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Advanced Yoga Practices
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Note: For the complete lessons, with additions, see the AYP Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.

Lesson 239 - Spinal Breathing Pranayama and Asanas

From: Yogani
Date: Mon Dec 27, 2004 0:34am

New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the webarchive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The firstlesson is, "Why This Discussion?"

Q: I have read your lessons on Pranayama, and I have some questions. I have long since been practising a different kind of Pranayama - we inhale deeply & slowly, and at the same time imagine that we are inhaling in from an energy pool of prana, then holding it for sometime, then exhaling it slowly, and at the same time imagining that we are leaving out all negative emotions, anger, worry, etc. We don't bring the spine into picture at all. I read from your lesson that after sometime we will also be holding the breath, so that part of my doubt is cleared. But my question is concerning the visualization we do as we inhale & exhale. Have you heard about the method of Pranayama I just talked about? If yes how does it compare to your method of Pranayama?

And another question. There are so many physical yoga asana exercises, aren't there? Does your Advanced Yoga Practices cover them all? Or do they cover only meditation, pranayama & a few sitting posture exercises? Maybe it is not necessary to practise them all to move on the spiritual path but they definitely keep the body fit & energetic don't they?

A: Thank you for writing and sharing. There are as many varieties of pranayama as there are teachers, it seems. The degree and kinds of visualizations are many. Underneath it all is the "restraint of breath" which is the engine inside that produces the majority of pranayama effects. The visualizations are often given the credit for what the basic restraint of breath (including slow breathing and kumbhaka) produces. Which is not to say visualizations are ineffective. There is no doubt that attention combined with pranayama will move prana. But to what end?

Spinal breathing is in a separate class from other visualization methods during pranayama. It comes from the tradition of kriya yoga, and other ancient sources, and is directly linked with the purification and opening of the sushumna, the main spiritual nerve in us (it is also the third eye on the upper end). Spinal breathing is, in fact, not a visualization once ecstatic conductivity begins to rise in the nervous system. It is the actual blending of rising and descending pranas. This blending is directly promoted with attention and observed as the joining of the shakti and shiva energies within us. So, rather than consciously manipulating impurities and human emotions, spinal breathing is about fostering the pranic (ecstatic) aspects of the process of enlightenment within us, and leaving the rest to that.

Deep meditation as taught in the lessons works in a similar way -- going to samadhi straight away and letting that aspect of our nature (inner silence) do the work. Many forms of meditation don't do that, opting instead to micro-manage the contents of the subconscious mind. The latter is not deep yoga, which is found by bringing the mind repeatedly to natural stillness.

Even though spinal breathing, in its essence, is very simple and powerful, it is often embellished by cultures and traditions, sometimes to the point of distraction. There is a lesson on this (#206) that you might find interesting.

One of the best tests of spinal breathing is its known curing influence on kundalini imbalances. I have lost count of how many folks who have come here with kundalini imbalances (some very serious) and had them relieved almost immediately upon beginning spinal breathing. I had that experience myself many years ago, after having worked with many types of pranayama and kumbhaka. I have found that spinal breathing is by far the most advanced pranayama out there, whether it be the basic version, or variations involving other elements of practice such as yoni mudra kumbhaka, chin pump (with or without kumbhaka), spinal bastrika, etc.

None of this is to say your practice is wrong or that you should change anything. Your experience is your best guide, and you should proceed accordingly. It is always good to keep our eyes open to possibilities that may enhance our results. That is good science.

On asanas, the primary focus in the lessons has been on sitting practices because there has not been much written on the development and integration of sitting practices. We have taken some good steps toward filling in the gaps on that in the lessons. It has really needed to be done. Asanas have not been ignored – only put in perspective in relation to the full range of yoga practices as summarized in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. What we are seeking is a balance of all the best methods to achieve maximum progress.

There are thousands of skilled instructors teaching asanas these days, and hundreds of excellent books and tapes on the subject. The subject seems to be well-covered. Even so, people keep asking here about asanas. So, the upcoming AYP book includes a basic set of asanas to do before sitting practices to help get people started.Then additional instruction in asanas can be obtained as desired. In AYP, asanas are a warm up for sitting practices. In other systems of practice, asanas may be an end in themselves, even though they represent only one-eighth of the eight limbs of yoga. It is our culture, you know. It is changing, going more and more toward our inner divinity, and bringing it back out into the world. Physical activity is essential for yoga to fulfill its destiny. Asanas help us on the way in before we do our pranayama and deep meditation. When we are back out in the world, a healthy amount of physical activity and useful endeavors in our daily life are important. Both our sitting practices and daily activities in the world are what cultivate a steady condition of ecstatic bliss and divine love. Asanas have a special role to play in this – aiding the nervous system in its daily journey from outer activity inward to inner silence and ecstasy. In time, all of life becomes permeated with these divine qualities we cultivate first as an inner experience...

Best wishes on your path. Enjoy!

The guru is in you.

Note: For detailed instructions on spinal breathing, see the AYP Spinal Breathing Pranayama book.
See the Asanas, Mudras and Bandhas book for instructions with illustrations for beginning an asana routine.

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