The science of breath

The fundamental principal of pranayama otherwise know as  yoga breathing are to develop a breath that is consistently soft, smooth, even and deep.

Pranyayama or breath control works on our central nervous system. An uneven, or erratic breath will lead to diminished health whereas a soft, smooth, even breath can strengthen the nervous system and even cure diseases of the body, mind and soul.

Breath is life and life is breath as the first thing we do on entering life is to begin breathing and when our life is over, we let out our final breath.

We breathe for two primary reasons;

  1. The exchange of gaseous energy - absorbing oxygen from the atmosphere and exhaling carbon dioxide and bodily toxins or waste.
  2. The absorption of Prana - the vital life force

Our breath is mostly unconscious, each time we inhale, the lungs expand, then there is a brief pause before the lungs contract as we exhale followed by another pause. As we breathe in, the diaphragm draws down and the rib cage expands - the degree of movement is related to the volume of inhalation or exhalation

Breath is affected by the stresses of life, when one is anxious, angry or distressed, the breath changes becoming shorter and erratic, when one is happy the breath is freer and fuller.

The science of pranayama or breath control is a vital element within yoga as it is the means of balancing the forces acting within that body by refining our breathing which:

  1. Improves the efficiency of our respiratory system and overall metabolism
  2. Helps in expanding consciousness and awareness of prana
  3. Balances mind and emotions helping one to understand and regulate states of mind

In raja yoga (the royal path) pranayama is the third step and forms a preliminary part to concentration and meditation....

In laya yoga restraint of the prana (life force) is a prerequisite to the kriyas for raising the kundalini (coiled up serpent at the base of the spine - in the psychic body) if this energy is to be utilized safely.

In karama yoga (the yoga of cause and effect) nothing is possible unless each action is inspired by prana.

In bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) the use of mantras (sound formulae) is dependent on the breath.

In jnana yoga (the yoga of wisdom) the buddhi (seat of the higher intellect which uses viveka (discrimination) as its tool to still the vrittis (habit patterns which create the whirlpools within our mind) is impossible without pranayama.

Thus, as seen from the wide application of pranayama in all branches of yoga, it is essential that we practise the science of pranayama diligently if we want to make any progress on the path to perfection - which is the ultimate aim of yoga.

General rules:

  1. Loosen tight clothing which restricts the neck, chest and abdomen.
  2. Breathe always through the nose unless otherwise stated.
  3. Choose a room where fresh air can circulate but it must be draft free.
  4. Sit as uprigh as possible, a back rest is okay and if you can't sit comfortably at floor level, an upright chair is fine. But don't lay down as you're likely to fall asleep.
  5. Don't force the breath— make it a natural process.
  6. Observe the rhythm as introduced by your yoga teacher.
  7. Practise regularly — at least once a day at the same time by preference.
  8. Follow all instructions to the letter even if they seem unimportant to you.
  9. Be aware of any changes taking place during the pranayama session.
  10. Mindfulness of breathing may lead to meditation.

Background; The Science of Breath By Yogi Ramacharaka

“The heart is directly affected by the motion of the diaphragm. As the heart’s fibrous pericardium is attached to the diaphragm’s central ligaments, the heart literally rides up and down on the diaphragm as you breath. The yogis were right-breathing can massage the heart!” ~ Trail Guide to the body


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