The fourth step is Pranayama.
The word is composed from two Sanskrit words:
- Prana: meaning life force (noted particularly as the breath), and
- either ayama: to restrain or control the prana (implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results)
- or ayāma: meaning to extend or draw out (as in extension of the life force)
Generally translated as breath control, Prana is the life force or energy that exists everywhere and flows through each of us through the breath.
The basic movements of Pranayama are:
- retention of breath
“The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths… ” says Iyengar. “… Therefore, he follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow, deep breathing.”
There are many yogic breathing practices, some very complicated and best learnt with a teacher, but the simple art of breathing in and breathing out in a slow, controlled and mindful way is accessible to all and is extremely effective at relaxing the body and calming the mind.
“yogah citta vrtti nirodhah,”
(Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.2)
Yoga stills the fluctuations and distractions of the mind
By identifying with the fluctuations of the mind, life can feel like a roller coaster ride of madness. When we identify so deeply with our mind states, we can end up acting out these thoughts through our behaviours. When we do yoga, stretch, breathe and sit in stillness we become the witness to these fluctuations, rather than identifying with them.
By cultivating this awareness of them, we’re less likely to believe our thoughts and more likely to see them as what they are; ever-changing, fleeting and transient in nature.
In other words, they’re not really true.