Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 41 - Spinal Breathing Pranayama
Date: Thu Dec 11, 2003 8:15am
We will now begin an advanced pranayama practice called spinal breathing. It has several components to it, and is done right before our daily meditation sessions. The procedure of meditation will not change in any way. First we do our pranayama. Then we do our meditation.
Sit comfortably with back support, and close your eyes just as you do when you meditate. Now, keeping your mouth closed, breathe in and out slowly and deeply through your nose, but not to the extreme. Be relaxed and easy about it, breathing as slowly and deeply as possible without discomfort. There is no need to be heroic. Work your muscles so each breath begins in your belly and fills you up through your chest to the top of your collarbones, and then comes back down slowly. Next, with each rising inhalation of the breath, allow your attention to travel upward inside a tiny thread, or tube, you visualize beginning at your perineum, continuing up through the center of your spine, and up through the stem of your brain to the center of your head. At the center of your head the tiny nerve makes a turn forward to the point between your eyebrows. With one slow, deep inhalation let your attention travel gradually inside the nerve from the perineum all the way to the point between the eyebrows. As you exhale, retrace this path from the point between the eyebrows all the way back down to the perineum. Then, come back up to the point between the eyebrows with the next inhalation, and down to the perineum with the next exhalation, and so on.
Begin by doing this spinal breathing practice for five minutes before your regular meditations. We don’t get up between pranayama and meditation. Just keep your seat, and begin meditation when your pranayama time is up. Take a minute or so before effortlessly beginning the mantra, just as originally instructed. Once you get comfortable in the routine of doing pranayama and meditation, one after the other, increase the time of pranayama to ten minutes. You will be doing ten minutes of pranayama and twenty minutes of meditation twice each day. Continue with this practice.
In a week or so, or whenever you are feeling steady with the ten minutes of pranayama before your meditation, add the following features: On the exhalations, allow your epiglottis to close enough so that there is a small restriction of the air leaving your lungs. The epiglottis is the door in your throat that automatically closes your windpipe (trachea) when you hold your breath or swallow. By partially closing it as you exhale, a fine hissing sound will occur in your throat. This is called “ujjayi.” Be easy about it. Don’t strain. Keep the slow, deep rhythm of breathing you have become accustomed to as you add this small restriction in the throat during exhalations. On the inhalations, allow the throat to relax and open more than usual. Do not restrict the air coming in. Rather, allow the deepest part of your throat to open wide, comfortably. Do not change the slow, deep rhythm of breathing you have been doing. Keep your mouth closed during pranayama. An exception would be if your nose is stopped up and you can’t breath easily through it. In that case, use your mouth.
While all of these mechanical actions may seem complicated at first, they will quickly become habit as you practice. Once the mechanical habits are in place, all you will have to do during pranayama is easily allow the attention to travel up and down inside the spinal nerve with your automatic slow, deep breathing. When you realize that your attention has slipped away from this easy up and down procedure of traveling inside the nerve during spinal breathing, you will just easily come back to it. No forcing, and no strain. We easily come back to the prescribed route of attention in pranayama, just as we easily come back to the mantra in meditation.
This pranayama will quiet the nervous system, and provide a fertile ground for deep meditation. With this beginning in spinal breathing, we are also laying the foundation for additional practices that will greatly enhance the flow of prana in the body. Once we have stabilized the practices we have learned so far, we will be ready to begin gently awakening the huge storehouse of prana near the base of our spine.
The guru is in you.