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Ordinarily, one never becomes aware of all the life-activities going on inside what is known as, the Ghatakasha, the body space. These activities enter the field of awareness only occasionally when they give rise to the feeling of pain or pleasure while at other times they remain well below the level of awareness. Only through the heightened and refined sensitivity as well as the intensified attention developed through Yogic practices, one can bring the whole range of the Pranic activity in the field of awareness and come to know how to regulate them in a desired manner. For this purpose very many methods came to be used by the Yogic tradition and Pranayama is the foremost amongst them all.
Remember that Pranayama is one of the most potent and effective techniques, which influences the body and mind in a remarkable way. But it is a sword with a double edge. When performed with proper understanding, it surely paves a way for spiritual development. But it is equally true that any undue enthusiasm and injudicious efforts in the practice of Pranayama has to be critically avoided as otherwise it is sure to cause great damage. The only way to avoid this pitfall is to learn Pranayama under the personal guidance of an experienced teacher
FROM 1ST-10TH OF THE MONTH
We practice full yogic breathing. Then Anuloma Viloma Pranayama.
While doing Pranayama, it is of utmost importance that the mind should be free from any physical discomfort which otherwise can act as the cause of mental distraction. This requirement is much different than that in the meditational programme where one learns more about the interference, from the mind, itself. After changing the position and after giving a little rest to the legs, one should return back to the original posture. But better than this is to see that one develops a sufficient ability to sit in the meditative posture by following a regimen of various corrective Asanas by practising them daily. Related to this problem, the other two difficulties are inability to keep the spine erect and the feeling of increased tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders, when meditative posture is maintained for a long time. These problems also need to be dealt in the same way, first by giving some rest which is a temporary solution and secondly by gradually increasing the ability through the practice of various Asanas which is a permanent solution.
When the Sadhaka practises this technique of inner awareness, everyday alongwith the practice of Pranayama; it makes it more easier for him to enter into subtle level of the Pranayama Sadhana. To develop a skill in this technique, one can either sit in any comfortable position or can lie down on the ground. Then, keeping the eyes closed and relaxing the whole body, one should go on becoming aware of each part of the body one by one in a specific sequence, so that no part is left out. As one’s mind is focussed in any particular area, one becomes aware of some sensation arising from that area which is the only way through which one can become aware of the body space from which these sensations arise. After having become aware of the whole of the body space then one can become aware of the breath flowing through this space and try to remain connected with it, without any interruption. In this process mind becomes absolutely still and only its faculty of awareness remains dynamically active. This process of inner awareness, when practised independently, it by itself can lead to the state of meditation and when practised as an adjuvant to Pranayama, it can help the Sadhaka to enter into the subtle field of Pr¡nic activity and can lead even to the awakening of Kundalini, if one wants to move in that direction. This process of inner awareness is so subtle that it needs to be learnt through the personal contact with the teacher, experienced in this field, Merely reading about it, would not be sufficient to understand the subtlety of this practice.
- REGULAR YOGI
FROM 11th to 20th OF THE MONTH
Pranaspanda and SwarYoga
We practice Viloma Anuloma or interrupted breath technique. We touch upon Ujjai Breathing.
During Pranayama it can be that During the session of Pranayama quite often one
finds, the mouth getting filled with saliva. Quite often this happens as a result of increased activity of the salivary glands. Whenever one is profoundly relaxed and has some kind of blissful feelings there are many accompanying changes in the body known as Sattvic Bhava and one of that is increase in the salivary secretion. This being quite natural, one should not get disturbed or annoyed by it. One should simply stop the practice of Pranayama for a moment, swallow the saliva and should continue with the practice as if nothing has happened.
Sometimes, if there is a problem of indigestion or if one has developed a practice of swallowing of air while talking or eating very fast, there might be accumulation of some air in the stomach. When one begins with the Pranayamic practice, due to increased pressure over the abdomen during different phases of Pranayama, this accumulated air might start coming out in the form of belching. The student should remember that, it is not the practice of Pranayama which fills in the air, nor does it indicate some adverse effect of Pranayama ; rather what Pranayama does is to release the already accumulated air from the stomach. So, one need not have to bother about this problem except seeing that the diet consumed would not lead to any indigestion, and also to see that one talks and eats slowly and not hurriedly, to avoid swallowing of air
They observed that usually at the time of Sunrise, in the first three days of Shukla Paksha i.e. after New Moon, the left nostril or lunar side will be more dominant followed by the right nostril or the Solar side on the next three days. Similarly in the first three days of Krishna Paksha i.e. after Full Moon, the right nostril will be more open followed by the left nostril for the next three days. Additional to the effect of phase of the moon, the Zodiac signs through which the sun rises is also supposed to have the effect on the flow of the air in any given nostril. They also observed that when the right nostril is more active, the Pingala Nadi and all the psycho-physiological functions governed by it become more dominant. In this state the individual finds it more easy to indulge in extrovert active actions involving exerting exercises, eating of food, study of physical, mechanical or technical aspects of sciences, writing, sexual intercourse etc. On the other hand when the left nostril is more active, Ida Nadi and all the functions governed by it becomes more predominant. In this state the individual finds it easy to indulge in introverting passive actions involving Upasana, Tapasya, gathering of food, consuming invigorating tonics, beginning the studies, appreciating the performing arts and performance of Yogic practices etc. When this shift from the right to the left and left to the right goes on smoothly and with regular rhythm, the overall functioning of the human being remains in the balanced state. But when this rhythm gets disturbed and only one nostril – either the right or the left one, remains dominant all throughout, it contributes in and also represents the totally disturbed functioning of the mind-body complex. To set it right and to bring the internal oscillations back in tune with the external environmental rhythmic changes, become an important concern of Swara Yoga and obviously this forms a very important concern of the Pranayama, too.
