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The mind and breath are so intricately linked that they are directly proportional to each other; in the sense that rapid, unsteady breathing results in a restless mind, and calm, controlled breath results in a relaxed mind. The externally focused mind, which is strongly tied to the desires of the senses is said to be the impurity of Man's personality. The conscious mind is an instrument that is extraordinarily difficult to control, yet this same instrument can be source of Man's liberation. Therefore, control of the mind is the key to freedom; and so, if the breath and mind are one, then an indirect method of controlling the mind, is controlling the breath. That method is called Pranayama.

"Prana" is the cosmic intelligent life force behind the creation of everything in the universe. It is prevalent in all the elements; however, in its purest, tangible, elemental form, it is air, or breath. "Yama" means to control or stop. We need Prana to survive, so it must be under control and not wasted. By practising Pranayama we are indirectly controlling the mind.

Patanjali, the father of modern yoga (2nd century) defines Pranayama as the controlled inhalation, exhalation, and retention of breath. By controlling the mind via the breath, Pranayama allows Man's higher mind, called Buddhi, to be awakened; thus purifying him. Similarly, by extending the length of oxygen coming in, and extending the length of carbon dioxide going out, purifies the body. Pranayama merely controls the natural variations in breath that exist during a normal day. These variations are such that every hour the nostril through which the breath flows, changes. Sometimes we breathe through both nostrils, sometimes through the left, and sometimes solely through the right.

When breath is flowing through the right nostril, which is connected to the left side of the brain, the male energy flows, which is represented by the sun and heat. This helps to digest, work, think, and exercise. When breath is flowing through the left nostril, controlled by the right side of the brain, the female, moon, and cool energy dominates; making one creative, emotional, and passive. When both nostrils are flowing, there is a tangible balance in temperament, and most activities will be successful; thus, it is a good time for prayer or spiritual practises. Pranayama has the power to control these natural currents. Pranayama, again according to Patanjali, is the bestower of clarity and true perception; this is because the mind that ordinarily distorts things is controlled via the breath, leading to spiritual perception and focus.

The human being is composed of three aspects, mind, prana, and body. The prana aspect is the life force or electricity of the body. The mind is the consciousness and the body is the sense driven vehicle of the ego. When prana is associated with the body, the senses take control which leads to overindulgence, disappointments, fears, pride etc. however, when prana is linked to the mind, or consciousness, then wisdom eventually takes over. Thus, Pranayama, in which the mind and prana are united through the breath, leads one to Eternal Truth.

The human body excretes waste in three ways, solids, liquids, and gases. The gases are excreted through the lungs. Pranayama intensifies this process of excretion, leaving the mind balanced due to the removal of toxic gaseous pressure upon it. This inner purification process is known as "Nadi Sudhana." The individual who practises Pranayama is said to be healthy, light-hearted, requiring less food and sleep, and naturally quiet.

Pranayama requires total concentration and sincerity. After all, the practitioner is trying to tame the mind through the breath; which is by no means an easy task. Patanjali has compared this activity to trying to tame a lion, or a wild beast, though prana is much, much more powerful. When practised correctly, Pranayama is said to be able to dissolve any developing imbalance or disorder in the body. Similarly, when practised incorrectly it can result in harm for the body; hence the importance of not taking Pranayama lightly. It should be practised mindfully, calmly, and slowly.

In the practise of Pranayama, you control prana in the form of air; though prana is not air, nor is it oxygen, ether, or thought; but it is the very force behind air, ether, and thought. It is existence; without it, there would be no creation whatsoever. So, to understand, harness, and control prana, is actually to control life and creation, at least within the realms of your own body and life force.

Patanjali, the modern forerunner of yoga, advocates finding a practise which helps you to grow spiritually, and perceive the truth; something which is practised with awareness, and not just mechanically. He calls this type of yoga practise "Abhyas", stating that only repetition of Abhyas will lead to success. He also says that practise must be entered and performed with a spirit of non-dependency, even though it is beneficial. The reason for this non-attachment is that then you will not lament if for some reason beyond your control like injury or illness you are not able to practise. Patanjali says that attachment, even to good practises, is one of the sources of Man's misery.

