“When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the Breath is still, so is the mind still.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Yoga breathing, or pranayama, is the science of breath control. It consists of series of exercises especially intended to meet the body’s needs and keep it in vibrant health.
Pranayama comes from the following words:
Prana – “life force” or “life energy”
Yama – “discipline” or “control”
Ayama – “expansion,” “non-restraint,” or “extension”
Thus, pranayama means “breathing techniques” or “breath control.” Ideally, this practice of opening up the inner life force is not merely to take healthy deep breaths. It is intended for Yoga practitioners to help and prepare them in their meditation process.
In our respiration process, we breathe in or inhale oxygen into our body, going through our body systems in a form of energy to charge our different body parts. Then we exhale carbon dioxide and take away all toxic wastes from our body. Through the practice of pranayama, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is attained. Absorbing prana through breath control links our body, mind, and spirit.
But life is full of stress. Because of the daily work, family, or financial pressures, we tend to ignore our breathing. Thus, it tends to be fast and shallow. The use of only a fraction of your lungs results to lack of oxygen and may lead to different complications. Heart diseases, sleep disorders, and fatigue are some of the effects of oxygen starvation. Therefore, the negative energy of being restless and troublesome leads to lesser prana inside the body. By practicing deep and systematic breathing through pranayama, we reenergize our body.
These are the four stages of pranayama:
1. Arambha – the commencement stage wherein the person’s interest in pranayama is awakened
2. Ghata – the stage where the three sariras merge to envelope the soul. The three sariras are gross, subtle, and causal.
3. Parichay- the stage where the yogi experiences the knowledge of pranayama
4. Nispatti- the stage where the yogi goes beyond his physical body, and unites with the supreme
Benefits of Pranayama
Breathing is a normal part of our life, though we fail to pay attention to it. It is an autonomic function of the body that we perform even without concentrating on it. Why then do we have to learn Yoga breathing? Here are some reasons why pranayama is important:
o Pranayama teaches us the proper way to breathe. We became used to breathing from our chest, using only a fraction of the lungs, not knowing that this unhealthy and unnatural way of inhaling may lead to several complications. With yoga breathing, we increase the capacity of our lungs, bringing more oxygen supply to the body to function well. We learn how to breathe slowly and deeply—the right way.
o Pranayama reduces the toxins and body wastes from within our body. It prevents one from acquiring diseases.
o Pranayama helps in one’s digestion. With the proper way of breathing, one’s metabolism and health condition will start to improve.
o Pranayama develops our concentration and focus. It fights away stress and relaxes the body. Controlling one’s breathing also results to serenity and peace of mind.
o Pranayama offers a better self-control. Through concentration, one can better handle temper and reactions. Mind can function clearly, avoiding arguments and wrong decisions. Moreover, self-control also involves control over one’s physical body.
o Pranayama leads to spiritual journey through a relaxed body and mind.
However, pranayama should not be forced and done without proper preparation, or it may lead to nervous breakdowns. It is part of a process in Yoga. Breath control is a spiritual practice of cleansing the mind and body which should be done appropriately and with proper guidance and preparation.
Written by: anagonzales for ABC-of-Yoga.com