The 4th Limb of Yoga: Pranayama (Breath Awareness)

The 4th Limb of Yoga: Pranayama (Breath Awareness/Control)  
The Breath as an Anchor for the Here and Now | Buddhistdoor

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight-limbed yoga system, as presented by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.  It means to extend, to stretch and at times, to restrain life force (prana) through the breath.  The eight-limbed path of yoga was delineated in the Indian sage Patanjali approximately 2000 years ago in the Yoga Sutras.

Prana is life force energy of all living things.  It can be influenced by the air we breathe, the food we eat, the thoughts we think, the actions we perform and the kind of life we lead.  Ultimately, the yoga system is designed to increase our prana through regulation of the body's systems, cleansing practices, meditation, and the cultivation of mindfulness in all that we do.

Dedication to the practice of of pranayama supports many layers of our being.  It supports the physiological structure of the respiratory system, keeping it strong and toned as we age.  Breathing practices have a direct affect on the cardiovascular system by regulating the heart's rhythm.  When we take long, deep breaths, as is often encouraged in pranayama, we slow down the heart rate.  Generally speaking, people with a slower heart rate have more longevity.   Pranayama literally extends our life.

Pranayama also directly affects our mental and emotional states.  The breath highlights agitation of the mind, as seen with anxiety, which shortens the breath.  Regulating the breath is a way of regulating the mind.  As the Buddhists say, “So the breath, so the mind, so the heart.” 

Pranayama helps us align with the universal life force energy or "oneness" or "consciousness".  Such alignment helps us experience our highest self in union with a universal consciousness.  Mindless breathing that leaves us feeling breath-less, tense or riddled with anxiety upset the balance of the nervous system.  This drains our vitality.  Any level of practitioner can benefit from pranayama physically, mentally, or spiritually - mindfully.   Like everything it takes practice, it's designed to meet us where we are, and to support the truth of our journey in life.

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