Prana means energy. Ayama means expansion. Pranayama is a practice that teaches the regulation of the breath. The breath is like food for the Prana. By practicing various ways of breathing we tap into the the subtle energies of the body. There are four basic parts of Pranayama: Recaka, exhalation, puraka, inhalation, Abhayantara Kumbaka, pause after inhalation, and Bahya Kumbaka, pause after exhalation. It’s the fourth limb of the eight-limbed path of Astanga Yoga. From day one, Geeta explained how Asana prepares the body by giving it the flexibility and awareness needed to begin this fourth limb of the yogic path.
Today, on Day 8 of our Intensive, Geeta spent most of the day helping us understand the basics of Pranayama. Pranayama has many variations just as Asana does. Each variation offers a particular benefit to aid in our emotional stability. One variation can calm our anger and another can heal our sadness.
So, why don’t we practice it more? Geeta said if she’d made the Intensive a Pranayama Intensive, no one would come to it, except her committed advanced students.Even today, if she’d said it was going to be a session on Pranayama, many of us would probably have found an excuse not to come.
Once again, she intrigued us with her knowledge. Is there Prana in our big toe? You bet. The entire Intensive Geeta has been talking about the energy channels or Nadis. She has taught us about how to activate several of these channels. She explained that is why sometimes we focus on the inner or outer heel, the spreading of the toes, and the ball of the big toe. These channels go from toe to head. Today, she explained how blocks in these channels can have an effect on our emotional stability.
Consider for a moment, the idea that a block in an energy channel that begins in our big toe could throw off our system’s balance. Now, I'm over simplifying of course, but if that’s the case, we could become sick or sad, because of an energy block in the Nadi along our big toe. Pretty wild, huh? Does that bring a little more interest in Pranayama?
I haven’t been mentioning the Pranayama sessions in my blog and I asked myself why. My answer (read excuse) was that I couldn't put words to what I was experiencing. Geeta has been systematically setting up experiences in Pranayama that should have everyone of us becoming more interested in learning more about it.
One session, we studied the actions of the Jalandhara lock, a tilt of the head where the chin rests in the netting of the throat. It is basically a bandha or lock that is the first one learned because it helps keep the heat from going into our heads when we breath.
Jalandhara kept the breath from agitating our head while our body "warmed" up through specific Pranayama practices that Geeta gave us that day to counter the coldness in the stadium. Yesterday’s Pranayama after a long Sirsasana and Sarvangasana put us in wonderfully calm state where we got a hint of Citta Vrtti Nirodha, the stilling of the fluctuations of the consciousness. We all probably had a great sleep that night. I know I did. Today's Pranayama put us in an energetic yet calm state. Granted, I'm not giving justice to the experiences, but what I want to get across is that we experienced three significant states of being through specific variations of Pranayama.
Many students are still in the mode of getting a workout from yoga. However, some of us are beginning to understand that Pranayama is a huge workout, but it’s much more subtle than Asana. As Geeta explained in the beginning of the Intensive there is also a fear complex associated with Pranayama.
If we consider, Patanjali's explanation of Pranayama, it seems worth getting over our fears or whatever is holding us back and practice it. Once we learn to align ourselves and commit to a regular practice the moving inward process becomes a new world of experience. Patanjali--> explains Pranayama in Sutra 2:52 as tatah ksiyate prakasa avaranam. B.K.S. Iyengar translates it: Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom. While Asana prepares us for Pranayama, Pranayama prepares us for Dharna, concentration or one-pointed focus.
There is a systematic Parinama or transformation of Citta, consciousness. Nirodha parinama, Samadhi parinama, and Ekagrata parinama. It goes from restraint to single-pointed focus to no pointed attention.
Asana and Pranayama take us from the gross to the subtle - from the Sthula to Suksma.The more we practice Pranayama like Asana, we tap into the subtle transformations that the practice brings. Do we gain more fire or energy? Do we calm down? Do we become more focused? Do we become healthier and happier? With practice, we can begin to understand what effect each variation has -- like what effect a very vocal Pranayama like Brahmari might have versus the effect of one of the many Ujjayi variations.
However, we will only learn the powers of Pranayama by experimenting, exploring, and experiencing with the guidance of a good teacher. She talked about how poor we are without tapping into the Suksma of Pranayama.
We may think we are witnessing such poverty here in India when in fact, we are the ones suffering from poverty - poverty of self realization, poverty of wisdom, and poverty of spirit. As I mentioned in my first blog on India. There is such courage and fearlessness here. There is such calm.
Geeta encouraged us to practice by telling a story about how she began with a very simply and over time she naturally wanted to do more. Her point being, we don't have to get too ambitious with our Pranayama practice . We just have to begin.
Thank you Geeta for the inspiration.