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Mandiram, Chennai. During his long association with KYM, he had the privilege of learning the nuances of Yoga Sastra directly under Yogi TKV Desikachar. Sridharan is now an expert Yogi and a Yogic teacher. In this series on Yogasutra, Yogi S Sridharan elucidates every aspect of YOGA. Yoga Sutra describes the components of Pranayama as under: ³bahya abhyantara stambha vrttihi desa kala samkhyabihi paridrsto dirghasukshmah´(2.50) (Pranayama means regulation of exhalation, inhalation and stopping of the breath. This is achieved by modulating their length; maintain the modulation for a period of time and focussing on the breath. The components of breathing should be long and subtle.) When the practice is consistently followed over a period, it not only results in extending the life span, but maintains the system healthy, helps in healing against diseases and sharpens the mind and senses. Results of the Pranayama Pranayama practice reduces (kshiyate) the impurities which surrounds (avaranam) the glow of intellect (prakasam) Yoga Sutra puts this as (2.52) ³tatah ksiyate prakasavaranam´ The impurities (klesas) that prevent our right perception are the wrong knowledge (avidya) sense of false ego (asmita) excessive attachment towards objects (raaga) unnecessary hatred (dvesha) and fear of life (abhinivesa) Pranayama also makes the mind (manas) fit (yogyata) for focus (dharana) Yoga Sutra (2.53) ³dharanasu cha yogyata manasaha´ The importance of Pranayama is such that it is an important activity in all the Vedic rituals. Pranayama is taught when a child is initiated to Gayatri Mantra right at a very young age, when the Brahmopadesam is done. While it is not dangerous to do Pranayama, it is certainly risky if not learnt and practised with the guidance of a competent teacher. The important text on Yoga, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, says that: The proper practice of Pranayama will remove all diseases. Improper practice of Pranayama will result in diseases. ³Pranayamena yuktena sarva rogakshayo bhavet Ayukatabhyasayogena sarvarogasamudbhavaha´ (2.16)
³By the wrong practice of Pranayama are produced hiccup, asthma, bronchial diseases, pains in the head, ears and eyes and various other diseases.´ ³hicca shvasaccha kasaccha shiraha karnaakshivedanaaha Bhavanti vividha roghaha pavanasya prakopitaha´ The practice of Pranayama appears deceptively simple. However, proper breathing technique involves the right use of diaphragm. The diaphragm which is attached to the ends of the rib cage moves up and down as we breathe out and in. We consciously make the diaphragmatic movement more efficient to elongate the breathing. This calls for a deep contraction of the abdominal muscles particularly below the navel. The first lesson in breathing is learnt well when one can properly contract the lower abdomen on exhalation. Exhalation involves a movement from abdomen to chest and Inhalation involves a movement from chest to abdomen. Understanding and employing the right technique of breathing is the first essential step in the practice of Pranayama. A simple way to get the right technique of breathing is to lie on the back and put the palms on the navel. As we breathe in, feel the air going into the chest and slowly descend to the abdomen when the palms will go up. This is Inhalation. As we breathe out, the stomach is contracted, the palms come down and the air is expelled as if from the abdomen to chest and out of the system. This is Exhalation. Also this movement is a ³conscious´ activity, where the mind is put on the breath. There is a close link between our mental activities and our breathing. Practically, we can feel this when we can observe changes in our breathing pattern, if we hear some exciting news. It is not uncommon for us to take a µdeep breath¶ unconsciously to put back the breath into normalcy and be mentally relieved. Hatha Yoga Pradipika puts this very nicely in the verse: ³chale vate chalam cittam, nischale nischalam bhavet Yogi sthanutvamapnoti tato vayum nirodhayet´ [Chapter II Verse 3] [When the breath wanders (ie, in an irregular manner), the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind and the Yogi obtains the power of stillness of the mind. Therefore the breath should be regulated (to regulate the mind)] Mind, the eleventh sense and the chief of the ten senses, is the subtlest part of the human system and cannot be easily µheld¶. That is why we find it difficult to control the ever-wandering mind and direct it to an object of our choice. In Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna how to control this naturally wandering pattern of the mind. ³chanchalam he manah Krishna pramathi balabaddradham tasyaham nigraham manye vayoriva suduskaram´ [Chapter VI Verse 34]
[Verily, the mind, O Krishna, is restless, turbulent, strong and unyielding; I regard it quite as hard to achieve its control, as that of air.]
