Pranayama can be considered a practice of “breath control” or “breath retention”, guiding us in expanding or holding the breath, creating hypoventilation and sometimes hyperventilation. Various techniques are used in Pranayama to lengthen or shorten the breath, leading the practitioner to a state of well-being, concentration, and calm.
Pranayama techniques allow the activation and regulation of the life force through breath. This life force can be activated and regulated to go beyond individual normal boundaries or limits to achieve a higher state of vibrational energy and awareness. The practice of Pranayama follows well-defined rules and techniques developed over centuries by Indian Rishis (sages).
The Meaning of Pranayama
While the term “breath control” is commonly used, it does not fully convey the idea because the practices used in Pranayama are diverse.
The word Pranayama is formed from two roots: “prana” plus “yama”.
Prana means “vital energy” or “life force”: it is the force that exists in all things, both animate and inanimate, and although closely related to the air we breathe, this vital energy is subtler than air or oxygen. Practicing Pranayama, therefore, does not simply mean “just” introducing more oxygen into the lungs but rather influencing the flow of prana in the nadis, purifying and activating them.
The word Yama, on the other hand, means “control.” In reality, the correct word to consider would be “Ayama”, which has many more meanings, one of which is “extension” or “expansion.” Therefore, Pranayama means the “expansion of the dimension of prana”.
Pranayama in Varese: The Four Breaths
As mentioned, Pranayama practices influence the flow of prana in the nadis, purifying, regulating, and activating them, inducing physical and mental stability. The Pranayama practices we conduct in our Varese center include various techniques that utilize four aspects of breathing:
- Puraka – Inhalation
- Rechaka – Exhalation
- Antar Kumbhaka – Internal breath retention
- Bahir Kumbhaka – External breath retention
The most important part of Pranayama is Kumbhaka or breath retention. To successfully practice Kumbhaka, there must be a gradual development of breath control. This is why, in Pranayama practices, initial emphasis is placed on inhalation and exhalation to strengthen the lungs and balance the nervous and pranic systems, in preparation for Kumbhaka practice.