Hello every body, welcome to Atma's blog. Today we are going to talk about Pranayama, the fourth limb of Raja yoga. Pranayama means energy expansion and it takes place through the practice of conscious breathing.

In Yoga, Prana refers to the vital energy that governs our physical body and mind. Prana, is the equivalent to the electrical signals, that run through our brain and nervous system in order for our body to function. In Yoga, Prana is controlled through the practice of Pranayama or conscious breathing.

Modern science stipulates that conscious breathing has a direct impact on how our brain and parasympathetic nervous system functions. The way we breath is directly connected to our state of mind.

A fast-breathing rate, is associated with stress, tension, fear and worry which directly influence how we see and react to the outer world. On the other hand, a slow breathing rate, is directly linked to relaxation, calmness and happiness, which reduce the segregation of stress hormones, controlling our fight or flight response to external events.

Breathing is the only bodily function that happens on an unconscious level and can be consciously altered. In fact, conscious breathing influences all the other body functions.

for example, your heart beats unconsciously, meaning that you don’t have to order it to beat, and you can’t tell it to stop beating. The same occurs with your brain, you can’t stop your brain from functioning.

however, with breathing the story is quite different. Breathing occurs unconsciously meaning that it occurs by itself, but you can become aware of it and consciously modify it. Just by becoming aware of our breath, we can alter it and for some time even stop it. By consciously modifying our breath, we can influence our heartbeat, our brain functioning and our mind. This is why, yogis have always placed great importance on the practice of Pranayama. Because Pranayama is the gateway between the unconscious, the subconscious and our conscious mind.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, describes Pranayama as not inhalation or exhalation, but as retention of the breath. However, in order to be able to retain our breath, we first need to inhale and then exhale after the retention has taken place. The practice of Pranayama takes place in three stages: the first stage is inhalation or Pooraka in Sanskrit. The second stage is retention or Kumbhaka. and the third stage is exhalation or Rechaka.

kumbhaka or retention, can take place in two ways: after inhalation with our lungs full, also called Antaranga Khumbaka, and after exhalation with our lungs empty, also called Bahiranga Khumbaka.

So, to clarify, the practice of Pranayama involves inhaling, holding your breath, and exhaling.

All the different practices of Pranayama that you might have previously seen, use a combination of these.

The main focus of the practice of Pranayama is placed on Kumbakha or retention, because when we stop our breath the fluctuations of the mind stop, allowing us to enter the stage of meditation more easily.

In fact, the Yoga Sutras state, that Pranayama is mastered only when Kumbhaka or retention occurs unconsciously and spontaneously without us trying. It is at this point, when we are ready to turn inwards into the other limbs of yoga.