Indian Yoga therapy, Pranayam holds a place of special significance.
Pranayam occupies second place in Hathyog while it constitutes the fourth
step of Patanjali's Ashtangyog. A serious student of yoga is expected
to start practice of Pranayam when he or she becomes well versed in
yogasan, i.e., when a stage of asanjay is achieved so that one can sit
for hours together, steadily and comfortably.
word Pranayam is formed by two words i.e., 'prana' and 'ayam.' 'Pran'
means life force, which provides energy to different organs (including
mind) and also controls many vital life processes, like respiration
and circulation of blood. 'Ayam,' on the other hand, signifies the voluntary
effort to control and direct this pran. Breathing is one of the vital
activities governed by pran. This is the only pranic activity which
the human beings can voluntarily regulate. Secondly, the breathing system
is linked with the nervous system (base of the mental activity) on one
hand and the mind (consciousness) on the other. Yog has taken best advantage
of this situation, considering that the mind could be controlled effectively
with the voluntary regulation over breathing. This is expected to manage
the materialistic inclinations and instincts of 'chitta' (super consciousness).
Pranayam essentially becomes a process by which the mind is controlled
by voluntary regulation of the breathing. Hence, Pranayam is a voluntary
and temporary pause in the movement of the breath. From yogic point
of view it is a path that connects one's physical existence and the
yog sutras by Patanjali states: 'Tasminsati shvasaprashvasayor gativichchedah
Pranayamh.' This quote narrates that the pause, brought in the movement
of inhalation and exhalation, is nothing but Pranayam. Rishi Patanjali
has explained four types of Pranayam on the basis of the nature of the
'pause' (stambhavrutti) that is a temporary suspension of breath.
types are :-
per yogic literature, when breath is held after exhalation, it is known
as Bahya kumbhak; when the breathing is stopped after inhalation, it
is known as Abhyantar kumbhak while the fourth type of pause as mentioned
above which comes automatically after a long practice of Pranayam, is
known as Keval kumbhak. Effect of each type of Pranayam is also different
on the physical, mental and on the spiritual levels.
to Patanjali, a slightest change brought in the normal speed of breathing
is Pranayam. Also systematically controlled and prolonged inhalations
and exhalations constitute Pranayam. Obviously to do this a voluntary
control is necessary. In normal breathing also, there is a pause between
inhalation and exhalation that may be only for a few milliseconds. Therefore
voluntary control brought on any one of the three, i.e., inhalation,
exhalation, the pause, or on all three, will be called Pranayam.