What is Pranayama?

Tasmin sati svasaprasvasayor-gativicchedah pranayamah – “Regulation of breath or the control of Prana is the stoppage of inhalation and exhalation, which follows after securing that steadiness of posture or seat.” This is the definition of Pranayama in the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali.

‘Svasa’ means inspiratory breath. ‘Prasvasa’ means expiratory breath. You can take up the practice of Pranayama after you have gained steadiness in your Asana (seat). If you can sit for 3 hour in one Asana, continuously at one stretch, you have gained mastery over the Asana. If you are able to sit from half to one hour even, you can take up the practice of Pranayama. You can hardly make any spiritual progress without the practice of Pranayama.

Prana is Vyashti, when the individual is concerned. The sum total of the cosmic energy or cosmic Prana is Hiranyagarbha who is known as the floating ‘Golden-Egg’. Hiranyagarbha is Samashti Prana. One match stick is Vyashti (single). The whole match box is Samashti. A single mango-tree is Vyashti. The whole mango grove is Samashti. The energy in the body is Prana. By controlling the motion of the lungs or respiratory organs, we can control the Prana that is vibrating inside. By control of Prana, the mind can be easily controlled, because the mind is fastened to the Prana, like the bird to the string. Just as the bird that is tied to a post by a string, after flying here and there, finds its resting place in the post, so also this mind-bird after running hither and thither, in various sensual objects, finds its resting place during deep sleep in the Prana.

Pranayama (According to the Gita)

Apane juhvati pranam pranepanam tathapare; Pranapanagatee ruddhva pranayamaparayanah (Gita, Ch. IV-29.). Others offer Prana (outgoing breath) in Apana (incoming breath) and Apana in Prana, restraining the passage of Prana and Apana, absorbed in Pranayama.

Pranayama is a precious Yajna (sacrifice). Some practise the kind of Pranayama called Puraka (filling in). Some practise the kind of Pranayama called Rechaka (emptying). Some are engaged in the practice of Pranayama called Kumbhaka, by impeding the outward passage of air, through the nostrils and the mouth, and by impeding the inward passage of the air, in the opposite direction.

Pranayama (According To Sri Sankaracharya)

“Pranayama is the control of all life-forces by realising naught but Brahman in all things as the mind, etc. “The negation of the Universe is the outgoing breath. The thought: ‘I am Brahman’ itself is called the incoming breath. The permanence of that thought thereafter is the restrained breath. This is the Pranayama of the wise, while the pressing of the nose is only for the unknowing.” (Aparokshanubhuti, 118-120).


‘The Science of Pranayama’ by Sri Swami Sivananda

Know your rhythm? – 3

Now let’s see what is the use of knowing this rhythm?

When one is diseased then we can notice that this breathing pattern has out of rhythm. Typically the lunar breath would be active during times of illness.

Some yoga schools also recommend some of the following practices for health and wealth…

  • Wake up at 4 am in the morning and for 2 hours ensure that the breath is on the right nostril as per the chart. Remember in our earlier article we saw how to switch the breath from one nostril to another.
  • On every full moon (Pournami) – this is when the new month breaks as per Indian calendar continuously for 48 or 72 hours ensure that your breath is solar and never lunar. They teach us some ways to maintain this too. This helps us to live longer and wealthier.
  • On specific days of the year like 1st of the Aadi (Mid July – Mid August) month, ensure that the entire day your breath is solar and never lunar.

Now we are not going to deep dive on them, but only see a high level view of some of the techniques and tools we still have and can be learnt from the right gurus.

Ensure that your breath is solar for any worldly activity. Even if you are walking you can switch to a solar breath just by holding something like an umbrella or a news paper under your left armpit. These are just few basics listed here to invoke your interest into self learning and you should approach an expert and take guidance before you practice.

But the important points note here are…

  • Breath management is one of the fundamental concepts which we should be aware of.
  • Our traditional way of life is very rich and offers secrets about us and the nature around us, let us be passionate to learn about them and be rational in accepting them.
  • Every being – living or non-living confirms to a rhythm and order. Let’s always be conscious to learn and understand this rhythm and order.


