According to Maharshi Patanjali, who is believed to be the creator of Yoga, Pranayam is the fourth limb of Raja Yoga. Pranayam is believed to be the purest form of Yoga. Though Pranayam is practiced by controlling of breath, it is actually systemic control of Prana or energy within one’s body. The word Pranayam or Pranayama is derived from two words – Prana and Yama, where Prana is energy or breath and Yama is
Objective of Pranayam is to increase level of energy and purify body of toxins through breathing techniques. Pranayam teaches us to control the way we breathe and by practicing Pranayam on regular basis we can get rid of the toxins that are created within our body. Basically it is the technique of breathing which is important in Pranayam. According to the theory of Pranayam, breathing process is divided in three different stages.
Inhalation of breathe which is called Puraka in Sanskrit is the first step of Pranayam. During inhalation in Pranayam it is our goal to intake maximum amount of oxygen as possible. Optimum oxygen flow in our body will ensure proper metabolism and functioning of the organs.
The next step of Pranayam is the retention of the breath that is known as Kumbhaka in Sanskrit. When we retain the breath, we actually allow our body to absorb maximum oxygen through lungs. It further ensures optimum oxygen flow in our body.
The last part of Pranayam is the exhalation that is called Rechaka. In this process we exhale more air than we take during inhalation. This process ensures that we get rid of the toxins and carbon-dioxide and even excess oxygen from our body.
Apart from specifying these three steps Sutras of Pranayam has also defined the time frame for each of these steps. Generally the ratio of inhalation, retention and exhalation is 1:5:2. That means, if you are inhaling air for 2 seconds, you have to retain the breath for 10 seconds and duration of exhalation should be 4 seconds. This ratio determines a rhythmic process of breathing through Pranayam. With regular practice we can extend this time frame gradually to get long term effect of Pranayam. While we generally use 33% of or lung capacity we can optimize that level with Pranayam that will ensure optimum oxygen supply to our brain and heart and other organs as well.
All said and done, you should always remember that Pranayam is the highest form of Yoga. While it can benefit you in many ways, wrong practice and improper techniques can cause damage to your health. So it is essential that you learn the benefit of Pranayam carefully before practicing them. Ideally you should start with some simple Yoga and breathing exercise and then gradually start learning Pranayam techniques.