by Yogi Baba Prem, Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
One of the most misunderstood and most important areas of study within yoga is pranayama. Pranayama comes from two root words: 1)Prana- meaning life force or primal energy 2) Yama- meaning control or restraint. Often pranayama is taught only as a reference to breathing exercises, but,in reality, it is so much more than that. While it is true that pranayama is practiced via breathing exercises, the actual goal of the breathing exercises is to develop control over the pranic (life-force) energy of the mind and body.
In some of the ancient yogic texts, the first form or essence eminating from Divinity was prana. While focusing on the breath, the mind starts to become conscious of this primal essence of all matter. Eventually, this can lead to the realization of our true identity. This identity is known as the Soul, which is called Atman or Purusha. By cultivating awareness of Atman (Soul), the ego begins to identify with our infinite potential and awareness instead of with the finite or ego-limiting perceptions of ourselves. This is called the process of self-realization. This process takes time and is created through many small self-realizations that we all experience as we grow as a person. Regrettably, most people do not realize that so much can be achieved from the breath.
On a more practical level, in case your goal is not total self-realization or liberation, the breath still has an important role in your life. Numerous studies have documented a link between the breath and brain wave activity. Likewise there are numerous health benefits linked to proper breathing. The vast majority of people breathe using only the upper one-third of their lungs. This causes brain wave activity to increase, which causes our bodies to feel more tense and suffer more from the stress that we encounter daily. One way to keep this syndrome of stress from happening on a daily basis is by using a technique called the 'complete breath', also known as diaphramatic breathing. You can easily and at will, with practice, slow the brain wave activity so that the mind is more focused and more relaxed at the same time. Not only is this technique a powerful tool against stress, it will also gently begin to cleanse the nasal passages which could help those that suffer from allergies. It can be used in any situation and at any time without anyone knowing what you are doing.
2. Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds.
3. Exhale, through the nose, pulling the navel in toward the spine.
4. Immediately move to step one and start the inhalation.
This should be initially practiced for only a few minutes, gradually increasing to 5 minutes. There are numerous variations that produce different effects. Those are best studied with a qualified Yoga teacher.
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