After practising Pranayama there maybe distinctive signs of improvement. The first sign of improvement comes in the form of slight perspiration, which signals detoxification. The second sign is that you may feel a slight cool sensation in the body. The third, revered sign is that the Prana and Apana currents, which control the nourishing and excreting movements of the body, and are related to the breath, merge into the Sushumna, which is the central passage of the spinal column. The result of this is the awakening of the Kundalini, the latent cosmic energy, giving the practitioner a heightened state of ecstasy.

There are six guidelines to successful Pranayama practise.

   1. Enthusiam

      Practise must never be approached with a depressed frame of mind. Willingness to practise must be developed by acknowledging the reason you wish to practise i.e. what your requirement of the technique is. You must not practise simply because you are told to, but because you want to, and understand why you need to.

   2. Courage

      If you are facing difficulty in your practise, do not be afraid to consult your teacher so that they may explain the practise in more detail to you. This is especially necessary if you are facing problems like headaches or stomach complaints.

   3. Patience

      Sometimes it can take a while to notice great change with Pranayama practise. If it takes you a long time to notice the difference, you must understand that Pranayama often works at the spiritual level first, then the physical level, depending on where the greatest need in the body is. Regarding this, the example of the Chinese Bamboo tree is often given. This particular tree, when first planted as a seed, requires watering twice a day, every day. However, for about five years nothing is seen on the surface of the soil. Then, in about the fifth year, the first sprout suddenly shoots up and six months later the tree is over ten foot tall! For the first five years, the roots are being laid in order to give the tree solid foundations for future growth. This can be like the practitioner; the moral is do not stop practising, or watering your, Pranayama, tree; the results may be just about to surface. Whatever you are doing now is the foundation for future growth.

   4. Knowledge

      It is important to know why you are practising certain techniques; if you do not know then research or ask those who do know. Knowledge removes doubt facts are there to remove fears. It is good to practise with faith, but if you can also satisfy your rational mind, you will be more mentally at peace during your practise as you will have no doubts. Never practise with a closed mind, always question your practise until you have understood why you are doing what you are doing.

   5. Determination

      Once you are convinced of the benefits of your practise, be wilful in your approach, this means being disciplined, punctual, motivated, and attentive in your practise.

   6. Time

      Make adequate time for you practise, do not compromise it for lesser engagements. If your practise time has to be altered one day, then do so, but do not sacrifice your practise completely, do it at another time in the same day. Remember to keep a distinction between regularity and dependency in your practise.


There are said to be six obstacles to the successful practise of Pranayama.

1. Overeating
This is the cause of indigestion and obstruction to the abdomen in the practise of Pranayama. Proper proportions of food are advocated, meaning that the stomach must be left ¼ empty i.e. you must finish eating when you are ¾ full. This allows the necessary gases and fluids to move freely around the food and digest it. It is also given that you must be "one" with the food, concentrating on it, being aware of it, not keeping your mind on other matters; this means not eating like a machine, or in the quantities of a buffalo. It is also said that the food must be tasty and nutritious; meaning you must relish the food but keep in mind the proportion. Food taken with cow's ghee, clarified butter, is also advised, as well as, most importantly, being thankful to the provider of the food, be it God, or the cook.

2. Over-exertion
The second obstacle to Pranayama is said to be the forcing of practise. The body must be treated gently and humbly. Pranayamas must not be performed like vigorous hyperventilation type exercises.

3. Communication
The third obstacle is talking or communicating with anyone whilst practising; the mind should be on your technique.

4. Rigidness
The fourth obstacle is a teacher who is so insistent on the rules of practise, that the technique becomes the goal and not the path. There must be flexibility in teaching, so that practitioners are able to work, develop, and practise at their own level.

5. Busyness
 The fifth obstacle to the student is the arrangement of too many public engagements, social or otherwise, leaving not enough time for practise.

6. Restlessness
The sixth obstacle is the fickleness of the mind, which, if restless, makes a mockery of Pranayama practise.

If these six concerns are heeded to, successful practise will have a great chance of flourishing.

The texts on Pranayama leave no doubt as to how the practitioner should feel after sincere and regular practise. There are 15 indications of successful practise noted.

