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God Emperor of Dune

Religiousness in Yoga Part 12: Prāṇāyāma, Ratio, Gazing, Mudrā

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Ratio

Now, a very important aspect of the practice of prāṇāyāma is how to establish the right ratio for individual practice … We might need something new to maintain our attention to practice or to suite a particular need, If the ratio is too easy, our prāṇāyāma will become mechanical. If it is too complicated or difficult, there will be resistance or conflict.

The choice of proper ratio involves two things – what can be done and what should be done. What can be done involves a given person’s capacity to inhale, hold the breath, exhale, and hold the breath. What should be done involves our direction of movements, our aim, our need. We have to accept where we are and move towards where we should go. This movement … will always be present in Yoga.

What can be done can be easily established if we observe our breath in āsana. If we observe how the breath fluctuates, how they body responds through the breath in certain postures, we will get an idea of the limits of our breath.

… The person in our example can exhale but has a problem with inhalation. Obviously we will try to concentrate on extending the inhalation unless there are other related problems …

Let us take another example ysing the same ratio 10-0-10-0-, and the same postures … The difficulty is with inhalation in the bending backward posture, The exhalation in this posture is all right. What does this mean? … Sometimes the body can fool us … we can find out by introducing something else into the postures. In this case, I would ask the person to five seconds after exhalation … 10-0-10-5 … Then the true quality of the breath is revealed. We might find that in this example, the exhalation becomes shorter and the inhalation continues to get worse. Then we know this that this person probably has a problem with exhalation.

… Having determined what we can do, we want to establish a direction of movement based upon this information. For example, a person can do 15-0-10-0, and we want him to do 15-0-15-0. The first step for anyone, and this is very important, is to make the exhalation longer than or at least equal to the inhalation. There are many ways it can be done …

… Because the total length of the breath is twenty five seconds he will also be able to do 10-5-10-0 … next we introduce holding the breath after exhalation … we now have a balance … After a week of this we can try 12-0-12-0. If this not possible through the throat, he can use nostril control to help.

Can do:
Should do:
First do:
Then (balance):
After some days:
Then:

15-0-10-0
15-0-15-0
10-5-10-0
10-5-10-5
12-0-12-0
12-3-12-3
12-6-12-6
15-0-15-0

So a solution to what we should do might be … to change the type of prāṇāyāma. If that is not enough, some special āsanas will help … These are some of the means we can adopt … Also, over a period of time starting points and, therefore, goals will be different.

… These changes call for a gradual process and that can only happen over a period of time. At times we should do even less than what we are capable of doing … what should be done is what is helpful for us, not simply to do longer and longer sequences of breathing. The goal must be logically fixed. It is not like running a race.

… flexibility is necessary, since the human existence is such that things change … The aim in Yoga is to train ourselves so that we can modify inhalation or exhalation and hold the breath to meed a demand. That is why we develop different ratios.

Part 2: Gazing

… We have already mentioned that in prāṇāyāma we must have good posture, that we must select a type of prāṇāyāma, and that we must have a … mental attitude … of attention … we can sense the sound of the breath or feel the breath as it moves through the body and that this helps focus attention. Something else that might help attention is a special form of gazing, that is, holding the eyeballs in a steady position but with the eyes closed. We use the eyes so often that it is not easy to keep them steady. Whether we are seeing, or hearing, smelling or tasting, we somehow involve the eyes, thus the eyes are overused. Closing the eyelids is a very important aspect of prāṇāyāma. We bring the eyes into a position as if we were looking at our abdomen, navel, tip of the nose, or between the eyebrows … In the beginning it is easier to do the technique of gazing during retention of the breath, forgetting about the position of the eyes during inhalation or exhalation … The effect is to rest the senses.

… In the beginning we can gaze at the center of movement. On the inhalation we shift our gaze … towards the solar plexus … during holding. When we exhale … towards the navel. A step beyond this would be to gaze at a fixed point …. throughout the entire prāṇāyāma.

Part 3: Mudrā

Another practice that helps our attention during prāṇāyāma is the positioning of our hands and fingers … hasta mudrā. Hasta means “hand.” The word mudrā has many meaning. Let us understand it simply as symbol … dhyānamudrā is when we rest one hand in the other …[in] cin-mudrā the thumb and index finger of the left hand join to form a circle and the right hand is used to modulate the breath at the nostrils … As far as possible the whole body is used during prāṇāyāma so that we are sure we are with the breath …

… If you were to study prāṇāyāma with me, I would not mention any of these practices for a long time. Then they would be introduced gradually. What we are trying to develop to bring about unification will, if we move too quickly, divide us into pieces.

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