Sunday, 14 April 2013

“Yoga practice is a balancing act between doing and not-doing; we must somehow exhibit all the prowess of the charioteer in mastering his horses and yet remain the same whether in success or failure.” 

The most surprising suggestion in Richard Rosen’s Yoga of Breath, is that you may actually not be ready to practice pranayama.  It’s a brave editor that allows an author to include a statement such as, “What if you discover if you discover that you’re not ready… Don’t worry.  The best policy is simply to let the practice go for the time being and put this guide on the shelf.”  Ok!  (*Places book back on shelf, wipes hands clean on the whole pranayama malarkey*)

I didn’t really put the book back on the shelf but I was unaccustomed to the idea of being ‘ready’ to practice pranayama.  I’m used to pranayama being an integrated part of yoga practice and there was never any concern about ‘being ready’ in the pranayama workshops I’ve attended.  According to Rosen, physical obstacles such as illness, imbalance/tension, and ignorance about our own bodies can all affect pranayama.  Mental obstacles such as dismay, indolence, distraction, instability and fear also affect the practice. 

Rosen discusses in great detail the idea of mapping the ‘gross body’ whilst in Savasana; basically becoming aware of your own body and how it breathes.  He encourages the use of props and supports in breathing exercises both in Savasana and seated.
Assuming that we’re ‘ready’ and aware of our bodies, Rosen details a variety of pranayama exercises including Ujjayi, Against-the-Grain, Zigzag, Slow and Spot breathing.  Also included in close detail is information about the Bandhas and their role in pranayama. 

What I really liked about the detailed pranayama exercises was the encouragement in the use of props and supports.  Attempting pranayama whilst sitting or lying down for long periods of time can be uncomfortable and Rosen’s suggestions for the use of blocks, blankets and chairs support both comfort in the body and the optimal position of your body to achieve affective pranayama; for example propping the knees and placing weight on the thighs in supta badakanasana (reclining butterfly) in order to open space in the groin, freeing the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms.  Where I have the availability of props I’m already incorporating some of his posture suggestions in opening meditation and savasana for some of my classes so in that respect, The Yoga of Breath is very useful for teachers, but for people who are really serious about working on pranayama, quite a bit of time and energy needs to be dedicated to Rosen’s breath program.  As Rosen points out early on, you need to be ‘willing to spend time on another responsibility’ in your life.  

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