Pranayama Part 1 Introduction

(likes / dislikes and the karmic rules)
20.10.2010

In Pranayama we are dependent on the body for the breath to move freely. If the body is out of line, the breath can’t reach everywhere, it can't go to that area which is blocked. The next important thing is related to us trying to control, influence the breath. When we try, automatically the muscles tighten. Whenever we make actions arising from the local awareness, we get into trouble and there once more come blockages. It is proving that we rely on the body for the breath to be harmonious.

When is the body in total inaction? When we are lying down, when we are still and we don’t have to do anything. Also in some Yoga postures like Halasana and Shoulder Stand we are dependent on the body for the smooth breath. Even if there is no action in the body, it is still dependent. The one pose which is completely balanced, in which we can practice our breathing is Shavasana. It is for that reason that we are going to learn Shavasana in depth, in all its aspects, so that we are able to perform our watchfulness of breathing. And in that process we also learn when we hold tightness anywhere in the body without even knowing.

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Prana and the ha-tha balance

The energy that supports life is Prana, which is in every living creature. When this is balanced we enjoy health. Yoga practice is about being so aware that we notice imbalances and do postures to bring harmony.

Prana, like all energies; light, sound, magnetism, electricity, etc; travels in waves from plus to minus. To regulate the Prana, "Ha-Tha" Yoga came into being, which is to do with the understanding of these plus (positive) and minus (negative) aspects, symbolised by "Ha --> Sun" and "Tha --> Moon".  The exact meaning is to discover how to act and be passive at the same time. Practically speaking, doing the pose and being relaxed while doing it.  

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Yoga is not about flexibility or strength

Yoga is not about flexibility or strength which is what most people understand about Yoga. Yoga is about peace and freedom. By being caught up in the pursuit of flexibility and strength we direct our energies in a goal which involves accumulation. And everyone knows that there is no limit to how much one can want. Than the pursuit of power, wealth are a similar attraction without end. Therefore we must devote our time to renunciation - which is surrender - rather than accumulation. For most of us the giving up of things is a threat to social norm.

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Daily Yoga Practice

When one lives in a city it is very important to be fully present in oneself at all times. Otherwise one gets blown away like a straw in the wind, thrown here and there, yet nothing comes out of it. Japanese people are quite famous for this, going on a trip to see a whole country in a week. Think about it, how much can they really explore by constantly moving from one place to another. Within us there is an infinite power but one needs to be well grounded, rooted like a tree for any growth to take place.

When you practise yoga it is crucial to be intelligent about it and understand the whole practice. There has to be an awareness about why we do certain things in a certain way.  Also one needs to recognise its own needs instead of just copying others.

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About Love

“The Prophet” has been one of my greatest Yoga books. Sometimes it has affected me even more than Krishnamurti's words. “The Prophet” is great because you read just one fragment, put it aside and then even if you fall asleep, you fall asleep with what you have read. This is “The Prophet” speaking to us about love.

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him.
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
As the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

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About the Faith in Life - Totality

Some people think that their freedom is in trying out everything that there is. The one who is trying is the one who is not happy with one thing, therefore he will check another one. For example, I never try out all these restaurants around here, I don't need to because I am content with my food. I will seek something else if I am not happy with what I have. And I may think that to try out everything is my freedom, so I go and look at some many different things. And in all that time I spent on trying out, I could have focused on one thing and deepened my knowledge or experience.

Also, when I try out things naturally I see some validity in them too. At the end of it all there is a big confusion because I have seen validity in so many things. When I actually want to do something for myself, there are so many points that seem important that I don't know any more which point I should take and work on. I end up confused and that means energy-less. Because I cannot put myself into what I do and I don't have faith in it, nothing works. Thus the master key to a success is faith. If you don't have faith in who you are and in what you are doing, you are a lost being who will not get anywhere.

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On the Direction in Life

When we lead our lives without awareness, we are not fully present and since our energy is not focused, the results of what we do will be also lukewarm and uncertain. In life we always have to choose the direction, whether we go one way or the other. Let’s say, that I decide to walk one path and then start doubting if I have made the right choice. At that time my energy, my presence in whatever I am doing, will be diminished. Then I come to the next crossroads and again I doubt: “Have I taken the right turn”? In the end, when I am halfway through my life, I realise that everything I did before was a mistake, but by then I'm running out of petrol, I have no more energy. It is a tragic picture, yet this is how most people lead their lives.

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HIYC - Patanjali Yoga Sutras part 3 Vibhuti Pada - Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora

Vibhuti Pada is the third chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, which means the chapter on Progressing. Patanjali presents the three last of the 8 paths of Ashtanga Yoga. After the mastering the first 5 parts, which are: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, the inner practice begins, described by the three states of profoundness in meditation: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The three together constitute Samyama (the integration practice through which the yogi vanquishes all the cognitive obscurations).

Dharana may be translated as holding, or holding steady and refers to focus or concentration. The word dhri means to hold, carry, maintain, resolve. After withdrawing the energy from the senses – Pratyahara – the mind is collecting itself and we start the journey within.

