प्रच्छर्दनविधारणाभ्यां वा प्राणस्य॥३४॥
pracchardana-vidharanabhyam va pranasya
Or (va) you can try lengthening the exhale (pracchardana) and observe the pauses in between breaths (vidharanabhyam) to cultivate a calm and clear mind.
PRACTICAL LIVING In the last sutra Patanjali offered the tool of practicing friendship to those who are well, compassion to those who are suffering, enthusiasm to those who are doing great things, and detachment from those who are causing suffering. In this sutra, Patanjali offers a new tool: the breath. Both of these suggestions are ways to calm the mind, to cultivate more peace and live with more joy. The word “va”, which means “or” indicates that he is telling us to try whatever works for us. Not one path is for everybody.
We may also need to use different tools at different times of our lives. For example, just before an important meeting, presentation or test, we may feel anxious, nervous, scared (i.e. not calm). Perhaps the previous tool of being friendly towards your boss at this moment my not help you calm your mind. But maybe the simple technique of lengthening your exhale may. Yogis have been saying for millennia that ‘as the breath is, the mind is’: “calle vattam, calle cittam”. Now, science has proven it on a cellular level. The longer and smoother the breath is, the calmer the mind is. To emphasize this point, think of when you or someone else is angry or anxious: they’re either holding the breath or the breath is short and shallow.
The second part of this sutra relates to the pause after the exhale (vidharanabhyam). The pauses in between the breaths happen organically whether we pay attention to them or not. Since a huge part of Yoga is to make the unconscious, conscious, Patanjali is recommending we become aware of these pauses. More specifically, he mentions the exhale and the pause after the exhale. Physiologically, when we inhale our heart rate accelerates and when we exhale it slows down. Yogis had an experience of this without knowing the physiology. They knew that the inhale was more energizing and the exhale was more calming. Since Patanjali is offering suggestions to calm the mind, he presents the tool of lengthening the breath and observing the pause after the exhale. During that pause, we are still, we are not even breathing. This can be a unique moment in our days since we are usually doing something. Practicing lengthening the breath and being aware of that pause can change us in different ways. Try it out! Experience it. Remember one of the first lessons we learned in Sutra I.1 is that Yoga is experiential, just reading this blog without acting won’t transform you.
Establishing a consistent practice of breath awareness could be what you need right now in your life. What if you timed yourself for 5 minutes everyday to just focus on the breath? Believe it or not, those daily 5 minutes can change you in profound ways: from the way you talk to others, to how you talk to yourself, to your entire attitude for the rest of the day. Give this practice a try right now, before you carry on reading. Here are some simple instructions to follow:
1. Sit in a comfortable position (on the floor or a chair) where the spine can be straight, yet the body is also relaxed.
2. Set an alarm for 5 minutes (you can increase the time if you want to after one week or so).
3. Close the eyes.
4. Become aware of your breath in and out through your nose.
5. Begin to lengthen the exhales (if you are familiar with the technique “ujjayi” use that).
6. Once you have a smooth rhythm flowing, become aware of the pause after the exhale, maybe consciously increasing it by one or two seconds (make sure it’s a comfortable pause).
7. If the mind gets distracted, kindly bring it back to focusing on the breath. If the breath is not enough for the mind to focus on, try linking the breath with one of the ideas below:
– mentally count the length of the inhale and try to gradually extend the length of the exhale to be twice as long as the inhale.
– choose something that you would like to cultivate more of in your life (Ex: self-love, trust, peace) and visualize that with each inhale you bring that to yourself, with each exhale you send it to another person.
IN THE YOGA WORLD It’s a blessing that Yoga has reached millions of people across the planet. From studios to hospitals, schools and clinics, many people know or have heard of the word “yoga”. Unfortunately, however, many of these people relate that word to physical exercise. We have lost the most profound meaning of this practice: to calm the mind and connect with something deep within us. If performing the hardest asana-s (yoga poses) lead to inner peace, the performers of Cirque du Soleil would be the calmest people. The reality is that these amazing performers are probably people who suffer just like any other person. So, knowing that just the physical practice is not enough (though maintaining physical health is important), we need to emphasize the importance of the breath since it is so intimately related to our state of mind.
Prana is the life force that exists within every living being. This sutra is suggesting we practice controlling the movement of this energy within us. This sutra presents the first steps towards pranayama – extension of our prana, or breathing techniques to calm the mind, which we will later explore in more depth. The steps suggested here could be summarized as follows:
1. Become aware of the breath.
2. Practice lengthening the exhale.
3. Become aware of the pause after the exhale.
4. Practice gradually lengthening the pause after the exhale.
5. Practice with consistency.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Amanda is a brand new friend. In fact, we just met yesterday! Having several things in common, we spent a long time sitting under a tree in a park on a beautiful day talking about Yoga, breathing, meditation, motherhood, and just life in general. Sometimes we meet people and we connect. I felt like we connected. Amanda comes to mind when writing this sutra because we spent some time talking about the importance of a simple meditation technique: breath awareness. She is a generous soul who is offering her time, expertise and home to other women who are willing to leave children, jobs, husbands and any other activities aside and just focus on the breath to experience some serenity. Simple, yet so powerful! Thank you Amanda for welcoming me on your lovely pink blanket and sharing your wonderful life experiences. I look forward to many more!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will look at how the senses influence our state of mind!
Thank you, Luli! This is an honor to be a part of your blog and project. And I feel so blessed that we’ve met! You are an inspiration! I am so moved…see you soon! xo
Thanks so much for this teaching about the breath, Lucia.
🙂 you’re very welcome Annette.
