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The meaning and formation of the word "pranayama"

प्राणयाम prāṇayāma

प्र । pra । pra

Pra - prefix, means increase

अन । ana । ana

Ana - noun, breath

प्राण । prāṇa । praana

Prana - full breath, vitality, spirit, life, air, energy (as an invisible way of transferring states, emotions, sensations, heat - the function itself, not the substance).

आ । ā । aa

A - prefix, means the completion of the action

याम । yāma । yaama

Yama - control, management. Ayama - full control

प्राणायाम । prāṇāyāma

Pranayama - fully controlled breathing

Meanings of the term "prana"

from the Ayurveda dictionary

प्राण । prāṇa । praana

Breath of life—vital breath.
Life is life.

प्राण वायु - prāṇa vāyu - prana as life energy

From the point of view of Ayurveda, prana as a vital energy controls the mind, attention, heart, sense organs and motor skills. It also regulates activities such as spitting, sneezing, burping and swallowing.

Names of some diseases associated with prana according to Ayurveda

अल्प-प्राणता - alpa-prāṇatā - decrease in prana - loss of mental abilities; प्राण-क्षय - prāṇa-kṣaya - decrease in prana - loss of physical strength, weakness; प्राणोपरोध - prāṇa-uparodha - prana obstacles - loss of mind power.

On the meaning of the word "pranayama":

The word prāṇāyāma is made up of the words prāṇa and āyāma. There is an explanation of the long "a" at the beginning of the second word in one of the rare texts - Kaundinya's comments (3-4 c) to Pashupatasutra (1-2 c).

It explains the meaning of this prefix in this way: "ā means boundary and a completed process". Thus, pranayama is not just sluggish control in the sense of "monitoring" the breath, but rather the activity of bringing the breath under control.

From a linguistic point of view, those are nuances, but from a practical point of view, the difference is huge. By the way, Kaundinya also gives a quite impressive list of pranayamas and prescribes asanas (padmasana, siddhasana) in which it is better to practice pranayamas. The text also indicates the purpose of this practice - "emotional alignment".

Pranayama in primary sources of yoga

Yoga Sutra

Yoga texts pay a lot of attention to pranayamas and breath control. The reason is that pranayama is an exercise that prepares for meditation. The lines of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra are exactly about this:

tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśāvaraṇam ॥ 52॥
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ ॥ 53॥

"Then [after pranayamas] the concealment of the visible decreases and the mind becomes suitable for dharana (retention)"

Yogakundalya Upanishad

"There are two things that make one's mind wander - vasanas (desires caused by latent sense impressions) and breath. If one submits, then the other submits by itself. Of this pair, first of all, you should master the breath."


Yoga-Yajnavalkya prescribes practices that should be done before pranayamas. These are necessary preliminary exercises:

sarve ca abhyantarāḥ rogāḥ vinaśyanti viṣāṇi ca ।
yamaiḥ ca niyamaiḥ ca eva āsanaiḥ ca susaṃyutā ॥ 17॥
nāḍīśuddhiṃ ca kṛtvā tu prāṇāyāmaṃ tataḥ kuru ॥

"Having eliminated all internal diseases and poisons, having become integral with yamas, niyamas and asanas, having cleansed the channels – only then do pranayama."

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Hatha Yoga Pradipika prescribes to master pranayama gradually:

yathā siṃho gajo vyāghro bhavedvaśyaḥ śanaiḥ śanaiḥ ।
tathaiva sevito vāyuranyathāhanti sādhakam ॥ 6॥

"Just as the lion, elephant and tiger are tamed gradually, so is the breath controlled gradually, otherwise it will kill the practitioner."

Pranayama in modern yoga books

About the tasks of pranayama

"Consciously forming and holding a certain type of breath, we form a definite, pre-selected state of consciousness. Pranayamas are based on this principle. Pranayama is breath control."

About the age of asanas and pranayamas

“Asanas are considered the calling card of yoga, but in fact, the most ancient of the described exercises are pranayamas. They are mentioned in the text of the Bhagavad Gita and the Shvetashvatara Upanishad."

"Bandhas and mudras (such as Mahamudra and Mahavedha) appeared next and are described in the oldest Hatha Yoga text that has come down to us, Amritasiddhi (about the 11th century; by the way, it is bilingual - written in Sanskrit and Tibetan)."

Yoga sequences with pranayamas

A series of gross pranayamas for advanced practitioners

from Yuliia Yaroshenko

Prenatal Yoga

with Olya Shwed

Yoga therapists' articles about pranayamas

Yoga—the Way to the Good Heart

One of Pranayama Curative Mechanisms. In this article, one will find a detailed description of the influence of pranayama upon the heart.

Ujjayi (snake breathing) in Yoga therapy of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome

How shall I breathe if I snore?

Bhastrika, The Effects, and Mechanisms of Health Improvement

This article consists of three parts that cover:
⁃ Bhastrika and musculoskeletal system;
⁃ Bhastrika and apparatus of external respiration;
⁃ Practical recommendations.

Pranayama: a Pearl in Hatha Yoga Treasure-House

In this article, one can find out how pranayama affecting the body of the practitioner. The author of the article gives u an introduction to:
⁃ Anatomy of the respiratory system;
⁃ Physiology;
⁃ Yoga, or the way it all works.

Pranayama as Meditation

Different stages of the practitioner’s response to pranayama are described:
⁃ the stage of breathing stereotypes formation and initial performance of the pranayama;
⁃ the stage of psychosomatic posture actualization;
⁃ the stage of rearrangement;
⁃ the stage of new stereotype imprinting.

Some of Ujjayi Effects, or Relaxation that Comes after Victory

Ujjayi breathing is a breathwork done in vibratory key (successive singing of sounds that compose the OM mantra) that in our School tradition is practiced almost from the very beginning.

Cleansing Breath in Yoga - Mechanisms, Effects, Indications

The Influence of Cleansing Breath upon the cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, and nervous system is presented in the article.

Pranayama Dictionary

words from which the names of pranayamas are formed

• lock • bandha • बंध •

• holding • dhara • धर • mula-dhara-bandha (lock in the place of holding the root)

• water • jalam • जालम् • jalan-dhara-bandha (throat lock)

• taking off • uddiyana • उड्डीयान • uddiyana-bandha (diaphragmatic lock)

• action • kriya • क्रिया • uddiyana-bandha-kriya

• inhale • puraka • पूरक •

• pot • kumbhaka • कुंभक •

• exhale • rechaka • रेचक •

• skull • kapala • कपल • kapala-bhati

• light • bhati • भाति • kapala-bhati

• in wool (in natural order) • anuloma • अनुलोम • anuloma-viloma

• against wool (in an unnatural order) • fork • विलोम

• bellows (kindling) • bhastrika • भास्त्रिक

• sun (right channel and right nostril) • surya • सूर्य • surya-bheda (right nostril breathing)

• moon (left channel and left nostril) • chandra चन्द्र • chandra-bheda (left nostril breathing)

• division, separation • bheda • भोद

• bee • bhramari • भ्रमरी