Friday, June 25, 2010

Tripping through prana

I lie down in savasana, arrange my arms and legs. I adjust the position of my shoulderblades. Readjust my head to reduce the bend of my neck. Open my eyes once more, then close them, drawing the gaze inward to the space between my eyes.

Darren Main begins calling the breath instructions. Heidi, assisting him, moves through the room.

Five breaths in, I’m curious.

Five more, no change.

Five more, I feel a tendril of difference, of opening. I register the briefest sensation of aversion and fear. I choose to allow it.

Five more, and a sense of elation arises, lightness.

The breathing continues, but the opening moves to the foreground.

A slight tingling at the tip of my nose.

Nadis in the thumbs and forearms energize and brighten.

A sense of the separation of being high.

Darren calls for five deeper breaths, then, on the exhale, hold until the need for new breath.

At the fifth, breath enters deeply, then out. Then I move into the upward lift of navasana.

Everything ignites. Blazes upward.

St. Theresa.

* * *

Breath brings me back to earth.

Then draws the heart higher.

An image of matsyasana, fish pose, arises in my mind.

My heart lifts, spine arches.

Root bandha engages. Navel bandha locks.

The throat widens and prana moves out with each exhale. I draw the chin toward the chest.

* * *

Heidi presses her thumb into the center of my forehead.

The trembling in my arms and heart cohere into rapid pulsing.

The light coming through my eyelids flashes bright/dark, then pulses.

The sounds of Heidi’s breath penetrate my sensory rock concert.

Then I realize she’s reaching out to me with the sound of her breath. Suggesting.

My mind slowly thinks to match her breath, but there’s no purchase for the mind on the self-driving breath.

Heidi’s thumb slides up the forehead, toward the hairline.

All mind connects to her thumb, focus narrows to it, tendrils of mind, of wanting, wrap around the connection, wanting more. Wanting.

Trembling and pulsing grow to all.

Heidi releases and the mind hears her moving to a nearby person.

* * *

The connection gone, the grasping remains.

Darkness, disappointment, rejection, suffering, anguish all arise. Grasping at loss is all.

The body twists and contorts, spams.


* * *

Heidi returns, now in first aid mode. Her touch channels the prana.

A dark phase of matsyasana emerges. Hands clenched. Resistance increases.

Heidi’s breathing re-enters my awareness.


She unpeels my fingers from my fist.

The mind sees her calm.

The body arches toward the ceiling.

Then entirely quiet.

Mind quiet.

Body moves into stillness.

* * *

New cycles of breath.

New openness.

Badda konasana. Mula bandha, Uddiyana bandha, Jalandhara bandha all lock.

Then release.

More savasana.

Quiet mind.

Gentle witnessing awareness emerges.

* * *
The first time I participated in a pranayama workshop with Darren Main, I felt like the experience was more than mildly dangerous.

From a flatlander’s perspective, it seemed to me to be simply hyperventilation and the disorientation and high associated with it, resulting in some laughter, some sobbing. And though I categorized it and labeled it so, how could that really be as dangerous as I felt it was? With time, I became more interested in the connection between breath and emotion and joy and sorrow that was apparent from the experience.

So by the time Darren came back a year later, I decided to try it again.

Second go-around, less dramatic, less worrisome. Similarly interesting. I was more curious.

Sometimes, three’s the charm.

* * *
Like the first two experiences with pranayama, in my third just last week, I again experienced the loosening of the grip of the conscious mind that results from hyperventilation. But rather than shifting into seemingly random emotional or mental states, this time there was enough mindfulness beneath the conscious mind to hold the order and openness.

The explosion of ignition that came first was elemental.

But what I find most interesting now is how clearly I felt then and remember even now the grasping for more of the fireworks, the reaching out, wanting, clinging to Heidi’s touch, and then the huge wave of darkness that followed the separation, the clinging with nothing to hold onto, the completeness of misery and unhappiness. Complete and utter dukkha.

So now – back to pranayama. I think I understand its potential a bit better than I did before. Yes, it involves changing the body’s chemistry. Yes, its effects can be rightly characterized as unstable. But at a finer level of granularity, for me this time, it reduced the energy usually drawn by the thinking mind, increased the energy channeled through the body, and increased the brightness of my feelings to Klieg lamp levels.

At that level of brightness – where feelings/sensations were all in all – I saw more clearly and sharply both the grasping of wanting more that impeded my experience of what was happening, as well as the inundating darkness and suffering that came from the grasping once the wave of experience subsided.

Not only is it clear that that Buddha guy knew what he was talking about when it came to that Second Noble Truth, it’s also clear that in the trippy altered mind state of that pranayama practice, what is see-able is not always as random as I’d guessed.