Prānā is the main vital force of our system. There are five kinds of Prānā in our system: Prana, Apana, Udana, Vyana and Samana. Certain pranas stay in a certain part of the body, there is a prana that moves from the head to the navel, another which moves from the navel to the head, another moves from the navel to the entire body and from the entire body to the navel. Each prana has its own function. The practice of Pranayam brings all of these pranas in a balance. After one time of practice, one finds this feeling of balance, so imagine if one engages into a regular practice, it can do amazing things.
Second thing is that breath is deeply connected with our mind. And that is why I always try to give a glimpse of a simple practice: by just slowing down the breath – even a little bit – it slows down the mind, it reduces the “storm of the thoughts.” So, it it said that, “the one who binds the breath binds the mind, the one who binds the mind, binds the breath.”
By observing closely, one can feel, that when there are certain situations in life or certain thought-patterns, the breath pattern also changes. Watch yourself when you are completely relaxed, completely calm, your breath is in a certain way: relaxed, slow. When you are angry or agitated, the breath will be more active. When you are in the company of someone who makes you feel good, or in the company of a beloved, you are relaxed – when you are in the company of a person who irritates you or makes you upset, your breath changes. So breath can change with all these situations, and it applies the other way around also: if you change your breath, your state of being can also change. There are stories I heard that in the acting industry, is someone had to do an angry scene, the actor will prepare for that scene going to a corner and breathing heavily, so that he/she can bring the energy of anger easier.
So in the same way, if we can bring awareness into our breath, our way of dealing with situations in life will also change, the perception will change. You can experience this with a simple exercise: when you inhale and hold the breath, in that stop, even for a moment, the mind stops, the thoughts stops. So, that deep is the relation between the breath and the mind.
Pranayam is a technique which has been devised by the Yogis thousands of years ago, and in India it has been a widely accepted practice, people do it on a regular basis, sometimes they go to walk or jog in a park, and then they sit on the grass and practice some Pranayam that they have chosen for themselves.
It is important that you know that in India, not every enlightened being has gone through the path of Yoga – but they are anyway called Yogis, because "Yogi" is not related to how well one can do asana. Yoga is “the state of union” so the people who have arrived there, they are in that state of union, no matter which path they took – the ultimate arrival point is the same: whether it goes through the path of Yoga or other paths – but when they arrive to that point of union, liberation, they are called Yogis. So only when the arrival happens, they still won’t call themselves “Yogi”! People will recognize them as Yogis. But they will simply say, “I am what I am, doesn’t matter what you call me,” because at that point, nothing matters. It is out of respect for their state and wisdom, that people would call them a Yogi. Specially a Yoga-path practitioner, would never call himself a Yogi! Because they are just Yoga Saadhak – practitioners. Otherwise what happens, is that if we call ourselves Yogi, it will be just one more identity that we are taking, “ok, now I am a yogi.” The ego always needs a certain boost, “earlier I was an engineer, then I was a professor and now I am a yogi.” There’s no difference!
The state of being a Yogi is the ultimate state, and a true Yogi will never call himself/herself a Yogi. So if you ever hear anywhere, “ok, all the yogis, let’s come together…” better get out of there! Continue doing what you need to do, but stay away from this kind of nonsense… or you go there, but see what fake is going on.
So my Guru is an awakened one, but his path is completely different – if you ask him about doing Asana, he will say, “for what?” He has done a lot of meditation techniques and other things… So at some point he came across Pranayama, and he started practicing himself for many months; he really went deep into the practice.
Enlightened being does not mean that he knows everything, on the contrary, he knows nothing! …for the first time he comes to know that he knows nothing… it is a simple space of knowing, not knowing something, just “knowing.” Like a candle: it is not focusing on something, but it is spreading the light. In the same way that space of knowing is like a candle, not like a flashlight, it is not focusing.
That is how when my Guru started practicing this Pranayam, he felt that this devise had an amazing potential, specially for a meditator. Besides its health and psychological benefits, for people who are in the path of meditation, this can be a very powerful tool in supporting their whole process. Just like in the path of Yoga there are different limbs from most gross to most subtle, all these processes are processes of purification of the body, of the mind, of the physique. After having gone through all that, the real meditation can happen.
That is why, certain things need to be done, but Yoga you cannot "do," meditation you cannot "do" - it happens after one has gone through certain things, through certain practices, through a certain growth, that led us to that subtler state. One of these practices is Pranayam, but it's not the only one; also guidance for right understanding is required. You can do Pranayam your whole life, but if you don't grow in wisdom, is just a passing time, one more activity...
And that is how I teach this simplified version of Pranayam devised by my Master, who took the tools from the traditional Pranayam we grew up practicing in India, but he made the practice more enjoyable, juicy and smoother to practice. His innovation is also accompanied by carefully selected music, which rhythms and energy assist the whole process in a way that the whole practice becomes light and almost timeless.
This is thanks to the wisdom, vision and grace of enlightened beings from India, the true Yogis. Pranam to the Guru.
Manish Vyas is musician, Mantra composer, arranger, producer and singer, teacher, retreat-conductor and certified yoga instructor, specialized in Pranayam and Meditation. He produced a CD for Pranayam practice called Prānā which is used for the practice he teaches in his classes, workshops and retreats.