Pranayama is comprised of two works, Prana and Yama. Yama, which means to Sanskrit name given to describe what western science calls nuclear energy. It is also known as bio-plasmic or psycho-nuclear energy. In oriental medicine, it is referred to as Chi and in Indian philosophy, it is called Skakti. The word Prana, alone is not so simply defined as absolute primal energy.
As all sciences and systems of Yoga are centered on the knowledge and understanding of this substance, it is regarded as the sum total of all energy manifest within the universe. It displays itself as motion, force, gravitation, and magnetism. It maintains the universal macrocosm as well as the microcosm of the body giving movement and force such as growth, repair, circulation, nerve impulses, digestion, elimination and respiration. As the most obvious manifestation of Prana in the human body is the motion of the lungs, Pranayama is commonly interpreted as a restraint or pause in the movement of the vital breath. In referring to the relationship of breath with the body and mind, there is an analogous description by the author of the Ramayana where Yogi Vasistha says: “for the motion of the chariot, which is the physical body, the creator has created the mind and prana (vital breath) without which the body cannot function. When the Prana departs, the mechanism of the body ceases and when the mind works, prana or vital breath moves. The relation between the mind and prana is like that between the drive and the chariot.” As both appear to exert motion one upon the other, the see continues by saying, “the wise could study regulation of prana or vital breath if they desire to suspend the restless yearnings of the mind and to concentrate. If there is any doubt that the breath is an invisible link between the body and the mind, we have only to observe its altered patterns within angry, fearful, asleep, or in meditation. When angry, the breath accelerates, when fearful, it stops momentarily. When sleeping, it is considerably slower and deeper and when in meditation, the breath is subtle almost to the point of nonexistence.”As it is more difficult to slow down the circuitous wanderings of the mind than it is the breath, by slowing the breath; it is believed possible to slow the rapidity of one’s thinking. Through gentle rhythmic cycles of inhalation and exhalation, it is possible to bring about energetic tranquility of thought as well as action.
There are a variety of breathing exercises that are effectively used in the rehabilitation and strengthening of both body and mind. However, Pranayama is a bit different. It has direct reaction upon the nerves. Not only do the lungs and torso move differently than in non-volitional breathing, but also it is a powerful tool for unhinging the lid of the subconscious. This is believed to be attributable to its affects upon the nervous systems. Even though there is a great deal of esoteric theorems behind the processes of Pranayama, one who is practicing comes slowly to the realization that nothing can be forced or brought about. The practices seem only to be preparatory openings that help the psychophysical organism to be responsive to the universal influences around and within. There is an old saying in Yoga that we don” really discover anything new, only that which has always been. In one essence, this can even apply to our breath.