Advanced Breathwork for the Modern Yogi
By Darren Main
Here in the West the primary focus on yoga is physical with most of the styles falling under the umbrella of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is really a blending of two larger styles of yoga, Kundalini which focuses on the energy body and classical yoga (Ashtanga or Raja Yoga) which is rooted in the Eight limbs outlined in the the Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali. In classical yoga there are eight limbs in total, but the defining quality in a hatha practice is its use of the third and fourth limbs, asana and pranayama. While in Kundalini yoga various techniques such as breathing (pranayama), asana (yoga poses), bandhas (locks) and visualization of body energies are used to open the energy body and increase the flow of life energy (prana).
In every style of hatha yoga, from the most gentle to the most vigorous, we use the asanas to open up the energy pathways (nadis) in the body of which there are said to be 72,000. This opening is then combined with pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), which flood the body with prana and regulate its movement. By working these two limbs in tandem, we can achieve dramatic results that are far greater than the obvious physical effects of stretching. By working to purify the energy body (nadi shuddhi) we prepare both the physical body as well as the energy body for longer and deeper seated meditations which is the goal of classical yoga.
When people first begin a yoga practice, the vast majority of the focus is usually on the physical poses. Some styles such as Iyengar and Anusara Yoga focus on proper alignment of the body. Other styles such as the Ashtanga Primary Series and Vinyasa (flow) yoga focus more on building heat through flowing movement that are connected with the breath. The focus, however, remains decidedly physical.
In the beginning, it is a good idea to focus on opening up the body and the energy pathways. For most the physical level of the practice is an essential first step. However, when a student of yoga is ready to move beyond simply stretching the body, the breath is the next step and moving beyond basic yogic breathing techniques such as the ocean breath’ (ujjai pranayama) and ‘three-part breath’ (dirga pranayama) becomes appropriate.
As we live our lives (or multiple lives if that is your belief), we have experiences. The ego mind (ahemkara) judges these experiences as either positive or negative and then files these judgments or ‘seeds of karma’ (samskaras) in our energy body. These seeds of karma are rooted in the duality of maya (illusion) rather than the unity (yoga) of Brahman (formless spirit). An apt analogy for the energy body is a compact disc that can hold information. Just as a CD can only hold ones and zeros, your energy body can only hold positive and negative samskaras. But even though a CD can only hold ones and zeros, the pattern of those digits can create a wide range of things such as the new Madonna album, your accounting for the past ten years, or your family photos. The energy body is quite similar. The arrangement of your samskaras will determine everything from your physical health and your psychological well being to the ebb and flow of your emotions. These samskaras determine your perception of the world and influence your decisions on an unconscious level.
Sometimes these patterns serve us, but most of the time, they hold us back and weaken us in ways in which we may not even be aware. Have you ever quit one job because it is unsatisfying only to find another just like it? Have you ever dumped one love interest only to find the same personality traits in your next mate? Do you find yourself eating food that you know will make you feel ill or harm your health even though you know better? All of this is coming from a very unconscious level and nothing will ever change until you re-program the CD. Many people are unsatisfied with their lives. They complain that the universe is somehow conspiring against them to make them miserable, or that the “devil” made them do it. This of course makes about as much sense as complaining that you can’t stand the new Madonna CD while at the same time choosing to put the CD in your stereo and hitting repeat play.
This is where the breath comes deeply into play. Every time we make a judgment about an experience we hold the breath or let it grow shallow—every time. Because we are judging things all day long, our breath is habitually shallow and we are, in a very real sense, slowly suffocating ourselves. This shallow breathing becomes the lid on the pressure cooker of the energy body. As long as you keep that lid in place, you can go through life relatively unaware of all your samskaras. They are still there mind you, and they are affecting every aspect of your life, but you are, with the exception of the occasional breakdown, unaware of them. When we willfully and consciously deepen the breath and change that long held habit of shallow breathing, we take the lid off the pressure cooker and we are able to look at our samskaras consciously.
Make no mistake about it; this is not an easy process. It is one that may result in laugher or tears, physical discomfort or the release of long repressed memories. It is a process of fearlessly encountering all the things you are holding onto that prevent you from being fully alive. In removing the lid, all of our past programming is exposed and we have the opportunity to choose again. Sometimes we will make the same choice as before, but often we will make the wiser and more life-affirming choice to let go, and in that surrender is a freedom that is beyond words. In Sanskrit it is called moksha (liberation).
