Pranayama is life force control through breathing. (prana = life force) (ayama = control of prana) This is a huge topic and as such will be covered in detail.

     When starting your physical asana practice with the ashtanga method, we breath only through the nose using ujjayi breath (victorious breath). There is a slight constriction in the throat creating a sound that's been called an ocean breath or Darth Vader breathing. Breathing is slow and rhythmic and will generate inner heat as well as an increase in oxygen supply (by up to 50%). By controlling the breath in your practice you calm your mind and it helps in bringing your focus to the present moment.

     Control over all aspects of breathing is pranayama. Inhalation is called puraka (filling up). Exhalation is called rechaka (emptying). Retention is when inhalation or exhalation has ceased (kumbhaka). When breath is held after inhalation it is called antara (inner) kumbhaka. When breath is held after complete exhalation it is called bahya (outer) kumbhaka.

     Sankaracharya states that "The emptying of the mind of the whole of its illusions is the true rechaka. The realization that I am atma (spirit) is the true puraka. The steady sustenance of the mind on this conviction is the true kumbhaka. This is the true pranayama"

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