View Full Version : prāṇāyāma

02 September 2008, 10:23 AM
Hari Oṁ


I hear many say ' I just cannot settle down the mind for meditation, it flies here and there, so I just do not try'. Even in the Bhāgavad gītā, Arjuna mentions this , he says 'for wavering is the mind O Kṛṣṇa, turbulent, powerful and unyielding; I consider it as difficult to control as the wind.'

Yet this wavering mind, who controls it? The mind is tightly coupled to praṇa, as goes prana so goes the mind. This was reviewed in a HDF post¹ for those interested. The mind is highly influenced, regulated if you will, by praṇa, so if one knows how to befriend praṇa and work with it, this directly influences the activity of the mind. Hence enters prāṇāyāma.

Pranayama (prāṇāyāma) some write and say prāṇāyām - we know as the regulation of the breath. Prāṇā + yāma : Prāṇā is the life force we have discussed in this yoga folder and several other places¹. Yāma from the root 'yām' यम् - to sustain, hold up, support or to hold or keep in, hold back, check , curb , govern , subdue , control i.e. manage. So in prāṇāyāma one is controlling or regulating the breath; Yet if we take yam and add the ā to it, āyam we now have to stretch (like a bow) , to grow long ,to lengthen or extend. I mention this as many prāṇāyāma approaches have the breath grow long, in time or depth.

So this word prāṇāyāma gets interesting. It is a method to control the breath/life force, but at the same time āyāma, to extend it. The ultimate extension is perfect balance, the center or madhya, of breath-and-no-breath. With this approach the mind settles down and allows one's attention to go inward.
I thought with this post I would list out a few forms of prāṇāyām and list them out. I have tried some of the prāṇāyāma techniques listed below and I can say without a doubt that settling down the mind is accomplished.

Let me list out a few… this is not for instruction purposes, but for informational use.
As a wind drives away smoke and impurities from the atmosphere, prāṇāyām drives away impurities from the body and mind - B.K.S. Iyengar
With pranayam the benefits the come from this is calming the mind, soothing the nerves, aerates the lungs, removes phlegm as one stokes agniwith this method; improved digestive power, the oxygenates of the blood, refreshing the overall system as the mind is stilled.

Ujjāyī prāṇāyām - The prefix ud means upward, above and jaya is conquering , winning. Ujjāyī is the process of filling the lungs, chest-full, as if a in pride of a conquer i.e. ud + jaya - chest full of air as if puffed up with pride or winning.
Sūrya Bhedana prāṇāyām - Sūrya we know is the sun; In prāṇāyām it is also the right nostril and enters the piṅgalā nādī. Bhedana comes from bhid, to pass through. So the prāṇā is coming in , passing through the Sūrya side, piṅgalā nādī, the lungs are filled up, called pūraka¹, and then it is held ( as full breath) in kumbaka¹. Kumbaka is the holding of the breath as the word itself means a pot, for holding or retaining. Then the air is released out the other nostril, called recaka¹ , the moon side if you will, called idā nādī. For this to occur one regulates the opening of their nostrils using their right hand, ring+little finger together with the thumb to do the air regulation out of the nose.
Nādī Śodhaba prāṇāyām - nāḍī¹ is a passage for prāṇā. The Kathā Upaniṣad says the nādī-s are centralized in the heart, with 101 springing out from there. Others say there are 72,000¹. Śodhana means purifying or cleansing. So this prāṇāyām cleanses all the nāḍī-s (nerves) throughout the body. The technique is similar to Sūrya Bhedana prāṇāyām yet the inhale and exhale through the nose is alternating ( left, then right, then left, etc). This also does not include kumbaka or breath retention.
Bhastrikā prāṇāyām - bhastrikā is a little bag, and in this prāṇāyām approach means bellows. Just as a blacksmith uses a bellows to increase the air circulation in his furnace, this approach increases the air flow velocity within the lungs. This is done vigorously ,as if the stomach was a pumping station, it rises and falls, like a bellows in rapid movement.
Kapālabhāti prāṇāyām - Kapāla + bhāti = the skull + light or lustre. With this approach the inward breath pūraka is rapid, yet the release or exhale, recaka, is slow. Again this occurs via the nose. Both Bhastrikā and Kapālabhāti is suppose to invigorate the liver and abdominal muscles, which is aimed at improving the digestion.
Bhamarī prāṇāyām - bhamarī is a buzzing bee. The breath approach is the same as Ujjāyī prāṇāyām , yet on the exhale a soft humming like a bee sound buzzing is made. This is initiated by the aspirant, it does not occur by itself.
Śitakārī prāṇāyām - śitakārī is śita+ kārī. Śita is whetted, sharp , thin, slender + kārī is causing or accomplishing. It means that which accomplishes coolness. The lips are just slightly parted (slender) and the tip of the tongue protrudes out from between the teeth. The breath is taken in through the mouth , held in kumbaka for few seconds, the then breath is expelled (easily) out the nose. This approach is to cool down the system.
Sama Vṛitti prāṇāyām - sama we know as evenness, balance. Vṛitti is a course of action or movement. In this prāṇāyām all 3 parts of the prāṇāyām are pursued to be in balance. Inward breath + holding the breath kumbaka + outward breath are all completed in the same amount of time. Say ones nature breathing is 5 sec. in, then kumbaka is also held for 5 sec. and the outward breath is completed in the same 5 sec. period. Just as there is a sama breath, there is also a Visama Vṛitti prāṇāyām - or irregular breath techniques. I will leave this for another time
Kumbhaka - as mentioned is a pot. One can fill up a pot, pūraka; and one can empty a pot recaka. This is done in the native within the lungs. We fill the pot and when we hot the breath inside of us ( without straining or eyes bulging) this is considered antara kumbhaka; Yet when we exhale and empty the pot, the air is outside of us and that is called bāhya kumbhaka. In other words bāhya kumbhaka empties the lungs, and we do not take another breath for a prescribed period of time, and the teachers always say, that time is what is comfortable, without straining.I thought this śloka from the Chandogya Upanishad 1.2.10 regarding prāṇa would be interesting:

