8 Limbs is almost halfway through our journey of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. We are examining each of the 8 Limbs, one month at a time, through this Blog, in classes, and in the Many Paths Teacher Panels, 1st Sunday of each month at 6:30pm. January is the month of Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga. Pranayama is the regulation of breath, working with the relationships of the four parts of the breath: inhalation, retention of inhalation, exhalation, and suspension of exhalation.
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 (it’s really only dangerous if you are doing very advanced practices without preparation or supervision). You can start your own practice of just five minutes a day by trying what I did above. I dare you, in fact, and can almost promise it will have a beneficial impact on your life.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer
Join Jenny Hayo in March for a Pranayama Series at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill to learn more about the amazing art and science of Pranayama.