Your breath and your mind have an intimate relationship. Just think about all the ways your breath is affected purely because your mind is experiencing something completely unrelated to breathing. Spend an entire day tuning in to your breath. Notice how it quickens or slows according to what you're doing, saying, or even thinking? Your breath can be affected merely by who you're near.
Just imagine watching an exciting movie. You're sitting still in your seat eating your popcorn. You aren't doing anything at all to get out of breath. As the opening credits roll, you see the name of your favorite actor or actress and your breath quickens in anticipation. When the movie gets suspenseful, you hold your breath. When the action speeds up, so does your breathing. Your breath responds to the movie's happy ending by becoming steady, smooth, and regular. As the credits roll, if the movie was a satisfying experience, you may even feel winded, as if you had been through a workout.
What our brain perceives, our breath mirrors and our body experiences. Imagine harnessing this power! Just as the mind influences the breath and body, so can the breath influence the mind and body. Controlling the power of breath is the technique of pranayama.
There are actually five manifestations of prana that act as vital energy in the body, depending on where they are. Each type complements one of the five nerve centers and is associated with one of the body's primary energy centers or, chakras (see Chapter 20, "Chakras, Mudras, Mantras, and Mandalas," for more on chakras):
> Prana (PRAH-nah)—not the prana that is the universal life force, but a sort of "sub-prana"—rules the respiration process. It manifests in the heart chakra in the chest, flows into the body through inhalation, and moves up toward the brain.
> Apana (ah-PAH-nah) controls excretion, including the kidney, bladder, colon, genitals, and rectum. It's generated in the body by exhalation and flows downward toward the rectum and out of the body, ridding the body of impurities. It manifests through the Saturn chakra in the lower abdomen.
> Samana (sah-MAH-nah) governs the digestive system, including the stomach, intestine, liver, and pancreas. It manifests through the Mars chakra behind the stomach.
> Udana (uh-DAH-nah) lives in the throat and controls swallowing. It also serves as the force dividing the astral body (the vehicle of the spirit) from the physical body at the time of death. It's the vital energy of speech and manifests through the Mercury chakra in the throat.
> Vyana (vee-AH-nah) flows throughout the entire body, regulating blood flow as well as muscle and joint movements. It's the vital energy of circulation and manifests through the Jupiter chakra located on the spine near the genitals.
What does all this mean for you? In short, the more prana you bring into your body, the better your body and your mind will work, and the better you'll feel. Prana gives you instant energy and supports long-term good health. It is the ultimate feel-good medicine and a powerful preventive healthcare tool.
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