Sunday, January 8, 2012


There is, from time to time, discussion among the Ashtanga community about when to begin the pranayama sequence — Pattabhi Jois (Guruji!) used to suggest students practice the Intermediate series prior to beginning instruction.

Over the years, that prerequisite stretched to completion of Advanced A (or nowadays Third Series).

A woman in conference asked him once when to begin pranayama, and he told her that when she could sit in padmasana for one yama (three and a half hours), he would teach her.

Of course, at another conference, someone asked when they could start pranayama, and he said, “Yes yes, you start pranayama,” which took everyone by surprise.

Since December I have offered to those who practice with me the chance to practice the Ashtanga Vinyasa pranayama sequence.

I have always thought Tim Miller has the right idea when it came to pranayama — he quite simply sits down at the studio every morning (Monday through Friday) at 6:15 a.m. and begins the practice.

Anyone is welcome to join. There are no explicit prerequisites, just a couple implicit ones: you have to be comfortable on the floor for 45 minutes and with minimal verbal instruction.

In this way Tim doesn’t fry himself out explaining to dilettantes again and again the sequence itself and/or the many nuances to the practice.

My “prerequisite” is based around the fact that the best time for me to do the practice is before Mysore — so if interested, people have to be at the studio at 5:30 a.m. Hardship!

Still, in the last six weeks a couple of people have ventured in to do the deep breathing.

I developed a pranayama practice in 2003, after my introduction to it in Tim’s two-week teacher training in Encinitas. I realized all I had to do was show up at the studio at 6:15.

(Nowadays that time seems so late that it borders on decadence.)

For those of you who’ve turned up to practice the pranayama with me, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the matter from the Siva Samhita (SS), considered one of three seminal texts on Hatha Yoga (the others being the Hatha Yoga Pradipika ((HYP)) and the Gheranda Samhita.)

I consider this or any other Yoga text a basis for conversation and inquiry, as opposed to commandment. What are these texts claiming as truth, and what do they offer us?

The pranayama sequence is built around kumbhaka, or retention. The SS characterizes four levels of intensity with regards to breath retention, each of which manifests external characteristics. 

If you’ve done the sequence, you may be familiar with these:

During the first stage the yogini’s body perspires profusely; the sweat produced should be rubbed into the skin (SS 3.40; HYP 2.12-13).

The second stage involves trembling of the body, the third, ‘jumping like a frog’ and the fourth is called gagane-cara, literally ‘moving in the sky’ (SS 3.41).

At any rate, if these sound interesting to you — Sweating, trembling, and hopping around? How could that not sound like a great time? — I’ll once again resume my seat at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow (Monday). I thoroughly enjoy the practice, and I think you will, too. All welcome to join.