Pranayama: The only practice needed
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the main texts of yoga in the world. Probably the most available and popular text next to the Bhagavad Gita and The YogaSutras of Patanjali. Why is it then that it is so widely ignored? Or maybe it just isn’t really read. I am betting on the later.
Check this out:
Chapter 3 of HYP verse 37
Pranayamaireva sarve prashushyanti mala Iti
Acharyanantu keshanchidanyatkarma na sammatam
Basically, this is stating that “pranayama, by itself, is sufficient for the eradication of all malas or toxins. It is the opinion of real teachers of yoga and belief is that no other practice is needed. ”
So much for an asana practice huh?
This is so true if one realized the size of your lungs and the alveolar surface. It represents the most vast interoceptive area of the entire body.
Controlling the respiration is done from the pons and medulla and other central regions. In English your inner action of the respiratory system involves a higher level of nervous activity.
The respiration is an indicator of behavior constellations in the animal world. The relation of respiration to behavior and its disorders is becoming more and more recognized in the “very late to learn and have to rebuild the wheel and take ownership of it” world of Western science and medicine.
Understand, breathing patterns are identical to our state of mental energy or mindset, our physical posture is a mirror of it, and our nervous system the activity/energy of it.
To take a deep inhale, most people in the world lift their ribcage up towards their face. Another way to say it is that they lift through their solar plexus, posteriorly tilting their ribcage. Another way of saying it is people do a slight back bend when inhaling over the kidneys. All if this is a depleted, damn am I really tired and don’t even know it, push onward, signifier of their breath.
You see, when you lift the front if the ribcage to inhale, the inhale gets cut short. The diaphragm cannot biomechanically contract and the secondary muscles of breath become primary muscles of breath. These are the scalenes mainly. The breath in this situation is only filling the upper lungs. This is where most people breathe all the time, even if your belly is moving.
For an example of this do a slight back bent or push your solar plexus forward slightly and take a breath. Notice your neck and throat is what is actually contracting to breath in. The diaphragm which opens the bottom of the ribcage much like an umbrella opening is not able to. As an opposing experience, bend forward slightly or press your solar plexus backwards then inhale. Notice the size of the breath. Notice that the ribcage at the bottom now moves open like that umbrella opening.
When one is breathing from the neck the sympathetic nervous system or the fight response is activated. When the diaphragm is able to breath the parasympathetic nervous system of relaxation is activated.
All the chemical combinations of each of these two systems are activated as well in each ones breath. Meaning the more you breath from the neck the more stressed out you get as the adrenalin and noradrenalin are released into the blood and the blood pressure goes up. The more larger the breath from the diaphragm, the more relaxed and the opposite happens.
One thing to point out here is that yoga does not have any of the misconstrued concepts that we have in western exercise. In yoga, you do not stress a part of the body out to make it stronger. This only in turn breaks the body. Yoga focuses on creating health of the body thru actually creating health. 😉 I mean to say the less stress you put into the body the better the system, the organs, and the mind, work. If the western way of stressing something to make it stronger was true then why is the western world so “stressed out” and the unhealthiest country in the world? An analogy of this is the NASCAR or Indy car racing. How many engines do thru go they in one race?
Your digestion is intimately connected to your mind. This is why in Ayurveda you are not to eat when emotional. You can see that digestion is strengthened this way through pranayama and that connection.
Also, in Chinese Medicine there is sister organs or the dual organ pairs. Lung and large intestine is one of those pairs. Strengthening one will automatically strengthen the other. This is used in practice when one organ cannot be worked with for some reason or other. A simple use of the opposite organ automatically connects you to the first. Once again, this shows the deeper knowledge of the lungs and respiration’s connection with the digestion.
Respiration and the nervous system go hand in hand. This is also the mind. If you lift the ribcage and breath from the scalenes in that shortened breath for a while, your monkey mind runs wild. If you breath thru the diaphragm, the mind stills.
I am pointing out several connections of respiration and this is all very 101 level and just the beginning of understanding of respiration but it says volumes. ** Understand also that pranayama is not breathing exercises. Take pranayama from that view and the effects of pranayama will remain minimal at best.
Lets take this postural understanding of respiration into meditation. Most people when they sit, roll forward in the pelvis and lean back over the kidneys in that same back bend, with the head hanging forward. The opposite but the same is common as well, where the pelvis rolls backwards with tight hamstrings (men mostly) and then that person tries to sit up through lifting through the solar plexus. Both postures of sitting are going to stimulate the mind making meditation highly unlikely at least and more than likely just plain painful. This position also makes prana rise to the head. This is not the intention in yoga or meditation. It can make for a great disassociation from self and blissed out ungroundedness but it is still not healthy or wise or in the direction of the path.
Try this, sit with your back against the wall. Move your hips all the way back. Place the shika or the back side of the ajna chakra against the wall. This is the center of the back of the head. Most likely what you will experience is how your kidneys and lower ribcage is being pulled off the wall and you will feel just how tight your throat and heart really is.
To correct this, lightly press back into the wall with the center of the head. Do not pull your chin into your throat or try to flatten your neck to the wall although this is taught in many yoga classes. You will see it is wrong biomechanically and energetically. Take a finger and touch the bone at the bottom of the notch of the throat. That place should move forward in front of you as you gently press the center of the head backwards. Then notice the solar plexus. That is the lower ribcage. Let it move back to the wall as well.
This would be the most energy efficient position, as per flow of prana, for meditation.
Just sit here a whole and notice the effect on the mind.
Then just for kicks and the experience of the opposite let your body go and let the solar plexus come forward and up. Noticing the throat and how the heart and throat close. This is emotional.
This is just the beginning.
In order to have the positive effects of pranayama, one must understand the bandhas as well. Asana is to balance the Pranas while Pranayama is to build the capacity of Prana in the system. To just do it blindly is to try to blow up a ballon that has a big hole in it. It doesn’t do anything really.
There is a whole other world that what is thought.
** By the way, most all books on respiration say that breathing into the belly is diaphragmatic breathing. It is not at all. Many many people breath into their belly and their diaphragm doesn’t move at all. Their lower back, hip flexors, psoas and quadratus lumborum are so short that they arch their lower back and lift the lower ribcage upward as described above. And although laying on their back, having their bellies move up and down with the breath, their neck is still doing the breathing. Be careful of what you read and question what you believe. Except none of what I have stated as true, experience it for yourself and make up your own mind.