What is Prana?
Prana is present throughout the entire universe. Pranic energy is the vital life force of all things living.
Prana is also known as the cosmic catalyst or the universal catalyst. Although prana flows in many different directions there is only one prana - maha prana or muktya prana (the great or chief prana).
From this one great prana, the prana flows in many different directions to stimulate and encourage different actions. The different flows of prana are referred to as Vayus or winds.
During yoga, pranayamas are performed to encourage prana to flow freely around the body; and to balance each vayu. These techniques deepen our practice and enhance benefits physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Pranayamas are so much more than just breathing exercises, however both are linked and when beginning to work with and discover the prana breathing exercises provide the perfect starting place. As the breath is the main vehicle for the prana.
Today we are fully aware of how the breath can positively influence our health and wellbeing.
A slow steady breathing technique stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for relaxation, the heart rate and blood pressure naturally lower and stress levels are reduced. Whereas breathing quickly stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the fight or flight response which raises stress levels in the body.
Pranayama – translates to mean control of vital life force, it also translates to mean expansion of vital life force.
This is because prana translates to mean vital life force and yama means restraint however ayama means expansion.
As with asana practice, pranayama practice is also extremely layered.
According to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the practice of pranayama is listed after asana and forms the fourth limb of yoga.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient piece of literature written approximately 2000 years ago. The Yoga Sutras contain 196 aphorisms over 4 chapters and reveal the correct and intended practice, philosophy and purpose of yoga.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines "asana" as "to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed”. This should be well established with good alignment before beginning more intense pranayama practices.
As we begin to explore the prana through both asana and pranayama it is important to remind ourselves of the following:-
Prana is present throughout the whole universe. It is the universal energy.
A solid foundation in asana and basic breath control needs to be established before moving to more intense practices.
The science of Prana is intense and layered and takes years and years of dedicated practice.
Prana is so much more than the breath and goes way beyond the experience of controlling the breath.
As with Asana practice we need to start at the beginning and work to develop a solid foundation in the practice to provide the support required for moving onto more intense practices.
When beginning to explore Pranayama always tune into your breath and explore how the body feels as you breathe slowly through your nose.