Breathing & Pranayama
Pranayama is made out of two Sanskrit words – Prana refers to “cosmic energy or life force” and ayama refers to “expanding, prolonging, restraining, extending & stretching”. Prana and breath are two different aspects but naturally associated. While breathing is physical process, pranic process is subtle in nature and not physically seen. Pranayama is not mere breathing exercise but activate as well as regulate the bioplasmic or life energy and make oneself more sensitive to vibrations in the cosmos and within. It is a method of refining the make-up of one’s psychic energy network (pranic body), and in turn one’s physical body and mind.
Dr Harold Burr established in 1935 that all organisms are enveloped by an energy or electrodynamic field (pranic body). Electrocardiogram (ECG) and electroencephalograph (EEG) tests, measure the electromagnetic activity of the heart and brain, respectively. When electromagnetic activity ceases, life ceases. Electromagnetic energy controls our chemistry. Our bodies naturally conduct electricity. In fact, every organ and cell in the human body has its own field. The magnetic field produces electrical currents. Most electrical activity in vertebrates and invertebrates occurs at extremely low frequencies (ELF), with characteristic maxima below 50 Hz. Disruption of this energy in cells causes impaired cell metabolism.
When an organism was photographed with Kirlian high frequency photography technique (developed in Russia), strange and complex patterns of light are seen to pervade and are emitted from the object. This energy was not found to be electrical or heat or magnetic. The energy has been termed as bioplasmic energy. The change in patterns of bioplasmic energy indicates that a disease will occur before it actually happens. Kirlian photography showed that mental or emotional stress tends to blur the bioluminescence surrounding the organism. The emotional and mental problems are reflected in the physical body via the pranic body as well as the nervous system.
The electromagnetic field created by the agitated or relaxed people impacts the other people in their company at subconscious level. The good or bad health of individuals also influences the patterns, which indicates just how sensitive we are to bad health of others. While investigating with the technique on an organism who died, it was found that as life slowly oozed out of the organism, the intensity and orderliness of the bioplasmic body slowly reduced. Eventually, the bioluminescence disappeared completely. Researchers in Canada have artificially created energy waves which cause different responses in individuals or group of people and drastically changed their mood.
As per modern science, inhalation of oxygen reaches at cell level and oxidation of glucose takes place in mitochondria (present in the cytoplasm of all eukaryotic cells). Mitochondria are power-houses of the body which provides chemical energy or bioplasmic energy. This bioplasmic energy or prana acts as physical energy, as mental energy, as intellectual energy, sexual energy, spiritual energy and cosmic energy. It is prime mover of all activities. This prana is drawn from cosmic source i.e., from sun & circulating space. Prana is consciously infused into the body; this results in the recharging of organs, tissues and cells. Prana (not breath) is sum total of the cosmic energy. The Prana is vital force that is manifesting as the actions of the body, as the nerve currents. Prana is in constant contact of consciousness. It is said that as long as the breath is still, prana is still, and hence consciousness is still. Hence, the practice of pranayama stabilizes energy and consciousness.
Pranayama stops wastage of vital energy, brings internal purification, draws the mind inwards and connects to deeper levels of consciousness. Pranayama refreshes and energizes the brain, calms the mind, removes stress, negativity and makes all the systems function well. In Yoga Chudamani Upanishad, it is said there is no discipline higher than pranayama. Pranayama is not only an instrument to steady the mind, but also the gateway to concentration & Dharna.
1. Breathing is the physical process of exchanging gases between the cells and the environment. It is both voluntary and non-voluntary.
2. Shallow breathing leads to insufficient oxygen in body. Most people while sitting breathe less than half a litre of air which is one-eighth of full capacity (4 litres).
3. Deep breathing fills the lungs to greater extent and removes stagnant air. During yogic or deep breathing, breathing combines all the three modes of breathing viz. abdominal breathing associated with movement of diaphragm & outer abdominal wall; middle breathing associated with muscular contraction & expansion of ribcage and upper breathing which involves rising of shoulders & collar bones. Ten minutes of yogic breathing daily can work wonders.
4. Breathing rate is directly related to emotions. The patterns of breathing change with emotional status of the mind. Rapid and irregular breathing signifies tension in mind. The breath is jerky during anger, momentarily ceases during periods of fear, gasps during amazement, chokes during sadness, and slow, deep and rhythmical breathing indicates calmness and wellbeing.
