If Pra means first, Na means vibration and an means to breathe, what then is Pranayama?
If we take “an” ~ which means to breathe and add it to “ayama” ~ which means to lengthen/expand/extend, we can see that pranayama is something about lengthening, expanding or extending the breath ~ and pranayama practises are generally interpreted as breath control exercises.
The introductory pranayama technique is an awareness of how the muscle bands around the lungs ‘work’. The practise can help you to become aware of how breathing techniques appear, and the ‘affects’ the different muscle bands.
Precautions and prohibitions for Pranayama
Pranayama practises are not appropriate for every yoga practioner; some techniques are not suitable for those with certain medical conditions, and other practices may be modified to suit certain aliments. The general advise is to never rush or strain and practice before asanas. BWY teachers advise not to practise pranayama if you suffer from a heart condition, blood pressure problems or are pregnant.
Pranayama is defined most accurately as extending or expanding the dimensions of prana. Certainly as pranayama practices develop they allow you to experience your breath ~ or indeed prana ~ on a deeper level.
Prana in yoga philosophy and practise is often a metaphor for something much greater ~ an energy that the western world of science is only just beginning to discover.