From the Back of the Book:
This book has been written mainly as a friendly companion, an adjuvant to a training in Pranayama under personal supervision of a teacher. It has been written with a view to give that student a correct and the comprehensive information on all the different aspects of Pranayama. It would help in making the actual practice of Pranamaya more effective as the student will be able to discern between the essential and the optional parts of the different techniques of Pranayama. It would also help the student to keep the spiritual perspective in the forefront while undertaking the practice of Pranayama.
Ordinarily when people talk about Pranayama they generally mean those Yogic practices which involve some kind of manipulation of the breathing activity. But when one looks at the tradition of Yoga, one finds that the concept of Pranayama has a much greater depth and the greater width and its techniques include vast array of very subtle elements apart from the simple manipulation of breathing activity.
The word Pranayame has been formed by the combination of two Sanskrit terms Prana and Ayama. Both these terms have very many different meanings and depending upon which of these meanings is chosen, the whole connotation of the word Pranayama would change.
When we deal with the concept of Pranayama in its most obvious and technical form, the term Prana means breathing activity and Ayama means restrain, control or the conscious manipulation. The word Pranayama which occurs in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali has been used exactly to express this format. According to Patanjali, the conscious manipulation of the breathing pattern makes it Dirgha i.e. deep and prolonged, and also Suksbma i.e. extremely gentle and effortless, ultimately the whole process culminating into complete silencing of the breathing activity itself.
But, when we wish to study Pranayama in its more essential and deeper aspect, the term Prana indicates the energy responsible for all the life- activities in the human being ranging from the life-sustaining vegetative functions of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and excretory systems to the very subtle psycho-spiritual activities of the nerve-brain system. The term Ayama here means the expanse or the field or the whole range of these Pranic activities. Thus the word Pranayama, in this context, acquires a more wider and deeper meaning indicating the process through which one can get acquainted with the whole field of the Pranic activity with a view to gain a complete control over it.
Ordinarily, one never becomes aware of all the life-activities going on inside what is known as, the Ghatakasha, the body space. These activities enter the field of awareness only occasionally when they give rise to the feeling of pain or pleasure while at other times they remain well below the level of awareness. Only through the heightened and refined sensitivity as well as the intensified attention developed through Yogic practices, one can bring the whole range of the Pranic activity in the field of awareness and come to know how to regulate them in a desired manner. For this purpose very many methods came to be used by the Yogic tradition and Pranayama is the foremost amongst them all.
Though we find the references to Pranayama from even the early Upanishadic time, it was in the Hatha Yoga tradition especially from the third century onward the importance of Pranayama rose significantly, so much so that it was treated as the most central and core practice of the Hatha Yoga.
The term Hatha Yoga itself is linked with the Pranayama. Amongst the life activities going on within the body, some are catabolic in nature where energy source is broken down releasing energy and heat. They are more associated with heightened level of activities which consume a lot of energy. According to Yogic understanding, these are regulated by the Pingala Nadi, which is situated along the right side of the spine and its symbol is sun and indicated by the word 'Ha'. On the other hand, the other life-activities which are anabolic in nature which synthesize and store up the energy-resources and due to conservation of the energy instead of releasing the heat, produce coolness within the body. They are considered as regulated by the Ida Nadi, situated along left side of the spine. This Ida Nadi is represented by the Moon and is denoted by the word 'Tha'. When there is a harmonious balance between the biological activities controlled by these two Nadis, it is said that 'Ha' and 'Tha' are functioning in a balanced state, which is one of the principal aim of Hatha Yoga. When this happens then alone, the central Nadi or the channel which is situated along the spinal cord in- between the Ida and Pingala Nadi called Sushumna, starts functioning. The activation of Sushumna Nadi is known as the awakening of Kundalini. It brings a complete transformation in the individual's consciousness, wherein one can experience one's inner state as nothing but the Pure, Unconditioned Consciousness, unsullied by the concept of time and space. This being the ultimate goal of hatha Yoga, Pranayama which helps in bringing this harmony between 'He' and 'The', became the most important technique in the Ratha Yoga tradition.
When we study the description of Pranayama in the literature on Yoga, it becomes quite clear that along the passage of time, the concepts as well as the techniques of Pranayama have undergone a change indicating a definite stage of evolution and expansion. Over the centuries, generations of Yoga teachers contributed to the science of Pranayama using their own experience for this purpose. Their experimentation within themselves and with their disciples led to the addition of numerous techniques that would increase the effectiveness of Sadhana and bring quick results.
They have also left record of their personal experiences arising out of the practice of Pranayama, in the vast literature of Yoga. It contains the rationale and the explanations of these subjective experiences according to their own vision and interpretation. The various terms and metaphors used by them for describing these can be easily misunderstood if one does not have a background of living tradition. Also, occasionally one may come across the mutually contradictory statements or apparently some unclear or ambiguous passages in these descriptions as would be expected when subjective experiences are described or interpreted by the people distant in time space as well as in their linguistic and cultural backgrounds. As if the confusion brought by this was not sufficient, one comes across a plethora of technical details in these descriptions which introduces an element of bewildering complexity in the practice of Pranayama. Thus in the absence of the personal guidance from the experienced teacher, the study of the literature alone can pose a great difficulty and can form a shaky base for a student to benefit from the Practice of Pranayama.
This book has been written mainly as a friendly companion, an adjuvant to a training in Pranayama: under personal supervision of a teacher. It has been written with a view to give the student correct and comprehensive information on all the different aspects of the Pranayama. It would help in making the actual practice of Pranayama more effective as the student will be able to discern between the essential and the optional parts of the different techniques of Pranayama, it would also help the student to keep the spiritual perspective in the forefront while undertaking the practice of Pranayama.
The first and second chapter of this book discusses the Yogic concept of body functions as well as step by step evolution of the concept of Pranayama as seen in Yogic literature. This will help the student in getting a clear idea, regarding the genesis of Pranayama, how it developed and why so many techniques came into existence.
In the third and fourth chapter, there is a discussion on the general and technical features of Pranayama. It is followed by the recommendations for preparing oneself for Pranayama Sadhana in the fifth and sixth chapter. From the point of view of daily practice of Pranayama, this is the most important part of the book.
In the seventh chapter, there is a brief review of the scientific research work carried out over the last seven decades, to study the effects of Pranayama on the human body.
Lastly, there is an information about prayers and Msntropasana which includes the description of Mantra Chanting and its significance. It forms a very useful adjuvant to the spiritual practice of Pranayama.
At various places in this book, the original source from where the particular point under discussion is picked up, is indicated by a reference number and at the end of the book the list of all references is given according to the numbers. It is strongly suggested that whenever possible, the student should make some efforts to refer to this original material, which would definitely broaden the vision and add further depth to the essential understanding of Pranayama.
During the discussion on various topics, an attempt has been made to present many concepts in as much a precise and clear-cut manner as is possible. But as many of these concepts are subjective in nature and verifiable only at the experiential level, it is extremely difficult to convey the real purport of these concepts in concrete words and whenever such an attempt is made it is but a poor consolation to what can be done through personal discussion.
The reader should remember that Pranayama is one of the most potent and effective techniques, which influences the body and mind in a remarkable way. But it is a sword with a double edge. When performed with proper understanding, it surely paves a way for spiritual development. But it is equally true that any undue enthusiasm and injudicious efforts in the practice of Pranayama has to be critically avoided as otherwise it is sure to cause great damage. The only way to avoid this pitfall is to learn Pranayama under the personal guidance of an experienced teacher.
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