“I say it clearly as it is — to understand or not to understand, both are mistaken (views).”
Rinzai

The Teachings of Rinzai

Pratiloma Ujjayi

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Pratiloma Ujjayi is a longer cycle of breathing that weaves together the Anuloma & Viloma techniques

The breathing cycle in Pratiloma Ujjayi is:

  1. Inhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).
  2. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  3. Inhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  4. Exhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  5. Inhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  6. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  7. Inhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  8. Exhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).

A single Pratiloma breathing cycle is made up of 4 breaths! Though it may seem a bit more complicated and difficult to remember then the other techniques it is actually a very simple pattern – here is a way to remember it:

  1. Inhale using the same path you used for the previous exhale. For example: if you exhale using ujjayi and both nostrils open, then the following inhale will also be ujjayi with both nostrils open; if you exhale using nostril control through the left nostril, then you inhale through the left nostril using nostril control.
  2. Switch from left-nostril to right-nostril by passing through ujjayi (both nostrils open).

IMPORTANT: never use two breath control techniques at the same time. In this case when you exhale using Ujjayi, both nostrils are open; when you inhale using nostril control you release the Ujjayi – DO NOT use Ujjayi when using nostril control. This is true for all Pranayama techniques. Ujjayi and nostril control both act as valves to affect the flow of breath – only use one at any given time.

If your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Please remember that one round of Pratiloma breathing is made up of four breaths. When practicing, you should always do an even number of breaths – so that the practice remains symmetrical (unless you’ve been given other specific instructions by a qualified teacher).

Here is a practice to get acquainted with Pratiloma Ujjayi. It begins and ends with regular Ujjayi breathing and in the middle the technique is changed to Pratiloma Ujjayi. Find yourself a comfortable seated position and do the following practice sequence :

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x8 = 2 rounds Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   – 1.5 –   0   (x8 = 2 rounds  Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

Posted in Breath, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Energy – Prana

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This was a difficult post for me to write – I couldn’t find a clear way to express my experience of Prana. Prana is one of the Vedic concepts that I internalized (and continue to clarify) through years of practice. My initial attempts to collect my thoughts and express them in writing fell short of the actual experience and perception I have of it. So I put if off for many weeks. I then did some research into the Vedic roots of Prana and see what they have to say.

Why is there Prana?

I found what I was looking for in the Prasna Upanishad which is made of up 6 questions from 6 different students answered by one teacher. Questions 2 & 3 are about the nature, origin and function of Prana. But I found a pearl of inspiration in the sixth question and I would like to start with that:

Q6.3: “The Purusha reflected: ‘What is it by whose departure I shall depart and by whose staying I shall stay?’”
Q6.4: “He created prana, from prana faith, space, air, fire, water, earth…”

It seems that Purusa (spirit) wanted to get around – it was sitting there with infinite potential but nothing was happening. It wanted to reach out, create & experience, so it came up with Prana – a means for it to manifest. Then, before anything else manifested, from Prana came faith. I hope to one day gain more perspective on this subtle point. For now I am inspired by this suggestion that faith came before everything else.

What is Prana?

In the second question Q2.3 – we find that:

  1. Prana is that which supports and upholds the body.
  2. Prana manifests before ether, the subtle elements and the senses (suggested in Q2.2)
  3. Prana is divided into 5.
  4. Of the 5 pranas, Prana (the first) is the dominant one (Q2.4) : “when it rose upward all the others rose … and when it settled down they all settled down with it”.

Where does Prana come from?

The explanation offered in Q3.3 about the origin of Prana took my breath away. It is a wonderful example of Vedic wisdom.

Q3.3: “As a shadow is cast by a person, so this prana is by Atman.”

To gain some insight into this concise statement we need to call on some terms we’ve mentioned in passing. Purusa (spirit) & Prakrti (matter) are, according to Samkhya philosophy, the source of everything. Purusa (spirit) also goes by the name Brahman. While Atman, you may recall,  is the individuated manifestation  of Brahman that resides in all living things.

The text here suggests that Prana is the shadow that is cast by Atman. After carrying this image around with me for some time, I asked myself “Where is this shadow of Atman cast?”. The answer that I came up with is Prakrti. Spirit (Purusa) casts a shadow onto Prakrti (Matter), that shadow is Prana and it is what supports and upholds us.

prana01

How does Prana function?

