Positive changes in the body and mind are brought about by the subtle energy known in Sanskrit as Prana. This primary energy, or vital force, is everything we see and feel in the physical and everything we think in the mind.
The practices of yoga, meditation, pranayama and Ayurveda are about harnessing prana and using it to maintain good health and clearing emotional and physical blockages in the body. Eventually we use pranic control to attain higher consciousness, health, peace, and deeper awareness. The more you preserve and contain prana; the more you have to share.
Pranayama is the regulation or control of the breath: By controlling the breath we can control the prana inside ourselves. It is the way of breathing that clears poor emotional and physical health, harnesses and cultivates our life force, our prana. As we understand that the body is energy and that the breath can move this energy, we start to begin to understand, feel and affect our own energy field in a deeper and more subtle way. It is said in yogic texts that as long as the breath is still, prana is still, and hence the mind is still and quiet. All vibrations and fluctuations of the mind become still when prana and consciousness are quiet, steady and silent.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that where there is mind there is breath and where there is breath, there is mind. Therefore, we should learn to control the breath in order to control the mind.
Prana can be divided into five vayus in the body. These are the five forms of energy that we can manipulate to bring health and well-being.
Vayu Area of Body Function
Prana Chest/Head Respiration, intake, forward momentum.
Apana Pelvis Governs elimination, expulsion, downward movement.
Samana Navel Governs digestion, and balance of prana.
Udana Throat Governs growth, speech, expression, upward movement
Vyana Whole Body Controls circulation on all levels, expansiveness, muscle movements.
Dirgha breath, or three part breathing, focuses on breathing into the three chambers of the lungs beginning with the lower lungs, then moving up through the thoracic region and into the clavicular region. It helps promote deep diaphragmatic breathing which activates our parasympathetic nervous system and relaxes the body and mind.
Sit with a straight spine, or lie down on your back. Begin taking long, slow, and deep breaths through the nostrils. You may find it helpful to place a hand on the belly and on the chest to feel the rising of the different chambers as you breathe.
- As you inhale, allow the belly to fill with air, drawing air deep into the lower lungs. As you exhale, allow the belly to deflate like a balloon. Repeat several times, keeping the breath smooth and relaxed, and never straining. Repeat several times.
- Breathe into your belly as in Step 1, but also expand the mid-chest region by allowing the rib cage to open outward to the sides. Exhale and repeat several times.
- Follow steps 1 and 2 and continue inhaling by opening the clavicular region or upper chest. Exhale and repeat.
- Combine all three steps into one continuous and complete flow.