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Pranayama (Sanskrit: prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word meaning "lengthening of the prana or breath". The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and "āyāma", to lengthen or extend. It is often translated as control of the life force (prana).[1][2][3][4] When used as a technical term in yoga, it is often translated more specifically as "breath control".[5][6][7] Literal translations include A. A. Macdonell's "suspension of breath"[8] and I. K. Taimni's "regulation of breath".[9]


[edit] Etymology

Pranayama (Devanagari: प्राणायाम, prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit compound.

V. S. Apte provides fourteen different meanings for the word prana (Devanagari: प्राण, prāṇa) including these:[10]

  • Breath, respiration
  • The breath of life, vital air, principle of life (usually plural in this sense, there being five such vital airs generally assumed, but three, six, seven, nine, and even ten are also spoken of)[11]
  • Energy, vigor
  • The spirit or soul

Of these meanings, the concept of "vital air" is used by Bhattacharyya to describe the concept as used in Sanskrit texts dealing with pranayama.[12] Thomas McEvilley translates "prana" as "spirit-energy".[13]

Monier-Williams defines the compound prāṇāyāma as (m., also pl.) "N. of the three 'breath-exercises' performed during Saṃdhyā (See pūraka, recaka, kumbhaka"[14][15] This technical definition refers to a particular system of breath control with three processes as explained by Bhattacharyya: pūraka (to take the breath inside), kumbhaka (to retain it), and recaka (to discharge it).[16] There are also other processes of pranayama in addition to this three-step model.[16]

Macdonell gives the etymology as prāṇa + āyāma and defines it as "m. suspension of breath (sts. pl.)".[17]

Apte's definition of āyāmaḥ derives it from ā + yām and provides several variant meanings for it when used in compounds. The first three meanings have to do with "length", "expansion, extension", and "stretching, extending", but in the specific case of use in the compound prāṇāyāma he defines āyāmaḥ as meaning "restrain, control, stopping".[18]

An alternative etymology for the compound is cited by Ramamurti Mishra, who says that:

"Expansion of individual energy into cosmic energy is called prāṇāyāma (prāṇa, energy + ayām, expansion)."[19]

The word "yama" (Devanagari: याम, yāma) means "cessation"[20][21] or more generally "control" or "restraint".[22][23]

[edit] Mantrayana: path of esoteric grammar and enunciation

Following B.K.S. Iyengar (1966, 1968, 1976: pp.359-377), in parsing prāṇāyāma it is seminal to note the syllable 'ā' in italicized and bold font which in the paramparā of traditional received pronunciation is enunciated at a higher pitch. This pitch marker within the 'support' of the aksara "ah", holds and encodes meaning for the parsing and decoding of the term. For the Adi-Yogin as well as for the Mantrayana mantrika, the end is in the beginning, the 'fruit' (Sanskrit: phala) is contained in the 'root' (Sanskrit: adi)[24], the omega is in the alpha of Ah, the first phoneme of the 'Garland of phonemes' (Sanskrit: Varnamala).[25] Worthy of note, is that this syllable is 'ā' not 'a'; therefore, Prāṇāyāma is to be parsed as 'neither prāṇa-yāma nor prāṇa-ayāma' and this is an application of the fourth function of the Catuskoti. Where 'yāma' may be understood as 'cessation' and 'ayāma' as 'continuity'. Therefore, following Indian logic which had its origination in the sacred grammar of Sanskrit (as different to Greek or classical logic which had its roots in mathematics), prāṇāyāma is the sadhana of neither the cessation nor continuity of prāṇa: that is, it is the discipline of neither the expiration/exhalation nor inspiration/inhalation of prāṇa. Why the negation "neither", the negandum? There is a conceptual and cultural challenge to the non-Indian and this negandum construction in other languages, particularly in the English construction, and it is extremely obtuse and opaque for those not versed in the Indian tradition of logic generated from grammar. The logic embedded in this Sanskritic grammatical example conveys that both poles complement and interpenetrate each other; importantly, it also points to a synergy as does the fullness of the Catuskoti, to a sublime addition that is more than the sum of its complementary, indivisible parts: an addition, the one True Dharma that is not conceivable to the conceptual mind, but is the knowing of pramana of 'direct perception' (Sanskrit: pratyakṣa; refer Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: verse 1.7).

[edit] Hatha and Raja Yoga Varieties

Some scholars distinguish between hatha and raja yoga varieties of pranayama, with the former variety usually prescribed for the beginner. According to Taimni, hatha yogic pranayama involves manipulation of pranic currents through breath regulation for bringing about the control of chitta-vrittis and changes in consciousness, whereas raja yogic pranayama involves the control of chitta-vrittis by consciousness directly through the will of the mind.[26] Students qualified to practice pranayama are therefore always initiated first in the techniques of hatha pranayama.[27]

[edit] Bhagavad Gita

Pranayama is mentioned in verse 4.29 of the Bhagavat Gita.[28]

[edit] Quotes

Prana is a subtle invisible force. It is the life-force that pervades the body. It is the factor that connects the body and the mind, because it is connected on one side with the body and on the other side with the mind. It is the connecting link between the body and the mind. The body and the mind have no direct connection. They are connected through Prana only and this Prana is different from the breathing you have in your physical body.

Swami Chidananda Saraswati[29]

Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy-control. Prana means also ‘breath.’ Yoga teaches how, through breath-control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.

