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PranayamaPranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning, lengthening of the prana or breath. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Pra-na, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and "a-ya-ma", to lengthen or extend. It is often translated as control of the life force (prana). When used as a technical term in yoga, it is often translated more specifically as "breath control". Literal translations include A. A. Macdonell's "suspension of breath" and I. K. Taimni's "regulation of breath".
EtymologyPranayama is a Sanskrit compound.
V. S. Apte provides fourteen different meanings for the word prana including these: * Breath, respiration
* The breath of life, vital air, principle of life (usually plural in this sense, there being five such vital airs generally assumed, but three, six, seven, nine, and even ten are also spoken of)
* Energy, vigor
* The spirit or soul
Of these meanings, the concept of "vital air" is used by Bhattacharyya to describe the concept as used in Sanskrit texts dealing with pranayama. Thomas McEvilley translates "prana" as "spirit-energy".
Monier-Williams defines the compound pra-n.a-ya-ma as "N. of the three 'breath-exercises' performed during Sam.dhya- (See pu-raka, recaka, kumbhaka" This technical definition refers to a particular system of breath control with three processes as explained by Bhattacharyya: pu-raka (to take the breath inside), kumbhaka (to retain it), and recaka (to discharge it). There are also other processes of pranayama in addition to this three-step model.
Macdonell gives the etymology as pra-n.a + a-ya-ma and defines it as "m. suspension of breath (sts. pl.)".
Apte's definition of a-ya-mah. derives it from a- + ya-m and provides several variant meanings for it when used in compounds. The first three meanings have to do with "length", "expansion, extension", and "stretching, extending", but in the specific case of use in the compound pra-n.a-ya-ma he defines a-ya-mah. as meaning "restrain, control, stopping".
An alternative etymology for the compound is cited by Ramamurti Mishra, who says that:
"Expansion of individual energy into cosmic energy is called pra-n.a-ya-ma (pra-n.a, energy + aya-m, expansion)."
The word "yama" means "cessation" or more generally "control" or "restraint"
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