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Praanaayaama (Art & Science of Breathing)

Breathing is the most important functions of a living body. It is automatic, natural and synonymous with living. Without it the life as we know is not possible. It is rather strange, that given its importance either science or medicine has yet not considered it as a subject of exploration. The purpose of breathing is to supply oxygen to and remove carbon dioxide from each body cell to maintain its health and function. Any deficiency of purpose may build up toxins in the cell and inhibit their function and a reduction in their vitality.

That’s exactly what happens in our conditioned normal breathing that is shallow and fast. Persistent shallow and fast breathing results in reduced oxygen supply to the body cells. Consequently, health and function of the body cells is compromised leading to a poor immune system. The present day life style either at work place inside the enclosed buildings or time in transit in an automobile or in an airplane inhibits normal breathing leading to emotional responses of anxiety and anger which further feedback to fast and shallow breathing. Thus habitual breathing unless corrected is not conducive to a healthy living. 

The correct breathing is done through the nose and is deep. The nose keeps the impurities and excessively cold air from entering the body. In addition it must imbibe the process of breathing when we are involved in some kind of physical activity. The breath must move the abdomen in and out while exhaling and inhaling respectively but it should be done without any strain. The breath must involve the entire respiratory system by expanding the lungs to their entirety. In doing so, one may have to raise his shoulders, collarbone and ribs and also extend his abdomen and lower his diaphragm.

The importance of the benefits of deep breathing can not be overemphasized.  It keeps the body and mind healthy and relaxed. In Yoga deep breathing start filling the lower part of the lungs first and then the middle part continuing on to the upper part. While exhaling, reverse the sequence by first emptying the upper part, then the middle part continuing on to the lower part. In doing so, we stimulate the liver and the spleen by the massaging action of the expanding and contracting lungs.   

Praana is universal energy that is source of all creation. It is harnessed as bio-energy in manifested life. It is the very medium through which matter and mind are linked to the consciousness and hence pervades as corresponding energy in all manifestation: spiritual, mental and physical. It acts in unison with the consciousness. It moves as vibrations wherever the consciousness moves. It stops wherever the consciousness is focused. According to yoga philosophy when the breath is still, praana is still and the consciousness is still. All vibrations come to an end. As the breath moves to any part of the body so does the praana and the consciousness.  Control of the flow of praana helps control the mind and therefore leads to concentration and awareness about oneself.

In praanaayaama, ayaama refers to the regulation and control. During praanaayaama breath is regulated and modified. A well-regulated breath can control the fluctuations of mind. It brings to surface the interior wisdom that is dulled due to actions born of passion, anger and delusion. It promotes concentration and focus. Praanaayaama is the fourth stage after yama (five self-restraints: non-violence, truth, honesty, sexual control and non-possessiveness), niyama (five observances: physical and mental cleanliness, contentment, austerity and self-surrender), asanas (postures) in the Patanjali’s eight stages of Raja Yoga leading to meditation for spiritual journey. These disciplines are necessary if one really wants to pursue meditation.

Not only that praanaayaama is one of the necessary and the tools for meditation, its constant practice leads to the very wellbeing of a person. It is by far the very basic and the most important discipline for a disease free and healthy living. However, a warning must be given. Praanaayaama is very powerful. It should never be attempted without expert guidance. There are a variety of benefits achieved by practicing Praanaayaama. It -

  • Maintains body's life-processes and balance
  • Fights laziness and inertia
  • Promotes resistance against fatigue thereby reducing the impact of stress
  • Strengthens metabolism when combined with yoga
  • Alleviates anxiety and keeps emotional balance
  • Develops concentration and memory Raise awareness about your constitutive nature.

In addition some praanaayaama exercises raise and then lower our heart rate and blood pressure, similar to aerobic exercise. All exercises:

  •  Relax our muscles.
  •  Oxygenate the blood, so we think better after praanaayaama 

There are five manifestations of Praana in the human body of which two are important. One is Praana that is seated in the heart and is uplifting praanic current. Praana travels upward along the spine. It causes inhalation and is generated by the process of inhalation. It controls cortical functions. The second is Apaana that is seated in the anus and is descending praanic current. Apaana flows down the spine. It causes exhalation and is generated by exhalation. It contols the elimination functions. It is clear then that breathing is a manifestation of the universal energy, praana.

There are specific postures recommended for praanaayaama. Some of these postures are siddhasana, padmaasana and vajraasana.

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