Pranayama is a term used to describe the lengthening of the breath in yoga. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term that is composed of two words. In Sanskrit, Prana means life force, often interpreted as breath. The word yama means restraint or control in Sanskrit, so together it means the control of the breath.
Pranayama breathing is used in some yoga practices and meditation. The breathing patterns enhance relaxation and prepare the body and mind for the process of meditation.
Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of hatha yoga. It is listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patenjali as the fourth limb. A popular form of hatha yoga, known as Iyengar yoga, advocates the use of pranayama.
Here is a YouTube video of B.K.S. Iyengar demonstrating pranayama.
The control of the breath is said to energize the cells of the body, exhale the toxins and inhale the life force. The goal is to link the body, spirit and mind through the breath.
For most of us, breathing is something that is automatic. Often, we don’t pay attention to our breathing patterns. This is unfortunate, as proper breathing is beneficial for the body. There are many benefits to pranayama breathing and paying attention to the breath in daily life. One benefit is stress reduction. I will discuss more on the benefits of pranayama in a future blog entry.
It should be noted that the practice of pranayama is specific and should be learned with supervision. Breathing incorrectly could be dangerous, so learn from an experienced practioner. Some yoga and meditation classes use pranayama and that’s a good place to learn.