THE BREATHING PROCESSES IN YOGA, PRANAYAMA
Prana means the vitality of live which expresses itself through the various centres of the body. Its simple meaning is energy. Pranayama means the regulation or the control of prana (vital energy) in three stages. Inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath.
Asana and pranayama are necessary for keeping the body healthy and fit. All of us without exception aspire for a healthy body. The science of Yoga teaches us how to improve and maintain good health.
Breath is life. One can live for some time without food but one cannot live without breathing. When we breathe in, air enters into our body. Air contains oxygen which is necessary for the body because of its life-giving property. The oxygen contained in air is the basis of all life. If there was no oxygen in the air, all living beings would be deprived of live. Oxygen is an element which helps burning. The process of gradual self-burning is what we call life. All the tissues of our body are constantly in a state of gradual combination with oxygen. This results in a continuous process of burning and destruction of a large number of tissues which produces heat in our body. In this way the temperature is maintained as is required for our existence.
Blood circulates continuously through our body through the circulatory system. There is a network of blood-circulating channels through our whole body. These are thin blood capillaries, thinner even than hair. The blood passes through these walls and reaches the tissues. The tissues take into the blood channels. In this way oxygen passes on to the tissues and carbon dioxide produced by oxidation takes its place and is left in the blood. Thus blood returns to the heart carrying all the impurities of the system. The heart again pumps it out through small channels to the lungs where fresh air comes in contact with the lung tissues. Carbon dioxide is exhaled and oxygen is absorbed from the fresh air.
Every change in our body is a result of continuous chemical changes taking place in an infinite number of cells in the body. Whenever a muscle contracts or glands secrete, or even when we think of something, there is a chemical change in the corresponding organs of the body. By chemical changes we mean the process of oxidation. Oxygen that pervades de body, along with blood, combines with the compous coming into contact with it and splits them up. This process also leads to the production of waste matters that are completely useless for our system and it becomes necessary to throw them out. These pass on as impure blood to the lungs, through the heart. From there they come out of our body with our breath through the air passages. This is the process of oxidation in a nutshell.
Good health is entirely dependent on the working of internal mechanism, the glands and other organs of our system. One of the most important functions of our body is the process of inhalation (breathing in) and exhalation (breathing out). If this process is stopped, death is inevitable within a few minutes.
Therefore, it is essential that organs carrying out this important assignment should be perfectly healthy and strong. Very often, due to general debility of the respiratory organs, there is not satisfactory respiration and one becomes prey to several diseases of the organs: pneumonia, pleurisy, tuberculosis, colds, diseases of the throat, influenza and nasal troubles.
Pranayama is indispensable for getting rid of body toxins to avoid ailments and to strengthen the corresponding organs. One who practices pranayama becomes immune to such diseases.
So, what is Pranayama? Prana means energy. The process of breathing in, breathing out, and holding the breath- a sum total of these three processes- constitute full pranayama. All types of pranayama consist of a particular combination of these three processes.
Through practicing pranayama the lungs become stronger and flexible. In the body, heat is generated which produces beneficial effects on general health. Oxygen is supplied to our body in large quantity. The greater the intake of oxygen, the greater is the quantity of carbon dioxide expelled.
Chemical changes brought about by physical exertion result in the break-up of matter within the body and consequent loss of energy. This loss is compensated by an increased supply of oxygen through pranayama. Pranayama also produces a healthy and invigorating effect on the brain and the nerves. It tones up the functioning of the brain. All round development of the pituitary and pineal glands is brought about by practicing pranayama regulary.
Pranayama not only produces beneficial effects on the breathing system but also removes diseases of the ears, tongue, eyes and throat. Hoarseness, tonsillitis, eruption on the cheeks, deafness, ets., are all curable by pranayama. Like asana, pranayama has both preventative and curative effects. At first it gradually provides energy and strengthens different organs of the body. It bestows the power of resistance to disease.
Pranayama has its effect not only on the breathing mechanism but also on other organs of the body. The liver, kidneys, etc…, are all tone up, and by their brisk and vigorous activities the circulation of blood is accelerated, leading to oxidation with grater speed. Pranayama helps in expelling impurities from the body. It increases appetite, tones up the intestines and improves peristalsis, removing constipation. Pranayama is not only beneficial to the respiratory system but is also necessary for maintenance of general health and building up the whole system.
While practicing vigorous pranayama, the mind becomes inactive tranquil for sometime. This provides some rest and relaxation. By pratising retention of breath the mind becomes relaxed. There is no other way of bringing about relaxation of mind because thoughts always continue to come into it. While practicing pranayama the mind becomes stationary and thoughts are exhausted. This is why pranayama is considered to be one of the best practices for concentration.
