These next practices are the gold of the effort you put forth in the previous practices. You engendered stability, heating stirring and airing out the basement of your body, your depths, your origins, which refined the glands of the reproductive organs, the adrenals, and the pancreas. You rose into the living quarters and worked the thymus, the thyroid and the pituitary. You engaged your competency, your ability to handle that which is around you by first being stable and rooted in self.
Now it is time to rise one more floor above yourself and put yourself in the centre of your mind, your imagination. Image yourself sitting at the ocean knowing there is a tremendous amount of lithium in the air. Use the inhale and the exhale as an oceanic sounding breath to draw the tide in on the in breath while drawing the tide out on the out breath. Use your thyroid to extract the lithium so you not only nourish your nervous system but you can nourish the kidneys. The kidneys love to hear the sound of the breath, so once again connect the hearing to the breathing so you can anchor yourself in the base of your being. When one works in the mind one must be completely embodied within the confines of form so delusion does not set in.
Keep smelling the atmosphere. The fastest route to the mind is through your sense of smell. Smell piques the mind and wakes it up, it also stops it from getting delusional. It is by virtue of smell that you can begin to play with your ventilation system, your circumstantial view and your directionality. The mind directs, conducts, allowing you to alter your temperature, to manipulate your chemistry and to refine subtle experiences. You must always keep moving, anything that is stable is only stable by virtue of movement. Keep alerting yourself by virtue of scent. The mind measures and when you lose your sense of smell you lose your mind. The first powers of yoga are the siddhas and these powers are basic: can you sniff out your situation, can you articulate it, can you see it, then can you manipulate it and use it to your advantage.
Continue using this breath for some time.
Keep rising higher above yourself and put yourself at a mountain with a stream rushing by. Start to use a more willful breath, the breath of Ujjayi, which is a conquering breath. Sieve the breath in and out of your throat by constricting the throat, which is the location of your thyroid. There are more minerals in the mountains by virtue of being in a higher atmosphere so use your thyroid as the tool to extract this prana. This breath will begin heating up your mind. First, heat up the groins, stoke the fire of the heart so you can finally light the awareness of the mind. Keep an open imagination so this heat moves through the top of your head. Trapped heat will give you a hot head, be open, let it move through like smoke coming out of a chimney.
Ujjayi breath is an act of will, demand that the universe fills you up, demand that the universe liberates you. It is with this breath that you will rise above the personal and see the bigger picture. Keep the spark of the imagination lit, hear your breathing and keep yourself focused. It is only when you are focused that the mind can begin to settle.
Rise above yourself and move outside of yourself. Use the imagery that you are popping through the top of your head. Move yourself into the pineal gland which is your spiritual antennae. Draw this antennae up out of your body and put yourself on a flying carpet slightly above the top of your head. Become a spectator in the spectator stands. As you sit above yourself hear the sound of nothing. Put yourself in space and let the mind and the body be empty. It is only when you are empty that you are available to access the higher hearing, the grander learning and the greater information. Stay here for some time in this vast and spacious emptiness hearing the sound of nothing. It is only when you are completely silent that you will hear the longings of the heart.
Alternate Nostril Breath
Alternate nostril breath works to rewire the circuitry in the brain by training the ability to cross reference. To begin, take your right hand up to your face, curling in your first and second fingers. Use your ring finger to manipulate the left nostril while the thumb manipulates the right. Start on the in breath by closing the right nostril, breathe into the left nostril. Exhale switch, block the left nostril with your ring finger and only exhale out the right nostril to let breath go. Switch fingers, switch nostrils, breathe in left, exhale right. Continue for about five rounds then take a moment to breathe through both.
Now flip it, take up the left hand, fold in the first and second fingers and use the ring finger to manipulate the right nostril and the thumb manipulates the left. This time as you inhale block the left nostril, breathe in through the right, and as you exhale switch the nostril and breathe out the left nostril. Continue breathing in the left and out right for about five rounds. Take a moment to let it all settle.
Then put it all together, it does not matter which hand you use on the nostrils, what matters is that you do both, and you don’t just do what feels comfortable. Whichever hand is in front of your face, block the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril, switch the nostrils and exhale right. Inhale right, switch and exhale left. This completes one round. Keep this rhythm going for a few rounds as you begin to create a sideways figure eight, or an infinity sign with the breath moving through the two hemispheres of the brain.
