By B.K.S. Iyengar December 1999 Pranayama is the fourth limb of Patanjali’s eight-fold path of yoga, or ashtanga yoga. You must not attempt it till you have gained some mastery over the third limb of ashtanga yogasana. This is because asana helps develop stability in the body, elasticity in the lung fibers and in other parts of the respiratory system—all essential for proper practice of pranayama. Some notes of caution must also be kept in mind before attempting pranayama: • Children who are below the age of 16 should not be taught pranayama.• Do not practice asanas immediately after pranayama. However, you can practice pranayama after asanas.• Do not practice pranayama in a hurry or when the chest is congested.• Do not practice pranayama for the day if the chest feels heavy and tense or if the sound of the breath becomes harsh and rough.• Do not perform pranayama immediately after a meal or when you are hungry.• Do not practice pranayama when you are depressed. Faulty practice, instead of benefiting, is more likely to invite disease. Irritability, restlessness and heaviness indicate incorrect practice and, if these happen, stop and seek the guidance of an experienced teacher. Just as there are several types of asanas, there are different types of pranayama. While Ujjayi and Viloma Pranayama are performed with open nostrils, in anuloma, Pratiloma and Nadi Shodhana Pranayama you use your fingers to regulate breath. Each of these pranayama has a different effect on your physiology and the state of your mind. A certain amount of maturity is, therefore, necessary to properly practice these pranayama. In inhalation (puraka), the outer skin of the back moves down and towards the front while the inner frontal skin expands and opens up, without disturbing the outer frontal skin of the chest. In exhalation (rechaka), the skin of the inner back and the inner front of the trunk is lifted up and alerted to keep it steady. Then the breath is released in the form of rechaka through the outer skin of the front chest. When passivity is felt evenly in the inner and outer skin of the front and back trunk, without shrinking or stooping of the spine and caving in of the chest, rechaka is complete. Art of Sitting Sit in such a way that the center of your tail bone’s bottom is perpendicular to the floor. If we call the tail bone’s center the south pole, then the center of the spine’s head is the north pole. Without disturbing either of these points, adjust the rest of the spine in a line, as if placing one vertebra over the other. This subtle adjustment will help you understand the movement of the body’s five elements while doing pranayama. Any kind of forward or backward movement means a certain disturbance or imbalance in the elements in your body. Spread the bottom of your buttock bones as if they were mounds. Relax the groin. Position the center of the buttocks and the middle portion of the ankles so that they touch the ground accurately. In this manner, the water element of the body finds its level in the seat, groin and feet. Keep the front and back of your floating ribs parallel to each other. Jalandhara Bandha (chin-lock)When you practice pranayama with open nostrils, construct the dikes in the body with the help of prajna (conscious awareness) at the various entry gates for inhalation, which are at the bottom of the cheekbones, the upper palate and at the top of the windpipe. In order to build natural dikes for pranayama, the yogis of yore introduced Jalandhara Bandha or the chin-lock. This helps the prajna to judiciously control the incoming prana, let it flow rhythmically and later on distribute it uniformly. Dikes for outgoing energy are built at the diaphragm, the chest’s external intercostal muscles, the windpipe and the top rings of the cheek bones. When the breath is deviated from the conditioned path, it enters and exits the body forcibly. These types of deep breaths, however, cannot be termed true pranayama. In pranayama, instead of letting the breath force its way in, the sadhak (seeker) must see that, while inhaling, the energy of the breath gets completely soaked into the body and, while exhaling, prana is released like water flowing through the sluice-gates of a reservoir so that the lungs get the time to absorb and store the energy in the system. Only after understanding and learning the basics of breathing, sitting and the principles of Jalandhara Bandha should you attempt any specific type of pranayama.
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