What is pranayama?

nadi sodhana

Pranayama It is one of the pillars of yoga. Sometimes assimilated to breathing, it is a complete discipline that helps us from improving the body, concentration or mental processes, to being a powerful instrument to take the practitioner to higher states of consciousness. Breathing is the bridge between the body and the mind.

Although our motivations to approach yoga are diverse: improvement of our state of health, reduction of stress and anxiety, mastery of the body and mind, postural correction, search for inner happiness, etc. sooner or later one discovers that yoga is not a simple physical-psychic activity but a philosophy of life. Yoga is a path of self-knowledge and inner change. Through study, practice and intuitive knowledge (beyond our ordinary mind), the great yogis accessed higher states of consciousness that they transferred to what could be called yoga practice.

On this path we find that breathing is one of the key points of yoga. The teachers or professors remind us in each class, in each posture: “attentive to your breathing”. Breathing is a reflex action that we do constantly from birth to death. We all breathe, but some just pay more attention to it than others. Bring awareness to our breathing, focus on it and make it present.

By focusing our mind on the breath we are approaching a state of equanimity. Where our attention goes inward, we are no longer so scattered but present, attentive and focused. With a simple breath our mental circuits change. Observe our breathing to make it conscious, so that it is no longer a reflex and automatic act, but something that works in our favor.

We could identify the pranayama, with the breath, but we would stay on the surface. It's something more, pranayama is the discipline of conscious regulation of breathing, prana or life energy.

East prana It is defined as subtle vital energy, pure energy in its natural state. It is the life force that not only sustains the body, but also creation on all levels. Yogis identify the prana with life, vitality, they consider the cosmos to be alive and full of prana.

The practices of the different types of yoga, whether physical, through chants or recitations of mantras, meditations, visualizations, etc., seek to awaken, mobilize and improve this prana. According to yogis, everyone is born with a certain potential or amount of energy. prana, but the quality and quantity of it varies continuously. With positive thoughts, elevated feelings, the practice of yoga and others, we can generate high levels of prana. We can also obtain and increase prana through our environment: with food, water, sunlight and air, which is why outdoor walks in nature are so beneficial.

Although the breath is closer and the prana higher, the two are intrinsically related. We can influence our level of prana in the body with the help of breathing.

Patañjali, the sage considered the synthesizer of the yoga practice in his treatise yoga sutras, describes the pranayama as one of the eight branches or steps that the aspirant to happiness must follow (sadhak) on his way to realization:

tasmin-sati-śvāsa-praśvāsayoḥ-gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ”

Once this (asana) is done, mastery of pranayama is acquired by stopping the (ordinary) movement of breathing. Pranayama is the cessation of inhalation and exhalation when asana has been acquired. Yoga sutras of Patañjali, II 49

After asana, pranayama. When our posture becomes stable, comfortable, with the right and necessary tension, and if we don't forget yama Y niyama (the disciplines of regulating our external and internal relationships), mastery of breathing is acquired. The breath becomes conscious.

The techniques or practices of pranayama they are focused on deliberately changing the normal pattern of our breathing and thereby changing our state of mind. By practicing we reduce mental disturbances or fluctuations and minimize impurities in the body, both physical and mental or emotional. The ultimate goal of practicing pranayama, like yoga, is centering the mind.

Conscious breathing and pranayama They help us return the mind to healthier levels, to recover its natural state of calm and peace. That state where our reactions are no longer immediate and hasty, but rather thoughtful responses to the situations we find ourselves in. By regulating our breathing we can access to modify our mental state, going from acceleration to stillness, from agitation to calm, from stress to calm. To gradually be able to enter a state of equanimity and observation.

With a broader and calmer breath, calmer and more serene mind, greater absorption of prana. As we progress in the practice of pranayama our lung capacity will gradually expand and the quality of breathing will be refined. However, we must not want to force this change, it will happen in a holistic and natural way. If we force, the only thing we will achieve is adding more tension and distraction, and all caused by the impositions of our ego. This takes us away from the practice and the purpose of reducing the obstacles that affect mental clarity.

tatakṣīyate prakacea-astickA.M

Then that which covers the light is eliminated. Regular practice of pranayama reduces obstacles that inhibit clarity of perception– Yoga Sutras of Patañjali II.52

The ultimate goal of pranayama it is the mind. Reduce the obstacles that are in it in order to open it and perceive, feel. For this our breathing must become long, soft, regular and subtle. Long because it becomes fine and vice versa.

In addition to all these effects on the ordinary mind, the practice of pranayama, it becomes an access to our emotional body. As we have seen according to yoga, breathing is something more than the simple exchange of gases, thanks to breathing we obtain the prana or life energy. Also with breathing we modify our mind and with it our emotions and thoughts.

A breathing cycle with its four distinct phases can be assimilated to our life cycle. The beginning of inspiration would be the moment of birth or new life, we inspire until we reach the maximum where by retaining full lungs we will feel the state of fullness or maximum abundance coinciding with our maximum vital splendor, from there a slow decline begins in the phase from expiration where we slowly get rid of everything that is no longer necessary, until we reach the empty lungs, where there is nothing, only emptiness or death. Birth and growth, fullness, decrease and emptiness or death. Our life cycle within each breath. This cycle repeats itself constantly, at a rate of about 12 breaths per minute.

We can relate each phase of breathing to our emotional state and help ourselves with one type of breathing or another on each occasion according to our needs.

exhale (rechaka) is synonymous with emptying, cleaning. We can think of it on a physical level as through expiration we expel the excess, carbon dioxide. But also the exhalation accompanies the emotional and mental process. Any negative emotion, any recurring or obsessive thought can be expelled through breathing. It is a symbolic process but it has a great effect on the mind. Release, exhale, empty. In each exhalation you will be able to get rid of something that has already done its job and that you no longer need, a pain, an annoyance, a thought.

Inspire (puraka) is synonymous with filling, with receiving. We fill ourselves with air, oxygen, also with prana or life energy. But we also give our body permission to receive from life. To open up and trust what will be delivered to us at all levels. If we have a hard time inspiring, it may be because we have a hard time trusting others and being helped. To inspire is to open up to life, to whatever has to come. Open up, trust.

Retention to full lungs (Antara Kumbhaka) is synonymous with encompassing, fullness. In this moment of fulfillment, of maximum capacity, there is a pause where we can experience the fullness of our existence. The whole contained in us. That is why people with anxiety can find it very overwhelming to fill up even more and should avoid retentions or enter them very slowly. So we can enjoy the fullness, our maximum splendor.

The suspension of breathing or holding to empty lungs (bahya kumbhaka) is synonymous with stopping, out of nowhere. There is nothing anymore, everything has stopped, nothing exists anymore. Death is present, but not a physical death from fear, but a death of the old from the stagnant, to be able to revive in the next inspiration. We learn to enjoy the emptiness, the nothingness, that everything that overwhelmed or worried us is nothing in relation to the universe or the lifetime of the earth.

We have seen that it is pranayama and how it helps us to focus our mind and change our state of mind.


Good practice yogis!


You can come practice with us pranayama in our classes. We wait for you.


Silvia Gallego

Hatha Yoga and Pranayama teacher

Yoga for calm mind


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