“Pranayama is to Yoga, what the heart is to the human body.”
- B.K. Iyengar
Pranayama or breath control is an important bridge between the outward practices of yoga, like the asanas, and the inward surrendering yogic practices. It is a link between the mind and body; between the conscious and unconscious. By focusing on the breath the mind becomes calm and balanced.
Practice of Pranayama controls the mind and slows the breath so that the higher life-force can manifest. It consists of deepening and extending the prana or life-force until it leads to a condition of peace.
“Prana” means life force and “anayama” means control. Pranayama means mastering the life force within. When consciously controlled, it has a powerful vitalizing effect on the body, mind and spirit.
Everything we do uses life force or prana – notice how fatiguing it is when an argument leaves you feeling drained. For most of us, this vital energy is constantly depleted and never recharged. Pana is dissipated by stressful lifestyle and habits or emotional outbursts.
Pranayama also helps to connect the body to its battery, the solar plexus, where tremendous potential energy is stored. When tapped through specific techniques this vital energy, or prana, is released for physical, mental and spiritual rejuvenation. Regular practice removes obstructions, which impede the flow of vital energy. When the cells work in unison, they bring back harmony and health to the system.
Pollution, bad posture and faulty living habits enable us to use only a fraction of our potential respiratory capacity. Our lifestyle and unhealthy habits cause restriction in our breathing pattern. Poor posture (hunching, slouching) reduces lung capacity. This results in fatigue caused by the decrease in blood circulation and insufficient supply of oxygen to the blood cells.
Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our bodies. It helps sustain the flow of oxygenated blood to the nerves, brain, spinal cord and cardiac muscles, thereby maintaining their efficiency.
We need to breathe slowly and deeply. Quick, shallow breathing results in oxygen starvation, which leads to reduced vitality, premature ageing, a poor immune system and fatigue. No one can live for more than a few minutes without breathing, yet how many of us are even aware of the importance of proper breathing?
The longevity of the body increases as the rate of breathing reduces. In the animal world, there is a strong correlation between the number of breaths and life span. For example, the giant tortoise, which takes three breaths a minute, can live about 180 years, whereas a monkey, which takes thirty breaths a minute, has a life span of about twenty to thirty years.
- We take approximately 21,600 breaths every day.
- According to the ancient yogic texts, we are meant to live a full 120 years.
- Breathing and our state of mind are directly related. When we are excited, angry or stressed, the breathing becomes fast and shallow.