Pranayama is the expansion of life force. It can be through different breathing techniques, exercises and through sun gazing. Fruits and raw food carry prana and we can direct our intake by our choices.
In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali defines it as the slowing down of the force behind inhalation, exhalation and the expansion of prana. So “the external or outward flow, the internal or inward flow and the absence of both during the transition between them (retention)…are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.”
Patanjali also says that it is through pranayama that we achieve the capability for true concentration (Dharana) the next step.
There are different techniques for specific effects. On a physical level Pranayama can purify and restore. we can use it to cleanse the system and clear the chakras; we can use right nostril breathing to give us a clear focused mind so we don’t need caffeine, or we can use left nostril breathing to make us calm, relaxed or ready for sleep. We can use it to strengthen different organs and to increase the all round vitality of the body.
Psychologically Pranayama can make us feel grounded and elevated, combined with mantra it can give us a strong sense of self, it can purify and restore the mind and open the heart. Through the practice pranayama can be directed anywhere around the body for restoration and strength.
To test this out I practiced full yogic breath and full yogic breath with inhale retention for 30 minutes a day over one week. My shoulders felt more open, I was more stable emotionally and sure of my ground. Mentally there was more clarity.
I practiced Nadi Sodhana, and equal ratios (square breath) for 30 minutes a day over a week. I felt balanced, my energy levels were more even, I had more of a neutral mind. I was alert and able to experience more intense feelings without being thrown off course.
Pranayama is a powerful and beautiful technique. Gauge your own practice with awareness.