Hatha Yoga is often associated with breathing techniques promising all sorts of esoteric experiences, like levitation and foresight. This article will not offer any insights into such fantastical anomalies. For this average practitioner, the breathing techniques have offered something far more meaningful; a chance to disentangle myself from the feelings that accompany uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.
Pranayama is the name given to the collection of practices which involve breathing in a rhythmic way while sitting still with a straight spine. Prana may be understood as lifeforce and so is often associated with the breath. Prana, however, is deeper than breath. Prana is the fundamental energy which makes the lungs moves, which makes the sea bustle with life, and which fills the air with wind and rain. Ayama is another Sanskrit word which can mean to extend or expand. So, Pranayama is the process of extending our own vital life force.
For an aspiring practitioner, learning to breath properly begins with proper performance of asana (postures). Asana develop our awareness of our body. Slowly, as we become proficient practicing asana, we notice our breath calms where once we sought escape. Practice asana with focus and consistency and you’ll find your breath naturally becomes rhythmic and full. At some point thereafter, a sitting practice will facilitate your journey deeper into your breath and into deeper levels of awareness. With time, your awareness begins to move from the gross (i.e. the outward, physical sensations) to the subtle (i.e. the inward). Therein lies the real practice of Yoga.
Learning to breath properly has not, in my experience, led to a complete renewal of my personality. At least not yet. I would caution any practitioner not to confuse initial feelings of pleasant emotions with meaningful shifts in perception. Such shifts take time. Moreover, clinging to pleasant emotions is exactly what we are seeking to counteract.
From what I can tell so far, Hatha Yoga is truly about the process. The practice seeks to subdue our logical need for purpose and instead projects us into the world of forever becoming. Arise each day, take in a deep breath, and become ever more aware. The gateway to this seemingly magical existence is right underneath your nose.