The ṛṣi (rishi) Aṇgiras meditatively adored this (prāṇa) as udgītha¹.
This prāṇa is thus considered itself Aṇgiras, because it is the essence (rasa¹) of the limbs (aṇga¹) .

What is to be taken from this?
The ṛṣi Aṇgiras meditatively adored this prāṇa as Brahman and the fruit of his adoration became the essense ( the rasa) of prāṇa, Brahman. His name depicts his achievement anga+rasa. The finest essense of anything ( ultimately) is Brahman


words and references

kumbhaka कुम्भक - a pot
pūraka पूरक - filling, completing , fulfilling , satisfying
recaka रेचक - emptying, purging , emptying the lungs , the act of breathing out , exhalation
nāḍī नाडी - the tubular stalk of any plant or any tubular organ ; some say these nāḍī-s are physical like nerves and others say they are subtle transcending the body-construct. In either case they are a conduit-path for prāṇā to take.
bāhya बाह्य - outside, external ( breath being held out side - this is with exhalation, no breath is taken, the pot kumbhaka is empty.
antara अन्तर - being inside, interior; holding the breath with pūraka, the kumbhaka is full.
bhastrikā भस्त्रिका - little bag; bellows
72,000 nādī-s ref site: http://www.kheper.net/topics/chakras/nadis.html (http://www.kheper.net/topics/chakras/nadis.html)
rasa - best or finest or prime part of anything , the essence
aṇga – is the limb or part
udgītha – is the singing/chanting of the sama veda; And the essence (rasa) of udgītha is Om ॐ.
At the root of prāṇā and fits quite nicely here is aN अण्- to breathe
HDF posts:
prāṇā+ yāma: http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showpost.php?p=18446&postcount=5 (http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showpost.php?p=18446&postcount=5)
prana and the mind: http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showthread.php?t=1462&highlight=prana+controls+mind (http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showthread.php?t=1462&highlight=prana+controls+mind)
Sources of information:
- Personal experience and training
- Light On Yoga - B.K.S. Iyengar, published 1966.

15 November 2008, 02:32 PM
Namaste Yajvan
Your commentary on pranayama is most interesting to me as I have been practising yoga for many years but only recently become more so in pranayama.
It is remarkable how when observing the ordinary every day breath that it is not a smooth rythmic pattern as might be expected but quite irregular.
I wonder if by practsing pranayama we can expect to bring our everyday involuntary breath closer to regularity? Do you believe this to be one of the aims?