Prāṇāyāma (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word alternatively translated as "extension of the prāṇa (breath or life force)" or "breath control." The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force (noted particularly as the breath), and either ayama (to restrain or control the prana, implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results) or the negative form ayāma, meaning to extend or draw out (as in extension of the life force). It is a yogic discipline with origins in ancient India.
Prāṇāyāma (Devanagari: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit compound.
Of these meanings, the concept of "vital air" is used by Bhattacharyya to describe the concept as used in Sanskrit texts dealing with prāṇāyāma. Thomas McEvilley translates prāṇa as "spirit-energy". The breath is understood to be its most subtle material form, but is also believed to be present in the blood, and most concentrated in men's semen and women's vaginal fluid.
Monier-Williams defines the compound prāṇāyāma as "(m., also pl.) N. of the three 'breath-exercises' performed during Saṃdhyā (See pūrak, rechak (English: retch or throw out), kumbhak". This technical definition refers to a particular system of breath control with three processes as explained by Bhattacharyya: pūrak (to take the breath inside), kumbhak (to retain it), and rechak (to discharge it). There are also other processes of prāṇāyāma in addition to this three-step model.
Macdonell gives the etymology as prāṇa + āyāma and defines it as "m. suspension of breath (sts. pl.)".
Apte's definition of āyāmaḥ derives it from ā + yām and provides several variant meanings for it when used in compounds. The first three meanings have to do with "length", "expansion, extension", and "stretching, extending", but in the specific case of use in the compound prāṇāyāma he defines āyāmaḥ as meaning "restrain, control, stopping".
An alternative etymology for the compound is cited by Ramamurti Mishra, who says that:
Expansion of individual energy into cosmic energy is called prāṇāyāma (prāṇa, energy + ayām, expansion).
|Pada (Chapter)||English meaning||Sutras|
|Samadhi Pada||On being absorbed in spirit||
|Sadhana Pada||On being immersed in spirit||
|Vibhuti Pada||On supernatural abilities and gifts||
|Kaivalya Pada||On absolute freedom||
Pranayama is the fourth "limb" of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali, a Hindu Rishi, discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice. Patanjali does not fully elucidate the nature of prana, and the theory and practice of pranayama seem to have undergone significant development after him. He presents pranayama as essentially an exercise that is preliminary to concentration, as do the earlier Buddhist texts.
The Indian tradition of Hatha Yoga makes use of various pranayama techniques. The 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a key text of this tradition and includes various forms of pranayama such as breath retention techniques termed Kumbhaka and various body locks (Bandha). Other forms of pranayama breathing include Ujjayi breath ("Victorious Breath"), Bhastrika ("bellows breath") and Kapalabhati ("skull shining breath").
Many of these practices have become popular in Western forms of Yoga.
According to the Pali Buddhist Canon, the Buddha prior to his enlightenment practiced a meditative technique which involved pressing the palate with the tongue and forcibly attempting to restrain the breath. This is described as both extremely painful and not conducive to enlightenment. According to the Buddhist scheme, breathing stops with the fourth jhana, though this is a side-effect of the technique and does not come about as the result of purposeful effort.
The Buddha did incorporate moderate modulation of the length of breath as part of the preliminary tetrad in the Anapanasati Sutta. Its use there is preparation for concentration. According to commentarial literature, this is appropriate for beginners.
Later Indo-Tibetan developments in Buddhist pranayama which are similar to Hindu forms can be seen as early as the 11th century, in the Buddhist text titled the Amṛtasiddhi, which teaches three bandhas for kumbakha.
These developments continued in Tibetan Buddhism which includes its own forms of pranayama exercises termed Tsa-lung (Skt: nadi-vayu) usually incorporated into a system of yogic practice such as Trul khor or into the full Tantric systems of various Buddhist Tantras such as the Six Yogas of Naropa of the Cakrasamvara tradition. Tibetan Buddhist breathing exercises such as the "nine breathings of purification" or the "Ninefold Expulsion of Stale Vital Energy" (rlung ro dgu shrugs), a form of alternate nostril breathing, commonly include visualizations.
Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders. A Cochrane systematic review on the symptomatic relief of asthma by breathing exercises did not find a statistically significant improvement but did find that there was a statistically significant increase in the dose of histamine needed to provoke a 20% reduction in FEV1 (PD20) during pranayama breathing but not with the placebo device.
Authoritative texts on Yoga state that, in order to avoid injuries and unwanted side effects, pranayama should only be undertaken when one has a firmly established yoga practice and then only under the guidance of an experienced Guru. Although relatively safe, Hatha Yoga is not risk free. Sensible precautions can usefully be taken such as beginners should avoid advanced moves if they have any physical health related issue. It can get dangerous if someone is trying to pose tough exercise which requires extreme flexibility and good shapes of bones. Hatha Yoga should not be combined with psychoactive drug use, and competitive Hatha Yoga should be avoided. Person should inform the teacher or trainer of their physical limitations and concerns before getting involved themselves for extreme pose positions. Functional limitations should be taken into consideration. Modifications can then be made using props, altering the duration or poses.
According to at least one study, pranayama was the yoga practice leading to most injuries, with four injuries in a study of 76 practitioners. There have been limited reports of adverse effects including haematoma and pneumothorax, though the connections are not always well established.
The yoga practice that was most often associated with reported adverse events was Pranayama
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