Yoga - Why is pranayama so tough ?
by Shameem Akthar
Watching one’s own mind is a most challenging task, says Shameem Akthar
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
Technically, pranayama practice is easier to learn than asana practice. However, it is both hard to teach as well as to learn. Which may explain why most people forego its practice altogether, or do it erratically.
Why is a simple technique, which promises vigorous health, so tough to practice regularly? The answer is not so difficult to guess – pranayama is a pre-meditative practice. It is the first stage of watching your own mind. That occupation is wrought with several blocks – boredom, and inability to whip up enthusiasm to study oneself so minutely when the world screams with distractions.
Pranayama is exciting for the serious meditator, because it is the foundation of emotional culturing. Even Adi Shankaracharya who scoffs at too much obsession about hatha yoga practice, in his treatise Aprokshanubhuti suggests that you can do anulom vilom (alternative nostril breathing) with mantra recitation and cosmic consciousness. Even Sri Ramana Maharishi, jnana yogi, advises pranayama practice as one of the most serious tools for meditation.
In pranayama, the exhalation is the most important feature, next to retention. In retention, the energy is said to expand. The sense of objectivity is said to be created in exhalation. It may be the most difficult emotional quality to acquire. Pranayama becomes difficult for most people, because objectivity is so difficult to practise. Even the translation of anulom vilom means reversing natural order, a tall claim. However, when the practice becomes steady and disciplined, it can reverse the patterns in your personality. Regular practice of pranayama is said to cleanse the slate of your karma. It may be so because of the state of vairagya/objectivity it creates.
Even in the advanced versions of other pranayama practices, after retaining the breath (whether it is the kapalabhati or skull-cleansing practice/ bhramari or the humming bee practice) you are not expected to inhale, but exhale before you inhale. Think of the wonder that you suppress all your biological instinct to inhale after holding your breath. Instead, you exhale with control. In other practices also, the exhalation has to be longer than inhalation. This ratio also reverses all natural biological instincts, and teaches us powerful means of impulse control. That may be the reason pranayama practices are powerful tools in treatment of addictions and OCDs.
Sit in any meditative pose. Close your eyes. Inhale and exhale a few times in preparation. After inhaling deeply, exhale with a humming sound, making a soft ‘mmm,’ up to capacity. This is one round. Inhale, and then exhale again with a hum. Do six to nine rounds.
Benefits: Bhramari expands lung capacity naturally. It is said to increase the oxygen intake capacity by changing the chemistry of blood at the nostrils. This is said to give an emotional high also. It is a continuous exhalation and is therefore powerful in terms of impulse control, clearing the mind of stress and keeping it calm. Its sound is said to have a healing impact on the whole body and may be practised after severe illness for quicker recovery.
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