Through pranayama gain control over the nerves. As soon as this is brought about, nervous tensions are minimized. Extraordinary strength and energy are obtained. Pranayama is a practice for casting impurities out from the human system. This is the process of purification of pranic channels.
Prana (life force) has a very close relation to the mind. As prana of the subtle pranic body (pranamaya kosha) is intrinsically linked to the other koshas, annamaya ( cuerpo material), manomaya (mental body), etc., and they are influenced by prana.
TECHINEQUES OF PRANAYAMA
We shall now discuss the different kinds of pranayama and ways of practicing them, as well as the application in the treatment of diseases.
There are three essentials of pranayama: asana, mudra and process. A small folded blanket is required. We should choose a place where there is a pure and calm atmosphere. Pranayama should not be practiced in a dirty, impure, offensively smelling or smoky place. An open and well ventilated room, even in winter, is most appropriate for practicing pranayama. One should practice it sitting on a folded blanket on the floor. The best time for practicing pranayama is in the early hours of the morning.
Those who practice asana should first practice them after attending to morning duties, washing and bathing. Pranayama should be practiced after asana. An important thing to remember is that pranayama should always be practiced with empty bowels or at least four hours after taking meals. Practice of pranayama should be reduced in frequency during the summer and increased vigorously, but gradually, during the winter.
How should one sit for pranayama? The best postures are padmasana (lotus pose) and siddhasana (adept´s pose). Those who can sit in padmasana should sit in that posture with a peaceful mind. One thing to be taken care of is that the spinal cord should remain straight and vertical. The head and the neck should also remain erect. One can sit in whatever posture one likes; the point to remember is that it should be quiet comfortable so that there may be no necessity to change position during practice.
The eyes will remain closed while doing pranayama. The right hand is free manipulate the nose. The left hand should remain comfortably on or near the knee, or kept on the lap with the palm up.
While practicing pranayama one has to close the nostrils. This is done with the right hand and the nose is held in a particular manner. One may hold the nose in any way one likes but the correct procedure is as follows: when the left nostril is to be closed it should be done with the fourth (ring) finger of the right hand, and when the right one is to be closed it should be done with the right thumb.
Pranayama can be practiced by everyone without exception. In fact, all living beings are breathing in and out, in other words, are practicing pranayama. So, a few simple and easy types of pranayama can be safely practiced even by ailing persons. Those who are too weak can do a light course lying in bed. Such persons should fill their lungs with air very slowly, the air should be evacuated similarly. We are all doing this consciously or unconsciously. Pranayama techniques only teach us how to do it correctly.
Let us now deal with various kind of pranayama and how to practice them. There are three stages of pranayama viz. pooraka, rachaka and kumbhaka.
When we breath in or inhale , this is called pooraka, and when we breath out or exhale, it is known as rechaka. When we hold the breath, it is said to be kumbhaka.
Kumbhaka is of two kinds. To hold the breath after breathing in is antar kumbhaka, and to hold the breath outside after exhalation is termed bahir kumbhaka. These will be the terms used hereafter and should be borne carefully in mind- pooraka for brathing in, rechaka for breathing out, antar kumbhaka for holding the breath outside after rechaka.
Important pranayamas are: sukhpoorvaka, samaveta, sahita, nadi shodhana, bhramari, ujjayi, sheetali, sheetkari, bhastrika, suryabheda, kewali, plawini and chaturtha.
Simple or sukhpoorvaka pranayama
One thing to remember here is that pooraka is to be performed through the same nostril which performs rechaka. Rechaka and then pooraka can be done with one nostril but pooraka and rechaka should not be done with the same nostril at one time. If one nostril perfoms pooraka, the other nostril is to perform rechaka. This will mean automatically that pooraka will be performed by the same nostril which performs rechaka. Through practicing this, the intensity of the flow of air through both nostril is equalized. All the benefits of pranayama are derived from this practice. Those who have congested nostrils while sleeping are freed of this trouble. Those who are susceptible to coughs must practice this daily for at least to seven minutes.
Practise pranayama with cheerful mind and you will derive extraordinary benefits. Practising pranayama halfheartedly, carelessly or in a state of hurry can be detrimental.
Sit in padmasana or siddhasana. Maker your mind calm. Sit calmly for a minute, compose yourself, and prepare yourself for pranayama.
Now lift your right hand and make it ready to hold the nostrils.