  1. The practitioner should feel lightness in the body.
  2. The practitioner should feel energetic, or at least fresh, and certainly not tired or weak directly after practise.
  3. The practitioner should feel purity in the body, due to the release of toxins and an improvement in the immune system.
  4. The practitioner should be able to think clearly, and thus make good decisions after practise. There should be no fickleness of mind either.
  5. The practitioner's mind should be able to control the senses and not the other way around.
  6. The practitioner should notice the skin has improved in appearance after practise.
  7. The practitioner should be more expressive in speech and less violent.
  8. The practitioner should have a sweet temperament.
  9. The practitioner should be able to understand emotions and not become emotional.
  10. The practitioner should have odourless body perspiration after regular practise.
  11. The practitioner should have improved digestion. There should be no indigestion or constipation after regular practise.
  12. The practitioner should naturally excrete less solid and liquid matter due the total absorption of nourishment.
  13. The practitioner should reduce obesity with regular practise.
  14. The practitioner will be happier inside and look pleasant.
  1. The practitioner will have control over disease. 
Pranayama practise is one of the most essential aspects of yoga. Without it, the bond between the soul (consciousness) and body - the breath, cannot be broken. The aim of controlling the breath is not just physical i.e. improving the health, but gaining mastery over the body and mind. Once mastery is gained over the mind through Pranayama, the senses and thoughts fall into hands of the practitioner and remain under control. Once this control is gained, spiritual progress is likely ensured.

The value of an exercise is based on its health giving properties and the value of health is based on the proper functioning of the nervous, endocrine, respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. The value of Pranayama is therefore in its influence over the above-mentioned systems.

These systems are intricately related to each other, and their harmonious relationship is imperative to overall good health. The nervous system is composed of the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves. The brain sends electrical currents to the cord, and on to the nerves; these are messages and instructions for every movement in the body. If the brain or cord is harmed, or the nerves are degenerated the body stops or slows down as it has no power or command. Nerves control the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems of the body among others; thus, they are of life sustaining importance.

However, even if the nerves were properly functioning, they would be ineffective if the current passing through them was not sufficient to power the organism. This current depends primarily upon the secretions of the endocrine glands. If the thyroid gland is weak, the eyes pale, the face is gaunt, the muscles become loose or thin, the hair turns grey etc; if the same gland is strong, youthfulness, positivity, energy and good posture prevail. Thus, the importance of the endocrine glands can be seen.

The circulatory system, consisting of the heart, the arteries, the veins and the capillaries, supplies the necessary blood to support the nervous and endocrine systems. If famished of blood these systems will quickly degenerate. It is the responsibility of the circulatory system to deliver nourishing blood to every tissue in the body.

However, if the blood flowing around the circulatory channels is of a poor quality i.e. toxic, the efficacy of the circulatory system is actually working to poison the body. Therefore, much depends on the proper functioning of the respiratory system, which injects oxygen into the blood stream and the digestive system, which imparts nutrition to the same. A malfunctioning respiratory system could not make use of even fresh mountain air; likewise, even the most nutritious foods are wasted on a digestive system, which cannot absorb properly.

Carbon dioxide should be exhaled by a good respiratory system, if not, it becomes extremely toxic and lodges itself in various tissues around the body. Food and drink-wise, all that is not absorbed remains as waste matter in the colon; which, if not working to evacuate toxins correctly, inadvertently reintroduces those toxins back into the system through the porous walls of the bowels. Thus, the blood stream is poisoned adversely affecting the entire organism. The kidneys also eliminate a certain amount of waste matter through the urine, which if passed is harmless enough, but when retained by an inefficient system, become poisons which find refuge in various joints in the human body. Therefore, good blood depends upon effective respiratory, digestive and eliminative systems.

Pranayama affects the functioning of these various systems of the body in many ways. Two of the organs of elimination, namely the bowels and kidneys are situated in the abdomen, below the lungs. In normal breathing, the alternate rise and fall of the diaphragm and alternate contraction and relaxation of the abdominal muscles, massages the bowel and kidneys. In Pranayama, these movements including retention, are increased greatly, thus removing any accumulation or congestion of toxins in these organs. The muscles and nerves of these organs remained toned up even after the practise of Pranayama techniques; and their ability to eliminate improves generally after the onset of regular Pranayama practise.