Breathing into the left nostril excites the right brain: the lunar left eye and the esoteric aspects of one’s being. Breathing into the right nostril excites the left brain: the intellectual right eye and the pragmatic self.
Another variation is to find a four part breath: inhale, pause when full, exhale, pause on empty. Use a count so you find an equally measured inhale, pause when full, exhale, and pause on empty. Each pause is playing for consistency. Inhale left, count to five, pause for five, exhale right, count to five, pause empty for five, inhale right for five, pause full for five, exhale left for five, pause empty for five. Gradually increase and lengthen your breath without creating tension, if you have to gasp for air then you lengthened the breath by too much. Make sure to measure the breath. Equal pressure should remain throughout the whole inhale and equal pressure throughout the whole exhale. Most will exhale all the air out quickly but instead work to regulate the breath so that there is still air coming out at the end of the exhale.
When you become fluent in the above exercise you can start refining it even further. As you inhale into the left nostril start filling up your right kidney to your right lung, hold the breath for a moment, then as you exhale out the right nostrils move from your right lung, emptying out both lung and kidney and track your mind down to your left kidney. Pause when you are empty. Next, inhale into the right nostril as you fill up the left kidney to the left lung as if you are filling a beaker. Pause when you are full, switch nostrils so you are breathing out your left and empty out the left kidney to left lung as you track the mind from the left lung to the right kidney. This completes one circuit and allows the mind to draw the loops of the infinity sign in the torso, the symbol of perpetual circuitry.
Viloma means against the grain so in this technique the breath is syncopated in short equal pulses. Just as was discussed in “alternative nostril breath” when the breath was measured, each pulse should aim to have the same force on the way in or out. This breath is then used to build a cocoon around oneself. In totality, the full pranayama practice spends a tremendous amount of time working inside of the body and manipulating one’s chemistry. After one has explored the confines of form, one should move outside oneself and participate in the world around. This breath helps to build a shell so one can protect one’s nervous system from the external stresses of this world.
To begin, put yourself in centre and draw in one long steady breath, and just as intentionally, let this breath out. The first technique is used on the inhale and the imagery is of climbing up the stairs of your central channel. Pulse in eight quick, measured breaths. It will be eight sips in and one long out breath. “In-in-in-in-in-in-in-in, ooooouuuuuuuttttt”. Continue on for eight rounds, eight breaths in and one long out. When you are done your eight switch it. The imagery used now is that you are going down the stairs of your spine. Take one long in breath then pulse out eight short quick breaths. “iiiinnnnnnnnn, out-out-out-out-out-out-out-out.” Keep it measured so the last out breath has the same force as the first out breath. Do this eight times.
Then put it all together. Use your mind to construct an eight point grid around yourself, see the eight quadrants and the octagon forming. Use your lower body initially as a reference. Circling clockwise this is: pubis, right hip bone (or if cross legged, right knee), right outside hip, right butt, coccyx, left butt, left outside hip, left hip bone (or if cross legged, left knee). Then move it up: sternum, right breast, right armpit, right shoulder blade, back of spine, left shoulder blade, left armpit, left breast. Then move higher again: nose, right eyeball, right ear, back of right skull, centre back of skull, back of left skull, left ear, left eyeball. In this way you organize yourself to hit all eight points of your personal octagon. This allows you to approximate the sphere and weave your cocoon. Begin the breath traveling clockwise and wrap yourself from the base up. Start with ten rounds initially and as you develop stamina work your way to 100, ten tens. This will let you work the “1’s” in their higher dimensions. It will be eight in breaths clockwise, eight out breaths clockwise. Keep repeating this breath so you keep wrapping yourself tighter and tighter.
Life is hard so build this shell around yourself. It takes incredible skill and technique to construct a formal container wherein incoming information is used to your advantage and the information that doesn’t serve you is thus discarded. This is when you learn to use your hearing to hear the things that soothe your soul. You can then train the vision to see the things that will move you forward while utilizing the nose to sniff out which situation you should be in. This allows you to use all of the senses actively to serve your personal wellbeing.
You don’t need to be affected by the negativity, you don’t need to hear things that disrupt your nervous system, nor do you need to see things that are detrimental to your wellbeing. You get to choose what it is you participate and partake in. It is not to to think you are shutting yourself out, nor is it to think it is personal. The aim is to do it because it serves your bigger picture and if it serves your bigger picture it serves the universal picture. As you move out of the personal you begin playing with everything around, actively participating in the universal vision. It is up to you to fine tune your awareness so your personal vision moves to a higher vision. It’s not your definition of a higher vision, it is the higher vision, integrated with all of life.
