Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Shortened Introduction to Gregor Maehle's Pranayama book

I posted this introduction to Gregor Maehle's Pranayama book back in April when I first heard it was nearing publication. The book is now out and available from Amazon so thought I'd repost it.

Perhaps you know Gregor Maehle books on Ashtanga Primary and Intermediate series.

My Review

Word is Gregor has a book  on Pranayama in the works (Thanks to Steve for the heads up).

This from his Facebook 'fan' page

Friends, I'm very enthused about the fact that, after almost 2 decades of research, my Pranayama textbook is finally nearing publication. We have finished the editing process and are now moving forward to formatting. April or May will see Pranayama The Breath of Yoga in print. Roxanne has taken excellent photos and converted them digitally to drawings, which seemed more appropriate for the subject. Have a look at the sample:

'Here is the table of content for my upcoming pranayama book. We are still looking at the April/May timeframe'.

Gregor Maehle

The Breath of Yoga

Table of contents


List of shastras quoted in the text

The Fundamentals of Pranayama

Definition and purpose of pranayama
- Patanjali on pranayama
- Manu and Yajnavalkya on pranayama
- Pranayama in the Bhagavad Gita
- Medieval texts on pranayama and karma
- Modern testimonies
- Pranayama and health
- Physiological changes during pranayama and therapeutic application
- Mental and spiritual benefits through pranayama

- Meanings of the term and its function
- Effects of pranayama
- Vayus

Svara and nadi balance
- Health through svara
- Which activity during which nostril?
- The balanced svara or middle breath
- How to alter svara

- Pranayama defined as kumbhaka
- Disambiguation between kumbhaka and holding one’s breath
- Purpose of kumbhaka
- Types of kumbhaka
- Length of kumbhaka
- Rationale behind extreme kumbhaka
- Advanced kumbhakas and Kundalini
- Summary of kumbhaka length

General guidelines for pranayama
- When to practise pranayama
- Where to practise pranayama
- How many rounds in how many sittings how often per week?
- Proceed cautiously and prudently
- Attitude of devotion and mental focus
- Eyes / focal point
- Rest or not rest
- Heat, sweat and fire
- Sweat, kumbhaka length and purification of agni
- How long is one matra?
- Count
- Mantra and digital counting

Preparation for Pranayama
- Mitahara
- Asanas
- Bandhas
- Kriyas


Liberating your breathing pattern through breath waves
- Reclining two-stage breath waves
- Reclining three-stage breath waves
- Reclining six-stage breath waves
- Upright two-stage breath waves
- Upright three-stage breath waves
- Six-staged meditation waves

Complete yogic breathing cycle
- Importance of complete breathing
- Complete yogic exhalation
- Complete yogic inhalation
- Complete yogic breathing cycle

- Method
- Importance for Ashtanga Vinyasa yogis to go beyond Ujjayi
- Slow down breath
- Pranayama with sacred image
- Why switch to 1:2 ratio?
- When and how to switch
- Duration of each practice session

Purification of nadis
- Why purification of the nadis?
- Vasishta’s Nadi Shuddhi
- Ujjayi with kumbhaka
- Goraksha’s Nadi Shodhana


Dosha make-up changing pranayamas
- Surya Bhedana
- Chandra Bhedana
- Shitali
- Sitkari
- Ujjayi

Kundalini and meditation pranayamas
- Bhutashuddhi Pranayama
- Shakti Chalana Pranayama
- Kevala Kumbhaka

Pranayama as remover of obstacles
Possible order of pranayama techniques
Sequence of yogic practices
Pranayama practice and stage of life (ashrama)


Author information

'This is a shortened version of a section from the Introduction to my forthcoming Pranayama book. This is really important for ones overall understanding of yoga.

Why neither postures nor meditation nor both combined are enough.

