बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृत्तिर्देशकालसंख्याभिः परिदृष्टो दीर्घसूक्ष्मः I
It is working with the exhalation (bāhya vṛttiḥ), the inhalation (ābhyantara vṛttiḥ), and the suspension of the breath (stambha vṛttiḥ), while placing the attention in a specific place (deśa), determining how long the breath will be (kāla) and how many rounds of breathing one will do (saṁkhyā). Doing all of that while keeping the breath long (dīrgha) and smooth (sūkṣmaḥ).
PRACTICAL LIVING In the last sūtra Patañjali described prāṇāyāma (regulation of life force through the breath) as conscious breathing. Here, the technique of conscious breathing is described in more detail. In this sūtra the attention is brought to the fact that there are 4 parts to the breath: (i) inhalation; (ii) a pause after the inhalation; (iii) exhalation; and (iv) a pause after the exhalation. Simply sitting down comfortably and observing the four different parts of the breath is a powerful prāṇāyāma practice in itself. With an experienced teacher, however, one can experiment with other components of the breath such as:
a. deśa (place): where is the mental focus when one is practicing prāṇāyāma? There are numerous techniques to help the mind be alert yet relaxed. Sometimes the focus is on a part of the body. For example, some techniques involve a slight constriction of the back of the throat, others partial closure of the nostrils. Sometimes visualization is used with the breath so the mind goes towards a specific object in the imagination. Other times, the mind can be drawn towards a specific part of the body that needs healing.
b. kāla (duration): as we become more comfortable with a prāṇāyāma practice, we can lengthen different parts of the breath. One common ratio to work with is 1:2 inhale: exhale. In other words, if your inhale lasts 4 counts, make your exhale 8 counts. As this becomes more comfortable, your teacher may recommend you begin to add conscious pauses between breaths. These pauses (stambha vṛttiḥ), which literally means suspension (stambha) of movement (vṛttiḥ), allow the mind to experience stillness. The mind is always going a million miles an hour, but when we are practicing conscious suspension of the breath, there is an opportunity to experience a calmness, a stillness that we often don’t allow ourselves to sit in.
c. saṁkhyā (number): how many times will we practice a particular technique? During practice the mind will often want to know, just as a three-year-old in a car, “are we there yet?”. The mind gets easily bored and will want to know when this will finish. So having a specific number as a goal is frequently useful. For others, time is a better way to count. Using an alarm clock for a specific amount of time is another way to determine how long one practices for. Other times, a child/your boss/or life will determine how long you practice for 🙂
d. dīrgha-sūkṣmaḥ (long and smooth): prāṇāyāma with a short and agitated breath will not give us the benefits that this practice has to offer. The goal is not to make our breaths as long as possible. The goal is to lengthen the breath as long as it’s smooth, it’s calming, as long as it feels like home. This, “home” feel however, may take practice. In sūtra I.17 we discussed the process of practice – it takes time, at first feeling awkward and clumsy, then becoming easier, then even enjoyable, until it becomes part of who we are. Conscious breathing practices are the same – we need to practice!
IN THE YOGA WORLD Exhalation (bāhya vṛttiḥ) is mentioned first because it is the calming and relaxing part of the breath. It is an opportunity to let go, to detach, to surrender to the present moment. The inhalation (ābhyantara vṛttiḥ) is invigorating and requires more effort. The suspension of the breath (stambha vṛttiḥ) is a moment to observe, to be, to experience stillness. During the pauses in between inhales and exhales we’re not doing anything – we’re not even breathing. In the Bhagavad Gita (a profound spiritual poem), when Krishna is talking about devotion, he talks about offering the in-breath into the out-breath or the our-breath to the in-breath. For those who have a more devotional (bhakti) predisposition, this concept of offering the inhale to the exhale and vice-versa is a beautiful practice. For those with a more intellectual (jñana) predisposition, learning specific ratios to work with may be a more appropriate practice. There are infinite ways to practice prāṇāyāma. Finding a teacher who knows you and is experienced in the practices is suggested in order to have a beneficial and profound experience.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Maribel, a lover of life, an ever-giving human being, a master of pleasureful living, a seeker of meaningful living is in my mind this week. Her smile melts hearts, hersense of humor makes you luagh until your stomach hurts, her huge heart shines light beyond her eyes can reach. As a yogini, she know the power of the breath very well. As her practice evolves, she evolves. As she evolves, her contagious spirit reaches more people around her. Maribel, you are divine light Mama. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for who you are! Love you Mama!
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 discuss the results of a consistent prāṇāyāma practice!