The Science And Art Of Pranayama
Science and art of breathing, which is helpful in attaining control over subtle physiological processes of the body and also develops the ability of mind to concentrate, is called Pranayama. It is a process of breathing deeply, slowly, rhythmically and thoughtfully, in many different ways, which affects the body, at micro/cellular level.
Aasana-Siddhi (posture-accomplishment) is a pre-requisite for doing Pranayama. After comfortably sitting in one chosen posture, one should draw attention to the breathing process. Practice of the body postures (aasanas), provides control over voluntary systems of human body and Pranayama provides control over in-voluntary systems and functions of human body. Therefore, both practices complement each other. Breathing-in is termed as “poorak”, breathing-out is termed as “rechak” and holding the breath is called “kumbhak”, in yoga terminology. Holding the breath after expiration is called “bahya-kumbhak” and holding the after inspiration is called “anter-kumbhak”. Mankind begins life with first breath and cry therefore deep, rhythmic and effortless breathing is the first practice of Pranayama.
Scriptures inform that human body has five main air segments (praanas), within the body, responsible for the subtle and unconscious physiological co-ordination and regularisation of various body systems. These five main air segments/ pranas are known as: praan-vaau, apaan-vaau, samaan-vaau, udaan-vaau and vyaan-vaau. These pranas are responsible for the specific monitoring and coordination of the functions of chest (respiratory+cardiac), excretory & genetic systems, digestive system, neurological & mental functions and circulatory+ metabolic functions, respectively. Deep, rhythmic breathing and selective holding of the breath during inhalation or/and exhalation, influences the functions of all these systems, through these pranas, in the most purposeful way.
It helps in regulating all the subtle, dynamic and ever-going cellular functions of the body, at all levels, thereby affecting the final outcome of all body systems. It is therefore a voluntary effort to modify and control involuntary functions of the body. Exchange between circulating blood and air, at the interface of lungs, is the main activity for attaining such control. By doing controlled variations in the breathing, desired modifications are possible in different body functions, resulting into better health status and improvement from many diseases.
While practising Pranayama, one should be absorbed in a thought that divinity is flowing in and out. In normal course, our breathing is unconscious and very shallow. It does not permits all the lung alveoli (air-sacs of the lungs), to open up, at a time. Conscious, rhythmic & deep breathing helps us to open up most of the lung alveoli, at a time and therefore makes most of the lung capacity operational/available for the extensive, dynamic and speedy air exchange, which in turn influences, all the cellular functions of the body.
This succinct note on Pranayamas may help us understand that through this seemingly simple manner, how deep and subtle body processes could be modified, for the smooth spiritual journey. More detailed enquiry into this arena could be still informative and rewarding.