Tag Archives: Pranayama

brahmari pranayama

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Anxiety is commonly associated with short, tight upper-chest breathing, says Timothy McCall, MD. Relaxation, on the other hand, comes with slower breaths that originate from the diaphragm. “Lengthening exhalation relative to inhalation reduces the ‘fight or flight’ impulse and maintains a healthy level of carbon dioxide in the blood, which helps you relax,” he says.

For anxiety, McCall recommends a pranayama (breathwork) technique known as brahmari, Sanskrit word that means “bee.” The practice is named for the humming sound that bees make. The sound is soothing for a spinning mind, and the practice lengthens the exhalation without excessive strain.

To practice Brahmari Pranayama, sit comfortably, with the back tall and shoulders relaxed. Start by taking a few natural breaths, and close your eyes (as long as closing them doesn’t produce more anxiety). Then, keeping the lips lightly sealed, inhale through the nostrils. Exhaling, make the sound of the letter M, essentially a humming sound. Sustain the sound until you need to inhale. Then repeat: Inhale through the nose, then hum like a buzzing bee as you exhale. Continue by inhaling as needed and exhaling with this sound for several minutes. You can practice as long as it feels good.

The longer you sustain the humming exhalation, the more relaxing the Bee Breath is likely to be—but forcing the breath beyond your capacity can have the reverse effect, causing even more stress. So don’t force yourself to maintain any particular speed. Inhale whenever necessary, and let the buzzing sound last as long as it is comfortable. Finally, spend a few breaths sitting quietly and noticing whether there are any changes in your breath or mood.”

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Buzz Away the Buzzing Mind by Rachel Brahinsky

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bhakti

Devotion is when you are deeply present with what is happening…When you are absent in one way or another…that inability to see things accurately is, in a certain way, a lack of devotion.

David Garrigues (5:48 into interview)


just breathe

As yogis have known for centuries—and as medical science is beginning to discover—the breath has amazing recuperative powers. By controlling the breath (a practice called Pranayama), the yogis found, they could alter their state of mind. The three pranayama practices described here primarily create their effects by slowing and regularizing the breath. This engages what scientists call the parasympathetic nervous system, a complex biological mechanism that calms and soothes us.

How does slower breathing help? In stressful times, we typically breathe too rapidly. This leads to a buildup of oxygen in the bloodstream and a corresponding decrease in the relative amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn upsets the ideal acid-alkaline balance—the pH level—of the blood. This condition, known as respiratory alkalosis, can result in muscle twitching, nausea, irritability, lightheadedness, confusion, and anxiety.

In contrast, slowing the breath raises the carbon dioxide level in the blood, which nudges the pH level back to a less alkaline state. As the blood’s pH changes, the parasympathetic nervous system calms us in a variety of ways, including telling the vagus nerve to secrete acetylcholine, a substance that lowers the heart rate.

As with any treatment, the breathing remedy must be administered intelligently and judiciously to be fully effective. Each condition responds best to its own special breath. To calm anxiety, for example, you can purposely lengthen your exhalations; to alleviate dullness and fatigue, you can lengthen your inhalations. And to lift yourself out of an emotional pit, it’s most effective to equalize the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations.

You’ll probably notice that watching the breath immediately initiates a chain of changes in it. First, it slows down. As it slows, its ordinarily rather ragged movements smooth out. And as the breath smoothes out, the space it occupies in the body increases.

When we breathe, most of us usually expand only a limited portion of the torso, generally in the front around the lower ribs and upper belly. Often, our breathing is restricted and shallow; ideally, it should be deep and full, so each breath cycle expands and contracts the height, width, and depth of the whole torso.

To experiment with consciously expanding your breath, sit in a chair with your spine erect—or, better yet, lie on your back on the floor. Put your fingertips lightly on your lower belly, just above the pubic bone, and try to direct a few inhalations into this space, expanding the belly each time. Once you can do this, move your fingertips to the spaces below your collarbones, placing your pinkie tips on the sides of the sternum and splaying the rest of your fingers out to the sides.

Then, for a few inhalations, see if you can gently expand these spaces. Be careful to keep your throat as soft as possible as you do this, because there’s a counterproductive tendency to tense it as you inhale into the upper chest.

Once you can move the breath into the lower belly and upper chest, try to awaken your entire back torso, an area that is terra incognita for many people. As much as you can, breathe into your back body, feeling how it balloons and then deflates with each breath cycle. Once you can feel this, experiment with filling all of your newfound spaces with every breath.

Sometimes just watching and expanding your breath for several minutes can have a surprisingly positive influence on your energy level or mood. You can multiply this effect significantly by using pranayama—breathing exercises tailored to have an effect on specific moods and conditions. Based on knowledge cultivated and refined by the yogis over thousands of years, these exercises intentionally alter the speed, rhythm, and space of the breath.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Inhale, Exhale, Relax and Energize by Richard Rosen

 


teaching pranayama

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Breathing in a House by Pak Sheung Chuen

The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. pPranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

How can so many experts offer such different approaches to pranayama? In part this variety results from the brevity of the ancient texts upon which our modern practices are based. Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra, for example, says that lengthening the exhalation can help to reduce disturbances of the mind, but doesn’t offer detailed techniques for doing that.

“Different people come along and interpret these very succinct verses in different ways, and then they practice based on their interpretation,” says Kripalu’s Yoganand. “Yoga is so powerful that people tend to get an effect almost regardless of what they do. So someone says, ‘I did it this way and it worked, so I must be right,’ and someone else says, ‘I did it completely differently, but it worked, so I must be right.’ Since neither can convince the other and since they both have experience to support their beliefs, they go off and generate two schools. It makes perfect sense that no one can agree. Everyone’s experience is different.”

