Pranayama: Who Let the Prana Out?

Pranayama

Ever feel restless or confused? This can be a sign that you have too much Prana outside of your body than inside. Prana is life force, and when we feel disconcerted or confused, we take our vital energy and focus it on the outside world. When we have too little Prana within our body, we may feel as if we are walking through cement, or in a rut.

The first limb of the Eightfold Path are the Yamas self-restraints, in relation to ourselves and others. If we think about what their metamessage it is to release control, to live rightly and not waste our energy on things that do not serve. Ahimsa is the act of non-violence not inflicting our will on others or causing harm to others or ourselves. Satya the act of truthfulness allows us to release the temptation of controlling others through our words, deeds and actions. Asteya non-stealing frees us from trying to manipulate and control of others through hindering their joy, or robbing ourselves of our innate joy. Brahmacharya is conserving energy which frees us from restlessness and confusion because we can maintain our focus toward living a balanced life. Aparigraha, non-grasping attachment frees us from attempting to control outcomes and embracing the work we have done and allowing it to manifest accordingly.

The second limb of the Eightfold Path the Niyamas are observances, virtues or positive duties. If we think about the metamessage for them as well, they too call for us to release the illusion of control. Saucha cleanliness of mind, body and speech allow us to live rightly by only accepting what we need and release the clutter of the unnecessary. Santosha contended optimism, accepting of others and our situation as it is at the moment. Tapas self-discipline and perseverance keeping the flame of passion lit, but also the fire contained. Svadhyaya study of the self-understanding our motivations and actions as well as learning what you can change and what to accept as it is. Ishvara Pranidhana is about surrender and yielding to forces greater than us.

The third limb of the Eightfold Path is Asana. Asanas are the shape that we take with our bodies. The physical expression of yoga, finding what shapes come to us naturally, which shapes take work, and which shapes will remain elusive. The asana practice teaches us the patterns of where we grip personally and also clears the way for meditation.

The first three limbs aren’t focusing on control, but releasing the illusion of control. So why would the 4th limb of Pranayama mean to control breath? It’s a compound word often defined as Prana (breath, life force) and Yama (to restrain), with this definition it implies controlling the breath. However, breathing is something natural. Without breath, we die.

T.K.V. Desikachar wrote in “The Heart of Yoga.”
The word Pranayama consists of two parts: Prana and Ayama. Ayama means to stretch or “extend”, and describes the action of Pranayama. Prana refers to “that which is infinitely everywhere.” Concerning us, humans Prana can be described as something that flows continuously from somewhere inside us, to filling us, and keeping us alive: it is vitality.

Hmm… that doesn’t sound like control, does it? To stretch infinitely everywhere seems to imply a lengthening not restricting. In the practice of Pranayama we bring our attention to breath, the practice requires focusing and playing with ratios. What is the point if it is not controlling?

Desikachar explains:
…the true aim of various techniques and breath ratios of breathing in Pranayama is first and foremost to give us many different possibilities for following breath. When we follow the breath, the mind will be drawn into activities of the breath. In this way, Pranayama prepares us for stillness of meditation.

I love this quote. It sheds light on the purpose, which is to create space for meditation. When we bring our attention to our breath, it allows us to guide our breath, by guiding our breath we can guide our thoughts. By guiding our thought, we can connect to being the observer of breath. By playing the role of the observer we can create clear the path toward awareness. As we become aware of our breath, we begin to settle more into the present. As we become more present life seems to become a bit easier, blockages seem to dissipate, and a sense of grounding occurs. This allows us to have more Prana in our body, and we are able to operate from abundance.

Does this conflict with your belief of the purpose of Pranayama? Does it bring new awareness? Does it give you the feeling and sensation that through breath you become limitless, and that confusion evaporates? Let me know.

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