What Is Pranayama

What Is Pranayama

What Is Pranayama

Most people take Pranayama as breath control. Well, they may not be wrong because one does seem to be controlling the breath. However, when one breathes, Prana also gets inhaled along with oxygen. So Pranayama makes use of breathing to channel the flow of Prana. 

Pranayama can be broken into two words in two ways:

  1. Prana + yama
  2. Prana + ayama

Prana is the cosmic energy that exists everywhere across the whole cosmos. Therefore, Prana is present in both living and non-living creatures and objects. 

Yama means control through rules or code of conduct. You can read about Yama and Niyama, the first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. However, Prana + Yama is not the word combination implied in Pranayama. 

Ayama means extension or expansion. Therefore, Pranayama means extension or expansion of Prana. But there is no intentional extension of Prana as part of normal breathing. Instead, Pranayama provides the methods to channel the Prana in the Nadis or energy channels, which allows the Yogi to go beyond one’s normal boundaries of energy and awareness.

Pranayama uses four aspects of breathing:

  1. Pooraka, meaning inhalation
  2. Rechaka, meaning exhalation
  3. Antar Kumbhaka, meaning holding the breath inside the body
  4. Bahir Kumbhaka, meaning holding the breath outside the body

The two types of Kumbhaka play the most important part in Pranayama. But retention of breath cannot be successful if one is not using deep breaths. Therefore, a beginner should work on Pooraka and Rechaka and make inhalation and exhalation fully controlled. Such control prevents shallow breathing and helps to balance the flow of Prana through Ida and Pingala, the two main Nadis that run parallel to the spinal column. 

Ida and Pingala come together at the Muladhara, at the base of the spine. Ida is connected to the left nostril at the top, and Pingala is connected to the right nostril. When the flow of Prana is balanced between Ida and Pingala, it becomes possible for Prana to rise through Sushumna, the central Nadi that runs inside the spinal column. However, only advanced Yogis can channel Prana through Sushumna. Therefore, for most people, only Ida and Pingala are used.

Pranayama techniques are used to balance the flow of Prana between Ida and Pingala. However, it takes years of practicing Pranayama before one can enable the flow of Prana through Sushumna when the Kundalini, the pot of Shakti located in the Muladhara, gets activated. Further, Kundalini rises through the Sushumna Nadi from Muladhara to the Sahasrara Chakra located at the top of the head. The Yogi undergoes supernatural experiences that normal people may call miraculous as the Kundalini rises. When the Kundalini reaches the Sahasrara Chakra, a Yogi attains enlightenment.