Day 3, Dec. 19, 2017, PM session. Pune, India
After an exhaustive and exhilarating exploration of how the shoulder blades can support the lungs, chest and neck, we were ripe for pranayama. The afternoon session began with an introduction to AUM. Speaking, chanting and singing are all exhalative acts, he explained. While we listen to the sound we hear, the resonance continues in the body after the audible sound is over. Prashant Iyengar had us chant the A but the pronunciation was “eh” (as in went, just the “e”). We observed the physical sound and natural exhalation to feel where the lasting echo could be felt. It was in the belly. We did the same for U, which vibrated in the chest and heart region. The M filled the skull and mind with a serene finality. AUM.
Prashant then explained that these are the centers of passion, emotion and ego and that all are mental facets. These need cleansing, and he is very graphic about the “sh__t” we hold onto. “No dietitian speaks of a diet for the mind, we cannot fast in the mind, we are always gobbling for the mind; its mouth is too big and always open. And always constipated. Rechaka (exhalation) is a purgative, it can relax. By abdominal confinement you will have purgation of passion, with flushing in the chest we release emotional fecal matter, and exhalation in the brain quiets the mind. Expulsion, surrender, immersion; there are so many things that need to be parted with.”
The belly, he continued, is a major organ with instinctive characteristics. When we have a panic attack the belly tightens. This reminds me of the many digestive illnesses and conditions that we see these days. From diverticulitis, GERD, and Chron’s disease to IBS, the “Gut Brain” has become a significant source of dukkha in modern times. Stress exacerbates the situation.
“For beginners, we teach about the chest. You must understand the concept of hierarchy in how we present and how things change when you have studied for a while. The Uddiyanic touch and influence is paramount. So part of your asana practice must prepare for and address pranayama and how the asanas share a lineage with pranayama. To do this, monitor the breathing process.”
Supta Baddha Konasana with X bolsters and the arms extended overhead.
“Exhale and evacuate, deeply, Uddiyana is a stress ejection system.”
While Prashant explores Uddiyana Kriya in much of his work, Guruji rarely did work the bandhas or kriyas. Guruji said that these happen naturally in the asana practice. Uddiyana happens in Paschimottanasana, Sirsasana, Rope Sirsasana and in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Prashant never negates the importance of the asana practice, and builds upon it. His lens does focus heavily on the kriyas though.
At the tail of exhalation there is an abdominal contraction. In most people the abdominal organs and muscles have become torpid and dull.
“Another aspect of exhalation is to develop the capacity of hibernation, the nerves need this training. When I ask you to do a deeper and deeper exhalation, there is hibernation.”
Savasana with Viloma 2. In Viloma 2 you inhale softly, tenderly as Prashanji would say. The exhalation is in stages so that you divide the exhalation into three or more sections. The pause between sections is the silent “hibernation” that I think of as listening to silence. The pauses also extend the exhalation in a controlled and natural way.
“There are three stages to progress through. Nominally pause, significant pause, substantial pause. Most of the becoming takes place in the process, not in the attainment. This requires a particular kind of patience. You cannot have a worldly approach here. When the journey is long the vehicle has to correspond to the distance traveled. You do not take a rickshaw to go to London.” In the beginning, he said, you will be fascinated. But over time the intrigue wears off and you must develop a neutral mind.
I am reminded of the story that Guruji once told. When he first started practicing pranayama, his mind was so restless that he kept stopping his practice. He was young and practiced many backbends. Once he started working with forward bends, he was able to begin a consistent pranayama practice. His nervous system was not properly prepared nor had he cultivated the reflective mind that would prepare him for his pranayama practice.
The pranayama practice is so rich, so poignant and profound that it becomes the foundation of the day for most serious seekers.
From Guruji’s Light on Life: We have seen that as leaves move in the wind, your mind moves with the breath. When breath is regulated and pacified, there is a neutralizing effect on the mind. And when you hold your breath, you hold your soul. By retaining the full in-breath, you hold the divine infinite within yourself. At this moment you have reached the full potential of our individuality, but it is a divine individuality and not the small, selfish creature you normally take yourself for. By exhaling you generously give out your individual self to the universal world…. Inhalation engulfs the whole body with life. Exhalation surrenders that life to the source of life – the Life Giver. The body moves in toward the core of its being, like a puppy nestling against its mother, secure and trusting.