“I start from one point and go as far as possible. But unfortunately, I never lose my way. I say unfortunately, because what would interest me greatly is to discover paths that I'm perhaps not aware of ... The harmonies have become for me a kind of obsession, which gives me the feeling of looking at music from the wrong end of a telescope.”
John Coltrane

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

Three Keys to Starting a Pranayama Practice

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Please note:

  • Though I intend to show you that you can start a basic Pranayama practice on your own please keep in mind that that is pretty much all you can and should do on your own. There is a lot of superficial disinformation about what Pranayama is and how it should be practiced. Breath is a very powerful instrument with both immediate and long term effects. Pranayama is an alchemical process that effects (by design!) your energetic body more then it does your biological body. This happens regardless of what you may think you know about it or even feel in your practice. It is possible to trap yourself in a practice you like that has adverse effects on your health.
  • Extra care should be taken in states of illness or recovery when both the energetic and biological bodies are more sensitive to any intervention. A Pranayama practice can be invaluable in recovery but should NOT be self-prescribed and ONLY be used with guidance of a teacher.
  • Pregnancy is not an illness. It is a demanding, more sensitive state of being that affects two sentient beings  – therefore it deserves a Pranayama practice that is offered with more care and consideration.

There are three things you need to know in order to begin a Pranayama practice: (1) the length of your breath; (2) a breathing ratio; (3) a suitable breathing technique.

Length of Breath

Determining the length of your breath can be achieved with a fairly simple exercise (and a little mathematics) you can find in this post about the four parts of the breath. Once you know your base breathing duration you can apply that to a breathing ratio.

Ratio of Breath

A core teaching in Pranayama is that a practice should focus on lengthening the exhale – the inhale will follow the exhale. From this comes a first rule of thumb in determining a breathing ratio: the exhale should be equal to or longer then the inhale.

It is a good idea to start with a ratio of equal inhale and exhale. For example, if your base breathing duration is 4 seconds – then you should inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. Practice that for a while until it becomes familiar and comfortable.

From there you can move into a ratio in which the exhale is one and half times longer then the inhale. For example, if your base breathing duration is 4 seconds – then you should inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds.

If your breathing leads you into it naturally then you may add short 1 second holds between inhale and exhale. Please do not play around with holding the breath beyond that – this is where the magical alchemy of Pranayama is intensified and directed. Holding the breath based on your natural preferences or curiosities is very likely to lead you into a dysfunctional practice.

Don’t count seconds on your own – your mind will cheat and twist your sense of time – in the face of effort you will simply count faster. Get a ticking clock or a metronome so you can precisely time your breaths.

Breathing Technique

Your first taste of Pranayama should be with simple Ujjayi breathing. Though it isn’t really a Pranayama practice until you introduce nostril control it is a soft and simple way to get acquainted with structured breathing. It will gift you with a space to first get acquainted with your own breath, with timed breathing and with breathing ratios.

When you are comfortable with timing and counting your breath you can move into an actual Pranayama practice. To do this you will need to introduce nostril control to your practice. Then, a good technique to get you started with nostril contol is Anuloma Ujjayi.

Connecting the Pieces

Putting just these basic ideas together demonstrates an important aspect of Pranayama: it is a gradually evolving process of practice. Each practice introduces a gradual increment built upon the previous practice. Consider these practices:

  1. 6 Ujjayi breaths with an equal inhale and exhale.
  2. 10 Ujjayi breaths with an equal inhale and exhale.
  3. 6 Ujjayi breaths with an exhale 1.5 times longer then the inhale.
  4. 10 Ujjayi breaths with an exhale 1.5 times longer then the inhale.
  5. 6 Anuloma Ujjayi breaths with an equal inhale and exhale.
  6. 12 Anuloma Ujjayi breaths with an exhale 1.5 times loonger then the inhale.

At first each of these is a SEPARATE practice. Stick with it until you feel comfortable and peaceful with it – it can take days, weeks or months. Practice regularly and take your time.

To take your Pranayama practice further find a teacher with whom you can work in a one-on-one setting. A teacher can guide you on a refined exploration of breath through care-full observation and tailoring of personalized practices.

I offer one-on-one online Pranayama teaching at iBreathe.

Posted in Getting Started, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to add your comment

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-02

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  • just realized that hot water pipes are running under the work-table … how cozy !!! #
  • have you ever noticed that things to become what you see in them? #
  • When you encounter ur limits in Pranayama focus on quality of breath rather then length of breath: http://bit.ly/eMHANr #
  • how about gifting yourself (or a close friend) with a gift of breath for a new year? iBreathe Pranayama: http://bit.ly/ee3CBi #
  • in Romanian "Frig" means cold (I get that) but "Culd" means warm … duh! #kindalearningromanian #
  • today is a day of rest and recovery = two coffees and no pranayama 🙂 #
  • asked her: "What would I do without me" to which she answered: "probably have a much easier time in life" … hmmm #
  • Is it just me or do you also think there is something not-quite-right in a society where this can happen: http://bit.ly/99Fni5 #
  • "Something as simple as loading a photo of ur bunk in Afghanistan 2Flickr, & geotagging it, can bring a mortar in2 your area of operation." #
  • wonderful video that gets across a message I don't always manage to communicate clearly "you need to get off Facebook" http://bit.ly/eI7XZc #
  • @jberd ucan practice Pranayama close2 bedtime but then u should do a practice that facilitates sleep & avoid practices that may disturb it #

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You Need to Get Off Facebook

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This is a post I haven’t yet written … I haven’t achieved a clarity of thought that enables me to say in words what my heart knows.

