Pranayama

I've just posted a bunch of Pranayama videos on Youtube for the sister blog , Vinyasa Krama Sequences and subroutines and thought I'd make the most of them and make this Pranayama week here too. They basically outline stages in developing a practice, I've broken them down so you can start wherever you feel most comfortable.

The videos aren't great, the sound quality is poor, sorry, but if you crank up the volume I think you can get an idea of what's going on. Also, my chanting is quite awful, sounds a lot better in my head which is where it tends to stay. Mostly I give instruction and a count for the first round and then just do it for the next couple. I'd hoped the recording would pick up the sound of my breathing but it doesn't really catch it. In the later videos I try recording a voice over but that's a nightmare to sync. They are what they and if anyone is curious or had wanted to start building a practice they might be something to be going on with. I'll go into a little more detail on each video over the next couple of days but if your tempted to dive in right away here's a suggestion.

Start off with some Kapalibhati HERE and then move on through the main Pranayama videos. Try Pranayama 1 and 2 and see how comfortable that is, you might want to keep the exhale at an eight count rather than ten, that's fine. If your comfortable there give Nadi Shodana a try, videos 5 & 6, they have the same ratio. At this point you might want to try learning the Pranayama mantra (see the chant page at the top of the blog, it printed out as well as some MP3's of Ramaswami teaching it ) and chanting along, it has the same ratio as the first ujaii video. After a couple of days, sessions or weeks start increasing the ratios with videos 3 & 4 and/or 6 & 7. When your ready you might like to try and increase the retention of the breath long enough to chant the full mantra 15-20 seconds depending how fast you go. I tend to start off fast and then settle down to a slower chant half way through my practice.

If your linking here from the Youtube videos and aren't an Ashtangi then I should probably say something about bandhas. You could give them a miss at first and just go through the videos missing that part out altogether although some would argue it's not pranayama without them. Start with what feels comfortable, a nod in their direction perhaps. So three bandhas here, very very simply put Mula bahanda (rectal lock, just lightly clench and lift the rectal muscles for now, it gets more subtle as you go on), Uddiyana is where you see me draw in my belly and lift. Mine is a little extreme here, it's how I tend to practice but also makes clear what's going on for the video. To start with you might like to imagine a thread that draws your belly button back towards your spine, it's a start. The third lock is Jhalandara, throat lock, just bring your chin down towards your chest, ideally the space between your clavicle

The first four videos are straight forward Ujaii breathing (constrict the throat to make yourself sound a little like Darth Vader) building up the ratios. The first one is 1;1;1, five seconds inhale, five holding the breath and five exhaling. The second one has the same ratio but includes the bandhas so 1;1;1;1. The next one doubles the exhale 1;1;2;1 and the fourth doubles the holding of the inhale so 1;2;2;1 thats 5 second inhale/ 10 seconds hold /10 seconds exhale/ 5 seconds for the bandhas.

The next group, five, six and seven are basically doing the same thing, building up the ratios, but employ Nadi Shodana, alternating the nostrils.

Pranayama 8 is one of my favourites. It's Ujaii Pranayama but with mantra. While inhaling you chant in your head the first part of the Pranayama mantra then chant the second part while holding the breath and chant the final part as you exhale. I've made it 1;1;1;1; but you can slow down the speed of your chanting to change the ratio.

Pranayama 9 is my standard, everyday, Pranayama practice. The ratio is 1;4;2;1 and I chant the full pranayama mantra while retaining the breath after the inhale.

The final video is Viloma Ujaii with mantra and at the same ratio 1;4;2;1. This alternates the nostrils as in nadi Shaodana but also includes ujaii breathing. It's tricky but quite something once you get the hang of it.

I should also mention the Kapalibhati I put up a couple of weeks ago as I always do that before starting my Pranayama, kind of the link between my asana practice and the Pranayama.


123. yogic postures for `breathing exercises p247
The following Pranayamas are taken from Ramaswami's other book 'Yoga for the three stages of life'.
126. The Locks ( Bandhas) p250

LEARNING THE PRANAYAMA MANTRA


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Pranayama Mantra








Learn more chants by Srivatsa Ramaswami HERE










A TRANSLATION OF  THE PRANAYAMA MANTRA



And here's a link to a page that translates (below) and explains the mantra

AUM bhUH, AUM bhuvaH, AUM svaH, AUM mahaH
AUM janaH, AUM tapaH, AUM satyam

AUM, the primordial sound, resides in all elements of the universe. It permeates the earth (-bhUH), water (-bhuvaH), fire (-svaH), air (-mahaH), ether (-janaH), intelligence (-tapaH) and consciousness (-satyam).

