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Understanding Pranayama - Part I

By Arun Goel

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Pranayama works as the basis for spiritual awakening in yoga. Although this is the supreme aim, Pranayama brings about tremendous benefits along the way such as increased energy, increased perception and development of various brain faculties.

What is Pranayama?

To most, control of breath is Pranayama. However, this is a result of wrong interpretation.

For a rightful interpretation, it must be understood that 'prana' is an energy or life force that is universal in nature - it is omnipresent. A portion of that prana is also present in the human body. It flows at a superficial level to maintain the body and its organs.

The goal of Pranayama is to increase the quantum of this life force (Prana) so that it can reach out to 'hidden' recesses of the brain. This helps in expanding the human faculties and retarding degeneration.

How Prana operates?

All the life force or Prana lies as dormant potential energy called the 'pranashakti' or 'kundalini'. It resides at a center which is found just above the genital area, called the 'mooladhara chakra'.

According to yoga, this prana flows from the base 'mooladhara' center up along the right side of the spinal column into the center which lies at the top of the spinal column. This center is called the 'Ajna Chakra'. The prana also gets distributed to the whole body through a different set of nerve channels so that it reaches every atom of the body.

This is how prana operates in the normal body and the scope of Pranayama is to extend this influence beyond the physical body.

Prana and the Brain

Modern science has divided the brain into three parts: the new brain, the middle brain and the primitive brain. According to yoga, the primitive brain forms nine out of ten parts of the brain. These parts are 'silent' and unexplored. The next phase of evolution will see the development of these parts and Pranayama helps achieve that.

Pranayama helps create a greater quantum of prana and also purifies the channels that will carry this increased prana to these 'silent' areas of the brain. It is very important that the channels be purified first to cope up with the increased energy created by Pranayama.

When this fantastic amount of energy is created it flows from the mooladhara through the right side of the spinal column (pingala nadi) and up to the Ajna Chakra. From here it flows into the silent areas of the brain. These are the little known brain areas that house 'mysterious' faculties such as clairvoyance, intuition and expanded awareness.

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This article is based on my understanding and interpretation of the works of Swami Satyananda Saraswati through his lecture on 'Awakening Prana' delivered in Denmark, September 1979 .


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