Coping With Stress by Pranayama

Pranayama is made of two words “pra” meaning to fill is added to the root word “an” (to breathe or to live) creating new the new meaning life that fills with breath. Pranayamaa is control of Breath". "Prana" is Breath or bio energy in the body. On subtle levels, prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and "ayama" means control. Therefore, Pranayama is "Control of Breath". One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve healthy body and mind.

In yogic point, Pranayama is basically series of exercises, which aims at bringing more oxygen to blood and to the brain. It not only automates flow of blood but also regulates proper functioning of thoughts and desire. The practice of this asana removes the obstruction, which encumber the flow of prana. It gives poise and tremendous will power. It generates lots of courage and will power within an individual. Pranayama is an art and has techniques to make the respiratory organs to move and expand intentionally, rhythmically and intensively.

In other words, the prana is related to the mind and mind is related to the brain, the brain is related to the soul (Atma) the soul (Atma) is ultimately related to that eternal divine force called Paramatma “God”. Thus, the objective of Pranayama is to stimulate, communicate, regulate and control the vital life force that exists in the body.

Importance of Pranayama

There is no penance greater than Pranayama. It blemishes the ignorance and helps the knowledge to rise. Pranayama helps in reducing different kinds of diseases. Moreover, because pranayama (breathing) is the important means of supplying our body and its various organs with prana (oxygen) it is vital for our survival. Another important reason that pranayama is important is that it is because breathing is one of the most important ways that we are able to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.

Pranayam is considered the highest form of penance. It is equivalent to cooking. Like, good food is automatically absorbed by the body and the body scans the food, eliminates the part, which is not needed. Similarly, Pranayam focuses the mind on a specific subject and removes the impurities of the body.

Pranayama is an art and has techniques to make the respiratory organs to move and expand intentionally, rhythmically and intensively. It consists of long, sustained subtle flow of inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka) and retention of breath (kumbhaka). Puraka stimulates the system, rechaka throws out vitiated air and toxins; kumbhaka distributes the energy throughout the body. The movements include horizontal expansion (dairghya), vertical ascension (aroha) and circumferential extension (visalata) of the lungs and the rib cage… This disciplined breathing helps the mind to concentrate and enables the sadhaka to attain robust health and longevity."

Another important reason that pranayama is important is that it is because breathing is one of the most important ways that we are able to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body. The practice of asana tuned to pranayama the breath builds internal heat and prana (vital energy). This process removes impurities and transforms blockages in the body.

Types Of Pranayama

  • Quiet Breathing, Deep Breathing, Fast Breathing
  • Tribandha and Pranayama
  • Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama
  • Ujjayi Pranayama
  • Bhramari Pranayama
  • Pranayama from Hatha Yoga (Surya Bhedan, Bhasrika, Ujjayi, Shitali, Sitkari, Bhramari, Murchha & Plavini Pranayama)

Preparation For Pranayam

The process of Pranayama is concerned with the breathing, the indicator of life. Therefore, if it is done wrongly, it may do harm to the person. This fear dissuades many from taking up Pranayama. The second reason for its unpopularity is the absence of teachers who can teach it scientifically. However, it is true that if one does Pranayama unscientifically, without proper guidance, one certainly suffers. However, it does not mean that it is such a difficult process, that it cannot be done by a common man. On the contrary, if it is learnt and practiced under an expert's guidance, one learns soon and experiences the wonderful and even unimaginable benefits.

The breathing process chiefly involves two activities, viz., inhaling and exhaling. Of these, the former is called "Puraka" and the latter "Rechaka"' in Yogashastra. These two activities continue non-stop right from the birth to the death of a person. The state when these two activities are made to halt is given the name "Kumbhaka" in Yoga Studies. The halt after inhaling, i.e., Puraka is called "Abhyantara Kumbhaka" and after exhaling, i.e. rechaka. It is called "Bahya Kumbhaka".

Two more types of Kumbhaka are mentioned. Instead of talking of them in detail, let us turn to the process of breathing.

According to the speed of breathing, it is divided into three parts:
  • The smooth breathing that continues naturally without any effort (Quiet Breathing)
  • The protracted breathing which is caused by deliberate slowing down of the breathing (Deep Breathing)
  • The quick breathing, which is caused by deliberate increase in the speed of breathing (Fast Breathing)

Pranava Mudra for Pranayama (Body Gestures & Mental Attitudes)

The first two fingers of the right hand palm are to be curved and last two fingers are to be kept straight and to be held together. Now straighten the thumb and bending the right hand in the elbow, place the curved fingers in such a way that they come near the lips. Keep the hand from shoulder to elbow glued to the chest. Keep the right hand thumb on the right side of the nose and last two fingers on the left side of the nose. Now by pressing the thumb, the nasal cavity on the right side can be closed and by pressing the last two fingers left side cavity can be closed. The pressure should be light just on the below the nasal bone, where the fleshy part begins. With this arrangement of the fingers, one can close any of the two nasal cavities. Here only the movement of thumb and the last two fingers is expected.

Movement of other parts should be avoided. The face should be kept quite and relaxed in order to practice breathing more effectively. Further, in order to practice the cycle of inhaling and exhaling, six supplementary types are given. In all these types, the speed of breathing is more. These are actually the types of quick breathing. While practicing these types one should first sit in one of the following Asanas: Padmasana, Vajrasana or Swastikasana. Then, the left hand should be kept in Dhyana Mudra and the right hand in Pranava Mudra. The eyes should be closed and the whole attention should be concentrated on breathing so that it will be possible to acquire it.

Types of breathing

Type - 1
Keep both the nostrils open and then inhale and exhale with both the nasal passages. This type is nothing but quick breathing with both the nasal cavities. One should inhale and exhale with as much speed as possible and for as much time as feasible.

Type - 2
Take up Pranava Mudra and close the right nostril with the help of the thumb of the right hand, and inhale with left nostril and also exhale through the same nasal passage. In brief, this type can be described as quick breathing with the left nostril.

Type - 3
In this type, left nostril is to be closed and the quick breathing is done with the right nostril.

Type - 4
In this type close the right nostril, and inhale with the left nostril, and then immediately close left nostril and exhale with the right nostril. In this way, try quick breathing by changing the nostrils.

Type – 5
This type of breathing is just opposite the previous one, that is, the left nostril is closed and inhaling is done with the right nostril, then immediately closing the right nostril, exhaling is done with the left nostril.

Type - 6
This type of breathing is designed by combining previous two types i.e., type 4 and type 5. First inhale with left nostril and exhale with right one, then inhale with right nostril and exhale with left nostril. Later continue the same process i.e. inhaling & exhaling with left and right nostrils alternately. Further, switch to fast breathing by increasing the speed of breathing. After sufficient practice, the speed of breathing can be increased immensely.

Initially one should start with eleven cycles of breathing, and it should be increased to one hundred and twenty one without any fear. However, later the breathing should be made a part of daily practice of other Asanas, and be practiced for two to three minutes. All these types can also be practiced with slow inhalation and exhalation. Here it is important to note that practicing these types of breathing does not mean doing Pranayama. This is simply a preparation of the actual practice of Pranayama.Control of breath means the cessation of the outgoing and ingoing movements of breath. Breath is the gross representative of the subtle, vital force inside the body. If the Prana is stopped, the mind cannot move and a state of stillness (Manonasha) comes.

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