Although yoga has eight limbs (Yoga Sutra II.29) we can discern three main layers of practice of which the others are subdivisions or ancillary techniques. These three layers are posture (asana), breath work (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). Two of them, posture and meditation, are today very widely practised, but they are usually not linked. Schools that teach yogic postures either do not teach meditation or, if they do, they often teach meditation techniques that are historically not linked to posture practice, such as Buddhist meditation and Vipassana. Those schools that do specialize in meditation usually forsake asana practice altogether or mistake it for the simplistic keeping in one line of trunk, neck and head. There are currently only a handful of teachers in the world who offer yoga in the way it was designed, which is combining a sophisticated posture practice with technically refined pranayama and, additionally, yoga’s elaborate and powerful Kundalini-rousing meditation techniques.
Why would we bother to practise three completely independent layers of technique? The reason for such a rather complex approach lies in the fact that already the ancient Upanishads explained that the human being is made up not of a single layer but of five layers (Taittiriya Upanishad II.2–II.5).
For the purpose of this Facebook article we can ignore the two highest layers which relate to the practice of objective and objective samadhis, the highest limb of yoga. The majority of the work of the yogi takes place in the three lower sheaths, simply because it is where the obstacles are located. These three lower sheaths, all of which need development, are body, breath and mind.
Obstacles to yoga are diseases and imbalances of the body, neurotic breathing patterns, subconscious imprints, mental conditioning, karma, beliefs and past forms of suffering that we hold on to. Since the layers that contain the obstacles – body, breath and mind – are so different from each other, there is no technique that can remove all obstacles from all three of these sheaths. It is absolutely paramount to understand this.

For example, in today’s world if your body is sick you go to the medical doctor, if you have mental issues you go to a psychologist and if your car breaks down you go to a workshop. You don’t expect one and the same intervention to fix all of your problems.
According to yoga, to remove physical obstacles asanas (postures) need to be practised. To remove obstacles from the pranic sheath and the breathing pattern, pranayama is advised. To remove obstacles from the mind yogic meditation is engaged in. For swift success, these three methods need to be combined (and accompanied by ancillary techniques such as kriya, bandha, mudra, mantra, chakra).
The important information to be understood here is that asana alone can prepare only the body and not the mind. Meditation itself can develop only the mind and not the body. You may see an asana practitioner with a fully developed body but a mind that lags behind. You may also see a meditator with great mental capacity but a body that is still in the Stone Age. More benefit is obtained if both are practised together, but even then the benefit is not linked, because what links body and mind is the breath, the pranic sheath.

Neither posture practice nor meditation practice can harness the breath, the prana, the life force. And it is exactly this that pranayama is designed to do. Without prana the body is dead and without prana the mind is utterly inert. It is prana that moves both. For this reason pranayama was always considered the axial yogic limb. Pranayama is the axis around which the wheel of eight-limbed yoga revolves. Pranayama brings success in all other yogic limbs and it is also the axis that connects asana and meditation. The purpose of this book is to contribute to a renaissance of pranayama and weld together again these three powerful yogic techniques, which are much more potent when practised in sequence and combined'.

For a full and quite detailed review have a look at this post from Claudia


  1. Wonderful stuff, just love his books!

  2. Great news! - Also nice change on the blog title.. integrated, like it!

  3. Yes, I have the first two, i like them, be interesting the effect of this one given so many Ashtangi's have the first tow on their bookshelves.

    You like, Claudia, got sick of labels and what they can lead to, went for the descriptive instead.

  4. Love how thoroughly his books delve into the anatomy of yoga. I'll be curious to see his new book.

    BTW (or not!) I just came across a video of a kid doing a crazy combination of yoga and breakdancing (see below). Adds a new layer of meaning to "jump backs".


  5. Thanks for the video Youchick, videos like these always put things in perspective.

  6. Hey Claudia, just read this on Gregor's Facebook bio page.

    'His latest book Pranayama The Breath of Yoga will go to print soon. Gregor’s mission is to re-integrate vinyasa practice into the larger frame work of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga in the spirit of T. Krishnamacharya. He is currently working on a book on Meditation'.



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from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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