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Pranayama

 
The sanskrit word Pranayama comes from the roots Prana (Universal energy), and Yama (to control). The literal definition of Pranayama then, is the “control (or holding onto) the Vital Force (Prana)”, most aptly via the breath, which makes Pranayama the practice of “breath control”. It is a conscious attempt to stabilize the flows of Prana and Apana (whose dynamic movements are intimately linked to the breath), and bring them into a state of “polarity” or “harmonious interaction”.
Pranayama is the fourth of the 8 stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. The practice of Pranayama is an essential component of Hatha Yoga, as well as other yoga disciplines, both at preliminary stages for purification and the development of awareness, as well as at higher, more subtle levels of practice. Thus, most modern schools of yoga incorporate at least some form or another of Pranayama techniques within their practices. These practices may range from simple breathing techniques for stress reduction and improved concentration, to practices for purification of the subtle body (energy body), to practices for the development of awareness and control of higher, subtle energies. Thus, the term Pranayama is used in a wide context by various practitioners and teachers, so one is advised to contact the yoga provider directly to gain specific information about the Pranayama practices that they teach.

Source: International Yogalayam, http://www.intl-yoga.com

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