Qualifications for Fitness
Just as post-graduate training depends upon the ability and discipline acquired in mastering the subject in which one graduated, so pranayama training demands mastery of asanas and the strength and discipline arising therefrom.
The fitness of the aspirant for training and advancement in pranayama is to be gauged by an experienced Guru or teacher and his personal supervision is essential.
Pneumatic tools can cut through the hardest rock. In pranayama the yogi uses his lungs as pneumatic tools. If they are not used properly, they destroy both the tool and the person using it. The same is true of pranayama.
Cleanliness and Food
One does not enter a temple with a dirty body or mind. Before entering the temple of his own body, the yogi observes the rules of cleanliness.
Before starting pranayama practices the bowels should be evacuated and the bladder emptied. This leads to comfort in the bandhas.
Preferably pranayama should be practiced on an empty stomach, but if this is difficult, a cup of milk, tea, coffee or cocoa may be taken.
Allow at least six hours to elapse after a meal before practicing pranayama. Light food may be taken half an hour after finishing pranayama practices.
Time and Place
The best time for practice is in the early morning (preferably before sunrise) and after sunset. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, pranayama should be practiced four times a day, in the early morning, noon, evening and midnight, with 8o cycles at a time.
This is hardly possible in the fast modern age. What is therefore recommended is to practice at least 15 minutes a day, but the 8o cycles are for intensely devoted practitioners, and not for the average person.
The best seasons in which to start the practice are spring and autumn when the climate is equable.
Pranayama should be done in a clean airy place, free from insects.
Since noise creates restlessness, practice during quiet hours.
Pranayama should be practiced with determination and regularity at the same time and place and in the same posture. Variation is permissible only in the type of pranayama practiced, that is to say, if Surya Bhedana Pranayama is done one day, Sitali may be done the next day and Bhastrika be done on the third day. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, however, should be practiced daily.
Pranayama is best done sitting on the floor on a folded blanket. The postures suitable are Siddhasana, Virasana, Padmasana and Baddhakonasana. Any other sitting posture may be taken provided the back is kept absolutely erect from the base of the spine to the neck and perpendicular to the floor. Some types, however, may be done in a reclining position as detailed later.
Breathing in pranayama practices is done through the nose only, except in Sitali and Sitakari.
During practice no strain should be felt in the facial muscles, eyes and ears, or in the neck muscles, shoulders, arms, thighs and feet. The thighs and arms should be relaxed deliberately since they are unconsciously tensed during pranayama.
Keep the tongue passive or saliva will accumulate in the mouth. If it does, swallow it before exhalation (rechaka) and not while holding the breath (kumbhaka).
During inhalation and retention the rib cage should expand both forwards and sideways, but the area below the shoulder-blades and armpits should only expand forwards.
To start with there will be perspiration and trembling which will disappear in course of time.
In all the pranayama practices done in a sitting posture, the head should hang down from the nape of the neck, the chin resting in the notch between the collarbones on the top of the breast-bone. This chin lock or Jalandhara Bandha should be used except where specifically stated in the techniques hereafter given.
Keep the eyes closed throughout as otherwise the mind will wander after outside objects and be distracted. The eyes, if kept open, will feel a burning sensation, and irritability.
No pressure should be felt inside the ear during the practice of pranayama.
The left arm is kept straight, the back of the wrist resting on the left knee. The forefinger is bent towards the thumb, its tip touching the tip of the thumb. This is the Jihina Mudra described later in the technique.
The right arm is bent at the elbow and the hand is kept on the nose to regulate the even flow of breath and to gauge its subtlety. This is felt through the tips of the ring and little fingers which control the left nostril and through the tip of the thumb which controls the right nostril. Details of the right hand position are discussed in the technique. In some methods of pranayama both the hands rest on the knees in the Jnana Mudra.
When a baby learns to walk by itself, the mother remains passive bodily, but alert mentally. In an emergency, as when the child stumbles, her body springs into action to save it from a fall. So also, in the practice of pranayama the brain is kept passive but alert. Whenever the organs of the body fail to work properly, the watchful brain sends messages of warning. The ear is told to listen for the proper sound of the breath (which is described below). The hand and nose are told to observe the sensitivity of the breath flowing through the nasal passages.
It may be asked that if the brain is required to send warnings to the senses, how can one concentrate on pranayama? A painter absorbed in his work notes various details like perspective and composition, the colour tones and shades, the foreground and background and the strokes of the paint-brush all at once. A musician playing a melody watches his finger movements and sound patterns, the tuning of the instrument and its pitch. Though the artist and the musician are both observing and correcting the details, they are concentrating on their work. So also the yogi observes details like time, posture and an even breath rhythm, and is alert and sensitive to the flow of prana within him.
As a careful mother teaches her child to walk carefree, so the careful mind of the yogi teaches the senses to be carefree. By continued practice of pranayama the senses become free of obsession for the things they once pined for.
Each should measure his own capacity when doing pranayama and not exceed it. This may be gauged as follows: suppose one can with comfort inhale and exhale for 10 seconds each in rhythmic cycles for a given length of time, say 5 minutes. If there is any change in the rhythm in which the period of inhalation or of exhalation decreases, to say 7 or 8 seconds, one has reached one’s capacity. To go beyond this point, strains the lungs unduly and brings in its wake a host of respiratory diseases.
