Pranayama (Energy Control)
- प्राण Prana: breath; vital spirit; vital air (five are generally assumed; but three, six, seven, nine, and even ten are also spoken of); sp. inhaled air; breath of air, wind; breath as a measure of time (requisite for pronouncing ten long syllables); vigour, energy, power; soul (in the Samkhya phil.); intelligence associated with totality (Vedanta); sign of vitality; organ of sense (mouth, nose, eyes, and ears: pl.).
- यम Yama: self-control; moral obligation, rule, observance; austerity; refraining.
The purpose of yoga is to master our being and the principles that govern it. These active principles number three:
The energy-body, the thought and the prana. All three constitute the sides of a triangle. When one of them is understood and mastered, the two others, by the principles linking them, become mastered.
To control the body is difficult: the body has profound needs such as sleep, hunger, thirst, that render it difficult to control.
To control the thought appears easier. However this is not so: the thought is a monkey that jump ceaselessly and dislike to be tamed.
To control the breathing is one solution. It is possible to influence it, to discipline it and to unite with it so closely that its control can appear to be complete or at least quite important.
By controlling one of the sides of the triangle, it is therefore possible to control the two other sides by consequence due to their links.
Ordinarily we breathe about 21600 times in a day, or about 15 times per minute. The entry and exit of the air through the nostrils is a genuine recitation. "SO" is the mantra that can be mentally enunciated during the inspiration and "HAM" is that of the expiration. This uninterrupted recitation means that "I am that, that I am, I am I, ..."
The yogi who gain mastery of his breathing will extend during his practice the rhythm of his respiration, including and especially during his sleep where breathing can stop by itself. This results in a reduced thought agitation and a slowing down of aging processes.
The uninterrupted concentration on breathing, accompanied by postures and gestures leads to an opening towards another reality. This access happens to be of great simplicity. It is only the complexity and the sophistication of our thoughts that prevent us to be involved with what is so close to us, immediately accessible and of great potential. Indeed, as often, in the ordinary state of mind, the simplest realities are also the most difficult ones to reach.
The breathing is a subtle conduct that links us directly and ceaselessly to our essential nature. It links us to our universal and eternal nature. The breathing interpenetrate ceaselessly the individual to Paratman परात्मन् , the being of all beings. With each inhalation, we directly draw our vital energy from the universal energy. With each inhalation we go through all our bodies, from dense to subtle, and reach directly the purest and most vibrant energy. In parallel, with each exhalation, we pour the taste of this energy in the substrate of the immutable conscience. With each exhalation, we touch the infinity of our being.
Looking at this closer, this pulsation corresponds to a penetration in the energy and to its retreat in the consciousness. The contraction is the penetration phase. The relaxation is the retreat phase. The first takes possession of the power (to have) and the other restitutes it in the rest (to be). Consciousness flourishes in this way in coupling with the energy, drawing from it its own sensation, takes it and pours it into the substrate of its infinite consciousness.
This indicates the importance of breathing and explains why yoga practices hold central the role of pranayama. In this way, Kriya Yoga emphasizes mainly breathing. This yoga system was introduced by the legendary yogi Babaji Nagaraj, whose lineage was made famous by the book 'Autobiography of a Yogi' of Yogi Paramahamsa Yogananda. Lastly, in India, there is a temple saturated with spiritual energy whose roof includes 21600 tiles, suggesting the total number of ordinary breathings done in a day. It is the famous Chidambaram Temple dedicated to Shiva in his aspect of cosmic danser (Nataraja). The roof is in solid gold and covers the heart of the sanctuary, the siddha Thirumoolar reached, it is said, the state of soruba Samadhi, thought which the body becomes immortal and shines like gold, near that place.