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General discussions about yoga > Favorite breathing practices?

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message 1: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Hi all:

This group has been quiet of late. If you're out there, please weigh in.

In reading Yoga FAQ (almost finished; will post my observations in that thread shortly), I'm reminded that for centuries yoga meant pranayama. And even if you love asanas (as I do), you have to admire how powerful breathing practices are for calming and centering the mind.

What are some of your most favorite breathing practices?

Mine, by far, is nadi sudi. I love how it centers me almost as soon as I start exhaling through the left nostril. My new love is to do it without using my hands to close off the nostrils. It's amazing how your mind does that for you when you focus.

message 2: by MaryAnn (new)

MaryAnn | 29 comments I'm out here - sorry I've been quiet. I work on a computer all day every day so I find it difficult to spend more time on computers keeping up with my social world.
I have started Yoga FAQ and am fascinated by the depth yet simplicity.
Breathing - I also love alternate nostril breathing - yet I don't do it very often! Time to change that - the challenge of not physically blocking the nostrils sounds so peaceful to my multi-tasking mind.
Thanks for not giving up on us and keeping conversations and insightful books going with this group.

message 3: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Thanks for your comment, MaryAnn. Glad to hear you're reading and liking our monthly book. XOXO

message 4: by Sharon (new)

Sharon | 6 comments Just finished reading a book called Breathe. It isn't really marketed as a yoga book, but certainly incorporates Pranayama. I highly recommend it.

message 5: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Thanks, Sharon.

message 6: by Pam (new)

Pam Lemke I'm not a regular practitioner of pranayama yet, so would be interested to know what books others have found to be a good introduction. I attended a vinyasa workshop where I learned unjayi (sp?) breathing with movement, but as a yogi who now primarily practices the Iyengar method because of its intense forces on alignment, I am not sure how to include this anymore, and would like to add some attention to a breathing/meditation practice to my asana practice. Thanks so much for your feedback!

message 7: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Hi Pam:

I can't think of any books specifically about pranayama but I'm sure others know of some. I didn't realize Iyengar practice doesn't include pranayama or meditation.

message 8: by Natasha (new)

Natasha (tashimi76) | 7 comments My Iyengar teacher, 30+ years teaching, does a Friday night once a month pranayama and mediation class. Also Iyengar has Light on Pranayama which I found interesting. I would highly recommend Lucas Rockwood's podcast The Yoga Talk Show, he has done at least 6 episodes that deal with breathing and they're all worth listening to, especially the recent one by the Buteyko teacher.

message 9: by Pam (new)

Pam Lemke I'm sorry. I hadn't meant to imply the Iyengar method doesn't include pranayama, I just me the timing of breath to movemen

message 10: by Pam (new)

Pam Lemke Thank you Natasha! I'm sorry Meryl, I didn't mean to suggest Iyengar yoga doesn't include pranayama. It's woven into practice differently than it is in vinyasa, so it's not big a part of the level 1-2 classes I usually take as someone working with scoliosis and hip arthritis.

message 11: by AZIMVTH (new)

AZIMVTH Ashram (azimvthashram) | 11 comments Good point about breathing.

Breathing aspects have been evolving over the millenia.
Guru Patanjali touched upon this in the Yoga Sutra. He wasn't the first one to write about it. Yoga was taught, like all other academe, by word of mouth and practice. But unlike Vedas, it wasn't codified. The strict mathematical method of transferring a text from Guru to disciple, to ensure that no corruption of even a vowel happens, wasn't adopted for Yoga. Yoga was largely practiced by the ascetics and less by traditional brahmins. For ascetics, Lord Shiva was the master.

It was like this for almost a thousand years. Swami Vivekananda was one of the earlier ones, who translated it and brought to the West. Iyengar's Guru Krishnamacharya studied for over a decade on the banks of Ganges, 800 km downstream Haridwar, like Buddha. Later, he taught at the Vivekananda College.

This unregulated flow of knowledge encouraged several innovations that we see in breathing aspects of Yoga. Today, there might be about 2 dozen different methods of breath-training - Ujjayani, Bhramari etc. Further, each has variations, For example long or short Ujjayani. Bhramari with 'm' or 'n' sound. etc.
I think the choice of pranayama is much individualised. One can follow what one likes. Infact, one can make his / her own little variations. Evaluating the choices and comparing them is a challenge that can be surmounted in groups of up to 9 persons. Thereafter, learning basics isn't difficult. It’s like learning how to drive. Of course, to be on the roads, one needs to practice well.

