Pranayama ... Breathing exercises

Basic yogic breathing control "Pranayama" Prana has been said to translate as "breath." In actuality, the Sanskrit word "Prana" means life-force or life-energy. In fact, classic Pranayama with its inhale/retain/exhale teaches that during the retention segment, one should consciously retain the prana, then release the ordinary oxygen from the lungs during exhalation, storing the prana in the solar plexis (power) chakra. Pranamaya is the "science of prana," and linear yards of books have been written about it! However, prana is the basis of Hatha Yoga, and should be studied by anyone on a spiritual path, eastern or western. Interestingly, the literal transliteration is Prana + Yama. Yama has a dual meaning: restraint and death. ;) Meditate on that!! It would be impossible to go into any detail without taking up gig's of memory, but I've included a few basic prana/breath techniques for novices interested in getting started--they're also useful for more experienced people as regular practice. "Breath is Life. He who controls breath controls life." "When the breath is controlled, the mind is controlled." "When Prana is met and conquered, one gains ascendency over death." "Prana, the vital breath, is born of Self. Like a person and his shadow, the Self and the Prana are inseparable. Prana enters the body at birth, but does not die with the body." --Prana Upanisad. "The wise speak not of senses of speech, sight, hearing, feeling, but only of a grou of Pranas, for these are all the manifestations of Prana." --Ch arakha Samhita. Let's get *BASIC* now!! Several of the oldest Tantras state that the body is a Yantra, the breath its Mantra. In order to facilitate better understanding of this concept. "Bhramari Breath" is an excellent starting point. It is simple, aids concentration, and provides a feeling of oneness with body and breath, a consciousness, rather than a simple autonomic nervous system function. Technique: Take a deep breath, exhale all stale air from lungs, contracting abdominal muscles to squeeze out the last remnants. Inhale through the *nose* while making a buzzing sound, like that of a bee, with the inhalation. Retain for a few seconds (as long as comfortable; working toward longer retention with practice, but not forcing), concentrating on storing the Prana Energy in the solar plexus (*manipura chakra*; literally manipura means 'jewel of great consciousness)--or for non-chakra oriented people, the area above the navel--and separating the Prana from the regular "air." Now exhale, through the nose, making a humming sound. Focus your mind on the sounds during inhalation and exhalation, on vital life energy being stored and saved during breath retention. Each in-retain-out counts as one "cycle." Begin with five or so cycles, adding more as you master Bhramari Breath and it becomes natural to you. COMPLETE BREATH is the second basic that should be mastered. Most people breathe shallowly, and even those who draw breath down to the abdomen consciously may be missing a step along the way! Again, blow out all air, contracting abdomen to help. Inhale deeply, *pulling* the breath toward the abdomen, expanding it. Continue inhaling, next *pulling* into the rib cage/middle of lungs. Continue, *pulling* breath into upper lungs, chest, and throat area. Retain for a few seconds; be sure your face is relaxed. No tension. Let it be natural. Exhale slowly, releasing air oppositely from inhalation: first *pull* out of throat/chest, then from ribcage/mid lungs, finally *pull* from the abdomen, contracting abdominus recti, forcing all air out. Work up to longer inhalation/retention/exhalation holds as complete breath becomes more natural. Do not "count" with a clock; allow your body to be your clock. The ratio sould be 1:1:1 with complete breath, unlike certain other prana techniques. As well as the mental/mystical benefits, complete breath increases oxygen supply to the blood--hemoglobin levels. Also slows the heart rate. Calming effect on central nervous system. Complete breath is used in conjunction with many Hatha Yoga a sanas (*postures*). VITALIC BREATH: Very easy. Strengthens lungs, energizes. Breathe through nose in short, sharp sniffs until lungs are expanded to capacity. Blow out through mouth, making a loud HAAA! sound. If desired, focus on bringing in energizing prana, blowing out all tension and anything that separates you from realizing your spiritual goals. KAPALABHATHI: Also easy to master. There are many variations; this being a quite simple rendering, no less beneficial than more advanced techniques. Sit in Lotus position, or with legs crossed; back and head kept straight. Inhale, keep mouth closed, and "sneeze." With mouth closed--the lower abdomen will balloon out. Snap it back in sharply. Begin with ten-fifteen rounds, work up to 50 and above *naturally* without forcing. You should feel nothing in upper lungs, chest, or throat area. On a purely physical level, Kapalabhathi also pumps oxygen in, increases hemoglobin levels, has soothing effect on many glands, and can be used for relief by asthmatics or smokers ;). Attention focused on solar plexus chakra. After rounds complete, sit quietly, feeling bodily changes and mental effects on yourSelf. PRANA-VAYU RASA: or vigorous cycle. A recharging breath cycle. To be performed while standing, with eyes closed, or turned upward, focused on AJNA CHAKRA, the *third eye* chakra in middle of forehead. (1) Inhale, lock air in chest. Swing arms twice backward and twice forward vigorously. Exhale. (2) Inhale. Stretch arms forward at 90 degree angle from body; swing them o ut sideways at shoulder level twice. Exhale, drop arms. (3) Inhale. Swing arms up twice and down twice, parallel at sides, arch small of back slightly. Exhale, drop arms. (4) Inhale, lock breath in chest again. Stretch arms slowly forward. Clench fists and pull them against the chest. Retain breath while shaking entire body. Exhale. (5) Inhale. Swing arms overhead and bend body to the right from the waist, *not* collapsing the ribcage. Concentrate on parts being stretched. Exhale whi le straightening, repeat to the left. (6) Inhale. Retain breath, massage ribs. Exhale. (7). Inhale. Retain breath, patting breasts or pectoral muscles. Exhale. NOTE: the idea of recharging prana is to tap individual energy/life force (*Atman*) and unite it with universal energy/life force (*Brahman*). Physically, it energizes, provides limbering of physical body, cleanses and exercises lungs. PRANA SUKHA/HEALING BREATH: Literally, "breath of joy; joyous life-force." This breath is the simplest extension of simple prana into "rhythm." One must consciously alter the time spent on each part of the breathing cycle. The rhythm of Prana Sukha is said to be perfectly suited to extraction of vital energy from the atmosphere. The ratio of inhalation/retention/exhalation is 1:4:2. In other words, inhale, hold breath four times as long as inhalation takes, then exhale, taking twice as long as inhalation. The inhalation establishes the time ratio for the other two; never progress into discomfort. Generally, begin by inhaling just slightly longer than when breathing unconsciously and proportion retention and exhalation thereto. Gradually increase, to comfort. Sukha slows down breathing process, which is beneficial to both body and mind. IMPORTANT: Do *not* "count" either mentally or verbally, the rhythm lengths. Counting is a *logial* process which can sometimes interfere with meditative/spiritual *abstract* practice. Measure the rhythm against pulse, heartbeat, or by focusing the mind on the sounds of inhalation and exhalation of breath, and of the heart beating during retention. This is ideal, as it creates an audio rhythm and helps the body and mind merge. The Gheranda Samhita suggests: "In entering, the breath makes the sound 'SOH' and in exiting, the sound 'HAM.' Thus the breath makes the power word SOHAM; (or, I am It).

It is recommended that the reader consult a hatha yoga text for more exercises.

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