Pranayama, The Science of Breath


Pranayama, The Science of Breath

Pranayama is practiced by controlling the breath, which is the vital energy in the body. Holding the inhaled, or exhaled, or the two simultaneously, are three kinds of Pranayama practice. These practices are further regulated in respect of place in body, time period and length of breath or its hold. With advanced practice of pranayama, the speed of inhalation and exhalation can be slowed to practically no breath. This advanced pranayama is the fourth kind of Pranayama.

Through Pranayama practice, the yogi weakens the effects of Karma Sanskaars and eliminates the very cause of the sanskaars, the Klesh, like the Raga, and the basic Klesh, Avidya. With increasing competence in Pranayama practice, the yogi begins to gain true knowledge, which was vailed by 1. the Klesh, the mental afflictions, and 2. the Karma impressions, the Karma Sanskaars. He also gains the ability to hold the mind on one point, when he sits in meditation.

Flow of breath through the nostrils has been studied in great details. At any time, the breath flows predominantly through one nostril only, either left nostril or the right nostril. This predominance of left nostril or right nostril breathing is related to the channels of energy flow, Ida or Pingla[i]. Ida channel carries most of the energy when left nostril is actively breathing. Pingla channel carries most of the energy when right nostril is actively breathing. Ida channel largely supplies the energy to the right side of the brain[ii], which is feminine in activity, moon like in nature, associated with cool, creative, peaceful activities. Pingla channel largely supplies the energy to the left side of the brain, which is sun like in nature, associated with hot, aggressive, ambitious activities.

Swarodaya[iii] practice controls the nostril breathing. Swami Ram has given some methods[iv] to activate specific nostril breathing, so that the yogi prepares himself for specific behavior, moon like or sun like. Sleeping on right side with hand under the head will open left nostril breathing, activating the Ida channel, supplying large amounts of energy to the right side of the brain. This will develop moon like behavior, appropriate for enjoying peace and music for example.

In the commentary on Hatha Yoga Pradipika[v], Light on Hatha Yoga, Chapter 4, verses 21 to 25, Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati has written that when left nostril breathing or Ida channel is predominant, will and desire, or Ichcha Shakti, of the mind becomes active. Right nostril breathing or Pingala Channel predominance activates the force of action, or Kriya Shakti, of the mind.

Nadi Shodhanam, or balancing the flow of energy, practice is strongly suggested for preparing the mind to concentrate on one point. One method to practice Nadi Shodhanam is to breathe alternatively through the left, right and both nostrils in a prescribed way[vi]. Exhaling through left nostril, sitting in meditation posture, and at the end of exhalation, inhaling through the right nostril, and repeating this exhalation and inhalation three times is the first part of the Nadi Shodhanam. Next, do the exhalation through right nostril and inhalation through the left nostril, and repeat this exhalation and inhalation three times. This is one method of Nadi Shodhana. In another version, between the two sets of exhalation/inhalation, do similar three times exhalation/inhalation through both nostrils. For advanced version, there is holding the breath after inhalation. For more advanced practice, the exhalation, inhalation and holding of breath is done in 2:1:4 time durations; exhalation in double the time of inhalation and holding the breath for four times the time of inhalation. Nadi Shodhanam develops the concentration capability of mind. Pratyaahaar, Senses Withdrawal, practice should follow the Pranayama practice to prevent the mind becoming externally oriented with the concentration power gained through Nadi Shodhanam.

Extracted from SEVA to Realize the SELF, Mahesh Mangalick, Hamilton Press, MD, USA (2014), pp 65-66, ch5 Mind and SELF.

  • [i] Yoga and Psychotherapy, by Swami Rama, Himalayan Press, Honesdale PA, see page 32, chapter 2 – Breath and Energy
  • [ii]
  • [iii] Path of Fire and Light Vol I, By Swami Rama, Himalayan Press, Honesdale PA, See Chapter 3 – Swarodaya – The Science of Breath
  • [iv] See page 108 in chapter 3 of the book, Path of Fire and Light, by Swami Rama, “Methods of changing the flow of breath, also see note 4 above
  • [v] Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Light of Hatha Yoga, Commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India, Page 449, Chapter 4, Verses 21-25
  • [vi] Lectures on Yoga, Practical Lessons on Yoga by Swami Rama, Himalayn Press, Honesdale PA. See chapter on Pranayama, and page 99 for Nadi Shodhana

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