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Pranayam
In Sanskrit ‘Prana’ refers to the cosmic energy that is also known as ‘Breath’. ‘Ayama’ means to control Prana that is to control breath. Every creature has to breathe for existence. Breathing is a continuous process, which provides vital energy to the body.

The concept of which is derived from “Pranasya ayamah pranayama” , that is, to command or master prana. The one who controls his own breath is in control of all. Ancient studies state that parana is an integral part of all human existence and also to attain moksha. Every living creature knowingly or unknowingly requires to breathe without break. The atharva Veda states “ The pure soul, cleaned through control of Breath and meditation soon attains salvation and becomes one with God through Yogic Samadhi’. Even advanced medical research concurs with yogic science that a systematic breathing alone controls the entire body.

Features of Pranayama
There are four important features of pranayama which gives us the techniques of breath regulation.
  • Slowing of Breath: Puransa state that yogic breathing is a technique which brings control all that is connected with prana. Breathing inward is known as ‘Puraka’ and outward is 'Rechaka’. Retaining or holding the breath in the lungs is called ‘Kumbaka’. When one holds his breath beyond one’s capacity, rechaka becomes fast and uncontrolled. Here the important point is that one has to slow down the rate of respiration in order to bring down the metabolic rate of the body. This can be done by holding kumbaka. The breathing rate is directly proportional to the metabolic processes of the body. The reduction of metabolic rate will serve as a measure of rest. Thus slowing down ones breath gives deep rest to ones body and mind.
  • Consciousness of breathing: This concept provides awareness of breathing. From studies of Hatha yoga it is known that holding the breath helps increase awareness. The duration of holding the breath is not mandatory. Alternatively the breath has to be slowed down and continuously during inhalation and exhalation. In pranayama holding the breath with certain amount of effort is not a requirement but slowing it down in the continuous process of respiration without any effort is safe.
  • Balancing the breath: The breathing process will be done through the two nostrils. From the yogic studies it is known that breathing from the right nostril produces heat where as from the left it produces cold. The nadhishudhi in pranayama deals with the cleaning of the two nadis that is the ida and Pingala in order to bring balance of breath.
  • Breath Meditation: The art of holding the breath, creation of awareness and balancing of breath are means of systematizing breathing pattern that would inurn control the whole body. When the mind is agitated or disturbed the breathing would be fast and unequal. When the mind is controlled so is the breathing. The purpose of pranayama is to control and regulate the breathing to attain the mind control.
 
Practice of Pranayama
The first important point before practicing pranayama-one has to get complete knowledge about the process, methods, functions and requirements from any yoga practitioner. Without guidance and support practicing pranayama would provide no benefits or advantage. Secondly the place chosen to perform must be clean, peaceful, ventilated and free from dust and moisture.

Thirdly pranayama should be performed early morning preferably before sunrise. Fourthly, it can be done either in Padmasana, Vajrasana or Siddhasana. Out of these any convenient postures can be adopted. . Fifthly, and most important factor is to maintain concentration and mental peace.

Sixtly it can be performed after 3-4 hours after food consumption.

Advantages of Pranayama
  • In Pranayama, the systematic breathing gives complete relaxation both physical and mental.
  • The Healthy and systemic breathing tones up the entire respiratory function of the body, and all the disorders of the respiratory function are completely eliminated.
  • Pranayama is most effective way to eliminate digestive disorders. In the process diaphragm and abdominal muscles are toned which helps cure disorders of stomach, pancreas, liver and kidney.
  • Yogic breathing helps nourish body and mind. In this process more and more oxygen flows into the body which helps relieve muscle pain, fatigue and other disorders.
The Nadis, Chakras and Bandhas
Every Pranayama practitioner must have knowledge of nadis, chakras and bandhas. Bandhas: It means bondage or joining together. In Bandhas wherein certain parts of the body controlled, while performing pranayama in order to check the dissipation of human energy, it is required to apply Bandhas in order to get the maximum benefits of Pranayama. There are three types of Bandhas

  • Uddiyana Bandha
  • Jalandhara Bandha
  • Mula Bandha
Uddiyana Bandha: in Sanskrit it means to fly up. That is, this bandha lifts the diaphragm, thorax high up and pull the abdominal organ against the back towards the spine. This process involves contraction of the pelvis.

Jalandhara Bandha: Jala means a net or a web. In this bandha the head should be lower down towards front and chin should rest on the chest in the notch between the collorbones and at the top of the breastbone.

Mula Bandha: In Sanskrit it means the root or origin. This bandha the region between anus and scrotum, the technique involves contraction of anus.

Nadis: The human body consists of countless nadis and all of them their own significance. Among all the most important nadis are;
  • The Ida situated let of the spinal column.
  • Pingala situated at the right side of the spinal column.
  • Sushumna situated in the middle of the spinal column.
In epics Pingala is termed as Nadi of sun, Ida is the nadi of Moon and Sushumana is the nadi of fire. The junctions of these nadi’s are known as ‘Chakras’.
Chakras
Chakras are very significant as Sages practiced meditation by concentrating on the chakras to attain moksha and realization of God. There are seven important chakras and each chakra symbolifies the particular parts of the human body.

Muladhara: Situated in the spine (the pelvic region).

Swadhisthaya: Situated between the navel and genital organs.

Manipurana: Situated in the are of the navel

Anantha: Situated in the heart region.

Visuddha: Situated in the throat that is the pharyngeal region.

Ajna: Situated in between the eyebrows.

Shahasrana: Situated on top of the head, that is the cerebral cavity.

Important Methods and concepts of Pranayama
In pranayama there are several method and procedures out of which few of them are explained below to provide a holistic knowledge of Pranayama.

Puraka, Rechaka and Kumbaka (Inhalation, Exhalation and Retention of breath)
Inhalation and Exhalation though a continuous process in pranayama they have been given significance as breathing is a systematic process. The inhalation is described in the scripture as “Sucking the sir from the environment with the aid of nose and making it fill the Nadi’s of the body is the Puraka way of breath control”.

Rechaka “An exhalation of breath, where the air inhaled is thrown to the atmosphere from the human body”. As taking in and throwing out breathe controls entire functions of the body. The next important concept is the Kumbaka which is retention of breath. The control of breath, which is the main essence of pranayama, provides information regarding art of breathing technique and holding of breath which is very beneficial.
Anuloma- Viloma Pranayama
Sit in any convenient yogic posture. Place hand on knees and the body should be straight.

Technique
  • Exhale slowly and completely through both nostrils.
  • Immediately thereafter start inhaling by abdominal breathing.
  • While breathing ensure not to make any noise or strain
  • Once inhalation is complete, the air should not be retained in the lungs but immediately exhalation should be continued. Make sure the breathing is deep and uniform.
Therapeutic advantages
  • Cleans the respiratory system.
  • Tones up the nervous system of the body
  • It helps cure serious and recurring headache.
 
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