Prana & Pranayama from an Ayurvedic perspective
by Victoria (Tory) Raven Hyndman
The Sanskrit word ‘Pranayama’ comes from two words: ‘Prana’, meaning ‘the energy of life that permeates all of life’, and ‘aya’, meaning to ‘control, to lengthen, to own or to call in’. Therefore pranayama can be translated as, “to expand the awareness”. The practice of pranayama is to cultivate the flow of life-energy so that we may obtain the four goals of Ayurveda:
1. fulfilling our chosen direction on earth (Dharma).
2. having what we need to sustain our life comfortably (Artha).
3. fulfilling our desires in harmony with all of life (Kama).
4. attaining spiritual liberation, freedom (Moksha).
The word Prana itself is made from two primal roots: 'pra'; to proceed, to penetrate or take a form and 'na'; to birth, to have awareness. Together these roots form the word Prana, which carries the meanings of “penetrate to awareness”, “proceed into birth”. Prana is the first ever-present manifestation of life in created form. It is our direct connection to the universe. As long as we are alive, there is Prana, the breathing spirit, within us. When Prana leaves, we die. Pranayama is the practice of calling forth and consciously directing Prana. It is the cultivation of awareness in life through the cultivation of the awareness of breathing.
When we inhale, we are taking spirit into us: “inspiration”. When we exhale, we are releasing spirit into the world: “expiration”. The continual flow of these two rhythms and pulsations from the time we are born until the time we die reflects qualitatively the state of life within us and around us. As we learn to direct our breath, through cultivating a conscious balance between sustained effort and effortless surrender, we also learn to direct our lives with this same conscious balance and awareness. By uniting Ayurveda within the yogic teachings of pranayama, we can direct our Prana in the way that is right for our constitution.
1. Kapalabhati (Skull-Shining Breath) 100 x:
Let your hands rest in gyana mudra on the knees. Actively pull the lower belly in on the out-breath like a pump. Keep the movement of the belly simple and straightforward. Don't use too much muscle strength. The in-breath is passive. Guyana mudra: tips of the index finger and thumb are touching. The other fingers are straight. Let the backs of your hands rest on the knees with fairly straight arms.
2. Agni Sara (Pumping lower belly) 1 round of 10 pumps:
Breath out naturally and fully. While staying empty after the out-breath, pull the navel in 10 times. Beautiful massage of your organs.
3. Bhastrika (Breath of Fire) 25 x 2 times:
Bhastrika means “bellows”. During this practice, the breath in the abdomen moves like a pair of bellows. It is a heating form of pranayama that cleanses the nasal passages in the head. Kapha especially benefits from this form of pranayama as it clears excess of this Dosha from the head and the lungs. It strengthens the lungs and helps clear old grief and sadness from the lungs. Improving digestion, boosting Agni and Prana, drying excess mucus and melting body fat are all additional benefits that one will gain from this practice.
Hands are resting on the knees, palms down. Fully exhale and empty the lungs on the out-breath while pulling your chest bone back. The breath might make a wheezing sound coming from the lungs on the exhale out of the nose, this is a neutral process. Do not try to make a sound on purpose. Afterwards, rest your hands in lung mudra in your lap. You could repeat this one for a second round. Lung mudra: let your thumbs rest on the base of the ring finger. Fold your fingers towards the palm of your hand. You now made a fist with the thumb inside. Let fists rest in your lap, knuckles touching and palms facing up.
4. Udgeeth (deep and rhythmic chant) 7 times:
Sit comfortably with your hands in Gyana mudra resting on the knees. Breath in naturally and on the out-breath say the mantra Hari Ohm. When you say the Ohm part you bend the head back and feel the ohm moving down the spine. Bend your head forward and breath in. Repeat 7 times.
5. Brahmari (Humming bee) 7 times:
The “bee breath” soothes the nerves and calms the mind. Close your ears with your thumbs and let the four fingers rest on your eyes. Start by inhaling through both nostrils, taking a slow, deep breath in. With the lips closed and the jaw relaxed, exhale through both nostrils making a soft nasal sound “eeeee”, like the buzzing of a bee. The corners of your mouth are slightly pulled towards the ears as if you are gently smiling. The sound should start at a low pitch and be smooth, even, and continuous for the duration of the exhale. Do 7 rounds, making the buzzing noise louder as you progress. Let the vibrations fill your entire head and extend to the body, becoming one with the sound. Once you are proficient in this practice, you may take the tone up a pitch. When you have reached this stage, you may use the sound both on the inhale and the exhale.
6. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breath) 10 times:
Through the alternation of nostrils we balance the solar and lunar sides of ourselves, and cause the kundalini that rises through the Pingala and Ida Nadis to move into the sushumna and up to the crown centre. Nadi Shodhana is recommended for all Vata disorders, as well as most serious disease states. It helps to remedy mental and emotional disorders and assist in spiritual growth, insight and understanding. Since Vata is at the root of all imbalances, this pranayama is recommended for all practitioners and is a valuable daily practice. Dr. Lad usually recommends twelve rounds: in through the left nostril, out through the right, in through the right, out through the left, equaling one round as a good beginning practice.
Let your left hand rest in Gyana mudra on your left knee. With your right thumb and ring finger, you close the nostrils alternating. Start by closing the right nostril with your thumb and breathing in through the left. Close left with your ring finger and open right by removing your thumb. Breath out through the right nostril. Then breathing through the right nostril, closing right and breath out through left. Repeat 10 times and end by breathing out through the right nostril. After the pranayama rest your hands in your lap in the dear mudra (thumb, middle and ring finger touching). Be aware of the space of your third eye.
7. Sit in meditation for 5-10 minutes.
The pranayamas will take you into the space of Beingness. Just rest in this space for 5-10 minutes.
Want to learn more from Victoria Raven Hyndman? Join Victoria in her Ayurveda & Yoga (50-hour) training in Amsterdam starting 27 january 2021. This training is designed for regular yoga practitioners and/or yoga teachers who wish to incorporate the foundations of Ayurveda into their yoga practice and teaching.
In a light-spirited manner yet sticking to the authentic teachings of yoga, Victoria uses the wisdom of Ayurveda in her yoga classes for students to experience spiritual access through physical practice.