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Transcendental December 12, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

[“Happy  Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!]


“‘I’m absolutely removed from the world at such times,’ he said. ‘The hours go by without my knowing it. Sitting there I’m wandering in countries I can see every detail of – I’m playing a role in the story I’m reading. I actually feel I’m the characters – I live and breathe with them.’

‘I know!’ she said. ‘I feel the same!’

‘Have you ever had the experience,’ Léon went on, ‘of running across in a book some vague idea you’ve had, some image that you realize has been lurking all the time in the back of your mind and now seems to express absolutely your most subtle feelings?’

‘Indeed I have,’ she answered.”


– quoted from Madame Bovary: Provincial Manners by Gustave Flaubert (b. 12/12/1821)

We’ve all been there, yes, so absorbed into something (or someone) that it seems everything outside of you and it (or them) ceases to exist. There is no outside, nor inside, time. There is no need or desire to eat or drink or sleep – there doesn’t even seem to be a need to breathe. Then we “wake up” from the moment to find our body a little stiff (from holding the same position for such a long time), our bladder is full, and our stomach is empty. We may find ourselves yawning and stretching, just as we would after (or before) a long sleep. However, we may (depending on the object of our focus) find ourselves oddly refreshed – even ready to dive back in. It only depends on where we put our energy and whether that point of focus feeds us or depletes us.

If you can remember one such moment – a positive moment – and how you felt during that moment, do you remember the feeling of breathing? Do you remember the quality of breath? Do you remember your awareness of your breath?

Odds are that unless you think of a moment when you were engaged in mediation and/or some form of prāņāyāma, you might not specifically remember your breath or your breath awareness. Therefore, it may not occur to you that your breath was almost suspended, almost transcended… that there may have been moments where the individual parts of the breath merged into one long continuous experience.

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.”

One of the classic metaphors for breathing and the experience of bringing awareness to the breath is to image being on the edge of the shore: the tide washes over you as you inhale and again as you exhale. In this example, you are aware of the movement of the tide and also aware of the small moments of transition between the flow in and the ebb out.

But, let’s say you are like one of shells or sticks or bits of sand that is being moved by the water. You may or may not be aware that you are moving out to sea. You can, however, still feel the movement of the tide; it’s mesmerizing, hypnotic. You ride the waves.

Now, let’s say you can safely drift down to the floor of the ocean. Beneath the waves, even at the bottom of a pool, there is a moment – whether you are holding your breath for a bit, snorkeling, or deep sea diving – when you are so completely absorbed by the movement you can no longer distinguish the ebb from the flow from the slight pauses in between. Everything is suspended. Everything is transcended.

Since today is the second day of Chanukah, we can consider this same experience with light waves. If you are in a completely dark room – or in a boat out to sea in the middle of the night – you can see the source of light. You can step into it or out it and notice the edges of light and darkness. If you are on the boat, you can observe the lighthouse lamp shining on you and then beside you and you can mark the time between the light and the darkness. However, if you are brightly lit room, somehow void of darkness (or somehow safely sitting inside of the lighthouse lamp), you cannot see the source of the light and you have no way to distinguish it anything – including, possibly, yourself.

You become the light. The light becomes you. Everything is transcended.

Yoga Sūtra 2.51: bāhyābhyantaravişayākşepī caturthah


– The fourth [prāņāyāma] goes beyond, or transcends, the internal and external objects.

Today’s yoga sūtra points to this same transcendental experience happening with the breath. It is an experience that can happen naturally and there are also prāņāyāma practices to help cultivate the experience. It is not, however, an experience that can be forced. In fact, trying to force the experience not only defeats the purpose of the practice it can be detrimental to the health of the person practicing.

As I have mentioned in passing before, different styles and traditions may use the same name for a slightly (or sometimes completely) different practice. One example of that with regard to prāņāyāma is the fourth of the seven previously posted practices: Nadi shodhana prāņāyāma.

Alternate energy channel or alternate nasal breathing is a practice that involves controlling and switching breath between nostrils. There are different ways to achieve this switch. Sometimes it can be done with a turn of the head. Most times, however, when someone is practicing nadi shodhana prāņāyāma they are placing their hands in a particular mudra in order to open and close each nostril.

Please note that the information below is not intended to teach or guide someone through the practice. This is merely an introduction into how different traditions practice this type of prāņāyāma, which should initially be practiced with a teacher.

I was original taught nadi shodhana prāņāyāma in the same way it appears in Light On Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar – which is that after a preliminary breathing practice, one exhales out of the right nostril and inhales through the same (right) nostril before switching to the left and repeating on the other side. The second exhale on the right marks the end of the first cycle and the beginning of the second cycle. It is typically practiced for 8 – 12 cycles and I was initially taught that this was one of the practices that should be done separate from the practice of āsana (“seat” or pose).

Later, I was instructed in a short variation that could be done at the beginning of the practice and also variations where (a) the index and middle fingers of the manipulating hand were placed up (touching the third eye) instead of bent down into the palm and (b) there was a different amount of pressure applied to the nostrils. Years and years after my first practices, I would learn of traditions whereby the first exhale is on the left, and while the first inhale is on the right, the second exhale is (again) on the left. This sequence is repeated three times in order to complete one cycle. Then, after three normal breaths (through both nostrils), the sequence is repeated on the opposite sides.

Again, the details above are intended to be informational, not instructional.

“… success in chaturtha pranayama depends on our ability to become aware of our breath and the subtle force of prana that propels it. Those with a body free of toxins and a mind free of roaming tendencies will find it easy to become aware of the flow of prana shakti in their body;. But most of us commit ourselves to yoga sadhana only after we have disrupted the natural ecology of our body and thrown our mind into turmoil. A sluggish body and a dense mind are not fit to practice yoga. And yet this is where most of us begin. Thus even though chaturtha pranayama is not dependent on what we gain from the three pranayamas described in the previous sutra, they have an important role to play in preparing many of us for practicing it.”


– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.51 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, December 12th) at 12:00 PM. As I mentioned last week, this practice will be āsana-light (and there won’t be a lot of the story until tomorrow).

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 “Chanukah (Day 2) 2020”]



### 4 7 8 (just another one) ##


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