AND THEN out of nowhere this wonderful video appears and does a great job of expressing at least part of what I wanted to say. Thank you Ross (I think this is his personal blog)!

Posted in AltEco, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Asana & Pranayama – An Energy Process

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There is a fuctional relationship between Asana & Pranayama. Understading it is useful in putting both Asana & Pranayama practices in context and draws them together into a fuller understanding of Yoga.

I’ve been looking for a metaphor to demonstrate this relationship for some time until I remembered to revisit the engine metaphor which I had already called on, but this time with a different focus.

A combustion engine (which is what you will typically find in cars) is a mechanisms that literally transforms explosions into orderly movement. A typical engine block has numerous cylinders and in each cylinder is a piston. An explosion is typically created in the cylinder by mixing fuel and air and igniting the mixture – creating an explosion. The explosion pushes the piston out of the cylinder. I found a great animation of this on Wikipedia:

The pistons in the engine block are connected to a crankshaft in such a way that when they are moved in a synchronized way the crankshaft rotates. This synchronized movement is achieved by precise timing of the explosions in the cylinder. And once again Wikipedia provided a nice animation of this process:

I’ve never really noticed (until now) that it is possible to divide an engine into two logical systems. One system creates explosions using fuel injection, air intake and ignition. The other system creates physical movement using pistons and a crankshaft. They come together in the cylinders and  together transform raw explosions (which have no particular direction or even use) into rotational movement.

In Yoga, Asana practices are the 1st system – the one that creates explosive energy. This is what physical practices are intended to do. It is easy and inviting to relate Asana which involve physical movement with the 2nd system of physical movement, but that is a common misunderstanding. Yoga postures are designed to move energy and do so by moving the body. Movement of the body is the means by which energy is moved.

Pranayama is the 2nd system which regulates the flow of energy that is created in the 1st system. Without Pranayama, Asana practices are like misdirected explosions. If you don’t hook up the pistons  to a properly placed and maintained crank shaft then you have an engine that simply creates explosions – which, rightfully, seems pointless.

This raises the question – can Pranayama be practiced without Asana? One important difference between a car’s engine and ours is that ours runs all the time. So yes it is possible and recommended to practice Pranayama even if you don’t practice Asana. But Asana practice does  support and enhance Pranayama practices. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when mechanics check your car they rev-up your engine? There are some things about an engine you can only see when it is rotating fast or as it settles back down again. Asana is kind of like that – it places effort on the system, invigorates it and then lets it settle back down (which is why very often Asana practices end with a posture like Savasana).

A final interesting parallel to draw between a combustion engine and ours is the cylinders where all this magic happens – where the two system connect. The pistons needs to be a perfect fit inside the cylinders – tight enough so that nothing leaks out of the cylinder and lubricated enough so the piston can move really fast in and out of the cylinder. In our engine we can think of the cylinders as our Nadis – channels of energy. Energy “explodes” into the Nadi in Asana and then their flow is regulated with Pranayama.

With this in mind we can make some applicable observations about Asana, Pranayama and their relationship.

  • If you have limited time and have to choose between Asana & Pranayama – Pranayama will probably serve you better (remember: your engine is running all the time!).
  • If you practice only Asana make sure you run your engine properly (don’t push it too far too fast) and remember to let it settle at the end of the practice … oh … and please add Pranayama to your practice.
  • If you are practicing both Asana & Pranayama – asana should come first and Pranayama second. Pranayama will will both help the system settle and will be more effective when the energy is coursing through you and malleable.
  • Pranayama expands your breathing capacity, refines the quality of your breath and articulates your understanding and control of your breath. This will support you in your asana practice, it will give you an increased range of practice … which in turn will empower your Pranayama practice in a never ending feedback loop of expansion and refinement.
Posted in Asana, Energy, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to add your comment

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-12-26

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  • @zenpeacekeeper thinking of #30daysofyoga u may enjoy/benefit/be-inspired by this book http://bit.ly/eQeyVy (by my teacher @YogaStudies ) #
  • @Shuliji yes c u there 🙂 #omcru #
  • @lifeinromania doesn't look like we are going to make it … but we wish you a pleasant gathering tonight 🙂 #
  • what to do when Firefox crashes and does not restore all of the tabs you had open (ouch!) http://bit.ly/f0hr7P #
  • @Shuliji don't forget to remember and leave room for the things you don't know you don't know 🙂 #
  • "Mandate of Infinite Variety" – doesn't that sound like mathematicians trying to describe Brahman? http://bit.ly/hYQdgY #
  • 1of the most brilliant albums I've ever heard "An Introduction to the Story of Spedy Sponda" by Oren Marshall http://bit.ly/ghKeXE #
  • @fredwilson just sent you an email with information on rare performance in Israel tonight! #
  • combination of holiday and time differences twitter is so quiet, feels as if I have this huge space all2 MYSELF …myself …self …elf #

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