FOCUS OF THE WEEK: Pranayama (July 8/13)

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Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah: When the fluctuations of the mind cease to exist, we attain a state of yoga

We have already established previously that we practice asana to provide the body with enough strength so that “it” can sit effortlessly in meditation for a substantial amount of time. We don’t practice asana just to enhance the physical fitness of our bodies and we surely don’t practice asana to feed the ego with more vanity and pride,(How cool I am! I can stand on my head). We practice asana for a higher purpose, the one of enlightenment. Similarly, the purpose of Pranayama (breath control) which is our focus this week, is not to enhance the respiratory flow, but rather to reduce it, to slow it down.

Yoga aims at inhibiting the modifications of the mind. YOGA CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHAH, is the second verse of the Yoga Sutras written by Master Patanjali a few thousand years ago and means as stated above, that when we are able to control the wild nature of the mind, we can find peace. These ever-changing modifications of the mind are sustained by the flow of prana, so it is believed that psycho mental activity can be slowed down and even stopped by reducing the respiratory inflow of prana. In other words: control the breath, and you will control the mind. Pretty cool tool no?

The breath holds the magical power of taking you almost anywhere your heart fancies. In asana for example, if you allow the practice to be infused with a metronome like breath beating to the uninterrupted and unchanging rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation, this will result in fluidity, effortlessness, beauty and will guide your body into the full expression of any pose, whereas if you allow the commanding mind to intervene, chances are you will be clenching the jaw, tensing the forehead, bulging the eyes and straining throughout. Do you want a mechanical and robotic practice or a connected and graceful one? Tell me which one of both scenarios resonates with you more: Lift the arm up R2D2 (boom! arm up)/ Lift the leg up R2D2 (boom! leg up) OR Inhale (you are gently inviting the arm to prepare the lift as you start breathing) lift the arm up (the movement has now been initiated and will fluidly as well as slowly follow the course and the duration of your inhale) / same goes for exhaling your leg up. 

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When you follow the breath, you follow the source. We are not man made machines that respond blindly to orders, we were made spirit, so let’s start acting as such.

All living beings are spiritual beings even if they are often oblivious of the fact in the way they behave and interact with others. Breath is an indication that spirit is present. In the ancient languages such as Aramaic and Hebrew, the word for spirit also means breath. Even in English, breath is defined as the vital spirit which animates all living beings. To be alive is to be breathing. Duh!

The breath is your 1-800 direct line to the source. Every time you inhale and exhale you want to remember that you are part of something bigger and greater than you. The inhalation engulfs the whole body with life, the exhalation surrenders that life back to its origin. Inhaling and exhaling is similar to the ebb and flow of the tide, the waves lapping against the shore and away, the morning glory flower that blooms at dawn and retracts back onto itself at dusk. Breathing is about the perennial motion of compression and expansion present in all of life. Inhaling is about creating space, exhaling is about moving into that space. Breathing is the heart of Yoga, and if you can inject that precise awareness in each movement, each moment, each breath, then…only then, can you state that you practice yoga without it being a lie. Moving with anything short of that, with little or no awareness of the breath is not Yoga, it is EGO-YOGA.

Falling prey to the ego is our burden in life and it is no exception when it comes to the breath. To live and breathe with an exclusive focus on one’s small self disconnects us from the whole. That is the very definition of egotism. The most fierce nemesis of spirit is the selfish ego. Freedom from this enemy can begin by letting go of the breath as “my breath” so you can enter into the shared life force, into a sense of harmony which connects us all, into the heart of yoga.

As beautiful Sharon Gannon lyrically sees it: “There are atoms of air in your lungs which were once in the lungs of everyone who has ever lived. Fact is we breathe the same air, which in essence means we all breathe each other”

If you find the idea disgusting, the ego is still very strong and dominant in your life. The chitta vrittis are not going anywhere anytime soon, but if you find the idea beautiful and poetic then it might mean you are a few steps closer from conquering your mind.

If getting there is your goal, stop breathing….and let the breath breathe you.

“We too should make ourselves empty, that the great soul of the universe may fill us with its breath.”― Lawrence Binyon

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