If I asked you hold your breath, you could. But we can all agree, with just a little bit of time, it would become a challenge; with a lot of time, it would become impossible! There’s an urge to live. Prana or “lifeforce” flows through us in the form of breath, air, vayu or wind. This prana reminds us that life wants us to live. Life wants us to feel the fullest, to soar and to harness that energy in an upward uplifting direction.
As such, the practices of yoga help us learn to fly in our own unique way, by using our prana to make the world a better place.
Prana is always there, but if we aren’t aware – if we don’t practice harnessing it for a conscious, uplifting aim – we risk missing our fullest potential. Pranayama means to consciously control or regulate (Yama ) the life force (prana). The pranayama chapter of her book The Magic Ten and Beyond is called “Directing the Way” and it teaches us to direct that life force that is within us and around us towards goodness and light. There are many pranayama techniques; some are simple, some are complex. Some involve simple bandha (locks of energy), and some add mudras (seals) with the fingers. Samavritti (even fluctuation) Pranayama involves an equal ratio/duration between puraka (inhale), rechaka (exhale), and kumbhaka (breath retentions) if applicable. Visamavritti (uneven Fluctuation) involves an unequal ratio (for example 4 counts inhale / 6 counts exhale). Simple and complex, there is a practice for everyone and a practice for every moment of our lives. As with all of the Magic 10 practices, Sharon Gannon gives us simple yet profound direction, and of course options for wherever we might be in practice or in life.
They say that singing is just a simple form of pranayama or sharing life force. A teacher and singer who’s very dear to me, Sean Johnson, sometimes calls Hanuman (that cool deity who looks like a monkey) “Pranaman” (Prana Man). Hanuman’s father is the God of wind and breath, and more than that, Hanuman’s story is one of rediscovering his own lifeforce
Hanuman started as most children do: full of life. There were no limits to his adventures. He was like a child prodigy; he basically had every power and gift you can imagine. Now, one morning Hanuman woke up hungry and saw a giant juicy mango glowing in the sky. If you know the story, you remember that there wasn’t a glowing mango in the sky; it was the sun (but sometimes everything looks yummy when we’re hungry). So he prepared and jumped up to grab what he thought was a mango. Now the gods saw this monkey leaping towards the sun at full force, and they were a bit alarmed. Indra, the rain God, decided to stop him by shooting him down with a bolt of lightning. The lightning struck Hanuman’s neck and for the first time, he became vulnerable; for the first time, he felt fear. He doubted himself as if Indra had stolen his voice and his prana. Hanuman feared death, and he forgot how to live.
For years and years, Hanuman had his strength and gifts but he couldn’t see them. He didn’t believe in himself enough to use them. His soul was covered by thoughts and emotions and negative energies. The night was very dark but the light was still inside. Hanuman grew up – and into himself – only over time. With time, the magic rose up, but they unfurled and presented only when he focused on using his gifts to serve others and serve God. He soon starting going after what he was drawn towards, and he started living fully despite his perceived (and self-imposed) “brokenness”. He rediscovered the life Force that was in him. After all this time, what was dormant and distant had not depreciated or disappeared. He found it, opened to it, let it radiate, harnessed it, and then channeled it – basically becoming unstoppable!
The truth is we have this life and potential. Without or without Yoga. With or without religion/dharma. We are already immense and vast and powerful. Yoga just helps us find it, use it, and help others along the way. Life is too short and too precious to hold back, so remember who You are. Remember how divine, remember how holy, remember how needed, remember how wonderful.
Harness your breath. Remember your power. Sing your song!
1. Explore the options and establish a pranayama practice based on The Magic 10 and Beyond book by Sharon Gannon.
2. Tune in even deeper to ujjayi pranayama during your next Asana class. Is my breath: even? Full? Uninterrupted?
3. Sing your song! In the shower, in a group wherever you are sing. Share your unique, beautiful voice. Share your life force. Share your gifts !