The Power of Breath: An Odyssey into Pranayama
Updated: Oct 21
Three years ago, I embarked on a transformative journey, led by the profound teachings of the spiritual text, the Metu Neter. Introduced to me by my incredible partner, Saseshmu Ra Herut, this book unraveled the intricate dance between meditation and breathing. It was here that I unearthed a realization - the breath is our key to spiritual elevation. This realization led me to delve even deeper into this sacred practice during my 500 RTY yoga teacher training, where pranayama emerged as a profound wellspring of wisdom I sought to innerstand.
History of Prana and Pranayama
Prana, often understood as the life force or vital energy, has its roots entrenched deeply in ancient traditions. While commonly associated with the Vedic traditions of India, yoga researchers have unearthed evidence suggesting yoga's origins not only in India but also in parts of Africa, especially Kemet, or modern-day Egypt. Such revelations underscore the universality of breath and its significance across cultures and civilizations.
Texts on Pranayama
In his book, Prana and Pranayama, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati elucidates, “All the five sheaths (Anamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, and Anandamaya) are pervaded by prana, which nourishes and sustains them and maintains their appropriate relationship. The movement from one kosha to another is also achieved with the help of prana” (Saraswati, 22). To draw an analogy, consider prana as the gearshift of a car. Just as gears propel a vehicle forward, prana activates and elevates our spiritual sheaths, guiding our journey through them seamlessly.
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati's insights highlight prana's pivotal role in our spiritual layers, or 'koshas'. Just as a vehicle relies on the smooth transition of gears, our spiritual well-being hinges on the unhindered flow of prana across these sheaths. Prana not only nourishes but also seamlessly connects our tangible and ethereal aspects. The disciplined practice of pranayama thus becomes crucial, ensuring this energy circulates freely, fostering holistic health and heightened spiritual awareness.
The Metu Neter by Ra Un Nefer Amen resonates with a similar essence: “Tension diaphragmatic breathing is the key to concentrating the attention and summoning strength; spiritual, mental or physical” (Amen, 386). Additionally, Amen points to a millennia-old understanding, emphasizing that, “… the manifestation of thoughts, as well as sensations (emotions, etc.) are to be controlled through the manipulation of the diaphragmatic muscles” (Amen, 385). The power of the diaphragm, when wielded correctly, becomes our anchor, to our mental and spiritual vessels.
From ancient practices like ZaZen, Kapalabhati, and Bastrika, the diverse world of Pranayama offers a myriad of techniques, each uniquely empowering the practitioner to harness their inner energies.
Breath: The Science of Transformation
Recent scientific studies have emphasized what ancient sages have known for centuries. A comprehensive review in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine has observed yogic breathing's myriad health benefits, including its positive impacts on oxidative stress and neurocognitive effects. The review highlighted that yogic breathing "has shown efficacy in modulating cardiovascular variables in patients with hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias, enhancing mood in patients undergoing cigarette withdrawal, managing anxiety in students, modulating pain perception in patients with diabetes, and enhancing the antioxidant status in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy" (Saoji, Raghavendra, & Manjunath).
As I stand at this juncture, reflecting on my journey into the realms of breath, I bow in deep gratitude to the ancestors, the Neteru, Shekhems, yogis, and gurus who illuminated this path. My commitment to innerstanding the power of breath has not only been an intellectual exploration but a transformative personal experience. It may seem that the significance of breath has receded into the shadows of our modern lives, but in truth, it remains the lighthouse guiding us to spiritual ascension. The breath, as I have come to understand, is not merely an involuntary action; it is the essence of life, the very key to our spiritual evolution.