Prana and Pranayama is a comprehensive text on the classical philosophy of prana life force and pranayama the expansion and control of the life force. It provides a complete description of the science of pranayama as presented in the classical texts and as taught in the Satyananda Yoga tradition by Bihar School of Yoga.
The first part of the book explores the theory of prana and is related yogic concepts Koshas, chakras, nadis and mantras. Secondly it expands upon respiratory physiology and current research undertaken by science on pranayama. In the practical section specific guidelines for practicing pranayama are given using detailed instructions and illustrations. Throughout the text scriptural sources further enhance the reader’s understanding bringing to light the original essence and intent of these classical teachings.
Swami Niranjanananda was born in Madhya Pradesh in 1960 and was initiated into Dashnami Sannyas at the age of ten.
From 1971 he traveled overseas for 11 years. In 1983 he returned to India to guide the activities of Bihar School of Yoga Sivananda Math and Yoga Research foundation.
In 1990 he was initiated as a paramahamsa and in 1993 anointed preceptor in succession to Swami Satyananda. He established Bihar Yoga Bharati in 1994 and Yoga Publications trust in 2000. Author of over 20 books he now gives spiritual guidance to aspirants from all over the world at Ganga Darshan.
The classical yogic practices of pranayama have been known in India for over 4,000 years. In the Bhagavad-Gita a text dated to the Mahabharata period the references to pranayama (4:29) indicates that the practices were as commonly known during that period as was yajna fire sacrifice. Many Upanishads written in the pre-Buddhist period also refer to techniques of pranayama (to attain higher states of consciousness). However it is the hatha yoga texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita and Hatharatnavali written between the sixth and fifteenth centuries AD that we find a detailed description of the practices. It would seem that a need was felt at that time to revive and codify the practices that were until then handed down through the oral tradition. The Vedic culture had declined with the advent of Buddhism and many yogic practices were being lost or misapplied by their practitioners. Thus the author of the texts sought to restore the purity and authenticity of the practices.
A need is felt yet again in the twenty first century to reinstate the original intent and experience of the practices. The yogic renaissance witnessed in the last few decades had made asana and pranayama into household terms but the essence and depth of the practices remain unexplored for most practitioners.
It has been the purpose as well as the contribution of Satyananda Yoga to bring the knowledge of the realized rishis to yoga aspirants in a language and method that is applicable in the current age. This is also the gift and blessing of our gurus, Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda.
This book provides a complete description of the science of pranayama as presented in the classical text and taught of pranayama as presented in the description of the science in the Satyananda yoga tradition by the Bihar School of yoga. Prana and pranayama and investigated as philosophy physiology and practice. The scriptural analogies of the concept of prana have been rendered understanding of the basis of the practices is acquired. In addition the scientific are presented in a stage-by-stage systematic method so that the yogic counsel of gradual perfection may be understood and practiced.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 explains the theory of prana and related yogic concepts such as koshas chakras nadis and mantra. Part 2 describes respiratory physiology as relevant in understanding yogic and pramic physiology the process of pranayama and the research undertaken by science on pranayama and related practice. Part 3 provides the guidelines for practicing pranayama and the preparatory and classical practices of pranayama. There are also four appendices describing yogic practices that complement pranayama including neti and agnisar, kriya, asanas, mudras and bandhas. The pranayama sutras from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are also provided as an adjunct.
The Upanishads tell the following story. Once all the deities that reside in the body – air, fire, water, earth, ether, speech, and mind – had an argument. Each claimed that it was superior to all others declaring I sustain this perishable body prana was listening to this debate and ultimately said to them do not delude yourself. It is I having divided myself into five parts who supports and sustains this body. The deities did not believe him, indignantly prana began to withdraw from the body. Instantly all the other deities found themselves withdrawing too. When prana again settled in the body the deities found that they had assumed their respective places. Convinced of prana’s superiority all now paid obeisance to prana.
Prana is the vital force that sustains not only the body but also creation at every level. The seers of India have always known what modern science has been trying to fathom the existence of a primeval force its nature potential and how to harness it. Every yogic science – mantra, yajna, austerities different forms of concentration and meditation is aimed at awakening and enhancing this vital force with in the unit of the individual or the wider universe.
The Sanskrit word prama is a combination of two syllables pra and na and denotes constancy a force in constant motion. Prana exists in sentient beings as the energy that drives every action voluntary and involuntary every thought, every level of the mind and body. Scientific research describes prana as a complex multidimensional energy combination of electrical magnetic electromagnetic phonic, ocular, thermal and mental energies.
