When I talk to students about Pranayama I often share the story of how I started my own Pranayama practice. I was on retreat with Gary Kraftsow on Maui back in 2003 studying the Koshas, or sheaths of the human being. As we addressed the Pranamaya Kosha, the energetic sheath, or dimension, we turned in our discussion to the practice of pranayama, to which someone said “but I heard that pranayama can be dangerous.” Gary’s response was “No, it’s not, because you won’t do it.” A cynical response, but one that rang true to me.
I took it as a dare and started a simple but steady pranayama practice the week I returned. I would start my practice each morning for about a year by simply sitting and breathing: inhale for a count of 4, exhale for 4…then inhale for 6, exhale for 6…then 8, and 10, as I progressed, slowly, over the months. I used a slight ujjayi valving at the throat to make a smooth and even sound. I filled my upper chest and side ribs fully and relaxed my belly to invite the breath, then drew my navel to my spine to begin the even exhale.
Over time I began to add pauses at the end of inhale and/or exhale based on the time of day: energizing by pause after inhale in the AM, calming through pause after exhale in the PM, or a little of each to even out my energy.
I immediately noticed a change in the quality in my day. I couldn’t quantify it for you, but I just know that my life improved when I started this practice. All it took was a few minutes each morning or evening. It’s still a strong part of my practice.
While Gary’s response was funny, it is actually true (but really only if you are doing very advanced practices without preparation or supervision). Therefore the best way to learn pranayama practice is through a qualified teacher. This weekend you can join Jenny Hayo for her annual Intro to Pranayama at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill. You won’t regret it!
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer (reprinted from 2010)