Monday, May 11, 2009
As many of us know, breathing (pranayama) is considered vital in yogic practice (as well as chi gong, tai chi, and similar arts). For years, I was unable to do much specialized breathing, because I had a hiatal hernia (in the diaphragm) and each time I attempted to do pranayama, it disturbed the hernia and there were grave consequences for the entire digestive system. So I gave up, and thought I could never do this basic practice.
But--finally--after years of searching and careful manipulation of my diet and other things, I can--finally--do a bit of pranayama. I am now going to describe three simple exercises that are of great help as part of the morning chi gong practice. (These will be familiar to many of you.)
First exercise: Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. This is the quickest path to relaxation I have found. It can swiftly release bodily tension and leave you in a welcome state of near total relaxation.
Second exercise: Alternate nostril breathing. With hand over nose, cover one nostril with you thumb. Breathe in slowly through the other. Uncover the first nostril and repeat, now with middle finger closing the second nostril. (There are variations on this, such as "locks" in which you contract the anal muscles after each inhalation and again after the exhalation.)
Third exercise: Breathe in slowly through nose, filling your lungs from the bottom up possibly to the count of 8. Then exhale slowly, from the bottom up again (or else the top down--both are possibilities, I think.)
I did these three simply exercises as part of my morning routine today, and they felt splendid--the energies were not bliss as such, but rather a "Wow, does this feel great!" experience in which everything seemed to "open up" as the body awakened. There is nothing wrong with feeling healthy and strong in your body.
Now, as I said above, these are incredibly simple exercises, but I have found that one need not do anything very complicated or even for very long to have amazing results. Likewise, yesterday I referred to a site that offers 18 chi gong exercises. Some may wish to do all 18, but for many of us, 4 or 5 will produce an excellent response. Often what we are seeking can be discovered through extremely simple methods. Indeed, at times less is more.
As the Shaker song goes,
" 'tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free."
(Picture from Yoga Journal website)