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  • Writer's pictureJérôme Jaquier

Part II. What is quality yogic breathing?

This article is a continuation of the previous one. The topic is "What is quality breathing?"

We do not insist “The absolute correct way to breathe”, but all possible modes of breathing.

Good posture with poise (that is mental or emotional tranquility) is in fact an excellent criterion of good posture. That will also help to develop overall physical and mental health. Neither excessive muscular tension nor emotional intensity is compatible with good posture. Good posture means acting smooth but without hurry; hurry means generally heightened muscular contraction.

Our state of mind is closely linked to the quality of breathing. Whatever happens in the mind influences the breath; the breath becomes quicker when we are excited and deeper and quieter when we relax. In order to influence our prana we must be able to influence the mind. Our actions often disturb the mind, causing prana to exude from the body. Through daily pranayama practice we reverse this process, as a change in the breathing pattern influences the mind.

The link between mind and breath is most significant. The Yoga Sutra says that when we practice pranayama the veil is gradually drawn away from mind and there is growing clarity. The mind becomes ready for deep meditation (Yoga Sutra II.52 and II.53). Following the Yoga Sutra, we can say that pranayama is first and foremost awareness of the breath: I am more aware that I breathe; I am conscious of my inhalation and my exhalation and perhaps of the pauses that naturally occur between breaths. The next step is then to answer this question: How do I remain conscious of my breath?

[ Find the core location of the breath ]

① Lie down on the floor, face up, bend your legs with the feet on the ground, now breathe in and raise your head off the ground.

Maintaining the head raised for twenty or thirty seconds, then let the head slowly return to the ground.

The person should proceed slowly, remaining in the position described until an even and rhythmic breathing is obtained.

② The next thing to observe is that in order to lift the head something is produced in the lower abdomen.

Put one hand on the lower abdomen very gently, and then lift your head. You will notice that the abdomen become “full” just before the head is lifted.

If you put one hand at the small of your back, and then lift your head. You will perceive that the area from the sacrum to the lower back will also become "full" just before the head is lifted.

As you can see by the above experiment, when you try to do any movement, please direct your attention to the core of the breath. You will soon learn to recognize very clearly that it is necessary to have a fullness at the same degrees in the lower abdomen and in the front and back of the sacrum to the lower back.

When you feel that the point below the navel (roughly the center of gravity in the body) is sensed as the source or center of action, you will achieve a light, smooth, and more stabilized posture.

Having experienced this sensation of fullness of the lower abdomen the area from the sacrum to the lower back, you will detect it quite readily every time you change attitude or start or stop any action, provided the action is easy and simple and your breathing rhythm is not broken.

Note that the result of quality breathing is not obtained by training and mechanical repeating, which at the same time do the faulty action. Improvement results from remaining aware of one's breathing while generating self-knowledge.

[You will see for yourself the effect of the quality breathing]

❶ Lie down on the floor, face up, bend your legs with the feet on the ground.

❷ Put your hands on your lower abdomen, with the fingers just touching it. Three points are of special importance:

⑴ the one point lying about an inch below the navel;

⑵⑶ the two points above the pubis on either side of abdomen where one can dig in the fingers on both sides of the strong abdominal muscles in the axis of the body.

❸ Put your fingers at the about an inch below the navel (1) and the two lower points in your groin (2) (3).

❹Slowly inhale, three point (1)(2)(3) rising equally, the lower abdomen feels round and blown up like a balloon. At the same time, you will feel the area from the sacrum to the lower back filling out and touching the floor.

❺Again, slowly inhale, three point (1)(2)(3) rising equally, the area from the sacrum to the lower back filling out and touching the floor, at same time, let your spine touch the floor from the pelvis to the shoulders without a break.

You will notice that the abdomen feels as if the balloon is rolling gently toward your face.

Because of the precise yogic breathing method frees the pelvis from unwanted muscular contractions, sets breathing at the personal unhampered rhythm, and consequently relaxes the muscles of the lower jaw, mouth and shoulders and neck, it does in fact prepare the body for parasympathetic dominance as much as possible. Thus we achieve what well-coordinated people do spontaneously.

