The practice of yoga involves physical postures designed to enhance the body’s flexibility, endurance, and suppleness. However, practitioners who choose to focus only on the physical fitness aspect of yoga are missing an important way to gain calmness of mind and a feeling of inner peace and overall well-being.
To reach the true yogi’s goal of samadhi, or spiritual liberation and union with the divine, the practice of pranayama is key. Pranayama, or the study of controlling the breath, is one “limb” of the traditional yogi’s eight-fold path. It involves focus on the cycle of inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Through the correct practice of pranayama, a student of yoga is said to be able to span the gap that exists between his or her soul and the spiritual source of the universe.
The great teacher B. K. S. Iyengar taught that the practice of pranayama promotes energy, growth of the spiritual self, and an awareness of the divinity within each living being. He instructed his students that through the deliberate regulation of the breath, they could better organize their thoughts and direct energy from the outer world inward.
Both Iyengar and the ancient teacher Patanjali considered pranayama an advanced practice, one best developed after a student has become comfortable with the physical practice of the yogic postures, or asanas.
However, for those who undertake it, pranayama can reduce stress, improve focus and the ability to concentrate, mitigate stormy emotional states, and promote deep and restful sleep.