April 6, 2011
Internal workings of the breath
When yoga poses are well-aligned, the breath flows through the central axis in the body, in front of the spine with its radiant glow. The great eighth century yogi and philosopher, Shankaracharya said “Yoga asana is that in which meditation flows spontaneously and ceaselessly, not that which destroys happiness.”
It is easy to fall away from this focus during our asana (posture) practice. The mind and the ego can keep us from this central axis, making our time on the mat more about physical exercise in self-improvement rather than the precise observation of, and insight into, the nature of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Pranayama balances the energies of both the in-breath and out-breath throughout the body. A glorious way to counteract this tendency of forgetting the inner workings of practice; is to link the basic internal patterns of the inhalation and the exhalation. Our inhaling breath, prana, or life force energy, is felt as upward floating and flowering. The exhaling breath, or apana, is a downward rooting flow. Apana grounds us into the earth, toning the center of the pelvic floor.
With each breath, prana and apana helps to align the bones and muscles in the body. Prana lengthens the spine, opens the heart and internally rotates the legs. Apana rounds the spine, and rotates the legs in an external rotation. In pranayama, we preserve the grounding quality of the apana even while inhaling, and we preserve the lifted quality of the prana as we exhale.