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What is Pranayama?
“As long as there is breath in the body, there is life. When breath departs, so too does life. Therefore, regulate the breath.”
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:3)
Prana can mean breath. Sanskrit is a very contextual language, depending upon the context it can mean other things. Prana can mean wind, life, vitality, energy or strength, life force..
Ayama can mean:- stretch, expand, regulate, prolongation, restraint or control. Pranayama can, therefore, be described as an interruption in the normal breath; prolongation and restraint of the breath.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Breathing is by its very nature ‘natural’, we do not have to think about it. By making ourselves aware of our breath in, breath out, and the gaps in between those breaths; then we are being mindful. It is of itself a meditation. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he describes pranayama as the controlled intake and outflow of breath, whilst maintaining a steady asana.
“When the breath is irregular, the mind wavers; when the breath is steady, so is the mind. To attain steadiness, the yogi should restrain his breath.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika).
The average human breathes in about 500cm2. During a deep inhalation, however, they breathe in an estimated 3,000cm2 of air. We breathe an average 23,000 times a day, needless to say, without this breath – we die!
All these breaths are automatic, we do not have to consciously think about breathing – it just happens. Yogis believe that we have a finite amount of breaths in any one lifetime. It makes sense therefore that to prolong life we need to reduce the need for so many breaths. The practice of pranayama increases one’s lung capacity and efficiency of the lungs.
Breathing in tends to be stimulating – our heart rate speeds up a little bit. With each breathe out the opposite happens [- our heart rate slows down more on exhalation! If we can slow both the exhalation and both of the pauses/gaps in-between the breathes, we may theoretically extend our life!