Pranayam-Stage 1: Basic Lessons

Excerpts-Lessons by Swami Paramahamasa Sivananda of Divine Life Society Hrikesh

Stage 1: Basic Lessons-Practical Lessons in Yoga

Prana means breath and Ayama means control. By Pranayama is meant the control of Prana and the vital forces of the body. Pranayama begins with the regulation of breath and ends in establishing full and perfect control over the life-currents or inner vital forces. In other words, Pranayama is the perfect control of the life-currents through regulation of breath. Breath like electricity is gross Prana. By establishing control over the gross Prana, you can easily gain control over the subtle Prana inside. The process by which such control is established is called Pranayama. Pranayama is the fourth limb of Ashtanga Yoga.

Prana is the oldest for, it starts functioning from the very moment the child is conceived. On the contrary, the organs of the body such as hearing, and so forth, begin to function only when their special abodes viz., the ears, etc., are formed. Prana functions even while the mind is absent during deep sleep.

Prana is the link between the physical and the astral bodies. When the slender thread-like Prana is cut off, the astral body separates from the physical body. Death is the result. The Prana that was working in the physical body is withdrawn into the astral body.

Prana digests the food, turns it into chyle and blood and sends it into the brain and mind. The mind is then able to think and do reflection (meditation) on the Self.

Prana is the universal principle of energy or force. It is vital force. Prana is all-pervading. It may be either in a static or dynamic state. It is found in all forms, from the lowest to the highest, from the ant to the elephant, from the unicellular amoeba to a man, from the elementary form of plant life to the developed form of animal life. It is Prana that shines in your eyes. It is through the power of Prana that the ear hears, the eye sees, the skin feels, the tongue tastes, the nose smells, the brain and the intellect perform their respective functions. The smile on the face of a young lady, the melody in music, the power in the emphatic utterances of an orator, the charm in the words of one’s own beloved wife—all these and many more have their origin in Prana. Fire burns through Prana. Wind blows through Prana. Rivers flow through Prana. The steamer and the aeroplane, the train and the motor-car move about only through the power of Prana. Radio-waves travel through Prana. Prana is electron. Prana is proton. Prana is force. Prana is magnetism. Prana is electricity. It is Prana that pumps blood from the heart into the arteries. It is Prana again that does digestion, excretion and secretion.

Prana is expended by thinking, willing, acting, moving, talking, writing and so on. A strong and healthy man has an abundance of Prana or nerve-force or vitality. The Prana is supplied by food, water, air, solar energy, etc. The supply of Prana is received by the nervous system. The Prana is absorbed in breathing. The excess of Prana is stored up in the brain and nerve-centres. When the seminal energy is sublimated, it supplies abundance of Prana to the system.

A Yogi stores up enough and more of Prana by regular practice of Pranayama just as the storage battery stores up electricity. That Yogi who has in his store an amazingly large supply of Prana radiates strength and vitality all around. He is a big power-house. Those who come in contact with him imbibe Prana from him, and get strength, vigour, vitality and exhilaration of spirits. Just as oil flows from one vessel to another, Prana also actually flows steadily from a developed Yogi towards weak persons. This can be seen actually by the Yogi who has developed his inner Yogic vision.

If you can control Prana, you can control all the force of the universe, physical and mental. A Yogi can also control the Omnipresent Manifesting Power from which all energies like magnetism, electricity, gravitation, cohesion, nerve-currents, vital forces or thought-vibrations and, in fact, the total forces of the universe take their origin.

If you can control the breath or Prana, the mind is also easily controlled. He who has controlled his mind has also controlled his breath. If the one is suspended, the other also gets suspended. If the mind and the Prana are both controlled, you get liberation from the round of births and deaths and attain Immortality.

There is intimate connection between mind, Prana and semen. If you can control your seminal energy, you can also control your mind and Prana.

Owing to the vibration of Prana the ten senses (the five organs of action and the five organs of knowledge) do their respective functions. If the Prana is controlled, all the senses come under your control. You can live without food and drink for days together but you cannot live without air even for a few minutes.