Know thy Nature by Raguram Gopalan, http://ragsgopalan.blogspot.com

Know your rhythm? – 2

Lunar Cycle (moon’s cycle) alters every 15 days as we know – new moon to full moon and vice versa. The 2 hours rhythm between right and left nostril based on the time of day and day of the week and lunar cycle is given in this chart below. This breathing rhythm is universal and we can check just by placing our back of the palms under the nose and breathe little forcefully.

Breathing Rhythm Table

Breathing Rhythm (Waxing phase, Waning phase of Moon)

Monday, Wednesday and Friday – between 4 am to 6 am the breath is on the left side and it alternates for every 2 hours. Sunday, Tuesday and Saturday – between 4 am to 6 am the breath is on the right side and it alternates for every 2 hours. On Shukla / Waxing Thursday, the breath starts on the left side at 4 am and on the Krishna / Waning Thursday it’s on the right side.

You may not need the chart as it is very simple to find out which nostril is active. Please note that as per the yoga system only one nostril is active any time and not both (most of the times). To add a word of caution that there is a school of thought which states that the breath alternates every one hour and not two as mentioned above and the reference point is 6am and not 4 am (considering it as the sunrise

Following are the suggestions…

  • Please ignore the exact timings for the time being since it is more important to understand that there is a rhythm. Both the schools of thought don’t deny this and agree very much that there is a rhythm. Also the cut over from one nostril to another is not smooth. To know your breath now just blow a little forcefully on the back of your palm.
  • Go with what your yoga guru tells you or listen to what the ultimate Guru in your heart tells you.
  • We shall see the importance of 4 am to 6 am time slot in detail later.

The basic of pranayama is all about symmetric breathing pattern and restore the imbalance if any. The beauty about our system of knowledge is that we always saw a rhythm / order governing every aspect of nature and this was linked to the primordial rhythm.


Know thy Nature by Raguram Gopalan, http://ragsgopalan.blogspot.com

Breath, Prana and Pranayama

In the series of sayings, “You are what you think”, “You are what you eat”, we can also say that “You are your state of breath”. Our Mind, Food and Breath are closely interconnected. If there is something which we came into this world with and would carry till we leave this world, probably unchanged then it is our breath. Breath is equated with God in many scriptures and in Tamil it is called as SARAM (சரம்) and equated with a thread that binds.

சரம் பார்ப்பான் பரம் பார்ப்பாெனன்பது ேபால means, whoever can see movement of Saram / breathe they can able to see the almighty. One of the oldest scriptures in Tamil is Sage Agasthiyar’s Saranool, Nool in Tamil means book and also thread. Breathe is the thread that binds the Body, Mind and Soul.

In this book it is stated that first Lord Shiva taught this secret to Goddess Parvati and interestingly Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva “Lord tell me if a person does not understand cosmology (Astrology – science of time and space) then is there any way that person can understand the worldly secrets”. This emphasizes 2 things, first the importance astrology / astronomy as a subject and the second is from the answer to this question that the macrocosm can be understood through microcosm.

For this Lord Shiva said that “If one understands his breath then he can unlock the universal knowledge within himself and he taught this in Saranool. He also states that just like a huge Ox can be controlled by a rope through his nose, the universal knowledge and the ocean of birth and death can be overcome by humans only if they know how to manage their breath”.

Prana and Pranayama

Pranayama is an exact science. It is the fourth Anga or limb of Ashtanga Yoga. “Tasmin Sati Svasa prasvasayorgativicchedah Pranayamah”— Regulation of breath or the control of Prana is the stoppage of inhalation and exhalation, which follows after securing that steadiness of posture or seat, Asana. Thus is Pranayama defined in Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Chapter II-49.

