It has been a little over a month now since I began my yoga practice, and I have to say that it is really going well. The first couple of weeks, I focused solely on the technique of deep meditation, and after I became comfortable with that, I added the next limb of the Yoga system to my practice: spinal breathing pranayama.
Prana, which is another name for the "life force," is the energy that gives rise to the Universe. It is the basis for all creation, both physical and non-physical. It is what Yogani, author of the Advanced Yoga Practices, says is the "first manifestation" or "first unit." All prana comes from God itself - which is pure awareness, in other words. And deep meditation is used to cultivate that still awarness in the human being, resulting in the eventual attainment of enlightenment.
Pranayma means "restraint of breath." It's a breathing technique that deals with the life force as it manifests in the world through a person's breath. With the idea of the spinal cord being the "main highway" of the life force, this is the area of the body that is worked with. Pranayama assists deep meditation in purifying the neurbiology of the human in order to make the physical body more receptive to, and a better vehicle for, that still awareness.
There are lots of techniques of pranayma, but in the AYP writings, spinal breathing is believed to be the most effective.
Sitting upright in any comfortable position, you begin to breath slowly, without strain. It is preferred, if one is able, to breath only through the nose. To begin, you place your attention on the perineum or "root," which is the spot between your genitals and anus. On inhalation, with the spinal nerve visualized as a tiny thread or tube shape, you glide your attention from the root, up the spinal nerve and then forward, ending at the point between your eyebrows, aka the third eye. Then with exhalation, you move your attention back down the spinal nerve to the root. And this process is followed repeatedly for the entire session. When you notice your thoughts wandering or you begin to experience different sensations, just come back to your focused breathing. When your practice is new, all that is necessary is your visualization - but as time goes on, and the "prana highway" becomes more energized, direct perception of the spinal nerve is said to occur.
It should be done twice daily, right before your deep meditation sittings for five minutes to begin with, and then ten minutes once you've adapted to it.
As with the time increase, there are four other additions that can be done to help maximize your pranayama efforts, once you're settled in to the routine:
1. Full yogic breathing - which is deep, diaphragm breathing.
2. Gentle lifting of the eyes - which is moving your eyes upward and placing your attention on the third eye, in concert with your regular spinal nerve visualization.
3. Making an effort to widen the air passage when inhaling, and restricting it when exhaling (which, again, coincides with the focused attention along the spinal nerve).
4. Noticing the sensation of cool currents as you inhale and the warm sensation as you exhale, following them up and down the spinal nerve.
I'm now up to ten minutes of pranayama before my meditations each day, and I've incorporated three of the four listed above.
Since beginning the meditation and pranayama, I have felt a remarkable difference. There is an inner spaciousness that seems to hold me, similar to the feeling of floating in a warm body of water; it's not a sensation of heat or liquid - but it is restful in that way. It is an ever-present, energetic pond that I'm a part of. I'm aware of it underneath my thoughts and physical doings, and am able to sense how it extends beyond me. I can clearly sense how it is also supporting others - which is something that has surprised me; I didn't expect to notice it "outside" myself. I am able to witness the tensions and ease around me and literally feel how superficial they all are, compared to the vast interconnection that lies beneath them and between us.