Prana Means Breath, Respiration, Life, Vitality, Energy Or Strength. When Used in the Plural

Prana Means Breath, Respiration, Life, Vitality, Energy Or Strength. When Used in the Plural


Prana means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength. When used in the plural, it denotes certain vital breaths or currents of energy (prana-vayus). Ayama means ‘stretch’, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint or control. Pranayama, thus means the prolongation of the breath and its restraint.

It is an art and has techniques which make the respiratory organs move and expand intentionally, rhythmically and intensively. It consists of inhalation, which stimulates the system, exhalation which throws out the vitiated air and toxins and kumbhaka, retention, which distributes the energy throughout the body.

Breath is the bridge between the body, senses and the mind. Such disciplined breathing helps the mind to concentrate and enables the aspirant to attain a robust health and longevity. Asanas or postures remove obstructions which impede the body’s energycurrent, pranayama regulates this vital flow. It also regulates thoughts, desires and actions, giving one the poise and will power needed to become a master of oneself.

Light on Pranayama by BKS Iyengar p 14

Ride the river of Breath, listening and following, yielding, not controlling. When you finish, the state of your mind is the ultimate indicator of the quality of your practice.

With the gaze turned inwards and fixed on the space between the eyebrows

Where the three nadis – ida, pingala and sushumna – meet;

Stopping the breath moving through the left and right nostrils

And equlasing the outgoing and incoming breaths,

They make the mind steady in the Sahasrara at the crown of the head.

Just as when the Ganges reaches the ocean, carrying with it the water from the streets,

The different streams cannot be distinguished ,

Similarly, all distinctions between various desires cease when the mind becomes stilled in the inner space

By controlling the breath.

Then, look! The mental canvas with the painting of worldly existence is torn apart,

Just as reflections disappear when a lake dries up,

When the mind has stopped functioning, where is there any place for egoism?

Therefore a person who has realised the Self, becomes God while still in the body.

From Jnaneshwar’s Gita p65

Each of the following Pranayamas targets the Cakras in ascending order

1. The Full Yogic Breath (Muladhara – Root)

Exhale fully, by relaxing and releasing as you breathe out. At the end of the breath, breathe out again to empty the very bottom of the lungs. Become aware of your pelvic floor, legs and feet.

Now relax your mind into your lower belly and watch the inbreath flow inwards to fill the vacuum. Pause at the top of the inbreath and repeat a few times.

The cycle begins with noticing the lower warmer, the pelvic floor and belly, expand with the inhalation and draw upwards and backwards with the exhalation. As the breath energy overflows the inhale will also begin to pack the ribcage, which is the middle warmer and then lastly the breath will overflow to the top lungs, collars, neck and brain.

This full yogic breath fills the ‘Kumbhak’ or pot from the pelvic floor to the brain and then reverses for the exhalation.

2. Bhastrika (Svadisthana- Sacral)

Bhastika means a bellows used in a furnace. Here the air is forcibly drawn in and out as with a blaksmith’s bellows. Prepare with full yogic breathing. Take a fast vigorous breath and then exhale forcibly. One inhalation and exhalation completes a cycle of Bhastrika. The sound made resembles air rushing through a bellows. Practice a stretch of 10 rounds and then perform inhalation retention in between (with Mula Banha – root lock) for a few seconds. Then rest for a few seconds with Ujjayi breath (haaaaaa) so that the lungs and diaphragm rest and return to normal size.

Bhastrika invigorates the liver, spleen, pancreas and abdominal muscles. Thus digestion is improved, the sinuses are drained, the eyes feel cool and one has a general sense of exhilaration.

Contra Indications; weakness, high or low BP, eye ear complaints

3. Uddiyana – (Manipura- Solar)

Uddiyana means flying up. Strictly speaking Uddiyana is a bandha, a restraint and not a pranayama. As condensors, fuses and switches control the flow of electricity, so bandhas regulate the flow of prana (energy). In this bandha the prana is made to move from the lower abdomen towards the head.

Uddiyana tones the abdominal organs, increases the gastric fire and eliminates toxins in the digestive tract. Raises the energy levels and can alleviate depression and lethargy

Contraindications; pregnant, high B.P.

4. i Sahita Antara Kumbhaka – Intentional Inhalation retention and ii Nadi Shodana – Nerve Purification – (Anahata – Heart)

4i. Antara Kumbhaka – Retain the breath in a state of suspense. Withdrawal of the intellect from the organs of perception and action, to focus on the seat of the Self or Atma, the origin of consciousness. Kumbhaka keeps the aspirant silent at the physical, moral, mental and spiritual levels. The brain is kept in a relaxed state always.

Contraindications - pregnant, hight BP, head ache, dizzy

4ii. Nadi Shodana – Altenative nostril breathing. This is the most advanced of pranayamas and may be practiced in a variety of ways. The brain is divided into two hemispheres, the left controlling the right side of the body and vice versa. The back brain at the skull base is more primitive and is the contemplative brain or seat of wisdom. The frontal one is the calculative brain that deals with the external world. The Yogis of old discovered Nadi Shodana, which allowed the in and out breaths to pass through each nostril in turn, revitalised both hemispheres of the brain in the front back, top and bottom. The mind becomes one pointed and fit for concentration. Nerves are calmed and purified, the body keeps warm, diseases are destroyed and one becomes strong and serene. Nadi Shodana leads to right living, right thinking, quick action and sound judgement.

Contraindications; go gently, avoid retention if pregnant or high BP. Be patient.

5. Ujjayi (Throat) – Seetkari – Seetali

Ujjayi breathing is the foundation of pranayama and aspects of it are practiced in nearly every form of pranayama. Ujjayi means ‘victoriously uprising’, which refers to the expansion and movement of the energy of the breath – the prana – through the central channel for pranic energy, located within the spinal cord, known as sushumna nadi. We are more familiar with the expansive quality of the breath as the expansive uplifted and refreshed feeling we have in the area of the chest and heart - the home of the prana, as we inhale. The more esoteric experience of the upward movement of energy at the central core comes with the attentive practice of the Ujjayi breath and of the bandhas and is a key to deeper states of meditation.

Sitaliinhalation is done through the mouth through the curled tongue, while exhalation is through the nose, using Ujjayi breath.

Sitakari is that which causes cold. It is a variation of Sitali pranayama. The breath is drawn in with a hissing sound between the two lips. The lips are kept slightly apart and the tip of the tongue protrudes out slightly.

These two pranayamas cool the system and the soothe the eyes and ears. They activate the liver and spleen, improve digestion and relieve thirst. They can both be done when the nostrils are blocked.

6. Bhramari – with the eyes gazing to Third Eye

Bhramana means a large black bumble bee. During exhalation a bee’s soft humming sound is made. The best time to practice it is in the silence and quiet of night. This pranayama is very calming and draws the senses inwards well.

7. Bhramari – Kapalabhati (Crown)

Bhramari as above.

Kapalabhati Kapala means skull and bhati is light or lustre. Inhalation is slow and exhalation is vigorous, with a split second of retention after each outbreath.

This pranayama activates the liver, spleen, pancreas and abdominal muscles and improves digestion. It drains the sinuses and stops the nose running. It creates a feeling of exhilaration as the seminal energy charges up the brain.

Contraindications; if the constitution is very weak then avoid Kapalabhati as they may damage blood vessels and the brain.

Most of these summaries are extracted directly from the following;-

Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Light on Pranayama – BKS Iyengar

Refining the Breath – Doug Keller

This document was compiled by Matt Gluck 2007