First close the right nostril and breathe in through the left only.
Take in as much breath as you can, very slowly, and when the lungs are filled with air, close the left nostril.
Open the right one and breathe slowly.
As soon as the full breath is out, breathe in fully again with the same(i.e. right) nostril, close it, and open the left nostril and exhale slowly.
This makes one round.
The process is like this- pooraka with the left nostril and rechaka with the right, then pooraka with the right and rechaka with the left.
This completes one round.
Then again pooraka with left and so on.
Repeat this 15-20 times.
This should be done after practicing sukhpoorvaka (all the rules are the same for this pranayama).
Pooraka through both nostrils simultaneously.
Take as much air as possible into lungs.
Hold the breath for a while, say for 1-3 seconds, and then do rechaka with both nostrils.
Then again pooraka with both nostrils slowly.
Then rechaka the same way.
In this pranayama, kumbhaka has been added to the pooraka and rechaka processes.
Remember, there is no need for a forced performance. You have to hold the breath only as long as you can very comfortably do so without experiencing any difficulty. Everybody can hold the breath for some time. As you advance in your practice, flexibility of the lungs will increase along with the power to retain the breath.
Do pooraka as stated above in samaveta pranayama.
Close both nostrils and hold the breath (kumbhaka).
Hold it as long as you can with ease and comfort.
Then breathe out slowly with both nostrils.
This will complete 1 round.
Nadi shodhana pranayama (anuloma viloma)
This pranayama is similar to sahita pranayama, the only difference being that you have to fix the duration of pooraka, kumbhaka and rechaka to the ratio 1:4:2, and breathe through alternate nostrils.
Nadi shodhana pranayama is of three categories: uttama (the best), madhyama (medium) and kanishta (inferior). All should be learnt slowly and cautiously.
· Pooraka 12, kumbhaka 48, rechaka 24, yogis call this kanishta pranayama.
· Pooraka 16, kumbhaka 64, rechaka 32, this is called madhyama pranayama.
· Pooraka 20, kumbhaka 80, rechaka 40, this is called uttama pranayama.
This pranayama improves the pulse and casts off all impurities. By attaining perfection in this pranayama the boy becomes light. One gains full control over nerves and body.
Sit in any comfortable asana.
Breathe in through the left nostril while counting 1 to 4 mentally.
Retain the breath while counting 1 to 16 by closing both nostrils.
The retention should be so timed that it takes 4 times the time taken inhalation. Then exhale with the right nostril counting mentally from 1 to 8.
Repeat this practice by doing pooraka with the right nostril, then kumbhaka, and then rechaka with the left nostril, with the ratio the same as before, i.e. 4:16:8.
This is a very easy pranayama. Anybody can practice it well from the very first day. Through practice of this pranayama, all diseases of the throat are radically alleviated. The larynx becomes strong, the voice sweet. Bhramari should be practiced in a solitary place late at night or early en the morning.
Sit in any comfortable asana with a composed mind.
Close both ears with the first (index) finger.
Take a full breath slowly and hold just for a short while and breathe out with a humming sound like that of a bee.
This humming sound should continue till the breathing out is completed.
The mouth should remain closed but the teeth should be slightly apart.
The tongue should not move, while the mind should remain fully concentrated on the humming sound. The continuity and uniformity of this humming sound should not break till the end.
This pranayama is most beneficial to those who have enlarged tonsils, or those who are very sensitive to cold and suffer from cough, and those who often get attacks of on fluenza or bronchitis. It is also beneficial to students of vocal music. It is often seen that their voices becomes hoarse due to excessive practice of music. Sometimes this trouble comes suddenly. If they practice ujjayi pranayama regulary their throats will always remain healthy and their voice will become sweet and melodious sweet and melodious.
If sufferers of tonsillitis are asked to practice this pranayama they will be cured. It also produces good effects on diseases of the ear, nose and throat and brings down high blood pressure.
Sit in any comfortable asana and close your eyes.
The mouth should remain closed and all breathing should take place through in the throat.
To produce this sort of sound, the underside of the tongue is kept touching the palate (khechari mudra) and the breath is inhale.
Pooraka is done with a sound similar to that of an idling steam engine, and after keeping the breath inside for a while, rechaka follows with the same sound.
A hissing sound should invariably be produced. This should be done 10-12 rounds daily.
This pranayama should be practiced for curing diseases of the throat and tongue. This has good effects on a sore throat and tonsils. Sheetali, sheetkari and ujjayi should be practiced for curing stammering. If there are eruptions on the face, or the tongue is dry and cracked, this pranayama should be practiced regulary every day.
