Pranayam – science of breath

Pranayam – science of breath

Pranayama is one of the finest process to open blockage and energise the human mind-life-body complex.

Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels, which is common and shared by all animate and inanimate beings. All vibrating energies are prana, including electromagnetic energies like heat, light, gravity, magnetism and electricity. Vigour, power, vitality, life and spirit are all forms of prana. It is physical, mental, intellectual, sexual, spiritual and cosmic energy. Most importantly, prana is the breath and life of all beings in the universe. Our bodies come into existence with prana and die with the exit of prana.

The human body is a complex energy system with surging prana moving through the complex 72000 nadis (total length of over 750 kilometres in an adult human), being pumped by the various chakras interspersing with the marma junctions. Prana energy, in form of breath of air (made up of oxygen, nitrogen etc) is being exchanged every second by the human body with the atmosphere, using the respiratory system.

In the Indian knowledge system, life was a period of a certain number of breaths (inhalation and exhalation). For example, it was thought that each human being had a lifespan of an average of 55 crore breaths (assuming 21600 breaths per day or 15 breaths per minute and an average age of 70 years). Now, logically, if one breathed slowly – let us say 14 breaths per minute instead of 15- it would elongate one’s life, allow the body parts to function better and improve health.

Important : Therefore, Indian knowledge system, stressed on hatha yoga for exercise, with its slow breathing pattern against the aerobic system of the west. Anger, stress and a faulty life style create rapid, shallow breathing which leads to illnesses.

Therefore Rishis and Yogis have designed techniques to take in prana slowly to move and expand intentionally and rhythmically called Pranayama (ayama means to stretch, extend, expand). While, it is not the purpose of this blog to describe nor teach the various pranayamas – let me just explain the principles, concepts and most importantly CAUTION regarding the dangers of wrongly practicing pranayama.

Most of us breath in a short and shallow manner (average 500 cubic centimetres of air), instead of deep inhalation (around 3000 cc ). thus the lungs are not filled completely, leading to reduced purification of blood. Good pranayama practice, consisting of inhalation (purak), retention (kumbhaka) and exhalation (rechaka) should enable us to take deep breaths and stretch the same. It also needs to use the air by internal pranayama, to cleanse the nadis, create positive chemical changes in the body, throw out vitiated air and toxins, distribute the energy throughout the body and stimulate all systems. By extensive practice, breathing can become more efficient by manipulating its rate, depth and quality.

Various kriyas, including the Sudarshan Kriya of the Art of Living, Ramdevbaba’s pranayams, kriyas and pranayams by various teachers and yogis – most focus on the patterns of inhalation, retention and exhalation to oxidise and energise the body. But the real techniques used by ancient Masters were based on the internal pranayama of movement of air within the body and techniques and science to purify and energise oneself.

Humans have 59 kinds of vayus (force of air), which operate within the entire body. The major five vayus that operate our major systems are being described in the chart below

Other subsidiary five or upa-pranas are naga (belching), kurma (fluttering and control of eyelids), krkara (sneezing and coughing), devadatta (yawning) and dhanarhjaya (produces phlegm).

Expert yogis exercise tremendous control over these vayus or pranas and manipulate the vayus to achieve meditation and control over their bodies. Some of the methods are bandhas (closing the apertures of the body – like the nose, anus etc and circulating the air trapped within the body to energise. Some popular bandhas are jallander, uddiyan and mulabandha ), mudras (hundreds of position of parts of the body to give direction to energy to tremendously impact the body-mind – some of the powerful ones are khechari mudra, maha mudra and the yoni mudra) and yogic asanas (hundreds of physical as well as vayu healing positions).

Example :

The Bhagwad Gita says ” “In the beings I become the fire and stay in the body. United with prana and apana I digest the four kinds of food.” [Chapter 15 verse 14].

Under guidance, this is one of the most powerful internal pranayama, that can be practiced. The vayu below the centre, i.e. Apana vayu with its direction of moving lower and the Prana vayu which is travelling upwards are brought to the centre of the body and along with the vayu in the centre i.e samana vayu, all vayus gets balanced and the mind and body becomes still….one goes into an automatic state of meditation. This is extremely pleasant and natural.

Pranayama is a very powerful process and one should only do pranayama under guidance from real yogis. Hence this knowledge can never be acquired in exchange of money from mathas, missions and commercial teachers. Because everyone is unique, doing a general pranayama just by watching others or seeing on TV, to my mind, has great element of danger. I tried to do the same with terrible repercussions. The sastras have forbidden to practice of pulling in air forcefully by constricting the nose. Sankara in the Rigveda expresses that more harm than health can result due to faulty practices like the above, because anything unnatural and unscientific will create trouble. The pranayama that happens naturally, is pleasant and improves external and internal energy is the correct one.

A good teacher would teach you the correct pranayama practice. A master would automatically transform you, by making your body do automatic, natural pranayama. My breathing pattern has automatically slowed down substantially, leading to calmness and a cool composure.

Article by deepak

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