Pranayama and Meditation Intensive
Pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation are two of the key ingredients of an integrated yoga routine. Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, has given us these 8 "tools", called the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) to achieve stillness of the mind - yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. Many of the yoga practitioners tend to limit their practice to only the 3rd limb, asana, the physical postures. There is no doubt that the practice of asana will make the body more flexible and stronger. However, by practicing only asanas we are limiting ourselves to a small subset of the benefits that yoga can provide. If we want to achieve the full complement of benefits of yoga, we need to avail of all the "tools" that are given to us.
In an effort to encourage the students to include pranayama and meditation as part of their daily yoga routine, I periodically offer a pranayama/meditation intensive. In this program, I cover both the theoretical background as well as practical techniques for pranayama and meditation. Some of the pranayama techniques that I cover include:
- Kapalabhati (breath of fire)
- bhastrika (bellows breath)
- rapid breathing
- Ujjayi breathing
- Deep yogic breathing
- Alternate nostril breathing
- Breath retention (kumbhaka)
- Bandhas (energy locks)
- Cooling breaths
- Sectional deep breathing
As for meditation, I discuss the basic concepts and philosophy of meditation. I take the students through a few guided meditation sessions and also provide guidelines on how to develop their own meditation routine.
Time: 6:00 - 7:30 AM
Schedule: (these times are approximate)
- Light stretching (10-15 minutes)
- Pranayama (30 min)
- Relaxation (10 min)
- Yoga philosophy (15 min)
- Meditation (20 min).
Commitment: For the program to be successful I strongly urge you to make a firm commitment to follow this schedule and attend every day.
Please contact me for location and dates.
In addition to committing to the routine as outlined above, I also recommend that you commit to the following for the duration of the program :
- 'sattvic', light, nutritious, VEGETARIAN food
- No alcohol, drugs, tobacco or any other item of similar nature
- A personal commitment to continue the practice after the program is over
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is a compound word in Sanskrit composed of 'prana' + 'ayama'. Prana is the cosmic/universal life force which is responsible for keeping us 'alive'. The word 'ayama' has two possible meanings - to stretch/elongate/expand and to control/restrain. Breath is a gross manifestation of this prana. So, the word pranayama means the ability to expand or stretch our life force (prana) by controlling the breath. Pranayama techniques involve controlling the breath in a variety of ways. According to Sage Patanjali (sutra 2.50), "Modifications of the breath are either internal, external or stopped; they are to be regulated by space, time and number and are either long or short". In this context space represents either a specific point of focus within the body (e.g. lower spine) or the left/right nostril; time means the duration of the breath; and number means the number of inhalations and exhalations or retentions. Following these guidelines, a large number of breathing techniques have been documented in the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, the ancient text on Hatha Yoga. Over the years, many new techniques as well as different variations on the classical techniques have emerged and are widely practiced.
Pranayama is the fourth of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) as defined by Sage Patanjali. It provides a vital bridge between the body and the mind. By controlling the breath, one can control the mind.
Since breathing is something that happens autonomously, we take it for granted. It happens while we are awake and it happens while we are sleeping. Have you ever noticed how your breathing pattern changes when you are angry, agitated or mentally disturbed? In anger, the breathing is shallow, quick, uneven and heavy. When we are calm and peaceful, the breathing is gentle, even and smooth. When we cry or are sad, we have a sobbing breath. The change in breathing happens without any conscious effort, simply based on the emotional state. So, the question is whether the reverse can also be true. That is, can we control the emotional state of our mind through breath control? According to yoga the answer is a whopping "YES"!
Modern medicine can cure us of many physical ailments - common cold to complex organ replacements. However, no simple treatments are available when it comes to dealing with tough emotional issues. For example, there is no pill that can cure us of strong negative emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy, greed and so on. This is where the power of yogic practices like pranayama and meditation have been emphasized in the traditional yoga literature. These practices provide benefits at all levels - physical, physiological, mental, emotional, intellectual and even spiritual. Regular practice is known to bring about a total transformation - toward a feeling of well-being at all levels.
Benefits of Pranayama
- Deep breathing can help with hypertension, anxiety and stress
- Improves circulation of bodily fluids within the kidneys, stomach, liver, spleen, intestines, skin etc
- Improves the functioning of the lungs
- Helps achieve correct position, shape and tension in the kidneys
- Stimulates peristaltic and segmenting movements of intestines
- Re-engineer (rewire) brain’s neural network to control emotions better
- Helps maintain flow of pure blood
- Stimulates sweat glands
- Purifies the nadis (channels of subtle energy), protects organs and cells, energizes the system
- Improves digestion, vigor, vitality, perception and memory
- Helps achieve a state of 'pratyahara' (sense withdrawal), which helps in dharana (concentration) and meditation
Benefits of Meditation
A huge amount of research is being carried out at various agencies to study the effects of meditation. Some of the commonly mentioned benefits are given here:
- Reduces hypertension
- Improves health of the heart, blood vessels
- Slows down aging
- Provides stress relief
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Improves memory, creativity and productivity
- Provides deep relaxation for body and mind
- Meditation can help us transcend the mundane, material aspects of our existence and raise our level of consciousness