Pranayama practise directly strengthens the lung muscles and improves their elasticity by opening the chest to its maximum capacity several times in succession. This renders them optimal in their performance of elimination even during the periods in between Pranayama practise.

The movement of the abdomen and diaphragm massages the stomach, pancreas and liver during Pranayama practise. These organs play a great part in the digestion and absorption of food and drink, which in turn means healthy blood enriched with all the necessary nutrients.

Interestingly, it has been proved in laboratory experiments that Pranayama practise does not increase the amount of oxygen taking in, minute for minute, when compared to regular breathing. In other words, the body does not take in extra oxygen for storage; it only takes in what is required at the time. According to results from the Kaivalyadhama scientific research department in Lonavla, India, regular breathing takes in about 7,000 ml of air per minute, whereas Pranayamic breathing (which is generally longer and slower) takes in only 3,700 ml per minute.

The benefits regarding oxygen entering the bloodstream because of Pranayamic breathing come not during practise, but after practise, when general breathing efficacy is improved. Pranayama practise trains the lungs and respiratory system so well, that the total amount of oxygen taken in during a normal dayafter practise increases sharply. The individual derives a greater amount of oxygen throughout the whole day, as opposed to during the actual practise of Pranayama.

Having said that, there are certain techniques (Ujjayi at a rate of four rounds a minute) and patterns of breathing that can be followed that do directly and immediately inject extra oxygen into the bloodstream. It is to be noted that the ability to absorb oxygen varies greatly from person to person.

The efficient functioning of the respiration, digestion and elimination systems of the body, renders the blood high in quality; however, without an efficient circulatory system, this blood is redundant. It is accepted in the West that deep breathing gently massages and strengthens the heart; but scientific tests in India have proven that the benefits of Pranayama on the heart and therefore the entire circulatory system, are far greater than normal deep breathing.

During other Pranayama techniques (Bhastrika) vibrations of the body spread ripple-like to nearly every tissue in the body, including the arteries, veins, and capillaries again enhancing the functioning of the circulatory system.

The endocrine system, brain, spinal cord, spine, cranial and sympathetic nerves all benefit from the efficient supply of rich blood, thanks to excellent functioning of the circulatory, digestive and eliminatory systems. Certain Pranayamas (Bhastrika) enhance this effect even further.

The nervous system also gets help directly from the physical practise of Puraka or Pranayamic inhalation. Whereas in a normal deep breath the abdomen extends in Puraka there is a contraction of the abdomen and diaphragm muscles, which raises the lower spine and if Jalandhara Bandha is also practised, the upper spine is pulled up as well. All this leads to the exercising of the sympathetic nerves and the roots of the spinal nerves.

In the distant past, the yogis of India saw Pranayama as the only physical practise that could simultaneously work the nervous, endocrine, respiratory, digestive and eliminative systems. Many went so far as to proclaim it the only practise necessary for the health of the human body and mind.

Pranayama is not only a lot more powerful than physical posture work; but also it gives the practitioner of this fine art full control over the very energy upon which existence is sustained, which is prana itself.

Though it is difficult to provide evidence scientifically, there is no doubt that the practise of Pranayama works on the subtle nervous system and the higher consciousness of the mind. Certainly, it has been proven by Kaivalyadhama scientific research department that the pressures the practises place on the system (intrathoracic, intra-pulmonic and intra abdominal) through the three Bandhas i.e. Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara stimulate the peripherals of the various nerve plexuses in the abdomen and thorax regions of the body.

Pressure is also placed on the central canal of the spinal cord, the Sushumna and the ventricles of the brain, stimulating the whole nervous system. Due to these pressures, central and peripheral, consciousness begins to become interiorised leading to deeper internal clarity and perception, which is in line with the overall aim of yoga. As the consciousness becomes clearer, it rises in thinking until the aim of yoga is achieved; physical, mental, and emotional unification with the spiritual aspect of life.