Pranayama - Stages, Kinds & The Process Of Breathing

All About Pranayama:

'Pranayama' is a compound Sanskrit word which can be broken as 'pran'+ 'yama', meaning breath control or breath restraint. It's a technique in yoga but has so many pages dedicated to it that its study assumes epical proportion. To make matters worse so much has been written about it of late that it has become something of an enigma. Simply put, Pranayama is a kind of yoga breathing which includes techniques of inhaling, retaining and exhaling air in a particular fashion. Rightly practiced these techniques have great healing powers for the body and soul alike. Legends have it that great yogis had the power to foretell, heal (physically as well as telepathically), levitate themselves and travel mentally to remote places among other things. But, first things first, we will try to understand what yoga breathing is all about.

Pranayama - What Is Yoga Breathing?

While everybody breathes, very few are actually conscious in the act. And still fewer realize fully the importance and potential of right breathing techniques. Some may even doubt whether such a thing like breathing technique exists at all. Well, it does, in so many cultures and in so many forms. And by far the most popular of them all is yoga breathing (or Pranayama) - both in terms of practice and proof. When we breathe, we inhale a certain amount of air into our lungs and exhale a proportionate amount in periodic succession. Hardly necessary to mention that in this process we import oxygen in our blood which is used to burn food and release energy for our bodily requirements. In yoga breathing, the quantity of air sucked in and discharged thereafter is altered according to set rules thus regulating the supply of oxygen in the blood in a predetermined ratio. This has proven and time tested effects on general health as well as on specific body functions. These set rules are traditional and are recorded in scriptures. The skilled yoga practitioner or yogi adheres to these rules to reap maximum benefits and avoid complications.

Pranayama - Traditional Breathing Techniques

Though Pranayama may seem fairly easy to practice, it requires fair amount of discipline and practice to be effective for the practitioner. First and foremost, one has to sit in a right posture ('asana'). One of the best postures is the lotus posture. With folded legs and a straight spine and hands on knees, the posture resembles a full blown lotus. Ideally Pranayama should be practiced in the wee hours of the morning in quiet environment.

There are basically three stages in Pranayama- puraka (the intake of breath), kumbhaka (suspension of breath) and rechaka (discharge of breath). Pranayama is classified into three kinds: Adhama (inferior), Madhyama (middle) and Uttama (superior). In Adhama puraka is practiced for 12 matras (Matra is a unit of time which corresponds roughly to one second). For Madhyama, it is 24 and 36 for Uttama. The ratio of puraka, kumbhaka, and rechaka remains constant at 1:4:2. For more details, the reader may go through a good book on Pranayama.

A Word Of Caution

Though most of the pranayamas are easy to practice, some extreme ones loosely done may harm the practitioner. One must consult an accomplished tutor before practicing such exercises.