  1. Prana engages other pranas in different parts of the body (Q3.4). It resides in the mouth, nose, eyes and ears (Q3.5). It is associated with processes of intake (food, water, air, impressions, experiences, etc.) – it is the basic energy that drives us.
  2. Apana resides in the organs of excretion and generation (Q3.5). It is associated with processes of elimination (bodily wastes, semen, menstrual fluid, fetus, carbon dioxide, etc.). It has purifying and immunization qualities.
  3. Samana is in the middle and distributes that which is offered to the fire (Q3.5).  It is associated with processes of distribution (digested food, absorbed oxygen, experiences, etc.). It has a nourishing quality.
  4. Vyana moves through the nadis (Q3.6). It is associated with processes of circulation from the center to the periphery (food, water, oxygen, emotions, thoughts).
  5. Udana ascends upwards and conducts the departing soul (Q3.7). It is associated with transformation process of life (growth, will, consciousness, expression, etc.).

Some things to know about Prana

  1. You cannot have “more or less” Prana, you can have “collected & diffused” Prana.
  2. Prana affects and is affected by lifestyle (eating, socializing, physical activity, etc.).
  3. Dominant qualities of Prana vary in different stages of life (childhood, adulthood, old age).
  4. Asana (physical yoga postures) are used to awaken & activate Prana.
  5. Pranayama is used to improve the flow of Prana – it’s not about the air you inhale or exhale, it is about clearing the channels (nadis) in which Prana flows so it may flow better.
  6. Mudra & Bandhas are used to manipulate and direct Prana internally.
  7. The ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga is to remove barriers that obstruct Prana from flowing into the central Sushumna Channel.

Translations of the Prasna Upanishad by Swami Nikhilananda , courtesy of Dharma Downloads.

Posted in Breath, Energy, Pranayama, Upanishads, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Not Quite There

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The only I person I kiss on the lips is Andreea, the rest of the people get a peck on the cheek. The last few days we have been staying at my parents place – visiting with my family.  Today I went out for a meeting and when I came back Andreea opened the door to greet me. I bent in to kiss her on the cheek (she tried to compensate for my navigational error and we ended up with half of the lips touching)!

It was an amusing and enlightening moment – directly experiencing the power of habitual patterns. The dominant pattern in my mind is “kiss on cheek when door opens at parents place”. Had I been truly present in the moment the pattern would not have taken over, but I was preoccupied, my mind was elsewhere and for lack of a better choice automatic behavior took over.

This is (another reason) why Yoga needs to be practiced consistently. No matter how much we create and practice new patterns we can never remove the old ones. When we let down our guard we will fall back to the rooted and familiar patterns.

Posted in Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-20

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My New 2.4 Shakuhachi

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A couple of days ago I met my new Tai Hei 2.4 Shakuhachi and the meeting was surprising and, well… intimidating. When I first saw it I was sitting in a car – so I didn’t have a space to hold it properly – which just amplified my initial impression of “It’s huge and I can’t even get my fingers to close the holes”. The new instrument is a longer 2.4 Shakuhachi then my first 1.8 Shakuhachi and it is much heavier and massive.

Yesterday, a beautiful ray of sunset light entered my practice space and provided warm illumination. So I took out the camera and created these closeup photos hoping to capture some of the beautiful and subtle visual elements of this instrument.
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shakuhachi_sidebyside

The 2.4 Shakuhachi is exactly what I had hoped for but not at all what I expected. When I got home and sat down with it, I still couldn’t hold it peacefully – my fingers, wrists and arms ached – before I even made a sound. The thought of moving a finger to play the instrument seemed ludicrous. When I tried to change my grip and posture to bring comfort to my hands, the Shakuhachi reached so high that if I didn’t move my head it would have lodged itself up my nose and into my brain.  My mind went into a frenzy, and came up with a brilliant solution … ahum … “Send it back and get a different one”. Thankfully my mind was not in the driver seat.

The first thing I did was to blow into it as best as I could to experience it’s sound. When that happened I realized that this was indeed what I had hoped for. A 2.4 is tuned to a lower pitch then a 1.8 and it’s sounds are deep and warm. The sounds also brought some calm to my mind. Then I wrote an email to Monty Levenson (the maker) and asked if he could offer any advice. He answered very quickly and had some great advice which helped bring the instrument to rest peacefully in my hands.

It’s now been two days and I am thankful and grateful for having this instrument with me. It’s amazing that despite that massive presence of the new Shakuhachi it needs to be played much more gently then the 1.8. A very gentle breath brings it to life with a deep and resonating tone. Slight changes in the position of the head greatly affect the sound as well. My fingers are learning and adapting to playing it much faster then I expected (they don’t hurt any more, even after moving them and playing).

This new Shakuhachi and my experience of it embody and clarify some changes I expect to introduce into my Yoga practice:  “more” & “more subtle”.

Thank you sis :)

Posted in inside, Shakuhachi, Yoga & I | You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours