Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. Although this interpretation may seem correct in view of the practices involved, it does not convey the full meaning of the term. The word pranayama is comprised of two roots: ‘prana’ plus ‘ayama’. Prana means ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’. It is the force which exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. Although closely related to the air we breathe, it is more subtle than air or oxygen. Therefore, pranayama should not be considered as n1ere breathing exercises aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs. Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana in the nadis or energy channels of the pranamayakoslw or energy body.
The word yama means ‘control’ and is used to denote various rules or codes of conduct. However, this is not the word which is joined to prana to form pranayama; the correct word is ‘ayama’ which has far more implications. Ayama is defined as ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’. Thus, the word pranayama means ‘extension or expansion of the dimension of prana’ . The techniques of pranayama provide the method whereby the life force can be activated and regulated in order to go beyond one’s normal boundaries or limitations and attain a higher
state of vibratory energy and awareness.
Four aspects of pranayama
In the pranayama practices there are four important aspects of breathing which are utilized. These are:
1 . Pooraka or inhalation
2. Rechaka or exhalation
3 . Antar kumbhaka or internal breath retention
4. Bahir kumbhaka or external breath retention.
The different practices of pranayama involve various techniques which utilize these four aspects of breathing. There is another mode of pranayama, which is called kevala kumbhaka or spontaneous breath retention. This is an advanced stage of pranayama which occurs during high states of meditation. During this state, the fluctuation of prana ceases. At this time, the veil which prevents one from seeing the subtle aspect of existence is lifted and a higher vision of reality is attained. The most important part of pranayama is actually kumbhaka or breath retention. However, in order to perform kumbhaka successfully, there must be a gradual development of control over the function of respiration. Therefore, in the pranayama practices more emphasis is given to inhalation and exhalation at the beginning, in order to strengthen the lungs and balance the nervous and pranic systems in preparation for the practice of kumbhaka. These initial practices influence the flow of prana in the nadis, purifying, regulating and activating them, thereby inducing physical and mental stability.
Yoga Vimoksha, the Yoga school in the Mollem forest, near Dudhsagar waterfalls in Goa, India conducts teacher training courses in various aspects of Yoga.