Pranayama is the science of breath control. It is a subject worth studying due to the effect breath has on our five koshas (sheaths), including the pranamaya kosha (vital energy sheath). For example, the quality of our breath can change due to our mental and physical states, but how we breath can also affect our mental and physical states. The Yogic scriptures thus give great importance to pranayama, and it’s mastery is considered a prequisite to dharna (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). We will explore it in a series of articles over the next several months.

At its grossest manifestation, breathing involves the movement of muscles to transport air in and out of the body. Even at this level, the effects of how we breath extend to the heart and lungs. Beyond this, breathing occurs at the cellular level, as the functions of the nose, trachea, and lungs act together to transport oxygen from the air we breath in to our cells.

While breathing is an involuntary act, one in which we do not have to think to make happen, it can also be a voluntary act, with specific efforts affecting how we breath. As air enters the body, it eventually flows to the lunges and expands the chest. The diaphram is a muscle that divides the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. Its resting position is like a dome shape, yet when we breath deeply, the dome flattens to create more room in the chest cavity, and thus pushes out the abdominal area. Breathing this way is often called “belly breathing” or “diaphramic breathing” and allows for a deeper, slower breath that brings more oxygen in our body.

In the next part of this series, we will discuss techniques for breath awareness. Please post and comments of questions below, and we’ll try to address it as we go along!

5 Responses to “Pranayama: Introduction”

  1. Ankush Garg Says:

    Thanks much for starting this series! I will be following this closely 🙂

    Please also explain that what exactly Prana is? (At the appropriate place in the series) Is it the breath, or the electric currents in the nerves or something else? Or is it that it can’t be explained in words and is beyond the realm of the mind and intellect? I have never been able to understand that what Prana is…

  2. Ketki Shah Says:

    prana is a life which keeps your body alive. Without prana the body is dead. In other words prana is nothing but the soul within your body which keeps the body active.

  3. nina choksi Says:

    Should Pranayam be done on an empty stomach? If so, why?

  4. Rajendar Chauhan Says:

    Shri Ketki Shah is right. Prana is the divine or magnetic energy which keeps the life-breaths (Prana vayu) or respiration going. Not only this Prana is responsible for every function of our body for instance functions of brain, working of heart and lungs, digestion, excretion, sight, sound or speech, taste and sense of touch all are because of Pranas or the Prana-shakti.
    Our body has veins and nerves that perform the functions of blood circulation and communication respectively. Every pore of body is connected with a nerve or Prana nadi. Yogis have estimated about 720000000 nerves in our body, which offshoot from six nerve centers in the Sushumna nerve along the spine that is called Hridya, the central part of the the body.
    In brief, we have five main pranas and five sub-pranas in our body responsible for different functions of the body. Each prana has its place and function. First is the Udana Prana at throat for speech and other functions above the throat, Prana at heart – for movement of heart and lungs, Samana at naval- digests, Apana prana at rectum- excrets, fifth is Vyan Prana spread all over body and responsible for the sense of touch. Sub pranas perform small functions like movement of eybrows, belching, feeling of hunger and thirst etc.
    The subject is lengthy and more information can be found in scriptures of Hatha yoga.

  5. Ankush Garg Says:

    Thank you, Ketkiji and Rajendarji for your replies.

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