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 breathing.
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 yogis 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 todays 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 Yoga.
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 Mahapragya
Rewritten by Mr Vidya Jain