Pranayama - Breathe in Health & Happiness


Breath is one of the most important behaviors/acts that we do daily. Without it we would not able to survive. It is the most vital process of the body that influences each and every cell and it is also linked to the performance of the brain. Human beings breathe about 15 times per minutes and 21,600 times per day. Respiration fuels the burning of oxygen and glucose, producing energy to power every muscular contraction, glandular secretion and mental process. Breath is everything.

The problem we have with breathing is that we take it for granted. It is an unconscious process. We are never taught how to breathe properly and correctly in order to bring oxygen to every part of our body. Usually we breathe shallow, depriving the body of oxygen and prana, but by conscious control of it, and through practice of certain techniques, such as pranayama, the energy trapped in neurotic, unconscious mental patterns may be released and used in more creative and joyful activity.

For example, rhythmic, deep and slow respiration stimulates and is stimulated by calm, content, states of mind. Irregular breathing disrupts the rhythms of the brain and leads to physical, emotional and mental blocks that lead to inner conflict, an unbalanced personality, a disordered lifestyle and disease. By doing pranayama, we establish regular breathing patterns, breaking this negative cycle and reversing the debilitating process. It does so by giving us control of the breath and re-establishing the natural, relaxed rhythms of the body and mind.

Our lifestyle has a profound impact on our body and we have the power to control it and to improve the quality of our bodies. One of the ways is through breathing. Pranayama is generally defined as breath control but it is not the fully meaning of the term. It is comprised of two roots:

  • yama means control, used to denote various rules of conduct
  • ayama means "extension or expansion of the dimension of prana"

Pranayama, therefore utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana in the energy channels (nadis) of the energy body (pranamaya kosha). The techniques of pranayama provide the method whereby the life force can be activated and regulated in order to go beyond one's boundaries or limitations and attain a higher state of vibratory energy and awareness.

Four aspects of pranayama

There are four important aspects of breathing that are utilized:

  1. Inhalation (pooraka)
  2. Exhalation (rechaka)
  3. Internal breath retention (antar kumbhaka)
  4. External breath retention (bahir kumbhaka)

The most important part of pranayama is breath retention. In order to perform it successfully, there must be a gradual development of control over the function of respiration. Therefore more attention is given to inhalation and exhalation at the beginning, in order to strengthen the lungs and balance the nervous and pranic systems in preparation for the practice of kumbhaka. These initial practices influence the flow of prana in the nadis, purifying, regulating and activating them, thereby inducing physical and mental stability.

When to practice pranayama?

  • Try practising regularly at the same time and place each day – it increases strength and will power
  • Take a bath before the practice or at least wash the hands, face and feet
  • Do not take bath for at least half an hour after the practice to allow the body temperature to normalize
  • Wear loose, comfortable, natural clothing
  • Practice before eating in the morning or wait at least three to four hours after meals. Food in the stomach places pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making full, deep respiration difficult.
  • Constipation, reduction in the quantity of urine may be experienced when commencing pranayama practice
  • Place should be quiet, clean and pleasant, well ventilated but not draughty. Avoid sunlight as the body will become overheated, and avoid practising in draught, wind or air-conditioning as the body temperature may get upset and cause chills.
  • Always breathe through the nostrils and not the mouth, unless specifically instructed otherwise. Both nostrils must be clear and flowing freely.
  • It should be practised after shatkarmas and asanas and before meditation practice. After pranayama, one may lie down in shavasana for a few minutes
  • A comfortable, sustainable meditation posture is necessary to enable efficient breathing and body steadiness during the practice. The body should be relaxed as possible throughout the practice with the spine, neck and head erect. Those who cannot sit in a meditation posture may sit against a wall with the legs outstretched or in a chair with a straight back.
  • Never strain in any way, don’t try to increase your capacity too fast
  • Breath retention should be practised only as long as comfortable
  • Various side effects may manifest due to process of purification and the expulsion of toxins. Sensations of itching, tingling, heat or cold, and feelings of lightness or heaviness may occur. Such experiences are generally temporary, but if they persist, check with a competent teacher. Energy levels may increase or fluctuate, interest may change. If such changes cause difficulty, decrease or stop the practice until a competent guidance.
  • Pranayama should not be practised during illness, although simple techniques such as breath awareness and abdominal breathing in shavasana may be performed.

Did you know?

Those who breathe in short, quick grasps are likely to have a shorter life span than those who breathe slowly and deeply. This is because the respiration is directly related to the heart. A slow breathing rate keeps the heart stronger and better nourished and contributes to a longer life. Deep breathing also increases the absorption of energy by pranamaya kosha, enhancing dynamism, vitality and general wellbeing.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati: Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha