Divine Breath: Pranayama

7a64d902-1a5d-44d4-ae37-e17b9af3b09f“If the body perishes. Prana departs

Nor will the light of Truth be reached;

I learned the way of preserving my body

And so doing, my Prana too.

Time was when I despised by body;

But then I saw the God within

And the body, I realized, is the Lord’s temple

And so I began preserving it

With infinite care.

If breath is used to flush the Ida and Pingala

By Pranayama, the heart gets purified

And the body becomes impervious Even to fire.

~ Thirumandiram, Translated by B. Natarajan

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the Eight Limb yogic path towards Samadhi (happiness, bliss, ecstasy). Translated, ‘Pra’ means moving and ‘Na’ means always. Put together Pra + Na means energy that is always moving within the subtle body. To arrive with Pranayama we add ‘Yama’ which means to control or restrain the life force energy. When practicing Pranayama, the ultimate goal is not only to take a conscious inhale and exhale, but to dive deeper and go beyond the surface. Looking at the function of our diaphragm as it moves up air pushes outward from the lungs making an exhale, and when it moves downward our lung capacity increases causing air to flood in making an inhale. Diving under the surface, in yoga we can compare the breath to swimming in the vast open Ocean. As we swim we bring our awareness to each and every breath. However, like the ebb and flow of waves each breath is working towards transformation. Pranayama reverses the natural downward energy flow and redirects this upwards. Energy travels upward through the Chakras within the Sushumna Nadi (located along the spine) generating liberation. Just as a snake charmer uses music to control the sacred Cobra, we use breath techniques to control our life force energy. In Kundalini awakening our energy is coiled up like a snake at the Root Chakra (located at the base of our spine). Once we entertain Kundalini to rise, we discover our truth. Tatah Kshiyate Prakasha Avaranam ~ Patanjali Yoga Sutras 2.52 Through that pranayama the veil of karmasheya (2.12) that covers the inner illumination or light is thinned, diminishes and vanishes.

  • tatah = then, thereby, thence, from that
  • kshiyate = is destroyed, thinned, diminishes, vanishes
  • prakasha = light, illumination
  • avaranam = veil, covering

To be clear, Pranayama is much more than the simple inhale and exhale which happens automatically. It is a Pranayama practice when the yogi begins to take control of this naturally occurring breath system in order to work the subtle energies of the body. By turning the energy flow upwards through the Chakras along the Shushumna Nadi the yogi is ready for meditation. This results in the pathway to liberation of the body, mind, and spirit within the Eight Limb Path of Patanjali.

Here are a couple of Pranayama practices to try:

  • Samarvritti Pranayama – equal breathing (no breath retention) Example: Ujjayi sometimes called ‘Ocean’ sounding breath.
  • Visamavritti Pranayama – unequal breathing (challenges breath by introducing irregular and interrupted rhythms) Example: Nadhi Shodna also called alternate nostril breathing. Here there is a short breath retention between inhale and exhale.


judy1 The love of movement, as a figure skater, lead to the love of yoga. A need for more peace, through life challenges, lead to a deeper practice. The healing of yoga instilled a burning desire to share yoga. Judy believes yoga allows you to live in the moment and let go, creating a free mind, body, and heart. Yoga is for everybody and all levels are welcome. Alignment is emphasized with creating an awareness of breath. Lila, or play, is an essential ingredient to allow each person to shine brightly. Whether through a new pose, a sutra, poem, or a joke Judy wishes that you leave the mat with a different perspective. Read more about Judy….