Pranayama Question

Advancing one’s alternate nostril breathing practice

I was just asked a question about how to progress a Nadi Shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing) practice.  They already have progressed to doing 9 rounds (108 breaths), they were looking for more refinement now.

For most beginners (all of us regular folk)–all pranayama should be done from gross to more and more subtle.  All advancement of pranayama is at the subtle levels–the basics come first for many years  (just heard an interview-from 2005–by Terry Gross on NPR of Hank Jones http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4710791–he was 87 yo then and still practicing his scales or basics)

I usually start out with

  • ensuring diaphragmatic breathing–first from the belly and then later emphasize lateral costal and full 3-dimensional pattern
  • working towards deeply relaxing on each breath, more and more
  • 4 parameters of breath: Deep, Smooth, Noiseless, Continuous–no pause between breaths, most important–also you can spend more time at the beginning just observing these and later try encouraging and expanding your capacity more directly with each of them
  • same force of breath on inhalation as on exhalation
  • same amount of breath on inhal/exhale–this is a 1:1 ration later after all the above is natural then you can work towards 2 exhale:1 inhale ratio, which may just come naturally later on–but first ensure the above is solid

Each of the above bullet points can be worked on for months–the first three are in order of what i often teach, the last two bullets can be done in any order.  these are pretty much the same guidelines for working with diaphragmatic breathing in any basic centered asana.  Just apply these same guidelines to your Nadi Shodhanam practice.

Of course there is more–but practice is just that–practice

A key to practice is skillful use of your tools and skill comes through practice where one is paying attention and asking questions and progressing.  Otherwise we are just putting in time doing the same thing year after year.  Chronology doesn’t count–improving skills and capacity does.   Start slowly and let time and consistency be also your coach.

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