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Pranayama - Blissful Yogic Breathing Techniques

Updated: Feb 21

Introduction - What is Pranayama?

Prana is Vital or Sentient Energy and Yama is Control or Expansion. Hence, Pranayama is the controlled expansion of the life force. The Universe is Prana. Life is Prana. Consciousness is Prana. This is the View that must be held on to while undertaking the bliss-inducing Pranayama techniques.

Both the West and much of the East views yogic techniques such as Asanas and Pranayama through the lens of physical fitness. Stress reduction, strengthening, flexibility, anxiety relief are undoubtedly valuable outcomes, and often an entry point for many. However, authentic yoga encompasses elements beyond the immediately apparent and trendy. Undiluted yogic practices practices, particularly integrated Pranayama Kriyas, reach far beyond the physical, delving into the mind-breath-spirit connection.

In this article we will delve into the conscious modulation and expansion of breath force and understand its potential for profound inner revelation and transformation.

Pranayama - Yogic Breathing Technique of Anulom Vilom
Nadi-Shodhan Pranayama

Pranayama - The Mind and Breath Connection

We must understand very clearly what it means to have control over Prana. Having control over Prana is having control over our lives. Why? Because our lives are based on our cognition of the world around us and our reaction to such cognition. All cognition comes from the mind.

Prana and mind are reflections of each other in the body, like an inseparable duo in a constant 'feedback loop'. Restless breathing signifies a restless mind, while slow long breaths a calm mind. Most of us unknowingly perpetuate chaos through unconsciously agitated breathing.

A regular practice of Pranayama Kriyas leads to control over Prana, which is also control over the mind. A simple act of directing focus to the sensation of prana movements in different parts of the body breaks the pattern of getting lost in thought streams and cultivates mindfulness.

The mind is much harder to control than the breath. Since Prana is intimately tied to respiration, the Pranayama techniques form the bedrock for the higher mind-control and expansion practices that follow. For example, by cultivating conscious awareness of the breath, we practice returning the mind to 'Zero-Point" again and again. This tethers our wandering awareness to a tangible anchor, fostering effortless focus - a valuable skill for both mundane tasks and deeper meditative states.

The Multi-leveled Benefits of Pranayama

To better the understand the techniques and the 3 Stages of an intense Pranayama Practice, we recommend our Online Yoga Module on Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

If you're interested in an advanced pranayama theory and techniques module, then we would recommend the following module.

The benefits of Pranayama and the various Pranayama Techniques can be observed on the following levels - 1. Physical Plane (Annamaya Kosha) 2. Energy Plane (Pranayama Kosha) 3. Mental Plane (Manomaya Kosha) 4. Intuitive and Spiritual Plane (Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya Kosha) 1. Physical Benefits of Pranayama

Can you imagine holding your breath for 10 minutes?  Deep-sea apnea divers achieve such feats through breathing techniques similar to those found in yogic pranayama kriyas.  This showcases the untapped potential of our lungs and the power of conscious breathing for remarkable physical benefits. Pranayama kriyas increase lung capacity by strengthening unseen diaphragmatic muscles and which optimizes lung utilization. At a cellular level, the practices fuels energy production within mitochondria, promoting overall cellular health. [Reference: Buteyko K.P., (2000). Buteyko Method and Medicine.]

Moreover, deep breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama) and Kapaalabhati Pranayama promote antioxidant activity. This counters cellular damage caused by rogue free radicals. [Reference: Bhattacharya, SK et al. (2002). Effect of yoga on oxidative stress.]

Various studies have demonstrated a significant effect on cardiorespiratory functions, in patients with bronchial asthma, with the improvement of pulse rate, systolic blood pressure, and respiratory function measurements. [Reference: Exploring the Therapeutic Benefits of Pranayama (Yogic Breathing):]

2. Benefits of Pranayama on the Energy Plane

Prana - sentient life force, doesn't just nourish us physically. It moves through subtle channels or nadis, which is an intricate network interweaving the mind and body.

