PRANAYAMA: AWARENESS IN BREATH
Yoga, outside its root-culture, is often mis-recognized as mastery over poses. But core teachings of Yoga emphasize that the secret of Yoga, is not in achieving the postures or asanas, but in achieving the breath.
Maintaining the slow, rhythmic cadence of the breath through all postures and situations in life is the goal of Pranayama. And once established, this practice becomes the principal catalyst that helps access sustained concentration (dharana) and deep meditative states (dhyanam).
Pranayama is a telescoped word derived from two Sanskrit words - Prana and Yama - both of which occupy a central place in Yoga philosophy and practice.
Prana is life-energy that sustains the mind and the body, while Yama is the ethical exercise, restraint and direction of all-pervasive, all-sustaining Prana.
The word Prana transcends multiple concepts - in its most basic sense, it is the vitality manifested in the physical breath (Shwasa) that upholds life. But it is also the life-force energy that connects and sustains all forms of life and the entirety of existence itself.
It is therefore the universal breath and the cosmic breath, expressed in Indian religion and spirituality, through the sound of Pranava: AUM (Aaa-uuu-mmm). Pranava Pranayama is thus most auspicious and a complete practice in itself.
The sacred Chandogyopanishad, one of the oldest and most poetic of Hinduism's scriptures, composed between the 6th and 8th century BCE., illustrates the omniscience and eminence of Prana over the five senses and the mind, for without Prana, there is no life, mind or senses.
Prana is of the element of wind or Vayu, which is all-pervading. And within the human body, it is of five types, depending on function and directional strength: Prana, Apana, Udana, Vyana, Samana. To maintain balance in the body and the mind, these Vayus have to be propitiated with the ethical conduct of moderation. Pranayama is the ethical restraint of the Prana through sustainable breathing practices.