Lord Krishna in his astute reply states that only through Practice and Renunciation the mind can be brought under
control. ³asamsayam mahabaho mano durnigraham chalam Abhyasena tu kounteya vairagyena ca grhyate´ (Chapter VI Verse 35) [Without doubt, O mighty armed, the mind is restless and difficult to control; but through practice and renunciation O son of Kunti, it may be governed] The practice of mind-control through direct means of dealing with the mind (dhyanam) is difficult, particularly for the beginners and hence practice of Pranayama is the ideal and recommended tool. Preparations for Pranayama Pranayama practice calls for preparation even on a daily basis. Practice of Asanas (yoga postures) acts as the best preparation for practice
of Pranayama. Here the Asana practice is aimed at making the spine erect and to enable us to sit for a length of time (say 20 minutes or so) for the practice of Pranayama without distraction of pain in parts of the body. Ideal postures for practice of Pranayama include Siddhasana, Padmasana, and Vajrasana. Where one cannot sit
in these postures with ease for some time, it would be ideal to sit on a stool/chair (armless) with the back erect. Attempting to sit in a posture which hurts the body will not serve the purpose as focussing on the breath will be lost.
Practice of Pranayama is categorised as ³Brahmana´, ³Langhana´ and ³Samana´. ³Brahmana´ generally
means ³expansion´ and ³Langhana´ means ³starving´ and ³Samana´ means ³balanced´. In this context, Brahmana Pranayama involves a longer Inhalation than the Exhalation. For example in one breath, when we inhale for 8 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds, it is called as Brahmana Pranayama. Langhana Pranayama calls for a longer exhalation and ratios like Exhalation of 8 seconds and Inhalation of 4 seconds belong to this category. Samana Pranayama is where the Inhalation and Exhalation timing are same such as 8 seconds both. The effect of the practice of Pranayama differs depending on these categories. While Brahmana Pranayama, generally, energises and makes one active, Langhana Pranayama relaxes the mind and body. Pranayama ensures continuation of the state of mind. Samana
Brahmana Pranayama involves more focus on the chest region and Langhana Pranayama involves more focus on the abdomen region. Before embarking on the practice of Pranayama the practice of Yoga postures can also be aimed at, to meet this requirement. Suppose we want to sit down and do a Brahmana Pranayama our preparation can include postures which focus on the chest and where the spine arches such as Veerabhadrasana, Dvipadapitam, Bhujangasana, etc. Before practice of langhana pranayama, the practice of yoga postures can include yogasanas like parsva uttanasana, uttanasana, janusirsasana, paschitmatnasana, etc.
Before practice of samana pranayama, practice of yogasanas which stretches the spine straight would be useful. The postures can include tadasana, urdhva prasrta padasana, parvatasana, etc.
Practice of pranayama has direct impact on the mind. When we feel lethargic, practice of brahmana pranayama will help. When we are stressed out and would like to relax and get a good sleep langhana pranayama will be of help. When we want to do meditation samana pranayama will be of assistance.
