Ecstatic Yoga Workbook
Asana I Workbook
Lesson 1 Pranayama
EY Asana 1 Lesson Pranayama
Pranayama is all about the breath and breathing techniques and practices that clear physical, energetic and emotional blockages in the body and energy field so the vital life force energy and prana can flow freely. Prana means "vital life force" in Sanskrit, and yama means to gain control, and ayama meaning “extension” or “expansion. Pranayama can be said to be breathing techniques that extend and expand vital life force energy and prana within the body through the deliberate control of respiration.
When pranayama is practiced regularly, it is a powerful way to elevate and increase the prana body and life force energy within and around the body. Pranayama has it’s roots in ancient Hindu philosophy and is a part of texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the Upanishads that date back over 5,000 years ago.
In this Pranayama lesson we will discuss the following:
1 Philosophy of Pranayama
What is Pranayama?
Prana is the vital life force energy that pervades all that is, all of existence and the entire known Universe, visible and invisible. It is the source of life and believed to be the expression of Divine Creator. In yoga the space within all matter is prana, modern physics states the atoms that make up all matter are 99% space, or prana. From a yogic perspective the space is filled with intelligence, creative potential, Divine energy called prana.
In yoga this space filled with prana has also been called creative life force, divine energy and spiritual potential. This prana which fills and pervades the body is invisible to the eye and it is a very subtle power, yet with practiced attention it can be powerfully felt on a sensation or energetic level within the body.
Prana can be experienced within the body as subtle energetic sensations, like pulsations, vibrations, trembling, energy moving, flowing, coolness or warmth. When prana intensifies and opens up within the body a sense of bliss or euphoria naturally arise. When the body is flooded with prana an experience of rapture occurs naturally.
Pranayama is a system of breathing techniques students of yoga use to activate and build universal life force energy known as prana for balance, vitality, peace of mind, joyfulness, creativity and a vibrant mind, body, spirit connection. In short living an ecstatic life. Pranayama is integrated in yoga through breathing techniques as well as in asana practices.
What is the prana body and how is it affected by lifestyle?
The five basic manifestations of prana in the body are called the pancha vayus and include five vayus…prana vayu, samana vayu, udana vayu, apana vayu and vyana vayu.
Vital life force centered in the throat and head.
It allows for thought, communication, singing and making sounds.
Vital force centered in the heart, chest and lungs.
Draws life force in through the lungs
Movement; upward moving energy.
Vital force centered in the abdominal region
Associated with digestion and functioning of the abdominal organs.
A balance point between prana and apana vayu.
Movement; in toward the abdomen on exhale, expansion in all directions on exhale
Vital life force centered in the lower half of the body
Associated with exhalation, elimination and reproduction
Movement; Deep down flowing movement on exhale
Vital life force that pervades the entire body especially the limbs.
Associated with the nervous system
Movement; in toward the center of the body on inhale, outward toward extremities on exhale.
When prana opens in the body we can experience bliss or euphoria and when this bliss floods the body we experience the natural state of rapture. Removing the thought disturbances within the mind as well as the tensions in the body we are able to reveal our true nature and awaken the natural state of rapture within.
We can practice increasing and balancing the prana and life force in our bodies with pranayama techniques to allow prana and life force energy to flow vibrantly and naturally in and through the body. It is great news to know we have a practice as simple, free and natural as pranayama to open the flood gates of our energy bodies. Pranayama is universal and can be used by young and old, people of all walks of life for the purpose of channeling and expanding the life force energy in and around the body. We can do this through these simple breathing techniques that have been practiced for thousands of years and are responsible for many human awakenings.
According to yoga the natural innate state of bliss within us all is awakened through the practice of awakening the light body through pranayama combined with the unlimited potential of our subtle bodies and absolute connection and oneness with the Infinite Creative Source of all that is.
In yoga, the breath is the activator for prana in the body, it is a powerful tool that can control and manipulate prana and energy throughout the body. For thousands of years, yogis have developed techniques to work with this energetic system through the practice of pranayama, as a means of cultivating balance and wellness in body and mind.
Pranayama uses conscious and deliberate control of the breath to expand and balance the prana body to activate vital life force energy in and around the body.
The prana body is a complex system and network of energy unseen by the eye, however studied for thousands of years. An important subtle body system is called the kosha’s or sheaths around the body. It includes five kosha’s;
Anamayakosha, physical body
Pranamaya kosha, vital energy body
Manomaya kosha, mental & emotional body
Vijnanomaya kosha, wisdom body
Anandamaya kosha, bliss body
The subtle body kosha called the pranamaya kosha or vital life energy body includes channels of energy called meridians, vortices called chakras, pathways called nadis, locks called bandhas, and seals called mudras. It is important to know that although the pranamaya kosha is distinct form the physical kosha, or anamaya kosha it penetrates and impacts not only the physical body but all five koshas or sheaths of the self.
