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PRANAYAMA BREATH OF YOGA, BOOK REVIEW (GREGOR MAEHLE)

Reading Gregor Maehle’s Pranayama Breath Of Yoga is like going again through my own Yoga Teacher Training, whose pranayama portion was based on world authority O.P. Tiwariji’s teachings.
Only as I read,  all the research is there in black and white, including words from not just this luminary [O.P.] but all the others sages that came before him.  It is like having THE perfect pranayama manual for modern practitioners.

It is also, as is usually the case with Gregor, a slap in he wrist:

“… Without pranayama, asana produces only health. Without asana, pranayama’s benefits cannot be sustained and integrated into the body. Without asana and pranayama, meditation is a toothless tiger…”

Slap!

Ooooorrrr:

 “Pranayama is useless without having the goal of … yoga in mind… Through asana, pranayama and mudra you may obtain a perfect body… but all this will still let you die ignorant to the Divine hidden within your heart… To make your body perfectly proportioned may just give you the opportunity to ignore the reality of your death for longer… and die a “bigger fool”. By bigger fool I mean even more attached and identified with the body”

My bold, of course, but there it is, the slap in the wrist.  Pranayama IS the important limb that after asana is mastered will take us into spirit, into the mystical experience.

The pranayama Maehle is talking about is not just the preparations or the simple Kapalabhati you may be thinking about.  No.

Pranayama as understood within the context of this book STARTS when you can hold your breath for 48 seconds and with all proper internal locks, preparations etc.  It also assumes, of course, that you can exhale in a controlled and long way right after retaining those 48,  and not just let all the air out and grasp for new air as a child would do, for instance, if playing a game called “I can hold my breath”.

This is pranayama taken seriously, meant for someone who has practiced asana for a while and is firmly established on its practice, and also for someone with sincere intentions to approach the divinity of this moment, of the present and cleanse all obstacles of mind, speech, life situations, etc.

It is for someone who is willing to put in the time and the space to practice pranayama at least 3 times a day (although four times would be ideal and two not so much but accepted).

Maehle has done a great job at compiling scriptures that mention this fourth limb, and tells you one after the other what Krishnamahcarya said about a certain topic related to pranayama, followed by what current world authority O.P. Tiwariji , or Kuvalyananda said, and what Satyananda, Patnajali, BNS Iyengar said, for example:

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika… describes the main pranayama technique as Nadi Shodhana (Nadi [nerve] purification) and then suggests kiriyas to those whose nadis are cloggd… insists on the performance of kriyas before pranayama… This view is also held by the Yuktabhavadeva.  the Gheranda Samhita states that purification can happen either through Nadi Shodhana with mantra or kriyas. The Hatha Tatva Kaumudi gives us  different view… The Hatha Ratnavali gives us important additional details… O.P. Tiwari … says that meditation is not possible if the nadis are blocked and if this is the case one may hypnotize oneself into the assumption that one is making progress in meditation.”

Meditation is not possible if the nadis are blocked as one may hypnotize oneself into the assumption that one is making progress. Aha!

I agree completely.  I have often wondered about techniques that maintain that the practice of asana is not necessary or applicable, and have students sit for 10 hours a day with bodies that are not prepared, like Vipassana.  Maehle addresses that:

“Although yoga has eight limbs we can discern three main layers of practice, asana, pranayama and meditation… Two of them, posture and meditation are very widely practiced but usually not linked. Schools that teach yogic postures either don’t teach meditation or if they do, they teach techniques historically not linked to posture practice such as Vipassana”

You could be fooling yourself into thinking you are making
 progress if asana and pranayama are not in the mix

I often think about starting my dream yoga school that would be free and in which yogis would start  the daily practice with kryias of purification, then asana and pranayama and continue on to meditation, mantra singing and scripture reading.  A more complete school of yoga per say.  Even my own teacher training, which was fantastic, although filled with had asana and pranyama as well as kriyas and mantras, etc, lacked enormously in the meditation department.

A PRANAYAMA SECRET REVEALED


I always get excited when a book tells me something that I have not heard before, and that is exactly what happened when I turned to page 152.  Maehle is going over the description of Bandhas, which is excellent.

Although I always feel that bandhas are better explained in person still good service can be done by reading about it.  In this particular case he is talking about Jalandhara Bandha or the throat lock, which happens as you are sitting straight and relaxing the neck, and you bring the chin to the upper chest.  I always thought that was all there was to it. Turns out there is a critical missing point:

Be sure to understand that simply placing the chin on the chest does not constitute jalandhara Bandha; it only means that now you have assumed Jalandhara Bandha position. This fact is perilously left out in the teaching of many modern schools and without it Jalandhara Bandha remains impotent and kumbhaka (retention of breath) is dangerous.

So how do we actually activate jalandhara bandha after assuming the position?

Swallow as if one is swallowing saliva and, once the throat muscles grip, maintain that grip for the remainder of the breath retention . The test on whether Jalandhara Bandha is on properly is to try to breathe in or out. If you cannot… then Jalandhara Bandha is correct. 

Krishnamacharya in Jalandhara Bandha
He is also enganging mula (root) and
uddhyana (Flying upwards) bandhas

WHY DO I NEED A TEACHER?

The book is deep and so well researched that I would even recommend it as a teacher training manual for the pranayama part, however, Maehle still recognizes the need for a teacher, because there are techniques, like for example Surya (Sun) Bhedana (breathing only through the right nostril) that cannot be “self medicated”.  He mentions that the state of the world has a lot to do with all of us having a predominant right nostril breathing tendency which activates over thinking and over heating.