AUM tatsaviturvarenyM bhargo devasya dhImahi
dhIyo yo nH prachodayAt.h.

We pay homage to Gayatri, the one who shines like the sun (tat savitur), the one who destroys all our sins through her everlasting and effulgent light. Dear Goddess Gayatri, please illuminate our path towards our higher consciousness and lead us to our true purpose in life

AUM Apo jyotiH rasomRRitaM
brahma bhUR bhuvaH svar AUM..

Please shine your light (-jyotiH) in our path so we may partake of the everlasting nectar (rasomRRitaM) of brahman while chanting the primordial sound, AUM'!


Ramaswami's Mantra meditation Newsletter February 2012



MANTRA PRANAYAMA

Considerable amount of literature is now available on Pranayama (from
ancient and contemporary yogis), an important anga of Yoga, even
though a smaller and smaller number of Hatha yogis do a smaller and
smaller number of pranayamas. In fact according to Brahmananda who
wrote an important commentary of Hathayogapradeepika, Hatha yoga is
indeed Pranayama. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras succinctly gives the
parameters of pranayama along with the benefits. Hathayoga pradeepika
and several other hatha yohga texts talk about a variety of pranayamas
with different ratios in considerable detail and as I said enough
literature is available on pranayama. However since it is also the
anga prior to the antaranga or meditation, parts of yoga pranayama has
been used to prepare oneself for meditation. If in pranayama you can
introduce some noble thoughts for meditation like an uplifting mantra,
bhava thought or an image such pranayamas are called sagarbha
pranayama or pranayama pregnant with lofty ideas. Sri Krishnamacharya
in his “Nathamini's Yoga Rahasya” says that sagarbha pranayama is
several times more beneficial; more than the mechanical pranayama done
generally by hatha yogis.

Sagarbha pranayama done with pranayama mantra from the vedas, which
also includes the potent gayatri as a part of it, has been in vogue
since the vedic times. Sri Krishnamacharya in his yoga work
“Nathamuni's Yoga Rahasya” gives a number of instructions for doing
pranayama towards the end of the first chapter. He commends the use of
Pranava and the pranayama mantra with gayatri while doing pranayama
practice. Usually pranava (OM), the most potent mantra and the mother
of all mantras, as a stand alone mantra is used by renunciates like
consummate yogis and advaitins. And the gayatri impregnated vedic
pranayama mantra is used by householders and others in all pranayama.
In fact Manu in his famous Manusmriti says that the pranayama mantra
which consists of prnava, the seven vyahritis, the gayatri and the
head or siras portion should be recited while holding the breath in
Kumbhaka three times to be called as pranayama. Sri Krishnamacharya
also emphasizes the need to meditate on the meaning of the mantras
like the suggestion of Patanjali in YS.

Most people who do ritualistic pranayama in India use the pranayama
mantra referred to earlier. Manusmiti says as follows

“sa vyahritim sa pranavaam
gayatriim sirasa saha
trifpateth ayataf pranah
pranayamassa uchyate

Here is the translation“Pranayama is that in which the seven vyahritis
(bhuh bhuvaha...) each preceded by pranava (OM) then the gayatri, then
the siris are (silently) recited.”

It should be chanted (silently) while holding the breath (kumbhaka).
When it is done three times it is called panayama. The pranayama
mantra is 64 syllables and takes about 20 seconds to chant, more or
less. The verse quoted above says three times and some interpret it as
chanting the mantra three times while holding the breath, but
generally it is chanted once and three such pranayamas will make one
bundle of pranayama. If you try to do the chant thrice in one go it
would taken a minute and holding the breath for one minute could be a
real challenge to most and so most people stick to the earlier
option.

What about the duration for inhalation and exhalation? Sri
Krishnamacharya says in Yoga Rahasya that it should be vishamavritti
indicating that the time duration for inhalation exhalation and breath
holding would vary. So many go by the 1:4:2 ratio.

One may inhale for 5 seconds then chant the mantra during internal
holding for 20 seconds and then exhale for 10 seconds. The breath
holding after exhalation is considered a hathayoga practice and many
orthodox people who do pranayama as part of the Puja or Japa ritual
dispense with bahya kumbhaka and the bandhas. The quickie pranayama is
three times but it is recommended that on should do 10 times the
samantra pranayama.  (Contrast this with the hathayoga approach of
going up to 80 times mantraless pranayama).