Again, practising in a small group is useful.

Irrespective of the choice, one aspect is fundamental to breathing - the length of time that one can hold his breath - in or out. That determines the manipulations that can be made.

A Spirometer comes handy here. It is a small (double the size of a mobile phone) device. One can inhale air with a tube. Based on a person's breathing capacity, three different coloured balls in different tubes get lifted up vertically. Within a month's time, performance can improve a lot. For more medically minded, a regular PFT test available with any pulmonologist diagnostic laboratory can be done.

As a child, I would swim underwater holding the breath and cross one width of a swimming pool.

Adding an audible sound to breath can also be considered a variation of Pranayama. The best example is Aum chanting. Patanjali himself has touched upon Om (Pranava in the texts). A long sustained Aum chant ends in a prolonged mmmm. This is quite like Bhramari. A vocalist trainer is useful too. The goal isn’t to be a tenor like Pavarotti. Yet, the mixing of music and Pranayama Yoga, or rather considering each a corollary to the other, isn’t far-fetched. A Western vocalist trainer asks his students to train with breath in several ways. For example, holding the palms on the breasts (lungs) with the thumb behind the back. Notice how close this is to a certain step of Sudarshan Kriya. That’s how it was. Vedas, codified in great details, various aspects, music being part of it.

The subjective aspects shouldn’t be ignored. For example, in chakra meditation, a disciple is asked to perceive / imagine a cold stream of liquid, say Ganges, passing from the crown to down and back. A Western lady once wanted to imagine hot, instead of cold, water as in a shower. An Eastern instructor would seldom like this. I personally think it can be surely hot as well. The idea is to reward the mind (and brain) and body with a pleasant experience after labour. Or rather reward with a memory of a past pleasant experience. Or rather the articulated thought of the memory of a past pleasant experience – as examined in great detail by the psychiatrist-author of ‘Stumbling Upon Happiness’. A sleep trainer also asks his clients to think of past pleasant experience to induce sleep.

An example can be given on cultural differences. In the West, say England, a cloudy day isn’t a good day. The sky is mostly overcast with grey clouds. Hence, ‘Saving for a rainy day’. A sunny day on week-end is much welcome. But contrast that with India. A day of clouds and rains is so dear! Cloudy days are considered very good and pleasant ones. The term in Hindi is ‘suhana’ – pleasant day. The word is specific for such a day. A person with pleasant personality can’t be called to have a ‘suhana’ personality.

Cultural differences extend beyond this.

Despite all this, basic things are common. Mother is still called as Ma, Amma, Mom and similar words in most languages. But Ganges, like all rivers, is a mother. Feminine gender. A river has a masculine gender in German, and many other Western languages. Many sculptures / fountains, (Bernini etc.) in Vatican and Rome feature Ganges as a bearded man.

Choice of a particular Pranayama breathing technique is a matter of individual preference – shaped by the opportunities an individual was presented with or any conscious strategic steps she might have taken.

message 12: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
You always have such interesting insights! I especially love the part about finding what works for you. I myself would be in a much better state imagining warm water flowing on me rather than cold.

message 13: by Cristina (new)

Cristina Smith (cristina_smith) Thank you AZIMVTH for the insights!

message 14: by Margot (new)

Margot I'm coming in late. The breathing technique, which has helped me the most is the inhale for half the amount of time taken to exhale. Thus inhale for a count of 3 exhale for a count of six. Relaxing the body on the exhale. I use this when I practice asanas and it helps me go deeper into the asana. Also, the breath during the sun salute, which I was taught, is very helpful in feeling how the inhale/exhale flow is useful in relaxing the body. This, I learned from practicing the Marva Spelman method of yoga... I do believe she, originally learned from Iyengar, but she, having been taught by an excellent physiotherapist, in her own right, took the yoga teaching a step further. She's the best Western practitioner I ever worked with.

message 15: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Thanks, Margo.

I just heard an interesting take on breathing from a prominent yoga teacher. She said, rather than inhale, allow the breath to come to you. I love the idea of being more passive and less “doing” when it comes to yoga breathing.

message 16: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Spence | 8 comments Alternate nostril breathing. I just gave a lecture about Pranayama - If anyone wants me to email them a copy, give me a shout.

message 17: by Helen (new)

Helen | 14 comments Stephanie, I would love to get a copy of your lecture. helen.pierce@gmailcom. Thank you for offering!

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