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Practice of controlling on breath which is the source of our "Prana" - the vital life force, is called Pranayam. Breath and Pran are two different things altogether. But we cannot see them apart from each other. Breath is "Sthul" (gross) and Pran is "Suksham" (Subtle), but a vital force. Pran permeates everything and everywhere. The two substances that lie at the base of the creation of this universe are - "Akash (Ether) and Pran. Pulsation of Pran in Akash is the real cause of creation Pran transcends both Mind and Senses. It is why in our scriptures Pran is known as the elder brother of the Mind.  In the sleeping state when the mind calms down, it is the Pran that continues functioning. Pran is always present even when mind is absent in deep sleep.

The energy that activates our nervous system is the same energy that permeates the whole universe. The process by which the Pran is controlled by the regulation of breath is called "Pranayam".  

The practice of Pranaya is divided into thre parts : 

  1. Rechak (Exhalation)
  2. Purak (Inhalation)
  3. Kumbhak (Retention of breath) - Retention of breath within is called Internal Kumbhak and exhaling and holding it externally is called External Kumbhak.
NOTE : One should not  practice of any Kumbhak until unless they have good practice of regular breathing exercises.