Since children sometimes as young as 5 were initiated into vedic
studies, it becomes obligatory for them to do sandhya and hence mantra
pranayama and silent gayatri chant. But then because they are young
they may not be taught to do calibrated pranayama. Usually in course
of time they would learn to do long inhalation and exhalation say in
nadishodhana. Later they will be taught the whole vishamavritti
pranayama as explained earlier.

So the mantra is chanted silently in pranayama. But most people just
chant the mantra without the pranayama--they may merely touch the nose
but not do the pranayama. So we have one set of people who do
pranayama without mantras as most hatha yogis do and another group
especially in India who chant the mantra faithfully but do not do the
prnayama at all and thus both lose out. It even led the much revered
previous Sankaracharya of Kanchi to remark that if only Indians would
hold the breath (kumbhaka) rather than just touch/hold the nose they
would all become great yogis and spiritual persons.

My Guru also said that when doing any mantra in japa, in pranayama or
meditation, one should think of the meaning or import of the mantra.
That makes it lot more powerful and meaningful. What does this mantra
signify, many times we get initiated into a mantra routine without
knowing what it means. All yogis know that Patanjali insists on
contemplating on the meaning of pranava when doing pranava japa to get
the grace of Iswara.

Om Bhuh, om bhuvah, om suvah, om mahah, om janah, om tapah, om
satyam; then the gayatri and then the siras which runs like this, ”om
apah jyoti rasah amrtam brahma bhurbhuvassuvarom” is the pranayama
mantra. This mantra appears in Mahanarayana Upanishad, the last
chapter of Yajur veda. This upanishad also contains several beautiful
mantras used on a daily basis like the offering to the five pranas
(before taking food), meditating within the heart etc. I got the whole
chapter (about 45 minutes of continuous chanting) recorded some 25
years back by “Sangeetha” and I believe it is available in some stores
in Chennai, India. You may learn the pranayama mantra—visit my website
www.vinyasakrama.com/chants and click on the “Learn Pranayama Mantra
chant” tab.

So what is the meaning of this wonderful pranayama mantra? Again there
are different interpretations. The conventional meaning for the seven
vyahritis is seven different worlds starting with the world we live in
to six other higher worlds. But the word loka is interpreted in a more
esoteric sense by a few scholars. They say that the words loka and
look are derived from the same root . And the seven lokas are the
seven perceptions of the ultimate reality which is Brahman the pure
non changing consciousness.

So this approach which gels with the advaita philosophy would be as
follows: According to the Upanishads, Brahman in its pristine state is
alone and there was no time or space (aksha and avakasha) in
contention. The Brahman once thought that it should become many
(bahusyam praja yeyeti). Then in the next stage It deeply contemplated
as to how it should create the universe and make many microcosmic
individual consciousness. This state was known as the stage of tapas
of the Brahman (sa tapo tapyata). Then after deep contemplation and
planning It created the entire Universe (idam sarvam asrujata). After
this creation the Brahman entered and permeated the entire Universe
(tat eva anupravisat) and every being as the individual Self.

The seven vyahrutis are considered as representing the seven states of
the same consciousness four at the microcosmic level and three at the
cosmic level. So when doing pranayama during breath holding
internally, one would say 'om bhuh', contemplate on the consciousness,
represented by pranava or 'om during the waking state. Then as the
second vyahriti 'om bhuvah ' is recited, one would think of the same
consciousness being aware of the individual dream state.

'om suvah” would refer to the same consciousness witnessing the deep
sleep stage. Om mahah, the fourth vyahriti is the consciousness beyond
the three earlier mentioned known amongst the vedantins as the fourth
state of the mind (turiya) or the yogi's kaivalya state. The same
consciousness now is identified with the Brahmana that created the
Universe (Om Janah). Then the next mantra, the sixth “Om tapah” would
represent the Brahman as one deeply contemplating and finally the
pristine state of consciousness “Om satyam” the one and only Brahaman.
With this the abhyasi is able to identify and meditate upon the same
one Brahaman as seen in different states. The theory that there is
only one consciousness that exists both at the cosmic and at the
microcosmic level is the bedrock of the advaita (No two
conciousnesses) viewpoint. So an advaitin while doing pranayama is
able to reinforce the advaitic conviction.

