written by Peggy Kelly and Samantha Goldberg Blackthorn
Pranayama comes from the words breath and control, it is an exercise that helps us to gain control over our breath and increase the movement of our vital life force (prana). There are many practices of pranayama; some use one or alternate nostrils to breathe out of, some retain the inhalation or exhalation, as well as many other techniques; in general it is a practice of breath and the control of it to bring about energy. This practice can be very powerful and must be respected. It is subtle yet powerful. In this workshop you will be exposed to many forms of pranayama. It is recommended to keep a journal and follow your practice. Don’t be afraid to realize you are not ready for a technique – these are developed and mastered over time.
Establishing a Pranayama Practice
Experiment with the syllabus in “Light on Pranayama.” Two months approximately will be practicing in a supine position—“supported savasana”. Blocks, blankets, bolsters, or a combination may be used. Try at least two methods of support and see which suits you best.
In your asana practice, include sukhasana, siddhasana and virasana. Refine your understanding of “pressing the sitting bones absolutely equally and evenly down.” Discover which of these seated poses becomes most “sukha”—comfortable and sustainable for you to sit and practice upright pranayama. Be sure to use support (blankets or blocks) if there is any tension in the belly, low back or groin. These areas must be supportive but not tense. If padmasana, the lotus pose, comes easily to you and there is absolutely no strain in the knees or hardening of the groins, it may be appropriate.
Experiment with time of day. Some of us like to sit (or practice in “supported savasana”) first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom and perhaps having a glass of water. It makes a difference NOT to turn on your computer or phone before sitting, so that your eyes are relaxed and your mind is quiet. Try for yourself, pranayama AFTER checking email, and pranayama BEFORE checking email.
Others of us find that pranayama goes better AFTER asana practice. In that case, be sure that there is a thorough savasana at the end of asana practice AND at the end of pranayama practice.
Beginners can aim to practice between 20 and 30 minutes per day. Always leave time at the end for savasana. You may find eventually that an hour is more to your liking.
Devote a corner of a room in your house to pranayama. It can be wonderful to be facing a window that is directed to the east, so that if you begin before the sun comes up, you can observe the sky grows brighter. If you are practicing pranayama in supported savasana and your house has enough space, leave your props set up so that they remind you to practice.
ALSO, keep a handkerchief or box of tissues always nearby. It spoils the quietness of the practice if you sneeze or your nose starts to run and there is nothing close at hand to blow with.
You might find it helpful to use a timer. You might find it helpful to work with an inner count for inhale/exhale/hold. You can certainly experiment in thousands of interesting ways. Make your practice your own.
Length of practice:
Quality of breath: