The importance of Pranayama : Much importance has been attached to Pranayama in Yogashastras. According to Vyasabhashya, there is no ‘tapa’ (penance), greater than Pranayama. It cleanses the body and knowledge is manifested. Manu says, ‘Just as gold and other metals melted in fire become pure so also the sense organs of the body get rid of impurities by Pranayama’. Pranayama is the fourth and very important stage of Ashtanga Yoga shown by Patanjalli. Yoga without Pranayama is not Yoga at all. That is why Pranayama is called the soul of Yoga. Bathing is necessary for purifying the body. Similarly, Pranayama is essential for purifying the mind.
(1) Pranayama keeps the body fit and healthy. It reduces excessive fat.
(2) One can live a long life through Pranayama. Pranayama improves the power of memory and eliminates mental disorders.
(3) Pranayama tones up the stomach, the liver, the bladder, the small and the large intestines and the digestive system.
(4) Pranayama purifies tubular channels and removes sluggishness from the body.
(5) Pranayama kindles gastric fire, the body becomes healthy and the inner voice begins to be heard.
(6) The constant practice of Pranayama strengthens the nervous system. The mind becomes calm and capable of concentration.
(7) The constant practice of Pranayama rouses spiritual power. It gives spiritual joy, spiritual light and mental peace.
Hints : For the effective and proper study of Pranayama, an aspirant should strictly follow the following hint :
(1) Pranayama should be practiced in a clean, airy place. It should be practiced in complete solitude.
(2) The best time for practice is the early morning. If this time is unsuitable, one may practice it in the evening.
(3) Pranayama is best done sitting on the floor. The postures suitable are Padmasana or Siddhasana. If one experiences difficulty in sitting in these postures for a longer time, one can select any convenient posture to sit steadily in an erect posture.
(4) The tubular channels should be cleansed before practicing Pranayama. For this, first practice asanas.
(5) Pranayama should be performed at a chosen time regularly on an empty stomach. A small cup of milk, if taken at the interval of ten minutes, will serve as a good tonic.
(6) Do not practice Pranayama if you feel exhausted. The aspirant should feel fresh and active after the practice of Pranayama.
(7) Do not take bath immediately after the practice of Pranayama. Rest for half an hour before taking bath.
(8) According to Patanjali, one should inhale and exhale slowly and rhythmically during the practice of Pranayama. Rhythmic and slow breathing makes the mind steady and calm.
(9) A beginner of Pranayama should practice inhaling and exhaling only for a few days. The ratio of inhaling (puraka) and exhaling (rechaka) should respectively be 1 : 2. This means that the time spent in exhaling should be twice the time spent in inhaling.
(10) The time for retention of the breath (kumbhaka) should be increased gradually. In the first week, it should be for seconds only ; in the second, it should be for eight seconds and in the third, it should be for twelve seconds. In this way, one can gradually increase the time of retention of breath to one’s utmost capacity.
(11) While inhaling, retaining the breath and exhaling, one must not experience any feeling of suffocation or strenuous effort.
(12) Maintain the ratio of 1: 4 : 2 for inhaling, retention of breath and exhaling respectively. Inhale till you speak one Omkara. Retain the breath till you finish four Omkars and exhale with two Omkaras. The following week the ratio should be 2 : 8 : 4, in the third week it should be 3 : 12 : 6 and so on. The limit is 16 : 64 : 32. Make the use of the fingers of the left hand for counting ‘Om’. After some practice, counting becomes unnecessary. Habit will, of its own accord, maintain the proper ratio of puraka, kumbhaka and rechaka i.e., inhaling, retention of breath and exhaling.
(13) Do not get disturbed if a few mistakes are committed in the early stage. Do not give up the practice. How to maintain the ratio of Puraka, Kumbhaka and rechaka will be learnt automatically. Common sense, intuition and the spiritual voice will guide one to the path of accomplishment.
(14) Surya Bhedana and Ujjayi should be practiced in winter only. Sitakari and shitali should be practissed in summer only. Bhastrika may be practiced round the year.