Prana also exists in the insentient world causing motion growth and decay at this level. Prana is indeed the basis of manifested creation. It is the force that emerged out of the original willing of the primal consciousness to bring about creation. The Chhandogya Upanishad (1:11:5) says:
In prana all moveable and immoveable beings merge (during dissolution) and rise out of prana (during creation).
In the individual being prana pervades the entire being projecting itself in what the yogis called pranamaya kosha a level of existence subtler than the physical. The existence of this pranic field has been proven by modern science too. In particular the highly sensitive system of Kirlian photography noted the existence of a halo around people as well as objects. It also found that the halo changed according to the state of the being. This pranic field is sometimes called psi plasma due to the fact that it can be likened to the plasma described in plasma physics it has been described as a vapor of charged particles which can be affected internally by the mind and externally by electric magnetic or electromagnetic fields.
In the pranic body, prana flows through nadis energy channels and is stored in chakras energy vortices. According to some researches the electromagnetic energy in prana gives rise to radiation in which the waves of electric energy and magnetic energy are at ninety degrees to each other resulting in what looks like a spiral indeed the spiral radiation structure around chakras has been seen described and drawn by sages and savants from all parts of the world at different times.
Prana is inherent to a being. We are born with a certain quantum of prana and we maintain it increase or decrease it through the air we breathe the food we eat the thoughts we think the actions we perform and the kind of life we lead. When we die he accumulated prana leaves the body.
Pranayama The science of pranayama was developed by highly evolved yogis through an intuitive and experiential understanding of prana and its influence on the human mechanism at various levels. The agency of the breath was used to access the pranic field to attain balance in the body and control of the mind. The practices would render the body mind consciousness so that the ultimate union with the transcendental reality could be experienced.
The breath being the medium of pranayama the system is based on the three stages of respiration inhalation retention and exhalation. By permuting and directing these three stages the different practices of pranayama are obtained. Technically speaking pranayama is actually only retention. Maharshi Patanjali’s yoga sutras state (2:49)
Pranayama is the pause in the movement of inhalation and exhalation when that is secured.
Inhalation and exhalation are methods of inducing retention. Retention is the key because it allows a longer period for the assimilation of prana just as it allows more time for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells. As the breath is also intimately connected with various functions and organs of the body as well as the mind by controlling the breath we also influence all these dimensions.
At the pranic level in their initial stages the practices of pranayama clear up the nadis energy pathways in the body. The scriptures say there are over 72,000 nadis or pathways of prana in the pranic body and six main chakras. However in the average individual many of these pathways are blocked and the chakras release energy only partially. In other words we do not utilize our full potential in terms of energy mind and consciousness. The negative conditions we experience whether physical or mental are the cause as well as the consequence of the blockages. The state of our nadis and chakras are defined by our samskaras conditionings carried in seed form as well as purushartha self effort and anugraha grace. With the practice of pranayama these pathways of energy are gradually freed so that prana moves through them smoothly.
At higher levels of practice the direction of the pranic flows is influenced and a greater quantum of energy is released from the chakras. As these processes are activated many new experience unfold. Expert guidance is essential to steer the practitioner through these stages.
Remember that pranayama is no a stand alone yogic practice. In the system of ashtanga yoga it is preceded by sustained practice of yamas and niyamas shatkarmas and asanas and is followed by pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and Samadhi a balanced sequential movement form gross to subtle from annamaya kosha to anandamaya kosha is the aim. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1:67) it has been said :
Asanas various types of kumbhaka and the other various means of illumination should all be practiced in the hatha yoga system until success in raja yoga is attained.
In this context the aim of pranayama is to perfect pratyahara which in the traditional texts has been described as not just sense withdrawal but the state where we perceive every sensory input as a manifestation of the supreme and have expanded the pranic capacity to the extent that we can retain the breath for three hours. The Shiva Samhita (3:57) states :
When one attains the power of holding the breath for three hours then certainly the wonderful state of pratyahara reached without fail.
The practice of yoga in fact begins when we come to the pranayama series. With the practice of asanas we arrive at the state where we are able to work with the energies controlling the body. With pranayama through the breath we develop an awareness of the subtle force within the body and directing the mind to become aware of the subtle activities is the beginning of yoga.
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