As the leaves aerate the tree and provide nourishment for its healthy growth, so pranayama feeds and aerates the cells, nerves, organs, intelligence and consciousness of human system. When we are performing an asana, we can only extend the body fully if we synchronise the breath with the movement. Prana is energy. Pranayama is the science of breath, which leads to the creation, distribution and maintenance of vital energy.
Prana is the life force that flows throughout nature and the universe. When prana is flowing freely throughout our body/mind we will feel healthy and vibrant. When prana is blocked, fatigue and disease soon follow. The concept of an animating force is present in every major wisdom and healing tradition. It is known as chi or qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, ruach in the Kabalistic tradition and ki in Japanese martial arts. The essence of prana is that deep connection between our rhythms, seasons, and our cycles of our life.
According to Patanjali, a key way to enliven prana is through conscious breathing techniques known as pranayama. There is an intimate relationship between our breath and our mind. When our mind is centered and quiet, so is our breath. When our mind is turbulent, our breathing becomes distorted. Just as our breath is affected by our mental activity, our mind can be influenced by the conscious regulation of our breathing. There are a number of classical pranayama breathing exercises designed to cleanse, balance, and invigorate the body.
When we are tuned into the pranic energy in our body, we spontaneously become more attuned to the relationship between our individuality and our universality. In this way, pranayama can take our awareness from constricted to expanded states of awareness.
The mastery of asanas and pranayama helps to detach the mind from the contact of the body, and this leads automatically towards concentration and meditation.