- COMMITTED YOGI
FROM 21st TO 30th OF THE MONTH
We practice Sheetali, Sheetkari and Brahamri breath.
In the practice of Pranayama, the normal spontaneous pattern of breathing is altered in a very conscious manner.
This conscious interference in the spontaneous activity of the brain-centres which are responsible for normal breathing can lead to repeated yawning during Pranayama before one learns how to control the respiration properly. Quite often physical tiredness, inadequate sleep or even simple boredom can cause yawning. That is why it is necessary to see that one has a right diet, adequate sleep and no feeling of physical tiredness during the whole of Sadhana period. One should also be ready to accept the fact that every day would not be exactly the same and at least in the initial period before one has settled in
Important Practical Hints for the Daily Practice of Pranayama
Essence of Pranayama the disciplined life of Yoga, there would be few days when one would be in low spirit and may not feel any enthusiasm for doing the practice of Pranayama. But the student should remember that these feelings of ups and downs would disappear as one would progress in one’s Sadhana.
During the performance of various techniques of Pranayama one needs to keep a track of multiple details of these techniques simultaneously and in the initial period it may be extremely difficult. For example, while doing Kapalabhati Kriya, if one focuses one’s attention on the speed of the breathing trying to keep it fast but rhythmic one may not be able to keep the Mula Bandha simultaneously; or while doing Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama or Ujjai Pranayama if one is attending to the movement of chest, thoracic diaphragm, abdomen and pelvic diaphragm, one may not be able to keep time ratio between Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka same in all the breaths. But one should never get discouraged by these difficulties. One would definitely overcome them, through constant practice, though it may take some time.
There would also be some problems, which might arise due to incomplete or wrong understanding of some technical details. For example, if one is not very clear as to what is meant by the partial closure of the glottis as in Ujjai and what kind of sound is to be produced during Puraka and Rechaka of this Pranayama; it can strain the delicate tissues of vocal cords and soft tissues of the throat region leading to the feeling of dryness in the mouth and the sensation leading to coughing. Similarly, if one does not know how to close the nostril in the practice of Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama one may press too hard on the soft part of the nostril leading to the feeling of irritation or burning sensation inside the nostril. While doing the Kapalabhati if one does not know how to move the abdomen and how to keep the chest unmoving, the whole breathing pattern would get out of control, with each consecutive breath becoming shallower and ultimately compelling the student to terminate the practice due to the feeling of suffocation or lack of breath. The only solution to all these problems is to learn all these practices, not from the books or audio-video tapes but under the personal supervision of the experienced teacher.
Quite often, one faces the difficulty of not knowing whether to continue with the practice of Pranayama or to discontinue it in the presence of some physical conditions like during the menstrual period or during pregnancy in women etc. During menstrual periods, women should stop the practice of Kapalabhati Kriya and Bhastrika Pranayama completely. But they can continue the practice of Anuloma-Viloma and Ujjayi without incorporating the phase of Kumbhaka and Mula Bandha. Also the process of inner awareness may be highly beneficial in this period. In the same way, if one suffers from common cold or fever etc. during the period of Sadhana, one should stop the practice of Pranayama completely till one recovers. If the sickness is of serious nature and recovery period is of long duration, one should restart Pranayama practices only after consulting one’s own teacher. Even during the state of pregnancy, one can do Pranayama with certain modifications and for this personal guidance of an experienced teacher is absolutely essential. Pertaining to the practice of Pranayama, two words are used again and again in the literature of Yoga. One is ‘Shanaihi Shanaihi’ which means that the practice of Pranayama should be undertaken step by step, in a systematic and methodical manner, without any haste whatsoever. And the second is ‘Yathashakti’ which means one should practise Pranayama always according to one’s capacity and should advance cautiously maintaining an attitude of patience and perseverance. If one keeps these two guidelines always uppermost in the mind, one would be able to deal with most of the difficulties arising during the Pranayama Sadhana in a right way
Three Components of Pranayama The Pranayamic breath involves basically three phases of breathing i.e. inhalation, exhalation and retention and accordingly it has three basic components. a. Puraka – it is a phase of inhalation, controlled in a Yogic way. b. Rechaka – it is a phase of exhalation, controlled in a Yogic way. c. Kumbhaka – it is a phase of retention, controlled in a Yogic way. When the breath is retained inside the body after inhalation it is known as Ëbhyantara or Ëntara or Purna Kumbhaka. On the other hand when the breath is retained outside the body after exhalation, it is known as Bahya or Shunya Kumbhaka. Though the use of Bahya Kumbhaka is found sporadically in some practices of Pranayama, it is mainly the Ëbhyantara Kumbhaka which is used in the majority of the Pranayamic varieties especially when they belong to Hatha Yoga tradition. Here the Abhyantara Kumbhaka remains as the common and the major component of the different varieties, the variation being only in a way a Puraka or Rechaka component is performed. But before entering into a detailed understanding of the technique of Pranayama, let us get familiar with the three main considerations about these techniques.
