Pranayama is the practice in which one learns to regulate one’s breath in order to gain steadiness of the mind. The practice works on our mind, intellect and deeper states of awareness. During the practice, we tap into our parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for activities when the body is at rest.
During Pranayama, we actually do not take in more oxygen or even seek to increase our lung capacity, instead we are increasing the quality of CO2. We do this through double exhalation. During the practice, our internal organs are craving for more oxygen and we are telling them, no, I am practicing Pranayam. Pranayam is the doorway into our internal universe, and helps us begin to withdraw the senses inwards.
At first, Pranayama may seem like a physical practice. For example, Bhastrika. We tend to feel pain or soreness on the upper back and chest. Mainly due to the rapid expansion of the diaphragm and we begin to start tapping on muscles which we haven’t used before. Bhastrika can also cause dizziness at first, because not only is there expansion and contraction in the diaphragm but the brain as well. We begin to empty all that is not needed during the practice. Think of all the external things that affect our breathing and diaphragm at a conscious and unconscious level. Fear, anxiety, tension all cause contraction of the diaphragm and close our awareness. So when we begin working with the diaphragm, much of this stored tension is released. This is the beginning of the practice of pranayam, which is preparing us for internal practices ie. meditation and samadhi. We begin working with our senses, and withdrawing them from objects outside.
Another example is Nadi Shodhana. During this practice, we begin purifying the energy channels and nadis in the body. We bring these opposing energies that live inside us into one. A few things may happen when first practicing Nadi Shodhana. One is drowsiness. Another is anxiousness. Both can happen if we practice without full awareness, or a Satvik mind. A Satvik mind is very important when practicing Pranayam, if the mind is full of impurities, prana won’t flow correctly. If we practice with full awareness, then we begin to withdraw the senses, and the practice becomes very pleasant and we begin to tap into our internal universe.
Pranayama is also a case of extreme Tapas. Many times, deep emotions or sanskaras are brought to the surface during the practice. When practicing, we are breaking this fake surface we hold on the outside, and begin to dig deeper. Many things will surface when this happens. Fears, anxieties and tension are specifically targeted in pranayama due to working with the diaphragm. With time, with love and with patience, these sensations become less intense and we can begin to let them go. Once we become friendly with these sanskaras, they release and drift away. So we begin to release all these emotions, and bring silence to our thoughts. We empty thoughts, both positive and negative. What is left, are feelings which are beyond; such as love, compassion, freedom, and we experience pure bliss.