Pranayama is the word we use in yoga to describe the practice of working with the breath but what does it actually mean? And why do we do these practices?
Pranayama is Sanskrit word (a 3,500 year old ancient Indian language, but that’s a whole other blog). This word can be split into two parts. The first part Prana – meaning ‘vital energy’ or ‘energy force’. The second part Ayama – meaning ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’.
Prana is not to be thought of as the air that we breathe but as the energy that is present in all objects whether animate or inanimate. It is the energy that makes us who we are, it gives us focus, drive and ability. For example, we can still breathe in air but not have the motivation to get up in the morning, Prana gives up that vital energy, that motivation that vibration of being alive.
It is thought that Pranayama rides on the breath. It influences the flow of vital energy in the energy channels (Nadis) of the body. Thus when we deepen the breath, we increase the flow and expansion of our energy force in our energy channels which allows us to function on a higher level of vibratory energy and awareness.
In yogic philosophy it is said that we have over 72,000 Nadis or energy channels running through our subtle body. You can envisage them as a second nervous system or like a road map of energy channels. At the centre of body you have 3 main Nadis – Sushumna, Pinguala and Ida. You will often here me referencing Sushumna during class, as we focus the breath I like to visualise this central line in the body and focus on drawing the breath, prana, up and down this central line in the body. Not only does this give us something to focus on, to slow the breath and turn our attention inward but it is also thought that when prana is flowing freely in this central channel we have reached samadhi – the ultimate wisdom, pure thoughts, complete joy and contentment.
Pinguala Nadi represents the Sun – Yang Energy and Ida Nadi represents the Moon – Yin Energy. Hatha Yoga can be translated to Sun-Moon Yoga – Ha meaning Sun and tha meaning moon.
Pinguala and Ida Nadis cross over each other as they travel up Sushumna. Each time these Nadis join together at a crossing it results in an energy centre – a Chakra. So 7 joins, 7 energy centres, 7 Chakras. If we can align all our Chakras and keep them open we can facilitate the flow of vital energy – Prana up and down the central line in the body Sushumna and thus reach pure joy, contentment and ultimate peace.