Pranayama: Rules

The reader should abide by the following rules.

The posture for pranayama can be any comfortable sitting position, preferably on a blanket placed on the ground. The two meditative asanas, sukhasana and vajrasana are particularly suitable at this early stage. Later as your body becomes more supple we will introduce you to the best meditative asanas for pranayama practice – padmasana, siddhasana, etc.2. Remember the body should be relaxed and the back kept straight without any strain.

The clothing worn should be as light and as loose as circumstances will permit. This is important so that the abdomen is allowed to expand unrestricted during deep inhalation. In particular don’t wear any belts or corsets etc. Try to keep yourself warm during the practice. Though accentuated respiration generates increased body heat it is usually a good idea to wrap a blanket around yourself.

The place of practice should be clean, quiet and properly ventilated so that the air within the room is well-oxygenated and free of obnoxious smells. However, there should be no gale-force draught. The room should be free of all types of insects. If possible try to practise in the same place every day so that you gradually build up a quiet and conducive atmosphere for your daily yoga practices.

The best time for practice is early in the morning after asanas and before meditation. One should practise at least half an hour before taking food and four hours after food. For this reason before breakfast is a particularly suitable time. Pranayama can be performed at other times during the day but it is more difficult to meet all the restrictions. The evening is a reasonably good time to practise providing one can abide by the restrictions on food.

Concerning food, it is very difficult to practise pranayama correctly if the stomach and intestines are completely full. This prevents the contraction and expansion of the abdomen during deep respiration. There is a saying by the ancient yogis: “Fill half your stomach with food, one quarter with water and the remaining quarter with air.” In order to gain the most benefits from pranayama reasonable moderation in eating is essential.

It is best to empty the bowels as much as possible. Again this allows less restricted and greater movement of the abdomen during respiration.

Nasal blockage makes it very difficult to practise pranayama. One should definitely not breathe through the mouth unless a particular pranayama practice requires it. Therefore, jala neti should be done when necessary before beginning the practice.

Awareness is an essential part of pranayama. It is important to be aware of the mechanics of the practice and not allow it to become automatic. If the mind becomes distracted, and it possibly will, don’t become frustrated or try to suppress the wandering tendency; only try to realize that your attention is elsewhere. This is difficult, for when our attention is elsewhere we are normally so involved with the distraction we don’t realize that we have ceased to be aware of the pranayama practice. All is forgotten, until some time later we realize our mind is not on the practice. Merely becoming aware of the distraction will direct our attention back to the mechanics of pranayama.

Violent respiration is not advocated during pranayama. Many people teach pranayama as though the lungs are a pair of heavy duty mechanical pumps. The lungs are strong but they are also sensitive and should be treated with respect. Respiration should be controlled and without any strain. If you have to utilize any excessive force or strain then you are not doing pranayama correctly. Beginners, in particular, should slowly and systematically develop more and more control over the respiratory functions. If one tries to master pranayama in a week by forceful inhalation, retention and exhalation then more harm than good will result. The motto is ‘slowly but surely’.

If there is any discomfort while doing pranayama then it should be stopped immediately. If this discomfort continues then seek the advice of a competent yoga teacher.

Continue to: Pranayama: Nadi Shodhana (Stage 2)

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