Last Updated: October 24, 2018

Definition - What does Pranayama mean?

Pranayama is the conscious awareness of breath: the life force that both energizes and relaxes the body. The term is derived from the Sanskrit, prana, meaning "life force," and ayama, meaning "extension."

Pranayama is an integral part of yoga. The controlled breathing enables both the rhythm of performing yoga poses and relaxing the mind for meditation.

Yogapedia explains Pranayama

Pranayama is the fourth aspect, or "limb," of the spiritual Ashtanga yoga practice. The great sage, Patanjali, outlined these limbs as follows:

  1. Yama (ethical living)
  2. Niyama (healthy living)
  3. Asana (the meditative sitting posture, or the more physical yoga poses)
  4. Pranayama (awareness of one's breath)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawing one's mind from the senses)
  6. Dharana (deep concentration)
  7. Dhyana (deep meditation)
  8. Samadhi (enlightenment)

Pranayama consists of four discernible stages:

  1. Puraka (inhalation)
  2. Abhyantara kumbhaka (the mindful pause after inhalation)
  3. Rechaka (exhalation)
  4. Bahya Kumbhaka (the mindful pause after exhalation)

Each stage of pranayama has the effect of enhancing physical awareness and enforcing introspection; therefore, as a whole, pranayama is integral to the practice of yoga and a key element in the ultimate pursuit of enlightenment.

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