Pranayama: Right or Wrong?

by Acarya Pranakrsnananda Avadhuta

Survival is a basic instinct in human beings. Everyone suffers from anxiety if survival is in jeopardy. And today there are many people whose survival is threatened.

Some people, out of this need to survive, teach yoga. Perhaps in the beginning, they thought that teaching yoga would be better for society and they could do some good. And also they could earn some money to survive.

Now in this world of survival there are many people with similar ideas, and sometimes they copy others who are having success with their ideas. So when more than one person is engaged in an action for survival, there will be competition.

Now suppose in a particular city or town, for example, three persons are teaching yoga. Naturally, there will be competition to get students. The primary aim was to do something good, but survival is necessary. So “paying students” are necessary, the more “paying students”, the better. So advertising is necessary. Now in the normal methods of advertising, there must be something unusual to attract the “paying students” to a particular teacher. So teachers of yoga compete to teach something unusual to attract more “paying students”. The original motive was to do good, but because of competition the motive takes on a subtle change. It is no longer a service, it has become a business. And business ethics are not always in harmony with yogic ethics. So now because of competition to get “paying students” to guarantee the teacher’s survival, the teacher may teach some practices which may be harmful to the students.

One of these very important practices which students are paying yoga teachers (survivalists) to teach is pranayama, the science of the control of the vital energy. It is unusual, so it is also attractive. But a student who is attracted by the unusual is not always a sincere student. Also because the student pays, he/she expects that it is his/her right to learn it. Nowadays people often demand their rights, carelessly ignoring their responsibilities.

Now to practice this subtle science there are some very important rules to follow. The teacher, the guide, should be very cautious so that the responsible student gets the correct process and does it very precisely.

The first and most important rule in the practice of pranayama is morality. The teacher should be sure that the student is a moralist before teaching the process of pranayama. However since the teacher is selling pranayama to the student, the morality of the teacher is also in question. There are two aspects of morality – the personal and the social. The student should be sure that the mind is moving in the proper direction. If the mind has a momentum of selfishness, then pranayama will only accelerate that momentum. Only the momentum towards selflessness, sacrifice and unconditional love should be accelerated.

The second rule is that the student should be a strict vegetarian. Certain foods, stimulants and addictive substances activate the glandular and nervous systems promoting undesirable behavior and emotion. The student’s will force is bombarded by so many extroversial mental tendencies. If the power of the will force is increased, then these extroversial mental energies will be carried by the will force to a very rapid expression, perhaps even against the good conscience of the student. The glandular and nervous system should be made strong and not stimulated by narrow, contracting and selfish emotions.

The third rule is that the mind should be fixed in a particular point during inhalation and exhalation. This rule has been especially emphasized for the last 3500 years. If one sees a candle burning, three things are evident – the wick, the flame and the air moving the flame. If the contact of the flame with the wick is broken by too much air or wind, the flame dies. The student concentrates the mind in a point (for example, like the wick of the candle). The mind (for example, the flame of the candle) holds onto the point of concentration (the wick of the candle) so that the mental tendencies, emotions and past momenta of the mind (for example, the wind blowing on the flame) do not break the focus of the mental force. So during the practice of pranayama, it is beneficial that the student keep the mind fixed in a point. That is why a competent yoga teacher first instructs the student in the practice of concentration in various psycho-physical centers.

The fourth rule is that the mind should have some absorbing idea (mantra) which is associated with the flow of breath into and out of the point of concentration. The student is not only breathing air, he/she is also breathing vitality (prana). That vitality is not his/her own vital energy, but it is the vital energy of the Supreme Consciousness which controls it, the final goal of yoga practice. The link between the mind, prana and Consciousness is the mantra (the all absorbing Idea). As you can see the practice of pranayama is a very precise science. These aspects should not be omitted by the yoga teacher, but unfortunately, they are omitted. Usually yoga teachers do not know enough about the psycho-physical and psycho-spiritual aspects of pranayama to know how to properly teach. Therefore harmful results are expressed. These harmful results may be headaches, nose bleeds, high blood pressure or strong uncontrollable emotions.

There are some minor rules which will make the practice of pranayama more efficient:

1. Pranayama should not be done directly after doing yoga postures. There should be a gap of at least 45 minutes.

2. It should not be done in a smoky or dusty room. If the student is experiencing some strong emotions like anger, passion, etc., pranayama should be done after the emotion subsides.

3. Persons doing pranayama should eat more fruits and drink milk and/or take some oil (like olive oil) to maintain the lubrication of the lungs.

4. Pranayama should not be done if the student is having a headache.
Yoga practices are for spiritual elevation and social change, not for escaping from the difficulties of life. They are the birthright of everyone, but should be taught by a competent, service minded teacher. It is not the same as aerobics, muscle training, athletics or such psychic practices as hypnosis, autogenes training, etc. Therefore it should be done seriously, regularly and sincerely with a clear idea of the goal of life. It should not be taught by those who see it as a means of survival, but by those who sincerely want to lead others to the supreme state of unconditional love.

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