What is Pranic Breathing?
Pranic Breathing is a simple yet profound breathing technique that is born out of the kundalini yoga tradition and rooted in Tantric philosophy. The tecnique mimics the natural breath pattern or a sleeping infant. Like other forms of pranayama it helps to quickly access the deepest levels of the mind and realize our true nature. Although more advanced practice requires sitting with an erect spine, beginner level Pranic Breathing is done lying down. For new practitioners, physical comfort is paramount, so using blankets, pillows and other props are highly recommended. Once the practice begins, you will be instructed to breathe with a very simple yet very powerful breathing technique. Although different teachers will facilitate the practice in slightly different ways,the technique will be very simple to learn and you will be guided though the entire process.
The purpose of this article is not to teach you the technique itself. That is something you will need to learn from an experienced teacher. Most people feel emotionally and spiritually refreshed after a breathing practice, and it is not uncommon to have life-changing experiences that alter the course of your life for the better.
Kriya Yoga, Rebirthing & Holotropic Breathings
Pranic Breathing is a unique practice that is taught in a very specific way, yet there are other forms of breathwork that are similar to and in fact related to Pranic Breathing. While the techniques and teaching methodology vary significantly, it is worth noting the some of these techniques here for clarity so as not to confuse the these different styles of breathwork.
In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) traveled from India to America. He was one of the first yoga masters to come to America. In addition to introducing the West to yogic philosophy he also brought with him the practice of Kriya yoga. Kriya yoga, according to Yogananda was first developed by the ancient Rishis who authored the Vedas. Yet in time, the practice was almost completely lost. It was not until Lahiri Mahasaya (1828-1895), a contemporary Indian saint, encountered the legendary deathless saint Bapuji in the Himalayas that the technique was reintroduced in our modern age. Lahiri Mahasaya brought the technique back to his home in Banaras, India (Also known as Varanasi) where he incited thousands in the breathing technique he called Kriya.
One such student was Sri Yukteswar Giri of Serampore, India who became the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda. It was under the direction of Sri Yukteswar Giri (1855-1936) that Yogananda traveled to the west to teach Kriya yoga around the world. Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yoga is a modern spiritual classic which discusses the amazing, seemingly supernatural abilities that advanced yogis are alleged to have. Chapter 26 of his seminal work discusses Kriya Yoga in detail. To learn the technique of Kriya Yoga, I recommend the Self Realization Fellowship home study lessons.
Rebirthing was developed and refined by Leonard Orr (1938-present) who originally studied to become a Christian preacher. After becoming disillusioned with mainstream religions Orr became involved in the New Thought movement. Orr himself has traveled numerous time to India to study with great Yogis some of whom claim to be immortal. His studies in India had a great influence on his development of the breathing technique known as Rebrithing. Leonard Orr worked to develop and promote the technique during the 1960s and 1970s and developed a large following. Since his work began, many off shoots have developed which take the basic principle of breathing as therapy in different directions. Orr has come under some criticism however for his believe that death is unnatural and that immortality is achievable.
Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D. (1931-present) developed a breathing technique known as Holotropic Breathing designed to help reach deep into the unconscious mind. Grof was also deeply involved in using hallucinogens such as LSD in an effort to explore and heal the psyche. It is used largely as a form of psychotherapy. The technique generally includes a combination of practices such as group process, intensified breathing, emotionally charged music, and massage and bodywork. The word Holotropic means “Moving toward wholeness.” The technique has been hailed by many to be revolutionary but critics contend it is little more than hyperventilation.
While Pranic Breathing is certainly similar to Kriya Yoga, Rebrithing and Holotropic breathing, it is also decidedly different. I developed and refined the technique because while there were elements of the other techniques that I really liked, there were also many elements that simply didn’t resonate with me. Rather than focus on the aggressive breathing (hyperventilation) that often characterizes other breathwork techniques. I have chosen a more gentle approach that mimics the way we breathed naturally as infants. I have also combined traditional yogic practices such as Kumbaka (breath retention), the Bandhas (locks) and the Buddhist practice of Metta (loving kindness) to create what I feel is a more time tested and supportive approach to breathwork that dovetails nicely into the practice of hatha yoga which millions of people are already familiar. This is not to say that other techniques are bad or harmful or that they don’t have merit. Indeed, they other techniques can be quite powerful for the right practitioner.
How does it work?
