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Breathing





Yogic breathing practices, also known as Pranayama, help revitalize the body, balance the emotions, and clear the mind. The word Pranayama means "the expansion of prana." Its aim is to control, regulate, and balance the "Prana Shakti" or the vital life force energy in the body and help strengthen the nervous system.

Most people breathe shallowly, often through the mouth and do not involve the diaphragm. As a result, very little oxygen is taken in and only the upper lung is used. Thus, resulting in lack of vitality and low resistance to disease. The practice of pranayama involves reversing these bad habits and re-learning to breathe correctly. The breath should be taken in through the nose and the whole lung should be involved. In this way, during the exhalation, the abdomen naturally contracts, forcing the diaphragm up. During inhalation, the diaphragm expands, forcing it to move down.

In Yogic breathing, the emphasis is on the exhalation. Also retention of breath plays an important part in advanced breathing practices. Through the practice of pranayama the ability to control prana is developed. While doing pranayama one should concentrate on the breath. Inhaling and exhaling should be slow and regular and performed according to one’s capacity. One should advance in it gradually with proper supervision. Excessive practice beyond capacity can cause harm to the practitioner.

Pranayama is essential for purification of the mind. It helps to improve retention and concentration power and also to prepare us for the practice of meditation. Since breathing is the link between the physical body and the mind, activating of the prana through pranayama practices can greatly assist the practitioner in preparing for meditation.

There are numerous types of Pranayamas. The most basic are the three part breath (involving, abdomen, mid, and upper chest), Kapalabhati (the skull shining breath); and Nadi Shodhana (nerve purification breath). There are also breathing practices that are specifically suited for the winter or summer season. However, it is not necessary to practice numerous pranayamas that appear in various texts nowadays. The important point is that these are learned from a fully trained and practicing instructor who can properly observe the individual, correct them and guide their practice accordingly.
Other types of Pranayama involving sound current, mudra, retention, and bandhas should be learned directly from a Guru or Yogi who knows the individuals capacity, their lifestyle, and habits and can thus adopt these advanced practices to specifically suit their temperament and capacity of the individual.