Raja Yoga – Part 9: Pranayama

A day-old chick

Our Animal Friend (Credit: Wikipedia)

We discussed the effects of establishing in asana in the last post. Let us move on to the fourth step of Raja Yoga, i.e. Pranayama.

The word prana means breath and aayama means controlling or taming. So, the pranayama means controlling breath. Prana also means life or breath of life.

Let us hear the authoritative definition of pranayama from our great master Shri Patanjali Maharishi. He says:

Tasmin sati shwasa prashwasayorgati vichchedah pranayamah | – Yoga Sutras 2.49

Once established in asana, controlling natural inhalation and exhalation process of breathing is pranayama.

According to Maharishi, as sutra says, it is important to establish in asana before practicing pranayama. As defined, pranayama involves exercises to control breath.  Complete inhalation is called pooraka(filling).  Exhaling completely to empty the lungs is called rechaka(emptying). Holding the breath is kumbhaka(like holding in a pot).

Generally, in pranayama exercises, we do rechaka(exhale), pooraka(inhale), kumbhaka(hold), rechaka(exhale), kumbhaka(hold)  in cycles with a particular allocated time(number counts) for each step.  We will not go into further details, as these exercises must be learnt and practiced under supervision of a master.  Reading from books and practicing is risky and can harm the practitioner. Now we have a question:

What is the significance of pranayama practice?

Breath is vital for living. So, the  prana  also means  vital breath. According to scriptures, when we breathe, the vital force prana flows through seventy two thousand subtle channels called nadis. Irregular currents of prana (vital force) are responsible for physical ailments and disturbances of mind.

Breath control exercises of pranayama remove the blockages in nadis and purify them. Thus, the pranayama practitioner gets a healthy body with a clear mind due to cleansing of nadis in pranayama.

Is there a link between breath and the mind?

Yes, our breathing is correlated to our emotions and thoughts. Notice that when we are excited, we tend to breathe faster! Just check this fact by breathing faster and observing the response of your body and mind!

Similarly, sit with your eyes closed and breathe slowly. Now, observe your feelings and thoughts. You will feel more peaceful and calm, right? So, by controlling the breathing, we can tune our thought process leading to calmer mind.

By this simple exercise, you will be convinced that yoga is not just about fancy theory. Rather, it is a documentation of practical knowledge from our great masters to experience the Universal Self.

What are the effects of pranayama according to Maharishi? Let us discuss in the next post!

Next post: Raja Yoga- Part 10 on effects of Pranayama. Read on!

Mrityor ma amritngamaya |

Almighty! Please move us away from death and take us towards the absolute immortality!

Om Namah Shivaya ||

– Kalidas

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