A good few weeks back kiwiyogirunner and I came up with a crackpot notion of tackling our mutual aversion of pranayama by facing it down and bringing it into our practice more during the month of May. I think she might have had a fever when she agreed to this. Her May didn’t start so well with a bout of flu, but I don’t have that excuse. Do I need an excuse? Part of me (the part that’s always hard on myself and judgmental) tells me I do. After all I totally failed to get a daily pranayama practice off the ground in the way I sort of hoped would magically happen… As if!
On the other hand I did take some baby hops forward in pranayama. So that’s what I’ll share here.
For those beautiful supporters who read my blog even though it’s all about yoga, and that’s not particularly their thing: pranayama is the practice of breath control. It’s relevant to yoga because there’s a strong relationship between the breath, the body, and the mind. This means that how we breathe affects the quality of the physical and mental (i.e. meditation) practices done by yogis.
So what did I do during May?
- I practised kapalabhati a couple of times. I found if I’m at all tense or stop to think about what I’m doing, I can’t do it. I don’t enjoy this. …yet?
- I practised alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhanam, as I found it’s properly called), with and without the breath retention, quite a few times. I quite liked doing this and coincidentally we’ve been doing it a bit in class recently also. I found it’s pretty calming, though hayfever season is not the best time to start a pranayama practice perhaps (you don’t need the details, the clue’s in the picture). The breath retention aspect feels super-scary at first (will I die, I wondered) but is a lesson on letting go and trusting all will be well in the next moment, the wonderful inhale moment. I do slightly wonder if people trip out on this kind of practice though… Or maybe that’s just me.
- Overall I paid more attention to my ujjayi during asana practice: what it was telling me about how hard I was pushing in my practice, how to use my breath to expand an asana, how my audible breath might affect (hopefully in a good way) those around me. This was especially so in classes with maybe less experienced practitioners than my regular class — so I kind of felt like I was breathing for everyone. All those quite breathers around me will have either loved me or hated me! And sometimes I focussed really strongly on keeping my inhales and exhales really even in surya namaskar — which was really interesting, throwing up all sorts of tweaks I need to make to my technique for this to work, and possibly highlighting that my teacher’s calls of transitions aren’t as evenly spaced as I had assumed (no criticism, I’m still figuring out how this works — and if it’s really true that everyone else in the room has uneven timing, or if it could possibly be me!)
- I was more aware of my breath off the mat. Things have been pretty stressful at work, and I’ve cultivated centring myself by consciously deepening my breath when I feel my chest becoming tight with anxiety and tension.
- I’ve read a little and enquired a little about pranayama practices — I’m consciously trying to read less yoga right now (in favour of pure experience), but I always need a little theory.
I still don’t feel I am anywhere near ‘getting it’ and I still find altering my breathing surprisingly stressful. But it was interesting to see how I handled doing something I didn’t want to do. Maybe I’ll try again next May? Or maybe it is the case that pranayama should only be attempted when you’ve cracked asana, with sequential practice of the eight limbs of yoga?
Hah, now that I’ve written this I realise that my pranayama month wasn’t the epic fail I thought it was. Gratitude to the blog and the act of writing — this in itself teaches me a lot!
My gratitude to fellow bloggers too for what they teach me. If you want something more serious on pranayama hop over to yogibattle’s blog.