Paramahansa Yogananda[30]

[edit] Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Pranayama is the fourth 'limb' of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[31][9] Patanjali discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice.[32] Patanjali refers to pranayama as the control of life force that comes as a result of practicing the various breathing techniques, rather than the numerous breathing exercises themselves.[33][30]

Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali's Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana.[34]

[edit] Medical claims

Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders,[35] improving autonomic functions,[36] relieving symptoms of asthma,[37][38] and reducing signs of oxidative stress.[39][40] Practitioners report that the practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, and sound judgement,[34] and also claim that sustained pranayama practice extends life and enhances perception.[41]

[edit] Cautions

Many yoga teachers recommend that pranayama techniques be practiced with care, and that advanced pranayama techniques should be practiced under the guidance of a teacher. These cautions are also made in traditional Hindu literature.[42][43] [44]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ "Regulation of breath or the control of Prana" — Sivananda, Swami, The Science of Pranayama. Divine Life Society, (1971). Available online as: The Science of Pranayama by Sri Swami Sivananda
  2. ^ "pranayama (control of prana, subtle life currents)" — Yogananda, Paramahansa, Autobiography of a Yogi, 2005, ISBN 978-1565892125
  3. ^ "Pranayama, then, means energy control." — Kriyananda, Swami, Art and Science of Raja Yoga. Crystal Clarity Publishers (2002) ISBN 978-1565891661
  4. ^ "Pranayama, or controlling the vital forces of the body" — Vivekenanada, Swami, Raja Yoga. Bharatiya Kala Prakashan,India (2004) ISBN 978-8180900365.
  5. ^ For "breath control" see: Feurstein, p. 309.
  6. ^ For "breath control" see: Bhattacharyya, p. 429.
  7. ^ For "breath-control" see: Flood (1996) pp. 95, 97.)
  8. ^ Macdonell, p. 185.
  9. ^ a b Taimni, p. 205.
  10. ^ Apte, p. 679.
  11. ^ For the vital airs as generally assumed to be five, with other numbers given, see: Macdonell, p. 185.
  12. ^ Bhattacharyya, p. 311.
  13. ^ McEvilley, Thomas. "The Spinal Serpent", in: Harper and Brown, p. 94.
  14. ^ For Monier-Williams references to original Sanskrit sources for this tripartite practice, see:
  15. ^ Monier-Williams, p. 706, left column. [1]
  16. ^ a b Bhattacharyya, p. 429.
  17. ^ Macdonell, p.185, main entry prāṇāghāta
  18. ^ See main article आयामः (āyāmaḥ) in: Apte, p. 224. Passages cited by Apte for this usage are Bhagavatgita 4.29 and Manusmriti 2.83.
  19. ^ Mishra, p. 216.
  20. ^ Macdonell, p. 244.
  21. ^ Monier-Williams, p. 851. [2]
  22. ^ Apte, p. 785.
  23. ^ Monier-Williams, p. 851.[3]
  24. ^ 'Adi' is glossed 'root' to extend the metaphor but is better rendered: base, foundation, primordial, origin.
  25. ^ Norbu, Namkhai (1988). The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen (1988). Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0140190848
  26. ^ Taimni, p. 258.
  27. ^ Iyengar, p. 244 - Iyengar, B. K. Sundara Raja (1995). Light on Yoga. ISBN 0-8052-1031-8
  28. ^ Gambhirananda, pp. 217-218.
  29. ^ Chidananda, Sri Swami, The Philosophy, Psychology, and Practice of Yoga, Divine Life Society, 1984
  30. ^ a b Yogananda, Paramhansa, The Essence of Self-Realization, ISBN 0-916124-29-0
  31. ^ Flood (1996), p. 97.
  32. ^ Taimni, pp. 258-268.
  33. ^ Kriyananda, Swami. The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, ISBN 81-208-1876-8
  34. ^ a b Light on Pranayama, Sixth Edition, Crossroad Publishing Co.
  35. ^ Brown & Gerbarg (2005)
  36. ^ Pat et al (2004)
  37. ^ Cooper et al (2003)
  38. ^ Vedanthan et al (1998)
  39. ^ Bhattacharya et al (2002)
  40. ^ Jerath et al (2006)
  41. ^ Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, 2002.
  42. ^ Visakhapatanam, Bharat, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Master E.K, Kulapathi Book Trust, ISBN 81-85943-05-2
  43. ^ Prescriptions for Pranayama, Claudia Cummins
  44. ^ Breathing Lessons, Tony Briggs

[edit] References

  • Bhattacharyya, N. N. History of the Tantric Religion. Second Revised Edition. (Manohar: New Delhi, 1999) p. 174. ISBN 81-7304-025-7
  • Chidananda, Sri Swami (1991). Path to Blessedness, 2nd Ed. The Divine Life Society. World Wide Web (WWW) Edition ISBN 978-817052086-3.
  • Feuerstein, Georg (1998). Tantra: The Path of Ecstacy. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-304-X. 
  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0. 
  • Gambhirananda, Swami (1997). Bhagavatgītā: With the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama Publication Department. ISBN 81-7505-041-1.  Fourth Reprint edition.
  • Harper, Katherine Anne; Brown, Robert L. (2002). The Roots of Tantra. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-5306-5. 
  • Iyengar, B. K. Sundara Raja (1985). The Light On Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing. ISBN 0-8245-0686-3
  • Iyengar, B. K. Sundara Raja (1995). Light on Yoga. ISBN 0-8052-1031-8
  • Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1996). A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.. ISBN 81-215-0715-4.  Reprint edition.
  • Mishra, Ramamurti S. (1963). The Textbook of Yoga Psychology. Monroe, New York: Baba Bhagavandas Publication Trust. ISBN 1-890964-27-1.  Reprint edition, 1997.
  • Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda (1994). Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya. ISBN 81-85787-84-0
  • Shaw, Scott. The Little Book of Yoga Breathing: Pranayama Made Easy. ISBN 1-57863-301-X
  • Taimni, I. K. (1996). The Science of Yoga. Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House. ISBN 81-7059-212-7.  Eight reprint edition.

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