p r ā ṇ ā y ā m a : expansion of life energy
The 4th limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Prāṇāyāma.
यम नियमाअसन प्राणायामप्रत्याहार धारणा ध्यान समाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni
– pys II.29
restraints (yama), observances (niyama), postures (āsana), expansion of life energy (prāṇāyāma), sense withdrawal (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāraṇā), contemplation (dhyāna), and meditation (samādha) are the eight limbs [of yoga] (aṣtav aṅgāni)
Restraints, observances, postures, expansion of life energy, sense withdrawal, concentration, contemplation, and meditation are the eight limbs of yoga.
Prāṇāyāma is the combination of the Sanskrit words “prāṇa” or “life energy” + “ayāma” or “expansion”. Prāṇāyāma can thus be interpreted as the “expansion of life energy”.
There is a more popular interpretation of this term that translates “prāṇāyāma” as “breath control”. Indeed, breath control is part of prāṇāyāmabut it is not the complete definition. Prāṇa also implies “breath” and “yama” means “restraint/control” but the word is not “prāṇa” + “yama”. It’s “prāṇa” + “ayāma”. Prāṇāyāma (praana + ayaama). Expansion of life energy.
According to the yoga sūtras, prāṇāyāma reveals the effulgence of the mind and its readiness for concentration. It can bring the expansion of life energy, sustained intimacy with one’s breath, even transcendence of the experience of inhaling and exhaling.
Let’s look at prāṇāyāma as described in the yoga sūtras :
तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वास्योर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः
tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsyor-gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ
– pys II.49
once [āsana is] obtained (sati), the movement (gati) of inhalataion (śvāsa) and exhalation (praśvāsyor) can be spaced (vicchedaḥ) for the expansion (āyāmaḥ) of life energy (prāṇa)
Once āsana is obtained, the movement of inhalation and exhalation can be spaced for the expansion of life energy.
बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृत्तिर्देशकालसंख्याभिः परिदृष्टो दीर्घसूक्ष्मः
bāhya-ābhyantara-sthambha vr̥ttiḥ deśa-kāla-sankhyābhiḥ paridr̥ṣṭo dīrgha-sūkṣmaḥ
– pys II.50
fluctuations (vr̥ttiḥ) of external (bāhya), internal (ābhyantara), and stationary (sthambha) [breath] become long and subtle (dīrgha-sūkṣmaḥ) when observed (paridr̥ṣṭo) as to their place (deśa), time (kāla), and deliberate enumeration (sankhyābhiḥ)
Fluctuations of external, internal, and stationary breath become long and subtle when observed as to their place, time, and deliberate enumeration.
bāhya-ābhyantara viṣaya-akṣepī caturthaḥ
– pys II.51
the fourth (caturthaḥ) [form of prāṇāyāma] transcends the experience (viṣaya-akṣepī) of the external (bāhya) and internal (ābhyantara) [movement of breath]
The fourth form of prāṇāyāma transcends the experience of the external and internal movement of breath.
tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśa-āvaraṇam
– pys II.52
then (tataḥ) the veil (āvaraṇam) is removed (kṣīyate) [to reveal] the effulgence (prakāśa) [of the mind]
Then the veil is removed to reveal the effulgence of the mind.
धारणासु च योग्यता मनसः
dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ
– pys II.53
and (ca) the mind (manasaḥ) is fit (yogyatā) for concentration (dhāraṇāsu)
And the mind is fit for concentration.
To summarize the practice of prāṇāyāma according to the yoga sūtras :
1) Once āsana is obtained, the movement of inhalation and exhalation can be spaced for the expansion of life energy. (pys II.49)
2) Fluctuations of external, internal, and stationary breath become long and subtle when observed as to their place, time, and deliberate enumeration. (pys II.50)
3) The fourth form of prāṇāyāma transcends the experience of the external and internal movement of breath. (pys II.51)
4) Then the veil is removed to reveal the effulgence of the mind. (pys II.52)
5) And the mind is fit for concentration. (pys II.53)
Translations for the yoga sūtras of Patañjali by Sandi Higgins, synthesized with thanks from the following sources:
Books : The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin F. Bryant (2009)
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda (1991)
Light On The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali by B.K.S Iyengar (1993)
The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-sutra-s of Patañjali in Sanskrit with Transliteration in Roman, Translation and Commentary in English by I.K. Taimni (2007)
SHANTI WITH SANDI © 2021