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Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 41 - Pranayama Spinal Breathing
Date: Thu Dec 11, 2003 8:15am
New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
We will now begin an advanced pranayama practice called spinal breathing. It has several
components to it, and is done right before our daily meditation sessions. The procedure of
meditation will not change in any way. First we do our pranayama. Then we do our
Sit comfortably with back support, and close your eyes just as you do when you meditate.
Now, keeping your mouth closed, breathe in and out slowly and deeply through your nose,
but not to the extreme. Be relaxed and easy about it, breathing as slowly and deeply as
possible without discomfort. There is no need to be heroic. Work your muscles so each
breath begins in your belly and fills you up through your chest to the top of your
collarbones, and then comes back down slowly. Next, with each rising inhalation of the
breath, allow your attention to travel upward inside a tiny thread, or tube, you visualize
beginning at your perineum, continuing up through the center of your spine, and up through
the stem of your brain to the center of your head. At the center of your head the tiny
nerve makes a turn forward to the point between your eyebrows. With one slow, deep
inhalation let your attention travel gradually inside the nerve from the perineum all the
way to the point between the eyebrows. As you exhale, retrace this path from the point
between the eyebrows all the way back down to the perineum. Then, come back up to the
point between the eyebrows with the next inhalation, and down to the perineum with the
next exhalation, and so on.
Begin by doing this spinal breathing practice for five minutes before your regular
meditations. We don't get up between pranayama and meditation. Just keep your seat, and
begin meditation when your pranayama time is up. Take a minute or so before effortlessly
beginning the mantra, just as originally instructed. Once you get comfortable in the
routine of doing pranayama and meditation, one after the other, increase the time of
pranayama to ten minutes. You will be doing ten minutes of pranayama and twenty minutes of
meditation twice each day. Continue with this practice.
In a week or so, or whenever you are feeling steady with the ten minutes of pranayama
before your meditation, add the following features: On the exhalations, allow your
epiglottis to close enough so that there is a small restriction of the air leaving your
lungs. The epiglottis is the door in your throat that automatically closes your windpipe
(trachea) when you hold your breath or swallow. By partially closing it as you exhale, a
fine hissing sound will occur in your throat. This is called "ujjayi." Be easy
about it. Don't strain. Keep the slow, deep rhythm of breathing you have become accustomed
to as you add this small restriction in the throat during exhalations. On the inhalations,
allow the throat to relax and open more than usual. Do not restrict the air coming in.
Rather, allow the deepest part of your throat to open wide, comfortably. Do not change the
slow, deep rhythm of breathing you have been doing. Keep your mouth closed during
pranayama. An exception would be if your nose is stopped up and you can't breath easily
through it. In that case, use your mouth.
While all of these mechanical actions may seem complicated at first, they will quickly
become habit as you practice. Once the mechanical habits are in place, all you will have
to do during pranayama is easily allow the attention to travel up and down inside the
spinal nerve with your automatic slow, deep breathing. When you realize that your
attention has slipped away from this easy up and down procedure of traveling inside the
nerve during spinal breathing, you will just easily come back to it. No forcing, and no
strain. We easily come back to the prescribed route of attention in pranayama, just as we
easily come back to the mantra in meditation.
This pranayama will quiet the nervous system, and provide a fertile ground for deep
meditation. With this beginning in spinal breathing, we are also laying the foundation for
additional practices that will greatly enhance the flow of prana in the body. Once we have
stabilized the practices we have learned so far, we will be ready to begin gently
awakening the huge storehouse of prana near the base of our spine.
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed instructions on spinal breathing, see the
AYP Spinal Breathing Pranayama book.
Addition from the AYP Easy Lessons for Ecstatic
Over the months, several have
written and asked about a form of pranayama called "nadi shodana." This is
alternate nostril breathing. It is one of the most basic breathing
techniques, and is usually the first breathing method taught to beginning
students in hatha yoga classes. These days it is also taught by mental
health professionals due to its calming influence on the nervous system.
Nadi shodana is done by breathing slowly out and then in with one nostril
blocked by the thumb of one hand, and then slowly out and in with the other
nostril blocked by the middle finger of the same hand. That is all there is
to it. It is a well-known practice that brings almost immediate relaxation.
Why is it not taught in the Advanced Yoga Practices lessons?
The reason nadi shodana is not used here is because spinal breathing
includes the benefits of nadi shodana, plus it is a tremendously more
powerful practice with effects extending far beyond those of nadi shodana.
The calming effects of nadi shodana come primarily from a reduction of the
breath rate by using one nostril at a time restraint of breath. In spinal
breathing, the breath is restrained on inhalation voluntarily with the lungs
and on exhalation with ujjayi (partially closed epiglottis), while the
attention is used in the particular way of tracing the spinal nerve
discussed in this lesson. While spinal breathing does not include
alternating nostril breathing, this is not a shortcoming. Otherwise nadi
shodana would be included along with spinal breathing. It is possible to do
both practices at the same time, but it would be complicating our practice
for very little gain. That is one of the guiding principles in all of these
lessons Is there a substantial benefit derived through the addition of an
element of practice? If there is not a significant benefit from an
additional element of practice, we leave it out. That is how we keep the
routine of practices as simple and efficient as possible. Otherwise we would
be loading ourselves up with all sorts of supplementary things and risk
losing focus on our main practices. There will be plenty of practices added
as we go through the lessons that will have huge impacts on results. We want
to save our attention, time and energy for those, so we can achieve the most
with our yoga.
Still, if you are an avid nadi shodana practitioner, or are strongly
attracted to it, it will do no harm to incorporate it into your routine. If
you have time, you can do some alternate nostril breathing before spinal
breathing. Or you can incorporate it into your spinal breathing session.
Keep in mind that nadi shodana is not recommended if you are beginner in
spinal breathing. There is plenty to learn in taking up spinal breathing
new habits to develop and nadi shodana is not in the mix for the reasons
mentioned. But, since it has been asked about by several people, and perhaps
wondered about by others, it is covered here.
It should also be mentioned that nadi shodana is sometimes taught in
combination with voluntary breath suspension. Breath suspension is an
advanced practice and is discussed in detail later in the lessons. Nadi
shodana with breath suspension is a different practice altogether, and can
be hazardous if done without a good understanding of correct methodology and
the effects. If you are a beginner and contemplating using breath suspension
(holding the breath in or out) with nadi shodana or spinal breathing, it is
suggested you wait until we get into it in these lessons, which is at
Lesson 91 and beyond. The Sanskrit word for breath suspension is "kumbhaka."
So, for now, it is recommended you develop a good understanding of spinal
breathing and get the habit solidly in place, with as few distractions as
possible. The following Q&As will help with that. Later on, there will be
plenty more to add. One step at a time
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