As I mentioned above, every time you create a samskara by judging an experience, you either hold your breath or allow it to grow shallow. When we reverse this trend of shallow breathing and really focus on deepening the breath for an extended period of time we pull the carpet back and have a chance to see all the psychological and emotion clutter that we have swept under the rug of the unconsciousness. In doing this we have an opportunity to let go or change our mind about past experiences.
What surprises most people about Pranic Breathing is how incredibly simple the whole thing is. By breathing deep and slow, we give our mind permission to loosen its grip on all the baggage it has held for so long. By simply breathing and staying with the breath as deeply held judgments make their way to the surface we are able to let them go, and to experience liberation (moksha) from the years of bondage into which those samskaras forced us to live.
What is the Experience Like?
Yogis have long seen the individual as being multi-layered. In our modern phraseology we use terms such as holistic and the mind-body connection. Yet even though those concepts are relatively new in Western vernacular, they are an intimate part of Eastern thinking. Yogis identify five sheaths (koshas) that encase the soul (atman). All of the koshas are inter related and a change at one level affects all other levels. When we breath we are largely working with pranamaya kosha which houses the energy body, but the effects of the breath are felt on all levels of our being—especially the first three koshas. Let’s look at each kosha in turn to see how Pranic Breathing may be experienced on each level.
The Physical- Anamaya Kosha
Though this breathing technique can be felt on every level, for most the experience is physical first. As you begin to breath you will start to feel high. This is the natural result of increased oxygen in your arterial blood. That feeling of being high usually gives way to a pleasant tingling sensation in the extremities and then throughout the whole body—Your cells bathing in oxygen which allows them to function at maximum capacity.
Following this stage, the physical experience can be varied. Sometimes these pleasant sensations will stay with you throughout, but sometimes the sensations can become uncomfortable. These uncomfortable sensations can be caused by trauma and stress stored in the body which are released during the practice. While often unpleasant, freedom from chronic pain is often the result.
Once, during a Pranic Breathing session, a student of mine, Charlie, began to experience extreme pain in his low back. He was writhing in pain as he breathed and would frequently start to hold his breath from the discomfort. One of my assistants, Jen, worked with him and encouraged him to deepen and slow the breath. After the session, Charlie described the experience in this way:
When we started, I thought this was a crock. I am a body builder and a runner. I figured this was going to be a big waste of time. At first, I just got sort of relaxed, but then my back started to hurt. I have had severe back pain for years because of a motorcycle accident in college. Most of the time I am fine, but a few times a year, I have a flare up that lasts for a week or two. ‘This stupid breathing is causing another flare up’, I thought. I was really pissed because I knew I would be missing work for a week and taking muscle relaxants.
Then Jen came over and told me to breathe. I wanted to hit her, because I was in so much pain. I’m not sure why, but I listened to her. At first nothing changed. But then I was struck by something that felt like electricity running though me. The pain stopped instantly and I felt my whole body let go. I was totally relaxed and my body felt like it did when I was a child.
I see Charlie from time to time in yoga class. In more than two years, his back pain has not returned. His experience is not uncommon. In fact it happens all the time. The body picks up habits and many of them are not good. These cycles happen over and over until we break the habit. Pranic Breathing offers us a way to do just that.
Sometimes the physical experience is very intense; other times it is very pleasant. But, it always leads to a deep physical release.
A Note about “tetany”
Tetany is a condition that is caused a buildup of carbon dioxide in the venous blood. Most of the time it occurs when forcing the exhalation (as in blowing out a candle) rather than allowing it to be passive (as in releasing a sigh). In tetany, the hands and feet and even the area around the mouth and nose can tighten and contract. This can cause discomfort that ranges from mild to fairly intense. While it is not desirable for this to happen, it will pass and you can usually alleviate the discomfort by simply sighing on the exhalation. Also a teacher or assistant my come and massage your hands or feet to encourage them to release. The important thing to remember is not to panic. It is fairly common and IT WILL PASS.
The Emotional and Energetic Experience- Pranamaya Kosha
Because our emotions are so closely connected to the movement of prana in our second kosha, it is very, very common to have emotional release during a breathing practice. Sometimes the emotions will come in small waves. Other times the emotions are tsunami size. The emotions may involve laughter or tears, or may simply be quietly felt. The emotional aspect of the practice is very unpredictable, however.
