In the eightfold path of Classical yoga, pranayama is the fourth step to achieve samadhi, or self-realization. As a yoga practice, pranayama is regulated or controlled breathing or breath flow used by students to transition between poses (asanas) as well as remain in them and achieve a meditative state.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for extended breath or, more strictly defined, prana (life force) and yama (extension). Beginning yoga students typically start with Hatha yoga, which involves regulated breathing, while performing the poses, to achieve more flexibility and control. With any type of physical conditioning, the proper breathing technique comes into play, whether you’re a first-time jogger contending with breathlessness or a conditioned athlete setting a personal best at the bench press. Think of it this way: breathing comes to us automatically unless we’re under stress, at which point it becomes an effort. Pranayama regulates the breathing so that the body directs its focus to the task set forth, be it a difficult pose or a stressful life event.