By attaining perfection in sheetali pranayama, one can control hunger and thirst. Cough, biliousness, constipation and indigestion are all cured. This pranayama is bliss for yogis.
Sit in any comfortable asana and put out the tongue and twist it so as to form a channel or a round tube.
Breathe in. The breath should be taken in slowly and gently so as to fill up the lungs completely.
Then do rechaka through the nose.
While doing rechaka, the tongue should be taken in.
Again pooraka with the tongue taken out in the shape of a tube and then rechaka is to be repeated through the nose, with the tongue inside.
Practise 8-10 rounds every day.
In this pranayama, there is only pooraka through the mouth and rechaka through the nose. There is no kumghaka. This pranayama produces soothing and beneficial effects in diseases of the mouth (including mouth ulcers), throat and nose.
The tongue should be inverted, its fore part touching the palate, and the upper teeth should be kept tight with the corresponding teeth of the lower jaw.
The lips remain open.
Breathe in through the mouth with a hissing sound.
The teeth and tongue will not move.
The open space by the sides of the tongue provide enough room for the air to pass through.
After pooraka, do rechaka through the nose.
Repeat this 8-10 rounds a day.
Bhastrika pranayama is of paramount importance. However, those having a weak heart or lungs, or those who are ill should not practice this. People in normal health should practice this pranayama regularly.
It is important to note that in bhastrika pranayama the intensity of the pressure of air going in and coming out should remain equal. Another thing to be remembered is that there should not be unusual pressure on the walls of the nose. It should work like a bellows and should remain just normal.
Twenty times fast pooraka-rechaka, then kumbhaka and then in the end rechaka, constitutes one complete round of bhastrika pranayama. This can be practiced up to 5 rounds at a time. Rest a while after each round. This pranayama can be practiced both in the morning and evening.
Bhastrika pranayama cures asthma and other respiratory troubles, but for this purpose it should be practiced under the guidance of an expert. Weak lungs are rejuvenated and strengthened.
During the practice of this pranayama, a grater supply of oxygen is made to enter the body and a greater amount of carbon dioxide is thrown out. Blood is purified and there is a greater and faster supply of blood throughout the body. Let us now learn how to practice it.
Breathe is slowly and do full pooraka through both nostrils, followed by rechaka, expanding and contracting the abdomen rhythmically.
The mouth should remain closed.
After doing this 4 or 5 times, the rapidity of pooraka and rechaka should be gradually increased so that, after 10 or 12 times, the breath should start flowing like a blacksmith´s air bag. (Bhastrika means bellowing).
After performing this pooraka-rechaka combined process about 20 times without break, take a long pooraka and stop with antar kumbhaka.
Stay in this state of antar kumbakha as long as you comfortably can.
After that, breathe out and empty the lungs slowly and gradually.
Rest for a while, taking normal breaths.
Then repeat this pranayama.
You can count numbers while in the state of kumbhaka.
Concentration of mind is attained through the practice of this pranayama.
In kewali pranayama, breathing in and breathing out are carried on as follows.
Along with breathing in you have to pronounce the word so mentally, and similary, while breathing out you have to pronounce the word ham mentally.
In this way, mental pronunciation of soham should be continued.
This cures all bowel troubles. The power of digestion improves and it helps in effecting a cure for hysteria.
Sit in any comfortable asana and go on drinking in the air, as you drink water, until the stomach is filled with air. Then pass the air out through the mouth in such a way that all air taken in comes out immediately.
The time taken in doing pooraka and rechaka and their frequency are maintained equally in this pranayama. In order to maintain equal frequency and duration of pooraka and rechaka, help is taken in the form of counting numbers of mantra japa.
Breathe in while counting numbers, say 1 to 4 or up to any number.
Breathe out counting up to the same number with the same speed.
After some time, pronounce the mantra mentally in place of numbers.
If you mentally pronounce Om 4 times while breathing in, you should likewise repeat Om 4 times while breathing out. Practice this for 10-15 minutes daily.
Differet kinds of pranayama have been explained so far. It is not necessary to practice all of them daily. Their practice should be gradually increased day by day. Ten minutes regular practice is sufficient for maintaining good health. It is for one´s own judgement to decide which pranayama one should practice, depending on one´s capacity.
Sweat coming out of the body during pranayama should be rubbed into the body. Cast off any misapprehensions you have in your mind and practice three or four pranayamas regularly every day. You will realize and appreciate their beneficial effects for yourself.
In Prema Yoga you can practice Pranayama.