Why pranayama can control the mind

Pranayama Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

Once a man went on a safari with his pet poodle. During the tour, the poodle got separated from the owner and wandered off into the forest. As it was searching for the path back, it reached a lake. In the stillness of the forest, the poodle heard a rustling sound in the bushes and through the corner of it’s eye, saw a leopard sneaking in. This is probably the end of my life, thought the poodle. Quickly, he came up with a plan. He found some bones lying around and started licking it. Then at the top of his voice, he said, “This leopard is so tasty. Hope I find some more.” The leopard, worried for his life, ran away.

A monkey, who was sitting on the tree, saw what was happening. He ran behind the leopard and told how the poodle had tricked him. The angry leopard decided to return and finish off the poodle. Sitting on the back of the leopard, the monkey also decided to go and see the fun. The poodle meanwhile saw both of them coming and sat with his back facing them. He had guessed what the monkey had done. When the pair were close, the poodle, yelled at the top of his voice, “Where’s that damn monkey. I told him to fetch me a leopard”

The mind, like the poodle, is always scheming, planning and thinking. When the mind is angry and agitated, you can notice that your breath is rapid and shallow. At the same time when you are happy, the breath is deeper and relaxed. Once your observe this, you need to wonder if the reverse is true. Can altering your breath, change your mood?

Anyone who does pranayama knows that it can be done. To understand the yogic explanation for this phenomena, we have to understand the relation between breath, prana and the mind.

Prana is the life-force that sustains the functions of the body and it supplies energy to all parts of our body. It is present all over the universe and it pervades our body as well. The breath and prana are closely related and inter-dependent; through breath, you can control prana. By controlling the act of breathing you can efficiently control all the various motions in the body and the different pranas that are running through the body.

The five pranas

Speaking of pranas, there are five that requires mention. The prana above the throat is called prana. The one below the belly button is called apanan and is responsible for the excretion function. Samanan stays between these two — below the throat and above the belly button — and is responsible for digestion. Imagine our stomach as an engine generating energy by burning fuel. Like how the fire burns strongly in our traditional hearth, when air is blown, samanan helps with digestion. Vyanan is a prana which is spread all over the body, across all our naadis. The last — Udana — sits in the sushumna. At the time of death, it gathers all your accumulated karmas and leaves. Sometimes this prana gets attached to the body and will refuse to leave. That’s why Hindus cremate quickly.

Next we need to understand the relation between prana and the mind and how they are connected. At one level, they look different. The mind is an instrument of thought and perception. It has bodha shakti. The prana, meanwhile, is connected with action with constant movement. Prana has kriya shakti. But both mind and prana originate in the pancha bhootas. The mind, which is a jnana indriya, is formed from the sattvik aspects of the panchabootas. The prana, which is a karma indriya, is formed from the rajasik aspects of the pancha bhootams. Thus the source of these two are the same. They are expressions of the same base. If you imagine two branches coming out of a trunk, the mind and prana are two branches coming out of the pancha bhootas. Since they are coming from the same trunk, influencing one, affects the other.