Breathing Life Into Our Bodies
An Introduction to Pranayama Breathwork
During these times of immense stress and strain in our personal lives, in our communities, and in the world, we can use ancient techniques to help us make it through intact.
For health and well-being, joy and forward movement, it’s important that we keep ourselves in good energetic shape. To keep our energy body in shape we need to pay attention to our subtle bodies – the chakras, nadis, meridians, and luminous field.
Our body is a sacred vessel through which energy and information flows. Many medicine people or spiritual practitioners through the ages played flutes and are depicted in artwork with flutes. From Peruvian Paqos to the Mayan Quetzalcoatl to the Hopi Kokopele to the Indian Sri Krishna.
I like to think of my body as my flute.
It is a sacred flute. It isn’t made of wood, but it’s made of amazing flexible crystalline stuff, made of carbon and nitrogen, silicon and sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen; and lots of water. And not water in a random soup, but water organized along the crystalline fabric.
Imagine you blow into that clear crystal flute and an amazing sound comes out. And then you dip that flute into some greasy water, there’s a funny film on the crystal now. You blow, and instead of the clear resonant sound, you get a weird squeak or a low thud. Or worse, imagine the flute can bend, like a slinky, or a hose, and it’s bent up like an L-shape, or gets a twist or a knot, or even a hole. Now the air, the water, the energy can’t even flow through. It gets stuck or it leaks out.
We want to keep our flute in singing condition.
In Pranayama practice we delve into the energetics of our body and our bones. Then we can see how that relates to what is happening externally with the energy. We want to be able to work in the spirit world, but we do have to live in this Kaypacha, this here and now realm.
There is a cycle in our body called the nitric oxide cycle. This nitric oxide cycle is a sort of breath of the cells. You can think of it as the pranayama work of the cells. When this cycle is in the right rhythm, then we go naturally between our alert and relaxed states.
Many of you might practice Savasana or other restorative yoga poses, or certain types of Qigong, or use the Jin Shin technique where we calm the system via the 2nd and 4th chakras. All of these techniques or practices take us out of fight or flight. When we do that, we are also helping to put the nitric oxide cycle in the right rhythm.
Now, how does this relate to the flute, to sound?
There are examples in many sound healing traditions, but I will give you the one of the Q’ero lineage of the southern mountains of Peru. Bells and chanting are often used during ceremony. Usually two bells are used, one considered feminine for Pachamama, mother earth and one considered masculine for the Apus, sacred mountains. It turns out that the combination of those two tones gives a harmonic we call in European classical music the perfect fifth. A study by John Belieau using tuning forks shows that this harmonic helps our cells to come into the right rhythm.
Pranayama breathwork is a very complete yogic practice. Subtle breathwork helps us learn where in our bodies things are stuck, where energy doesn’t flow, or where things are a little numb and need more energy, where things are over stimulated and need calming, and where you might have openings that leak energy. All of these states can make us off balance and allow us to lose our natural vitality. These states appear to reach across space and time as well. More on that in a different blog.
In order to prevent imbalances it is very important to start breath work “slow and easy” and build up proficiency methodically. To learn when, where, and how to hold the breath, so that we build up our core energy and don’t leak energy away into the environment. Sometimes we are taught breathwork to get into an altered state, or an exhilarated state. And as great as that can be, if we aren’t doing it carefully, with good posture, and the right use of bhandas or locks on the chakras, we may be over taxing our nervous systems, leaking energy, and allowing ourselves to become depleted or even allowing other people to use our energy.
The chakra is the energetic center, and we can open and close the flow through it. When we choose to open and close the chakras, using the bhandas, then it’s like playing different chords on our flute. This enhances our ability to entered altered states, see into the invisible realm, call in our destinies, and raise our kundalini energy. Kundalini energy is the dynamic balance achieved when raising the energy from the earth through the sheaths of the subtle body into spirit.
In the Q’ero cosmology of the three worlds, the energy flows from the Uhupacha (the lower or subconscious realm), through the Kaypacha (the middle conscious realm), and into the Hanaqpacha (the upper superconscious realm).
We do not raise the energy to stay in the Hanaqpacha, but to integrate it, to be of greatest service here in the Kaypacha, in this world. To manifest in the Kaypacha with power and integrity.