By Mokshapriya: Ordained as Swami Ma Mokshapriya Shakti Saraswati and has taught yoga, meditation and philosophy for over 40 years.
What is Praana?
In the previous blog we requested you to breath rhythmically. To breathe in deeply and exhale equally deep brings more praana into the body. But what is this praana? Where does it reside? How does it manifest?
As stated before praana is life force or the essence of life directly coming from our Creator. In all living beings, the divine consciousness is converted into praana or energy. This energy has a reservoir in our body, and is known as kundalini or sometimes referred to as praana shakti.
Praana is accumulated in six main centers along the spinal column. They are situated in the subtle or etheric body, but correspond to the nerve plexuses in the physical body. The three most important nadis or paths of praana is ida, pingala and sushumna nadi. Ida is associated with the left nostril (cooling and negative charge) and pingala with the right nostril (heating or positive charge). The energy flow from these two coil the sushumna nadi which runs adjacent to the spinal cord and cross each other like a double helix at the chakras.
The etheric body has a fine network of nadis through which the praana flows. The ancient sages stated that there are 72000 nadis. This etheric or praanic body distributes consciousness and praana to every atom. This is the body that some see in colors and it has been captured in Kirlian photography.
Yoga believes that these nerve plexuses or chakras and nadis need to be purified, so that we may have more vital energy. Praanayaam or yogic breathing exercises are techniques through which the quantity of praana is activated. This activation creates heat and movement of praana which opens the channels and purification begins to take place. There are other methods also which we will discuss later, but breathing is most efficient.
So as you can see, breathing is vital in any healing process. Breathing should always take place through the nostrils. The air then is purified, and brought to the right temperature. The first step to yogic breathing is to tune into the rhythm of the breath. A smooth, slow rhythm usually indicates a relaxed state of body and mind. It creates alpha brain waves and reduces muscle tension. Irregular respiration usually means tension.
Normal unconscious breathing moves half a liter or 500 ml of air¸ of which only 350ml are utilized. So with normal breathing only a small volume of air enters the alveoli. With yogic breathing in full inhalation we can take in up to 5 liters of air. So more oxygen is available for gas exchange with the blood to increase praana in the body and therefore accelerates the healing process.
Inhalation or poorak is an active process and requires muscular effort to draw air into the lungs. Normal exhalation or rechak is passive. The diaphragm and rib cage recoil back to their original place. In yogic breathing rechak is a slow controlled process which activates the relaxation response. So, slowing inhalation and exhalation has many health benefits.
Improved control of the process of poorak and rechak gives us a more efficient absorption of oxygen, elimination of carbon dioxide and also improved mental and emotional states. These in turn increase our vitality and purify the nadis or nerve plexuses that bring healing energy to every atom.
So it is in our best interest to become aware of the rhythm of our breath and to begin to breathe consciously. When we become more conscious of breath we bypass the medulla oblongata, or primitive brain and start using the cerebral cortex or the more evolved area of the brain concerned with emotions. That is why a more relaxed state is achieved during rhythmical breathing. Any tension in the body reduces the flow of praana.
Before starting various yogic breathing techniques, I am requesting you to start becoming more aware of the breath, and start breathing consciously for at least 15 minutes a day. You may break it up into 2 or 3 sessions. During rhythmical breathing the diaphragmatic movement increases. It needs more space, so please sit up straight when you practice. Due to increased expansion of the diaphragm more alveolar membranes become available for gas exchange. So any effort of increased awareness of our breath improves the healing process for both the physical, mental and emotional body.
With love and respect,
Mokshapriya is ordained as Swami Ma Mokshapriya Shakti Saraswati and has taught yoga, meditation and philosophy for over 40 years. She currently teaches and gives guidance in Queens NY at the Yogashakti Yoga Center. She is the co-founder of the Yoga Teachers Training Institute and has trained over 250 yoga teachers in Long Island and New York. Mokshapriya has a Ph.D.in Education by researching and writing a “Comprehensive Eclectic Yoga Program: A Strategy for Self-Improvement” Curriculum for College. She is very direct, but approachable. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.teachyoga.org.