There is a whole mysterious world to be discovered through our breath. The breath marks the beginning, duration, and end of life. Our constant companion, it plays the most significant role in our lives. Yet, we know nothing about it.
The subject of this fascinating book is pranayama. Swami Rama writes:
Prana means "breath" and yama means "pause". Pranayama is the means of properly regulating the otherwise irregular and hurried respiratory process without using excessive force or restraint… Pranayama is one of the most important practices of yoga science.
Yama is popularly translated as control in other books, hence the translation “breath control."
Many factors affect the breath: the environment, weather, time of day, seasons, lifestyle, health, diet, and mind. Appropriate diet and eating habits are described for preparation of pranayama practices. Many familiar pranayamas are described: nadi shodhana, bhastrika, kapalbhati, surya bheda, sitali, and sitkari. The physiology of these practices gives an understanding at the physical level. There is an explanation of the bandhas and their importance. It is fascinating.
Amongst the numerous interesting points, one was that the effect of a minute of deep breathing can last for an hour! Breath can be used in many ways to regulate the body systems and metabolism, and help heal organs.
The effect of various types of retentions or kumbhaks can be challenging to comprehend. But these descriptions serve to pique our interest in svara yoga and are not meant to be practices we undertake on our own. For more manageable practices, readers should refer to Path of Fire and Light: Volume 2 and Science of Breath. This book does add a great deal to the background knowledge for those who are fascinated and curious to learn more about pranayama. Swami Rama was a deeply respected yogi and expert in pranayama.
Gurus do have some differences in the way they practice any technique. A different perspective can be helpful. There is some difference in the practice of bhastrika for instance as described by Swami Rama, Swami Satyananda, and Baba Ramdev. The suggestion here is to follow one method that works for you and then stick to it. Eventually, these variations are relatively minor.