Thursday, December 15, 2011


I teach a class at Yoga North called Yamas & Niyamas on the Mat. Each week, we discuss one tenant of the two limbs of Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga, and then practice it in the 3rd limb. See below for a visual-- found this beautiful illustration online-- credit on the image. Sorry it un-tidily comes off the page, wanted you to be able to read the text on it.

This month we had an extra week to expand our horizons so we are looking on down the line of the 8 limbs by looking at the 4th limb-- Pranayama.

For class, I principally use the resource The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele (amazing practical tangible accessible). Still, pranayama isn't discussed in the book, so I turned to other resources, namely the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Sutra 2:49-- “After mastering the posture, one must practice control of the prana [pranayama] by stopping the motions of inhalation and exhalation.”

So, as you have gathered from previous posts, I am not yet reading devanagari (the sanskrit characters). So I rely on other's translations to understand the principles.

This Pranayama is a compound word. To understand it's meaning, lets take those words apart.

  • Prana: breath of life, energy, spirit, breath, life, vigour, power, wind
  • Yama: progress, going, road, path, end, carriage, motion, way, chariot

Wow! There is a lot there. We start to get a sense of the fullness of this word.

  • Pranayama: suspending the breath, control of the breath, breathwork

Swami Pradhavanda wrote: "Prana means the vital energy by which we live. Because this energy is renewed by breathing, prana may sometimes be translated as "breath". But the word has a much broader reference-- for all the powers of the body and all the functions of the senses and the mind are regarded as expressions of the force of prana."

What does this mean for us? Why do we do it?

Sutra 1:34 reads--- “The mind may be calmed by the even sending forth and control of the life-breath.” 

Through practicing conscious breathwork, we begin to realize the effects that breath has on our entire system. Relaxing the nervous system, thereby relaxing the physical body, the mental and emotional states.

Donna Farhi wrote, "When the diaphragm moves in the luxurious expansions that mark full breathing, all the organs are massaged, rolled, churned, and bathed in new blood, fluids, and oxygen. The organs get squeezed and released like sponges. Breathing stimulates all of the body to work better and this why it has such a profound effect on our sense of wellbeing."

There are a number of recorded ancient pranayama practices which come with great caution to only practice with the guidance of an experienced teacher, and to only practice with intentions of good. This is powerful stuff-- the exploration of prana. With a foundation of the yamas, niyamas, and asana-- pranayama can help us continue through the 8 limbs, eventually finding Samadhi.

In the meantime, remember to simply breath. Take 3 deep breaths right now, and settle into your chair. Experience your self as a prana body.

Namaste folks.


  1. What I learned and found in my heart today from PranaYama . . . maybe we are getting ready for meditation?
    Miigwetch Erika, for posting.