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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Book 2 - The Steps to Union
49. When right posture (asana) has been attained there follows right control of prana and proper inspiration and expiration of the breath.

Here again we come to a sutra that has led to much misunderstanding and much mischief. Teaching on the control of prana is prevalent and has led to the following of breathing exercises and to the practices dependent for their success upon the suspension of the breathing process. Most of this has been caused by a belief in the occidental mind that prana and breath are synonymous terms. This is by no means the case. Vivekananda points this out in his commentary on the sutra in the following words:

"When the posture has been conquered, then this motion is to be broken and controlled, and thus we come to pranayama; the controlling of the vital forces of the body. Prana is not breath, [218] though it is usually so translated. It is the sum total of the cosmic energy. It is the energy that is in each body, and its most apparent manifestation is the motion of the lungs. This motion is caused by prana drawing in the breath, and is what we seek to control in pranayama. We begin by controlling the breath, as the easiest way of getting control of the prana."

Prana is the sum total of the energy in the body (and this applies equally to the planetary and the solar body). It therefore concerns the inflow of energy into the etheric body and its outflow through the medium of the physical body. In the physical body this is symbolized for us in the necessary inspiration and exhalation of the breath. By stressing the physical act of breathing, much of the true sense of this sutra has been lost.

Certain things should be remembered as one studies pranayama. First, that one of the main purposes of the etheric body is that it acts as a stimulator and the energizer of the dense physical body. It is almost as if the dense physical body had no independent existence but simply acted as it was swayed and motivated by the etheric body. The etheric body is the force or vital body and it permeates every part of the dense vehicle. It is the background, the true substance of the physical body. According to the nature of the force animating the etheric body, according to the activity of that force in the etheric body, according to the aliveness or the sluggishness of the most important parts of the etheric body (the centers up the [219] spine) so will be the corresponding activity of the physical body. Similarly and symbolically, according to the wholeness of the breathing apparatus, and according to the ability of that apparatus to oxygenate and render pure the blood, so will be the health or wholeness of the dense physical body.

It should also be remembered that the key to the just response of the lower to the higher, lies in rhythm, and in the ability of the physical body to respond or vibrate in rhythmic unison with the etheric body. Students have found out that this is much facilitated by steady even breathing, and the majority of the breathing exercises when emphasized to the exclusion of the previous three means to yoga (the Commandments, Rules and Posture) have a definite effect upon the etheric centers and may lead to disastrous results. It is most necessary that students should follow the means of yoga in the order in which they are given by Patanjali, and so see to it that the purificatory process, the discipline of the outer and inner life and one-pointedness of the mind should be aimed at, prior to attempting the regulation of the etheric vehicle through breathing, and the awakening of the centers.

The work done through pranayama might briefly be stated to be the following:

1. The oxygenation of the blood and hence the cleansing of the blood currents and consequent physical health.

2. The bringing of the physical body into a vibration synchronous with that of the etheric [220] body. This results in the complete subjugation of the dense physical body and its bringing into line with the etheric body. The two parts of the physical vehicle form a unit.

3. The transmission of energy via the etheric body to all parts of the dense physical body. This energy may come from various sources:

  1. From the planetary aura. In this case it is planetary prana, and so concerns primarily the spleen and the health of the physical body.
  2. From the astral world via the astral body. This will be purely kamic or desire force and will affect primarily the centers below the diaphragm.
  3. From the universal mind or manasic force. This will be largely thought force and will go to the throat center.
  4. From the ego itself, stimulating primarily the head and heart centers.

Most people receive force only from the physical and astral planes, but disciples receive force also from the mental and egoic levels.

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