Early Experiments with breath

I began my routine of practicing asana every morning, and it brought me a terrific confidence and equanimity.  But within a few months, that strong, stable feeling began to slip away — my practice had became more rote, but more importantly, the asana was not enough to compensate for the stress of my work or for other bad habits like sleeping too little, eating too much, and drinking too much alcohol.

For the first of many times I realized: asana is not enough.

So I bought some more books, including Iyengar’s Light on Life, and began working on practicing the yamas and niyamas.  But I also bought a fantastic book that really transformed my practice and my understanding of yoga: The Yoga of Breath by Richard Rosen.

yoga of breath

I encourage everyone everywhere to buy this book and read it many times 🙂

But when you start digging into it, go to the end of the book where there is a suggested schedule for working through the book to develop a pranayama practice.  The schedule gives you a daily practice and ends up taking almost a year to get through all of the lessons in the book.

So I followed the schedule and practiced each lesson in the book — working through it took nearly a full year.  When I finished, I practiced on my own for a few months, and then I started at the beginning of the book again and this time worked through the book in about 6 months.

Since the first day working with the book, I have had a daily practice of pranayama.  I practice pranayama after my asana practice every morning.  I generally set a timer for 12 or 15 minutes and work through a few different pranayama breaths in each session.

The results of this experiment were very favorable.  I can feel a very noticeable difference in my mood all day long after practicing pranayama: it promotes a calmness, confidence and equanimity.  It also gives you a practice you can turn to any time during the day when stress or anger or uncertainty appears: when pranayama is ingrained in your life it becomes easy to immediately turn inward and begin an ujayii breath or a hum-sah mantra and return to a place of equanimity.

I found some surprising results of pranayama practice too.  Since childhood I have been plagued with hiccups when eating very spicy food.  More seriously, I have a heart issue called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia (PAT), which causes my heart to race up to over 200 beats per minute for minutes or hours at a time.  The PAT episodes have occurred since I was 7 years old very occasionally — sometimes monthly, sometimes only a couple of times a year.

After practicing pranayama daily for a few months, I got hiccups and instead of trying other remedies, I closed my eyes and began deep ujayii breathing.  My hiccups went away.  Since that day I have consistently been able to rid myself of hiccups quickly and easily with pranayama.

More importantly, I have almost always been able to stop a PAT very quickly using a deep ujayii breath.  I recall clearly the first time it happened after I had been practicing pranayama daily for 9 months.  I was in a recording session with a band I played in during law school, and I felt the PAT begin.  I sat down on a chair, closed my eyes, and engaged my breath, and the PAT went away.  Since then, I have nearly always been able to stop a PAT this way.

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