Our objective is not to go into ideas and philosophies of what yogis can do or what is physically possible or not possible, but how you can manage your own lungs. Breathing exercises are known as pranayama. Prana meaning energy and yama meaning to hold. You are holding the pranic energy, and trying to develop its awareness and understanding. You are also preparing your lung capacity, the physical capacity to breathe, and through breath access the prana shakti.
The breath becomes like the rope that you catch hold of in order to climb up a branch on a tree. Through the practices of nadi shodhana, surya bheda, chandra bheda, kapalbhati and bhastrika pranayamas, you are increasing your capacity. That is the first part.
The second part is prana-ayama, expansion of prana. What is the meaning of expansion of prana? According to the yogic scriptures there are five manifestations of prana in the body and each performs a different function. The first manifestation is prana shakti itself. The area of prana is the chest area governing the lungs and the heart. It is an indrawn breath. When you breathe in, that is prana. The lungs and the heart are controlled by this pranic energy. The next energy is apana, active in the area between the navel and the perineum. That is a downward moving energy, the exhaled breath. It is responsible for expulsion of waste matter, both solid and liquid. If any form of waste has to be ejected from the body, including sweat, the apana force becomes active.
The third energy between the navel and the ribcage is samana, governing the digestive system. Samana means the equalizing force, and it is responsible for digestion, for extracting the nutrients and putting the waste matter on the conveyor belts. Udana is in the extremities, responsible for locomotion of the body. It is present in the legs, arms, head and neck, and it also governs the sense organs in the head: the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Vyana, the fifth energy, is the second breath. It is like the emergency supply. When one supply runs out, instantly the emergency supply goes there.
These five pranas have been defined. Out of the five, two are considered the most important: prana and apana. As prana and apana merge they become larger. It is the merger of prana and apana in samana which is known as pranayama. It is not the breath; it is the merger.
Different techniques are used in pranayama to aid this process of merger, such as mudras and bandhas. The breath becomes secondary here. In pranayama the breath was primary.
In prana-ayama the breath becomes secondary, and the experience of the movement of the pranas becomes primary.
The purpose of prana-ayama is to merge prana and apana. Only these two pranas. The scriptures and yogis don’t deal much with udana, vyana or any other form of prana; they speak of prana and apana merging in the samana region. This means the three pranas become one. That is the expansion of prana which we seek in pranayama.
With expansion of prana comes the next stage. The psychic centres, the chakras, become activated, and the energy contained in them is released. That stage is known as pranotthana, awakening of the pranas. After awakening of the pranas, you work with the chakras. In the second level, prana-ayama, you deal with the merger of prana and apana. In the third level, you are managing the release of energy from the chakras.
You are not trying to release them; you are trying to manage them. Please remember that. This is a major point. People think, ‘I can awaken my chakra.’ No. If it awakens, you have to manage it. It is the management which is more important than the awakening. You can wake up the sleeping giant and then what? Therefore, don’t think of awakening, think of managing. Pranotthana takes place naturally when the pranas merge and become one. Their identity is gone and the chakras discharge the prana contained in them. That is chakrotthana and pranotthana, and it is their result that you have to manage. This management is done through prana pratyahara. Prana pratyahara has been vastly defined in the classical raja yoga, and one of the practices of prana pratyahara is prana nidra.
After prana pratyahara, when you are able to master the pranic energy, the fifth component is prana vidya. Now you can do anything with prana shakti. You can heal yourself. You can transmit prana shakti to heal other people. It is not like a Reiki experience. Prana vidya is the classical, traditional and original way of exploring and utilizing this cosmic energy for the betterment of society. The outcome of pranayama is laghavam, lightness, of body, mind, emotions and prana shakti. This is the progression: pranayama, prana-ayama, pranotthana, prana pratyahara and prana vidya. Prana is the next level of the physical yoga and it is aided with other components such as mudras and bandhas.
From Progressive Yoga Vidya Training Series 5, Understanding Yoga Vidya