Then the second part of the pranayama mantra is the gayatri mantra. It
again refers to the ultimate reality as the inner light. Just as the
sun with its lustrous orb lights the entire world, the Brahman/Self
lights the entire chitta or the internal world of the meditator, so
that the chitta vrittis are experienced or 'seen' in the mind's eye .

The last portion known as the siras or the head, is an encomium to the
ultimate Brahman. It refers to It as OM., pure consciousness, the
universal light, the essence of the entire Universe, immortal
(unchanging), the source of the universe, and is known to the
individual as the inner Self during the three states of waking, dream
and deep sleep.

This meaning of the pranayama mantra is vividly brought to the mind as
the pranayama mantra is recited silently during antah kumbhaka. Then
it is known as samantraka or sagarbha pranayama. According to Manu
this samantra pranayama is the greatest Tapas/meditation.

It is said that those who are well versed in the chakras are able to
identify the seven vyahritis with the seven chakras in the body using
the respective bijakshara or seed mantras. Some make an effort   to
visualize the cosmic Brahman  in the seven chakras in the microcosm
itself.

There are other types of mantras used. For instance saivaites tend to
chant the siva mantras as they hold the breath as mentioned in the
Tamil Saiva classic “Tirumandiram”. The mantra “sivasiva” of four
syllables is chanted 16 times during one breath hold corresponding to
64 syllables as in the pranayama mantra referred to earlier.

Here is a pranayama for renunciates:

While doing puraka or inhalation the thought would be that the entire
universe is ultimately drawn into the Brahman. Then while in
antahkumbhaka the contemplation would be that the outside Universe and
I are no different from the Brahman. Then while exhaling the ego “I'
with the entire Universe is discarded as nothing but an illusion, not
real, not significant. And in bahya kumbhaka one would contemplate
that pure Brahman alone is real, It alone exists.

Those who believe in the reality of world and the trinity (Brahma,
Vishnu and Siva), would use pranayama to reinforce their faith.

Inhaling through the left nostril one should think of the four faced
Brahma the creator aspect of the trinity and of blood red hue (rajas
guna) while chanting Om 16 times. Then closing both the nostrils  and
holding the breath in  kumbhaka one should think of the white colored
(satva guna) Hari, the protector/sustainer chanting pranava 64 times.
Then while exhaling through the right nostril one should meditate on
Siva of dark color (tamo guna) chanting pranava 32 times. Then one
should start inhaling through the right nostril for 16 matras chanting
pranava 16 times and continue the pranayama for a predetermined number
of times with both mantra and bhava.

Different smritis and very old yoga texts refer to a variety of
pranayamas with and without mantras. Almost all the puranas have a
section on yoga which describe different asanas and pranayamas. (I
think with all this evidence one may say with some conviction that
Yoga is more than 100 years old). For more information on pranayama
you may consider referring to my book “Yoga for the Three Stages of
Life” pages 189 to 211.

Sri Krsishnamacharya's Yoga teachings were unique and very rich. In
Vinyasakrama asana practice, breath synchronization with slow
movements is an essential element. One would start the movement with
the beginning of inhalation or exhalation and complete the movement
with the completion of that breathing phase. The time taken in actual
practice may be between 5 to 10 or 12 seconds depending on one's
capacity and control. If it goes below 5 seconds one would stop the
practice and rest to regain the vinyasa krama acceptable breath. My
Guru, Sri T Krishnamacharya would say 'breathe with hissing sound' (a
la cobra, refer to ananta samapatti in YS) or 'with a mild rubbing
sensation in the throat'.

In this way, with long deep inhalation and exhalation, the intercostal
muscles are stretched and toned up and by the time pranayama is
started the accessory muscles of breathing are well exercised so that
one has a well oiled breathing apparatus for a very productive
pranayama practice. And while doing pranayam introduction of mantras
and bhavas helps to bring the mind to a focus which will be of
considerable help when one starts the meditation process. Thus Sri
Krishnamacharya following the tradition of yoga described in old yoga
texts like the yoga sutras, the puranas, smritis and other ancient
texts helped to understand and achieve the best of an outstanding
ancient system called Yoga.

You may access the earlier Newsletter by visiting my website
www,vinyasakrama.com and clicking on the Newsletter tab. Any comments
or suggestions please e mail to

Best wishes

Sincerely
Srivatsa Ramaswami

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