During the Kumbhaka phase, one feels the subtle flow of the Pranic energy all over the body along with its concentration in certain areas. Focussing of one’s attention on these internal phenomenon is indicated through the use of the term Desha, by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. In the beginning this is in the form of ‘Pipilika Sadrishsparsha’ i.e. sensation resembling the creeping of the ants all over the body. Then one gradually becomes aware of the pulsating intensification of the Pranic flow at the location of different Chakras which ultimately take the form of strong force surging upward along the spine. Simultaneously there is a continuous change taking place at the level of consciousness, making it expand and deepen its ordinary field. Ultimately, it explodes breaking all the barriers or conditioning, operating at the level of consciousness, entering the extraordinary state of Turiya, Samadhi or Manonmani. This is known as the arousal of Kundalini Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras has described that Bahya, Ëbhyantara and Stambhavritti Pranayama become Dirgha and Sukshma, when measured in terms of Desha, Kala and Sankhya. By Desha, he indicates these subtle Pranic sensations, felt at different locations during the progressively more intense levels of Kumbhaka. By Sankhya, he indicates the time measure of these Kumbhakas and by Kala he indicates the total duration of the time devoted for the complete Pranayamic session.
In Hathapradipika (9) we find the description of the effect of Pranayama on the physical systems, too, along with the effects on mental operations. It says – ‘there is no doubt that by practising Pranayama one acquires a complete control over one’s own body. It cures the dysfunction of the Vata, Pitta and Kapha (the three basic humours of the body as per the Ayurvedic concepts) and increases the gastric fire.
While describing the one who has successfully mastered Pranayama, it further says – ‘slimness of the body, lustrous face, clarity of voice, brightness of eyes, freedom from diseases, control over the libido, stimulation of gastric fire and purification of Nadis, are the characteristics of its mastery (vide II 78). Yogic Concepts of Body Functions in the Context of Pranayama However the same text warns that ‘while proper practice of Pranayama annihilates all the diseases, the improper practice can give rise to all kinds of diseases’, (vide 11-16).
Regarding the effect on the mind, Hathapradipika says that ‘so long as the breathing goes on, the mind remains unsteady, but when it stops, the mind becomes still and the Yogi attains complete stability (vide II-2)’. It also says that ‘when the Nadis are purified by regular practice of Pranayama the Prana penetrates the mouth of Sushumna and moves there with ease. When this happens the mind attains steadiness which itself is the state of Manonmani, the highest level of Yogic consciousness.
While studying the effect of Pranayama, on the functions of the heart, it has been observed that the blood pressure increases slightly in Kapalabhati Kriya and in Bhastrika Pranayama. These effects are less when one does in the practice of Pranayama without the application of Bandhas, but when they are applied the effects are more pronounced. (6,16,37).
Normally functioning of the heart, the general blood circulation and the intensity of the metabolic processes, all are regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System. Through the specific techniques of Pranayama, especially the one involving Kumbhaka for a long time, one is able to gain a voluntary control over many of these visceral functions. One is able to reduce the heart rate or alter the circulation of blood in different regions of the body or can slow down the metabolic process to make the body consume less energy, in a willful way (7,8,18,22,30). From all these observations, one can easily understand how Pranayama effects the various functions of the body in an extensive way.
The observations on the effects of Pranayama on cardiovascular, biochemical and metabolic functions, show that the magnitude of the response depends on the physical efforts involved in the different techniques of Pranayama. The intensity of these responses is least in Ujjayi Pranayama and highest in Kapalabhati Kriya with Bhastrika Pranayama in between. However, all the practices lead to identical neural response in the form of increased Alpha pattern of the brain waves as seen in EEG. This increase in Alpha waves all over the brain area is called Synchronization and it was always more when subjects reported a subjective feeling of more mental quietude and alert restfulness.