flowing freely. Mucous blockages may be removed through the practice of neti or kapalbhati. If the flow of breath in the nostrils is unequal, it may be balanced by practicing padadhirasana as a breath balancing technique.

Sequence: Pranayama should be performed after shatkarmas and asanas, and before meditation practice. Nadi shodhana pranayama should be practiced in each pranayama session as its balancing and purifying effects form the basis for successful pranayama. After practicing pranayama, one may lie down in Shavasana for a few minutes.

Sitting position: A comfortable, sustainable meditation posture is necessary to enable efficient breathing and body steadiness during the practice. Siddha/Siddha yoni asana or padmasana is the best postures for pranayama. The body should be as relaxed as possible throughout the practice with the spine, neck, and head erect. Sit on a folded blanket or cloth of natural fiber to ensure the maximum conduction of energy during the practice. Those who cannot sit in a meditation posture may sit against a wall with the legs outstretched or in a chair that has a straight back.

Avoid strain: With all pranayama practices, it is important to remember that the instruction not to strain, not to try to increase your capacity too fast, applies just as it does to the asana practice. If one is advised to practice a pranayama technique until it is mastered, and it can be practiced without any strain or discomfort, it is wise to follow that instruction before moving on to more advanced practice or ratio. Furthermore, breath retention should only be practiced for as long as is comfortable. The lungs are very delicate organs and any misuse can easily cause them injury. Not only the physical body but also the mental and emotional aspects of the personality need time to adjust. Never strain in any way.

Side effects: Various symptoms may manifest in normally healthy people. These are caused by the process of purification and the expulsion of toxins. Sensations of itching, tingling, heat or cold, and feelings of lightness or heaviness may occur. Such experiences are generally temporary, but if they persist, check with a competent teacher. Energy levels may increase or fluctuate; interests may change. If such changes cause difficulty in lifestyle, decrease or stop the practice until a competent teacher or guru gives guidance.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *