What is Pranayama? – Prashant J Yoga, Yoga Vidya School
When we talk or hear about Pranayama, often this type of answers come to us. Pranayama is a process of controlling the breath or the regulation of breath or else we hear that Pranayama is the science of breath which is partially true. But this is not a complete definition of it. What do you think about the science which was given to us more than 4000 years ago would talk about only Breath? –NO !
It is beyond the Breath and beyond all the popular definitions available online.
Let me take you deeper in the Pranayama system to undertsand its deeper meaning.
First, let’s understand the simplest meaning of word Pranayama.
Word pranayama consist with two different explanation one is gross and another is subtle and can be explained with two different ways
1 - Prana and Yama
2- Prana and Ayama
Where 'Pran'a is life force, 'Yama' is controlling, 'Ayama' is expansion or liberation.
Many books refer the meaning of Pranayama as ‘controlling the life force.’
Which is not incorrect- As I say.
But in the yogic system when we use word ‘control’ It still refers to gross forms. So, when we say controlling, it means the breath control. Which is a different practice and as per some yogic texts it is considered as SwaraYog. So the first meaning of ‘Prana’ and ‘Yama’ refers to controlling the breath, regulation of breath or manipulation of breath.
When you take another meaning from the word ‘Prana’ and ‘Ayama,’ here word ‘Ayama’means expansion. According to it, the meaning of Pranayama is expansion of life force,or we can say liberation of energy which is quite subtler.
If you want to add both the meanings of Pranayama together and want to create a complete definition, it will bePranayama is the state of Pranic(life force) liberation by controlling, regulating and manipulating the breath.
But because this word ‘Pranayam’ is misunderstood by many modern practitioners. Therefore, in today’s time breath control has become popular meaning of Pranayama. We need to understand here about one thing. Breath is only a tool for Pranayama like other tools such as Meditation, Concentration and Asana.
But because the breath is the only tool which can be experienced with conscious mind and subconscious mind, so it is the most effective tool for mind to concentrate. Therefore, breath was chosen for Pranic Practices. But it doesn’t mean that there are no other ways or tools through which we can work with Prana. Even Asana can become a mediator for Pranic practice, but because it is more gross practice so it gets difficult for mind to experience the subtle vibrations. And if you talk about Meditation, it also can become an effective tool for energy expansion. But Meditation demands strong discipline, controlled body, and strong concentration. This makes it challenging for many practitioners to control, regulate and manipulate the breath while meditation.
Therefore, in the end yogis chose breath as the major medium for pranic expansion. Breath is a bridge between conscious, subconscious and unconscious state. In Pranayama first we become master over the breath and then become an engineer of this bridge, understand the deep mechanism and functioning of this bridge and later experience its subtle compositions.
After having deep control and understanding its origin, we can experience the Pranic forces.
There are three stages of pranayama practice:
In the first stage of Pranayama, we purify the physical body and Pranic body. Where we work with purification of the energy channels. There are more than 72,000 energy channels present in our body, which carries the intense flow of prana throughout the body. Due to the blockages in these energy channels, we experience the numerous sufferings, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Life becomes limited instead of abundance. At this stage, we mostly focus on opening of the blockages to enable the prana can freely or smoothly travel through these energy channels.
During the second stage, we work on the energy diversion. A practitioner starts experiencing the control over the pranic flow and can divert the flow with his own will for manifestation. Desires can also be manifested in this stage. At this point, the life is full of abundance, full of prosperity, full of achievements, without any barriers left in external world, but still there are limitation for spiritual growth.
Third stage of Pranayama is the liberation stage. Prana becomes more free at this stage, and no more limited to any boundaries. No more limited to one form of existence, here Prana is expanded and work as a healing power. In this stage, there are no desires left for manifestation. Now there is only merging. This stage also considers as pranic freedom. Now a practitioner is not dependent on food which is one of the mediators of prana. Because the practitioner is now capable to receive the prana directly from the source. The consumption of food becomes less and less.
Once you have worked on these three stages of Pranayama, you experience the death of chronic forces.
For an introduction to real Pranayama practice, you can start with my Free Breath Detox Course Online or for deeper experiences of complete Pranayama and Yoga practices, one can join our 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India.