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 The soul of yoga practice

Everybody thinks that standing on the head, executing exotic poses, or doing intensive sadhana off riverbanks in bone-chilling cold, are indications of advancement in yoga practice. I know as a matter of personal experience that only a sustained practice which includes regular pranayama may indicate any progress in practice. An advanced practitioner also may not need the energy of a class or a group to sustain daily practice of pranayama, which can be very difficult to practice on your own since its entertainment quotient is low. 

While asanas guarantee health, including removal of toxic overload from daily living, pranayama is the soul of yoga sadhana. Poised between asana practice and meditation, it prepares the body-mind complex for dhyana. That is why most schools will insist that you do pranayama in a calm state of mind. 

In a practice like nadi shodhana, you may actually watch the fluctuations of the mind, which is what meditation is all about – though many of us like to think of the latter as an explosive experience of seeing visions or lights, etc. Seeing lights and visions is all very entertaining, but seeing one’s mind can be embarrassing and unsettling! In fact, the sage Ramana Maharishi makes a pertinent observation that explains this distinction clearly. In meditation, there are two types of experiences. One of mano-laya, which is the absorption of the mind where the mind is in a state of trance, lulled into believing that it is calm. In manonasha, the mind is destroyed.

Pranayama is like the prosaic part of a relationship, which involves getting up in the morning and making coffee for your partner, while the asanas represent the infatuation part of your relationship. While high emotional drama may be good for a relationship, it is the prosaic acts of simple caring that declare and carry forward our love.

Ujjayi pranayama (victory breath)

• Sit in any meditative practice

• Shut eyes, hands in any mudra or hand gesture of your choice

• Inhale gently, from the throat. The sound must be gentle, like light snoring of a baby, without any strain

• Exhale in similar fashion. This is one round. Do nine rounds

After regular practice, you may inhale deep and long and exhale to double the length of your inhalation. This comes only with guidance and regular practice.

How it works

The soft pressure at the throat works the vagus nerve, the powerful parasympathetic nerve that wanders over most of the body. This influences the entire body, shifting it into a rejuvenating, repairing mode. The parasympathetic system is switched on when the body gets into a relaxed state, and helps bring emotional and mental equilibrium back to the body.

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