In the West you can even find teachers who counsel us to step with caution into traditional pranayama practices. When students aren’t well prepared, they say, classical breathing techniques can actually distort natural and organic patterns of breathing, forcing us into rigid and controlled ways of being.

“Most people begin yoga with so many pre-existing blocks and holding patterns that to introduce a controlled breathing regime right away further concretizes the blocks,” says Donna Farhi, yoga teacher and author of The Breathing Book (Henry Holt, 1996). “I think it’s extremely important to remove the blocks and holding patterns first, to reveal the natural breath that is our birthright. And then it can be very interesting to explore the subtle movement of prana through formal pranayama work. But for the most part this controlled practice is introduced too soon and often only obscures the unconscious forces that drive the breath-holding patterns.”

Viewed alongside one another, these varied perspectives offer us the unsettling yet inspiring prospect that there may not be one right way to reap the gifts of pranayama. As teachers, we need to offer a range of tools to our students and let them use their experience and discrimination to discern which approach works best. Each of them must decide for themselves which method steers them closest to yoga’s ultimate gift: the ease, balance, and inner quiet that reveals the very heart of life.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Teaching Pranayama by Claudia Cummins


nadi shodana

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Sushumna by Julian Vadas

A student of the great Indian poet Kabir once asked him, “Kabir, where is God?” His answer was simple: “He is the breath within the breath.” To understand the profound implications of Kabir’s reply, we need to look beyond the physical components of breath—the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other molecules that stream in and out with our every inhalation and exhalation. Beyond this breath—yet within it—is prana, the universal vital energy that is quite literally the stuff of life.

For those of us who practice yoga, the challenge is to harness this energy so it can fuel our physical, mental, and spiritual development. To do this, we need to look deeply into the mysteries of the mind and the subtle body. Fortunately, the early practitioners of Tantra voyaged into this inner landscape, mapping the many ways energy circulates within us. Among their most important discoveries were the nadis, the vast network of energy channels that makes each individual an integrated, conscious, and vital whole.

Three nadis are of particular interest to yogis. The sushumna (most gracious) nadi is the body’s great river, running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, passing through each of the seven chakras in its course. It is the channel through which kundalini shakti (the latent serpent power) —and the higher spiritual consciousness it can fuel—rises up from its origin at the muladhara (root) chakra to its true home at the sahasrara (thousandfold) chakra at the crown of the head. In subtle body terms, the sushumna nadi is the path to enlightenment.

The ida (comfort) and pingala (tawny) nadis spiral around the sushumna nadi like the double helix of our DNA, crossing each other at every chakra. If you visualize the caduceus, the symbol of modern medicine, you’ll get a rough idea of the relationships among the ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis. Eventually, all three meet at the ajna (command) chakra, midway between the eyebrows.

The most powerful method of balancing ida and pingala is Nadi Shodhana, alternate-nostril breathing. (Literally, the Sanskrit means “nadi cleansing.”) This practice is effective because the ida nadi is directly connected to the left nostril, and the pingala nadi to the right.

To practice Nadi Shodhana, sit in a comfortable meditative position. Make a fist with your right hand, then partially reextend your ring and little fingers. Lightly place the pad of the thumb on your nose just to the right and below the bridge; lightly place the pads of your ring and little fingers on the corresponding flesh on the left side of your nose. Gently pressing with the ring and little fingers to close the left nostril, exhale fully through the right. Then inhale fully through the right, close it with the thumb, release the left nostril, and exhale through it. Inhale through the left nostril, close it with the fingers, release the right nostril, and exhale through it. This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana.

Excerpt From Yoga Jounal Article, Balancing Act, By James Bailey


pratyahara

Pratyahara is situated directly in the middle of the eight limbs, its central position indicates that it is the point where the outer can become inner (and also the reverse). Pratyahara is the bridge limb that shows you how to use asana and pranayama to find dhyana and samadhi, how to use your postures for concentrating your mind, for accurately tuning in, for reading, and responding to your mental states.

Thus you can cultivate a more intimate relationship to your experience of sensation as a way inward towards concentration, towards buddhi, mental clarity, and thus towards self or individuation. Using your body and your breathing to change your relationship to the sensory information you receive helps you bring more mind, more psychology, more honesty and authenticity to your awareness and your self-reflection. You use these new dimensions, this new inner directed consciousness to find more accurate physical alignment that brings deeper significance, more beauty and more grounded weight to your postures and movement.

Lastly, one final unexpected gift from the fifth limb emerges from another less common translation of the word pratyahara: to recover the senses. To recover the senses as opposed to withdrawing them conveys a different flavor to pratyahara by suggesting that the senses are “lost” or somehow need to be re-found or reclaimed…

Sensual could then be an integral part of pratyahara, to cultivate your sensuality could mean to thoroughly apprehend and appreciate what you, your whole body, your nose, eyes, ears, heart, loins, and viscera takes in from the world as means of accurately reflecting soul in your depths and spirit in your aspirations. In fact purusa or spirit, the highest conception of samkhya yoga is also known as The Enjoyer. Who better than purusa to be essentially sensual, to consummately know and appreciate the myriad forms of creation by adopting the ultimate asana, the seat or the perspective of the supreme enjoyer, the one who takes it all in pure, bold, unashamed and unblemished enjoyment.

Excerpt From Elephant Journal Article, Pratyahara: Withdrawing The Senses And Truly Enjoying Your Yoga, By David Garrigues


yoga is om

Swami Sundaranand on the definition of yoga.

On mantra.

On pranayama.