Thus being established in asana and having control (of the body), taking a balanced diet; pranayamas should be practiced according to the instruction of the guru.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:1)
Pranayama is the fourth rung as identified by Patanjali’s 8 rungs (Ashtanga) of Yoga. Prana is linked to to vital force that exists in all things, whether animate or inanimate. And although pranayama is defined as ‘control over the breath’, the implications are much more subtle.
According to Yoga philosophy, the human body is comprised of five sheaths:
1. Annamaya kosha: material body
2. Pranamaya kosha: vital energy (breath) body
3. Manomaya kosha: lower mental body
4. Vijnanamaya kosha: higher mental (discernment) body
5. Anandamaya kosha: transcendental or bliss body
The koshas move from gross to subtle, and the pranamaya kosha is seen as the link between the body and the mind. So, if we modify our breath, we have the capacity to control both subtle and gross aspects of our human existence. Prana is of indescribable importance, and once we tune in to the subtler aspects of our Self, we can begin to remove the veil that so aptly blocks our inner light.
Prana flows through approximately 72,000 nadis (energy channels) within our body. The pranayama kosha is made up of five major pranas:
1. Prana: the force by which breath is drawn inside, it is the flow of energy governing the thoracic area between the larynx and top of diaphragm, associated with the heart and organs of respiration, (not cosmic prana)
2. Apana: the force which expels the breath, concerned with the expulsion of waste, governs the abdomen below the navel region, provides energy for large intestine, kidneys, anus and genitals
3. Samana: the force which is related to kundalini and expansion of consciousness, related to assimilation and distribution of nutrients, located between heart and navel, activates and controls digestive system while being responsible for transformation
4. Udana: the force which is related to sensory awareness and one’s ability to respond to outside world, governs neck and head, harmonizes and activates the limbs, responsible for erect posture
5. Vyana: the force that acts as a reserve for all other pranas, pervades entire body, regulates and controls all movement, coordinates all other pranas