Pranayama, the fourth limb of the Ashtanga Yoga within the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, is a technique of “prana” management. It is believed that the entire universe is a force of positive energy and is connected to our inner self through and this important “prana” force.
Many people consider pranayama simply as “Yama” – a breath control, whereas it is much more. Pranayama is “Ayama” – freeing. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, pranayama is a process that activates, lifts, expands and liberates prana to a higher frequency.
But what is Prana? Whatever moves or work or has a life, is the manifestation of Prana. Prana can be defined as the finest vital force in everything that is visible on the physical plane as motion & action and as the thought on the mental plane. Prana is the link between the astral and the physical body. Prana is the energy that causes the motion of the breath in the lungs; it is the combustion that propels a vehicle forward, it is what happens at a hydro power plant when water (breath) moves the turbine (body) and generates electricity. This electricity is prana.
Prana remains in suspended animation, is subtle, motionless and un-manifested until the vibration is acted upon it. This vibration, on the human plane is Breath.
By managing the flow of breath, one can easily manage various motions & the nerve impulses in the body and manage the thought mind. Management of the Prana is meditative, is meditation. Yogis of lore gave more importance to Prana than the mind. According to them, Prana is present even when the mind is absent, like during sleep, therefore prana plays a more significant part in life management.
On a day-to-day level, Pranayama is taken as the science of correct breathing, leading to mind management. Mind remains unsteady if the breath wanders, it becomes still only if the breath is steady. Pranayama is a way of disciplining oneself by managing one’s breath thereby mastering one’s thoughts.
Pranayama, on a physical plane, is a technique to calm the mind and lengthen life by slowing down the breath. Conscious guidance of prana in the body increases vitality, helps detoxifying and enhances immunity.
It is always advised that Pranayama should be practiced in the presence of an expert who can help perform this routine in a scientific manner.