jump to navigation

Do This, Do That… Now Breathe! November 28, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“‘There are yet others whose way of worship is to offer up wealth and possessions. Still others offer up self-denial, suffering, and austerities (purifications). Others take clerical or monastic vows, offering up knowledge of the scriptures. Some others make their meditation itself an offering. Some offer up prana, the mysterious vital energy force within them. They do this through control of the breath….’”

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.28 – 29) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. It’s like our mind, body, and spirit are conjoined triplets, constantly and consistently interacting and dependent on one another. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, points out that “The stability of one stabilizes the other.” So it makes sense that if we can master and control the “roaming tendencies” of one, we can master and control the “chaotic tendencies” of the others. The problem we have is where to begin – especially when everything is out of wack.

It is a classic chicken-and-egg scenario, but Patanjali is very clear on where to begin and how to proceed. Step 1: Cultivate stability and ease in the body. Step 2: Control the breath. Step 3: Harness the power of the mind. Simple right? Of course, along the way, we are constantly and consistently engaging all three and, in doing so, harnessing the power of all three just as we would harness ox to a plow in order to farm.

Yoga Sūtra 2.46: sthirasukham āsanam

– “Cultivate a steady [or stable], easy [comfortable or joyful] seat [or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.47: prayatnaśaithilyānantasamāpattibhyām

– “[The way to perfect the seat or pose] is by relaxing [or loosening] effort and by merging with the infinite.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.48: tato dvandvānabhighātāh

– “From that (perfected posture) comes lack of injury (or suffering) caused by the pairs of opposites.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.49: tasminsati śvāsapraśvāsayorgativicchedah prāņāyāmahah

– “Prāņāyāma, which is expanding the life force by controlling the movement of the inhalation and exhalation, can be practiced after completely mastering [the seat or pose].”

A literal translation of this week’s sūtra specifically refers to the benefit of controlling the movement and speed of the inhalation and exhalation. It also hints at the dangers of practicing prāņāyāma without having “perfected the pose.” Just as there are thousands of poses, and hundreds of trillions of ways to practice and sequence those poses, there are a variety of ways to practice awareness and extension of the breath.

First, there is basic awareness, the awareness that you are breathing here – which in and of itself can change and erratic breathing pattern. Then there is cultivating a calming breath, where the exchange is deep and even, and without interruption. Moving on, there is awareness of how the breath feels and affects different parts of the body. This final type of awareness (and control) can include directing the breath to certain areas of the body (prāņā samrōdha and prāņā samvedanā) and also changing the pattern of the breath (prāņā anusandhāna). There are seven classic types of prāņāyāma which fall under that finally classification. One common, and highly recommended, example of the latter is controlling the length and duration of the exhale.

Please keep in mind that I am using the English words “breath” and “spirit” interchangeably with the Sanskrit word “prāņā.” However, prāņā is actually “life force” and is inextricably connected to everything that flows and moves in the mind-body and everything that allows the mind-body to flow and move. It has been described as “the fundamental principle of pulsation” – which is connected to every aspect and function of the mind-body. But breath becomes the focus, because it is what most people can easily access and it too is connected to every aspect and function of the body.

“The breath is the link between the body and the mind, as well as the balancing factor. When a disturbed thought arises in the mind, our breathing pattern becomes erratic – shaky, noisy, and shallow. Erratic breathing triggers a chaotic response in our nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, endocrine glands, and heart. If left unchecked, the chaotic response intensifies, throwing us into a state of physical and mental turmoil. This process can be checked only if the breath summons its innate wisdom and the power to calm itself.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.49 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, November 28th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]