Prana is the name given to the universal life giving and sustaining energy of nature. We are kept refuelled with this vital need every minute of the day and night through the process of respiration. Most of this process occurs unconsciously. When we learn to direct our awareness to the mechanism of breathing and focus our conscious mind upon respiration so that we can direct our energy it is known as the practice of Pranayama.
The breath is our lifeline whereby our subtle connection is maintained between body and soul. There are many yogic practices that suggest unusual capacities and these can be demonstrated by yogis skilled in the mastery of this discipline. However, only the simplest exercises that interfere with the natural, unconscious rhythms should be practised without personal instruction. For example –
Alternate Breathing – Nadis-Shodana
This air conditioning exercise is becoming well known as a health practice amongst westerners also. It is performed in an upright seated position that allows easy breathing. The right hand is used to alternatively block off one nostril or the other. With the Right hand, fold the middle finger and the index finger into the palm to allow the thumb to block the Right nostril and the two remaining little fingers to block the Left.
The exercise begins with slow inhalation through the Left nostril, switch the finger position, and breathe out through the Right nostril before inhaling through the Right and out through the Left. This constitutes one round and is to be repeated until about 10 rounds have been completed.
The exercise aims to balance the flow of prana in the flow of energies within the nervous system and between both hemispheres of the brain. This is considered a vital contributory factor in maintaining fine physical health as well as mental well being.
Stimulating Exercises – Surya, Bhastrika
It is the Right nostril that conducts the positive electrical energy known as pingala. Under certain conditions we need to intensify the supply of this. The simplest way is to block off the flow of air through the Left nostril and for a few minutes, breath deeply only through the Right nostril.
Another is called Bhastrika or bellows breath. Providing both nostrils are open and the air flow is unimpeded, this pranayama discipline is performed by quicker and quicker inhalations and exhalations through the nose. During this activity of 3 cycles of 10 movements, the chest is expanded and contracted to simulate a bellows. Care must be taken to ensure cessation if extreme giddiness is experienced. A moderate sensation is normal.
Calming Breath – Samavritti Pranayama
Both nostrils are open. Seated x legged position with upright spine, hands in lap or placed to rest on the knees. Inhale to count of 4, retain the breath for 4, exhale for 4 and retain the exhalation for 4 counts. Continue increasing the count when it feels comfortable to do so, and after reaching your maximum control and capacity, sit quietly with eyes closed and register the peaceful state of consciousness that follows this exercise.