During one breathing session, I had two friends— a husband and wife, ask if they could join the group. I was thrilled to have them, but I felt I needed to warn them about the strong emotions that frequently come up. Less than six months earlier, they had lost their four-year-old daughter and were understandably very much in the grieving process. Knowing this, I wanted them to come, but also wanted them to be aware that it may stir up some very raw and unbridled emotions. They understood and decided that they wanted to come.
During the session, they did cry some, but to my surprise, they both laughed uncontrollably for much of the practice. Afterwards, they came up and gave me a big hug. Neither one had been able to laugh for months. Each time they started to laugh, they would be hit with feelings of guilt for laughing when they should be grieving. They felt a great freedom from being able to really let their emotions go.
Thus, when emotions come up, breathing through them allows us to be lifted up by their energy. When we hold the breath, as is so often the case, those emotions get stuck in our energy body and hold us back in ways of which we may not even be aware. When we practice Pranic Breathing, long held emotions are released and worked through resulting in an expanded freedom.
The Psychological Experience- Manomaya Kosha
In addition to physical release, long held memories can be uncovered and dealt with. These memories can take several forms. Some may be like very common memories or narratives where you recall familiar experiences from your past. Others may come in the form of odd and seemingly meaningless images, and still others can come in the form of visions or colorful symbols.
During one of my earliest breathing sessions, I had a memory so vivid that it was like reliving the original experience all over again. In it, I was seven or eight years old and was at the father-son camp out with my Cub Scout troop. My father, for a variety of reasons could not be there, but I really wanted to go, so I opted to go alone. I had always remembered that weekend being difficult as all the other boys had fathers with them to help with lighting fires, hiking and other activities, but what I did not remember until this breathing practice was something far more traumatic.
During the night, I needed to use the outhouse. It was a long, cold scary walk from the cabin where we slept to the small hut, which was built over a hole in the ground. It must have taken me an hour to work up the nerve to make that hike in the dark. Finally I did it. When I got back to my bunk I felt so happy, so proud. The next morning, however, I was pulled to the side by one of the fathers who happened to have the bunk under mine. He told me that I had woken him up the night before when I got up. I tried to say sorry, but he cut me off telling me I was a “real asshole”.
I remembered the feeling so clearly. At the time it felt like someone punched me in the chest, knocking the wind out of me. I had no power to say or do anything at that age. I started to feel the same way again, but no sooner had I started to hold my breath, the teacher was there with his hand on my chest. “Breathe!” he encouraged.
I did, and as I did, the memory began to change. In it, I was an adult. I was no longer afraid of the outhouse, and when that father, called me a “real asshole.” I just laughed and said, “No, a ‘real asshole’ would have taken the top bunk only to wet the bed on the guy under him.” I wasn’t angry with him, or my dad for not being there. I was just free of a memory that I didn’t even know I had.
The important thing to remember about Pranic Breathing is that it is no a time to psychoanalyze what comes up. The key is to keep breathing and to allow the thoughts and memories to pass through you. Once the session is over, then you can talk it over with a therapist, counselor or group. Some people like to journal write about the stuff that comes up, or simply contemplate its meaning for a few days. All of that is good and useful, but during the actual practice all of that should be suspended and the full raw experience should be allowed to come through carried on the breath.
The Mystical Experience- Vijnanamaya and Andandamaya Koshas
Sometimes, during yogic breathing, people have experiences that are very much spiritual in nature. They may have components that are physical, emotional or psychological, but there is a decidedly bigger quality to them. This is the hardest to describe because mystical experiences are deeply personal and often times transcend words. Because of this, I will not try to put it into words. I will, however, recount another story that I think illustrates this idea.
Several years ago, a woman was breathing with me. Although I didn’t know it at the time, she had become pregnant in high school. Although she was raised Catholic and had strong beliefs about abortion being wrong, she also knew that she couldn’t keep the child. She opted for an abortion. While the procedure went fine and there were no adverse physical side effects, her faith took a big hit. Because she could not reconcile her decision to abort with her religion, she quietly left the church in shame.
For years she lived with this internal conflict albeit unconsciously, but during her breathing practice, something powerful happened. Jesus appeared to her and knelt down beside her. He put his hands on her belly and said, “I don’t condemn you, why do you condemn yourself?” She bursted into tears and for the first time since her abortion was able to find forgiveness.
Now, whether or not Jesus actually appeared to her is not for me to evaluate. Perhaps it was just her unconscious mind playing tricks on her, or maybe there really was a visitation. That is something for her to evaluate. What I do know for sure is that her experience was real for her and it resulted in a very deep spiritual healing. In the end, that is all that really matters.
