Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Second pranayama class

I was able to find an hour to meditate the evening that I wrote my last post.  Meditation really does make everything feel better. 

I have also decided to add Alternate Nostril Breathing to each of my pranayama sessions. It's supposed to balance the right and left halves of the brain, so maybe it will balance my moods, as well. And, for now at least, I'm not performing the bedtime internal retention pranayama. I think I need a rest from it for now; I'll try it again later. Hey, I made it 10 days.

This evening I teach the second of my classes on pranayama. Last month I taught Pranayamas for Cleansing and Energizing.  Tonight I'm teaching Pranayamas For Calming. My source material for today's class is almost exclusively B.K.S. Iyengar's Light On Pranayama. I love the precise, detailed style of his writing.  Occasionally he spices the text with metaphorical description, such as this gem: “As a jug is filled from the bottom to the top, so fill the lungs from their base to the brim.” I am very reminded of the style my massage textbook, which asked the masseur to “knead, as a baker kneads dough (J.H. Kellogg, 1903).” 

During the meditation following last month's class on energizing pranayamas, I found myself battling thoughts and emotions, and never felt the nice drifty meditation space. I also heard from one other person that she had trouble sleeping that night. That makes sense, since the pranayamas we did that evening were pretty focused on pumping the solar plexus; we probably stirred some stuff up.  Good to know. The next time I teach I won’t do as many of the energizing exercises all in one night, but end with several calming pranayamas.

My meditation after today’s class focusing on stress-relieving pranayamas will hopefully be more peaceful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A lot of breathing

My pranayama practice has fallen into a nice pattern recently. In the morning, if I wake up early enough, I do several cleansing pranayamas: Kapalibhati, Nasal Cleansing Breath, Dog Pant Breath, sometimes Breath of Fire. These raise energy and heat, and cleanse the system. They take about 15 minutes to do. It's a nice way to start the day.

After work I study the pranayamas I am planning to teach at my next class (I'm gearing up for a class this week). Right now these tend to be calming pranayamas, as I taught energizing ones last month. I usually spend 20 to 30 minutes doing this.

For the past 10 days I have been performing a pranyama from the Kundalini tradition before bed. It's basically a breath retention after an inhale, combined with the mantras Sa-Ta-Na-Ma and Wahay-Guru. This one I do for 11 minutes. It helps me fall asleep.

That's a lot of breath work. A lot of spiritual movement. I've heard that when you do a lot of meditation or spiritual work, one thing that happens is that you pump energy into the personality. You become more of who you are. After a while this effect calms down as you become more able to handle the increased energy.

Who I am is an emotional person who sometimes had mood swings. Over the seven years I have been meditating and doing spiritual work, my mood swings have stabilized a whole lot, and the peaks and valleys of my emotions have evened out. I am much calmer, more even-tempered, more consistently happy than I was before.

The past week, though, I've noticed my emotions being a bit more intense than they had been, and I've definitely noticed an increase in mood swings. I know this will pass as my capacity increases. But right now it's uncomfortable. The Kundalini practice, in particular, is pretty intense. I had decided to do it for 40 days, but I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should back off for now and try again later.

Edit: There is another reason why I might be feeling moody and emotional right now. A beloved cat died this time of year a year ago. I’ve heard that people often get emotional around a death anniversary.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Creating space

Since I moved into my house three-and-a-half years ago, I have been doing my yoga practice in the living room, because that is where there is the most space cleared, and the room is fairly peaceful. But recently I have been getting a strong urge to create a meditation/yoga space in my study. While the living room is nice, and my partner doesn't mind letting me have the space when I do my practice, it is still a shared space. It would be nice to concentrate the energy of my practice in a more private space.

The problem has always been that my room has been cluttered and filled with cheap, mismatched furniture. There hasn't been enough room to do my yoga there, and even if I cleared space, the feeling created by the mismatched furniture and little nick-nacks scattered about is too chaotic and cluttered for me to feel comfortable doing my practice there. My current plan is to clear the clutter and unify the decor to give the room a peaceful, zen feel. (I promise to post pictures when it's done. :-)

My back's flare-up a couple of weeks ago was actually the result of my starting to do some of the necessary organizing and redecorating. I had to drop this work due to the flare-up (and I mean that literally: I dropped piles of stuff in the middle of the floor). However, during my meditation marathon last Wednesday I realized I wouldn't actually have a whole lot more straightening to do to make the room workable.

So, last weekend, moving very slowly and gently, I cleared enough of the piles to feel comfortable with the space. I even put up a small altar as a focal point for my practice.

The only real way to get comfortable in the space, though, is to use it. Sunday evening I did my pranayama there, followed by an hour of meditation. It was nice and cozy. Unfortunately, though, I think my study just might be the loudest room in the house. You see, my house is situated about 400 feet from an Interstate and this room is on the side closest to the highway (the living room, by contrast, faces away from the highway, which really dampens the noise levels). I normally don't really notice the traffic sounds when I'm just hanging out in the room, but when I was trying to meditate they were quiet noticeable.

I made like a good yogi and tried to work the sound into my meditation, and I *was* successful in meditating. But it was still annoying. I think next time I will try meditating to music using headphones, instead of playing it through the stereo speakers. I could also try using ear plugs and tune into the inner sound. That's always good.

Even with the traffic noise, I had a really nice practice. It was nice to use that space. I am looking forward to feeling the energy shift as I use it regularly for my practice.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


My back has been having a bit of a flare-up recently. It was doing better and the pain had pretty much gone away, so a couple of weekends ago I ended up over-exerting it. I didn't do anything particularly strenuous, just straightening and organizing, and I put together one of those assemble-yourself particle board cabinets. But my muscles are sensitive, and even that was too much, and the pain returned. A week-and-a-half later and I'm still not back to where I was. It's very frustrating.

On top of that, work right now is in a place of transition, uncertainty, and lack of focus. I have finished up old tasks, and have yet to be brought into new ones, so I don't have a whole lot to do at the moment. I find blank days without clear tasks to be stressful.

How easy it is to start feeling sorry for myself. I try to keep a positive attitude, but, like so much in life, that takes practice and attentiveness. I realized a day to myself would help me regroup. So, since I have plenty of vacation time saved, I took a day off yesterday, stayed home, and meditated.

My goal was to spend most of the day studying my breathing practice and meditating. I flipped through Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power, which I recently bought. I can't do any of the moving kriyas right now, but I did find a couple of pranayama techniques to try. One that I particularly liked was basically breath retention after an inhale, combined with a mantra (Sa-Ta-Na-Ma).

After the breath work, I spent much of the afternoon in meditation (almost 3 hours, with breaks every hour). The pranayama must have stirred stuff up, because it wasn't until the third hour of meditation that I finally felt like I had a good meditation. Then I went to meditation class, where we meditated another 45 minutes!

After three-and-a-half hours I was definitely ready to be done meditating. But I got some clarity and peace about some things that came up. And I feel much, much better today. I have am so glad I gave myself that break. I needed it.