While we are on the topic of Pranayama, it is ideal to understand the origin and characteristics and the role of
Prana in our life. In the Vedas and Upanishads, there are a lot references about Prana. Prana , the life energy, is also the cosmic energy which is responsible for ³life´ in all living species. According to Prasna Upanishad, Prana is the first of the creation. It is the source of energy for all in the universe. In the human beings it has three roles. First it determines the life span of the individual. Death happens when the body is separated from Prana, ie., when the Prana leaves the body. Prana also is responsible for the proper functioning of our system consisting of the body, mind and senses. Prana is also used by the Yogi to achieve the goal of ³Selfrealisation´. Human beings get Prana through the three sources of food, water and air. Prana is very subtle to be seen and dealt with. Breath acts as a vehicle of Prana. It is through conscious breathing that we can deal with Prana. For a healthy life, Prana should be within the human system. Generally Prana can scatter outside our body to the extent of 12 angulas. Prana is carried in our system through nadis, which are approximately 72,000 in number. It is impurities (mala) which blocks the Prana from moving in all the nadis freely. These impurities are formed in us through wrong food habits, life style and mental attitude. Negative attitudes such as anger, jealousy, lust, etc., contribute towards formation of the impurities. There are five forms of Prana, called ³Pancha Maha Pranas´, all having different names based on the function they perform. These are:
Name of Location (in the Pancha our body) Maha Prana Prana-vayu Chest
Movement Function/Use Upward Breathing, Seeing, Hearing
Apanavayu Vyana-vayu Udanavayu Samanavayu
Below Navel upto rectum/anus All over the body Throat
Downward Circular Upward
Excretion, removal of impurities Carries energy Speech Helps digestion and carries the juice of food to the parts of the body
All forms of Prana are necessary for proper functioning of our system and, to be effective, they must be in a state of balance with one another. The impurities in our body, generally, get accumulated in the region below the navel. This place, i.e, below the navel down upto the lowerend part of the spine is called as ³apana´ region. Apana-vayu, a form of Prana energy, which is in this region helps elimination of impurities. When a lot of impurities gets accumulated in this region, then an imbalance is created wherein too much of energy is consumed in eleminating the waste. For removal of impurities µfire¶ is one of the best medium. In the human system there is a fire which is located just above the navel. This fire called ³jaataraagni´ is responsible for a number of functions including digestion, etc. The flame of the fire is pointing upwards. This ³fire´, which is above the navel, has to be directed towards the ³impurities´, which are below the navel, to enable the latter to be burnt. Each time we inhale, the air pushes the ³fire´ towards the ³impurities´ to enable it to burn the impurities. On exhalation, the burnt impurities are brought out of the system. This process of pushing the air from chest to stomach (Inhalation) and the reverse process (Exhalation) together is called Pranayama. The stopping of the breath after Inhalation helps in the burning the dirt while the stopping of the breath after Exhalation helps to stop the burnt impurities which have gone out of the system from re-entering for the time being. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna, succinctly, puts this as:
³Apaane juhvati praanam, prane apaanam tathaa pare Praanaapana gati ruddhva praanaayaama paraayanaha´ (Chapter IV Verse 29) [Others devoted to the practice of Pranayama, offer to the Apaana the Praana (Inhalation) and the Praana into Apaana (Exhalation) and stop the course of Praana and Apaana (holding the breath)] Thus, the purpose of Pranayama is to burn and remove the impurities from the system. Yoga Sutra gives the results of the Pranayama as: ³tataha ksheeyate prakasaavaranam´ (Chapter II Sutra 52) [The regular practice of Pranayama removes the impurities which is covering the clear perception] To sum up, Pranayama, the fourth anga of the Astanga Yoga is a very important tool as it helps in removal of the impurities from the system particularly from the mind and thus helps in making the mind fit for Meditation. There are a number of Pranayamas and it is ideal to learn the Pranayama from a competent yoga teacher, who will teach us that Pranayama which is most suited and required for the person at that point of time. The Pranayama which is prescribed to be done and followed in all the vedic rituals is a special type where one has to exhale through right nostril completely, inhale through the left nostril and while holding the breath mentally recite the Complete Gayatri Mantra (Om tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo na prochatayat) with the vyahritis (om bhuhu om bhuvaha ogum suvaha om mahaha om janaha om tapaha ogum satyam) and siras (Omapo jotiraso amrutam brahma bhurbhuvasuvarom). While on Pranayama, we will also visit the concept of ³Kundalini´. As discussed earlier in this series, Prana energy travels in our body through Nadi-s. While there are 72000 Nadi-s (there are differences of opinion about the total number of Nadi-s), three Nadi-s are considered as prime and important. They are Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. These three Nadi-s are on the back of our spinal chord. While the Sushumna, the central Nadi travels straight along the spine, the other two Nadi-s travel in a criss-cross way along the spine and all the three meet at certain points. These energy points are called ³Chakras´. There are in all seven important Chakras. At the base of the three Nadi-s, from where they start to move up, lies the ³Kundalini´ referred to as ³serpentine power´. The word ³Kundalini´ itself has come from the word ³Kundali´ which means a round ear ring worn by women. Symbolically, it is visualised as a serpent coiled like an ear ring. This blocks the Prana from entering the middle and most important Nadi, namely Sushumna. By the practice of Pranayama along with bandhas, the fire in the body is directed towards the ³Kundalini´ which is aroused and like a serpent it uncoils and extends like a stick up the Sushumna Nadi. That leaves way for the Prana to enter the Sushumna Nadi.
To be continued as a weekly series««..shall keep you updated««