After you have refined this breath for a while take a long inhale, followed by a liberating exhale. Move yourself back to centre if you’ve lost the ninety degree angle and draw the breath through you. Initially you may feel dizzy as this is a very powerful breath. Start with a short practice but eventually work your way to a longer one so you can challenge and strengthen your inner breath. Concentrate the mind on the ebb of the breath to focus your awareness. Direct the mind so it doesn’t begin driving in whichever direction it likes.
Now take it in the opposite direction, down instead of up. Start above yourself and see yourself looking down upon yourself. Move in the same clockwise direction. Cycle in eight inhales, hitting all eight quadrants and then expel eight breaths in the same direction. Continue on in this manner and try to match how many breaths you spun up to how many breaths you spin down. Play for the pattern, the cycles and the repetition. Unravel yourself and when you unravel it is not to fall apart, it is to emerge as a radiant butterfly, a transformation that moves into an ethereal view. Again, when you are done, use your inhale and exhale to find a neutral breath. Repeat these cycles as many times as you like with the aim of building stamina, endurance, increasing the amount of cycles that you move through so you can personally achieve your goals.
Seal the Practice
Arms up in an Equilateral Triangle
To complete the practice, whether you only did a few of the breathing techniques, or all of them, raise your arms up in the air just as you started. When you raise your arms up find them again at an equilateral triangle. If you make contact with your thumb and pinky finger you creating circuitry between the vision (the thumb) and your heart (your pinky). You can create any circuitry you’d like: ring finger and thumb is the liver and small intestine, sorting pure from impure, circuit of health; thumb and middle finger is your perspective and the ability to ponder, to have imagination and a virtuous vision; thumb on pointer finger is liver and lungs, being courageous, letting go and manipulating grief and sadness. Every contact you make will initiate a dialogue in the body and moves a current which will let information flow through. Know why and what you do, knowing that everything is always in constant conversation. Put your tongue on your palate to open up the channel of fire and water, put yourself in centre so you are in the centre of your circumstances and to finish begin to pump your breath one last time in kapalabhati. This is the forceful out breath that pulls your belly into your spine with each pump.
Play with the idea that the whole practice was to empty you out. Now fill yourself back up. Don’t fill yourself back up with all the burden and garbage you worked to get rid of. Instead fill yourself up with grace and abundance, fill yourself up with good technique and refined form, be full of joy and gratitude knowing that it takes tremendous skill to remain happy and joyful and at your best. When you overfill do not worry about it. Let it spill over: overflow with joy, grace and abundance, let it be your gift. It is only when you are filled up that it becomes a joy to give and you will not feel that anyone is taking from you. Keep filling yourself knowing that your overflow will serve not only you, but those around you. Do this breath about a hundred times and whenever you feel filled let the breath go. Rest yourself upon the sound of your breathing, focus the mind upon the body and follow the breath with the mind. Use every piece of yourself so you engage yourself fully, gracefully, and effortlessly.
Ending the practice
When you finish the pranayama practice take some time to yourself. Keep your focus upon the steadiness in the breath and pay attention to your inhales and exhales. You flooded the body with fresh oxygen, you increased the elasticity of your lungs and expelled stale toxins that get stuck at the bottom of the lungs, which lead to a labored breath. Instead, use the breath, breathe the breath without letting the breath breathe you. Lengthen the inhales and exhales and discover how much fuller you can make yourself, how much more efficiently you are taking in the oxygen to fuel your cells.
The whole point of this practice is to get more out of less so you can become lighter in the body, mind, and spirit. This takes a tremendous amount of time and effort because in our culture we are taught to over consume, trained that we need the medical system and told that we haven’t much control over our internal make up. But all the tools are available to take control of your health, to leverage the breath and use the body to serve you. Manipulate the mind and your inner chemistry. Reprogram yourself down to the base level of your being so you are stable within your self. Then, fold in the folds you want.
Post pranayama practice is an ideal time to take a longevity pose (seated forward fold, rounded plow, yoga sleep or virasana). Use it to measure the breath and leverage your increased stamina by staying in the pose for an extended period of time. Always keep yourself attentive to the mind, body and breath.