Some of our students have sent us questions about the challenges they face with daily practice and we thought we would share our written perspective so that everyone can benefit from our community of yoga practitioners.
We would like to invite you contribute to our blog. Feel free to ask questions on the blog about your practice and we will be happy to address them in upcoming posts. We also welcome you to share your wisdom and experience as well. We look forward to hearing from you and having an open dialogue.
Ila and Dinabandhu
Student’s Question: If a student’s schedule does not allow for and hour or more at a time, what should be the ratios of time allotted to asana/pranayama and meditation? Or should it be purely be feel?
A timetable for beginners is easy enough to develop, but our suggestions should always be taken within the larger context of making sure your practice leaves you able to function effectively in life, avoids generating increases in irritability, allows you to meet all your obligations in life, and leaves you with a deeply gratifying experience of practice that always leaves you wanting to return to it. The time spent in practice is not as important as the quality of practice and the ability to stick with the practice over a long time. Timing for a beginner might look like 5-10 minutes of spinal breathing followed by 5-10 minutes of meditation. If you can do this twice a day you will enhance the results significantly. This is surely sufficient for any beginning practice. As you feel comfortable and have time, you can add additional practices like kapabhati, anulom viloma, siddhasana posture, yoni mudra, mantra meditation, and samyama.
Follow-up from student: What does anuloma veloma do that other pranayama techniques do not? For example, should one just be patient/content with spinal breathing for “as long as it takes?”
As far as whether anulom viloma pranayam is “best,” I would not look at it that way. In yoga practice of this sort, there really is no “best,” only what is appropriate for your practice today. Spinal breathing will eventually lead you to want to add other practices to your pranayama. This will happen spontaneously and automatically. There is no timetable and no one is keeping score. Remember, the successful practice of yoga is measured in years and decades, not weeks or months. It may be that spinal breathing is sufficient for many years of practice. If your practice is both steady and regular, at some point you will be drawn to add to it. You will know when the time is right, and if you are not sure, it is easy enough to experiment for a bit so you can assess your readiness better.
Anulom Viloma is a more forceful and powerful pranayama practice than spinal breathing. In anulom viloma you are actually directing the prana into the subtle nerve channels by switching the breath from nostril to nostril and by adding the kumbhaka phase. This purifies the nadis more directly than spinal breathing, but both work towards the same end. If your anuloma viloma practice is gratifying to you, but you are running short of time, we would have no problem with cutting back on some of the time spent in meditation and spinal breathing so that you can fit it in.
Question from student: During our training, we talked about the signs/symptoms of doing “too much” of one’s system “not being ready.” I had to dial back and in fact by the end was not getting to anulom velom. Given that it is one of the techniques Swami Kripalu was given, it seems that it is “the best.” Do you think one should shorten the preparation prior to anulom velom in order to get to it?
How much and what kind of pranayam to practice are constantly evolving questions as our practice and nervous system change, but there are a few rules of thumb to follow.
Using spinal breathing as a foundation on which to build the rest of your practice is always our first recommendation. Spinal breathing will automatically engage and tone the parasympathetic nervous system, thus triggering the “relaxation response” and giving your mind, body, and emotions a “reset” time. As such it works like rebooting your computer to deal with a frozen screen or software bug. It works to slow the momentum of habitual processes, whether these processes take place in the gross or subtle bodies. Once these processes are slowed and interrupted, you will automatically go into healing and repair mode, whether consciously or unconsciously. Since prana will always work to add healing and life heartiness at the deepest level, spinal breathing will encourage the building of strength and robustness at levels where it can be used to support additional, more powerful practices.
Spinal breathing also includes both sense withdrawal and concentration because of the focus on visualization. These act directly on the subtle nerve channels to purify and strengthen them. As the subtle nerve structures get stronger, they will eventually be able to tolerate greater levels of energy so that adding additional practices will can done safely.
Spinal breathing is not complicated to practice and will deepen the meditation that follows. The combination of the two practices will enrich your feeling for the flow of spirit in your life. This will have the twin effects of increasing your inner resilience and increasing your ability to outwardly manifest your aims in life. As both of these increase, your faith in God and your yoga practice will increase also, thus preparing you for deeper practices.