January 2016 – Yoga Sutra of the Month
Pranayama is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention. It is to be practiced only after perfection in asana is attained.
The fourth limb of the eight limbs (or anga-s) of yoga as set out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is pranayama, or the control of the breath. “Prana” literally means “breath” or “life force,” while “a-yama means variously “ascension,” “expansion,” and “regulation.”
Pranayama is an essential component of an Iyengar yoga practice. B.K.S. Iyengar states that pranayama is to yoga what the heart is to the body. Geeta Iyengar advises us to practice pranayama daily, even if asanas cannot be done.
What about the advice that perfection in asana is to be attained first? When will we ever achieve perfection? Should we postpone any pranayama until we have found perfection? To interpret this phrase literally in this way means that we might never have a pranayama practice.
While perfection is elusive or even unattainable, we can reasonably expect to gain (with steady and devoted practice) enough proficiency in asana to permit us to explore pranayama with a stronger and more open and aware body and mind. When we have built the necessary foundation we have the stability and confidence to explore the other rooms in the building that rests on our foundation.
As Guruji has stated, prana is all that vibrates in the universe; it represents the energetic force of life and spirit.
By being open to the experience of the breath, and by exploring what breath awareness and control can offer, we may be able to move into closer contact with the universal spirit. It’s worth the effort.