Prana and Pranayama


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

  • prana and yama 
  • prana and ayama.


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.

Prana and Pranayama


Pranayama can therefore mean,

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


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


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.    


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.       


“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”

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

“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?)”

“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!



The word Spirituality is derived from the old French Esprit, which comes from the Latin word Spiritus and means soul, courage, vigour and breath, and is related to Spiare (Breathing)

Pneuma is the archaic Greek word for breath, air in motion and wind. In Greek translations of Ruach from the Hebrew Bible it means Spirit or soul.

Stoic philosophy (Branch of ancient Greek philosophy) describes Pneuma as the breath of life, or a combination of the classic elements of Earth (Home) Water (Fluidity) Fire (Discipline) Air (Movement) and Ether (Potential)

Stoics believe Pneuma is the fundamental active generating foundation which coordinates individuals and the Universe.”



What is the meaning of life force (prāṇa)? The cause of the life or to exist in a particular realm is called prāṇa (breathe or respiration).



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


“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 


“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”


Eknath Easwaran

BG 4.29 Wisdom in action (Jnana yoga)


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


Nadi Shodhana is the Pranayama practice of alternate nostril breathing, to cleanse and purify the subtle energy channels (Nadis) for Prana to flow freely through the subtle body.  Nadi Shodhana brings two of the main energy channels Ida and Pingala into balance, and the central Nadi, Shushumna, begins to flow, facilitating meditation.


Ida Nadi flows through the left nostril, and Pingala Nadi flows through the right nostril. Ida equates to the Lunar and introspective side of our nature, while Pingala equates to our Solar and extrovert side of our nature. Prana is induced to flow through the third main channel, Shushumna Nadi, only when the breath, or Prana is equal between left and right nostril and Nadis.

Nadi Shodhana
Pranayama & meditation Yoga Dharma


Yoga science tells us there are 72,000 Nadis, of which the three main Nadis are described above. The remainder are fed via the Chakras, which are located along the spinal column. Ida and Pingala Criss cross the Nadis starting at the pelvic floor and culminating at the eye brow centre. There are 6 Chakras, Mooladhara (pelvic floor) Swadhisthana (pelvic bowl) Manipura (navel) Anahata (heart centre) Vishuddhi (throat) and Ajna (eyebrow). The Chakras have their area of responsibility and effect the functions of the gross body. The Chakras all correspond to major nerve plexuses in the body, which in turn send signals throughout the body.


Nadi: Subtle energy channel

Shodhana: Purification

Sitting comfortably bring your awareness to the flow of your breath at the tip of the nose. Practice until you are comfortably able to bring your attention to your breath.

Stage 1

  1. Hold Nasagara Mudra (nose mudra) and breath evenly (Sama Vritti) through both nostrils.
  2. Close the right nostril and breath through the left nostril only
  3. Reflect on stage a
  4. Close the left nostril and breath trough the right nostril only
  5. Reflect on stage d

Stage 2

  1. Hold Nasagara Mudra and with the right nostril closed and inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril and open the right nostril and breath out. Inhale through the right nostril and open the left nostril. Close the right nostril and breath out through the left. This is one complete round

Stage 3

  1. Repeat stage 2 and include an even count to each nostril, while adding a second or two without straining.

Stage 4

  1. Repeat stage 2 and increase the exhale and no more than double the inhale.

Stage 4

Add Breath retention (Antar Kumbhaka)

Antar: inner

Kumbhaka: breath retention.

Begin with Nasagara Mudra and inhale through the left nostril with right closed, close both nostrils and retain the breath. Hold without straining, then open right nostril and exhale. Inhale through the right nostril and close both nostrils and retain breath. Open left nostril and exhale. One round.

Stage 5

Continue stage 4 and increase gradually without straining.

Stage 6

Continue stage 5 and begin to increase the exhale up to double the inhale without straining.

Stage 7 add Moola Bandha (pelvic floor lift) and Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock)


  • Kumbhaka, or breath retention, either antar (internal) or bahir (external) improves tolerance to starvation of oxygen and a build-up of carbon dioxide. Kumbhaka, when practiced for a duration of time, allows the body to retain carbon dioxide and become used to reduced oxygen levels to achieve hypo-metabolism, which is the slowing down of the metabolic rate. There is a reduction in Carbon dioxide causing a subtle effect on conscious control of breathing. The effect is there is a reduced need to breathe with the build-up of carbon dioxide.


  • This is a basic introduction to Nadi Shodhana, and the complexity and variations are added with practice and experience.
  • Nadi Shodhana forms part of a complete Hatha Yoga practice, that includes Shat Karmas, Asana, Bandhas and Mudras.
  • Contraindications: Pranayama, specifically Nadi Shodhana, can release suppressed emotions (see Kleshas) and practice should be under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
  • Always keep the breath below the bottom of the neck, as taking the breath into the head will cause intracranial pressure.
  • Its not unusual to experience a blockage in one or other nostrils, which can make the practice challenging. This is quite normal, and with a gradual and diligent practice the in balance will decrease. Alternately practice Anuloma Viloma.

Martin Thompson


  • Call Martin on: 07787357306
  • Email:


Pocket Yoga Teacher

Full version on sale here!

Half version on sale at Amazon