Thank you, Luli! It is truly an honor to be included in this project and on your blog. I am so grateful that we’ve met. You are such an inspiration. I love this project, and am thrilled to have this as a resource. I am looking forward to our meditation group! See you very soon! xo
Dearest Amanda, hope you are well! Loved meeting you too! Lets reconnect please!
Breath awareness is something I have been focusing on in my yoga practice more recently. I feel I am able to connect with my breath while attending class and practicing asanas, but the breath awareness I am trying to work on is outside of the studio. I know and feel the benefits of attending to my breath, slowing down my exhales to calm myself at times of nervousness and anxiety, but in the moment of nervousness and anxiety all that knowledge seems to go out the window. This sutra is a good reminder of it’s importance, hopefully in taking 5 min a day to focus on my breath with time I will remember my breath awareness the next time my emotions are high 🙂
To me breath awareness is essential. I sometimes forget about my breath, but I never stop working on it. When i practice pranayama I feel reborn. It’s one of my favorite practices to do! ‘As my skin radiates a glow of new life from oxygen, I am new again.’ -gi
Yesterday in module 105 with Dave, we practiced this technique with a long inhale, pause, then a long exhale, pause and discuss our feelings. I felt that for the inhale followed by a pause, it is actually quite soothing and calm, time seemed to stand still at that moment when i paused. However, on the exhale followed by pausing, i felt i ran out of breath and deprived from oxygen, and would yearn for an immediate inhale to get some air back. I could see the benefits of lengthening the breaths to stay calm and focus (just the breath), however, i dont think i could pause or hold during asanas. I breath loud and need lots of air for my small little lungs :). If yours are bigger, go for it 🙂
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I recently had an experience where I consciously practiced my new-ish attentiveness toward breath control. I was in a situation where I became emotionally agitated. It was something that I didn’t really have control over, and I didn’t try to stop myself from feeling distressed – instead I tried to be present and aware of my discomfort, but not let it overtake me…With these negative emotions sitting inside of me, I decided to also practice pranayama – I isolated myself for a few minutes, and focused exclusively on my breath. While I didn’t make my negative feelings disappear, I do think I was able to more easily process them, and I was also able to remain relatively calm in a situation where in the past I would have freaked out.
I love the pauses at the end of each inhale and exhale. It seems as if time stands still for those couple seconds. I know I need to work on lengthening my exhale compared to my inhale. The difference a few minutes of pranayama can make to calm the mind is impressive. When it’s hectic and busy at work and the anxiety is building, it helps tremendously if I can get out of the pharmacy for a few minutes, do a lap around the store, get my breathing in order and detach from everyone else’s anxiety. I replace shallow breathing with nice, deep breaths. It calms me down, changes my mindset and renews my energy that we will get through the craziness as we always do.
The pause makes a difference in the breathing. It freezes the moment of awareness of your breath being either full or empty. Helps to pause a thought as well. Nice.
Since starting yoga teacher training I have become so much more aware of breath and its importance. For 9 years I was doing what I thought was yoga, but in reality, I was stretching and suffering through a lot of those poses. Breath is something that works for me. It is a physical connection in my body that DOES calm my mind. I have employed this practice into my daily life and it has brought a new level of calmness to my business and being a mom. My have explained this concept to my 6 year old and she has too adopted this practice into her studies and when she gets upset at something. How amazing is it that we were given this tool in our physical body to help our mind?! Amazing really.
The pause…..in practicing the breathe I really believe it brings awareness and a peaceful mind. But I love to connect my Yoga to my day. The inhale, the busyness of the tasks of my day. The exhale, the things in my day that I have checked of my “to do list” and let go. But the pause, it’s the moments that unless I really stop and pay attention, I miss. A smile from a friend, the touch of someone holding my hand….So many pauses that bring calmness to my day. So practicing the pause in my breathe will help me pause in my day. Truly life changing
This has made a hug change for me. The pause is so important! I practice my breath work while I do massage. It has made me a far better therapist!
The power of the breath!
I recently started a new routine for my personal yoga practice. Kumbhaka has been added and I have never been so mindful of the pause following my exhalation. It is such a different experience! I hadn’t thought of it before, but I think this will make some good “off the mat” homework. If only we all would take mindful pause when interacting with one another, we’d all be better off.
Oh Cristy! How beautiful that kumbhaka is not only meaningful to your personal practice but that it has become a metaphor for your relationships! Yum!
I started to practice yoga a little more than 6 years ago now, with the first 3 years being primarily Bikram yoga. While I was practicing Bikram, I was definitely one of those people that associated yoga with only a physical practice or stretching. After all of this time, I am finally (with the help of teachers like you) starting to understand the importance of not only the breath but everything else associated with yoga. I mean, I have a lot of work to do, but at least I’m understanding more. 🙂 Anyway, I made the comment about Bikram because even though I considered it more of a physical workout and not really knowing anything about breath work, I did find myself changing both physically and mentally. So I can only imagine how much better I would have felt had the concept of pranayama been introduced. I think that because many teachers don’t teach pranayama or yoga philosophy in class that some students only think of it as a physical activity.
With regard to extension of the exhale and noticing the pause, I definitely catch myself while driving to or from work holding my breath or having shallow breaths, but then I catch myself and become more aware, and extending the breath relaxes me and prevents me from shouting expletives to myself. I was reading an article a few weeks ago that was comparing life spans of different animals (sorry I can’t remember the animals) to humans, and I found it interesting that the longest life span of 100 years was of the animal that had the least number of breaths per minute. This seems to show that if you can control the breath by extending the exhales and inhales, you can improve your quality of life and extend your life.
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