‘Svasa’ means inspiratory breath and ‘Prasvasa’ is expiratory breath. Breath is external manifestation of Prana, the vital force. Breath like electricity, is gross Prana. Breath is Sthula, gross. Prana is Sukshma, subtle. By exercising control over this breathing you can control the subtle Prana inside. Control of Prana means control of mind. Mind cannot operate without the help of Prana. The vibrations of Prana only produce thoughts in the mind. It is Prana that moves the mind. It is Prana that sets the mind in motion. It is the Sukshma Prana or Psychic Prana that is intimately connected with the mind. This breath represents the important fly-wheel of an engine. Just as the other wheels stop when the driver stops the fly-wheel, so also other organs cease working, when the Yogi stops the breath. If you can control the fly-wheel, you can easily control the other wheels. Likewise, if you can control the external breath, you can easily control the inner vital force, Prana. The process by which the Prana is controlled by regulation of external breath, is termed Pranayama.

Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the Yogic student removes the impurities of the body and the senses by blowing his lungs, i.e., by practicing Pranayama.

The chief aim of Pranayama is to unite the Prana with the Apana and take the united Pranapana slowly towards the head. The effect or fruit of Pranayama is Udghata or awakening of the sleeping Kundalini.


1. The Science of Pranyama by Sri Swami Sivananda
2. Know thy Nature by Raguram Gopalan, http://ragsgopalan.blogspot.com


Today, for quick travel, the material world presents us the Railway, Steamers, Aeroplanes and so forth, but the Yogis claim that by Yogic culture the weight of the body can be so reduced that it can fly over the space to any distance in an instant. When we are anxious to know the welfare of our own relations in a distant or foreign land, we take recourse to writing letters sending ordinary or urgent cables. But the Yogis claim that they can, by meditation (Dyana), know anything that happens in other parts of the world by a projection of the mind or by mentally travelling the distance which is only a matter of few seconds. Today when a man is suffering from a disease the material world presents us with doctors, medicines, injections and so forth, but the Yogis claim that by a mere glance or by simple touch or by recitation of Mantras, not only the diseases can be cured but also life can be given to a dead man.

These Yogis by persistent effort in concentration get different Yogic powers that are known as ‘Siddhis’. Those who acquire these Siddhis, are known as Siddhas. The process through which they obtain Siddhis, is called Sadhana. Pranayama is one of the most important Sadhanas (spiritual practice). Through the practice of Asana, you can control the physical body and through Pranayama, you can control the subtle, astral body or the Linga Sarira. As there is an intimate connection between the breath and nerve-currents, control of breath leads to the control of vital inner currents.

Pranayama occupies a very important place in Indian religion. Every Brahmachari, and every Grihastha (householder) also, has to practise it three times every day morning, noon and evening in his daily worship during Sandhya. It precedes every religious practice of the Hindus. Before he eats, before he drinks, before he resolves to do anything, Pranayama should be performed first and then the nature of his determination should be clearly enunciated and placed before the mind. The facts of its preceding every effort of the will is a surety that, that effort will be crowned with success and the mind will be directed to bring about the desired result.

He who has grasped this Prana, has grasped the very core of cosmic life and activity. He who has conquered and controlled this very essence, has not only subjected his own body and mind but every other body and mind in this universe. Thus Pranayama or the control of Prana is that means by which the Yogi tries to realise in his little body the whole of cosmic life, and tries to attain perfection by getting all the powers in this universe. His various exercises and trainings are for this one end.

Why delay? Delay means so much of additional suffering and misery. Let us increase the speed, struggle harder until we succeed in bridging over the vast chasm of time. By doing proper Sadhana let us attain the goal at once in this body, right now in this very moment. Why not we get that infinite knowledge, infinite bliss, infinite peace and infinite power, now alone?

The solution of the problem is the teaching of Yoga. The whole science ‘Yoga’ has this one end in view, to enable man to cross the ocean of Samsara (birth-death cycle), to increase power, to develop knowledge and to attain immortality and eternal bliss.


The Science of Pranyama by Sri Swami Sivananda