prana yamaThe Sanskrit term pranayama is derived from prana (“life force”) and yama (“restraint”). It refers to specific yoga exercises designed to control the flow of the breath. Through pranayama the breath can be made to run deeper and more smoothly, and at different tempos. It can also be directed into and out of specific parts of the body. Many practitioners use pranayama to improve their health. However, in the Indian yoga context within which pranayama evolved, it has primarily been a means of preparing the body for prolonged and deep meditation.



One might well ask: how does the use of pranayama relate to the practice of “allowing the breath” as described in this book? Or indeed, can the two be reconciled at all? In response, we can  say that where the breath is concerned, gentleness and patience is paramount. It is not something that we own and can manipulate, but rather a mystery that we must respect. A reflection of this is the fact that in India reputable yoga teachers will teach pranayama only after they have satisfied themselves that the candidate is ready for it. This presupposes at least that a person has reached the stage of being able to allow the breath to flow freely in them - that he or she is able to be aware of the relaxed movement of the breath, without succumbing to the need to take control of it. Once this is the case, many benefits can flow from pranayama, including deeper relaxation and enhanced energy.

There are, however, some people for whom pranayama is not advisable. These include those whose nervous system has been damaged through drug or alcohol abuse, or who suffer from certain forms of mental illness. People affected by asthma or shortness of breath should avoid pranayama exercises until these ailments have been brought under control. In the meantime they should confine themselves to passive breathing exercises like those described here in earlier chapters. To be able to relax and allow oneself to be breathed is already a huge step forward. It is sadly one that many in today's highly pressured world are unable to take.