Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words “Prana” which means “Universal life force energy or breath” and “Ayama” which means “Regulation”. Pranayama is an ancient practice of yogic breathing techniques that has been used to harness and regulate the breath.
The ancient sage Patanjali has explained that the regulation/modification of breath are either external, internal, or stationary.
We can regulate our breath by place, time and number and are either long or short. According to Patanjali, there are three types of Pranayama.
1. Bahya Vritti (Inhaling)
2. Abhya Vritti (Exhaling) and
3. Stambha (Retention)
Patanjali also mentioned a fourth type of pranayama called Kevala Kumbhaka that occurs during meditation on an internal or external object which is unintentional and automatic retention of breath during deep meditation.
There could be variations on these pranayamas according to place, time, and count.
• Place means position of our awareness while breathing, the base of spine, its middle or higher region etc.
• Time means how long we retain the breath.
• Count refers to the counts with which we take the breath in and send it out and the number with which we hold it.
Meditation (Dhyana) is the 7th limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. It comes after concentration (Dharna). Patanjali has mentioned that concentration is the beginning of meditation and meditation is the culmination of concentration. Concentration is focusing the mind to one place, object, or idea. Once in concentration, the communication between the meditator and the object is steady, it’s called meditation.
Through first three limbs (Yama, Niyama, and Asanas) we learn to control our body, through the 4th limb i.e., Pranayama we learn to regulate our breath, through 5th limb Pratyahara, we learn to control our senses, and through Dharna (Concentration) and Dhyana (Meditation) we learn to control our mind. It’s a gradual process in achieving the meditation.
Mediation helps you to clear your mind from unnecessary and negative thoughts which will benefit both your emotional well-being and overall health. When you meditation regularly, you will be able to realize the benefits as
• Improved focus
• Reducing negative emotions
• Improved patience and tolerance
• Enhances self-awareness
Kriya – Patanjali has explained 5 obstacles called Kleshas to achieve Samadhi which is contemplation or superconscious state. The 5 obstacles are
• Hatred and
• Clinging to bodily life
Kriya helps us to minimize the 5 obstacles and attain Samadhi. Accordingly to Patanjali yoga sutra, Kriya yoga comprises of Tapas (Austerity, Self-discipline) , Svadhyaya (Self Study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (Worship to god). Lord Krishna had divided the austerity into three kinds: Physical, Verbal and Mental).
Kriya yoga has been considered as cleansing techniques for the body and mind. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika six kriyas, or cleansing techniques are mentioned.
1. Dhauti is the method of cleaning the alimentary canal
2. Vasti is the cleansing of the lower gut
3. Neti is described thus: Insert a smooth thread [about nine inches long] through the nasal passage and draw it out through the mouth.
4. Trataka is the purification of the eyes.
5. Nauli kriya involves massaging the internal abdominal organs through the use of the external muscles.
6. Kapalabhati is a cleansing breathing technique. Kapalabhati literally means light skull, and the effects are to activate the digestive organs, drain the sinuses, and create a feeling of exhilaration.
Mudras – Mudra means “gesture,” or “seal”. Yoga mudras are gestures often practiced with the hands and fingers that channels the flow of life-energy or prana in the body. There are many mudras. They are categorized as hand hasta mudras, body (kaya) and consciousness (citta) mudras. We commonly use hand mudras.
According to Ayurveda our body is made up of five elements: fire, air, space or ether, earth and water. A healthy body has a balance of these elements. Our five fingers represent a particular element. Through Mudras we can increase or decrease the prana to a specific part of the body. That is why a mudra is also referred to as a seal. We are sealing or locking the pranas for a specific purpose.
When a specific mudra is used for a specific purpose, it can help restore the balance of the five elements of the body using prana.
The fingers represent, accordingly, each element:
1. The Thumb – represents the fire element
2. The Index finger – represents the air element
3. The Middle finger – represents the space element
4. The Ring finger – represents the earth element
5. The Pinky finger – represents the water element
Few commonly used mudras in yoga are Namaskar Mudra, Chin Mudra, Gyana Mudra, Vayu Mudra, Dhyana Mudra and Vishnu Mudra.
Gyan mudra helps to increase concentration, memory, reduces sleep disorders, helps to release stress and anger, eases depression and headache.
Vayu mudra helps eliminate excess gas/air related problems like gout, flatulence, constipation. It helps in diseases like arthritis, neck pain, trembling in Parkinson’s disease, paralysis and cervical spondylitis.
Dhyan Mudra Aids concentration, Balances right and left sides of body, Quiets mind, Assists healing
Chin Mudra Increases energy and stamina, relieves stress and tension of the mind and body, Helps with insomnia, Improves concentration and memory power, Relaxes the mind and improves mood swings.