5. Ancient Hindu scientists found that the span of life is inversely proportional to the rate of breathing. Generally, 15 breathes are taken in a minute (i.e., 21,600 breaths per day taking the life to 120 years) which reduces due to poor living habits. However, during pranayama, the rate is slowed down to 5 breaths per minutes thereby extending the life period.
6. Animals which breathe slowly such as elephants, snakes, tortoises etc., epitomize calmness, whereas fast breathing animals such as birds, dogs, cats and rabbits appear to live a much more stressfully. Animals which breathe slowly are renowned for their longevity. Sea turtle breathes at a rate of 4-5 respirations in a minute and lives to an average age of more than 300 years.
7. While it is difficult to control the mind and emotions directly, they can be mastered indirectly by using the breath. Thus, breathing is an important bridge between the mind and the body and can influence them both, as proven in many scientific studies. By rhythmical breathing, it brings a tendency of all the molecules in the body to move in the same direction. It tends to bring a rhythmic action in the body, and helps us, through the respiratory centre, to control the other centres.
8. The alternate breathing helps to unlock the channels through which prana flows. The flow of prana through ida nadi and pingala nadi is balanced. Balancing the flows of breath in the two nostrils is that the ida and pingala flows are simultaneously equalized.
1. When prana fluctuates than the mind also fluctuates; when the prana becomes steady then mind also becomes steady. Pranayama induces mental tranquillity.
2. Pranayama is concerned with removing congestion in the psychic energy channels (pranic passages, nadis). As per ancient yogic scriptures, there are seventy-two thousand nadis. Of these nadis, there are three nadis viz. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna, which are most important. The three energy channels pass through spine and connects the perineum and brain. Ida energy channel emanates from left side of mooladhara chakra near perineum, passes through spine on left side and crosses on right side at ajna chakra in brain. Pingala emanates from right side of mooladhara chakra and crosses on left side at ajna chakra in brain.
3. The fluctuation of prana depends on nature of physical and mental activities. People with extroverted temperament accomplish physical work with more success. People with introverted temperament perform mental work better. During physical work, heat is generated and there is greater flow through right nostril. During mental activity, there is greater flow through left nostril. Under ideal circumstances, the flow in each nostril should be dominant for a total of about twelve hours over each daily cycle of 24 hours. Hence, temperament needs to be balanced.
4. During inhalation the flows of air through both nostrils meet at appoint at the centre of the eyebrows; and during exhalation the air flows diverse from the centre of the eyebrows. One may learn to breathe through both nostrils equally, bringing about an integration and synthesis of the two major aspects of our personality. When this is done, it said that the energy of the breath flows through the central shushumna nadi, producing a feeling of well-being, serenity and profound understanding. This is the ideal state for practice of meditation.
Components of Pranayama:
Pranayama is the process of prolongation of inhalation, retention and exhalation of the prana in the specific manner. Pranayama enlarges the lungs capacity which improves oxygen absorption. Components of Pranayama are:
1. Inhalation (Poorka)
2. Exhalation (Rechaka)
3. Retention of breath after inhalation (Antaranga Kumbhaka)
4. Retention of breath after exhalation (Bahiranga Kumbhaka)
The most important part of higher pranayama practices is Kumbhaka. In advanced techniques of pranayama, the air pressure in lungs becomes equivalent to atmospheric pressure leading to cessation of respiration. If antara kumbhaka establishes consecration of the seer, bahya kumhaka frees one from the four aims of life. During pranayama, it is suggested - inhalation – 4 times; retention – 14 times and exhalation – 8 times. But it may differ from one type of pranayama to another and based on guidance of spiritual teacher.
Kevala Kumbhaka - Kevala means ‘only’, Kumbhaka means ‘retention’. Kevala and Kaivalya means that experience which is beyond duality. The Kumbhakas are performed in order to induce the spontaneous occurrence of Kevala Kumbhaka, where one becomes perfectly receptive to the inflows of higher consciousness. The bandhas (Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Moola) are powerful techniques of inducing Kevala Kumbhaka.
Types & Practice of Pranayama:
Pranayama may be practised in Sukhasana, Ardha Padmasana, Pradmasana or Sidhasana. Brahmamuhurt or Amritavela (3.30 AM to 5.30 AM) is the best time for practicing Pranayama. Different types of pranayama have beneficial impact on internal organs such as digestive system, circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system etc. Pranayama has different forms as under -
Benefits of practicing Pranayama on a regular basis: