Pranayama: Too much or Too Little?

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.

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