Experiences in life can cause stagnation in our system whereby this vital life energy becomes blocked. When prana becomes weak or builds up in an imbalanced way, we experience fatigue, lethargy and lack of direction. This may be experienced as a general feeling of low energy, but it is also understood to be the root cause of disease.
Several things create a density with the human being that disrupts the light body, and therefore hides or eclipses the inner state of peace and rapture that is natural and available within all life forms. Some things that disrupt the light body are low vibrational or fear-based conditioning of humanity, the prana body can get sick due to inactivity, unhealthy lifestyle, negative emotions such as anger and resentment, an overload of technology, dead or toxic foods, high EMF’s, toxic environment emotionally and chemically, malnutrition, uninspiring work, negative thinking, victim mentality, scarcity consciousness, guilt, shame and unforgiveness.
Unhealthy or negative thinking and lifestyle habits create blockages and disruptions in our prana body and we no longer are aware of loves presence within us as us. The pure light of consciousness which we all are is dulled, interrupted or containing blockages due to the core belief system of separation, which many of these imbalances stem from. Yoga is a oneness theology… it teaches that we are separated from our true divine nature due to the illusionary disturbances of the mind. In Patanjali’s yoga sutra 2, it states the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga. Patanjali states “If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience yoga.”
Yoga is an ancient system of healing the illusion of separation and all the fear-based reactions and compensations for this falsity that deadens the human spirit and physical body. Once the veils of ignorance are lifted, the disturbances of the mind are quieted in silent stillness and the energetic and physical bodies heal. we discover our True Nature that has always been there. It is like buffing all the dirt off a precious stone so it’s true radiance can shine. Pranayama is a perfect buffer.
Pranayama is part of Patanjali’s ashtanga system, called the eight-limbs of yoga… pranayama is the fourth step in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, on the path to samadhi or enlightenment. On this path we travel from the yamas and niyamas to asana (Body awareness) then pranayama (Breath control) and following pranayama is pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation), leading to the final and ultimate state samadhi (enlightenment).
Why a daily pranayama practice?
When we take care of our prana and life force within and around our bodies through pranayama, when we practice regularly and tune up and energize all the subtle energy systems of the body, along with living a healthy lifestyle, we create peace of mind and vibrant health and well-being on all levels and we naturally live a life of joy, vitality and peace.
Our breathing patterns are also very closely linked to our emotional states.
Often when we are emotionally out of balance our breathing will be out of balance. However, we can calm or energize ourselves by changing our breathing patterns. Pranayama practice is a powerful practice to balance and elevate our emotional states.
When we commit to a daily pranayama practice we revitalize our energy and prana body and rebuild our physical health so we can enjoy optimal health energetically, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. When the prana body is balanced and healthy it is easier to still the mind and a quiet mind allows us to naturally discover the true nature of our being as divine extensions of Universal Source or the God of our understanding.
Like anything else, we gain the most benefits from regular practice. If you went to the gym to lift weights once a month, you probably won’t get the muscles and results you want. If you practice a musical instrument once a month for ten minutes you will never be an accomplished musician. The same principle applies to practicing pranayama, you need to commit to a dedicated and regular practice in order to maintain a vibrant pranic body.
A regular pranayama practice can be included in your asana, mantra and meditation practices. You can add conscious breathing techniques to your asana practices as well as traditional pranayama techniques at the beginning and end of your practice. Asana and meditation along with pranayama work powerfully together to activate the prana body naturally. Working with the bandhas during asana and pranayama to seal the prana and life force into the body. Activating the meridians through mudras, movement and touch and the chakra’s and vayus with breath control. With a regular practice you can keep the prana body and energy systems in and around the body vibrant. A vibrant pranamaya kosha equals a vibrant and healthy mind and body.
Morning is the best time to perform pranayama and 15 minutes or more is all it takes to keep the prana body tuned up and full of natural vitality all day long. It would be ideal to practice pranayama in the morning before breakfast in a beautiful outdoor setting. However, next best would be in a room with the windows open for the flow of fresh air to envelop the room.
Benefits of Pranayama
Not only does pranayama have the potential to steady the mind, but the practice has far-reaching physiological benefits such as increased heart rate variability, improved oxygen saturation and overall re-balancing of the nervous system.
Pranayama appears in many ancient Indian scriptures. The practice of pranayama may be used for balancing and vitalizing the prana body, purification, achieving liberation, focusing the mind, steadying the body.
