Part 4: Pranayama
As discussed in the Introduction post, this series will explore the eight-fold path of yoga philosophy. So far we have discussed the Definition of yoga, the Yamas (codes of restraints / universal morality), the Niyamas (practices of self-training), and Asana (postures). Today we will discuss Pranayama.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA:
1. Yama : Universal morality
2. Niyama : Personal observances
3. Asanas : Body postures
4. Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana (today’s focus)
5. Pratyahara : Control of the senses
6. Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine
What is Pranayama?
To understand the definition of Pranayama, I think it is first helpful to break down the word itself:
Prana = vital energy, life force, energy of the universe that permeates everything and considered the breath of life
Yogi Bhajan said “Prana is the most powerful and most creative thing God ever created, because out of prana came life.”
Ayama = to extend, to draw out
Basically, the 4th limb of yoga teaches the yogi ways to control prana, or life force, through extension or control of the breath.
According to B.K.S. Iyengar, “Pranayama is a conscious prolongation of inhalation, retention and exhalation.”
Many yogis believe that the practice of pranayama is a way to connect the unconscious to the conscious, therefore integrating the mind, body, and spirit. There are numerous pranayama practices that manipulate the breath in a variety of ways: extending or shortening the lengths of inhalation and exhalation, suspending the breath, or contracting the breath. Pranayama can be part of a daily practice or used to achieve specific results. It is often recommended that beginners practice more advanced pranayama practices under the guidance of a teacher.
Why should I practice Pranayama?
Regular breathing practice is essential for good health. Learning how to control and deepen your breath has numerous benefits, including:
- better oxygen flow in the body
- more energy and endurance
- expanded lung capacity
- improvement in sleep
- ability to better manage stress
- increased vitality
- feelings of well-being, happiness
- better concentration
- increased self awareness
How can I start?
If you are brand new to breathing, I recommend starting here:
You can do this practice at any time, wherever you are. Practice this daily for best results!
Skip ahead to What is Yoga: Part 5 HERE