Oct 24, 2016
Pranayama: An Introduction
(updated Feb 2020 with T. Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda II)
- prana - the life energy that permeates our universe. Other cultures call it 'chi' or 'qi'. Without prana, there is no life.
- pranayama - in yoga, it is the exercise of regulating the breath - the inhalation, exhalation and the breath-holds. Breathing should always be long and thin
- kumbhaka - a type of pranayama where you hold the breath - either on the inhale (antara kumbhaka) or on the exhale (bahya kumbhaka). At the advanced level, it's a spontaneous cessation of the breath (kevala kumbhaka)
- asana - the physical yoga pose
- nadi - these are the energy channels within the psychic body, responsible for energy (prana) distribution. There are 72,000 nadies within the body. Analogy - an intricate road system within a city
- surya - sun, masculine, high energy, right nostril breathing
- chandra - moon, feminine, recovery and healing, left nostril breathing
- bhedan - penetration
- bhastrika - bellows
Human Shelf life
In the Indian culture, the longevity of a human life is predetermined by the number of breaths taken in a lifetime - not the number of years (e.g. - a boy is born with a pre-ordained 2 million breaths. If he uses up those 2 million breaths in 30 years, his life will end at age 30). This is a powerful statement because it means you can extend your life by regulating the breath (if this boy slows down his breathing or holds it between inhalation and exhalation to a point he uses up 2 million breaths in 31 years, then he extends his life by 1 year).
Nadis are energy channels within our psychic body. Like capillaries, they form an intricate matrix (or road system) throughout the body for energy distribution. It is said there are 72,000 nadis in the human body, converging on the jivatma (heart) (or kandasthana, or muladhara chakra, depending on which text you read). Prana is distributed in our system through the nadis. If the nadis are blocked, prana cannot flow through - that is when sickness occurs. Example - if the nadis in our kidneys are blocked, prana or the life energy cannot enter our kidney. We begin to suffer kidney failure or kidney disease in the process. Through pranayama, asana, and shatkriya (purification process) we clear the blockages in the nadis and allow the free-flow of prana and this restores the body back to health.
Contrary to popular belief, prana is NOT just in the air we breathe. It is pervasive in the universe, without which, the universe itself cannot exist. Every individual already has prana within his system, and this prana governs all the actions of our faculties. We are able to control prana through our breathing. Prana can be exercised and strengthened in the same way we exercise our muscles by lifting weights. Our prana is what keeps us alive. Prana is a sheath around the body, extending to 12 inches outside the physical body. The more we breathe, the more we use up prana. The less we breathe, like while being in a meditative state, the more we conserve our prana and thus extend our life. Pranayama should be done at least 4 hours after the last meal.
Breathing sounds so simple it's almost dismissive - we breathe day-in and day-out, so what's special about it? Out of curiosity back in Feb 2008, I toyed with pranayama as I was reading a Sivananda Yoga book. After doing it for half a day, I experienced what I would call the superman-effect. It gave me a first-hand account of just how powerful this technique is. Since that epiphany, pranayama has always been a part of my yoga practice. I follow my asanas with pranayama then meditation. I feel that those three in combination provide a synergistic effect that asana alone cannot deliver. I also integrate such combination whenever I conduct a yoga class, even abbreviating the asana portion just to accommodate the pranayama and meditation within a one hour session.
Pranayama is a double-edged sword and thus need to be done with caution or done with someone who understands pranayama. I would liken it to fire. If you know what you are doing, the fire can cook your food. If you don't know what you're doing, it will burn your house down...and even burn you. Doing pranayama is dealing with something volatile - you'd been warned!
Simon Borg-Olivier doing pranayama
Ideally, pranayama should only be done when you have gained proficiency in any of the seated asanas (padmasana is the best). Ensure you are seated comfortably with sit bones centered and a straight back. Slow, thin and deep nose breathing only unless specified otherwise. Do this on an empty stomach. Whenever appropriate, engage all 3 bandhas when doing pranayama - Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha. When closing the nostrils, best to use Mrigi Mudra.
I find it fascinating that this reservoir of immense power is free and readily accessible. But I remain baffled that people still subscribe to medication and pills to find artificial strength and vigor. My gratitude to the ancients for preserving this powerful technique and sharing it to the free world at large. Who would have thought that the mundane breathing, when properly executed and regulated, could be so powerful? Pranayama is perhaps the most under-rated wellness practice on the planet (although pranayama goes waaaay beyond wellness).
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
ps - If you want me to participate and write about your yoga studio or your yoga practice, email me. For my complete yoga profile, you can visit this page: YOGA by Gigit
Theosophical Society - Philippines
(Oct 24, 2016) The article warns of the dangers of the misuse of pranayama. It suggests the need for guidance. The focus of yoga is enlightenment, not the physical body. We should not lose sight of that. A friend of mine became afflicted with heart disease after wrongful application of pranayama. Yet those who know,!use it to insulate consciousness from the vibrations of the outside world in the pursuit of higher yoga. Shanti.
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Blogs about Prana and Pranayama
- Pranayama Primer Feb 2, 2021
- Yoga Class to move Prana Vayu (energy) July 11-12, 2020
- Covid 19 and Pranayama Mar 20, 2020
- Prasnopanishad: Understanding Prana Jan 17, 2020
- Prana Mudra Sep 21, 2019
- Prana Vayu (Pranic Wind) Sep 20, 2019
- Pranayama in Moalboal, Cebu Aug 3, 2017
- Pranayama: An Introduction Oct 24, 2016
- Pranayama in Sagada: the Superman-Effect Jan 30, 2008
- Pranayama Sequence Oct 24, 2016
- Tibetan 5 Rites Mar 28, 2016
- Meditation Basics Nov 7, 2015
- Handstand Clinic at Surya Nanda Yoga Studio Aug 23, 2015
- Power Yoga Class - Singapore Mar 21,2015
- Adhitthana Yoga (Yoga of Strong Determination) Sept 4, 2014
- Twist Sequence Jun 28, 2014
- One-Leg Sequence (balancing) Jun 14, 2014
- Core Sequence Jun 7, 2014
- Backbend Sequence May 31, 2014
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