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In Pranayama Quality Trumps Quantity


Pranayama is the most regular practice I’ve taken up since returning to a regular morning practice routine. I am currently practicing once a day with my current morning practice – where the crown posture involves a krama on the exhale (exhaling 8 seconds, holding 4 seconds, exhaling 8 more seconds and holding for another 4 seconds).

I’ve noticed a recurring pattern over the last two weeks. The right nostril has better flow and less congestion and facilitates a much smoother exhale. The left side is more congested (though improving) and there is more tension and resistance on the exhale.

A more prominent expression of tension is at the end of the second exhale and manifests as a shortness of breath – as if there is just enough to complete the exhale. It is interesting to note that this does not necessarily effect the second hold whicih may be peaceful even following an effort on the exhale.

A more subtle sign of the tension is in the first part of the exhale. In my mind there is an awareness that I need to “preserve” my breath and let it out in such a way that there will be enough left over after the first part of the exhale for the second part – it’s a somewhat economic thinking. Yet my experience has been that this awareness is counter-productive. Trying to “hold on” to enough breath simply does not work. In fact it gives birth to tension since the very thought of “holding a reserve” carries a subtext of “expecting a shortage” – and mind delivers both.

Instead of focusing on “holding it in” when I feel tension arising I focus on quality of breath. In practice this means making the breath more soft and steady – refining the flow. This affects both mind and breath. Mind responds to softening and relaxes some of it’s hold on rationing the breath. At the same time a refined flow of breath actually leaves more breath available and in doing so achieves what an assertive mind failed to achieve.

So the right nostril offers a meditative and flowing experience and the left nostril offers a teaching experience. They work well together 🙂

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