Pranayama, the yogic art of breathing, leads to a control of the emotions which in turn brings stability, concentration and mental poise. Pranayama is a bridge which helps the student of yoga to cross from the realm of purely physical development to that of the spirit and forms a crucial stage in his journey towards self-realisation.
In Light on Pranayama B.K.S. Iyengar defines Pranayama this way:
‘Prana’ means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength. … ‘ayama’ means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation prolongation, restraint or control. ‘Pranayama’ thus means the prolongation of breath and its restraint.
Pranayama is the 4th limb on the 8 fold path of Ashtanga Yoga. It comes after Asana (the 3rd limb). Once Asana has been developed then a formal Pranayama practice is introduced. In Iyengar Yoga Pranayama is first taught in a reclining position, with the upper body supported by props. This practice helps facilitates stillness and maximum relaxation so that the breath can be presented more clearly to the practitioner.