September: Hatha Yoga Part 3 of 4
by Kevin Sahaj, 22-Aug-2016
Hatha Yoga part 3
Part 3. Pranayama practice according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
athāsane dṝdhe yoghī vaśī hita-mitāśanaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa prāṇāyāmānsamabhyaset || 1 ||
After we have become established in asana, mastered ourselves and have a moderate and healthy diet, then we practice pranayama according as taught by the guru.
After we have practiced asana and have a disciplines and balanced lifestyle then we should practice pranayama. Pranayama is a more subtle aspect of Hatha Yoga and requires that we have a very good foundation in asana before we start a more serious pranayama practice. Of course there are pranayamas that can be practiced from the very beginning, like Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing), Ujayii (breathing with sound), but when we start practicing pranayama in a more formal way there is the aspect of retention of the breath called "Kumbhaka".
The Hatha Yoga pradipika makes a connection between our mind and the breathing:
chale vāte chalaṃ chittaṃ niśchale niśchalaṃ bhavet||
yoghī sthāṇutvamāpnoti tato vāyuṃ nirodhayet || 2 ||
Respiration being disturbed, the mind becomes disturbed. By restraining respiration, the Yogî gets steadiness of mind.
By working with the breathing with pranayama, we are creating a mind that is steady and clear. Also the Nadis, or energy channels in the body where prana flows become clear and unobstructed by the purification effect of pranayama. By pranayama we can control the flow of energy in our body and direct this pranic energy into the central energetic channel "suṣumnâ" creating the state of going beyond our conceptual mind "unmani".
This is a very important aspect of Hatha Yoga in that we are are working with the subtle energy body not only the physical body. Our physical body is addressed with the training of asana, but the energy body is accessed with pranayama, mudra and bandha.
There are some important pranayamas listed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with different functions. These pranayama practices are given without the complete instructions, as it is always learned from a teacher in order that it doesn't create problems for the practitioner. An important aspect of pranayama is the "kumbhaka" or retention of the breath that must be learned correctly without force or many health problems can occur.
It is rare in modern yoga studios in the west to teach pranayama, but there are easy, safe and gentle pranayamas that can only benefit us, and should be a regular part of our yoga practice. However if we want to go deeper into the energetic aspects of Hatha yoga with retentions of the breath we need some clear guidance on how to do this correctly.
Pranayama is considered to be much more powerful than asana therefore it requires more subtle practice with proper guidance and a very good base in asana. But the verse below describes the benefit of regular practice.
vapuḥ kṝśatvaṃ vadane prasannatā
nāda-sphuṭatvaṃ nayane sunirmale |
nāḍī-viśuddhirhaṭha-siddhi-lakṣhaṇam || 78 ||
When the body becomes lean, the face glows with delight, Anâhatanâda manifests, and eyes are clear, body is healthy, bindu under control, and appetite increases, then one should know that the Nâdîs are purified and success in Haṭha Yoga is approaching.
Kevin Sahaj is a dedicated yoga practitioner who has been studying and practicing yoga for 30 years. His approach to teaching is eclectic and draws from many different methods and teachings to help students align their lives towards awakening.