Like with many of the sanskrit terms that we’re familiar with from our classes, prānāyāma is a compound word, Prānā – vital energy and yama – restraint. For all beings prānā is manifested and easily observed in the breath.
It [prānāyāma] permeates each individual as wall as the Universe at all levels. It acts as physical energy; as mental energy, where the mind gathers information; and as intellectual energy with a discrimative faculty, where information is examined and filtered. B.K.S. Iyengar LOYS 161.
Patañjali directly describes prānāyāma and its effects in sūtras II.49 – II.53.
Sūtra II.49 starts with the definition of prānāyāma as it relates from the breath, laying the basic foundation for the following sūtras.
Each successive sūtra delves deeper and deeper into the layers. Starting with the three basic components of prānāyāma in sūtra II.50 (inhalation, exhalation, and retention) and their qualities (place, duration and precision). With abhyāsa (practice) and vairāgya (detachment), sūtra II.51 tells us that pānāyāma can become “seedless” transcending the previously described tangible properties. But what happens then? Illusion is destroyed (II.52) and the mind is further steadied (II.53) bringing the practitioner closer to the Self.
This “seedless” prānāyāma confers special powers to the practitioners described in sūtras III.39 – III.43 and link into the five vital (yet subtle) energies in the body – the prānā vayus.
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Iyengar Yoga Institute Maida Vale recently republished an interview between Senior teacher Lois Steinberg and Geeta Iyengar discussing how all of these come together and manifest in practice. Check it out here: http://iyi.org.uk/geeta-iyengar-pranayama/ and many thanks to the good folks at IYI for allowing us to share.
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For our meeting on February 15, please review the following sūtras and their commentaries:
- II.49, II.50, II.51, II.52, II.53
For further reading and to begin to understand the deeper qualities and nature of these five sūtras, feel free to explore the following sūtras and their commentaries:
- III.39, III.40, III.41, III.42, III.43 – describe qualities associated with “seedless” prānāyāma and the prānā vayus;
- I.34 – first mention of prānāyāma in the sūtras and cultivation of further steadiness in the consciousness by regulation of the breath
Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali: Philosophy, Religion, Culture, Ethos and Practice. Prashant S. Iyengar. New Delhi: New Age Books, 2016. pp. 528 – 609.
Core of the Yoga Sūtras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: HarperThorsons, 2012. pp. 155 – 163.
Light on Astānga Yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar. New Delhi: Alchemy Publishers, 2012. pp. 147 – 163.
Light on Pranayama. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981.
Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. B.K.S. Iyengar. London: Thorsons, 1993.
Pranayama: A Classical and Traditional Approach. Prashant Iyengar. Pune: Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, 2014. pp. 7 – 31, 163 – 171.
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. Edwin P. Bryant. New York: North Point Press, 2009.