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How Does Pranayama Awaken
AYP Plus Additions:
378.1 - The
Biochemistry of Prana, and Beyond... (Audio)
378.2 - Natural vs.
Intentional Kumbhaka (Breath Retention) (Audio)
378.3 - The Breathless
Kumbhaka: The Finer Points of Exhalation and Inhalation (Audio)
January 13, 2010
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Q1: How is it that pranayama causes a suction of prana from
the pelvic region upward?
A1: It should be clarified that the
reduction of oxygen intake through pranayama does not directly produce a
physical upward "vacuuming" of prana from the pelvic region. Rather, it is a
biochemical drawing up, similar to how a food fast stimulates the drawing of
nutrients from the fatty tissues of the body. In both cases, there is inner
purification and opening, which is why both fasting and pranayama are
regarded to be spiritual techniques. As we have said in
Lesson 204 and elsewhere, the nervous system has a natural ability
whereby the restraint and regulation of breath leads to an "awakening" of
the vast storehouse of life-force located in our pelvic region sexual energy
that is drawn upward through the body to compensate for a reduced intake of
oxygen when the breath is gently restrained. This upward movement is not
only physical. It is biochemical, and leads to a higher neurobiology
emerging in the body that which we call the awakening of ecstatic
conductivity, or kundalini.
Q2: How about when breath is
suspending automatically during deep meditation and spinal breathing
pranayama? In this case, the suspension seems to be more effect than cause.
What is causing the suspension?
A2: Awakened inner vitality can
reduce the need for oxygen as ecstatic conductivity expands. All practices
that contribute to the rise of ecstatic conductivity play a role in this,
including spinal breathing pranayama. Breath
suspension is also caused by a natural reduction in metabolism, particularly
during deep meditation. This is a common experience
for those who practice deep meditation. So, both inner silence and ecstatic
conductivity contribute to the phenomenon of respiration slowing down.
We do not make a goal of breath suspension in our practices. It is a
natural result of inner purification and opening. When it does occur, we
regard it as any other sensation, emotion or thought, and easily favor the
procedure of the practice we are doing.
In a few practices, prudent
voluntary regulation of breathing can be utilized in practical ways a
comfortable intentional slowing of the breath during spinal breathing
pranayama, and short periods of kumbhaka (breath suspension) during
yoni mudra and chin pump. These
encourage the awakening of the inner energies, which in turn, may lead to
reduced respiration. In these, the breath suspension is not the goal. The
resulting inner energetic awakening is the objective, with moderation being
The best way to take advantage of the natural relationship
between breath and prana within us is to practice daily, building a balanced
routine gradually over time, with self-pacing applied as needed. Then the
technical details that we may have concerned ourselves with will gradually
be forgotten in a sea of abiding inner silence and ecstatic bliss.
Q3: What does Paramahansa Yogananda mean when he says that pranayama
"purifies the blood" by removing carbon?
A3: In his day (early 20th
century), Paramahansa Yogananda asserted that pranayama "purifies the blood"
by removing excess carbon. This would be the reverse side of the same
dynamic we have been discussing. Reducing oxygen
intake via pranayama would initially increase carbon dioxide concentration
in the blood, and perhaps the subsequent (biochemical) drawing of prana from
the pelvic region stabilizes this: thus, "reducing carbon in the blood."
Science will have to answer that one. Perhaps Yogananda felt it would be
less controversial to describe the effects of pranayama as a purification of
the blood, rather than a deprivation of oxygen leading to a pranic
awakening. The truth is that these explanations are two sides of the same
dynamic occurring during pranayama. Either way it is viewed, the beneficial
effects of pranayama are well known. We don't have to know all the inner
workings of the machine to put it to good use. The actual internal workings
will finally be revealed by scientific research, not in intellectual
debates. The important thing is that we are practicing daily and gaining the
Q4: Why is it that some styles
of pranayama are practiced for hours every day with no extreme effects,
while with AYP pranayama, more than 10-15 minutes will often be too much?
A4: The main difference between hours of pranayama not
being enough, versus 20 minutes of pranayama being too much, is deep
meditation after pranayama in the second case.
In the AYP
system, each of these two practices greatly increase the power of the
other, and that largely accounts for the difference in results, and the time
it takes to produce them.
when my breath suspends during meditation, I do not feel the need to breathe
for quite a long time. Should I stay with this and favor not breathing? I
feel an intense desire to take it to the limit in these practices. It is as
though I am possessed by divine desire.
The reason you do not feel oxygen-deprived during natural kumbhaka (breath
suspension) is because the metabolism during deep
meditation is low and the awakening inner prana is
also compensating. It will be best to stay with the procedure of the
practice we are doing. Be careful about overdoing with breath suspension. It
can lead to excessive purification and imbalance, with recovery time being
necessary. It can occur in a delayed reaction after excessive breath
suspension, days or weeks later. In this way, going too fast can slow us
down, as we overdo, wait to recover, overdo, wait to recover, etc. It is
much faster (and comfortable) to keep a steady sustainable pace that does
not lead to the excesses. Therefore, it is very important to keep a moderate
well-rounded practice routine, balanced with good daily activity for
integrating it all into everyday living. Much more fun that way too.
Yes, with practices we become possessed by the force of divine evolution
longing to express through us. It is natural. For anyone on the path of yoga
it becomes obvious. Yoga is derived from the natural evolutionary
capabilities observed within the human nervous system. We provide structure
and self-pacing in an effort to make the journey to enlightenment practical
for everyone. It is in all of us. It is only a matter of evolving practical
approaches to stimulate and manage the process of our purification and
opening in ways that bring maximum progress with comfort and safety.
Practice wisely, and enjoy!
The guru is in you.
Click here for lesson
content on the "breathless state," natural vs. intentional
kumbhaka (breath suspension), the biochemistry of prana, and more.
Breathing Related Lessons Topic Path
Kundalini Related Lessons Topic Path
Related Lessons Topic Path
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Note: For detailed instructions on spinal breathing pranayama,
see the Spinal Breathing Pranayama book,
and AYP Plus.