Prāṇāyāma (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word meaning "extension of the prāṇa or breath" or, "extension of the life force". The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prana, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and "ayāma", to extend or draw out. (Not 'restrain, or control' as is often translated from 'yam' instead of 'ayāma'). The origins of this yogic discipline lies in ancient Bharat (India) and what is known as present day Hinduism.
Prāṇāyāma (Devanagari: , prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit compound.
V. S. Apte provides fourteen different meanings for the word prāṇa (Devanagari: प्राण, prāṇa) including these:
- Breath, respiration
- The breath of life, vital air, principle of life (usually plural in this sense, there being five such vital airs generally assumed, but three, six, seven, nine, and even ten are also spoken of)
- Energy, vigor
- The spirit or soul
Pran is a subtle invisible force (high valence ion charged oxygenated air air) - 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 Pran only.
– Swami Chidananda Saraswati 
Yog primarily works with the energy in the body through the science of pranayam or energy-control. Pran also means ‘breath.’ Yog teaches how to still the mind through breath-control and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teachings of yog take one beyond techniques and show the yogi or yog practitioner how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.
Of these meanings, the concept of "vital air" is used by Bhattacharyya to describe the concept as used in Sanskrit texts dealing with prāṇāyāma. Thomas McEvilley translates prāṇ as "spirit-energy". Its most subtle material form is the breath, but is also to be found in blood, and its most concentrated form is semen in men and vaginal fluid in women.
Monier-Williams defines the compound prāṇāyāma as "(m., also pl.) N. of the three 'breath-exercises' performed during Saṃdhyā (See pūrak, rechak (English: retch or throw out), kumbhak". This technical definition refers to a particular system of breath control with three processes as explained by Bhattacharyya: pūrak (to take the breath inside), kumbhak (to retain it), and rechak (to discharge it). There are also other processes of prāṇāyāma in addition to this three-step model.
Macdonell gives the etymology as prāṇa + āyāma and defines it as "m. suspension of breath (sts. pl.)".
Apte's definition of āyāmaḥ derives it from ā + yām and provides several variant meanings for it when used in compounds. The first three meanings have to do with "length", "expansion, extension", and "stretching, extending", but in the specific case of use in the compound prāṇāyāma he defines āyāmaḥ as meaning "restrain, control, stopping".
An alternative etymology for the compound is cited by Ramamurti Mishra, who says that:
Expansion of individual energy into cosmic energy is called prāṇāyāma (prāṇa, energy + ayām, expansion).
Hatha and Raja Yoga Varieties
Some scholars distinguish between hath and rāj yog varieties of prāṇāyām, with the former variety usually prescribed for the beginner. According to Taimni, hath yogic prāṇāyām involves manipulation of pranic currents through breath regulation for bringing about the control of chitt-vritti and changes in consciousness, whereas rāj yog prāṇāyām involves the control of chitt-vritti by consciousness directly through the will of the mind. Students qualified to practice prāṇāyām are therefore always initiated first in the techniques of hath prāṇāyām.
Prāṇāyām is mentioned in verse 4.29 of the Bhagavad Gītā.
According to Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is, prāṇāyām is translated to "trance induced by stopping all breathing", also being made from the two separate Sanskrit words, prāṇ and āyām.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Pranayama is the fourth 'limb' of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali, a Hindu Rishi, discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice. Patanjali does not fully elucidate the nature of prana, and the theory and practice of pranayama seem to have undergone significant development after him. He presents pranayama as essentially an exercise that is preliminary to concentration, as do the earlier Buddhist texts.
Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali's Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana.
Forms of Pranayama
There are over 50 particular Pranayama techniques and forms, these include:
- Anuloma pranayama- Alternate Nostril Breathing, a.k.a. 'Nadi Shodhana Pranayama'
- Ujjayi Pranayama - aka "Ocean Breath"
- Bhastrika Pranayama - "Bellows Breath" - Long and deep diaphragmatic breathing
- Kumbhaka Pranayama - "Breath retention"
- Viloma Pranayamaa - "the air is inhaled and exhaled with pauses"
- Udgeeth Pranayama - "Chanting Pranayam" - often done with the chanting of the Om mantra.
- Kapalabhati pranayam - "Skull shining breath"
- Shitali Pranayama - "Cooling breath" - Breathing is done through the mouth with the tongue extended
- Shitkari Pranayama
- Surya Bhedana Pranayama & Chandra Bhedana Pranayama - Single nostril breathing, right nostril is associated with the Sun (Surya) and left nostril with the moon.
- Sama Vritti Pranayama - "Equal Breathing"
- Agnisar Pranayamaa - focuses on the Navel region/Stomach
- Bhramari Pranayama - "Bee Breath" - The yogin makes a humming sound while breathing
- Agni-Prasana - "Breath of Fire"
Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma (though a different study did not find any improvement) and reducing signs of oxidative stress. Practitioners report that the practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, and sound judgement, and also claim that sustained pranayama practice extends life and enhances perception.
Alternate nostril breathing (ANB) prāṇāyāma, also known as Nadisuddhi prāṇāyāma, is one of the beneficial prāṇāyāma for cardiopulmonary functions. Regular practice of ANB (Nadisuddhi) increases parasympathetic activity and lowers systolic blood pressure as well as respiratory rate. In fact there are a number of studies indicating that pranayama causes changes in the cardiorespiratory system including a lowering of blood pressure and of heart rate.
Many yoga teachers recommend that Prāṇāyāma techniques be practiced with care, and that advanced prāṇāyāma techniques should be practiced under the guidance of a teacher. For example, people with low blood pressure must perform it cautiously or may even have to avoid it. On the other hand pranayama may be helpful for someone with high blood pressure as the practice has been shown to lower resting blood pressure and heart rate (see the Medical section this article). These cautions are also made in traditional Hindu literature. Pregnant women may have to forgo pranayama.
Exercises which incorporate the Valsalva maneuver, a moderately forceful attempt to exhale against a closed airway, usually done by closing one's mouth, pinching one's nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon, have been medically associated in emergency room practice with subcutaneous emphysema, development of pockets of air in the body outside the lungs, for example under the skin or in the abdomen. An incidence of rectus sheath hematoma which required emergency surgery to repair a ruptured inferior epigastric artery and removal of 750 ml of blood from a woman's abdomen occurred during vigorous pranayama practice by an older woman with high blood pressure.
- Crowley, Aleister. 'Eight Lectures on Yoga'. Ordo Templi Orientis, 1939.
- Bhattacharyya, N. N. History of the Tantric Religion. Second Revised Edition. (Manohar: New Delhi, 1999) p. 174. ISBN 81-7304-025-7
- Chidananda, Sri Swami (1991). Path to Blessedness, 2nd Ed. The Divine Life Society. ISBN 978-81-7052-086-3.
- Iyengar, B. K. S.(1985). Light On Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing. ISBN 0-8245-0686-3
- Iyengar, B. K. S.(1966). Light on Yoga. ISBN 0-8052-1031-8
- Reprint edition.
- Reprint edition, 1997.
- Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda (1994). Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya. ISBN 81-85787-84-0
- Shaw, Scott. The Little Book of Yoga Breathing: Pranayama Made Easy. ISBN 1-57863-301-X
- Reprint edition.
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