The Science of Pranayama

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is the process by which the prana (or breath) is controlled or regulated. It comes from 2 Sanskrit words:

“prana” which means life energy and

“Ayama” which means extend/draw out. Some scripts also mention that it comes from the word “Yama” which means control.


I’d like to expand on prana a little bit more. The term prana is very interesting because many of us may misunderstood the action as “breathing in air”. But that is not the case, According to The Science of Pranayama (written by SriSwami Sivananda), prana is the sum total of all energy that is manifest in the universe. It exist in everything that moves or works or has life, including in all men, literally it is everywhere around us. It is not atmospheric air that we breathe in, but all the energy that exist around us. 

So when you see how some persons are more successful in life, more influential and fascinating than others. It is all due to the power of this prana. 


Why practice Pranayama?

 Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the Yogic student removes the impurities of the body by blowing his lungs.


According to the Akhand Sutra (written by Dr.Shiv Bhushan Sharma): “… It means that the practice of Pranayamah prepares the mind for the practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The Body-breath-mind forms the three sides of a single functional triangle…” The aim is for you to reach antaratma sadhana, or your innermost quest of Dharana concentration, Dhyana meditation and ultimately Samadhi enlightment.

Before I summarise the main points of Pranayama’s benefits, I would like to watch this video:

For me, what was the most interesting part of the video and perhaps the most relatable to science is this:

“…. So yogic breathing stimulates salivary secretion. And the saliva, the compounds or the principles in the saliva say nerve growth factor or several other factors in the saliva can be:

  • transported to the central nervous system through specific transport mechanisms
  • Or it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and available throughout the body
  • Or it can just stay there in the oral cavity to help us fight germs…..”

So in relations, Pranayama allows you to:

– utilise consciously for self-development

– heal many incurable diseases in your system

– heal others and

– for other various useful purposes.

An excerpt from The Science of Pranayama (written by SriSwami Sivananda): “… It is through Pranayama that you can control your circumstances and character and can consciously harmonise the individual life with the cosmic life..”

The guiding principle behind Pranayama is that we all hold physical or emotional blocks in our bodies which inhibit the flow of breath and of prana – life energy. This can leave us feeling unwell and “stuck” or blocked physically and emotionally. By practising Pranayama (and asana) we are clearing these blocks so breath and prana can flow freely, our bodies can then function properly and our minds can become calmer and clearer.


So what is the basic steps of Pranayama?

There are many types of Pranayamas. Some says there are 7, some says 9, and some say 12. Regardless, according to the Yoga Sutra, Pranayama is the regulating of the breath in three steps.

  1. Regulating the exhalation (rechaka)
  2. Regulating the inhalation (puraka)
  3. Regulating retention of the breath (khumbaka)

The regulation of the breath can be measured by place, time, and number. The goal of regulating the breath is for the breath to become long and fine.

As you progress in your own pranayama, you can do your different types such as:

  • Ujjayi Breath
  • alternate nostril breathing (nadishodhana)
  • and female honeybee humming breath (bhramari)

I’d like to end off this post with an Eastern philosophy saying: ‘Mind is a monkey. It’s not a normal monkey. It’s a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion!’

It’s simply means that our mind is something hard to manage!

But as the video has so clearly stated: “… there is an easy way. Mind cannot travel on its own. Mind needs a vehicle. Mind is using a horse. That horse is your breathing. So if you want to control the mind, the rider, you have to control the vehicle, the horse – the breathing.”