What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is an art of breathing applied in the Original Yoga System. This art helps the individual to control emotions. Emotional control gives stability, concentration, mental balance and self-confidence. Pranayama is a bridge that helps the individual to pass from a field of complete physical development to a more subtle energetic field. Pranayama step of the Original Yoga System forms a very important stage on the path to self-realization.
The word Pranayama consists of two words: Prana and Ayama. Explaining the word Prana is as difficult as explaining the universe. Prana is the basic energy that is spread over the entire space and penetrates all the dimensions of the universe. Prana is on the basis of physical, mental, intellectual and sexual energies. All energy vibrations result from Prana.
Prana constitutes the basis for all physical energies such as heat, light, gravity, magnetism and electricity. It is the hidden or potential energy called Prana within all beings which emerges at the time of danger just at the required amount. Prana is the force that moves everything. Creation, protection and destruction processes take place by means of this energy. Strength, competence, power, vitality and life emanate through Prana.
The water that feeds the root of the tree of life is Prana energy. Prana is the life breath of all living beings in the universe. Living beings are born through this energy, live by means of it and when the body dies; their individual energy merges with the cosmic energy. Prana is the hub of the life wheel. Everything in the universe stands on it. Prana penetrates into the sun, the moon, the ground, the clouds, the wind and all forms of the matter.
Life and death take place by means of Prana. All this information is taken by means of Prana and all the actions are supported by this energy. Therefore, the Yogi takes Prana energy under control and uses it consciously. In the beginning, the movement of Prana energy can only be perceived in the activity of lungs. The lungs are worked by the internal energy that causes respiration.
By means of Pranayama, by awakening to the nature of the breath and adjusting the breaths, the entire organism is controlled. When the breath is held, the nerve impulses in different areas of the body stop and the direction of brain waves are taken under control. During Pranayama, duration of breath retention is increased. As duration of breath retention increases, the time between the nerve impulses and the responses in the brain to these impulses increases. As duration of breath retention increases, mental tension decreases.
From a technical point of view and according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra book, “Pranayama is suspension of inhalation and exhalation.” Inhalation and exhalation are the preparations for breath retention process. Breath retention process is very important because during breath retention, more time is allowed for absorption of energy, exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells.
In fact, the connection between energy and consciousness takes place through respiration. During breath retention, this connection can be analyzed in a scientific manner. However, Pranayama is not only breath control. The main purpose of Pranayama practices is to awaken the energy, make the body and the mind healthy and perceive more subtle dimensions of existence. Through Pranayama techniques, the energy within the body is activated; the amount of energy and its frequency is increased.
Some scientists are making speculations by saying Pranayama techniques are developed by the monks. This is a wrong concept. The monks have taken Pranayama techniques from the Original Yoga System. In order to improve the pronunciation and effects of the hymns used in daily religious ceremonies, the monks benefit from Pranayama techniques. But this does not mean that Pranayama techniques have been developed by the monks.
Pranayama helps realization of three processes:
Self-Examination: We start to examine who we are by looking into respiration process.
Self-Development: When we start to develop respiratory functions, we start to develop ourselves.
Self-Understanding: When our individual respiration unites with the universal respiration, we understand that we are immortal.
An experiment has been made at Menninger Foundation, U.S. to prove the effects of Pranayama techniques. A Yogi has sat in an air-tight glass chamber. A burning candle and a living monkey were also put in the chamber. After three minutes, the candle has gone out and after fifteen minutes the monkey has lost its consciousness because of lack of oxygen. Even so, the Yogi has remained breathless in the chamber for forty-five more minutes. During the experiment, when a microphone touches a part of the Yogi’s body, a continuous sound has been heard like the sound of a waterfall. This sound was the sound of the energy flow in the body. Thus, an individual can stay alive by means of Prana while holding his breath during Pranayama.