Pranayama (breath control) focuses one's awareness on the breath. Some practices involve observing the breath as it is naturally at that moment in time. Other practices involve changing the breath, by for example breathing in one nostril and out of the other. Different pranayama practices have different effects - for instance some are energising and others are calming.
Breathing techniques are important for supplying the body with oxygen, removing the carbon dioxide and strengthening the lungs. They also have a direct effect on the brain and emotions, balancing the nervous system and giving us abundant energy.
Controlling, directing and harmonising the breath raises our level of vitality, balances the mind and improves our health. It is also a time-tested way of preparing the mind for meditation.
Pranayama should not be understood as merely 'breath control' for its implications are more profound. In Sanskrit the word prana means 'vital energy' or 'life force' and ayama means 'dimension'. The literal meaning is 'to access vital energy as a means of changing the dimension of our mind and experience'. This gives us an indication of its deeper significance. Pranayama offers us a means of delving into and exploring hidden depth and arenas of experience within us.
We strongly advise you to learn pranayama from a competent yoga teacher.