Breathing is a vital process that starts at the time of birth and ends at the time of death. Many people consider pranayama to be a physical practice of breath control, but this not so. The main effects of pranayama manifest in the nervous system and in pranamaya kosha (subtle psychic body) and the control of breath is only the means of manipulating these finer processes. The breath is known as ‘Thread of life’ and depending on its actions the entire life process is refined, balanced, or else thrown out of proper order.
Siva Samhita Says:
There is a brilliant lotus in the heart decorated with twelve petals with brilliant signs. It is ornamented with twelve letters ka to tha.
There lives PRANA, decorated with various desires, together with its past karma, which has no beginning, and it is infused with its egoism.
Due to various modificationsprana has various names. PRANA, APANA, SAMANA, UDANA, VYANA, NAGA, KURMA, KRKARA, DEVADATTA, DHANANJAYA.
Out of these 10 first five are main ones. Among these five prana and apana are super most important.
What is Pranayama?
The word Pranayama is a combination of two words; ‘prana’ and ‘ayama’. Prana again combination of two syllables, pra and na. Prana denotes constancy; it is a force in constant motion. Pranayama is not merely breath control, but a technique through which the quality of prana in the body is activated to a higher frequency.
In yogic terminology, it is said that whatever is manifest is the sthula Roopa (gross form) of the subtle, cosmic energy, known as prana. In yoga and tantra there is an eternal truth: the basis of existence depends on two forces, Shiva and Shakti, or consciousness and energy. Ultimately they are not two forces but one; Shakti or prana is the creative force of consciousness or Shiva.
(According to the Hatha Yoga Prdeepika)
तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वास्योर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः ॥४९॥
tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsyor-gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ ॥49॥
Regulation of breath or the control of Prana is the stoppage of inhalation and exhalation, which follows after securing that steadiness of posture or seat, Asana. Thus is Pranayama defined in Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Chapter II-49. In simple words, sage Patanjali says pranayama as the gap between inhalation and exhalation.
(According to the Bhagavad Gita)
अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे | प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणा:
apāne juhvati prāṇaṁ prāṇe ’pānaṁ tathāpare
prāṇāpāna-gatī ruddhvā prāṇāyāma-parāyaṇāḥ ॥29॥
Others offer Prana (outgoing breath) in Apana (incoming breath) and Apana in Prana, restraining the passage of Prana and Apana, absorbed in Pranayama. Pranayama is a precious Yajna (sacrifice). Some practice the kind of Pranayama called Puraka (filling in). Some practice the kind of Pranayama called Rechaka (emptying). Some are engaged in the practice of Pranayama called Kumbhaka, by impeding the outward passage of air, through the nostrils and the mouth, and by impeding the inward passage of the air, in the opposite direction.
(According To Sri Sankaracharya)
“Pranayama is the control of all life-forces by realizing naught but Brahman in all things as the mind,” etc.
“The negation of the Universe is the outgoing breath. The thought: ‘I am Brahman’ itself is called the incoming breath. The permanence of that thought thereafter is the restrained breath. This is the Pranayama of the wise, while the pressing of the nose is only for the unknowing.” (Aparokshanubhuti, 118-120).
Pranayama is regarded lengthy or subtle according to its three components, the external, the internal and the steady; the retention processes are modified by the regulations of space, time and number.
Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blowpipe, so also the Yogic student removes the impurities of the body and the Indriyas by blowing his lungs, i.e., by practicing Pranayama.
The chief aim of Pranayama is to unite the Prana with the Apana and take the united Pranapana slowly towards the head. The effect or fruit of Pranayama is Udghata or awakening of the sleeping Kundalini.
Science of Pranayama:
The air drawn in to the lungs by the action of diaphragm. When it expands, the sides of the chest and lungs in increased and the outside air rushes in to the vacuum thus created. The chest and lungs contract, when diaphragm relaxes and the air are expelled from the lungs.
There are two nerve currents one on either side of the spinal column; Ida and Pingala. One controls left nostrils and another right nostril, one is cooling and other is heating, one controls right hemisphere of brain and other left hemisphere of brain. Breath flows through left nostril for 1 hour and then through right nostril for one hour. When the prana flows through Sushumna, the serpent power or sleeping Sakti, situated at the back of the anus, which is attached to spinal column. Sadhaka becomes dead to the gross world and enters Samadhi.
What is Prana?
“He who knows Prana knows Vedas” is the important declaration of the Srutis. You will find in Vedanta Sutras: “For the same reason, breath is Brahman.” Prana is the sum total of all energy that is manifest in the universe.
In Upanishads, Prana vayu is also called the “in breath” apana the “out breath”, Samana the “middle breath”, and Udana the “up breath”. Prana vayu is inhalation, apana exhalation, Samana the time between inhalation and exhalation, and Udana, the extension of Samana.
According to Maitri Upanishad:
Samana is the higher form of Vyana and between them is the production of Udana. That which brings up or carries down what has been drunk or eaten is Udana.”
Naga, Kurma, Krikara, Devadatta and Dhananjaya are the five sub-Prana.
