Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning "expansion of the prana " or, "expansion of the life force".
The word "Pranayama" is composed of two Sanskrit words: "Prana" that means life force, or vital energy, or source of life, or chi (in china), and "ayama" that literally means to expand, or to extend, or to stretch.
It's not "restrain, or control" as it is often translated from the word "yama" instead of "ayama". It could be considered "regulation" or "control" of breath but only in the beginning because actually Pranayama is far more deeper from it.
Pranayamah param tapah.
Yogis oftenly used to say in their talks "Pranayamah param tapah."
Pranayama is a form of Tapah means austerity (tapasya in hindi). Tapah is also important and inseparable part of kriya yoga that is used for weakening the intensity of the pancha kleshas (means five afflictions that are cause of all sufferings). So practicing pranayama means practicing kriya yoga or doing austerity, all is same.
When you practise pranayama, positive energy (yogic heat) is created inside and outside of your body. This heat or fire of yoga helps to maintain the physical, mental health and also helps in the awakening of kundalini. When the mind is possessed by the powerful force of kundalini, it becomes totally stable. This is sattvic tapas, a process whereby you generate physical heat in your body. This heat is actually important for meditation, but if you practise pranayama without preparation, it will not be fruitful.
Pranayama consists of three stages:
(Also called Four Aspects in Hatha yoga)
Holding the breath (kumbhaka) - (Antar and bahir kumbhaka in hatha yoga).
Though using these aspects of the Pranayama, Hatha yoga texts gave us 8 Pranayama techniques called "Astakumbhaka" (means 8 kumbhaka).
In the hatha yoga texts, the word "kumbhaka" is used as a synonym word for Pranayama.
And we know that kumbhaka also means "holding the breath". If our yogi use the word "kumbhaka"' for Pranayama techniques that means there must be strong reason behind that.
In short without holding the breath, there is no Pranayama at all😊.
Here I am talking about the practice of Pranayama according to Hatha yoga. In hatha yoga, this kumbhaka (holding the breath) is highly emphasized and its very important because major transformation takes place only during the moment of kumbhaka.
Our blood, our system absorb the prana (oxygen) during every antar kumbhaka and during the bahir kumbhaka all the impurities or toxins (specifically carbon dioxide) are expelled out from our system.
The more you hold the breath in, the more oxygen (prana) will be absorbed and assimilated by our system. Same the more you hold the breath outside, the more impurities/toxins will be removed/expelled out from our system. This process, process of receiving the prana in and expulsion of unnecessary things, spontaneously going on but actually its very slow.
It's not enough now a days. It might be because of unhealthy food habits or unhealthy lifestyle/thinking process...
We can encourage/stimulate the process of receiving the energy from the universe and expulsion of toxins by regular practice of different Pranayama techniques.
I have selected some references from ancient scriptures descripting Pranayama:
By Swami Rama:
The Sanskrit word pranayama is usually translated as "the science of breath," but this is limited interpretation. Pranayama literally means the ayama (expansion or manifestation) of prana (pra: first unit, na: energy/life). Prana is the all-pervading energy of the universe. Prana is the source of our life/existence and breath has intimate connection with the breath. Prana is very subtle, hard to work on it directly but through the breath (pranayama, or awareness) we can approach it.
Pranayama is the science which imparts knowledge related to the expansion and control of the Prana.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
Pranayama according to the Haṭha Yoga Pradipika (chapter IV): “when the brahma-granthi is pierced through the practice of pranayama, then a sort of happiness is experienced in the vacuum of the heart, and the anahat sounds, like various tinkling sounds of ornaments, are heard in the body”. And further, “in the Arambha (the 1st stage of Samadhi), a Yogi's body becomes divine, glowing, healthy, and emits a divine swell. The whole of his heart becomes void”.
In this verse, actually sage Gheranda ji is describing the benefits of Pranayama in short.
"Through the practice of Pranayama, travel in space, elimination of diseases and awakening of kundalini is achieved. Bliss manifests in the mind through pranayama and one becomes happy."
Patanjali Yoga Sutra:
Tasmin sati shvasa prashvsayoh gati vichchhedah pranayamah. 2/49
• tasmin = then/upon that (after perfection of meditative asana)
• sati = being accomplished
• shvasa = inhalation
• prashvsayoh = exhalation
• gati = of the uncontrolled movements (because of force that is involved in inhalation and exhalation)
• vichchhedah = slowing, softening or braking/ceizing/stopping of the force behind
• pranayamah = expansion of prana, regulation of breath
Once meditative asana has been mastered/achieved only then, breaking (slowing down in the beginning) of the force behind, and of unregulated movement of inhalation and exhalation is called breath control and expansion of prana (pranayama), which leads to the absence of the force(opposites).
Being in that (meditative asana that has perfected), Pranayama is the interruption of the the movements (uncontrolled, force) inhalation and exhalation.
Lord Krishna in the 4th chapter (verse 29) of The Bhagwad Gita introduces Pranayama in a very different way:
अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे |
प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणा: ||
"Pranayama: yogi offer as sacrifice (Yajna or sacred fire ceremony) the outgoing breath (apana) in the incoming (prana), and the incoming breath (prana) in the outgoing breath (prana), restraining the forces of the outgoing and the incoming breaths solely absorbed in the restraint of the breath."
As some of you might know that we (in our body) have five Pranas and five sub-pranas. All should merged in the Chief Prana (also called Maha Prana) by the practice of Pranayama. When the prana is controlled, the mind also stops its wanderings and becomes steady; the senses are also thinned out and merged in the Prana.
It is through the vibration of Prana that the activities of the mind and the senses are kept up.
If the Prana is controlled, the mind, the intellect, and the senses cease to function. By Swami Shivananda
Lord Krishna, strongly propagates Pranayama, the 4th practice of Ashtanga yoga as a powerful way to cleanse the impurities of body, mind and soul.
This forms the pre-requisite for the aspirant to be able to embark & proceed on his journey towards freedom (from all the sufferings).
He says, the way all impurities in material world get burnt by fire and become shuddha (means 100% pure), similarly the oxidation process of controlled breath cleanses a human (body, mind and intelligence) impurities.
As we know, a piece of gold is melted to clean it from any possible impurities & makes it easy to mould it into beautiful jewellery, similarly pranayama unveils the impurities of mind like the Pancha Kleshas (in patanjali yogasutra) and make it easy to become a soul worth being presented to God to become one with him.
There are certain rules and regulations for practicing these pranayama techniques otherwise practitioners may hurt themselves. You can read other articles to know more about the different Pranayama techniques (like: Surya Bhedana, ujjai, sheetali, sheetkari, nadi shodhanam, bhramari...etc.)
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