prANa has two important senses in which it is used.
The first is life or vital energy. Thus a prANi is a living being.
The second is exhalation.
After yama, niyama, aasana, an aspiring yOgi controls his life force by regulating his breathing.
Breathing in – apAna
Breathing out – prANa
Of course, we have already learned that prANa (life) and prANada (giver of life) are two of Vishnu’s attribute names., as per the Vishnu Sahasranama taught by Bhishma to Yudhisthira.
During the practice of prANAyAma, we are taught how to breathe so as to completely fill and empty our lungs. Then we are taught to breathe in and out at a uniform pace through our left and right nostrils, separately and together, as well as through our mouth using our teeth and tongue, with and without the AumkAra. We generally sit in a padmAsana, ardhapadmAsana, sukhAsana or vajrAsana.
If you have not been taught this you may,
- Steadily Chant the rAma nAma which is excellent prANAyAma
- Chant viSNu sahasranAMa – also excellent prANAyAma
- Practice Carnatic Music – Vocal - also excellent prANAyAma
These help you control your exhalation (or breathing out) as well as engage your mind in thoughts of divinity. In the movie bhakta prahlAda (rOjA ramaNi) they also suggest nArAyaNa mantram as an alternative to holding your breath (haTa). I have practiced the three given above, but not this one. Try it and see if you like.