Yoga philosophy says everything which manifests in the universe is an aspect of the cosmic energy called ‘prana’. This includes the outer physical forms in life and also the inner forces creating constant change within them. Prana is the all pervading vitality which gives something its breath of life.
The basis of existence depends on two forces; Chinese medicine calls them Yin and Yang and Yoga calls them Shiva and Shakti. Shiva equates to Consciousness and Shakti equates to Energy. They are the two primal complementary forces and the very basis of all life, which exist in mutual dependence as one whole like two sides of one coin. Shakti or (prana) is the creative force of Shiva (consciousness) and Yoga Asana and Prana-yama seek to illuminate and expand consciousness through manipulating this creative pranic force.
Prana refers to vital energy and Ayama means to regulate with an emphasis on expansion. With Prana being the basis of matter and consciousness, Pranayama techniques will expand the dimensions of consciousness and increase the bodies vitality. One important link between Prana and the body mind complex is the breath. Prana is intimately linked to consciousness through the breathing process and concentrated breathing is a direct means of controlling the mind and its activity, as well as absorbing greater amounts of the vital life force.
Swami Swatmarama describes Pranayama as the gateway to spiritual awakening and self realization. There are various types of Pranayama which have different effects upon the body and mind, with some being quite uplifting and others being very calming, but they all have the same purpose of gaining control of the vital energy prana, through manipulating the breathe and awakening the higher consciousness.
Most people who come to Yoga are trying to change, trying to improve themselves both physically ands mentally. However changing the habits of our mind directly can be quite difficult, consume a lot of time and energy and even be counter productive in the beginning. So instead of creating an internal conflict through fighting the mind, with its negative habits going one way and our will power going in the other, hatha yoga emphasizes an easier and indirect route to transformation and self improvement.
The indirect route disciplines the mind through concentration in our yoga practice, through learning to maintain our body posture, and through learning to control our breathing cycles and flows of vital energy (prana). If our problems in life are greatly exacerbated through being out of harmony energetically, then coming into balance and harmony will reduce them. All our mental activities and physical processes are driven by the life force prana and the rhythm of our breathing, so when enhancing vital energy and harmonizing the breathing processes in pranayama, the brain waves and autonomic functions of the body also become more harmonious. Like waves upon the ocean, when atmospheric forces (prana) have been made tranquil, then the waves of mental activity and the vital systems of the body governed by them also become more tranquil. From this increased state of internal balance and harmony we spontaneously feel more in control, grounded, peaceful and happy. Therefore certain negative traits and experiences such as anxiety, craving, impatience and anger, will naturally dissipate when their hidden unconscious forces have been brought into harmony.
Yoga is a beautiful holistic science that understands the totality of life and its interdependent reality, where no single part of it can be read except in its relation to the whole. A symptom is not just traced back to a cause in yoga therapy, but to a total picture of the person and their lifestyle. On the whole yoga does not treat symptoms but their underlying causes, in their energetic foundations and our attitudes and lifestyles affecting them. Yoga enables us to take total responsibility for our life, develop our higher potential and shape our destiny.