Breathe Better, Live Better
The Secret of Pranayama
Pranayama is the system of breathing techniques for the expansion of vital energy in the body. Pran means “breath” and ayam means “to control.” Yogic theory states that Pranayama is twenty times more beneficial than Yogic postures. However, in the practice of Yoga in the western world, the importance of Pranayama is often minimalized and ignored due to lack of awareness of its importance.
When we breathe, millions of pores in our lungs absorb the oxygen, from the incoming breath, and transfer it into the blood stream. The blood then carries the oxygen through a network of millions of miles of arteries to each cell in our body. There, the oxygen is utilized in the trillions of metabolic reactions within each cell. The waste product of these metabolic reactions, the carbon dioxide, is then carried by the reverse stream of blood. In the lungs, it is filtered out from the blood and exhaled into the atmosphere as the outgoing breath. However, medical science informs us that most people use only twenty-five percent of their lung capacity during normal breathing. Major segments of their lungs remain inactive, making them prone to multifarious ailments, such as asthma, tuberculosis, etc. Besides, the bodily cells are deprived of an abundant supply oxygen that is necessary for their continued survival.
Most people do shallow breathing either because they do not know about the significance of deep breathing or because they are always in a rush. During average breathing, only about 20 million pores in the lungs get oxygen, whereas the remaining 53 million pores are deprived of fresh oxygen. Regularly performing Pranayama oxygenates all the tissues, ligaments, organs, and muscles of the physical body. It also alleviates mental afflictions, like excitement, anxiety, fear, anger, disappointment, and lasciviousness. The daily performance of Pranayama aids in the development of good memory power, awareness, and discrimination, which aid to the cultivation of spirituality in life.
According to the Yogic texts, Pran does not refer merely to oxygen alone. Pran is a vital energy, subtler than oxygen, pervading all of creation. It is pran that gives life and vitality to all the creatures of this cosmos, and everything that happens in the body is energized by pran. Therefore, Pranayama is not only breathing in and breathing out. Rather, it is a way of tapping into the rich source of the vitalenergy present in the atmosphere, for enhancing our physical and mental health.
Our lifestyle deeply affects the flow of pranic energy within our body. Our actions, sleep, diet, thought, senses, etc. all impact the level of our vital energy. An irregular and indiscriminate lifestyle depletes the pran, and eventually leads to blockages in the flow of the life force in the body. This is the reason why people feel drained from time to time. The lessening of the vital pranic energy also leads to various ailments in the organs and muscles. The Yogic technique of Pranayamaincludes various breathing techniques that help in the expansion of the body’s vital energy. Some of the popular Pranayamaas are Bhastrika, Nadi Shodhan, Kapal Bhati, Bhramari, and Ujjayi. These also balance the five types of pran in the body—pran, apan, vyan, saman, udan. One can achieve the full effects of Pranayama only if it is done after some Yogic postures.
The benefits of Pranayam go beyond the physical level. Pran and the mind are closely related. We can observe that when we are absorbed in deep thinking, our breathing slows down naturally. Conversely, when we are agitated and tense, our breathing becomes unnatural and faster than normal. Occasionally, when we are in deep sorrow, our breathing becomes irregular and broken. This clearly illustrates that the breathing process and the mind are deeply interlinked. In fact, pran and the mind are so closely related that one cannot function in isolation from the other. Consequently, through the practice of Pranayama, an aspirant can gain a handle on controlling the mind.
The Hatha Yog Pradeepika, the ancient scripture on Yoga, mentions that Pranayama helps in freeing the mind from untruthfulness, ignorance and other sorrowful and painful experiences of both body and mind. The fluctuating mind is brought into a specific point of focus by controlling breathing through Pranayama. Even physically, the functions of the brain cells improve in such a way that both memory and rationality grow wonderfully. Thus, the ancient science of Pranayama is a very special boon to humankind that bestows innumerable physical and spiritual benefits.
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