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Pranayama Practice

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010

Pranayama is the practice of breathing. More specifically it is the practice of inhale (Pooraka), holding the breath (Kumbhaka) and then exhaling the breath (Rechaka) in order to control the vital force, or Pran in our bodies. In verse 4.29 of the Bhagavad Gita, Pranayama is mentioned. Swami Chidananda Saraswati says that “Prana is the life-force that pervades the body. It is the factor that connects the body and the mind, because it is connected on one side with the body and on the other side with the mind. It is the connecting link between the body and the mind. The body and the mind have no direct connection. They are connected through Prana only and this Prana is different from the breathing you have in your physical body.” Pranayama is also mentioned in Patanjali’s Sutras concerning Raja Yoga. Essentially, by controlling the breath, one is able to control the subtle, unseen forces of vital energy.

Practicing pranayama can take some practice. While the initial breathing is rather simple, the holding and releasing of the breath in a controlled manner can be more difficult. After learning the different types of breathing, three locks or Bandhas are then engaged in order to contain the Pran within the body. The first Bandha is the root lock or Mula Bandha. It is engaged by constricting the perineum muscles, those between the genitals and anus. The second lock is called Uddiyana Bandha and refers to the abdominal lock. It is a difficult lock to master. It involves lifting the diaphragm in and up. The third lock or Bandha is the chin lock or Jalandhara Bandha and can be made by titling the chin in and down, very much like when the teenage game of “pass the orange” was played by passing the fruit from underneath the chin to another person without using the hands. The three locks are essential to keep Pran or Life Force inside the body.

Some types of pranayama are:

Ujjayi or Victorious Breath: The diaphragm is engaged in this breath. First the belly is filled with air, then the upper chest and midriff, and finally the rib cage. Both the inhale and exhale are conducted through the nose. While exhaling, a sound similar to the ocean or Darth Vader’s breath (for a better visual) is made by slightly constricting the throat. The entire breath is exhaled very slowly and controlled without jerks or with any quickness, all while maintaining the sound in the throat. This breath can be practiced with the three locks as well.

Bhramari or Humming Bee Breath: In this breathing, an inhale is made through the nostrils making a high pitched hum with a focus on the Ajna chakra between the eyes. This is the sound of the female humming bee. On the exhale, the breath is sent through the Vissuda or throat chakra and the sound of a male humming bee is made. The sound is made by humming out the breath in a controlled manner. One of the faculties of this chakra is the taking in and assimilating of physical and emotional nourishment. Through vibrating the chakra in Bhramari breath, the physical and emotional needs of the practitioner are nourished.

Anuloma Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breathing: In this type of breathing the left and right nostrils are closed in rhythm with the breath via the Pranava Mudra. The air is forced through each nostril and then exhaled out the other side, while closing the respective nostril. In a healthy pattern of normal breathing, one will find that either the right or left nostril is dominant and changes approximately every 90 minutes. When this rhythm becomes unbalanced due to sickness or stress, alternate nostril breathing can be practiced to restore the body’s subtle equilibrium. The left nostril is associated with the Ida and the Right nostril is associated with Pingala. These are both nadis within the subtle body. The left nostril is akin to the moon principle and the right nostril is representative of the sun principle. When these are balanced, the entire subtle body is calmed and balanced also.

Practicing pranayama has many benefits, among them a leaner physique, brighter eyes, a calmer mind, a more melodious voice, and increased lung capacity. Also, the nervous system is relaxed. These benefits are only a few. Long time pranayama practitioners experience a lowering of physiological age markers and the increased oxygen to the brain improves memory and critical thinking.

(c) 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Christina Sarich reprint under creative commons license with all links intact and reference to website and author.

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