Pranayama: The Fourth Limb of Yoga

The Rhythm of Life Force

Pranayama is the other obvious, recognizable limb of yoga.  “Prana” means life force or energy and “Yama” means restraint.  Pranayama is the practice of intimately observing the breath and consciously changing the rhythm.  The breath is considered the link between the body, mind and spirit. Pranayama opens up our bodies, activates dormant respiratory muscles, and trains our awareness to fully experience the flow of life entering and exiting the body.  The breath can teach us so much about our reactions - it will naturally quicken when we are faced with an uncomfortable situation on or off the mat. The breath can also excite/energize us if we intentionally increase the depth and pace.  The breath naturally slows down when we are relaxed - but it can also actively relax us if we purposefully slow the rhythm.   


Parts of the Breath

The Inhale draws in breath, life, energy; it supports upward movements in Asana and energizes. The Exhale releases breath and staleness; it supports downward movements in Asana and is a grounding/relaxing force. The Pauses in between the inhales and exhales are moments of stillness, nothingness, and clarity; the pauses reveal our true nature of peace. 


The breath is an exquisite pointer to our true nature as Consciousness.  The breath, like thought, is discontinuous.  it comes and goes.  By Focusing on the pause between breaths, you open to an awareness of stillness, which lies behind and between each breath and each thought.  During yoga, and in the still moments of daily life, return to this basic stillness at the end of each breath, movement, and thought. - Dr. Richard Miller