A Brief Introduction to Pranayama

Swami Jnaneswariananda International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center via Oreste Tommasini, 7 00162 Roma E-mail: swamijnaneswariananda@sivananda.org web page www.sivandna.org

In the science of yoga the term prana is used to indicate the life force which permeates living bodies. The term pranayama is often translated as the control or restraint of prana. This talk will be an introduction to the theory and practice of pranayama. To explain the importance of pranayama, it is first necessary to define the anatomy of the human body. Yogis have defined five sheaths of the body known as koshas: the physical sheath (annamaya kosha or food-sheath), the vital sheath (pranamaya kosha), the mental sheath (manomaya kosha), the intellectual sheath (jnanamaya kosha), and the bliss sheath (anandamaya kosha). The pranamaya kosha supplies the prana or energy required by the physical, mental, and intellectual sheaths to function. It may be seen as an interface or transducer between the more subtle mental sheath and the gross physical sheath. Thus true physical strength requires strong (or pure) mental and vital sheathes. In this sense, we may look at pranayama as the science of purifying and strengthening the vital sheath. The prana is carried throughout the pranamaya kosha by through channels called nadis. (These are equivalent to the meridians spoken of in Oriental medicine.) The basic practice of pranayama consists of 2 breathing exercises which purify and strengthen the nadis and the pranamaya kosha. The first of these is kapalabhathi (literally translated as ‘shining skull’) which purifies the physical respiratory tract as well as stimulating the storage of prana at the solar plexus. The second exercise is called Analoma Viloma and is referred to as the alternate nostril breathing. This practice balances the flow between the right and left nostrils, (between the Ha and Tha vayus) and is the most important pranayama for purification and strengthening of the nadis. The higher purpose of pranayama is arriving at the higher state of mind, that state beyond consciousness of the five sheaths. It must be emphasized that pranayama is an ancient, detailed, and exact science to be practiced in conjunction with other yogic disciplines. References [1] Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1988. [2] Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine, 6th edition, The Divine Life Trust Society, Rishikesh 2004.

[3] Swami Vishnu-devananda, Meditation and Mantras, 3rd edition, International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, Val Morin, Quebec, 2000.