What Pranayama can teach us…

Reading an article on Pranayama might sound boring these days. The topic is becoming very common. Why?

In this piece of literature, I would like to elaborate on the depth of pranayama. We all know that pranayama is a formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of prana, or vital life force. But this technique is capable of leading the body-mind instrument to higher consciousness states if properly practiced.

My first experience about pranayama was a total bliss and ecstasy. My body had never absorbed so much pure energy during such a short period of time and after so many years after birth.  It is said that pranayama prolong life. Do you know why tortoises have long life and can live up to 200 or more years? It is because of its controlled breathing rate. A tortoise breathes around only 3 to 4 times every minute. My first-time yoga students would tell me that human breathe 50 to 60 times a minute, but it may not be necessarily true and correct. If you try the experience, you will see that unconsciously you breathe 20 times in a minute. Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. But pranayama is different. The restless monkey, who symbolizes the human mind, breathes around 30 times a minute and he has a shorter life span than a human being.

So, what is the secret for long life? The longer and deeper the breath in a span of time, the longer will be your life. When someone is initiated to yoga and pranayama, the person learns to reduce the breathing rate at a controlled pace. Saint Tirumular claimed that human being could live thousands of years by following proper yogic practices. A person who breathes at slow pace is calm and relaxed, which is conducive to longevity. A person who breathes quickly would inhale small volumes of air and exhale the same small volume. Hence, the lung does not operate at its full capacity. This allows the lower side of the lungs to remain idle and allow germs to accumulate.

The proper way of doing pranayama is to ensure that the system is based on 3 stages of respiration: inhalation (pooraka), retention (kumbhaka)and exhalation (rechaka). Maharshi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras stated that, ‘Pranayama is the pause in the movement of inhalation and exhalation when that is occurred.’

Similarly, when doing yoga postures, the process of inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath during the posture have to be strictly followed. When I teach basic yoga to people I notice that this process is, sometimes, not followed. Many times, I would hear people complaining about muscular pain. The reason is that when the body is twisted to make the posture there is no proper inhalation; and it is often not followed by breath retention.

By disobeying this cycle, prana or energy will never penetrate. The purification and awakening of the chakra will not happen. The mind will not be controlled and balanced properly. However, if the technique of pranayama is correctly mastered, the mind is automatically conquered. Peace and bliss is attained.

Nanda Narrainen

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