Our breathing is involuntary action. It occurs automatically, spontaneously, naturally. Though it is simple and obvious we often take it for granted, ignoring the power it has to affect body, mind and spirit. Slowly we develop unhealthy and wrong habits of breathing without being aware of it.
Today our breathing is too shallow and too quick. We are not taking in sufficient oxygen and we are not eliminating adequate toxics.
Breathing is the only means to supply our bodies and its various organs with the supply of oxygen which is vital for our survival and purifies the blood stream, removes waste products and toxins from the body. Breathing also affects our state of mind. It can make us excited or calm, tense or relaxed. It (oxygen) is essential for the integrity of the brain, nerves, glands and internal organs. So deep and long breathing is the secret of vitality and rejuvenation. Yoga permits us to tap into this vital nutrient.
Pranayama is mainly a Kriya (exercise) with air. The Sanskrit word ’prana’ means breath or life force, while ‘ayama’ means regulation or control. Pranayama is a scientific method of controlling the breath, leading to better health for both mind and body. Pranayama is the fourth part of the Astang Yoga (eight limbs) described by Patanjali in the Yogasutra, this is the most authoritative book on yoga. The eight limbs of yoga mentioned in Patanjali’s system are:
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
According to Patanjali, the sage who formulated the yogic principles, the practice of pranayama develops the power of concentration and clarity of thought. It also increases the mental and physical powers of endurance.
As we know air possesses several unique qualities. It contains life force pran shakti. It also has absorbing activating and massaging capacity. Because of these qualities, the air is regarded as a great purifier as well as giver of life to the inner organs of the body. The body makes good use of these qualities of air during pranayama.
By controlling the prana, one can control all the forces of the universe such as gravity, magnetism, electricity and nerve currents. Thus prana refers to energy as the basis of all life. Thus the objective of Pranayama is to stimulate, communicate, regulate and control the vital life force that exists in the body.
Purak, Rechacka and Kumbhaka
The breathing process chiefly involves two activities, viz., inhaling and exhaling. Of these the former is called “Puraka” and the latter “Rechaka”‘ in Yogashastra. The state when these two activities are made to halt is given the name “Kumbhaka” in Yoga Studies. The halt after inhaling, i.e., Puraka is called “Abhyantara Kumbhaka” and after exhaling, i.e. rechaka. It is called “Bahya Kumbhaka”.
Meanings of these three terms,
Purak : Inhalation of breath
Rechacka :Exhalation of breath
Kumbhaka : Retention of breath