Pranayama – A Recap
Most people think of Pranayama as breath control or breathing exercises. Is it just that? The word “prana” refers to the life force or life energy and “yama” is control or regulation. Manifestation of life energy is seen by activity of heart and breathing. Breath is closely related to the mind and emotions and so regulation of breath leads to mind control/purification. There are many types of pranas – the 5 major pranas are associated with breathing, digestion, circulation, elimination and all endocrine functions in the body. Chanting of the food prayer not only purifies the food but it also activates the different pranas.
There are 72,000 channels/ pathways in our energy body (Pranamaya Kosha). These spring from three basic channels Ida (left), Pingala (right) and Sushumna (central). Sushumna runs along the spinal column and the Ida and the Pingala spiral around it in a double helix structure crossing each other at nodal points/ junction points called chakras. When pranayama is correctly performed, the energy gets channelized into the energy channels and activates the chakras. Pranayama helps to balance the energy flow in the right and the left side leading to an inner sense of equanimity or balance. With regular practice of pranayama, the person gets transformed and can even change their inner tendencies or vasanas. Thus, pranayama means regulation or control of the life energy or force, which actually leads to channeling the energy to a higher level or awakening of the chakras right from the root or Muladhara chakra to the third eye or Agna chakra.
There are several ways of doing pranayama – depending on the person and reason for the pranayama. The simplest one is alternate nostril breathing and deep breathing. The breathing patterns involve inhalation (pooraka), retention (kumbhaka) and exhalation (rechaka). Swami tells us that pooraka is taking in the good, kumbhaka is retaining the good and rechaka is giving out the bad. All pranayama practices should be learned from an experienced teacher. Swami advices us to do pranayama with a mantra as that will transform us in addition to improving health.