Today, we are coming at you with yet another limb of the Ashtanga Yoga theorized by Patanjali: Pranayama. Pranayama only comes fourth after the practice of Yamas (the don’ts), Niyamas (the do’s), and Asana (physical poses). How come Pranayama comes after Asana? Well, as we saw earlier in our blog article about Asana, the goal of practicing physical poses is to free the body from energetical and physical tensions so it can sit pain-free for the practice of Pranayama and, later on, Dhyana (Meditation).
Pranayama: What Is Prana?
First thing first, we need to understand what Prana is to understand the purpose of practicing Pranayama. Prana is our life force. Without Prana, there is no life. Prana is what enables our body to move, experience, feel, and live. When we die, Prana leaves the body. So what is Pranayama? When practicing Pranayama, what do we intend to do? Do we try to connect with the breath? Lengthen it? Well, even though all these assumptions are correct, what we intend to do through Pranayama is to take control over the breath. We never learned to breathe, and the body does it on its own, so we often fail to acknowledge the impact of the breath on our lives. Yoga is here to change that and make us aware that being alive is being able to breathe.
Through Pranayama, We Train Ourselves to Conquer the Fear of Death
When practicing Pranayama, we train ourselves to control the three phases of the breath: inhalation, exhalation, and retention. In a previous post, we explained why the inhalation is soothing and the exhalation energizing, remember? When we empty our lungs exhaling comes this urge, this natural survival instinct of the body to inhale. We cannot die by choosing to stop breathing; the body will not let us. So, through Pranayama and exploring Kumbakha (retention), we train ourselves to defy the body’s instincts; the body naturally wants to keep us alive at all costs. Some might say, learning to control the breath is, in a way, learning to face and conquer death. A yoga sequence often represents the cycle of life and death, starting on the ground, then up before returning to the earth as a corpse in Savasana.
“Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the path. Until you have developed this awareness, all other practices are useless.” -the Dalai Lama
So, that was about Pranayama; we are half-way there!
Our next stop is Prathyara, the control of the senses.
In the meantime, check out our app to enjoy a healthy and safe yoga practice from home!