Sanskrit word prana has a number of interpretations in English and is often translated as “energy” or “life force”. In yogic philosophy prana refers to the life force present in all living organism and inanimate objects. The word yama means control therefore pranayama is often referred to as breath control. However, the second root of the word pranayama is considered to be ayama, not yama, which means ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’. Therefore pranayama is a set of breathing practices to enhance the flow of prana and the expansion of life force.
Pranayama is not mere breathing in and out. It utilises breathing techniques to promote flow of prana not so much in the physical body, but in the ‘astral body’ directing the vital energy into the nadis (energy channels) and chakras (energy centres) purifying and regulating them.
Pranayama techniques work mainly with pranamaya kosha – the energetic body. Yogic philosophy recognises five bodies (sheaths) according to Pancha Kosha model which represent different dimensions of human existence. Although they are concerned with different levels of physical body and the mind, they are considered a whole. Changes in one layer can influence other layers.
The energetic body (pranamaya kosha) is composed of five pranas:
- Prana – the force by which the breath moves inwards and governs the area of the head. It is associated with organs of respiration and speech.
- Apana – moves downwards, governs the lower abdomen and removal of waste from the body. Not only the physical waste like food and drink but also negative emotions and experiences.
- Udana – associated with processes of speech and expression, it governs the area of the neck and throat. It allows sensory input via eyes, nose and ears which allows for conscious reception of the outside world.
- Samana – located between the heart and the navel. It activates digestion including food, air and emotional / mental experiences, and assimilation of nutrients activating heart and circulatory system.
- Vyana – coordinates all pranas, regulating movement across the whole body.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras says that lengthening the exhalation can help to reduce disturbances of the mind. Pranayama is the bridge between the body and the mind. Our breath has the ability to influence our mind. Once we slow down our breath, our mind slows down as well. When we feel anxious, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. By lengthening and calming the breath we can soothe the mind.
From the physical perspective long, steady breath over a period of time not only influences the mind reducing anxiety but can also reduce the heart rate.
Each asana is designed to promote flow of prana therefore facilitating pranayama and the spiritual practice of yoga aiding with purification of the body and the mind.
Source: Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Photo credit: Unsplash