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What is Pranayama


Pranayama is the beginning of true yoga. Entering into pranayama we have to diverge and part from the comfortable co-existence between modern yoga practice, which means essentially performance of asana, and conventional body wisdom based on the study of movement and anatomy, into the arcane mysteries that are attributed to that force which is connected to the breath but is not the breath which is termed prana.
To relegate pranayama to mere breathing exercises is to negate its value, pranayama means the directing or focusing of prana but what then is meant by prana? In its earliest uses the term is synonymous with Brahman, so it is the totality of existence, the unseen spirit that informs all that is living. Later prana becomes more the energy that moves the body and that is taken with the air. Prana is said to move through a network of subtle channels called nadis the principals of which run up the spine intersecting at seven points where are found the energy wheels called chakras. Certain techniques of pranayama are aimed at the movement of this energy from the least chakra to the loftiest.
It is worth bearing in mind that these concepts are a way of explaining certain phenomenon that were experienced through the use of the techniques which are aimed at facilitating an altered state of consciousness. The language that is used to describe this is often that of metaphor, myth and imagination.
If you have been practicing the ashtanga form of yoga you will already well versed in the practice of ujjayi breath which is the cornerstone of any pranayama practice. You already know how it feels to breath and how it feels in asana when the breath seems to send energy coursing through every cell in your body
The practice that you can download here is an easy way to establish a pranayama routine and so test its efficacy, try to follow the routine for at least a month and see how you feel about it at the end of that time. The routine is simple and is quite progressive, you warm the body with agni sari, then working with the bandhas experiment with the breath being held out and then with retention of the breath, and finally the practice of alternate nostril breathing which is said to calm the principal nadis. I often teach this routine at workshops and retreats and find that as the pranayama is not difficult even from the very first a favourable impression is gained.
Even if you do not experience great highs from pranayama, the concentration will help towards meditation methods especially those that rest on observance of breath.

Getting Started — Ujjayi Breath
The basic breath technique for pranayama is known as ujjayi (victorious) breath. The first requirement for ujjayi breathing is to assume a posture in which the spine is lengthened or erect. This means either standing or sitting tall or even lying down. As standing is not comfortable for long periods of time and lying down may cause drowsiness, the preferred posture is a seated one. Due to the tie when yoga was formulated this involved either sitting on a seat of cut grass or simply on the floor or ground. Contemporary practitioners may take advantage of a chair but care must be taken not to slouch – in Iyengar yoga circles the chair is turned around and sat on backwards so the backrest is to the front rendering it stool-like.
Ujjayi breathing rests on the use of the bandhas to enhance the upright posture and to encourage a fuller connection with the breathing process. These are primarily awareness and engagement of the musculature of the pelvic floor and the lower abdomen, these bandhas may be more fully engaged during the retention and holding out of the breath, where we could say they more fully reflect the translation as “locks” for they prevent any seepage of air.
In ujjayi breathing the glotti at the side of the throat are slightly narrowed as if producing a whispered sound and so as the breath draws from the nasal passage it feels as if it swirls in the throat before entering the lung. This process allows a measured, controlled breath to be enjoyed. Another aspect to this is that breath is audible, and by paying attention to the sound created it can be ascertained whether there is an ease of breathing or a straining to do so.
From this then can be made the first and simplest form of patterning; to equalize the inhalation and the exhalation; or to extend one to form a ratio of in-breath to out-breath, to this can then be added retention and so it becomes the common form of pranayama.

Pranayama Notes
-Sitting for a moment and taking awareness inwards.
1-2 min. Conscious of natural breath.
Ujjayi breathing,
engage moolabandha. Try to make the inhalation and exhalation an even duration.
Agni Sari (Kapala bhati with moolabandha)
outline below is for one round this is repeated 3 to 5 times
inhale long
exhale long through right
inhale short through right
exhale 20- 30 short, slow bursts (*from the belly) through right with
focus on engaging moolabandha and lower abdominals.
Inhale is inactive – moolabahdha released after exhalation.
last exhale longer.
(*at least one or two pilot breaths)
then inhale long through both
exhale long through left
inhale short through left
exhale 20- 30 short, slow bursts through left with focus on engaging moolabandha
and lower abdominals.
Inhale is inactive.
last exhale longer.
(*at least one or two pilot breaths)
then inhale long through both
exhale long through both
inhale short through both
exhale 20- 30 short, slow bursts through both with focus on engaging
moolabandha and lower abdominals.
Inhale is inactive.
repeat for total of 3-5 times
(*’when finished with the last exhalation come to conscious abdominal
breathing with attention in the Manipura Chakra’

Bandha Triang (three locks)
inhale slowly and fully
exhale fully and slowly
inhale short
exhale 10 short, slow bursts through both nostrils
*continue directly with:
last exhalation slow, then slow inhalation, filling the lungs completely, and then
strong exhalation folding forwards and expelling entire contents of lungs.
engage the 3 bandhas as breath is held and spine lifts to vertical.
Hold as long as possible within comfort zone.
release uddiyana bandha before inhale and slowly and with control draw
the breath in.
slow long exhale.
Release bandhas and sit with awareness *in the Manipura Chakra around the naval.
repeat for total of 3-5 times

Bastrika and Kumbhaka
inhale as shoulders lift and arms press into thighs, lifting moolabandha.
exhale let shoulders release and drop.
keep spine straight while dropping.
repeat for 10 breaths.
slow deep exhale, belly to spine.
slow deep inhale, power stays in the belly, hold breath in and allow
side ribs to stretch. Then engage Bandhas and hold as long as possible.
Then lift jalandhara bandha and exhale slowly with control.
1-2 abdominal breaths before repeating.
repeat for total of 3-5 times
*After Bastrika, the awareness is in the heart space or Anahata
Either of the below follows for 10 to 15 min.
Anuloma, alternate nostril breathing on the exhale using vishnu mudra.
inhale 7
hold 5
exhale 10 alternate nostrils.
Nadi Sodhana, alternate nostril breathing. Right hand in Vishnu mudra.
start with exhale through left side, inhale left side, change nostril,
exhale through right, inhale throught right.
Keep a ratio of,
exhale 7-10
inhale 7-10
finish with exhale through exhale through the left side.
* In both these last Pranayamas, holding attention in the Third Eye,
either a mental focus or (more difficult) partly in Shambhavi Mudra.