The first steps of learning Pranayama (breath control) are vitally important. They lay the foundation for the practices that follow. If we overlook these steps or learn them incorrectly, we carry bad habits into our Pranayama practice.
While laying the foundation, we aren't actually doing Pranayama. We are preparing the body and mind for what is to come. This mostly consists of understanding the way the body breathes, learning to control the muscles of breathing, and balancing the body and mind.
HOW THE BODY BREATHES
It is easy to overlook the way the body actually breathes, choosing instead for metaphorical images and oversimplified ideas of expansion and contraction. In truth, the body both expands and contracts on the inhale and exhale (what?!?!?!). Breath control lies in understanding, feeling and controlling these forces.
BALANCING THE BODY, BRAIN AND ENERGY
The other main element that prepares us for Pranayama is balance. Most of us are uneven in our nervous system, hemispheres of the body and brain, and therefore our focus and energy. We must balance these things before proceeding to Pranayama practice.
These principles are the basis for our "Pranayama Level 1" class. We practice it at length during Practice Week, also moving into Level 2, which delves deeper into the chemical effects of breathing and the beginnings of true, traditional Pranayama.
The focus of this breathing exercise is alternately relaxing and contracting the muscles of the abdomen. Keep the ribcage and shoulders as still as possible. This will be diffcult, especially as you become fatigued.
This exercise removes carbon dioxide from the blood, so it is normal to feel a little dizzy. If you become moderately or significantly lightheaded, stop and rest while breathing normally. Then continue at a slower pace.
This exercise strengthens the abdominal and lower back muscles. It reduces the carbon dioxide in the blood.
This exercise is basically controlled hyper-ventilation. It reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood, making it easier to hold the breath afterward, as your body returns to its normal oxygen-carbon dioxide balance.
You may notice, after completing the exercise, that your breath becomes slow and shallow, perhaps even suspending altogether. Embrace this development, it is one purpose of the exercise. Stillness in the breath is an important landmark on the journey toward a still mind.
An excerpt from the Beginning Ghosh Yoga Practice Manual.
We all begin with ego. It is not necessarily that we think we are better than everyone else, but we are generally rooted in our own concept of reality. And, more significantly, we don't realize that we are rooted in and limited by our own conceptions.
This is the first wall that begins to show cracks with earnest practice, study and humility. We realize that there are other versions of reality out there that are just as valid as ours. (Or just as invalid.) And we begin to see that "reality" is usually something we construct with our own minds; a fairy tale we tell ourselves to bring the comfort of structure.
Once our ego is sufficiently weakened, we generally need guidance from someone who has experience in these realms. We have spent most of our lives with the unchallenged view that our reality was the only one, so we have little experience with any other worldview. This is where a teacher comes in handy. We seek (and hopefully find) someone who has walked the path before and who can effectively communicate how to traverse the new mental terrain.
Faith, as we are growing to see it, is not a belief but rather an acceptance of our lack of control. In this way, faith is the opposite of the ego. We build our egos and our ego-centric worldview specifically to protect us from our powerlessness. When our ego crumbles and we gain familiarity with the limitations and capabilities of our consciousness, we exist in a mystical state that is almost incomprehensible to the logical human brain.
This state, where we are unanchored by the stable but rigid constructs of our own egos, is faith. Faith takes courage, especially at first. It is uncomfortable to our logical minds, this surrendering and seeking to comprehend our true powerlessness and role in the world.
This post was originally published on scottlampsyoga.com 5/19/16.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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