Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which consists of prana and ayama. Prana means self-energizing life forces and ayama means extension. Pranayama may be defined as expansion and control of prana through various yogic techniques. In a simple way, we can say that pranayama is a combination of systematic exhalation and inhalation.
Tasmin sati svasaprasvasayor-gativicchedah pranayamah—“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.”
‘Svasa’ means inspiratory breath. ‘Prasvasa’ means expiratory breath. You can take up the practice of Pranayama after you have gained steadiness in your Asana (seat). If you can sit for 3 hour in one Asana, continuously at one stretch, you have gained mastery over the Asana. If you are able to sit from half to one hour even, you can take up the practice of Pranayama. You can hardly make any spiritual progress without the practice of Pranayama.
Prana is Vyashti, when the individual is concerned. The sum total of the cosmic energy or cosmic Prana is Hiranyagarbha who is known as the floating ‘Golden-Egg’. Hiranyagarbha is Samashti Prana. One match stick is Vyashti (single). The whole match box is Samashti. A single mango-tree is Vyashti. The whole mango grove is Samashti. The energy in the body is Prana. By controlling the motion of the lungs or respiratory organs, we can control the Prana that is vibrating inside. By control of Prana, the mind can be easily controlled, because the mind is fastened to the Prana, like the bird to the string. Just as the bird that is tied to a post by a string, after flying here and there, finds its resting place in the post, so also this mind-bird after running hither and thither, in various sensual objects, finds its resting place during deep sleep in the Prana.
Pranayama (According to the Gita)
Apane juhvati pranam pranepanam tathapare; Pranapanagatee ruddhva pranayamaparayanah (Gita, Ch. IV-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 practise the kind of Pranayama called Puraka (filling in). Some practise 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.
Pranayama (According To Sri Sankaracharya)
“Pranayama is the control of all life-forces by realising 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 (According to Yogi Bhusunda)
Bhusunda says to Sri Vasishtha: “In the cool lotus of the heart within this visible tenement of flesh composed of the five elements, there are two Vayus, viz., Prana and Apana, commingled in it. For those who tread smoothly and without any or the slightest efforts, the path of these two Vayus, will become the sun and the moon themselves in the heart—Akasa, and will rove in the Akasa and yet be animating and carrying their fleshy-tabernacle. These Vayus will go up and down to higher and lower states. They are of the same nature in the waking, dreaming and dreamless sleeping state, and permeate all throughout. I am moving in the direction of those two Vayus and have rendered nil all my Vasanas in the waking state lit unto those of the dreamless sleeping state. Divide a filament of the lotus-stalk into a thousand times and you will find these Vayus more subtle than that. Hence it is difficult for me to treat about the nature of these Vayus and their vibrations. Of these, Prana does ceaselessly vibrate in this body, with an upward motion, both externally and internally, while Apana having the same fluctuating tendency, vibrates both external and internal to the body having a downward motion. It will be beneficial if the Prana exhaled to the extent of 16 digits, is inhaled to the same extent. Only 12 digits are inhaled ordinarily. Those who have brought to experience—viz., the equalisation of Prana in exhalation and inhalation will enjoy infinite bliss.
Significance & importance of Pranayama
Pranayama is one of the important vital components of Yoga that directly or indirectly affects the proper functioning of different systems of the body. If you practice pranayama regularly, it shows beneficial impacts upon respiratory system, circulatory system, digestive system and endocrine system. Pranayama ensures more oxygen to lungs and good for hearts too. Pranayama tones up kidney and control the functions of nervous system. Kumbhaka or retention of breath helps supply of oxygen or exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide thus facilitates better work of lungs and helps brain to work more efficiently. Pranayama affects autonomic nervous system which controls heart rate, glandular secretions, respiration, digestion and blood pressure.
How to do Pranayama?
Before practising pranayama, certain precautions and essentials are to be taken. For pranayama practices, one has to ensure proper place, suitable time, mitahara diet and proper light. Pranayama can be practiced to any place that is well-ventilated from external disturbances. Spring and autumn seasons are the best periods for practicing pranayama as these seasons are favourable to the body and mind to keep them synergizes with the outside environment. To be fit and healthy, 15 minutes of pranayama is good. It is also suggested that pranayama should be performed under the guidance of a yoga instructor.
Pranayama should be practised at a place which is free from dust, pollutants, smoke and filthy things. The sitting ground should be flat and smooth. The suitable time for performing pranayama is early in the morning on empty stomach. To have the proper benefits, one should practised pranayama regularly. Pranayama facilitates better blood circulation in the body when it is done after bath. One should ensure that breathing should be through nose and it should be slow and rhythmic. During pranayama, eyes should be closed to control the mind and body.