Pranayama: The Mind-Body-Prana connection

Emotions are running high, tension in the air can’t be missed. Can the Cousins reach a compromise even now and avert the impending war, some hope. But that is not to be and the conch of the Kurukshetra war is blown, the reverberations of which will be heard till centuries  later. Just then, Arjuna, the linchpin of the Pandavas  is overcome with despair. That he has to fight the war and kill his grandfather, his Gurus, his elders is biting his conscience, he’d rather quit and die.  What ensues is the most legendary dialogue of life, living, decision making and Dharma between Arjuna and Sri Krishna. By the end of the dialogue that runs into ~ 700 shlokas, Krishna helps Arjuna see reason and the right conduct in the face of conflicting emotions.

What does Krishna have to do with the topic of the blog though? For the answer, I’d direct your attention to shloka 4.29 in Gita. Krishna exhorts Arjun to work in a manner of doing Yagna. Yagna is performed to achieve greater social good and is properly accomplished only if the doer has gained complete control over his sense organs, has mental clarity and is free from emotional/social biases. One such method of performing  Yagna, is by way of Pranayama, says He.

अपाने जुह्वति प्राण प्राणेऽपानं तथाऽपरे।
प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणाः।।4.29।।

Pour your inhalation into your exhalation and your exhalation into your inhalation and in due course establish complete control over your breathing to achieve Pranayama.

Why did Krishna talk about Pranayama as a means to achieve self restraint and mental objectivity?  Patanjali’s Yog sutras and books of Hatha Yoga explain this in more detail.

In the second chapter Hath Yoga Pradipika says
चले वाते चलं चित्तं निश्चले निश्चलं भवेत् ।
योगी स्थाणुत्वं आप्नोति ततो वायुं निरोधयेत् ॥ २.२ ॥
When the breath is disturbed (चले वाते, the same dhatu as for चंचल), the mind is disturbed and when the breathing is steady, so is the mind. Hence, to achieve mental stability, one must first achieve control over her breathe.

It further says,
यावद्वायुः स्थितो देहे तावज्जीवनं उच्यते ।
मरणं तस्य निष्क्रान्तिस्ततो वायुं निरोधयेत् ॥ २.३ ॥
As long as Prana resides in the body, it is said to be alive. Death is when Prana leaves the body – hence one should control her breathe.

Hence, Prana, life and body are interlinked, controlling the former can help tame the other.  How does one achieve this control though? “Pranayama” is the way to go. It literally means expanding the Prana or deepening and lengthening our breathing.

What is the impact of Pranayama?
HYP says
प्राणायामेन युक्तेन सर्वरोगक्षयो भवेत् ।
हिक्का श्वासश्च कासश्च शिरःकर्णाक्षिवेदनाः ।
भवन्ति विविधाः रोगाः पवनस्य प्रकोपतः ॥ २.१७ ॥
By regular and proper practice of pranayama, one becomes free from all diseases, especially those cause by Vaat – such as hiccups, asthama, cough, pain in head,ears and eyes etc.

..And there is more
वपुः कृशत्वं वदने प्रसन्नता, नादस्फुटत्वं नयने सुनिर्मले ।
अरोगता बिन्दुजयोऽग्निदीपनं, नाडीविशुद्धिर्हठसिद्धिलक्षणम् ॥ २.७८ ॥
Body become lean, face glows with delight, voice and vision become clear, one becomes ailment free and focused, digestion improves, nadis and nervous system become pure.

Rishi Patanjali explains Pranayama further emphasizing its impact on the mind rather than body

ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम्॥५२॥
धारणासु च योग्यता मनसः॥५३॥

Through Pranayama, the light of knowledge shines through and the mind becomes capable of achieving focus. That is – the mind becomes calm and stable consequently more objective.

Looking to lose weight? Want to look pretty and happy, want to sound good? Want to get rid of that chronic constipation? Want to de-stress and relax? Want to sleep well? Pranayama is one राम बाण cure. In fact, in the same chapter, HYP also says Brahma and other Gods regularly practice Pranayama to get over the fear of death!!

Our Rishis were aware Mind-Body-Prana connection. They self learnt, practiced, perfected and preached this foolproof method of gaining physical & mental health and developing a holistic attitude towards society and life.

Krishna sums it up beautifully in chapter 6 of Gita

युक्ताहारविहारस्य युक्तचेष्टस्य कर्मसु।
युक्तस्वप्नावबोधस्य योगो भवति दुःखहा।।6.17।।

For the one who is temperate in food, thought, movement, sleep, wakefulness and all activities of life, Yoga becomes the destroyer of all sorrow. Hence, become a Yogi, become the one who has controlled his mind and body.

Consistent practice of Pranayama will lead us to that stage, eventually. The onus is on us to learn and gain from this rich legacy left to us by our ancestors . Practice and Prosper or Discard and Deteriorate.  The Choice is Ours and solely Ours to make.

सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः !!

ॐ शांति!

P.S. Some basic Pranayama FAQs :-

Q: Where and how should one start Pranayama?

A: Here’s a I have created for beginners

Also Baba Ramdev’s  videos and simple explanations are a good initiation for beginners.   Check here

Q: Do I have to first learn asanas/yogic postures to before Pranayama?

A: Asanas definitely help as they work on the muscular and physiological systems. That said, Pranayama can be performed irrespective.

Q: What is the scientific basis for Pranayama positive impact on the mind and brain?

A: Physically, better and deeper breathing means more oxygen for the cells and hence better functioning.  Mentally, regulated breathing helps de-stress. When in stress, breathing is usually shallow and interrupted, which excites the fight and flight system (Sympathetic nervous system) in the body and puts the body and mind under pressure and all energy is concentrated towards managing the “stress” inducer taking away focus from other physical/mental bodily functions such as digestion, growth, repair etc. By bringing awareness to breathing, the reverse happens, the parasympathetic nervous system is invoked. This is system that control the rest and digest activities. Invoking PNS, tells the mind and brain that everything is under control and it should function normally focusing on all necessary activities. When is stress, the mind tends to lose objectivity, clarity comes only when the brain is calm. Pranayama helps calm the brain. Not to forget its physical benefits, as a healthy body is a pre-condition to a healthy mind,

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