Prana = Lifeforce Ayama = Extension
Prana is the force that gives everything life and allows everything to experience life. Prana rules the body, mind, emotions and each of the five senses. Through conscious breathwork known as pranayama, prana can be used and stored in many ways to heal, calm and connect our mindbody with our soul.
Prana and Pranayama are not the same thing and it is good practise to not confuse the two. Prana is the energy that rides on the breath or the mode of which it is extended, not the breath itself. We can be breathing while still lacking lifeforce. It is what we do with our breath that effects prana. In yoga we learn to control prana using it to our full advantage, through pranayama.
There are three stages of breathing.
- Inhalation = Pooraka, this sends oxygen to the cells of the body and can be controlled to move to different areas to help open to an asana.
- Retention = Kumbhaka, this provides more opportunity for the cells to absorb the oxygen and eliminate more carbon dioxide, having a calming effect on the mental and emotional body.
- Exhalation = Rechaka, this rids the body of carbon dioxide and other wasted energies within the body, it can help to stretch further into an asana.
Breathing is an individual phenomenon. You must find your own rhythm. Although the in and out breath should be the same length. It is said if the IN breath is longer than the OUT breath you are over excited or anxious. If the OUT breath is longer than the IN breath you are depressed.
Many people use unconscious or poor breathing techniques due to habit. As our breath is predominantly governed by our emotions, responses to life causes unconscious breathing to become habit and therefore our breath is a reaction to our surroundings, past memories, future scenarios or emotional states.
- Anger – when angry, around angry people or thinking of a memory or future scenario that you were or will be angry can cause the breath to become fast and short like a pant. This speeds up the flow of blood to the muscles in case of the need to fight.
- Physical Pain – when in physical pain or thinking of past or future physical pain the breath can be held to reduce the intensity or feeling of the pain.
- Emotional Pain – when in emotional pain or thinking of past or future emotional pain the breath can become shallow to suppress the pain causing it to be buried in the unconscious mind and stored within the body.
Poor breathing can drain our energy or prana causing problems in the physical body, astral body, aura, soul and mind. By changing our breathing patterns, we can change our states of mind, body and soul.
Unconscious breathing is controlled by and activates the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, the primitive and instinctual part of the brain. Conscious breathing is controlled by and activates the cerebral cortex a more evolved and elevated part of the brain. Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on emotions and by consciously breathing you are controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, producing different states of mind and thought. When we start to use conscious breathing emotions can arise through energy in which we have previously buried away. It is best to sit with this, let it flow, and know it cannot harm you unless it stays buried.
Some common breathing techniques are