Let us look at some more detailed aspects of Pranayama. I start the whole process by exhaling and when I exhale what is in fact happening is that I feel the breath going down. The rib cage, which has been expanded in the inhalation, in the exhalation is going back. The diaphragm is going up to expel the air and the abdomen is contracting.
In order to make the exhalation complete, one has to feel that downward movement fully. Where the awareness has come, this is where we are connected with the movement of our breath. So when the awareness has come down, what we feel as a downward movement, from that point the inhalation starts.
The inhalations go up and while it is happening, it is going through different phases. In the area below the navel we see very little, our awareness is not clear. To reach the part below the navel is like going underground. Underground is dark. You need the torch, and still you will see only the way where you put the light, anywhere else will be dark. So the awareness down below is also like that in darkness. And we feel the movement of the breath just up. When it enters the lumbar spine region, then it feels like it is starting to slowly expand.
If you start to imagine this within, it is not going to bring any good, you will in fact get into troubles, because then it is the mind that is leading the breath. When you are relaxed you don’t visualise anything, and this is how it will naturally happen. Now you have to see what I mean. When the breath comes at the beginning it is spreading vertically and slightly to the sides. When it reaches the area up in the shoulders it is spreading like the pine tree on the top. So far we didn’t even get to that stage, so don’t try to.
These are the three main areas of the spine: below the navel, meaning the pelvic area or the sacrum area; lumbar spine and thoracic spine. In the process you stay restricted to just the trunk, don’t take your awareness out of the trunk. That is where everything is happening. The rest, whatever happens in the body, happens, but it is not your business. You don’t stick your nose into it.
Now let's talk about the exhalations. So first you come up with your inhalation. Wherever you come up, that is the base, the foundation for the exhalation. How does the exhalation feel like? When you connect with that area where you stopped, it is like the ceiling, or like two hooks, and from them your exhalation suspense. So when you start to inhale up into the chest, you make the hooks for the following exhalation.
For now, until you are able to come up to this area, wherever you exhale, keep the awareness there and feel as if from that awareness your exhalation is suspended. Then we exhale and beware here of what the chest wants to do. It wants to close. That is pretty normal, the chest wants to close. We are holding our breath in the upper part of the chest, not allowing it to close. So we keep it lifted up and at the same time the exhalation is still going down. Please mind that we are not doing anything with a strength, nor with muscle power, but with awareness. The chest is held open only with the awareness.
When we exhale we allow the exhalation to go down, go down, go down. Then when we get to the area a little above the navel and it is finished, no access, can’t go anymore… When I want to extend the exhalations, it is then when starts my job of reaching that area – I’m still connected there – softening it, going a little. Again I am stopped, I create space and I go in. Again... Many times like this. Exhalations cannot be continuous. That is the nature of the exhalation. Everything caves in, tightness's occur, our job is yet to release the tightness's and go in. But never forcing.
In fact inhalations are difficult, because the mind energy starts to rise up. The exhalations are difficult, because the physical body collapses. We have to keep the physical body lifted up in the exhalation. This is the picture of it. When we are making the inhalations, then we make only inhalations. We cannot deal with two things at once. Please don’t try to. When we make exhalations, we make the exhalations long. You do both, you are gone... it means, you will neither understand one nor the other. And what do we want to understand? The true nature of the inhalations and the exhalations. This is the basics of the Pranayama.
Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course
at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol North Goa, 2010