Important guidelines regarding Pranayama : It is necessary for an aspirant to understand and grasp certain important items related to Pranayama. These important items are as follows :
(1) The technique of Pranayama
(2) Puaka (Inhaling), Kumbhaka (Retention of the breath) and Rechaka (Exhaling)
(3) Nadis – the ida, the Pingala and Sushumna
(4) Mula Bandha, Jalandhar Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha
A brief explanation of these important aspects of Pranayama has been given below :
(1)The technique of Pranayama :
The left and right nostrils are to be closed for the practice of Pranayama. This is done mostly with the right hand. The right thumb is used to close the right nostril and the third and the fourth fingers are used to close the right nostril and the third and the fourth fingers are used to close the left nostril. When the holding of the nostrils is not required, keep the hands on the knees. For practicing Pranayama, try to attain the posture of Padmasana, Siddhasana, Swastikasana and Sukhasana.
(2) Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka
The meanings of these three important components of Pranayama are as are given below :
Puraka means to inhale.
Kumbhaka means to retain the breath.
Rechaka means to exhale.
Antarika Kumbhaka means retention following inhalation. Bahya Kumbhaka means restraint after exhalation. If Kumbhaka is taken with Rechaka and Puraka, it is known as ‘Sahita Kumbhaka’, if it is taken without Rechaka and Puraka, it is known as ‘Kevala Kumbhaka’. One should practice Sahita Kumbhaka until Kevala Kumbhaka is accomplished.
(3)Ida, Pingala and Sushumna : Energy or lifeforce flows through these three Nadis (tubular channels). Their deities are the Moon, the sun and the Fire respectively. The Ida starts from the left nostril, the Pingala from the right nostril and the Sushumna where both the nostrils meet. Hence the Sushumna is considered to be the ‘central channel’ (Madhya Nandi). The Ida (left) and the Pingala (right) change their sound hourly.
The Ida is also called the nadi of the Moon. It is cool and has an element of ‘Tamas’. It regulates human thoughts.
The Pingala is also called the nadi of the sun. it is warm and has an element of ‘Rajas’. It regulates energy or lifeforce in human body.
The Sushumna is also called the Brahmanadi. Of all nadis, the Sushumna is the most important. In some books, it has been named as ‘Saraswati’ or ‘Shanti’ nadi. This nadi is heither warm nor cool but it is moderate. This nadi imparts wisdom and knowledge. It helps an aspirant in his spiritual progress.
From the physical point of view, the co-ordination of these three nadis gives health, strength, mental peace and long life.
(4) Moola Bandha, Jalandhara Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha : These three ‘Bandhas’ are chiefly performed during the practice of Pranayama. The techniques and the advantages of these three Bandhas have been given below :
Technique : Press the lower abdominal muscle with the right heel and place the left heel at the root of the genitals. Contract the anal sphincter muscle upwards to the spine and feel the sensation that ‘apanavayu’ is drawn up. The exercise can be done replacing the left leg for the right one.
(1) This ‘Bandha’ enables the aspirant to accomplish accuracy in Pranayama.
(2) The practice of this Bandha helps to maintain celibacy.
(3) It kindles gastric fire, eliminates constipation and nourishes virility.
(4) It awakens the Kundalini.
(5) The aspirant of this Bandha enjoys youth for a very long time.
Technique : Assume the sitting posture. Contract the neck and the throat (glottis) and bring the head low. Press the chin firmly against the chest.
Jalandhar Bhandha is practiced at the end of inhalation and in the beginning of retention of breath. At the end of Puraka or inhalation, it becomes ‘Antarika Kumbhaka’ and at the end of exhalation, it becomes ‘Bahya Kumbhaka’. A beginner should first achieve proficiency in Pranayama before practicing this ‘Bandha’.
(1) Prana (Energy) begins to flow in its proper channel by the practice of this ‘Bandha’.
(2) This Bandha sublimates Kundalini Shakti.
(3) This Bandha closes the Ida and the Pingala ‘nadis’.