What is the meaning of pranayama

Introduction to Pranayama

The science of Hatha Yoga has studied the interactions between breath and the physical, mental and emotional well-being of humans for a long time and has developed techniques that make direct use of this interrelation - the pranayamas.

The term pranayama is often translated as a breathing exercise. It would be more appropriate to speak of pranayama as an energy exercise - an energy exercise that uses breathing as a tool. While the breathing exercise focuses on training the breathing movement and strengthening the breathing system (and thus forms a necessary basis for pranayama), the goal of pranayama is to change our pranic (energetic) structure. The aim of the Pranayama exercises is to purify our astral body (the energy channels and energy centers) and to balance the energy.

In order to understand these relationships in their full meaning, we want to deal with a fundamental question:

Prana may be referred to and viewed as air or oxygen or energy, but it is more than that; it is the "idea", the substance that works behind the physically manifested principle of the gas "air", the energy and behind all life. It's like the wind. You cannot see the wind, but you can see its effect by the movement of the clouds and trees. Likewise, you recognize and feel Prana in the innumerable manifestations of life.

Prana is the essence of life that brings about and enables all movement, all life, and every thought. Prana manifests as mind, sound, energy, but Prana itself is more subtle than this. Like ether, Prana permeates our entire existence and shapes our life.

The amount and movement of Prana in and around us determine our life. Our thinking, our feeling, the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us, is an effect of Prana. Prana is the cause, our thinking and feeling is the effect. Yoga says we can change our prana. And if we can change our prana, we can change our world too!

The importance of pranayama

We often feel like a victim who is mostly put on the defensive and reacts more often than acts. One feels like a plaything of violence without realizing that not only the external forces that direct and manipulate us are responsible for this situation, but also our inability (or lack of internal strength) to react appropriately to external factors .

And the forces that manipulate us are not only external, we mostly react automatically and become victims of our addictions and desires, feel offended, get angry about little things - and we don't seem to have any influence on any of these impulses. It's like our thoughts and feelings have a life of their own that is beyond our control. The urges and desires, the fears, aggressions and prejudices seem to be stronger than us. Wouldn't it be desirable for WE to become stronger than these elements?

In this sense, namely to awaken the inner strength to take one's own life in hand and thus also to take responsibility for one's own well-being and personal development, strengthening, controlling and aligning the prana movement through Pranayama helps.

The control over this mysterious, all-pervading essence PRANA can change our entire life for the better:

  • the ability to concentrate increases. One can think clearly, sharply and with concentration
  • the dependence on external factors decreases - you are no longer the plaything of the weather, the stars and the whims of other people.
  • the willpower increases. Endurance and inner strength are increased.
  • the inner attitude becomes more balanced - you feel more in balance and are more “above things”. The quality of life increases.
  • the increased energy level leads to improved health on the physical level, since all organs receive more prana, and on the spiritual / psychological level a stable self-confidence and inner strength.

It is a question of energy and the controlled and conscious use of energy. The means, the instrument to do this, is pranayama.

The movement of the mind is the image of the movement of the prana. The mind is a manifestation of prana. If you succeed in changing Prana, you have your mind and with it your entire life in hand. Pra-nayamas are highly effective exercises for changing and purifying our entire prana structure. On the one hand, Pranayama causes an increase in Prana, which leads to a strengthening of mind and body, on the other hand, Pranayama improves the free flow of energy and helps to remove blockages. Both aspects have clearly noticeable positive effects on our overall well-being. Ultimately, pranayama works to balance and harmonize more subtle aspects of our mind. The result of persistent pranayama practice is a constantly deepening inner peace, a feeling of wholeness, of being calm in one's center.

After these philosophical discussions, let us now turn to the practical aspects of breathing and pranayama:

Holding your breath (Kumbhaka)

Beginners still practice without holding one's breath, but with more advanced practice the phase of holding one's breath becomes the central element of pranayama. Kumbhaka, the holding of breath in yoga pranayamas, has great significance on all levels of the human being:

Physical level
During the pause phase, the continued cell breathing increases the carbon dioxide content in the blood, which causes an increased binding of oxygen to the red blood cells. The blood is therefore enriched with more oxygen than usual during the exercise. While holding one's breath, the entire gas exchange in the body - both in the lungs and in the cell tissue itself - takes place more efficiently. After some practice, the practitioner can clearly perceive the resulting feeling of increased freshness and energy in the body. This improvement in metabolism also promotes purification of the body, improves cell regeneration and waste materials are excreted more effectively.

Energetic level
In the time when the breath is still, the assimilation of the prana from the oxygen is improved, analogous to the physical level, which leads to a vitalization of the prana body. With concentrated pranayama, a sensitization arises that lets us experience the vitality of every single cell. Similar to asanas on the physical level and meditation on the spiritual level, a pause is created on the energetic level in Pranayama through the phase of holding one's breath, which allows the practitioner to increasingly find his or her center.

Spiritual level
If you consider that from the first moment our life is characterized by uninterrupted movement, namely breathing, a movement that is closely related to the activity of the mind, one can perhaps imagine what a regularly practiced interruption of this movement would look like affects our entire being. The number of nerve impulses arriving in the central nervous system is greatly reduced by slowing down breathing and especially while holding one's breath. This brings about a calming of the entire mental activity: the extent and intensity of the otherwise chasing thoughts, impressions and feelings are gradually reduced and give way to an increasing inner calm and balance.

Excerpt from the book "Yoga for Life"