It is through breathing that we come into contact with life in its most primitive form. It is essential that we breathe correctly in order to maintain health and to enjoy as long a life as possible. Awareness of our breathing process helps us to be balanced and to look after our physical, psychological and mental wellbeing and, even more importantly, to pay attention to the spiritual aspects.
The greatest sages speak of the existence of a fundamental energy that is divine and vital which penetrates every thing and every being in the universe, transcending space and time. This energy, in the tradition of Yoga, is known as Prana, and it penetrates all material forms, without itself being material. This vital energy is attracted and enabled to enter our being through breathing.
By paying attention to this process, we can connect ourselves to the infinite source of universal energy.
Breath control brings about control of the mind and acts on all the elements around us. The mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration. Pranayama is the rhythmic control of breathing. The word is composed of Prana and Ayama, length, control and extension. Pranayama directs energy and achieves total control of vital energy. This practice is realised during the traditional four stages: inhalation (Puraka), respiratory pause after inhaling (Antara Kumbhaka), exhalation (Rechaka) and the respiratory pause after exhaling (Bahya Kumbhaka).
Pranayama is the conscious pacifying, regulating and internalisation of ones own vital breath. It is the informed art of breathing.
Photos credit: Natalie Wilson (flickr.com/photos/natcatwil)