Pranayama is an important part of yoga practices and as such is mentioned in almost all traditional texts on yoga. We don't intend to quote all these references but will confine ourselves to a few that have a particular relevance to the general aspects of pranayama, leaving specific references until we discuss the practices in detail.
Let us refer to the authoritative Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient classic on yoga. In our previous discussion on prana we emphasized the relationship between prana and life1. This is clearly stated as follows: "When there is prana in the body it is called life; when it leaves the body it results in death."
This is exactly what modern scientists have clearly stated - that organic objects are pervaded by bioplasmic energy (which the ancients deemed to call prana) and when this energy leaves the body organism death will occur. That ancient yogis could know about prana without the aid of sophisticated instruments says a lot for their awareness of life and existence. The following sloka (verse) is also very enlightening: "When prana fluctuates then the chitta (mind) also fluctuates; when the prana becomes steady then the chitta also becomes steady." (2:2)
This will be fully discussed shortly. It means that when the pranic body is not functioning properly then the mind is simultaneously disturbed; when the flow of prana is harmonized then the mind is also brought into equanimity. Again this close relationship between these two aspects has been investigated and conclusively found to be as the ancients foretold. The practices of pranayama are intended to bring about calmness in the mind by harmonizing the pranic flow in the body.
Pranayama is concerned with removing congestion in the pranic passages (nadis) so that the prana flows smoothly and without hindrance. This is referred to in various slokas. We will quote the following as an example: "If pranayama is practised correctly then the entire pranic body will be well-integrated and the prana will flow easily through the sushumna (the most important nadi in the whole body), for pranayama will remove all blockages which tend to impede free flow of prana. This will give rise to steadiness of the mind." (2:41-42) This is exactly the same aim as in acupuncture:
the removal of irregularities in the flow of prana. The aim is the same but the means are different.
However a warning is given: "Pranayama can remove all diseases if it is done correctly; if it is done incorrectly then it can actually cause illness." (2:16) This is why one should slowly and systematically develop one's ability to perform pranayama techniques over a period of time. In this course we will introduce you to the various practices step by step in order that you gain the optimum benefits without any unpleasant side effects.
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