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Benefits Of Yoga and Breathing

Pranayama literally means to expand vital force (prana or subtle energy)

Prana is the vital power which is the force motivating every element of the earth,
and which is the origin of the force of thought.

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Yoga and Breathing

The Benefits Of Yoga And Breathing

Yoga and Breathing – Pranayama

Yoga and breathing are inextricably linked. Pranayama literally means to expand vital force (prana or subtle energy). In the 49th Sutra of Sadhanapada of Patanjali Yogasutra, the great Rishi Patanjali has defined Pranayama as a process in which respiration is interrupted and Prana, that is the vital force, is controlled and regulated.According to some people, Prana means air or oxygen, but this is a wrong and misleading interpretation. Prana means something more than air. Prana is, in fact, the vital power which is the force motivating every element of the earth, and which is the origin of the force of thought. There is a deep affinity between Prana and mental force, between mental force and intellect, and between intellect and soul, and between the soul and God. Thus, the purpose of Prana is to inspire, motivate, regulate and balance the vital force (Prana) pervading in the body. This is the reason why Pranayama is considered one of the efficacious means of attaining Yoga.

According to some people, Prana means air or oxygen, but this is a wrong and misleading interpretation. Prana means something more than air. Prana is, in fact, the vital power which is the force motivating every element of the earth, and which is the origin of the force of thought. There is a deep affinity between Prana and mental force, between mental force and intellect, and between intellect and soul, and between the soul and God. Thus, the purpose of Prana is to inspire, motivate, regulate and balance the vital force (Prana) pervading in the body. This is the reason why Pranayama is considered one of the efficacious means of attaining Yoga.

Importance Of Pranayama – Yoga and Breathing

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 other Gali. And 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 necessary for purifying the mind.

Advantages Of Pranayama – Yoga and Breathing

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 large intestines and the digestive system.
4. Pranayama purifies tubular channels and removes sluggishness from the body.
5. The constant practice of Pranayama strengthens the nervous system. The mind becomes capable of concentration and its rouses spiritual power. It gives spiritual joy, spiritual light and mental peace.

Hints Of Pranayama – Yoga and Breathing

For effective and proper study of Pranayama an aspirant should strictly follow the following hints:

1. The best time to practice Pranayama Yoga and Breathing is early morning and if this time is unsuitable one should practice anytime on an empty stomach.
2. Pranayama is best done sitting on the floor. The most suitable postures are Padmasana (Lotus posture), Siddhasana and Sukhasana.
3. The tubular channels should be cleansed before practising Pranayama. For this, first practice asanas.
4. Pranayama should be performed at a chosen time regularly and on an empty stomach.
5. Do not practice Pranayama if you feel exhausted.
6. Do not bathe immediately after the practice of Pranayama. Rest for half an hour before having a shower or bath.
7. 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. The ratio of inhaling and exhaling (puraka and rechaka) should respectively be 1:2. This means the time spent exhaling should be twice the time spent inhaling.
8. The time for retention of the breath (kumbhaka) should be increased gradually. In the first week, it should be for 4 seconds only; in the second, it should be for 8 seconds and in the third, it should be for 12 seconds. In this way, one can gradually increase the time of retention of breath to one’s utmost capacity.
9. While inhaling, retaining the breath and exhaling, one must not experience any feeling of suffocation or strenuous effort.
10.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 Omkaras 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 use of the fingers on 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.
11.Do not worry if a few mistakes are committed in the early stages. 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.

Important guidelines regarding Pranayama: It is necessary for an aspirant to understand and grasp certain important items related to Pranayama:

1. The technique of Pranayama Yoga and Breathing
2. Puraka (Inhaling), Kumbhaka (Retention of the breath) and Rechaka (Exhaling)
3. Nadis-the Ida, the Pingala and the Sushumna
4. Mula Bandha, Jaladhar Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha
5. Nadishuddhi
6. Kapalabhati

A brief explanation of these important aspects:

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 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 practising 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:
Puraka means to inhale
Kumbhaka means to retain the breath
Rechaka means to exhale
Anthara Kumbhaka means retention following inhalation. Bahya Kumbhaka means restraint after exhalation. If Kumbhaka is taken with Rechaka and Puraka, it is known as ‘Kevala Kumbhaka’. One should practise Sahita Kumbhaka until Kevala Kumbhaka is accomplished.

3. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna:
Energy or life force 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 Nadi). The Ida (left) and the PIngala (right) change their sound hourly.
The Ida is also called the nadir of the Moon. It is cool and has an element of ‘Tamas’. It regulates human thoughts.
The Pingala is also called the nadir of the sun. It is warm and has an element of ‘Rajas’. It regulates energy or life force in the 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 neither 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 coordination 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.

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Surya Namaskara

Surya Namaskara is usually practiced at sunrise, facing the sun. This exercise activates the endocrine system and the chakras (the vortexes through which vital life energy, or prana, is channelled) helping to build strength and flexibility.

DISCLAIMER Neither The International Shiva Yoga Centre, nor P R Mohanan are liable for any injuries that may occur when trying the Sun Salutation.

This graphic is meant as a guide only. Before beginning any physical activity, you are advised to speak with your doctor and take classes with a qualified teacher and instructor.