General overall benefits:
Improves blood circulation.
Keep away the heart-related problems.
Provide relaxation for body and mind.
Improves your concentration.
It relieves Stress, Depression, and Hypertension.
Cure asthma, headache, migraine, neurological problems, depression, gastric problems.
Improves blood circulation.
Improves the function of reproductive organs.
Release stress and depression.
Build up self-confidence.
-Increase lung capacity
-Strengthens immune system
-Calms nervous system
-Enhances ability to concentrate and focus
-Increases mental clarity
-Organizes thought process
-Increases positive thinking
-Eases emotional discomfort
-Unlocks suppressed feelings
-Creates emotional synergy
-Invites self-study and observation of the mind
-Creates connection & awareness of the authentic self
-Harmonizes all aspects of being, body, mind, spirit
-Awakens the state of bliss and rapture
Prana body benefits:
Balances the five basic manifestations of prana in the body, the pancha vayus
Balances and vitalizes the Nadi system; Major nadis, ida, pingali and Sushumna
Brings balance, restoration to the meridian system
Brings balance and revitalization to the chakras
Brings balance and vitality to all the kosha’s
Some general contraindications
Certain kinds of pranayama are not recommended if you have your period, are pregnant or have digestive problems because they involve abdominal contractions with an upward motion.
Pranayama with fast rhythms or breath retention should not be practiced if you have asthma, heart disease, hypertension or are pregnant. This is not a complete list of precautions, if you have a specific health condition please speak with your health professional or local yoga therapist before practicing.
We will go into detail and practice pranayama techniques in our analytics pranayama class. For this lesson we will simply discuss basics of the techniques and traditional pranayama techniques including Sitali, sitkari, Dirgha Pranayama (With belly soft), Chandra Bhedana, Brahmari, Nadi Shodhana without retention, Samavritti, Nadi Shodhana with retention, Dirgha Pranayama (With belly firm), Ujjayi, Viloma, Surya Bhedana, Kapalabhati, Bhastrika.
The three aspects or stages of Pranayama are:
Puraka (inhalation) Active expansion while filling lungs with air & prana
Rechaka (exhalation) Emptying the lungs of air & prana
Kumbhaka (Breath retention)
Antara Kumbhaka (the mindful pause after inhalation)
Bahya Kumbhaka (the mindful pause after exhalation)
With pranayama practice it is best to sit in certain positions listed below. An upright position is often the best for optimal prana benefits. When the spine is long and straight this assists the sushumna nadi to generate the energetic flow up the core and spinal column. The idea is for the breath to be smooth and even and not strained even after breath retention.
Some such as Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath) are energizing and detoxing with a fast rhythm and strong abdominal contractions to expel the breath.
List of positions
Easy seated position or sukasana
Lotus pose with legs crossed and feet resting on thighs
Hero pose or virasana, seated on the calves
Staff pose or dandasana, seated with the legs outstretched in front.
Seated comfortably in a chair with straight spine
Supine laying on the back with spine straight
List of traditional techniques
The pranayama practices go from langhana/cooling to brahmana/vitalizing.
Langhana/Cooling (To reduce) are practices that slow down the metabolism, they are calming and relax the nervous system, cool the body and tranquilizes the mind.
Brahmana/Vitalizing (To expand) are practices that speed up the metabolism, stimulate the nervous system, warm the body and activate the mind.
Our traditional analytic’s will cover the following pranayama techniques listed from langhana to brahmana with Samavritti being the mid-point.
Cooling/langhana to vitalizing/brahmama
-Dirgha Pranayama (3 Part Yogic Breath) Cooling; to lengthen.
--Brahmari, buzzing bee, quiets the senses, sooths the nervous system.
-Chandra Bhedana, vitalizing, piercing the moon, activates ida nadi.
-Nadi Shadhana, balancing nadi’s, alternate nostril breathing.
-Samavritti, box breath or equal breathing, quiets mind.
-Nadi Shodhana with retention, balances nadi’s, alternate nostril.
-Dirgha Pranayama (With belly firm) vitalizing, alternate nostril.
-Ujjayi, vitalizing, victory breath, victor over the fluctuations of the mind.
-Viloma, vitalizing, against the current; increases breath & vital capacity.
-Surya Bhedana, vitalizing, piercing the sun, activates pingala nadi.
-Kapalabhati, vitalizing, skull shining, cleanses physical & energy body
-Bhastrika, vitalizing, bellows breath, increases air flow & heat in the body
History of Pranayama
Below is a brief overview of the timeline and history of pranayama with key texts.
