The Yoga of Breath
- Richard Rosen
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pranayama is the process of expanding our usually small reservoir of prana by lengthening, directing, and regulating the movement of the breath and then limiting or restraining the increased pranic energy in the body-mind.
Oxygen starvation chronically excites the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response.
The three channels meet at six places along the spine: the base of the spine, the lower abdomen, navel, heart, throat, and center of the forehead. Each confluence of the channels marks the
But the fact is that pranayama, for most students, develops much more slowly than posture. It’s important to understand this at the outset of your journey and lower your expectations accordingly.
we’ll use the following blanket terminology when folding: by matching the short edges, we’ll fold width-wise; and by matching the long edges, we’ll fold lengthwise.
On the first day of your first month of practice, write out your proposed schedule for that month in your journal (more on the journal in the next chapter). This way you won’t have to agonize over what to practice each day. But remember that whatever you come up with isn’t chiseled in granite. Be ready to change things around if the need arises. Then on the first of each following month, based on your experience in the month just passed, tune or revise your schedule as appropriate.
Who is the breather?
Who is the breather? is just another way of asking, Who am I?
Anything less than fifteen minutes is really too little time to get much benefit from the practice, though on those days when any practice at all seems impossible,
The Witness engages the outer and inner worlds on their own terms and lets them speak in their own words. It’s present-centered, with no memories of the past or concerns about the future; self-reliant, independent of the approval or disapproval of others; and self-accepting, in both success and failure.
Always check in with your Witness at the start of practice, both asana and pranayama. Take a few minutes to look at your fluctuations for that day. Notice how you’re feeling, about yourself, your practice, about life in general. Are any obstacles looming on the horizon? If there are, just witness them, nothing more. The Witness not only sees but also, as it gains in strength and experience, suggests possible courses of action. Be sure to listen carefully for any words of wisdom from your Witness.
Years ago I had a teacher who would holler at anyone in class rash enough to stir in any way during Corpse, even if our nose was itching like crazy and we absolutely had to scratch. “Stop that moving,” he would shout out, and the culprit would get quiet again in a hurry. Rest assured I won’t do the same to you, but understand that stillness, both physical and mental, is the essence of the posture. Without it, it’s difficult to calm the fluctuations and achieve true relaxation. Corpse
How do I prepare for Corpse? What props, if any, do I use? Is my Witness present when I practice Corpse? What kinds of adjustments, if any, do I make in this posture? How do I occupy myself while I’m in Corpse? What do I think about or not think about? When I’m finished, how do I leave the posture? Finally, how do I feel about Corpse? Is it a posture that I enjoy and practice regularly, or is it uncomfortable and something I avoid?
Awareness of our inner space, with its axis at our front spine, helps us to further calm the body and realize our authentic breather.
The problem is that many of us become less mobile and more sedentary over the years, shrinking our maps considerably. Consciously or unconsciously, we confine ourselves to a very small range of movement when, as the yogis clearly demonstrate, our movement potential is vast. By keeping quiet in Corpse, we can, for a time, wipe the slate clean and dissolve some of the habitual restrictions we unconsciously impose on ourselves and our movements. Then we can, by re-creating this rediscovered sense of spaciousness in our practice, begin to redraw our map.
Be sure to practice Corpse regularly, not only after a formal practice session but for a few minutes at a time throughout your day, especially after a hard day at work (and aren’t they all hard?).
You might, before you do start your formal practice, write a short yoga autobiography in your journal. Why did you begin your practice of yoga? Just for the physical exercise? Or were there other reasons beyond this? What is yoga, anyway? Don’t answer this question as you think the “experts” might; just write from your own experience. And ask yourself, Who am I? Does this question have any meaning to you? All of this will help you clarify your position at the very start of your trip into the country of the Self.
Level 2: Part 1 Part 1 of this level begins by acquainting yourself with your Witness, who will be your constant companion for the rest of your voyage. Spend some time each day in Corpse doing nothing more than witnessing yourself, asking the question: Who am I?
Hand in hand with your Witness project, develop and refine your Corpse.
Time of daily practice: a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes Total time through part 1 of level 2: for inexperienced Corpse practitioners, a minimum of three weeks to a month
Keep your journal handy and write as soon after your practice time as possible. Note the details of your practice session first.
The Witness really helps you to do two things: remember yourself and ask Who am I?; and study yourself, look at specific things about yourself, including your breath.
Many years ago I was taught, as a rule of thumb, to do five minutes of Corpse for every thirty minutes of practice.
We’ll look at four qualities of the everyday breath in particular: time, texture, space, and rest. I recommend, though, that you continue with these quality exercises only if your Witness is well established, at least in Corpse (that is, if you can lie relatively quietly in Corpse for at least fifteen minutes and enjoy it), and you have a reasonably accurate map of your body’s surface features and its inner space.
Set aside at least fifteen minutes each day for practice, preferably after your asana practice, though just about any time is OK as long as you don’t rush.