Sa rechapurairanilasya kumbhe
sarvashu nadishu visbodhitashu
Anahatat ambarudhat udeti
svatmavagamya svayameva bodhah
By rechaka, pooraka and kumbhaka of the breath
All the nadis are purified
Then from anahata the unstruck sound manifests in many ways
And Atma (Self) becomes intelligible in realization.
Breath is known as the thread of life and all life processes are refined and balanced by it. Breath here does not refer to air only but to pranas, vital and psychic energies which are controlled and adjusted by means of pranayama. Thus, pranayama plays an important role in life - physically, mentally and spiritually. It is the basis of meditation.
Pranayama, the technique of controlling this vital energy, is a combination of two Sanskrit words prana - 'vital air' and ayama - 'control'. In pranayama, the fourth stage of raja yoga, the nadis are purified by the proper ratios of pooraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation) and kumbhaka (internal and external retention). Nadis are generally translated in English as nerves, but actually they are the vehicles of prana. Nadis are connected with all brain centres, psychic centres, glands, etc. throughout the body. They are very subtle channels for the flow of consciousness There are said to be 72,000 nadis in the body through which prana flows and maintains the rhythm of all the organs. Of all these, there are ten main nadis, and of those, three most important nadis which control the entire 72,000. These three are known as ida, pingala and sushumna. Ida controls the mental processes and flows through the left nostril. Pingala controls the vital processes and flows through the right nostril. Sushumna, located in the spinal canal, leads to the super conscious state.
Ida and pingala are linked with each other and also with the breath. Thus when the breath moves, the mind and energy also move; when the breath stops the mind and energy also stop. By controlling these two nadis, one is able to achieve the higher states of meditation.
Generally, these nadis contain impurities and toxins which cause tensions of many kinds - physical, emotional and mental. These tensions have a strong influence on our life. Therefore the nerve channels should be purified by means of pranayama. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states:
"If the breath (prana) cannot pass through the sushumna due to impurities, then how can the state of unmani (purified consciousness) take place, and how can there be any perfection?"
When pranayama is perfected, dross and blockages which hide the light of greater understanding are completely removed. Pranayama prepares the brain for an awakening to take place. When the nadis are purified by the practice of pranayama, vital energy can be sent to any part of the body. Thus the different psychic centres are purified and awakened. This results in expansion of consciousness as well as siddhis and power. Then when the original sound manifests, the yogi will be able to hear it. In this way the ever-blissful state is achieved and the Self is realized.
In anahata is the space which is known as hridayakasha. Nada manifests from this heart space in many ways. By listening to this sound, which emanates from the self, self-realization can be attained. The next sloka points out the importance of this practice.
Yogis have long emphasized the connection between deep, regular breathing and peace of mind. This link has also been noted by psychologist Wilhelm Reich who commented, "There is no neurotic individual who is capable of exhaling in one breath, deeply and evenly." He maintained that improper breathing was a major cause of the anxiety and tension which are common to all mental disturbances.
Reich went further to assert that irregular breathing is associated with disturbances in our natural vegetative currents, what yogis call the flow of prana, and that such disturbances are the root of all mental disorders:
'Neurotic un-rhythmical respiration, thus, is a central part of the neurotic mechanism in general, in two ways: it blocks the normal vegetative activity of the organism, and thus it creates the source of energy for all kinds of neurotic symptom and fantasies.'
These insights were the basis of Reich's therapeutic strategic, in which he worked on the body to rebalance the mind, training his patients to control their life force through breathing exercises. Yogis call this pranayama, the science of controlling prana by regulating the breath. Whereas Reich used breath to eliminate disturbances of the mind, yogis use pranayama to transcend the mind and establish super consciousness.