I want to learn pranayama but know nothing about it. Could you please explain how should I start?

Prana means energy; this energy has not only given rise to the entire external world but has also created our gross body. The human body is composed of trillions of cells. Analysis of the ultra-structure of a cell will finally lead to an atom and the energy present in an atom is ordinarily beyond our comprehension. Our sages and seers called this energy as prana, the cosmic energy. As the sages delved deeper, their understanding brought them to the conclusion that this energy is responsible for the creation and maintenance of not only every living being but also all inanimate objects. The science of pranayama was developed on the basis of this fundamental principle. Pranayama entails augmentation of the prana energy.

Prana operates on many levels and can be interpreted in many ways - from the breath to the energy of consciousness itself. Prana is not only the basic life force but it is the prime form of all energy, working on the level of mind and body.

Indeed, the entire universe is a manifestation of prana, which is the original creative power. Even kundalini shakti, the serpent power or inner power that transforms consciousness, develops from the awakened prana. In relation to our physical existence, prana or vital energy is a modification of the air element, primarily the oxygen we breathe that allows us to live. Yet, as air originates in ether or space, prana arises in space and remains closely connected to it. Wherever we create space, the energy or prana arise automatically. Pranayama is not only related to breath and its regulation, but it is directly concerned with the five prana present in the body.

If one gains full control and mastery over the prana, then anything is possible. Yogis have demonstrated that heart, pulse, and blood circulation too can be stopped. Actions of the brain, heart and sense organs are controlled by udana vayu – its area of work can be understood through the practice of pranayama. Before proceeding to the pranayama techniques, certain preparations are essential - mastery of yogasanas and the resultant energy gained, along with discipline and firm resolve. It is important to bear in mind that if not practiced correctly, pranayama can cause serious harm.

One can practice pranayama four hours after a meal, although the best time is just before sunrise. Nevertheless, pranayama done before lunch and at sunset is also of special benefit.

Other than people who have devoted their lives to yogasadhana, everyone should keep aside at least half an hour a day for practicing pranayama. March and September are good months to start the practice as the climate is rather equitable.

Pranayama should be done after performing yogasanas, but not immediately after difficult asanas – the body being tired, the spine may not stay erect. After asanas, always take rest in shavasana for a minimum of fifteen minutes, then sit with your spine erect and begin pranayama. Regular and continuous practice of pranayama changes a person’s mindset. Sensual desires like food cravings, smoking, drinking and sexual urges are greatly reduced. Focus of the sense organs is turned inwards and the aspirant starts becoming introspective; ability to hear the internal sounds of silence is enhanced. Thus pranayama lays the foundation for pratyahara and dissolves the dominance of the senses over the mind.