शुद्धमेति यदा सर्वं नाडी-छक्रं मलाकुलम |
तदैव जायते योगी पराण-संग्रहणे कष्हमः || ५ ||
śuddhameti yadā sarvaṃ nāḍī-chakraṃ malākulam |
tadaiva jāyate yoghī prāṇa-saṃghrahaṇe kṣhamaḥ || 5 ||
When the whole system of nadis, which is full of impurities, is cleaned, then the Yogi becomes able to control the Prana.
If our perception were finely attuned to the pranic body, we would see a light body in which there were thousands of fine, wire like structures are the nadis. Nadi is channel or flow of energy (prana). Nadis are astral tubes made up of astral matter that carry Pranic currents. The astral eyes can see them only. They are not the nerves. The Goraksha satarka says there are 72,000 nadis in number. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are the important ones. Sushumna is the most important of all.
Ida and Pingala
There are the two nerve-currents one on either side of the spinal column. The left one is called Ida and the right is known as Pingala. These are Nadis. Tentatively, some take these as the right and the left sympathetic cords, but they are subtle tubes that carry Prana. The Moon moves in the Ida and the Sun in the Pingala. Ida is cooling. Pingala is heating. Ida flows through the left nostril and the Pingala through the right nostril. The breath flows through the right nostril for one hour and then through the left nostril for one hour. Man is busily engaged in worldly activities, when the breath flows through Ida and Pingala. When Sushumna operates, he becomes dead to the world, and enters into Samadhi. A Yogi tries his level best to make the Prana run in the Sushumna Nadi, which is known as the central Brahman Nadi also. On the left of Sushumna is situated Ida and on the right is Pingala. The moon is of the nature of Tamas and the sun is that of the Rajas. The poison share is of the sun and the nectar is of the moon. Ida and Pingala indicate time. Sushumna is the consumer of time.
Sushumna is the most important of all the Nadis. It is the sustainer of the universe and the path of the universe and the path of salvation. Situated at the back of the anus, it is attached to the spinal column and extends to the Brahmarandhra of the head and is invisible and subtle. The real work of a Yogi begins when Sushumna begins to function. Sushumna runs along the Centre of the spinal cord or spinal column. Above the genital organs and below the navel is the Kanda, of the shape of a bird’s egg. There arise from it all the Nadis 72,000 in number. Of these, seventy-two are common and generally known. Of those the chief ones are ten and they carry the Prana. Ida, Pingala, Sushumna, Gandhari, Hastijihva, Pusa, Yusasvini, Alambusa, Kuhuh and Sankhini are said to be the ten important Nadis. The Yogis should have knowledge of the Nadis and the Chakras. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are said to carry Prana and have Moon, Sun and Agni as their Devatas. When Prana moves in Sushumna, sit for meditation. You will have deep Dhyana. If the coiled-up energy, Kundalini, passes up along the Sushumna Nadi and is taken up from Chakra to Chakra the Yogi gets different sorts of experiences, powers and Ananda.
Kundalini is the serpent power or sleeping Shakti, that has 3 1/2 coils with face downwards, in the Muladhara Chakra, at the base of the spine. No Samadhi is possible without its being awakened. The practice of Kumbhaka in Pranayama produces heat and thereby Kundalini is awakened and passes upwards along the Sushumna Nadi. The Yogic practitioner experiences various visions. Then the Kundalini passes along the Six Chakras and eventually gets united with Lord Siva, seated on the Sahasrara or thousand-petalled lotus, at the crown of the head. Nirvikalpa Samadhi ensues now and the Yogi gets liberation and all the divine Aishvaryas. One should practice control of breath with a concentration of mind. The awakened Kundalini that is taken up to Manipura Chakra may drop down again to Muladhara. It has to be raised again with effort. One should become perfectly desireless and should be full of Vairagya before he attempts to awaken Kundalini.
Kundalini is like a thread and is resplendent. When it is awakened it hisses like a serpent beaten with a stick and enters the hole of Sushumna. When it travels from Chakra to Chakra, layer after layer of the mind becomes open and the Yogi acquires various Siddhis (psychic powers).
Most widely popularized Pranayama techniques along with detailed instructions, benefits and contraindications.
Essentials before commencing practice of PRANAYAMA:
One should find right place and time.
Eat in moderation.
Purification of Nadis.
Purification of Nadis:Two types:
Samanu(performed with Bija mantra like OM) and Nirmanu (without bija mantra)
PracticeNadishuddhi (detailed explanation in Nadishuddi technique) techniques 20 times with Kumbhaka for 4 times in a day; Early morning, middle of the day (noon), at sunset, at mid night. When nadis are purified impurities are destroyed. Then practitioner enters ARAMBHA (state of beginning) Avastha. (4 states Arambha, Ghata:state of realization of the self, Parichaya:state of knowledge, Nispatti: state of liberation.)
Signs of Purified NADI’S:
Emitting a nice scent appearing beautiful.
Voice becomes melodious, sweet and lovely.
Strong digestive power.
Enjoyment of all things.
Great courage and strength.
A wise yogi should not practice pranayama right after eating or when he is hungry. During the practice first, he should take some milk and butter.
Signs of perfection in Pranayama Practice:
The body perspires
Trembles in second
Starts jumping like a frog in third.
When the greater practice is continued after that practitioner becomes Gaganacara (TRAVELER IN THE AIR)
Pranayama and meditation should performed using these main sitting postures: