Pranayama or “expansion of life energy”
The term “Pranayama” is composed of the Sanskrit word prāṇa, referring to “life energy”– although etymologically it means “to breathe”– and āyāma, signifying “extension, stretching, expansion and elongation.” Therefore, it means “an expansive movement of life energy.”
Prāṇa accesses both the physical and the mental levels: in the physical plane it appears as breathing, and in the mental as psychic activity.
Through prāṇāyāma, the yogi consciously redirects and channels the life force, allowing it to flow freely through the system of nāḍīs or “energy conductors”, which are similar to the vanes, but in the astral body. During the practice we can watch the powerful flow of life force within ourselves and expand it attentively, until harmonizing it with the pulsation of the cosmic force.
This method has been presented to the western public as a group of techniques of proper breathing.
This definition erroneously directs our attention to a partial and external aspect of prāṇāyāma.
Prāṇāyāma emphasizes the deep relation between breathing and mental activity. In the process of cosmic manifestation, prāṇa stems from the universal mind. Similarly, in the microcosmic level of the human being, the relation between life energy and the mind is obvious. The movement of breathing on the physical plane is parallel to the movement of thoughts on the mental level. Hence, breath influences mental states.
For example, a state of rage causes accelerated breathing, whereas in mental tranquility the breath is serene, and in a state of great concentration respiratory activity decreases considerably.
The breathing rhythm varies significantly in different mental and emotional states such as fear, attachment, depression, envy or pride. We sigh upon relief and in moments of suspense we contain the breath; when we face beauty our breathing stops, and the experience of pain causes panting. Negative mental states can be overcome and replaced by positive ones through techniques of prāṇāyāma that influence the rhythm of breathing.
Among the natural consequences of the practice of prāṇāyāma are the conscious union between prāṇa and apāna, and finally the awakening of kuṇḍalinī-śakti.
The practice of prāṇāyāma is an integral part of Vimukti Yoga™.