I began practicing yoga at the turn of the century following a sports-related injury. I had always been pretty flexible for a guy, but after injuring my back I was looking for alternative ways to heal. A personal trainer friend recommended that I try yoga. I immediately fell in love with the way the practice concentrated my awareness into my breath and provided me the opportunity to slow down and retune my body. I focused mostly on asana (physical postures) practice initially, but always with a focused effort on breathing deeply. During my initial teacher training in 2007 I learned several pranayamas (breathing practices) that I enjoyed practicing and teaching. Even still in my personal practice taking the extra time do practice pranayama didn’t come for a few more years. I realized that with the hectic pace of life that it was important to slow down and cultivate a meditation practice. Meditation isn’t easy for me, but using the breath as a focal point through pranayama allowed me gradually shift into a sitting meditation with less resistance. I generally prefer to practice pranayama and meditation after an asana practice. I’m a physical guy, Aries, fiery and it’s helpful for me to exert some energy and getting moving, before slowing down and trying to concentrate. The practice of asana helps develop the concentration for me. There are some pranayama’s that I’ll do to start out a practice, for example sama vritti (equal breathing, same wavelength). I utilize ujjayi (victory) breathing, commonly known as ocean breathing, during asana practice which is highly effective at building energy, improving focus, and keeping the body safe during asanas. The fluidity of my schedule makes it difficult to establish a set time that I practice, but I generally prefer to practice yoga in the mid-afternoon once my body has awakened and loosened up a bit with daily activity. I think first thing in the morning is a good time to set the routine for a daily practice, and since returning from the Advanced Training in Santa Cruz this summer I’ve begun to meditate first thing in the morning and right before bed. I find nadi shodhana calming and kapalabhati stimulating so I utilize both accordingly sensing into what I need. Recently, I’ve embarked on a 40-day practice of a pranayama called Sodarshan Kriya – interestingly, the practice is almost a blend of kapalabhati and nadi shodhana: alternating nostrils with each cycle of breath and abdominal pumps while the inhalation is retained, which isn’t easy. According to ancient texts the Sodarshan Kriya can purify your past karma and the subconscious impulses that may block you from fulfilling your greatest potential.
The breath has considerable transformational powers, and practicing pranayama has helped me build the power of concentration and develop my meditation practice. I believe pranayama has helped me cultivate greater breath awareness in my life and in dealing with stressful situations – perhaps the greatest benefit of all.
Get started with this basic pranayama for beginners video, and please let me know if I can answer any questions regarding pranayama or help you develop a regular pranayama practice to bring these benefits into your life.