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Pranayama and Yoga
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May 28, 2009 - 9:06 pm
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Patanjali makes a few practical suggestions for keeping our attention on the breath. For example, we can focus on a place in the body where we can feel or hear the breath. Or we can try to follow the movement of the breath in the body, feeling the inhalation from the center of the collarbone, down through the rib cage to the diaphragm, and following the exhale upward from the abdomen. Another means for paying attention to the breath is to feel where it enters and leaves the body at the nostrils. It is also possible to listen to the breath, especially if you make a slight noise by gently contracting the vocal chords, a pranayama technique known as ujjayi.

Suggestions like these help us keep our attention on the breath and prevent our practice from becoming merely mechanical. The goal of pranayama is not to bring the inhalation and exhalation into a certain relationship with each other, or to establish a particular length of breath. If exercises such as these help us concentrate on our pranayama, that is wonderful. But the true aim of the various techniques and breath ratios of breathing in pranayama is first and foremost to give us many different possibilities for following the breath. When we follow the breath, the mind will be drawn into the activities of the breath. In this way pranayama prepares us for the stillness of meditation.

The breath relates directly to the mind and to our prana, but we should not therefore imagine that as we inhale, prana simply flows into us. This is not the case. Prana enters the body in the moment when there is a positive change in the mind. Of course, our state of mind does not alter with every in-breath or outbreath; change occurs over a long period of time. If we are practicing pranayama and notice a change of mind, then prana has long before entered the body. Changes of mind can be observed primarily in our relationships with other people. Relationships are the real test of whether we actually understand ourselves better.

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