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  1. I first learned pranayama from my late paternal grandfather when I was around 14 years old, where he taught me the basics, and also the more commonly known breath retention/holding pattern between the inhalation and the exhalation (with lungs full). The technical terminology for pranayama are as follows -- Puraka - inhalation Kumbhaka - hold Rechaka - exhalation Now, Kumbhaka is of two kinds -- internal (Antara) and external (bahya). What it means really is, that the first type is done after inhalation, and the other is done after exhalation (and before the next inhalation). Breath-holding is an advanced practice, so beginners are advised against it. But technically, the meditation part of pranayama occurs when the breath stops. The idea is, when the breath stops, the mind too stops (pauses) temporarily. There are various kinds of pranayama that are popularly practiced, and mostly they are for different health benefits, to treat specific disorders, or to balance specific elements/humors (known as Dosha) within the practitioner, according to their Ayurvedic constitution. A most powerful one is called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama, which in its simplest form is called anuloma-viloma (alternate nostril breathing) and its primary purpose is to balance the energies in the two channels ida and pingala, which run alongside the central channel (sushumna), to the left and right side, respectively. Ida channel runs the "feminine" energy, and pingala, the "masculine" energy (yin and yang, respectively). Ida is symbolized by the moon, and pingala, by the sun. Ida has the color white, and pingala, yellow/orange (there are other variations to the colors, so don't read much into this). By balancing the two channels, the subtle body (and thereby the physical body) is gradually brought to balance. The result of this practice on the mind is very good -- the mind calms and settles down, and it helps with entering into meditation. There are other pranayama techniques such as bhastrika (bellows) which increases the fire element (yang energy) , kapalabhati (skull-shining) is also a cleansing process, and increases the fire element, and primarily focuses on the head, brings mental clarity and energizes the 3rd eye, bhramari (bee) which cools the system down, and removes stress, sitali (cooling) which directly cools the system and pacifies fire element imbalances, and so on. I studied Tamil siddhar yoga for a few years with a traditional yogi, and with his practice, I found a very different kind of pranayama, with the focus on activating kundalini energy in the central channel (raising the kundalini). This was perhaps the most difficult pranayama technique I learnt, and after about six months of breathing without holds, introduced both internal and external holds. The pranayama practice itself was introduced after about a year of simple asana practice which opened up channels within the body. The first kriya was called meru-danda-shuddhi (spinal column purification), which he made me do for about 6 months. The first few weeks of this practice resulted in intense pressure in the head, as the channels there were purified and tonified, in order to handle the rise of kundalini. With time, this balanced out and the channels were sufficiently purified. At which point he added some simple yoga asanas, which opened up specific channels. The thing is, he offered different asanas for different people (with different body-types and constitutions). For some he insisted on head stands (shirshasana), for others, just the shoulder stand (sarvangasana) was sufficient. The pranayama was introduced after another six months or so of practice. First step to learn in this pranayama was what he called "glottis control". With this, a very subtle control of the epiglottis was developed, such that the breath became soft, long and narrow (if that makes sense). After developing glottis control, he added the bandhas (holds) -- first was mulabandha (root lock/hold) -- which involved subtle tightening of the anal sphincter, which activates the muladhara chakra. The second was the udiyanabandha (the solar plexus lock/hold) -- this created a bridge between the lower chakras (muladhara, svadisthana and manipura) and the heart chakra. Then he introduced the jalandhara bandha (the throat lock/hold), which created a bridge between the heart and the third eye. Once the energy pierces the third eye, it will rise to the crown. There are of course far more detailed descriptions and explanations of these bandhas available if one finds a good reference material. There are different rules for ratio of inhalation, exhalation and retention/hold, depending on whether one is a brahmachari (celibate) or a householder (one size doesn't fit all). First we practiced with inhalation and exhalation ratios. Then holds were introduced. The main practice was sitting in vajrasana (thunderbolt/diamond posture) and cycling through four hand mudras, along with the bandhas and releasing etc. P.S. I added this post as there is a breath retention topic in the daoist sub-forum pertaining to neidan. Thought, it might be relevant, but didn't want to muddy the waters there.
