Aspects of Pranayama

Bramhari: Humming bee breath
Soham and the breath
Sitali Pranayama

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The whole study of yoga abounds with directions, advice, warnings and stories about `the breath`.  Modern science increasingly supports what yogis have been telling us for thousands of years, and what so often we innately know, that breath is life.

Usually we concern ourselves only with the physical act of breathing air into and out of the lungs.  However we should be aware that `yoga breathing` can take place all over the surface of the body.

The word pranayama, is made up of two Sanskrit words – prana and ayama.  The word prana is variously known as, the Universal Life Force, the breath of life, the vital energy, original potential etc etc.  Let us here take it to mean that vital energy force which pervades all of creation, which energises us and gives us `life`.  Ayama is a sanskrit word denoting extension by control.  So in Pranayama we are extending our control of prana in the body.

To complicate the subject further we are told that five forms of prana are to found in the body, all under the generic titla of Prana.  Prana is the form which is said to rise from the Solar Plexus and the heart.  Apana is the descending breath associated with the lower body.  Vyana circulates throughout the body and especially in the limbs.  Samana is located in the abdominal region where it is  associated with the digestive and abdominal processes.  Udana is that form carrying pranic energy to the upper body and the upper charkas. 

The Pranic body – the Pranamaya kosha, is the manifestation of prana in and around the physical body with which we are familiar, and it is this Pranamaya kosha which we seek to nourish and strengthen in pranayama exercises.  The Pranamaya kosha extends a few centimetres from the surface of the skin.  It is for this reason, among others, that yogis will often advocate nudity, or the wearing of light natural clothing, facilitating exchange of pranic energy over the whole surface of the body.  Prana is also absorbed into the pranic body through our contact with the earth – hence the desirability of having bare feet, and our food and drink – hence the benefits of eating food which is fresh and raw or lightly cooked.

Physical breathing is usually thought of as that process of drawing air into the lungs and exhaling.  In this process all the body is involved.  Breathing is one of the first functions which in yoga we realise we can actually control.  The nervous system is involved in the control, conscious or not, of the rate and depth of breathing.  The skeleton – spine, neck and ribs are physically involved along with the muscles of the chest, abdomen and back.  Through breathing the entire posture and efficiency of the body is affected.  Little wonder that in yoga so much emphasis is placed on correct breathing technique.

Derek Osborn                                                                                                                                   040111

Yogi practising breath control

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