Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pranayama 201

This is my favorite pranayama practice. It is nice and easy and can be practiced just about anywhere. Once we've learned to relax the belly, we move on to bring the focus, finally, to the breath. Tune in to your breath. Notice how it feels: slow, fast, smooth, ragged, even, uneven? Just notice its quality for a few minutes without trying to change it. It is important to know that the quality of your breath changes from day to day, hour to hour. There is no one "correct" breath. Don't judge yourself, just notice. When you begin to settle in, feeling relaxed, begin to consciously change your breath. Slow it down a bit, or lengthen it, as I like to tell my students. Draw the breath in a little deeper and exhale a little longer. Try to keep the breath quiet and comfortable, so don't try to fill your lungs to maximum capacity - this will cause anxiety. When all those pesky little thoughts begin to bombard your mind, and they will over and over again, just return to focusing on your breath. Study the quality of this breath you have set for yourself. Is it comfortable enough to continue for several more minutes? If not, change it, soften it or make it a bit shallower. Try to establish a breath you can stick with for a good five minutes. Come back to it again and again each time you are interrupted by thoughts.
If you are able to practice this at least a couple of times per week, you will find that you sink into a nice quiet rhythm pretty quickly and you finish feeling relaxed and refreshed. You may discover that your breath becomes deeper and even develops an aspirant sound to it. That is good. However, I don't recommend that you try to make any sound at the beginning. Trying too hard to make the sound of ujjayi breathing can lead to tension and anxiety and defeat your efforts. Pranayama takes a lot of time and practice, and the best way to be successful is to begin with a focus on relaxation. The breath will unfold from there, becoming deeper and aspirant on its own. Only then are you truly ready to begin the more advanced practices.
Is this meditation? Well, yes, in a way. It is very elementary practice for meditation which comes much later down the road. It is the beginning of pratyahara, or turning inward, as well as gentle conditioning for more advanced pranayama practices.
I use this practice frequently to turn inward and settle my mind. I also use it while lying in bed if I'm having trouble falling asleep. It quiets my mind and allows me to relax enough to let sleep unfold. Most of all, it puts you in touch with your breath, developing an the intuitive sense of when you are anxious or tense, or relaxed and peaceful. This becomes a very useful skill to have throughout life!

1 comment:

  1. Nice posting. Do you know about these pranayama books?