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Sunday, June 21, 2015

The science of Pranayama

Prana refers to the subtle vital life force that is the link between the physical body and the mind. This vital energy makes us breath and keeps us alive. Pranayama is a Yogic discipline of breathing exercises developed by the ancient sages of India thousands of years ago. 

Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras’. The quantity and quality of prana and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines one’s state of physical and mental health. If the Prana is well regulated and its flow is spontaneous, smooth and steady, the mind remains calm, positive and enthusiastic. Many ailments are attributed to the blockages in the prana flow throughout the body as per ancient science of Ayurveda. 

Pranayama is the fourth 'limb' of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as per Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Regular practice increases and enhances the quantity and quality of prana, clears blocked nadis and chakras, and results in the practitioner feeling energetic, enthusiastic and positive. Regular practice of prananyama techniques brings harmony between the body, mind and spirit, making one physically, mentally and spiritually strong.  A seeker practices Pranayama before sitting in meditation because such breathing exercises helps in calming the mind and prepares it for meditation. 

The picture above depicts breath as the subtle connecting thread between the physical body and the mind. It is common experience that when we are under stress or angry, then the pace of our breathing becomes fast. When we are peaceful and calm, our breath becomes very slow. The ancient sages also observed the breathing patterns of animals and birds carefully. Birds usually breath very fast and their lifespan is short. Whereas a tortoise breaths very slow and can live up to 300 years easily. With all such analysis, the ancient sages of India realized the importance of Prana energy and deviced many breathing exercises. Below are the most popular types of Pranayama:

Anuloma pranayama- A form of alternate nostril breath (distinct from nadi shodhana).

Viloma pranayama - "the air is inhaled with pauses and exhaled as one breath or vice-versa, usually with added kumbhaka".

Pratiloma pranayama - The inverse of anuloma: the inhale is drawn through one nostril (alternating sides each time) and the exhale is released through both nostrils.

Ujjayi pranayama - also known as "victorious or conquering breath" is breathing with the glottis slightly engaged, producing a soft sound.

Bhastrika pranayama - "Bellows breath" - Fast and forceful inhales and exhales driven by diaphragmatic breathing.

Kapalabhati pranayama - "Skull shining breath" Similar to Bhastrika, but with a passive inhale and a forceful exhale, powered mainly by the diaphragm abdominals and obliques.

Shitali pranayama - "Cooling breath" - Inhalation is drawn over the curled and extended tongue.

Bhramari prāṇāyāma - "Bee breath" - While closing eyes and ears, one makes a humming sound while breathing. This pranayama helps increasing concentration and memory.

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