Prana (vital energy) and
Pranayama (art of scientific breathing)
Prana is the universal
principle of energy. It is vital force. It is all pervading. It may be either
in a static or dynamic state. It is found in all living things from the
gigantic to the minutest. It exists in the form of an unicellular amoebae to
man and from and ant to the elephant. "It is Prana that shines in your eyes,
Prana that the ears hear, the skin feels, the nose smells, the brain and the
intellect do their functions. Fire burns, river flows, wind blows, through
Prana. The aircraft moves in the air, train and cars move through Prana. Radio
wave travel through Prana. Prana is electron. Prana is force. Prana is
magnetism and Prana is electricity." Even the sun, moon, the clouds and the
very earth we live on is a blessing of Prana. Knowledge is Prana. The whole
body works with Prana shakti. Human body derives this Prana through breath. As
is common knowledge breath and life are practically synonymous. To breathe is
to live and to live is to breathe. Breath is intimately connected with body
and mind. It is the bridge permitting access to the nervous system, mind and
vital energy (Prana shakti). Breath, body and mind are all energized by the
vital life energy. However, this vital energy is itself activated by subtle
body (Taijasya Sarira). At the ultimate end of this chain is soul or
consciousness. Russian scientist Mr. Acnnyon and Mrs. Valentina Kirlian
developed this technique of photographing this energy and it can be seen by
anyone in photographs and by electron microscopes.
According to Patanjali founder
of yoga science there are five types of Prana :
Prana Vayu - Prana controls the
breathing process taking place inside the chest. In the form of oxygen Prana
takes its energy.
Apana Vayu controls the
excretory organs and the reproductive organs.
Samana Vayu helps in the
process of digestion and controls hunger.
Udhana Vayu controls the vocal
chords, this helps in breathing air and eating food.
It is spread all over the
body. The energy that is derived from the air we breathe and the food we eat
is spread around to the various parts of body through Prana Vayu. Fresh air is
inhaled and reaches the lungs, contains oxygen ( Prana vayu) which enters the
blood stream and is delivered to the cells in the active tissues, cells use
the oxygen to produce energy. Thus breath is a source of vital energy. Prana
is the melody of life. The force controlling it is our breath and yet we pay
such little attention to it. We leave it considering it a natural and
automatic exercise. On the basis of a long experience in yoga I can
confidently say that only a few people know the correct way of breathing.
"Pranayam" is the scientific way of absorption of
oxygen and excretion of carbon -di-oxide.
In a single day we breathe
about 2300 times. Average volume of air taken in a single breath ranges from a
half to a liter with proper attention this volume can be increased upto 4 to 5
litres. Thus we can learn the capacity of breathing in five times the oxygen
that we normally breathe and breathing out carbon-di-oxide much faster.
However we can train ourselves to breathe more slowly and deeply. The rate can
easily be reduced from four to five breaths per minutes. Slower breath rate
results in reduction of wear and tear in the entire body. less work for the
heart, it reduces high blood pressure and quieter nerves.
Pranayama means to increase the
quantity of Prana in the body. Pranyama is the method of breathing in a
rhythmic way and correct fashion. While inhaling breathe in through the
nostrils, the stomach at the same time should come outside (expand) and while
breathing out the stomach should go inside. This is the correct way of
If the breath is controlled
then it is easy to control the mind and its thoughts and emotions. Pranayama
is like a gate which has to be crossed before finally reaching upon the
doorsteps of Dhyana. Swansa (Breath) is the tool that connects the exterior
world to the inner world.
Pranayama is not merely
concerned with breath, quite on the contrary all the internal organs infact
the whole body gets exercised from Pranayama. The digestive system, nervous
system , excretory organs get activated from this exercise. In fact there is
an enhancement in the whole personality of person through this. Its
practitioner will in due course of time, experience noticeable improvement in
the quality of his voice, in his decision power and self confidence. Not to
mention that he will achieve a high concentration power and good health.
It is said that a yogiís age
should not be calculated from the number of years he has spent but from the
quality of his breaths- the longer and deeper his breaths the longer is his
life. A dog takes about 30-40 breaths per minute and he lives no longer than
12-14 years. While a tortoise takes about 4-5 breaths per minute, his life has
been recorded to be for even 150 years. Which means that the longer and deeper
the breaths will be so also will the life be longer and more healthy. Once the
proper way of breathing has been acquired then the same will become routine
and no special effort will have to be made.
Because of this while
performing Pranayama - time, place, posture and Asana plus the proper
technique have to be kept in consideration. Practice of Pranayama in a
tranquil, open and clean environment is ideal. Pranayama should be performed
only on empty stomach and after passing clear motion.
Pranayama should be performed
after exercises. In case one is physically exhausted or the mind is distraught
then Pranayama should not be performed. To dislodge the tiredness of the body
relaxation (Shava Asana) should be performed. Pranayama should not be
performed immediately before sleeping . There should be at least a gap of four
hours after a meal, after performing Pranayama meal can be taken after half an
hour. Youngsters from 15-16 years of age should not perform Kumbhak
Performing Pranayama in a Lotus posture is ideal. In this posture the backbone
is absolutely straight and hence there is a flow of blood in each and every
vertebrae of the body. Since the ribs are upright there is full oxygen flow in
the lungs. Because of this the distribution of the Prana Vayu takes place in a
complete and systematic way. Pranayama can also be performed in a Siddhasana
and Vajrasana(Ankle posture)
In Sidhasana the impact falls
on the upper portion of the backbone but in the ankle posture the impact falls
on the lower part of the backbone. The key to perform Pranayama is to loosen
the body from the head to the toe and become an observer to all our thoughts.
Only then will the Prana vayu reach all the centers.
With closed eyes try to hear
the sound of the breaths. Bring your attention inside. Pranayama is the art of
stabilizing the mind. The stability of the mind depends upon the stability of
the breaths. For that reason maintaining an equanimous state of mind is
imperative. In todayís world everybody desires peace and that is why more and
more people are getting attracted towards meditation and Pranayama. It is easy
to learn this art however difficult it is to practice it and perfection take a
very long time - A month sometimes, even years and perhaps even a lifetime can
be spent perfecting this art, and thus a lot of patience will have to be
practiced. On the contrary the effect of exercises can be seen very easily on
the body and the practitioners get disillusioned that exercises in itself are
The advancement in Pranayama is
slow because first the breaths have to be balanced and then the mind. This is
the melody of Dhyana. It is vital that Pranayama be connected to the mind
rather that getting dwindled into a mere mechanical exercise. Hathayoga
Pradipika says that like man slowly tames wild animals like lion, elephants
and tigers so also he should tame his own breath. Then only can he really
enjoy the experience of yoga.
In our next series we will
discuss about the different kinds their different methods and the different
benefits of performing Pranayama.
From the works of Acharya
Rewritten by Mr Vidya Jain