“... The danger has always been that the rituals, the static patterns are mistaken for what they merely represent and are allowed to destroy the Dynamic Quality they were originally intended to preserve ...”
Robert Pirsig

Lila

Practicing Pranayama with Congestion

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The day before yesterday we left very early in the morning to a day filled with traveling and unknowns. I didn’t practice that morning and I didn’t practice yesterday morning because I was too unsettled to enjoy a meaningful practice. Today was a “resuming practice” day.

On such days my nasal passages are usually at least a bit more congested then usual (there are rare days where the congestion is too much to practice anything other then basic ujjayi breathing) and as a result the breath doesn’t flow as consistently and smoothly as I know it can. My breathing capacity is usually full despite my congestion – which means I can still do my entire practice, I just need to be more attentive and patient with the breath.

Here is where things get tricky. A “rough” breath usually coincides with a “rough” mind – a mind that is usually dancing around and is short on patience. On these “resuming practice” days my Pranayama practices are more about mind then about breath.

Today I noticed another subtle trick my mind has been playing with for some time. I’ve been witnessing it  for many years but today, for the first time, I saw through to what was happening – a kind of thing my teacher calls an “escape”. I find myself trying to momentarily push out or pull in a stronger flow of air in an attempt to clear congestion. Somewhere in my consciousness there is a desire to go back to a quality of breath that I know I am capable of – and that translates into an action in the form of a forceful breath – and sometimes it works. But this is a mind in denial.

The present situation is a familiar experience of congestion. It is a congestion of both the breath and the mind. A “flowing” practice in this state is therefore one that includes and accommodates this congestion – it is a bumpy flow. It isn’t the same kind of smooth “flowing” experience that comes after a few continuous days of peaceful living and practice – it can’t be. When my mind pushes the breath to “overcome” my congestion it is actually in denial of the present congested state – it is creating more turbulence in the practice by clinging to a false hope that a little bit of pushing will bring the practice back to familiar grounds.

Even after I noticed this pattern it continued to manifest in my practice. It is a habit I have picked up over the years. It is something I am going to pay more attention to in future practices. I would like to form a more present habit where my mind accepts the congestion and works with it instead of against it. I have faith that I will find my way back to a better and smoother practice. I need to convey that faith softly to my mind so that it too can be patient and present with me.

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