Pranayama is the fourth step in Ashtanga yoga, the eight-fold path put forth by Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras. Prana means vital life force and ayama means expansion or extension. The controlled breathing of Pranayama practice expands life force throughout the entire body/mind system.
Breathing is the single pranic activity that is under our control and by using different patterns of breathing we can affect the nervous system and our states of consciousness in different ways. Pranayama helps us to regulate our breathing, helps to control and train our mind, and automatically leads us to the fifth step on the eight-fold path of Yoga called Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses inward.
A full breath is composed of three parts:
Kumbhaka, the pause in-between
Pranayama is the voluntary control of any of these three stages of breath. This conscious, deep, and rhythmic breathing reduces stress and brings about relaxation, tranquility, and a sense of well being. Pranayama gives rise to balance in our bodies and minds, and a soothes of the nervous system. Pranayama practice should be easeful and pleasurable – never forced or rushed, and should be practiced regularly on whatever time frame pleases you.
© 2016 Betsy Ceva