Faulty practice puts undue stress on the lungs and diaphragm. The respiratory system suffers and the nervous system is adversely affected. The very foundation of a healthy body and a sound mind is shaken by faulty practice of pranayama. Forceful and strained inhalation or exhalation is wrong, except in Bhastrika Pranayama.
Evenness of breathing leads to healthy nerves and so to evenness of mind and temper.
Asanas should never be practiced immediately after pranayama. If pranayama is done first, allow an hour to elapse before starting asanas, for the nerves which are soothed in pranayama are liable to be ruffled by the bodily movement of the asanas.
Pranayama, however, may be done not less than 15 minutes after mild practice of asanas.
Strenuous asanas cause fatigue. When exhausted do not practice pranayama in any sitting posture, as the back cannot stay erect, the body trembles and the mind becomes disturbed. Deep breathing as in Ujjayi done in a reclining position relieves fatigue.
When deep, steady and long breathing cannot be maintained rhythmically, stop. Do not proceed further. The rhythm should be gauged from the nasal sound produced in inhalation (‘ssssssa‘ which sounds like a leak in a cycle tube) and exhalation (the aspirate ‘huuuuuuuuum‘ sound). If the volume of the sound is reduced, stop.
Try to achieve an even ratio in inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (rechaka). For example, if one is for 5 seconds during a given continuous cycle, the other should be for the same time.
The Ujjayi and Nadi Sodhana types of pranayama are the most beneficial ones which can be practiced by pregnant women, preferably in Baddhakonasana. During pregnancy, however, the breath should never be held without the guidance of an experienced teacher.
After completing any pranayama practice always lie down on the back like a corpse in Savasana Pose for at least 5 or 10 minutes in silence. The mind should be completely switched off and every limb and sense organ completely passive as if dead. Savasana after pranayama refreshes both the body and the mind.
All the three Bandhas, namely Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula, should be observed in kumbhaka (retention of breath after full inhalation or restraint following complete exhalation) as mentioned later. The bandhas are like safety-valves which should be kept shut during the practice of kumbhakas.
Thorough mastery of inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (rechaka) is essential before any attempt is made to learn antara kumbhaka (retention following inhalation).
Bahya kumbhaka (restraint following exhalation) should not be tried until antara kumbhaka has become natural.
During the practice of kumbhaka there is a tendency to draw in air as well as to tighten and loosen the diaphragm and abdominal organs for the sake of increasing the period of retention. This is unconscious and unintentional. Care should be taken to avoid it.
If it is found difficult to hold the breath (kumbhaka) after each inhalation or exhalation, do some cycles of deep breathing and then practice kumbhakas. For instance, 3 cycles of deep breathing may be followed by one cycle of kumbhaka. Then there should be another 3 cycles of deep breathing followed by a second cycle of kumbhaka, and so on.
If the rhythm of inhalation or exhalation is disturbed by holding the breath, lessen the duration of kumbhaka.
Persons suffering from eye or ear trouble such as; glaucoma and puss (wax build up) in the ear, should not attempt to hold the breath.
Sometimes constipation occurs in the initial stages following upon the introduction of kumbhaka. This is temporary and will disappear in due course.
The normal rate of breaths per minute is 15. This rate increases when the body is upset by indigestion, fever, cold and cough, or by emotions like fear, anger or lust. The normal rate of breathing is 21,600 breaths inhaled and exhaled every 24 hours. The yogi measures his span of life not by the number of days, but of breaths. Since breathing is lengthened in pranayama, its practice leads to longevity.
Continuous practice of pranayama will change the mental outlook of the practitioner and reduce considerably the craving of his senses for worldly pleasures like smoking, drinking and sexual indulgence.
In the practice of pranayama the senses are drawn inwards and in the silence of the kumbhaka the aspirant hears his inner voice calling: ‘Look within! The source of all happiness is within!’ This also prepares them for the next stage of yoga, pratyahara, which leads to freedom from the domination and tyranny of the senses.
Since the eyes are kept closed throughout the practice of pranayama, the passage of time is noted by the mental repetition (japa) of a sacred word or name. This repetition of the sacred words or names is the seed (bija) planted in the yogi’s mind. This seed grows and makes him fit for dhyana or concentration, the sixth stage of Yoga. Ultimately it produces the fruit of samadhi, where there is experience of full consciousness and supreme joy, where the yogi merges with the Maker of the Universe and feels what he can never express-yet cannot entirely conceal. Words fail to convey the experience adequately, for the mind cannot find words with which to describe it. It is a feeling of that peace which passeth all understanding.
Micah Lyn is an Intuitive Healer and E-RYT 500 Certified Yoga Instructor registered with the Yoga Alliance. She offers a variety of private yoga classes, therapeutic yoga sessions and intuitive healing services at Pachamama Yoga ✨ Los Angeles Healing Center. Visit the YTT Programs & Workshops page to see upcoming Online & Hands-on Intensive Yoga Teacher Trainings, Virtual Online Yoga Workshops & Transformational Yoga Retreats featured worldwide.
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