Pranayama 
"Just as lions, elephants and tigers are gradually controlled, so the prana is controlled through right practice. Otherwise the practitioner is destroyed."  Verse 15 of Chapter 2 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika 
From Mike: This is a warning about pranayama. I stay away from 98% of it.

A comment from a recent radio talk show listener featuring Mike. "A close friend of mine became very ill in India studying Pranayama, my guru Amma says you have to be very developed before you undertake it, It can be harmful."

Pranayama is said to begin spontaneously with the perfection of hatha yoga positions, and this way of breathing then and only then facilitates the advanced techniques. But just which hatha yoga positions are the "perfected" ones and why?  And just how long might it take to develop them. Who is it qualified to say which one is which? 

I recently -2013- took a week long prana class from Yogi Amrit Desai. He really knows what he is doing.

Here is another teacher I like.

The word Prana translates as something akin to "life force". The second part of the word is "Ayama", meaning "non-restraint".  The practice of Pranayama is meant to free the life force, not restrain it or over energize it as with many power" yogas.  The techniques are meant to open up the inner life force... which may not feel like a "deep" breath.  I think there's a big misunderstanding about these techniques. 

Another way of putting it is among Yogis different postures are taught. Every posture allows the breath to take a certain direction, for every direction the breath taken has a different result. It is posture and thought, both together, that help to direct the breath in a certain direction. As breath is a life-power, whatever center it is directed to it brings to a new life.

Warning to those who don't already breathe naturally, who carry a great deal of tension in their chests, backs, and bellies. People who practice pranayama exercises without good teachers or much experience can easily hurt their diaphragms and other breathing muscles. They can also cause imbalances in their internal chemistry. These pranayama are intended for the more experienced  practitioner, and are intended for deeper states of meditation (they often work with increasing the body's capacity to increase blood CO2 - which can increase alpha rhythms and aid meditations). 

According to a former colleague and psychotherapist who also teaches yoga,  "pranayama is meant to be a spiritual practice, and is not meant as a way to take deeper, more so called "healthy" breaths.  The body needs to be well-prepared, through various practices, before the pranamayakosha, or energy body, can work with the pranayama practices appropriately." 

But how do you know that the teacher is qualified to judge when the student is ready for the next step.  We might well have a much different teacher in a licensed accountable psychotherapist or Amrit yoga instructor then we do in someone that has taken a 3 day pranayama training.  

Almost every pranayama I have witnessed is about control (recall Middendorf's "male" of the breath) from the obvious to the most complex levels. To me pranayama today is largely for altered states of consciousness though there are clinical studies in process that are quantifying many health attributes when practiced correctly.  Recent brain research shows that altered states arise from conditions that push the brain into something other than normal. Lung and breathing mechanics problems manifest in varied ways from this forced/male way of addressing the breath.  In my opinion most pranayama is not appropriate because it does not allow first to learn about healthy natural breathing that is developed just for the sake of breathing.   Pranayama, toning and chanting, while being potentially quite beneficial, can often constrict the lung volume and hinder breathing sequencing and balance as well as invite throat blockages similar to certain weight loss programs using breathing as the primary focus and advertised frequently on TV. They can help or not and are safe or not.   

From a newsletter reader

"Dear Mike: I do breathing exercises (pranayama) but I want to know what I can do to make my breathing better. How can I make each breath longer, without having to think about my breathing? thanks! 
From Mike:  Get this program.  www.breathing.com/video-ds.htm

"From a newsletter subscriber: "I had started Alternate Nostril Breathing Pranayama (with no retention) and I was doing it for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon for 25 days. In these 25 days, I felt very light and nice, suddenly lately I started to feel pressure with pain in my head as soon as I start Alternate Nostril. I feel headache and pressure. I can see my face and eye are looks swollen. My spine is straight. I am doing it correctly. Do you know why this is happening? I have stopped the practice. Please reply to me, I was taken to emergency, but doctor could not figure out what was the problem." MP

I recommend that if you are going to experiment in pranayama that you first develop strong balanced, healthy, natural breathing so your nervous system knows where to return to after any altered state experience; that you know where “home base” is;  Do not learn to fly solo without first learning how and where to land.  Practice makes permanent, not necessarily perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Leading edge yoga teachers are learning how to teach optimal breathing to ensure this perfect practice.

