Pranayama is the science of breathing. Prana is the energy of life, spirit or chi for the Chinese, or ether («αιθήρ») for the Ancient Greeks. Our life begins and ends with a breath. The way we breathe, the quality and depth of our breath depicts our nervous system’s status, and by extension, our way of life. It is, thus, crucial for us to control the breathing process in order to maintain a healthy central nervous system.
The lungs consist mostly of air; during a normal full breath, we inhale 500 cm3 of air, while during a full pranayama breath we can inhale up to 3000 cm3 of air. The lungs and thorax are dilated and the whole body is oxygenated. Apart from the pranayama benefits on our physical body, there are also benefits on a mental and emotional level. Pranayama trainees learn to concentrate, because by controlling breath, they can control the mind. This way the mind empties, emotions are under control and the autonomic nervous system is balanced.
Pranayama clears the path to dharana (focus, concentration) and samadhi (state of hyperconsciousness). By practicing pranayama, we excrete toxins and strengthen our immune system, while our body relaxes and our mind calms. We detach from the past, focus into the present and experience our true nature as limitless beings. On a physical level, we fight stress, phobias, insomnia, breathing problems and depression.