Pranayama is important for it is where the practice of yoga actually begins. Up to asanas, one is only experimenting with the body, but from pranayama onwards the aspirant begins to experiment, awaken and move the prana shakti, the subtle force. It is a vital force as well as a mental force. The manipulation and awakening of this prana shakti leads to the higher subtle dimensions in which we exist.
In reality, up to asanas, yoga is a preparation of the body, senses, brain, internal organs and systems. However, pranayama launches the practitioner on the path of yoga. This prana has to be moved in different locations of the body to awaken different psychic and dormant centres, so that ultimately one can realize the full potential of the human brain and mind.
For this purpose the practices of mudras and bandhas have been described on the path of yoga. There are many kinds of mudras. In dance, the expression of various mudras indicates an attitude and emotion. They evoke a response to feelings. When a feeling is activated, the shakti, the power of the feeling, is also activated as prana. With the practice of mudras, this prana is directed to create harmony of the mind.
Thereafter, with the practice of bandhas, the same prana is further stimulated in the vital centres, which are responsible for the evolution of human consciousness.
—21 February 2007, Chennai, India