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Prana is the life force that permeates both the individual as well as the universe at all levels. It is at once physical, sexual, mental, intellectual, spiritual, and cosmic. Prana, the breath, and the mind are inextricably linked to each other. Pranayama is the practice of uniting the breath with the mind. Prana is energy, and Yama is the storing and distribution of that energy. Yama has three aspects or movements: vertical extension, horizontal extension, and cyclical extension. In Pranayama, the cells of the brain and the facial muscles remain soft and receptive, and the breath is drawn in or released gently. During inhalation, each molecule, fiber, and cell of the body is independently felt by the mind, and is allowed to receive and absorb the prana. There are no sudden movements and one becomes aware of the gradual expansion of the respiratory organs, and feels the breath reaching the most remote parts of the lungs.
In exhalation, the release of breath is gradual, and this gives the air cells sufficient time to reabsorb the residual prana to the maximum possible extent. During Pranayama, one should be totally absorbed in the fineness of inhalation, exhalation, and in the naturalness of retention. One should not disturb or jerk the vital organs and nerves, or stress the brain cells. The brain is the instrument that observes the smooth flow of inhalation and exhalation. One must be aware of the interruptions that occur during a single inhalation and exhalation. Check these, and a smooth flow will set in. Remember to ensure that the abdomen does not swell.
Expanding conquest of life-force energy. This is the basic form of Pranayama. Uj means “expand” in Sanskrit, jayi means “conquest,” prana means “life force,” and Yama is the “distribution” of that force or energy. Each cycle of breath begins with an inhalation and ends with an exhalation, both of equal duration. Do not worry about the duration or retention of your breath; with practice, it will become steady, resonant, and rhythmic.
Preparatory stage consists of normal inhalation and exhalation. Breathe naturally, but consciously. When you inhale, expand your chest fully, but do not tense your diaphragm. Be conscious of your breathing, but do not breathe deeply. 10 cycles
Stage Two involves normal inhalation and deep exhalation. Inhale, then exhale slowly, deeply, and steadily release all the air in your lungs. Keep your sternum lifted. Synchronize the movements of your diaphragm and abdomen, keeping the flow of breath smooth and uniform. 15 cycles
Stage Three involves deep inhalation and normal exhalation. Exhale without strain, and then inhale slowly and deeply. Feel your breath move up from the pelvis to the pit of the throat, and then spread to each side of your torso. 15 – 20 cycles
Final Stage consists of deep inhalation and deep exhalation. Exhale, emptying your lungs without strain. Then, inhale slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Exhale silently, until the lungs feel completely empty. Suck the stomach in and up, under the ribs to massage the heart. Hold this for 10 beats of your heart. End the Pranayama with an inhalation. 20 cycles
Coming out of Pranayama, roll to your side, sit up slowly, find a restful position, and rest. Pranayama is not just, cycles of inhalation and exhalation, nor is it merely deep breathing. The practice of Pranayama goes beyond these to link our physiological and spiritual dimensions.
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