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More Ways to Breathe December 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[Email subscribers, please note that there may be some errors in the Sanskrit lettering, which I will correct as soon as possible. My apologies.]

“There are thousands of postures. In order to heal our physical and psychological injuries we must learn to select the postures suitable to our specific needs and arrange them in the proper sequence. Sequencing of asana is crucial because, as with anything else, a change in sequence drastically changes the result. (YS 3:15). Next, we have to practice these properly sequenced postures while staying within the boundaries of our comfort. Then, we must take our practice to the point where we are able to feel and touch the threshold of our discomfort. We refine our practices as we apply the principle of effortless effort described in the previous sutra.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

All the cues on moving into and activating a pose can be really overwhelming. It can seem constant and continuous… because it is. I often tell beginners not to worry about doing what they don’t understand – or even, to an extent, what doesn’t make sense. Do what you can do, as much as you can do it, for as long as you can do it (to paraphrase a very wise man) and eventually things start falling into place. Literally, the more you practice, the more parts of you start aligning. Yes, it’s true, that you can practice incorrectly – and you can do it for a really long time. It’s also true that when doing something wrong becomes the habit (and the practice) things don’t fall into place… things fall apart. We see that in our mind-bodies and we see it in the world.

Do you ever wonder where all this information came from? Do you every think about that first yogi, Adiyoga, and those first seven students? Initially, no one told anyone how to do anything. The first seven were inspired by seeing someone else do something they thought had value – and then they listened to their own mind-body! The question is always: How can I breathe deeply here? Or, what can I do to breathe more deeply here? And the answer is already inside of us. We just have to “listen,” which in the case of our mind-body requires paying attention to sensation, to how we’re feeling and how we are responding to what’s happening inside of us and all around us. That’s the practice.

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Being human, we have the ability to play, explore, and experiment, to see what works, when and where it works, and for how long something works. Thus, someone started moving their body into different shapes and then breathing in those different shapes, which had different effects. Then they would move into the shapes in a different way, breath into that different way, and noticed the different effects. Then they saw other people could do the same and experience similar effects. Then people, like Patanjali and Vyasa, started to codify the practice by writing it down. And this whole process and practice comes back to the breath, the spirit, the life force – and different ways to breathe, engage the spirit, and expand life.

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].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.50: bāhyābhyantarastambhavŗttirdeśakālasasamkhyābhih paridŗşţo dīrghasūkşmah

– “The breath may be stopped externally, internally, or checked in mid-motion, and regulated according to place, time and a fixed number of moments, so that the [pause] is either protracted or brief.”

In commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.50, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati is quick to point out that while stambha (“cessation” or “transition”) is often translated into English as retention and therefore equated with kumbhaka (which is retention), there is a subtle difference in the usage here. First, the practice involves awareness of three parts of the breath: inhalation, exhalation, and the transition (or pause) between the first two parts – which is repeated twice. Next, there is the slowing or expansion of the breath (as described in YS. 2.49). Finally, there is awareness and regulation of the breath in different places in the body – even directing it to those places; controlling the time (or length and duration of the breath); and counting (or numbering) each part of the breath.

Breath regulation in place, time, and by numbering can involve the practice of kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved by holding the breath on the inhalation or exhalation, and/or stambha vŗitti kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved in the middle of an inhalation or exhalation. Notice that the breath retention highlights transition.

Any breath retention is considered an advanced practice and, just as is instructed with more “basic” types of prāņāyāma, should only be practiced after mastering previous elements. Some teachers advise only practicing kumbhaka when after it naturally arises in your practice. This does not mean that you are ready to practice breath retention when you finding yourself holding your breath or shallow breathing because you are overly challenged in a pose or sequence. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

“Patanjali assumes that aspirants who reached this level of yoga sadhana are familiar wth the practice of the seven pranayamas, which together constitute the practice of prana anusandhana. Therefore, these aspirants have built a strong foundation for practicing the three advanced pranayama techniques he is presenting here.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The practicing of connecting the breath – and connecting to the breath – is broken down into the following seven steps:

  1.  Aharana prāņāyāma  – which is “to bring back” and revolves around awareness of the breath and how it feels in the body, as well as positioning the body so there is no shakiness, interruption, or abnormal breathing.
  2. Samikarana prāņāyāma – which is “to equalize,” and involves maintaining an equal calmness in the breathing and in the mind-body. There is also focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  3. Dirge-prashvasa prāņāyāma – which is “long exhalation,” and involves focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  4. Nadi shodhana prāņāyāma – which is alternate energy channel or alternate nasal breathing, and involves alternating the exhale and inhale between nostrils.
  5. Anuloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the same path,” and involves rapidly inhaling and exhaling through only one nostril.
  6. Viloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the reverse path,” and involves exhaling through one nostril and then inhaling through the other.
  7. Pratlioma prāņāyāma – which is “to switch paths back and forth,” and is only practiced after the previous two are mastered.

Note that the last three are practices are only intended for people who are healthy and have no underlying conditions. Also, please note that these terms are also sometimes used to refer to a specific pattern of breathing related to length and duration of each part of the breath.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, December 5th) 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”]

### To live is to breathe. To breathe with intention is the practice. To live with intention is the goal. ###