Nowadays many people are familiar with the word Yoga and have some idea of what Yoga is, the most common understanding being that people perform some kind of postures (asanas) which are meant to restore one to health and vitality.
However, asanas only form a part of Yoga. A very important, and often neglected, practice is Pranayama – the science of breath. We find that as Yoga practitioners deepen their own practice of Yoga, they will eventually take to the practice of Pranayama with increasing enthusiasm as they discover the significant benefits that accrue from this sublime art and science.
Some people think that pranayama is an esoteric practice, especially when they see Yoga practitioners sitting in a cross-legged posture with their fingers touching their nose and looking blissfully happy and serene. Certainly, this is an illustration of a particular type of pranayama practice but it is not the essence; and pranayama can be begun very simply.
It is important to recognise that the breath is the very substance and support of life itself. No-one can live without the breath. The one sign of life that a life saver looks for is that of the breath. We can go without food for many days, even without water; but it is impossible to remain without the breath even for a few seconds. It is the breath that gives life; in fact the breath itself is life.
Not only does the breath give the essential molecules such as oxygen but something far more significant: Prana. Prana is the Yogic term for energy. The breath supplies the body (as well as the mind) with energy of the universe. It is on account of Prana that the body and mind can function. If there is an abundance of Prana and it is functioning well, then there is mental, emotional, bodily and spiritual well-being.
Pranayama hence concerns itself with making efficient use of this life-giving and life-sustaining power by engaging even in very simple practices. If you sit quietly in any posture (even on a chair) with your body erect and listen to the sound of your breath and observe the rhythm of your breath, you are already practicing Pranayama.
Erect and listen to the sound of your breath and observe the rhythm of your breath, you are already practicing Pranayama. Merely by paying attention to your breathing you will find that the breath deepens and lengthens spontaneously, without any effort. (The word Pranayama itself means ‘lengthening of Prana’ and hence any practice that achieves this can be called Pranayama).
Also you will find that your breathing rhythm becomes regular. The regular, deep and longer breaths have a profound effect. You will notice that the many thoughts in your mind lessen, you begin to feel a sense of calm, the emotions settle, and at the end of the practice you feel peaceful, energized and your mind will be clearer. Furthermore, your ability to concentrate improves and you will find that you can remain more centred as you are challenged by the events of daily life. Furthermore, you will find that your mind and the emotions become calm, you become more centred and concentrated and that you will have a greater sense of who you really are; that you are indeed a being of peace, love and wisdom.
These benefits are experienced with regular practice. Pranayama is a wonderful gift to humanity and is there for one and all to learn. It is however highly recommended that you learn from a teacher who is adept in the practice, so that you get proper guidance. If you can breathe, you can practice Pranayama.
You can try this simple practice at home
Place the thumb of your right hand lightly onto the right nostril.
Place the ring and little fingers together (as if forming one finger) lightly on the left nostril.
The index and middle fingers are curled in.
Breathe out through both nostrils first.
Then close your right nostril with your thumb and let the breath
flow in through the left nostril only.
Then close the left nostril with your index and little fingers, open your right nostril by slightly releasing the thumb and let the breath flow out through the right nostril.
Then let the breath flow through the right nostril.
Then close the right nostril and let the breath flow out through the left nostril.
This is one round. Start by practicing 20 rounds.
This is a wonderful practice that helps to regulate the breath. It creates a harmonious balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, leading to clarity of mind and concentration.
However, I strongly suggest that you learn under a teacher to ensure that you are practicing correctly, otherwise if practiced incorrectly, pranayama can have adverse effects.
ISSUE 9 SUTRA™
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