Breath in tantrick practice is of the utmost importance. Breathwork, the expansion of breath with consciousness that is pranayama, strengthens our bodies, clears our minds and prepares us for deeper relationships with the Divine. I mentioned yesterday that I begin my daily practice with pranayama and wanted to share some simple thoughts and exercises.
There are many different ways to do pranayama. Different yoga traditions offer different avenues of exploration, and depending upon your temperament or disposition, you may find some more beneficial or agreeable than others. Trust your own body and intuition to discover what methods are best for you on your path.
To begin a practice, one needs very little external paraphernalia to support the effort. The most important thing is to bring a clear commitment to yourself to the work. With willingness, anyone can succeed in finding greater peace and strength through pranayama. To start, I recommend finding a comfortable spot you can create your seat upon every day. Try to let natural light be present. If you can, sit cross-legged or in padmasana, which is lotus pose. Otherwise, simply sitting with a straight back on a chair will work just fine.
Here is a simple pranayama technique. Arrange yourself comfortably and close your eyes. Begin to concentrate on the space between your eyebrows. Remember to relax your face and let your spine remain upright, holding your head as if a string came from the top of your skull to the heavens and Maa herself was gently pulling it up. (This is not meant to be difficult, just a gentle reminder to sit straight, letting your spine be a conduit between heaven and earth.)
Now, close your right nostril with your right thumb. Start to inhale slowly through your left nostril taking in the breath as deeply as you can without exerting effort. As the in-breath finishes, begin to transition to your exhalation through the very same nostril. This constitutes one round of breath.
Next, transition your inhalation to your right nostril by closing the left nostril with your right ring and little fingers together. As before, exhale slowly through the same nostril. Again, this is one round. Between rounds, you may wish to breathe normally for a short time in order to feel the difference in energy flow in your body. At first, start with just a few rounds and gradually work your way up to longer and longer durations. You will likely feel increased vitality and presence doing so.
If you wish, you can also add a short time of breath retention between inhalation and exhalation. A recommended ratio of inhalation to holding of breath to exhalation is 1:4:2. To keep this ratio, you may wish to repeat the syllable “OM” silently. Pranava (the sound of the creation of the universe, or “OM”) here constitutes what is called a matra, or the unit of time used to count in any pranayama practice.
Also, as you do the practice, try not to make any sounds. Allow yourself to relax into the process so that it feels increasingly natural. Happy breathing!