As long as you speak, you cannot breathe; then you offer the breath in the speech. As long as you breathe, so long you cannot speak; then you offer the speech in the breath. These are the two never-ending immortal oblations. When you want to hear a faint sound, the breath gets suspended for a while. The porter carrying heavy bags of rice or wheat at the wharf instinctively fills his lungs with air and practices unconscious retention of breath (Pranayama) till the bag is lifted on to his back. This retention of breath augments his strength and vitality. It immediately provides him with an abundance of energy. It induces great concentration of mind. When you cross a small rivulet by jumping over, when you practice long jump and high jump and various other exercises at the parallel bar and trapezium, you practice retention of breath instinctively.

If the breath is unsteady, the mind also is unsteady. If the breath is steady and calm, the mind is also steady and calm. A Yogi gets longevity of life by the practice of Pranayama. Therefore the practice of Pranayama is indispensable requisite. Just as it takes a long time, patience and perseverance to tame a lion, an elephant or a tiger, so also you will have to tame this Prana gradually. Then it will come under your perfect control.

Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the blazing furnace and blowing the blow-pipe vigorously so also the student of Yoga should remove the various impurities of his body and mind by blowing his lungs, i.e., by the practice of Pranayama. The fundamental aim of Pranayama is to unite the Prana and the Apana and to take the united Pranapana slowly upwards towards the crown of the head. The fruit of Pranayama is the awakening of the sleeping Kundalini-Shakti.


Each Pranayama consists of three distinct processes viz., Puraka (inhalation of breath), Kumbhaka (retention of breath) and Rechaka (exhalation of breath). Kumbhaka gives longevity of life. If you can retain the breath for 10 seconds, know for certain that so many seconds have been added to the span of your life. By taking the breath to the crown of the head and keeping it there under his full and firm control, the Yogi defies and conquers death and drinks the Nectar of Immortality.

Pranayama is of three kinds according to the strength and capacity of the practitioner. The best one is that wherein Puraka is for 20 seconds (Matra is the Sanskrit word for second. 1 Matra is equal to 1 second.), Kumbhaka for 80 seconds and Rechaka for 40 seconds. The middling one is that wherein Puraka is for 16 seconds, Kumbhaka for 64 seconds and Rechaka for 32 seconds. The lowest one is that wherein Puraka is for 12 seconds, Kumbhaka for 48 seconds and Rechaka for 24 seconds. You should inhale and exhale very, very slowly, without producing any sound all the while. The ratio between Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka is 1:4:2.

If there are impurities in the nerve-currents (Nadis), the Prana will not enter the middle Nadi, the Sushumna. In ordinary people the Sushumna is closed up at the lower end, because of the various impurities of the body, mind and the nerves. When the nerves are purified, the Yogi can perform Pranayama with success. By the practice of Pranayama you can become a veritable god. Certain symptoms manifest when the Nadis are purified. Your body will become light and slender. There will be a peculiar lustre in your eyes and a remarkable glow in your countenance. Your voice will become sweet and melodious. The breath can be retained for a long time. You can hear the Anahata sounds emanating from your heart-lotus quite audibly. The digestive fire is augmented, you enjoy perfect health, and you are cheerful and happy.


The practice of concentration and Pranayama are interdependent. If you practice Pranayama, you will have concentration. Natural Pranayama follows the practice of concentration. A Hatha Yogi practices Pranayama and then controls the mind. He rises from a lower to a higher level; whereas a Raja Yogi practices concentration and thus controls Prana. He comes down from a higher level. They both meet on a common platform in the end. There are different practices for different temperaments. For some the practice of Pranayama is easier to start with, for others the practice of concentration.

There is neither rhythm nor harmony in the breathing of worldly-minded persons. A Yogi practices regulation of breath to establish harmony. When the breath is regulated, when there is harmony, the breath will be moving within the nostrils. The fruit of regulation of breath is Kumbhaka. The breath stops by itself when Kevala Kumbhaka (absolute and pure retention of breath) follows. The mind becomes quite steady. Then Samadhi (superconscious state) supervenes. Regulation of breath and Kumbhaka are of tremendous help in the practice of concentration and meditation.

Recommended Reading: Stage 2-Advanced Pranayam

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