The Goal of Pranayama
One of the main goals of pranayama is to prepare the body for deep meditation, by withdrawing the senses form the outside world1. However, the effects of pranayama can be altered according to the desired result, via the influence of the breath on the physiology of the body. Thus, one can learn to consciously control the breath to create feelings of relaxation or increased energy. Pranayama can be practiced in isolation or in conjunction with asana practice.
Additionally, pranayama can help guide a practitioner’s attention and vice versa, as the mind goes where attention flows. This leads to not only control of the breath and senses, but also improved communication with the body, and ultimately healing.
How Pranayama Works Energetically
Prana travels up through the spine via two energetic nerve channels or nadis; Ida on the left and Pingala on the right. As prana moves up through the Ida nadi, the breath is automatically drawn into the lungs. This results in the mind being drawn outward into the world of the senses.1 Prana then travels downwards through the Pingala nadi, which is accompanied by physical exhalation. This results in the mind being drawn away from the senses, rejecting the external world.1 It is good to note that there are different names for the various forms of prana corresponding to the Prana Vayu (wind) system. For example, as the prana moves down, it becomes the force of Apana, which is analogous to the resistance force of gravitation. Apana is responsible for digestion and elimination in the body.
Through the practice of pranayama a practitioner can choose to consciously redirect prana up the spine through sushumna nadi, located in the center of the of spine, between the ida and pingala nadis. It is said that when the prana in the sushumna nadi reaches the top of the spine, it enables the kundalini to rise into the 3rd eye, bringing about liberation (moshka).1
Benefits of Pranayama
The benefits of pranayama are many. According to scholar Francoise Wang-Toutain and others scholars of Indian Medicine, “the root of all disease and mental imbalances can be traced to abnormalities and deficiencies in the body’s energy flow”.2 Furthermore, Wang-Toutain believed that prana is a powerful tool to heal illness and correct mental imbalances as it is the most direct method to affect life force or vital energy. Thus, Pranayama can help us clear physical and emotional blocks in the body so that prana can flow freely bringing us into a state of alignment, improved clarity and balancing of the brain hemispheres, improved mood and digestion;3 resulting in feelings of wellness and improved health.
Furthermore, slow Pranayama appears to shift the body from the Sympathetic Autonomic System (SAN), “flight-or-flight” to the Parasympathetic Autonomic System (PAN), “rest-and- digest” system, creating a positive influence on the body that has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, and stress-induced psychological disorders.4
Author: Jackeline Vajta, M.D.