Friday, 5 March 2010

Pranayama, Pranayama, Pranayama

Practice has been going well the last couple of weeks, a lot of progress especially in the back bends department. I seem to have settled back into Vinyasa Karma practice and haven't practiced Ashtanga for over two weeks now. I expected to miss it more, but so far not really, perhaps It's the new approach, a week on each VK sequence rather than switching sequences daily. I don't seem to have put on weight, had thought that I might given that I'd dropped all those jump through's and the generally sweatier practice. Still feel strong, lots of handstands still in the Sury's, but I should do a Primary after a month to see if I can still get through it. But so far so good.

While the asana progress has been exciting what I'm finding most interesting at the moment is my Pranayama practice. Being off work for a couple of weeks I have more time to spend on exploring it. Before (old video here, it's changed a bit since then and I stumble less over the mantra but you get the idea and that's the same mantra at the beginning that I chant in my head during the long retention), I was spending ten minutes after practice and another twenty minutes in the evening, now I'm spending twenty to thirty minutes after practice and another forty in the evening.

I'm starting to notice some of the subtle and not so subtle differences. The difference for example between Pranayama with both nostrils and alternating (nadi sodana). I noticed that I was getting nice and relaxed in 1.4 breathes a minute with a ratio of 1:4:2:1 (around 5 seconds inhale, 20 retention, 10 exhale, 5 inhale) but when I switched to alternating nostrils I became a little agitated. It's strange your still exhaling the same amount of air in the same amount of time but you have to force yourself not to panic a little. Then, of course, you have that five second retention after the exhale while you engage the bandhas and before Inhaling. Using both nostrils is fine, but again, alternating, inhaling through just the one, makes you very uneasy, your almost desperate to inhale and ready to gasp the air in. Need to be very mindful here, trust the body.

Found this practice useful for Kapo and the 'Hang' in dropping back. I always had trouble breathing with my head back, the constricted airway, but it's the same as one nostril, the agitation. You just have to trust yourself and the breath more and stay calm, relaxed and breathe steadily. Pranayama practice trains you for this.

Big difference too when you practice Kapalabhati ( the kind of panting bellows breathing) I've practiced this for quite a while at the end of Ashtanga, 36 breathes in Padmasana, 36 in utpluthi and then another 36 after coming back down with my arms raised and hands crossed on my shoulders, but for some reason I've only been practicing it at the end of my asana practice as a lead in to Pranayama, I haven't been practicing it in the evening session. Tried it last night and it makes a big difference, immediately nadi shodana Pranayama becomes more relaxed and steady.

Next week I want to try and reintroduce Viloma Ujayai. I gave up on this a while ago because it was too complicated and I was getting confused. Now I have the Pranayama iphone App I don't have to worry about the counting anymore and can focus on the switching.

Viloma Ujayai

INHALE : Throat
EXHALE : left nostril
INHALE : left nostril
EXHALE : throat
INHALE : throat
EXHALE : right nostril
INHALE : right nostril
EXHALE : throat


I'm still using the Pranayama iphone App, totally reliant on it now. Had planned on using it to get the timing fixed in my head and then turn it off but now I just set it for thirty or forty minutes on low volume and let it run in the background. In the 20 second retention after the inhale I'm still using the Pranayama mantra, have come to rely on this too.

Here's a video of me using the App to give more of an idea what I'm going on about. Given that it's akin to watching grass grow, paint dry etc. I've edited it down to a couple of rounds each. It's still a rough practice and something I'm looking forward to tidying up and developing on the course this summer.

After my Pranayama practice I spend half an hour or so on chanting. I have Ramaswami's Yoga sutra lessons on my itouch and tend to chant along to them plus a couple of the other mantras. then settle down to half an hour to forty minutes meditation. I used to practice Vipassana but after the Pranayama and chanting not a lot is coming up so I pretty much just focus on the breath at the nostrils to start and then settle in on the inhale and exhale, but not focused at any particular point, really nice practice.....but how did those old yogis get by without an itouch.

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