from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This blog included. "So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Pranayama

I've just posted a bunch of Pranayama videos on Youtube for the sister blog , Vinyasa Krama Sequences and subroutines and thought I'd make the most of them and make this Pranayama week here too. They basically outline stages in developing a practice, I've broken them down so you can start wherever you feel most comfortable.

The videos aren't great, the sound quality is poor, sorry, but if you crank up the volume I think you can get an idea of what's going on. Also, my chanting is quite awful, sounds a lot better in my head which is where it tends to stay. Mostly I give instruction and a count for the first round and then just do it for the next couple. I'd hoped the recording would pick up the sound of my breathing but it doesn't really catch it. In the later videos I try recording a voice over but that's a nightmare to sync. They are what they and if anyone is curious or had wanted to start building a practice they might be something to be going on with. If your tempted to dive in right away here's a suggestion.

Start off with some Kapalibhati HERE and then move on through the main Pranayama videos. Try Pranayama 1 and 2 and see how comfortable that is, you might want to keep the exhale at an eight count rather than ten, that's fine. If your comfortable there give Nadi Shodana a try, videos 5 & 6, they have the same ratio. At this point you might want to try learning the Pranayama mantra (see the chant page at the top of the blog, it printed out as well as some MP3's of Ramaswami teaching it ) and chanting along, it has the same ratio as the first ujaii video. After a couple of days, sessions or weeks start increasing the ratios with videos 3 & 4 and/or 6 & 7. When your ready you might like to try and increase the retention of the breath long enough to chant the full mantra 15-20 seconds depending how fast you go. I tend to start off fast and then settle down to a slower chant half way through my practice.

If your linking here from the Youtube videos and aren't an Ashtangi then I should probably say something about bandhas. You could give them a miss at first and just go through the videos missing that part out altogether although some would argue it's not pranayama without them. Start with what feels comfortable, a nod in their direction perhaps. So three bandhas here, very very simply put Mula bahanda (rectal lock, just lightly clench and lift the rectal muscles for now, it gets more subtle as you go on), Uddiyana is where you see me draw in my belly and lift. Mine is a little extreme here, it's how I tend to practice but also makes clear what's going on for the video. To start with you might like to imagine a thread that draws your belly button back towards your spine, it's a start. The third lock is Jhalandara, throat lock, just bring your chin down towards your chest, ideally the space between your clavicle

The first four videos are straight forward Ujaii breathing (constrict the throat to make yourself sound a little like Darth Vader) building up the ratios. The first one is 1;1;1, five seconds inhale, five holding the breath and five exhaling. The second one has the same ratio but includes the bandhas so 1;1;1;1. The next one doubles the exhale 1;1;2;1 and the fourth doubles the holding of the inhale so 1;2;2;1 thats 5 second inhale/ 10 seconds hold /10 seconds exhale/ 5 seconds for the bandhas.

The next group, five, six and seven are basically doing the same thing, building up the ratios, but employ Nadi Shodana, alternating the nostrils.

Pranayama 8 is one of my favourites. It's Ujaii Pranayama but with mantra. While inhaling you chant in your head the first part of the Pranayama mantra then chant the second part while holding the breath and chant the final part as you exhale. I've made it 1;1;1;1; but you can slow down the speed of your chanting to change the ratio.

Pranayama 9 is my standard, everyday, Pranayama practice. The ratio is 1;4;2;1 and I chant the full pranayama mantra while retaining the breath after the inhale.

The final video is Viloma Ujaii with mantra and at the same ratio 1;4;2;1. This alternates the nostrils as in nadi Shaodana but also includes ujaii breathing. It's tricky but quite something once you get the hang of it.

I should also mention the Kapalibhati I put up a couple of weeks ago as I always do that before starting my Pranayama, kind of the link between my asana practice and the Pranayama.

Srivatsa Ramaswami's Yoga for the three stages of life has an excellent chapter on Pranayama, ( Chapter 13 ).

15 comments:

  1. Does Sri Ramaswami recommend teaching pranayama via the internet? I always thought it was to be transmitted directly (in person) from qualified teacher to student - when the student is ready of course.

    Just wondering what his take is on it.

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  2. I'm sure he'd recommend you learn from a teacher where possible, a couple of lessons say, as with anything but I certainly didn't get the impression he saw it as a matter of 'transmission'. He seemed, to me at least, to be a little bemused by the scare stories surrounding pranayama (he quoted HYP) and the failure of people who practice asana to practice pranayama also. I think he sees it as Triadic system, Asna/pranayama/meditation. Obviously the extremes of pranayama, holding the breath for absurd lengths of time is another matter.

    I got the impression that he saw pranayama as even more important than asana, they go together as prep for meditation. He was delighted I think that we all took it so seriously on the course and would sit for forty minutes doing viloma ujaii after just a few of days.

    if he says it's OK and important to practice pranayama from the beginning and has been teaching for forty years and he got that from Krishnamacharya who was teaching for, what, sixty years then I think it's probably OK to give it a go.

    I hope he would be pleased that I'm encouraging people to give it a try. As you can see I've made a point of breaking it down so one can start with something very simple.

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  3. In the book he introduces the Pranayama section by saying
    'During the hundreds of lessions I had with my teacher all the asana sessions, which lasted for an hour, always ended with some pranayama practice.
    Whenever I teach asanas, I devote the last 25 to 30 percent of the time to pranayama and some form of pratyahara, ending with some Meditative prayer. Here is a suggested winding down procedure...'.

    He then goes on to outline Kapalibhati, a simple ujaii pranayama and a pratyahara technique.

