Tasmin sati svasa prasvasayoh gativicchedah pranayamah
Pranayama is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention. It is to be practiced only after the previous limb (asana) is accomplished.
Here Patanjali emphasized on the proper order of yoga practice – pranayama is to be practiced only after asana is perfected. And in verse 2.47, Patanjali mentioned that perfection in asana is achieved only when the effort to perform it become effortless and the infinite being within is reached.
As we know, asana works on the physical body. Pranayama, on the other hand, works on the subtle plane. The word “pranayama” consists of two components, “prana” and “ayama”. Prana is the universal life force. It exists everywhere in the universe as physical energy, mental energy, intellectual energy, and so on. All vibrations in the universe are forms of prana. Ayama means to stretch, extend, expand, so on and so forth. So the word “pranayama” is actually to expand the vital force in the body. By practicing pranayama, we are self-energizing.
In this sutra, pranayama is understood as the regulation of breath. The regulation of breathing process consists of the regulation of inhalation, exhalation and retention. Normally our breath is irregular and unregulated. When the breath is fast and short, the mind is unstable. This is because pranayama is working on the pranamaya kosha, which is the subtle body. The movement of breath influences the movement of prana, which has an effect on the fluctuations of the mind. Therefore, if the movement of prana can be calmed and soothed, the mind is stable.
It is also noticed that small animals with short breath have a short life span; animals that breathe slowest, for example snake and turtle, could live up to hundreds of years. Based on this idea, yogis believe that regulation of breath could prolong one’s life span.
As mentioned earlier, asana is a prerequisite for pranayama. Further, one should keep in mind that pranayama can only be learned from a teacher but not from books. And it must be noted that pranayama cannot be practiced with an agitated mind, as it may worsen the situation. For beginners, it is suggested to start pranayama practice without breath retention. Retention can be added later when the body is used to it. For advanced practitioners, be careful when practicing intense pranayama, as pressure in the head can be increased tremendously. Try not to practice in polluted environment, as it is not so beneficial.