Sunday, February 03, 2008

Off the mat -- Pranayama

Pranayama, aside from sounding cool when you pronounce it, holds a rather central place in the practice of Yoga, both on the mat and off.

If you look closely at the word, you’ll recognize the second half of it already: yama. We’ve just recently finished talking about the yamas as a group. While we used the term yama to mean ethical practices, the word means, variously, “discipline,” or “bridle,” or “control.” In the context of pranayama, it means control of prana – or energy.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali promises pretty remarkable things to those who master the control of such energies, from spaciousness and subtle perceptions to lifting the “veil from the mind’s luminosity.” I can’t tell you a lot about the more esoteric parts of pranayama, but I have experienced enough to help you discover at least some of its magic. In fact, you’ve likely already experienced some of it for yourself. One of the things that first-time practitioners of yoga discover is that they feel different during and after a yoga practice than they do in normal life. That perception is one experience of prana. But there are lots of others.

I’m more than willing to discuss whatever aspects of your experience with prana and pranayama that you’d like, so feel free to respond with ideas, questions, comments and the like. It seems to me that even in advance of hearing your topics, in the next few Off the Mat notes, I’d like to explore at least the following discussions with you:

1. The various way we encounter prana practicing yoga, from the simplest breathing to the strongest exertion

2. The relationship of breath to yoga and breath to life in lots of its forms, from steady and still to crying to laughing

3. Basic starting breath practices to improve life off the mat, calming, energizing, focusing (think Lamaze for living)

4. Ways that we can refine our perceptions and experience and control of prana

Please let me know what you'd like to explore.