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HIYC - Patanjali Yoga Sutras part 2, Sadhana Pada - Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora

Chapter 2 of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras is Sadhana Pada, the chapter about Practice. It focuses on concrete things one can do in order to diminish and eventually get rid of obstacles, which hold us away from recognizing the true Self. Specificaly, Patanjali describes Kriya Yoga and the first 5 of the 8 Paths of Yoga (8 limbs), known as Ashtanga Yoga.

The eight ways in which one expresses one’s action are: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

There are five Yamas, which are like “Commandments” of Yoga, we shall keep them in mind and follow every second of the day:
1.    Ahimsa – is a rule of non-violence in any aspect: non-violent thought, word, action towards anyone and anything. This is the most important commandment.
2.    Sattya – means to be truthful, live a life of Truth inside and outside. Forgive yourself if you haven’t yet followed it through and practice meditation to live this Yama every day. If you wear a robe - make yourself worthy of it; often those in robes tarnish the religion, modify it to their own interpretation. Religions make total sense if read properly, Yoga is a spiritual path, same as religion.  
3.    Asteya - is a rule of non-stealing in thought, word and deed – apart from not taking what belongs to someone else. For example stealing a word is misrepresenting, taking someone else’s word for your own, thus not being truthful.

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HIYC - Patanjali Yoga Sutras part 1, Samadhi Pada - Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora

In 200-300 BC, the time of Buddha, lived Patanjali, who brought to us the three subjects of Yoga, Ayurveda and Grammar. A Sutra is one bead of the necklace, and there are many beads forming the necklace. 196 Yoga Sutras gives us the whole philosophy of Yoga.

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is Samadhi Pada, meaning the chapter on concentration. Among topics described by Patanjali is yoga itself, principles of practice and non-attachment, obstacles and solutions for them, tools for and results of stabilizing the mind. Samadhi padha, described in 40 Sutras, provides an overall understanding of Psychology, Parapsychology and  the highest states of Consciousness.

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Mechanism of Asanas - Energy and Spiritual Levels

The breath in the asana should be induced by the posture itself, as every posture has its own pattern of breathing and affecting the mind accordingly. In Halasana and Hanging Sirsasana you can just be with your exhalations, in a meditative state, there is nothing else to be done. It is totally natural for the mind to drift away while in the position, so there is no point in feeling frustrated about it. Just continue to practise and be pure in your devotion, meaning that you do it as a ritual, and not being goal oriented. Trust that the path taken is right and do your thing every day, totally present.

Pranic force is very powerful. When practising pranayama it may happen for some people that they feel slight panic at the end of an exhalation and their hearts start beating rapidly. It is a panic of letting go. When you start to lose control and can't handle this situation, you start making the exhalations consciously in order to reach back to the original state. Pranayama is very psychological. To properly exhale is more difficult than doing inhalation. When we do and inhalation there is still a stimulation, an act of doing, whereas a spiritual experiences occur when we let go in the exhalations and leave the known. This demands a complete focus and presence. Asanas are gross, while when one experiences a breakthrough in the pranayama, one becomes fully in touch with own energies. It does take a couple of years to realise the power of Yoga. One must first understand how to use the tools, the breath and the body in order to build up system of accessing information within own being. Only when one gained a control over the mind and the body, one must learn to let it go. Preparation for pranayama takes about 2 years. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Sanskrit text on Hatha Yoga, it is also said that one must practise with purity and daily. Stop one day, lose a week. One must practise constantly, with purity and there must be a stability in the body. Then a person can experience the real effects of the practice.

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Mechanism of Asanas - Energy Levels

Sankhya, Ayurveda and Yoga are all related. Sankhya, one of six Indian philosophies, is about understanding the whole Universe through comprehending its ingredients. The sages found out, that not only everything in the Universe is in a continuous state of movement, but it is also an interaction of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. They also realised, that since we are the microcosm of the Universe our bodies are vibrating with the same life-force. There are devised ways of recognizing the evolution of energy within us in order to be able to see the pure Self. When you become in touch with your energies you can access extrasensory powers, when wisdom comes all energies are freed, one can see into the past as well as into the future.

Life operates by two energies, activity and passivity, plus and minus, wave going up and wave going down. On the physical level, life is a movement and its energy manifests itself in waves. Ha is a positive force and sun power, Tha is a negative force and moon power, everything functions within these two polarities. Hatha Yoga is about the exploration of the energy of oneself.

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Why Do We Separate Asana And Pranayama?

Even though the body and breath are interrelated, we separate asana and pranayama.

This is because you cannot do everything together. In asanas, you meditate on the body, in pranayama you meditate on your breath. When you meditate, you meditate on the mind. For a comprehensive work, use only one tool at the time, then put it aside and take another. Yoga is something that has come from a lot of light: spiritual clarity, mind, consciousness and all the subtle forces in nature.

Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2000

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The Importance of Dreams

One thing is certain - nothing comes without a reason. Everything has a cause and so do dreams.

