Sri T. Krishnamacharya, my teacher’s Guru, could stop his own heart from beating at will and demonstrated this to doctors who verified the capability. He did not show this unusual ability as a kind of circus act, but to demonstrate that Yoga practice gave the practitioner complete control over the automatic functions of the body. When asked how he did this he replied that it was by Pranayama.
According to Yogi’s, the involuntary nerves work under our conscious will during our daily activities. When they become tired, we refresh them by sleeping; waking ready for action the next day. Our involuntary nerves that keep the heart beating and other systems running 24/7 are not normally given complete rest. When they become exhausted we die.
Pranayama practice restores the voluntary nervous system allowing us to work with increased vigour and reduce the amount of sleep that we require. Most people can attain this benefit of pranayama. Fifteen minutes of pranayama twice a day will refresh the system and check the decay of the body. So health and longevity will result from this.
The involuntary system can only be accessed and refreshed by a developed practitioner. This gives power over sleep and death. At a certain level sleep can be reduced to about four hours a night. Eventually sleep is transcended; its effects are replaced by the pranayama practice. Then involuntary death is transcended.
“A man can live in his body for as long as he wishes, not just one hundred years. But for that, prana vayu suddhi is essential. Prana vayu suddhi means to keep prana vayu under one’s control. If prana vayu is to be kept under our control, pranayama is the most important tool.”
Sri T. Krishnamacharya – Yoga Makaranda
We can begin this work very simply with our breathing, which is an action that functions without our conscious effort but can also be deliberately controlled. We begin with controlled breath in asana. Krishnamacharya said that asana without breath regulation is not yogasana. This simple statement can verify whether a yoga teaching is authentically derived from Krishnamacharya.
So we begin by regulating the breath with the breathing technique called ujjayi. Here we restrict the flow of air in the throat. We can do this by closing the glottis which is something we have control over as we use our vocal cords regularly.
The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage that closes the larynx when we swallow so that food does not enter the air passage. This action is normally automatic and is triggered when the tongue moves food to the throat for swallowing. We gradually gain control over the epiglottis and close it partially to restrict breathing.
These bronchial muscles are controlled by the vagus nerve.
So breathing is a voluntary and involuntary action; we place it under complete voluntary control. The glottis is voluntary and involuntary; we place it under complete voluntary control. The epiglottis is involuntary; we place it under voluntary control. These first steps although very simple are profound and significant. They are essential foundations to gain control of our involuntary systems. This leads to the freedom to act from wisdom and power and not from ignorance and impulse.
For an ordinary person and a yogi, pranayama can help with health and longevity.
The ordinary person wants to live longer and avoid death. The yogi wants to live longer only to complete their sadhana and avoid rebirth by attaining Moksa/Kaivalya/ Nirvana.
“Pranayama is one of the best innovations of yogis.”
(Note: In order to master pranayama correctly, it should be learned directly from a reputable teacher. )