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The word "prana" means life force and is believed to be the vital energy or life force that flows throughout the body. This also serves as the link between the consciousness and the mind.

"... Once the breath is still, your mind is still as well..."

It is this life force that exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. Although closely related to the air we breathe, prana is more subtle than air or oxygen.

Therefore, pranayama is considered to be a form of breath regulation aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs and retaining carbon dioxide in the blood cells a little longer, and can be viewed as voluntary hypoventilation (breathing at a slower rate).

Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana in the nadis or energy channels of the pranamaya kosha or energy body.

There are eight pranayama practices accessible to the aspiring yogi which differ according to how kumbhaka (breath retention) is incorporated into the practice.

Pranayama differs from cleansing breaths in that the practitioner incorporates retentions, or locks, into their practice. In the absence of the retention, one is practicing breathing or cleansing exercises (kriya).

The pranayama practitioner, uses the breath in one of four different aspects:

  1. Pooraka or inhalation
  2. Rechaka or exhalation
  3. Antar kumbhaka or internal breath retention
  4. Bahir kumbhaka or external breath retention

Notice that the last two aspects are kumbhaka, breath retentions (or locks).

The eight different practices of pranayama involve various techniques which I will elaborate upon in future posts.

Until then, experience practicing this technique:

  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position, either cross-legged on a mat, or in a high-backed chair, palms on the knees or thighs.
  2. Lengthen the spine, ground through your sit bones and observe the inhale and exhale through the nostrils.
  3. Inhale for a 4 count, hold for 7 count and exhale for a 7 count.
  4. Repeat step 3 at least 9 more times.

How did you do? Let me know by posting a comment in the Comment box.

Written by Mimi Adeogba, DN, Ph.D.

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Pranayama, loosely translated, means breathing techniques; and, is one of the eight limbs of yoga that sage, Patanjali, explains in the Yoga Sutras, written circa 150 BC.

Pranayama is comprised of two root words: prana (vital energy or life force) and ayama (extension or expansion). Pranayama, therefore, means to extend the vital energy.

Pranayama provides a way to activate the life force and expand it beyond one’s normal limitations to attain a higher state of vibration.

Pranayama can be described as a method of voluntary hypoventilation, due to a series of breath retentions, known as kumbhaka, which allows us to normalize our breathing by normalizing the oxygen supplied to brain cells.

Slow, rhythmic and diaphragmatic breath is fundamental to balancing overall well-being. Four additional reasons to practice pranayama are:

  1. Practicing pranayama, along with asana (postures), mudra (positions or gestures which represent the psyche), and bandha (locks for channeling energy), results in a potent means of restoring and maintaining physical and mental health.
  2. Practicing pranayama regularly, along with asanashatkarma (cleansing practices), meditation and yoga nidra (yogic sleep), releases muscular knots which can occur anywhere in the body. For example, cervical spondylitis is tightness of the neck, which is relieved with the consistent steady practice of pranayama. Muscle knots such as these may lead to reduced mobility due to muscle stiffness. The pain or soreness experienced may linger for quite a while unless intervention – such as massage, marma point therapy, acupressure, chiropractic adjustment – is taken.
  3. Practicing pranayama eliminates anger and cools down a heated brain. Heated brain conditions are observed in cases of fever, headache, migraines, worry, anxiety, unexplained/irrational fear.
  4. Pranayama practice is also known to relieve sore throat and tonsillitis, and has the added benefit of improving the quality and tone of one’s voice.

When learning these ancient yogic practices, begin with siting in a comfortable, seated position on the floor. If sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position is not attainable, sit in a chair with an up-right back.

Close the eyes and bring the awareness inside. Observe the thoughts with non-attachment. Observe a slow, rhythmic and diaphragmatic breath (breath into the diaphragm, place the palm on the belly and feel it expand into your palm and relax underneath your palm). Inhale and the exhale through the nostrils.

This steady, rhythmic breathing pattern is important for activating the frontal cortex, and bringing the nervous system under the parasympathetic tone (rest and relaxation); as well as bringing awareness inside the body and disconnecting from external sensory stimulations of the environment.

There are eight types of pranayama practices discussed in Hatha Yoga Pradipika to control one’s breathing. Which I will discuss further in future posts.

“When the breath wanders [i.e., is irregular] the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Written by Mimi Adeogba, DN, Ph.D.