Western scientists say dreams lay in the sphere of subconsciousness. In Yoga there is a state called pratyahara where there is no stimulation and spiritual life starts. Once you stop providing inputs, nothing should catch your senses. This is when you start to work on the deeper conditionings, samskaras – impressions that our actions, intentions or experiences leave in the deeper structure of our mind.

Dreams do not just come by chance. They are another way to work with samskaras. There is a sutra that says you can use dreams to look in to your conciousness. In pranayama we are preparing for this research.

Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2000

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What Should Our Daily Practice Look Like?

In the hectic western life, 2 hours of daily Hatha Yoga practice should be done to get most benefits. There are two stages – energizing and deconditioning. You need energy for deconditioning and living with clarity. The upside down poses are energizers. When you have taken tensions away, you decondition and then recharge yourself with Hanging Sirsasana and Shoulderstand.

Do standing poses every day, every second day backbends or twist and forwardbends.

Give pranayama at least half an hour and always do Viparitakarni before that. Pranayama shouldn’t be done immediately after asanas with the exception of Viparitakarani.

You cannot do pranayama without asanas. The other way around is possible. Hatha Yoga texts say that asana is absolutely essential – it is the first practice.

Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2000

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The Purpose of Pranayama

During Yoga practice, many postures do not seem to be a natural thing to do. We do them in order to get rid of the unnatural. Similarly, the technique of pranayama is not a natural thing to do, but the result is that it takes away unnaturalness in our lives, in our bodies, in our breath and in our mind. Pranayama brings naturalness in our body through alignment.
The breath is a manifestation of life and the purpose in doing pranayama is to understand life and yourself better.

How to prepare for pranayama?
The imbalances in our lives, the conditioned reactions are reflected in our body in the form of tensions and changed structure. Tensions are caused by contractions which, in turn, are caused by fear. Most creatures contract when they are afraid – it is a basic reaction of all animals.
Therefore, in order to undo those tensions, we stretch and we relax. Our body is a battlefield and in the postures a war is being waged. Asanas prepare the body for pranayama.

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Religions, Spirituality and Yoga

Are religions, not churches or temples, spiritual paths? By pointing out similarities between different religions we will find out whether they can lead to spirituality. We will also see if the same qualities exist in Hatha Yoga.

So, what are the common features?

  • Surrender to something bigger or higher then yourself. All religions speak of surrender. If there is a religion that doesn’t have it, it is Buddhism. From the East to the West, all religions believe in a higher spirit, they just have a different name.
  • Prayer - one of the things coming from surrender is prayer.
  • Trust and faith -  faith is a concept, while trust is an experience. In order for faith to happen, belief has to be there. Belief is part of the spiritual path. Unless you have faith you will not have trust. Trust in an experiental thing. We have to surrender to have faith.
  • The attainment of a higher state as a goal. It is based on freedom from suffering, mysery and unhappiness.
  • Love is an element of religion if it means compassion. It is more a product, a result of religion.
  • Dedication is part of practice.
  • The founder and the scriptures.
  • A moral ethics, a code of conduct.
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How Do The Yoga Postures Work (The Physiological Effects Of Asanas)?

Postures deal with the mind, body and spirit. The easiest of these is to understand how they work on the body.

Stretching and elongating is the very first quality of postures.

Every day tensions build up and cause hardness of the muscles. This, in turn, blocks circulation. All yoga postures work on circulation in two ways: by stretching and by blocking it in one part and increasing it in another part. Blood is life: it carries oxygen, glucose, and takes waste matter away. When a muscle works, it uses nutrition and releases uric acid. Therefore, blood is the provider and the purifier.

The circulatory system is connected to the lungs, to the respiratory system, which help clean the blood.

Moreover, the digestive system has to work in order to provide the nutrients e.g. liver which stores the nutrients.

All in all, in order for health to be, all the organs, including the brain, have to work and be in the state of balance, homeostasis.  

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Pranayama - Working with the Bandhas

Pranayama is very subtle. For this reason, in Iyengar Yoga we go extremely slowly with it. With asana it is different – an experienced teacher can see what is going on and correct straight away.   

When you make your exhalations long, feel the abdomen go down. Do not allow the abdomen to go forward at the end of the exhalation. On the contrary, allow it to go straight up. You don’t have to pull it in. It pulls itself in. The moment you stop exhaling is as if you allow your consciousness to sink down toward the base of the spine.   

Your first inhalation will be somewhere below the navel. This is a very important part of the practice, because with it come two bandhas: mula bandha, and uddiyana bandha.

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The Healing Power of Breath

There was a boy who suddenly got such bad depression, he couldn’t go to work, in fact, he couldn’t do anything. He was a young boy of about 25. So, he had to come for three classes a week and within one month he got all his confidence back, got another job and started to work. He didn’t appear at the Institute after that. What did he do? A lot of backbends and some breathing as well. He sat on a chair and was just breathing in a particular way. He wasn’t lying down and it wasn’t even a real pranayama but it worked straight away. This is how powerful your breath is in sorting out your psychological problems, psycho-emotional problems.

Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2002

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