Chandra (Moon) Bhedana, its counter part or a pranayama done by breathing only through the left nostril can also be dangerous if the individual is not taken into consideration with its own idiosyncrasies and, as he tells us, Swami Satyananada used to forbid any of his students from practicing it as it could cause depressive tendencies.

THE PRACTICE

The chapters on the actual practices of pranayama starts with what he has come to call “Oceanic Breathing”, which is more or less the three part breathing I go over in this post, done first laying down, then sitting down and, also,  changing the order of the exhalation (exhaling first by following the order chest, ribcage, belly and then trying it in its opposite way belly, rib cage, chest).

He then further subdivides it into 6 parts which would of course bring immense awareness of what happens as we breathe as well as tensions held within the body.  This is preparation to get to complete yogic breathing.

Ujjayi, Naddi Shodana, and Bhastrika get their own chapter. The Dosha Changing Pranayamas chapter includes Surya and Chandra Bhedana. Kapalabhati Bhastriska and Ujjayi follow as well as Nadi Shodhana.

There is a chapter on retentions as well, of course, as well as Bandhas, Asanas, and Kryias. Mudras are included within the “Purification of the Naddis” chapter.

POSSIBLE ORDER OF PRANAYAMA TECHNIQUES

He ends the book with a possible order which he warns must be learned from a qualified teacher.  I would agree that having a teacher would not only help to monitor if we are doing the right thing, but also would aid in giving us the proper “space and timing” that pranayama needs.  Our tendency to rush through things in the present era is very strong, and an experienced teacher, albeit VERY hard to find, would be a treasure to come across:

1) Nauli (stomach churning which the book describes in four stages so as to learn it over months), Kapalabhati and Neti (cleansing of the nose passages with water and or strings)

2) Breath waves, like the oceanic breathing described above and in detail in the book

3) Complete yogic breathing cycle

4) Learn to slow down the breath to one breathing cycle per minute using Ujjayi (full chapter on it in the book)

5) Learn Nadi Shuddhi, alternate nostril breathing without retention and slow down the breath to one cycle per minute

6) Learn internal and external retentions with all bandhas integrated into Ujjayi.  Keep extending the length of your breathing cycle

7) Integrate internal and then external retentions into Nadi Shodhana

8) Learn Bhastrika and integrate first internal and then external kumbhakas (retentions)

9) Learn to replace Nadi Shodhana with Surya and Chandra Bhedana depending on your tendencies and the season, climate and location.

10) Leanr Ujjayi kumbhaka , Shitali and Sitkari depending on whether you need to reduce kapha or pitta. Use Surya Bhedana to reduce vata and add a cooling pranayama to counteract the heating effect.

THE END

The book ends abruptly and with no final words.  I suppose as another slap in the wrist.   There is a promise of materials to be covered later on… perhaps more books are to come which is great news.

JUST DO IT!

Picture links to Amazon

As per me, the first reading felt like the “gross” approach, I will sure re-read with finer attention to details in each chapter.

RELATED POSTS:


IMPORTANCE OF PRANAYAMA MANTRAS DURING BREATH RETENTION
THE THREE PART BREATHING EXERCISE (Excellent breathing exercise to relax)
NADI SHODHANA WITHOUT RETENTION ( Great breathing exercise to come back to center)
KAPALABHATI (Shinning Skull Exercise)

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7 Responses to PRANAYAMA BREATH OF YOGA, BOOK REVIEW (GREGOR MAEHLE)

  1. Nobel June 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    &quot;slap on the wrist&quot;?… interesting. Sounds very Gregor Maehle 🙂 <br /><br />How do you know if you are holding your breath for 48 seconds? Do you use a timer or something? <br /><br />If you open your own yoga school, maybe you can hire me as an assistant? For the asana section, I mean; I know nothing about Pranayama 🙂

  2. ClaudiaYoga June 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    In the very beginning only you would use a counting mechanism, but not when you get more advanced as you dont want the focus to go into menial tasks like counting.  Then you use the portions of your fingers (three falangels?) and chant om for lenght of time…  very interesting<br /><br />As per the yoga school, you know it! 🙂  

  3. Grimmly2007 June 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Wonderful review Claudia, thank you for going into such detail. Don&#39;t think it&#39;s out over here yet which is probably good or I&#39;d be spending my time reading about pranayama rather than practicing it. Next bit of Krishnamacharya&#39;s yogasanagalu translation includes this<br />&quot;In yogashastra, one must do 320 pranayamas everyday.  This means it was classfied as 80 in the morning,

  4. ClaudiaYoga June 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Thank you Grimmly, probably good indeed not to have it around as you submerge yourself in practice.  He actually says that he was &quot;attended to&quot; by his students and wife over a 3 year period of &quot;retreat&quot;, he does not elaborate… interesting.<br /><br /><br />So, on the 320, yes, he does mention it, he says:<br /><br />The Hatha Yoga Pradpila suggests that one should increase

  5. Christine_buisan June 23, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Thanks Claudio for this great post.<br /> 

  6. ClaudiaYoga June 23, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    You are welcome Christine.  Was just re-reading chapter one and becoming more and more inspired.  Thinking about Krishnamacharya and his 30 years of nadhi shodhana practice and so many little nuances and stories that get me to want to practice more and more!  🙂

  7. Erica June 28, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Where did you find this book?  Thanks! Erica