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     This post is part of a series on the eight limbs of yoga known as Ashtanga yoga outlined by Patanjali over a thousand years ago. The first three limbs are the yamas, niyamas, and asana. These have been described in earlier posts. The fourth limb is pranayama. As we move from the beginning limbs to the latter limbs the practices become more and more subtle. First we move from outward restraints (yamas) and observances (niyamas)  then turn inward to the balancing of tension within our body (asana), and now with pranayama we turn to a more subtle universal force permeating our body and mind

     Behind the breath is the vital life force, or prana. Behind our own prana is prana shakti, the cosmic energy.  This cosmic energy is the impulse that animates all life forms.   The breath is our doorway to this cosmic energy. The cosmic energy that courses through our body and mind is referred to as kundalini shakti. We only partially access this kundalini energy for basic function and movement of organs and limbs. This energy is the behind digestion, assimilation, and evacuation of matter and of thoughts. 

     This cosmic energy is paired with cosmic consciousness. The universe is the expression of energy and consciousness. To access this cosmic energy  is to also access cosmic intelligence.

     From the yogic perspective there are two forces behind all of existence - energy and consciousness named Shakti and Shiva, respectively. Hatha yoga which to most Westerners looks like simple exercise of body movements is actually done with the intention to reach superconscious of Shiva through its life force of Shakti. 

     The mind and prana are inextricably linked.  Where the mind goes so goes prana, and if prana is steadied then the mind is steadied. The breath is intimately related to the nervous system.  Erratic breathing creates disturbance in the nervous system which leads to disturbances in the mind. Calm breathing soothes the nervous system and the mind is quiet. A quiet mind allows for greater awareness to emerge.

     Pranayama is the practice using the breath to expand pranic awareness. This pranic awareness redirects the mind away from its active wayward tendencies in the outer world. The mind is steadied.  With the uniting of the mind to the breath and ultimately to prana, the mind is nourished and there is an increased sense of vitality and clarity.  Ultimately, with committed practice through attention to the breath, the individual mind can be in synch with the cosmic forces of energy and consciousness. 




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