Picture nadis as energetic roadways, some broad and expansive while others narrow and meandering. Over time, cognitive and emotional biases, fallacies, and non-virtuous habit patterns create traffic jams along these routes.

Pranayama kriyas work by modulating the flow of Prana within these nadis, thereby clearing these nadis and optimizing prana flow within them. Consequently, one experiences surging vitality surpassing what physical fitness regimes can offer. This translates as less lethargy and heightened enthusiasm for life.

3. Benefits of Prana on the Mental Plane

As prana flows freely, a harmonizing effect takes place. The nervous system and the endocrine system begins to communicate efficiently, reducing internal friction.  Manifestations may include emotional regulation, a calmer mind less prone to knee-jerk reactions, and greater balance in your being. Parasympathetic nervous system is activated, triggering the body's relaxation response, easing anxiety and tension. This fosters prudent decision-making made with foresight, prioritizing long-term goals and values over immediate impulses. 4. Spiritual Benefits of Pranayama Kriyas As the practice quietens the monkey mind, glimpses of stillness between thoughts give access to deeper clarity and intuitive wisdom.

Nitya abhyasa or consistent unbroken practice builds a powerful 'mental muscle' of self-discipline and awareness, paving the way for advanced Pratyahara and Dharana practices and a more willful way of being.

The 4 Types of Pranayama

  1. Sensitization or Familiarization

  2. Harmonization

  3. Amplification

  4. Unified Concentration

as concerns Prana.

So, the practices are also four-fold, with the initial practices being aimed at the cognition of internal and subtle internal processes. Cognition can be achieved best and quickest, with the aid of visualization. Therefore visualization of a physical nature becomes the first part of the Sensitization practices.

Harmonization occurs when the cognized prana is seen in its various sub-divisions along with their psycho-motor functionality. Just by seeing these internally, balance is brought about in them, through the process of Prana-channel purification. The pranayama techniques practiced for harmonization are Chandra and Surya Bhedana.

Thirdly, once Harmony has been achieved and the individual is prepared to evolve willfully, the practices of vitalization begin, where Prana is taken in from the ambient Universe all around and acting like a battery, we start to build up Prana power, this being the stage of Amplification. Kapalabhati and Bhastrika are the Pranayama Techniques used for Amlification of Prana.

Lastly comes the stage of Kevala Kumbhaka or non-breathing where due to the Pranic power of Unified Concentrated Prana, the body ceases all breathing automatically, being in a state of physical stasis but with the consciousness projected into higher planes of Being. The Unified Prana Power flows into the only Nadi that can take their unified power, that Nadi being termed the Sushumna.

Chandra and Surya Bhedana, Anuloma Viloma, Hatha Prana Kriya which includes Bhastrika and concentrative pranayama practices such as Brahmari are examples of the Four stages mentioned above respectively.

Conclusion: Immortality and Pranayama

The experience of heaven and hell is in the mind. And mind is Prana. And so, control over Prana is literally taking your own destiny into your own hands. Total accountability. And with complete responsibility comes complete rights. These rights are not the meager ‘human rights’ condescendingly granted by a government, ironically elected by the people themselves, to the people. These are the Universal Rights in wait for any sentient intelligence that takes the voluntary decision to evolve. These are the rights such as the capacity for aesthetically derived pleasure, capacity for pure love, capacity to be free from prejudice, capacity to be ultimately non-relational and at the source of all, the capacity to never cease being, immortality outside the body, transcendence if one wills. These are the rights that one attains to, with control over Prana through Pranayama techniques.

Yoga does not occur without Pranayama. With Yoga comes Immortality. Life cannot exist without Prana. And therefore, before the Prana ceases in the living body, through Pranayama, one must strive for the realization of non-mortality, thereby crossing over that final all-consuming defender of Transcendence, Fear.

Content and Image ©AryaMarga Society

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