Defining Pranayama

DEFINING PRANAYAMA

The word pranayama is defined in various ways, and is sometimes made up of   either

  • prana and yama  
  • prana and ayama.

PRANA

The Atharvaveda, an early Vedic text, states that prana is “the fundamental basis of whatever is, was, and will be.” Other texts also translate prana, as the “life force” or “vital energy”.

  • YAMA-Yama is often translated as “restraint” or “control”
  • AYAMA-Ayama means extension or stretching

The breath is symbolic of prana, and pranayama can be understood as methods to extend and expand vital life force energy through the deliberate control of respiration.

KUMBHAKA

Pranayama can therefore mean,

  • Extension of life force through restraint of the breath (kumbhaka).

PNEUMA

The origins of the concept of breath as life force, the fundamental energy and spirit goes back to the earliest times.       

Defining Pranayama

THE ORIGINS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT  

To explore the meaning of the word spirituality (Prana?) we must go all the way back to the Tanakh (The first Hebrew Bible)   

The Origins of the Holy Spirit are found in the Tanakh and In Judaism, with Ruach Ha-Kodesh a term for The Holy Spirit.

  • Kodesh means Holy
  • Ruach means Spirit
  • Ha means simply “The”
  • Ruach is also the word for wind or breath in Hebrew.    

RUACH HA-KODESH

The Holy Spirit appears many times in the Tanakh, and as we see it is expressed as,

  • Breath
  • Wind
  • Force
  • Power

 These words are linked to the concept of the Holy Spirit in many ways through many traditions as we will see.       

The Tanakh

“He is invisible and like the wind, because he can be felt or experienced, but never seen. He is the breath of God which disperses his life force, his energy and his intentions”

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“His spirit can be said to be the emanation of his life force – or breath”

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“Ruach as a designation for the wind is necessarily something found in motion with the POWER (Dunamis) to set other things in motion (Prana vayu?)”

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“It is Yahweh’s POWER (Dunamis) that puts things in motion, it is Yahweh’s power through his Ruach that breaths life force into his creation and makes things live!

PATANJALI ON PRANAYAMA

Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali 2.49

That (asana) having been perfected, regulation of the flow of inhalation and exhalation is pranayama (breath control)   

Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali 2.52

By that the veil over manifestation (of knowledge) is thinned

Commentary.

“In the case of the yogin engaged in practicing pranayama, the karma which shuts out discriminative knowledge dwindles away.”

 Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali 2.53

The mind acquires the fitness for dharana  

Commentary.

“That fitness arises from the practice of pranayama. This sutra confirms the former statement that by exhaling and restraining the breath, fixity of mind can be established”

THE BHAGAVAD GITA ON PRANAYAMA

Eknath Easwaran

BG 4.29 Wisdom in action (Jnana yoga)

Commentary.

Some offer the forces of vitality, regulating their inhalation and exhalation, and thus gain control over these forces     

Martin Thompson.

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