    How about Dharma mittra?

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  4. He says it should only be learned directly from a qualified teacher.

    He says that if you do it incorrectly, you go cuckoo. That's why it must be taught and learned correctly.

    It's not dangerous in itself, but when people do it incorrectly (like when learning via internet or blog post comment), or the wrong people do it, or the intention is wrong, well, that's when problems can arise.

    Dharma has us do pranayama in every class - of course. And if someone does it incorrectly, he's on them right away.

    As you can see , I have deep reservations about putting it out there for just anyone to consume (or misuse).

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  5. Yeah the going cuckoo bit come from HYP I believe.

    I expected this to be controversial especially given that I have Ashtanga in the title, which is kind of ironic if you think about it. I stand by it though, I practiced it pretty much every day for five weeks with Ramaswami, twice a day in the last couple of weeks. It was perhaps the highlight of the course for me, that's why I'm sharing some of what I learned as well as my own practice.

    Good that you presented the contrary view though, people can make their own minds to take it or leave it.

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  6. My take on all of this is that we all have the potential to harm ourselves, either with pranayama, or asana and there is no doubt that learning from a teacher (or guru) is by far the best and safest route. However, in the confines of our busy lives this isn't always possible and the keener and more devoted aspirants research and practice under their own steam.

    Fortunately, as for asana, there are a wealth of good books and other media available for BASIC pranayama. Most come with the necessary warnings, and do not attempt to instruct on the advanced levels.

    I know many who practice and love some form of basic pranayama but I haven't, to date, met anyone remotely cuckoo as a result of pranayama misuse. I have, however, come across many who don't have any form of pranayama or asana practice and appear to be stressed-out, exhausted, toxic, and depressed individuals.

    Pretty simple I think: keep putting it out there if you're knowledgeable and devoted enough to do so, but make sure it carries all necessary warnings.

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  7. Have you asked Sri Ramaswami directly if it's OK if you post pranayama videos online? I'd love to know what he says.

    I think it's good to teach what you've mastered... but not to just anyone who has access to the internet. It goes back to Ahimsa (it all does).

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  8. Thanks for that Steve, though it makes me wonder what these 'necessary warnings might be'.

    Ramaswami presents simple pranayama in all three of his books without any warnings/caveats. The chapter in Yoga for the three stages of life is excellent by the way. I don't consider that I'm teaching here or that I've 'mastered' Just sharing some of my practice.

    One other thing, I learnt my pranayama from Ramaswami's books, before I attended his course. I was doing 10-15 minutes of Nadi shodana with mantra every morning. What was different and excellent about the course was that he encouraged us to practice longer, twenty rounds (takes about forty minutes) and stressed that asana, pranayama and meditation should be practiced together from the beginning.

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  9. Sorry we disagree on this CK but I find it sad that there are millions of people practicing yoga outside India now (15 million in US alone by YJ 2008 study) who have never sat down and practiced Pranayama ( I'm not counting employing ujaii in asana practice here).

    Asana is great but it's just asana. (god, never thought i'd say that).

    Anyway, don't think you have too much to worry about, my videos get looked at a couple of hundred times at most, Babaramdev's pranayama videos have a hundred thousand hits and Iyengar's demo half a million : )

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  10. Hi Tony,

    I think the 'warnings', put very simply, would be "Don't strain, either in Khumbaka (retention) or in lengthening of the breath (count).

    Interestingly, Gregor Maehle points out, in his superb book on the Ashtanga Intermediate Series, that practitioners in their 50's, or those with a restrictive disability, would be taught a preparatory form of pranayama by traditional teachers such as Krishnamacharya, which consisted of Nadi Shodhana without retentions. He goes on to recommend a 3 month course of 15 minute practices with the purpose of clearing the nadis. Interesting!

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  11. The real message is that breathing is amazing but at first glance is way too subtle for most of us so we have to manipulate it. We eventually learn to not to tell it to do anything but ask the process of breathing to do things within it's skill set.I like the analogy of the breath being like a cat. If you try to make a cat do anything it's a gong show.

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  12. I for one am extremely happy you posted this Grimmly. I am an avid ashtanga practitioner with very little access to a certified teacher, and just feel like its the right time to take up a pranayama practice, just like i felt like it was the right time to take up asana practice back in the day. I am going to give this sequence a go over the next few weeks, thanks a mil...

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  13. thanks Steve, it's all common sense no? Been reading in the guruji book about all the rearing and crunching of bones and ligaments, now that's scary stuff

    Interesting point olddude, thanks for that makes me think about Ujaii and how we make it so so loud in the beginning and yet it softens and becomes much more subtle as you go on. Still just a beginner with the pranayama, curious to what the practice will be like a year or two down the line.

    Thanks for commenting on this Niall, good luck with settling into a practice.

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  14. Found something on having a pranayama teacher in Ramaswami's 'Yoga for the three stages for life'.

    'The time of day, the duration of the breath holding, the depth to which one feels the effects of the breathing, the frequency, the method of controlling the passage of air, the various ratios of inhalation to holding and exhalation, the uniformity and fineness of the breath, and the use of mantra or not are the various parameters of pranayama. All of these taken together make for a formidable number of pranayama types. Hence the guidance of a teacher is required to study and practice pranayama.

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  15. Within Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, we learn the fourth limb of Raja Yoga is pranayama. This places a high value on what some people refer to as "breathing." Yet, pranayama is actually the systematic cultivation of prana (energy). When one practices pranayama, the ratio of breath is important for controlling the amount of energy one draws in.

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