Prana moves, we breath, and so it goes…

We are in this Together
We are not alone. We all breathe. Each of us absorbs life in an individual way. How often do we pay close attention to what is happening inside? For the most part breathing is automatic, guided by who we are, what we are doing, and how we feel about it. It keeps us alive. Not only alive, but our breathing holds secrets to our inner sense of self. Our breathing patterns interface with our nervous systems, our minds, and bodies. What we breathe becomes us. We take life’s breath into ourselves through every cell in our bodies and every cell responds.

With each breath we are seamlessly relating with the entire planet. As we inhale, we receive elements, nurturance, and inner touch from the environment in which we live. We receive the gift of life. We offer our gifts back into the world as we exhale. The life-giving breath we take in transforms and supports us. We feel it. We release it back out, and then we do it again. We do it over and over, for the entire time we exist in a body.

Intimacy and Desire
Breathing is a profoundly intimate act. Desire drives every breath we take. From our first breath to our last, we want and we need it. We literally cannot live without it. We share the intensity of this desire with all life on the planet. We are constantly in direct communication internally and externally with everyone and every thing that is also breathing. Every nook and cranny, every cell knows breath and is in a continuous dance with the inner and outer environments. What and how we breathe becomes us. 

Usually simply thought of as life-force and considered to be synonymous with “breath”, prana is life. Everything that is alive is suffused with and supported by prana. It is vitality, radiance and movement.

Breathing is so much more than simply taking air in and out of our lungs. Even thinking about breath that way is limiting to the capacity for prana—true breath—to spread. 

Prana animates the entire world. It moves through the body, riding on the air we breathe, penetrating every cell, enlivening us on inhale, and releasing and relaxing us on exhale.  Our prana is our personal gift of life.

Prana gives rise to the breath. It is the subtle breath. It underlies all aspects of what we call breathing. Our breathing processes provide the vehicle for prana to spread through every aspect of our embodied form. Our deepest breath is the movement of prana within our cells. It is the subtle aspect of energetic-awake-liveliness that we feel within.

Prana regulates all internal functions and maintains inner balance the best it can within varying circumstances. When we are healthy and happy prana wafts and weaves through the whole body in easeful support of everything we do. When we are stressed—which is often—we automatically harden and resist. In our resistance we restrict prana’s flow. We harden to protect ourselves. Or we collapse and give up

We must go deeper. There are tools for managing these internal processes. We do have some control over the breath. We can take skillful means and a soft inner touch to modulate and regulate our breathing and therefore—how we perceive, think, feel, and act in the world

Breathing and Pranayama
The trick, of course as always, is finding the most skillful way to both soothe and enliven the nervous system/body and mind. We want to feel safe inside so we can appropriately relax. And we want to feel clear, alert and comfortable at the same time.

Yoga’s breathing practices—pranayama—offer critical tools for creating the balanced ease and comfort we are looking for. Skillful pranayama forms the foundation for developing true clarity in body and mind. Refining our breathing processes forms the sound foundation for serious yogic inquiry. Pranayama is not an isolated technique.

As always, nothing exists without relationship and context. Nothing acts alone. Pranayama becomes effective when practiced within yoga’s full context laid out in the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga sutra.

Breath is delicate. We need to commit to sharpening and refining our perceptions to to alter our breath. We need to take a soft touch and remain responsive to what is actually presenting as we use the breath to journey inward. Think of your breathing as a fine excavating tool. Sometimes a large drill may be necessary, but it must be used with care. Harshness in the practice will not be helpful. It can be counterproductive and inhibit the excavation process.

However, even the techniques that one may think of as “harsh” can be done from a soft touch. A soft inner touch is necessary for pranayama to reveal the inner layers of self. The inner depths, the layers of core and radiance are NOT harsh. To enter the inner world we need tools that can match the inner tone of our being—spaciousness and radiance is always there.

Any of the basic techniques can help, when done skillfully. And they can all compromise the nervous system when not done skillfully.

Skillful Practice of Ujjayi Breathing in Asana

With every breath we take we renew our relationship to life itself.

We give and take, we offer back, and receive again.

What does it mean to take breath into oneself?

Can we simply allow ourselves to receive…life as it is?

To wait for it?

To invite, not pull?

Can you absorb, relish, and offer back?

Is there love in this?

Breathing is a Profoundly Intimate Act
Ujjayi breathing in asana is a way to cultivate a more conscious and intentional intimacy with life. Ujjayi breathing can be one of our most powerful breaths for nervous system balancing. When practiced skillfully, ujjayi is soothing to body and mind. It can be a direct pathway to stimulating parasympathetic nervous system and relieving us from sympathetic nervous system agitation and dominance.

When done in a forceful manner ujjayi breathing can be disruptive to the nervous system. Any harshness in the breath will have the opposite of the desired effect. Pushing or driving the breath stimulates the sympathetic rather than parasympathetic nervous system. Forcing our breath creates dis-ease rather than increased ease in body and mind.

Skillful Practice of Ujjayi
When skillfully practiced, ujjayi can be deeply nourishing and soothing. In asana, it builds soft deep strength and washes the inner world as we move rhythmically with its sound and inner feeling.

We begin with a light touch—never harsh, always rejuvenating and genuinely delightful. As we continue, we remain responsive to the actual needs of the body in movement, rather than to an idea of how the breath should be. 

Breathing arises from stillness. The stillness creates the movement. So we wait. We wait for the breath and begin. Remaining responsive and receptive—not driving or doing the breath—we follow, move and breath as an integrated undulating whole.

Initially we slow down so we can feel breath’s touch in our in the nasal pathways. We sip and relish the breath. We train our attention to feel the prana as it naturally spreads through the subtle energy receptors of the head, through the soft palate, the throat and all the way to the cave of the back heart.  

We nurture this soft sipping by delicately narrowing the region of the glottis and the vocal cords. This slight narrowing regulates how fast breath moves in response to the diaphragmatic movement below. Throat and diaphragm work together to adjust the breath’s pace and to encourage prana to circulate more completely though the entire region, all the way to the back heart.

There is no hurry in this. Calm and steady breathing and calm and steady nervous system go together. Even in vigorous asana, the rhythm of ujjayi should be even and smooth.

When practiced well, ujjayi breathing forms the foundation for effortless asana practice. When breathing is effortful, asana is harsh. When our movements are abrupt or rough, our breath is equally so. The two always go together. One always affects the other. For most successful practice it is best to attend to them both.