What it means
Prana means life force and anayama means control. Pranayama means mastering the life force within. When consciously controlled, it has a powerful vitalising effect on the body, mind and spirit.
Pranayama helps to connect the body to its battery, the solar plexus, where tremendous potential energy is stored. When tapped through specific techniques this vital energy, or prana, is released for physical, mental and spiritual rejuvenation. Regular practice removes obstructions, which impede the flow of vital energy. When the cells work in unison, they bring back harmony and health to the system. Everything we do uses life force or prana — notice how fatiguing it is when an argument leaves you feeling drained. For most of us, this vital energy is constantly depleted and never recharged.
Fast, shallow breathing
Pollution, bad posture and faulty living habits enable us to use only a fraction of our potential respiratory capacity. Our lifestyle and unhealthy habits cause restriction in our breathing pattern. Poor posture (hunching, slouching) reduces lung capacity. This results in fatigue caused by the decrease in blood circulation and insufficient supply of oxygen to blood cells. Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our bodies. It helps to maintain the flow of oxygenated blood to the nerves, brain, spinal cord and cardiac muscles, maintaining their efficiency.
The link between the mind and breathing is most significant. The Yogic sutras encourage practice of pranayama to calm the mind, especially before practising meditation. The first step is to create breath awareness. Here, awareness of the breath means keeping the mind alert, still and free of clutter.
During the practice the mind concentrates on inhalation, exhalation or retention of the breath. Different pranayamas emphasise different techniques. Inhalation supplies abundance of oxygen to the entire body. Exhalation expels waste products and toxins from the body. Retention is holding of the breath to gain control and prevent dissipation of energy.