  2. Hello seekers, I've just started reading the book Gheranda Samhita. The book recommends to first purify the nadis before starting any pranayama, what's got me confused are the Bija mantras (YAM, RAM, THAM, VAM - I'm not sure if those are correct, I used Google translate of the text I found at a German website) and their duration. What are the Bija mantras? What does 16 times, 32 times and 64 times mean? What is the specific duration in seconds? Thanks for the help.
  3. Hello seekers, I've just started reading the book Gheranda Samhita. The book recommends to first purify the nadis before starting any pranayama, whats got me confused is the mantras (RAM, THAM, LAM, VAM) and their duration. What does 16 times, 32 times and 64 times mean? What is the specific duration in seconds? Thanks for the help.
  4. Greetings everyone, In honor of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu's upcoming retreat on the pranayamas of Yantra Yoga, I want to say something about this marvelous system, which has benefited me a great deal. In contrast to Indian Yoga, where there is an abundance of information on postures and pranayama exercises available, Tibetan pranayama exercises are not given out to the general public, and to a large extent even the systems of systems of yoga postures are secret. One of the exceptions to this secrecy is Yantra Yoga taught by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Yantra Yoga is a Sanskritization of Trul Khor, a "yantra" being a series of movements linked with breathing. In the practice, movement is done on inhales and exhales, and breath retention is done holding a posture. Those who have researched Tibetan breathing practices such as tummo have probably seen that they use a type of breath retention called vase breath. But what exactly is vase breath - how does one do it? Getting clarity on this is not easy. This is where Yantra Yoga comes in: in Yantra a proper vase breath is divided into four steps: open hold, directed hold, closed hold, and contracted hold, which in turn are done on the basis of correct inhalation and exhalation. The mechanics of the movements and poses make your body do these elements correctly (provided you are doing practice with awareness). So you get a very precise felt sensation of what a proper quick inhale, slow inhale, quick exhale, slow exhale, open hold, directed hold, closed hold, contracted hold, and empty hold feel like. You then take this knowledge and apply it to your pranayama practice, so there is no doubt that you are doing it correctly. Brilliant! Different holds are trained by different yoga postures. Backbends such as cobra, locust and bow train open hold; twists train directed hold; inversions such as sholderstand and headstand are poses that train closed hold; and downward dog, fish, and frog are poses that train contracted hold (I am using the standard Hatha Yoga names for the poses here, although they are often similar or the same in the Tibetan system). There is more to the system than that such as various preliminary and closing exercises, but training the different holds using postures is the gist of it. There are many books and DVDs available to learn the system. In my case, I went to yoga classes in my area with good lineage (Iyengar and Ashtanga) in order to learn the poses correctly, and then learned the Yantra Yoga way of linking the poses together with breath from the books and DVDs. So that is the physical aspect of the system. It is very good even if you are just interested in Hatha Yoga because you understand what correct breathing is like, rather than just correct physical alignment, and this plus the dynamics of the different holds opens up a deeper understanding of subtle inner alignments. A lot of things about yoga postures make a lot more sense to me having studied this. Now, about pranayama. There are two preliminary pranayamas which are forms of alternate nostril breathing, and then five main pranayamas of which use vase breath in a major way. The first two of these are more physical and the last three incorporate visualizations of channels and chakras. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu is going to be teaching these pranayamas in his next retreat which will be webcasted (!) for free (!!). He typically spends one or two session of every retreat teaching about Dzogchen generally, and then teaches the practices specific to that retreat, with one session at some point explaining and then giving direct introduction (!!!). These pranayamas are not associated with the cycle of a deity like other Tibetan tsa lung systems, but are directly related with Dzogchen. So if you get the direct introduction and oral explanation, you have permission to practice. And he doesn't teach these particular practices very often. What's more, the books that serve as references for the practices he teaches are only available to members of his organization, the one exception being the book on the complete system of Yantra Yoga, which is publicly available. In other words, this retreat, in addition to the publicly available book, is giving unprecedented access to authentic Tibetan pranayamas connected with Dzogchen. The retreat will be June 3-7, from Tenerife, Spain. The official schedule is not up yet, but typically the session are two hours each, with a 10 am morning session and an afternoon session starting a 3 or 4 pm.
  5. 99.99% of the time the best translation of प्राणायाम is "don't waste your breath..." There are (of course) other possibilities...