Combining Pranayama With Asana Enhances the Results of Hatha Yoga

The power of Asana to bring about stability and foundation to the physical body is only the beginning of the action of Hatha Yoga. In order to achieve the higher results of the practice, the use of Pranayama, the controlling of the vital force and its flow in the body, is essential. Pranayama is frequently associated with control of the breathing, but this is just the most visible, and thus easiest to grab hold of, aspect of the control of the Prana, or vital life-force. Starting from a stable Asana, the practitioner will develop control over the breathing apparatus to first bring about a calm, alert control, and later to begin to direct and focus the flow of the vital force into different organ systems and for a variety of purposes.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Pranayama, starting from the physical immobility and self-holding which is secured by Asana, deals more directly with the subtler vital parts, the nervous system. This is done by various regulations of the breathing, starting from equality of respiration and inspiration and extending to the most diverse rhythmic regulations of both with an interval of inholding of the breath. In the end the keeping in of the breath, which has first to be done with some effort, and even its cessation become as easy and seem as natural as the constant taking in and throwing out which is its normal action.”

It should be noted in passing that practicing Pranayama without guidance can be disruptive, as the practitioner is changing the automatic breathing function that is natural to the body. Without clear and precise guidelines the basic balance between mind, nervous system and physical frame can be disrupted and health issues can ensue. This may include physical health disruptions and mental balance issues.

That said, there can be real benefits to the proper implementation of the practices of Pranayama: “But the first objects of the Pranayama are to purify the nervous system, to circulate the life-energy through all the nerves without obstruction, disorder or regularity, and to acquire a complete control of its functionings, so that the mind and will of the soul inhabiting the body may be no longer subject to the body or life or their combined limitations. The power of these exercises of breathing to bring about a purified and unobstructed state of the nervous system is a known and well established fact of our physiology. it helps also to clear the physical system, but is not entirely effective at first on all its canals and openings; therefore the Hathayogin uses supplementary physical methods for clearing them out regularly of their accumulations. The combination of these with Asana,–particular Asanas have even an effect in destroying particular diseases,–and with Pranayama maintains perfectly the health of the body. But the principle gain is that by this purification the vital energy can be directed anywhere, to any part of the body and in any way or with any rhythm of its movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 27, Hathayoga, pg. 512

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The Body as a Perfected Instrument

The practitioner of Hatha Yoga looks at the body as the basis for further spiritual realization and thus, the intensive effort to make it stable, strong and energetic is intended to provide a true platform for spiritual development. A body that is weak, sick, tired or worn out is unable to sustain the concentration of conscious force (tapasya) needed to attain any kind of realization of a consciousness beyond the normal boundaries.

Sri Aurobindo explores the science of Hatha Yoga from this view: “The body, thus liberated from itself, purified from many of its disorders and irregularities, becomes, partly by Asana, completely by combined Asana and Pranayama, a perfected instrument. It is freed from its ready liability to fatigue; it acquires an immense power of health; its tendencies of decay, age and death are arrested.”

Youthful energy, extended life span and vigour are a few of the additional qualities that can ensue from the intensive practice of Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yogin recognizes that the process of spiritual perfection requires long and patient effort, and the process of dying, and being once again born, and having to re-create the effort after a long period of growth and development of the instrument, is truly a burdensome effort–far better, therefore, if it were to become possible to lengthen the life and health sufficiently to allow far more progress, or even a full realization in the present lifetime!

Sri Aurobindo observes that the wide variety of Asanas, in many cases, quite complex and difficult to master, are able to re-route and regulate the energy flow within the physical system and “…it serves also to alter the relation of the physical energy in the body to the earth energy with which it is related.” Through these means the outer gross body becomes more refined and takes on more qualities of the subtle body, and physical effects, including the possibility of levitation may ensue. This is the basis by which certain special powers begin to manifest for the dedicated Hathayogin. “Moreover, the life ceases to be entirely dependent on the action of the physical organs and functionings, such as the heart-beats and the breathing. These can in the end be suspended without cessation of or lesion to the life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 27, Hathayoga, pg. 511