Obviously, Pranic Breathing can bring up a whole rage of experiences, and often they are not confined to just one level. Often times the psychological release will be accompanied by physical sensation or a surge in emotions, and it is certainly not uncommon for spiritual experiences to move someone to tears. Knowing about the general effects that a breathing practice can have, however, can prepare you for an intense yet rewarding experience.
The Awakening of Kundalini-Shakti
At the base of the spine is a very powerful energy that lies sleeping and dormant most of the time (kundalini-Shakti). About the only time most people become aware of this energy is during sexual arousal. Yet this energy is far more powerful than most people realize. When we open the energy pathways generally and harmonize the Moon (ida nadi) and Sun (pingala nadi) that wrap around the spine this kundalini energy is allowed to flow freely up the central channel of energy that passes through the spine (sushumna). When this happens the entire system is cleansed and we experience the bliss that is our true nature.
Occasionally this can happen spontaneously, but most often we need to prepare ourselves for this to occur. We can do this in any number of ways including asana practice, deep meditation, shaktipat from a Guru, through pranayama techniques and a number of other methods. Regardless of how the Kundalini-Shakti is awakened the experience is life changing. In my book Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic I recount a story of a friend who had a kundalini waking that was inspired by Shaktipat given by Yogi Amrit Desai:
The first time I went to hear Yogi Amrit Desai speak, I had no idea what shaktipat was. I was on retreat at the Kripalu Center, doing a work exchange. One of the guys in my group was from the South. His name was Jackson, and he spoke with a deep southern accent. He had a gruff, lumberjack-like appearance, with large hands and a little stubble on his face. In spite of his very masculine appearance and demeanor, he was a very openhearted and sensitive person.
We had become good friends, and decided to go hear the guru speak together. Neither of us had any idea what to expect. Everyone else seemed to be making a big deal out of it, so we decided to venture into this unknown together. When we got to the large room where the event was to take place, we immediately noticed that we were not appropriately dressed for the occa- sion. Everyone else was dressed in white. Some kirtan chanting had already begun, and people were dancing and moving wildly. Jackson and I sat down near the back of the room and felt awkward as we watched this spectacle. When the energy in the room had reached its pinnacle, a man at the front of the room blew into a conch shell. All at once everyone dropped to the floor with his or her head down. In walked the guru.
Both Jackson and I were sufficiently freaked out. I had visions of Jonestown dance through my head; I was just waiting for them to serve Kool-Aid! Yogi Desai took his seat at the front of the room and began to play his harmonium. He started to chant, and people chanted back in tra- ditional Indian call and response. He didn’t have the best voice, but there was something hollow and mystical about his tone—it was very hypnotic.
After a while he began chanting the sound of Om, and people joined him in a beautiful and continuous chant. The whole room was alive and full of energy. Then I noticed that he was not chanting with the rest of us. He was making some slight jerking motions that resembled a hiccup. No sooner did I see this than people started to cry and shake. Some people were rocking violently as if in a rocking chair. Others were on the floor shaking. Still others were crying quietly.
I was in awe. I turned to look at Jackson in order to share this surreal moment with someone who was on the same page as myself, only to find he was on the floor sobbing, and in what appeared to be a mild seizure. Part of me wanted to call an ambulance, but he didn’t seem to be in any danger. In fact, he seemed quite peaceful.
Eventually, things wound down. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say to Jackson. I wanted to know what it was like, and I wanted to know if he was okay. I could tell he felt awkward about having such an emotional episode so I let him calm down before giving him the twenty questions.
Later that night we sat in the dining hall and chatted over tea. He recounted his experience in this way:
I really thought the whole thing was weird at first. You know, everyone dressed in white and dancing like drunken fools. We just don’t do stuff like that back on the farm. I really didn’t see what the big deal was until we started to chant Om. Then I could feel something stirring. Sorta like I was getting sexually aroused, but it wasn’t sexual. It was like my whole body was tingling. Then I felt this weird sensation in my spine. It felt like a whole bunch of those big red fire ants crawling up the inside of my spine.
At first I was sort of scared, but then I relaxed, because it felt a lot like sex. You know—like you are getting really hot with someone, and the energy keeps building. I was starting to get into it, and then it really hit. It felt like I pissed on a spark plug or something. This bolt of energy that felt like electricity shot up my spine and my whole body fell to the floor.
