Continued from: Meru Vakrasana (Spinal Twist)
The definition of pranayama is usually given as breath control. Though this may seem a fair interpretation in the light of the practices involved, it does not convey the full significance of pranayama. If one bears in mind what we have already said about prana and the bioplasmic body, one can appreciate that the primary aim of pranayama is to bring about control of far more than one’s breath1. Though oxygen is a form of prana, pranayama is more concerned with influencing the more subtle forms of prana. As such one should not make the mistake of regarding pranayama as merely breathing exercises. Of course the practices do improve the introduction of oxygen into the physical body and the removal of carbon dioxide. Of this there is no doubt, and this in itself brings about wonderful physiological benefits. But pranayama actually utilizes the breathing process as a means to manipulate all forms of prana within the human framework whether gross or subtle. This in turn has repercussions on the mind and the physical body.
We are not interested in quibbling about word meanings. However, we would like to point out that the word pranayama is generally mistranslated. Prana, as we have already explained, means far more than breath. It is usually taken that prana+yama gives pranayama. Actually this is incorrect. This mistake arises because of the inadequacy of the English alphabet as well as translation of the word by scholars who have no familiarity with the basic aims of pranayama. In the English language there are only twenty six letters, whereas in Sanskrit there are fifty two. This easily leads to haphazard transliteration, for large numbers of Sanskrit letters have no equivalent.
The word yama does mean control and is used by Rishi Patanjali who wrote the traditional and illuminating yoga text called the Yoga Sutras. He used the word to mean various ethical and personal controls or rules. But the word that is joined to prana to form pranayama is not yama. It is ayaama. In other words: praana + ayaama gives praanaayaama. The word ayaama has far more implications than the word yama. In a Sanskrit-English dictionary you will find that ayaama is defined as follows: stretching, extending, restraining, expansion (of dimensions in time and space).
Thus pranayama means to extend and overcome one’s normal limitations. It provides the method whereby one is able to attain higher states of vibratory energy. In other words one is able to activate and to regulate the prana comprising the human framework and thereby make oneself more sensitive to vibrations in the cosmos and within. Pranayama is a method of refining the makeup of one’s pranic body, one’s physical body and also one’s mind. In this way it is possible for a practitioner to become aware of new dimensions of existence. By making the mind calm and still, consciousness is allowed to shine through without distortion.
Pranayama brings new levels of awareness by stopping or restraining distractions of the mind. In other words, it is the continual conflict within the mind that prevents us from experiencing higher states or dimensions of awareness. Pranayama practices reduce thoughts, conflicts, etc. in the mind to a minimum and can even stop the mind processes completely. This restraint of mental activities allows one to know higher levels of existence. Let us take an analogy. If we stand in a room and look at the sun through a dirty window then we don’t see and feel the rays of the sun in its purity. If we clean the window then we see the sun in its true glory. The mind in its normal state is the dirty window. Pranayama cleans the mind and allows the consciousness to come through unobstructed. It becomes obvious that pranayama means far more than breath control.
Continue to: Pranayama. Scriptural references