Dear Mike,

Thanks a lot for the prompt and encouraging reply. I would give some of my personal background .

I am 35 years . For the past 18 years I am in the business of ............................ I have got a ................................................................

Reaping monetary benefit is not on the top of my agenda. I will certainly as you have rightly advised join a yoga class.

I fully agree to your view that breathing is often steeped in esoteric agendas here in India. That was exactly the reason that I decided to look out for other sources from where I could gather information, learn and inculcate good breathing habits.

When I read some Indian books on Pranayama they appeared to me to be not touching the immediate subject, that of the psyche and the physique. When I asked about Pranayama to some elderly persons, I was warned not to practice or to think about it as it was considered to be dangerous when what I only wanted was knowing good breathing habits.

I have no direct control on my heart. Hence I cannot directly control the pace of my heart and whatever other functions it may be doing. There are innumerable such organs, systems and processes which are beyond my voluntary control and hence I cannot meddle with them. Which entails I cannot directly influence them and do them incorrectly or wrongly.

However since breathing has a voluntary part in it, it can be done incorrectly. More the reason I felt that I must know what is correct breathing. What is correct breathing when I am eating, relaxing, doing physical work, reading, having a work out, traveling, sleeping, etc.etc. That is all what I wanted to know.

After having visited your website and that of Dennis Lewis, Illse Middendorf, Carl Stough I recognized that the physical and psychic aspects of correct breathing are very important. Without any foreign body intervention in our body this magical gift of breathing has the potential to do wonders to us.

Importantly for me it is absolutely and truly the natural way of living.

Having come to this conclusion I feel I could live correct breathing as well as make a livelihood from teaching it when I become proficient enough.

Thanks a lot for your invitation. I will remain in touch via the e-mail and the net.

Namaste

Shortness of Breath Program


I just wanted to express my appreciation for your web-site and, what I suspect is your passion. My experience with pranayama and other eastern breath practices for going on 25 years has been, shall we say, a "learning" experience. The path I took would have been better served having had someone like yourself around to correct the unintended mistakes (learning from experience is not always the best way). My current understanding certainly supports and agrees with your well-written perceptions. Thank you. Gary A

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Question 2

Hi Mike,

This is Vijay from India. I have been to your site and found it very enlightening! I have recommending it to my friends by word of mouth and also by e-mails. Also, I have been practicing some of the techniques given by you. I must say they are quite effective. Thought I would share something with you. The Hatha Yoga gives some excellent techniques of breathing called Pranayam. Though they are very difficult to practice, simplified versions can be practiced by anyone. I have been practicing one for quite some time, and with a good result to show. It is called Bhasrika Pranayam. The technique is:

Sit cross legged on the floor with both hands on knees.

Exhale completely by pulling in your stomach.

Then inhale deeply.

Now exhale with a force and quickly.

Inhale with a force and quickly [all through nose].

Do this repeatedly and increase the tempo. This makes breathing very noisy. Also, it clears off the nasal channels. Do this continuously for a minute.

After this you will get a beautiful feeling of peace and calm.

Enjoy this now breathing normally.

This is a very effective technique and cures a number of illnesses connected with breathing.

Regards,

Vijay.

India.

From Mike:
Vijay:

Good to hear from you.

ANY extra breathing has the power to heal. If you do the SAME exercise too long though you will restrict the mechanics of breathing and distort many perceptions as well as natural breathing..

I have included many different and safe exercises in the manual and tapes to offset this tendency.

Hatha Yoga is in many ways God’s gift to the human body. I am not comfortable with the cross legged position. It blocks the energy into the legs, forces the person to bend slightly forward compressing the mid breath, and the sitting position stresses my knees.  See the PRP and Straw Experiment in the optimal breathing kit  

Namaste, Mike

For more about bad breathing see Pranayama , Yoga and Breathing,  Butekyo , and Box Breathing 

 

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