I was so jolted that I had to cry. It wasn’t a bad thing, and I wasn’t sad. Actually I was more okay than I had ever been—it was awesome. I’ve never been one to get into God and all that kinda stuff, but this made me feel so small and larger than life all at the same time.
(From Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, Chapter Three)
While Jackson’s experience was inspired by the presence of a Guru, it is identical to what some people experience when they have a kundalini awakening in Pranic Breathing. It is nothing to be afraid of—in fact, if it happens, it will likely be one of the high points in your life.
In the days and weeks following this experience you may find yourself feeling a little out of step with your life. Breathing can rearrange your emotional and psychological furniture. This is usually a very positive experience, but you may find yourself being a little out of sorts. If your experience was deeply moving, I suggest you find a way to continue to work through it. This may be as simple as talking with a friend or journal writing. Or, it may mean bringing your experience to a support group or therapist. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you support yourself in whatever way seems best for you.
It is also very common to feel a deep physical cleansing. Drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy light diet will help to facilitate that process.
Pranic Breathing At Home
How often one should do this practice is very personal. Some people attend regular sessions while other only do it once or twice a year. Some people find a private coach to work with and find that to be the most effective venue. My strongest suggestion is that you only do an extended practice under the guidance of a well trained teacher, at least in the beginning. Clearly many things can come up, and having ready access to the support of a teacher is very important. That said, practicing a scaled back version of the technique in at home can be very beneficial. Here are some instructions for home practice:
Pranic Breathing in Hatha Yoga
Doing Pranic Breathing while in an asana, especially a standing pose is not recommended. Doing the technique as part of your deep relaxation, however, can cast the body, heart and mind into a very deep state of yoga nidra (yogic sleep). Here are some simple guidelines.
1. Practice your asana and pranayama as you would in any other class. The practice can be vigorous and flowing or it can be gentle.
2. When it is time for deep relaxation take savasana as you normally would.
3. Take twelve deep, slow Pranic Breathes.
4. If you would like to take Kumbaka (breath retention) you can do so. Remember Kumbaka is contraindicated for pregnant women, people with high blood pressure and several other medical conditions so consult you physician if you have any concerns.
5. After your twelve breathes and/or Kumbaka, release the body into deep relaxation for at least ten minutes. (Many Gurus recommend fifteen to twenty minutes)
Pranic Breathing in Restorative Yoga
Doing Pranic Breathing while in a restorative asana, can deepen the practice considerably and will often help induce a very deep state of yoga nidra (yogic sleep) which is one of the primary goals of restorative yoga. Here are some simple guidelines.
1. Take the restorative pose of your choice. If you are not familiar with restorative work is best to learn more about the practice from an experienced teacher before adding Pranic Breathing.
2. Once you are settled into the pose, take twelve Pranic Breathes.
3. After your twelve breathes, shift your breathing to an equal inhalation and exhalation of ten counts in and ten counts out.
4. Hold the restorative pose for at least fifteen minutes.
5. You can repeat this practice in several more restorative yoga poses in each practice if you choose.
Pranic Breathing in Seated Meditation
Doing Pranic Breathing before entering into seated meditation, can deepen the practice considerably allowing the mind to focus more quickly and delve into the unconscious with less effort. Here are some simple guidelines.
1. Take the seated meditation pose of your choice. (Lotus, half lotus, hero or seated in a straight back chair)
2. Once you are seated with your back straight and your eyes closed, take twelve Pranic Breathes.
3. If you know the three locks, you can take kumbaka (breath retention). Remember Kumbaka is contraindicated for pregnant women, people with high blood pressure and several other medical conditions so consult you physician if you have any concerns.
4. After your twelve breathes and/or Kumbaka, focus your mind on the unregulated rhythm of your breath, a mantra or other focus point n for at least twenty minutes. Return to the breath whenever the mind wanders.
One last thought. Just because we don’t breathe this deeply in a typical hatha yoga practice, doesn’t mean that the breath should be kept out. As I mentioned at the start, combining the breath with the poses makes for a powerful combination. If Pranic Breathing teaches you nothing else, I hope it will reaffirm your commitment to the breath in your yoga practice because in the end, it is the breath that defines the quality of your yoga more than any other factor.
In my writing I often recount stories from my practice or that of my students. Why the essence of the stories are very true, I almost always change the details to respect the privacy of the people involved.