Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Fourth Limb of Yoga - Pranayama

So this year I have been slowly reviewing the the 8 Limbs of Yoga in order to figure out what my intentions for 2016 are going to be. Clearly, since it is already November, this process will transition to preparing for setting my 2017 intentions. As we get closer to the New Year's or early next year I'll review what I had defined, what I achieved and see where we end up. But let's keep moving forward.

Which means, next up of the 8 Limbs is the fourth one, Pranayama.

Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling breath. Breath considered to be the source of our prana, or energy. Pranayama is covered in several of the Sutras which we'll review in this post.

Yoga Sutra 2.49 तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वासयोर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः॥४९॥

tasmin sati shvasa prashvsayoh gati vichchhedah pranayamah - That [firm posture] being acquired, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. This is pranayama.

Swami Satchidananda says that prana is the cosmic force the drives everything, including our thoughts. He suggests that it is not easy to control prana and that we should take our time before releasing in the extra "tank" we all have. That tank is called kundalini symbolized by a coiled snake at the root chakra. Kundalini Yoga is designed to awaken that prana but Satchidananda suggests we shouldn't do that until we fully prepared and practiced.

Yoga Sutra 2.50 बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृत्तिर्देशकालसंख्याभिः परिदृष्टो दीर्घसूक्ष्मः॥५०॥

bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desha kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah - The modifications of the life-breath are either external, internal or stationary. They are to be regulated by space, time and number and are either long or short.

This sutra is about the parts of breath and how they can be controlled. Obviously there is inhale and exhale but there is also retention or holding your breath. According to Satchidananda retention of breath is mostly taught on the inhale (holding one's breath) but that it can be done on the exhale as well. The former is easier than the latter. In addition to the parts of the breath, there is place, time and count. Place is where we place our attention when breathing which can be at the lower spine or belly, the side ribs, the back, etc. Time is how long we retain the breath. Count is the time to inhale or exhale. So you can do a count with a ration of 1:2 meaning if the inhale is 4 count, the exhale is 8 count. In this way, we lengthen our exhale, the opposite of how we breath normally, and with practice can gain control over our breath.

The key here being by controlling our breath we can control our thoughts. Just like the saying to take a deep breath and count to ten when you are feeling angry, taking control of your breath allows you to take control of you mind.

Satchidananda suggests starting with a ratio of one to two, five count inhale, 10 count exhale with no retention. From there you can increase as described on page 151 of his translation and commentary on the Yoga Sutras.

Yoga Sutra 2.51 बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृत्तिर्देशकालसंख्याभिः परिदृष्टो दीर्घसूक्ष्मः॥५०॥

bahya abhyantara vishaya akshepi chaturthah - There is a fourth kind of pranayama that occurs during concentration on an internal or external object.

Swami Satchidananda suggests that this fourth type of pranayama does not need to be taught or practiced since it happens automatically. It happens when you are in such deep meditation that you will stop breathing perhaps for minutes. I have had this happen or at least hints of it happening - I generally jerk awake when I realize I have stopped breathing. In Samadhi, or enlightenment this stoppage can last for several hours apparently.

Great quote from this section about how Yoga works:

So, first we learn to control the physical body, then the movement of the breath, then the senses and finally the mind. It is very scientific, gradual and easy.

Yoga Sutra 2.51 ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम्॥५२॥

tatah kshiyate prakasha avaranam - As its result, the veil over the inner light is destroyed.

This sutra describes the benefit of pranayama which is the destruction or removal over that which is hiding the inner light in all of us. This is the first step to being able to work on the next 4 Limbs which are all related to meditation and achieving enlightenment.

What this means for me in context of living a more yogic life is incorporating daily pranayama practice. I will need to figure out the best way to incorporate it most likely during my daily meditation (more on that in a separate post).

Next up I'll probably group all four limbs into one post since they are all highly related and probably pretty far down the line for me at this point. No sense in spending a lot of time on something I'm not ready to do yet. That may change but for now that makes sense to me.

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