Now that you have some rudiments of control of shifting excitation from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic dominance, you should be able to bring your self to the neutral state in which the fullness of the lower abdomen is present. The body stands more upright, breathing becomes even, and the head can follow the eyes in all directions without muscles any preparatory change of position of the neck and shoulder joints, and the muscles of the limbs perform only the directing and guiding functions.

The fullness of the lower abdomen and entire back, which is felt when all excess or unnecessary muscles tension is eliminated, is the best reference by which one can reinstate the correct posture, without having to keep in mind the innumerable, detailed, relative alignements fo all the body segments. Intense muscle effort and tightness in the neck and shoulders will cause poor breathing. Beware of making will efforts or of trying to grasp a mental picture of correct posture. The correct movement or action can only be learned through actual experience.

The entire human frame is tuned up not for violent efforts, but for smooth, easy action such as clear thinking, dancing, or pirouetting. These states have obviously much to do with the sympathetic and parasympathetic balance. The excitation of the sympathetic system obtains in the state of self-assertion, for example, always looking for competition or producing violent efforts. The parasympathetic nerves bring about a sense of calmness and help with healing.

[ The words "advanced posture" may seem attractive, but…]

When an internet video or photo is tagged with "advanced postures", it often catches people's eyes. Most people nowadays also limit the "advanced postures" in terms of the difficulty of the posture. To be honest, the so-called advanced postures vary depending on people's lifestyle. For example.

◎For the divers, arms balancing poses(handstand), back roll (Chakrasana), and jumping forward or backward yoga asanas are quite easy to achieve.

◎For ballet dancers, front and back splits (Hanumanasana), left and right horizontal splits (Somakonasana), and yoga postures standing on one leg are a piece of cake.

◎For rock climbers, the variation of Plank pose and Four limbed staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), which are related to the abdominal core, can be learned quickly.

◎In Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, India, etc., from childhood to adulthood, they have the habit of squatting in the toilet, kneeling or sitting cross-legged beside a low table, so it is not too difficult for them to do hip opening yoga asanas.

Therefore, we consider that we should not hastily categorize ourselves just by looking at the words "advanced asana" or " basic asana". The flexibility of one's body is shaped by one's growth background and life habits.

The most important thing is to observe yourself when practicing yoga asana or pranayama - to maintain a quality breathing method without stopping, in any movement or posture. By observing yourself each time, by becoming aware of yourself, you will naturally start to transform. You will change to become honest (Satya) and perceive everything about yourself. Then you will continue to transform, changing into a pure mind (Shaucha), seeing your true self, accepting yourself, and letting go of childish egoism.

The results of your practice on the yoga mat will be shown in your daily life with people.

[ Once we can recognize what we are doing ]

If you practice the breath as explained in your regular practice and do not go back to your old patterns, you will see that the upper body will also breathe in the same way while being able to accentuate the breath in those high parts like the upper backs and under the collarbones. At this point you will circulate the energy throughout the body and you will have a real impact from the inside. You will feel more and more energy flowing through the whole body, then an internal and psychological change and an opening to a different view of your practice, of you, of your life and of the world will occur. This will require you to pay close attention at all times. But you will change, and the postures will become secondary or not important at all. And there, the Yoga described by Patanjali and other spiritual visions will take all their meaning by your own experience. This is the way of transformation and change. So breathe, but be aware that every action has a reaction, so take the right path.

When we find ourselves to the potential limit of our ability. That sort of unstable equilibrium that is abandoned in each action and recovered for the next is the essence of human maturity. Once we can recognize what we enact, we begin to feel in master of the situation and can preserve our peace of mind in spite of adversity.

References :

The Heart of Yoga. T.K.V. Desikachar.

The Potent Self. Moshe Feldenakrais.

For the past 12 years, we have been learning from Mark Darby and Shankara Darby. And our own experience.


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