References to the term prana can be found in these ancient texts, however no specific techniques of practices are described.
(Circa 700 BCE)
The very first pranayama practice that links breathing practices to the regulation of vital energy and life force. This was referenced in the Hymn 1.5.23 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad; “One should indeed breath in (Arise), but one should also breath out (Without setting) while saying, “Let not the misery that is dying reach me.” When one would practice that (breathing), one should rather desire to thoroughly realize that (immortality). It is rather through that (realization) that he wins a union with this divinity (breath), that is a sharing of worlds.”
No additional guidelines for pranayama practice are given in this Upanishad. However, the idea that breathing could be used to achieve greater health and even immortality is a theme that is often repeated in subsequent yogic texts and teachings.
The Bhagavad Gita
(Circa Fifth Century to Second Cent BCE)
References to pranayama practices can also be found in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, verse 29 references pranayama practices, mentioning the use of conscious inhaling, exhaling and breath retention to effect trancelike states. Later in the text it also suggests that the regular practice of pranayama can be used to enact greater control over the senses by “curtailing the eating process.”
The Maitrayaniya Upanishad
(Circa 4th Century BCE)
The Maitrayaniya Upanishad is the first written text in history to reference pranayama as part of a six limb system similar to Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga yet centuries prior. In chapter six, verse 21 the text states that deliverance can be accomplished by using a combination of breath retention practices and concentration on the sacred syllable Om, in order to redirect prana into the body’s central energy channel (Sushumna).
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
(Circa 100 to 400 CE)
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a compilation of texts from prior texts and yoga traditions. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras the six limb system introduced in the Maitrayaniya Upanishad had evolved into the 8 Limbs of Yoga we know today; yamas and niyamas (Social & ethical precepts, asana (Physical postures), pranayama (Breath techniques), pratyahara (Sense withdrawal/inner awareness) dharana (Concentration) Dhyana (Meditation) Samadhi (Bliss).
In verses 2.29-2.53 of the Sutras Patanjali details four aspects of the breath; inhalation, exhalation and the fourth surpassing the other three… being beyond and underneath exhalation, inhalation and the transitions between them (2.51)
Quotes from Patanjali;
Fourth rung is Pranayama: The fourth of the eight rungs (2.29) of Yoga is Pranayama, which is regulating the breath so as to make it slow and subtle (2.50), leading to the experience of the steady flow of energy (prana), which is beyond or underneath exhalation, inhalation, and the transitions between them (2.51).
Thinning the veil of karma: The experience and repeated practice of this fourth pranayama thins the veil of karma, which usually clouds the inner light, allowing that to come shining through (2.52).
Posture is the prerequisite: To successfully practice and attain the full benefits of breath control and pranayama, it is necessary that it be built on the solid foundation of a steady and comfortable sitting posture (2.46-2.48).
Pranayama is preparation for concentration: Through these practices and processes of pranayama the mind acquires or develops the fitness, qualification, or capability for concentration (dharana), which is the sixth rung (3.1-3.3).
Patanjali mentions a number of benefits from the practice of pranayama, including mental fitness and the ability to concentrate – a prerequisite to deeper states of yoga practice.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
(Circa 1500 CE)
Many scholars connect the founding of Hatha yoga movement Maha Siddha Goraksha Nath. (10th & 15th century CE) who is known as the founding father of Hatha yoga. One of the most important texts of the medieval era is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Goraksha Nath’s pupil Swami Svatmarama. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika emphasizes the attainment of vibrant heath and spiritual awakening through the mind-body connection using physical postures, pranayama techniques and practices and meditative contemplations.
The Pradipika expands on earlier texts referencing pranayama, describing actual instructions for practice. It references alternate nostril-breathing patterns, breath retention, auspicious times for practice.
Further references to pranayama techniques can be found in a number of additional medieval manuscripts. The most important of these texts include the Gheranda Samhita (late seventeenth century) and Shiva Samhita (seventeenth or eighteenth century CE).
Pranayama Present Time
Although schools of yoga include the traditional pranayama practices and techniques, modern practices have branched out to many variations of using breath and pranayama to master the energy and prana bodies.
New variations and modern processes integrate a combination of using traditional yogic teachings with unique styles of kriya. A notable example of this new approach to pranayama practices can be found in the book “Light on Pranayama”, by the the late B.K.S. Iyengar. A seminal text on modern day pranayama practice, Iyengar’s book is a must read for any student with an interest in the history of pranayama.
Ecstatic Yoga teaches the traditional practices in our detailed analytics with many unique transformative pranayama practices to create sacred embodiment and deeper connection to the physical and energetic bodies to connect us to our inner Divine Presence.