The Science of Pranayama: Understanding the Respiratory System
One of the mystical aspects of our yoga practice is the understanding of Pranayama. Pranayama is made up of 2 words, Prana and Ayama. "Prana" is the essence or energy of life, and "ayama" means to expand or control. So literally, Pranayama means the practice to expand/control the energy of life. Prana manifests itself differently on different levels. On a physical level, Prana manifests itself into energy, which we absorb through different parts of our body in order to give us energy to live.
Different sources of Prana as energy that we take in order to live are Prana as food and water, Prana as sunlight, and most importantly Prana as breath. Why is Prana as breath so important? Simply because we can survive without food for 2 weeks, without water for 1 week, but we cannot survive without breathing for more than 3 minutes.
Breath is an important yet invisible part of our daily lives. A gentle deep breath can instantly calm our senses, emotions, and reintroduce as sense of awareness into our everyday activities. It can help control, anger, anxiety and nervousness, and bring into our lives a sense of grounding and stability. This fact alone makes the art and science of breathing a very important aspect to study. An understanding of how the respiratory system works helps us to clearly understand the working of the breath on a physical level, and greatly enhances and improves our pranayama practice.