Inspired by the Pranayama Sutra below translated by B.K.S. Iyengar:
Sutra 2.52: Tatah kisyate prakasavaranam
Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.
Its practice destroys illusion, consisting of ignorance, desire, and delusion which obscure the intelligence; and allows the inner light of wisdom to shine. As the breeze disperses the clouds that cover the sun, pranayama wafts away the clouds that hide the light of intelligence.
In the Yoga Chudamani Upanisad it is said that there is no discipline higher than pranayama. It is called an exhalted knowledge (mahavidya), a royal road to well-being, freedom and bliss.
Kerry Doyle, Yoga Advanced Teacher Trainee
I think pranayama practice is really a practice about being intimate with yourself and with the essence of life. I often begin the practice and am aware of a lot of tension or holdings and it takes working through each breath to disentangle. Each inhalation teaches me about being receptive to life and each exhalation about letting go, letting go, letting go. In one of the sutra commentaries in Edwin’s book, he talks about the yogi needing to be as sensitive as an eyeball. I find this is really true in pranayama – the subtle shifts are hugely profound. Our culture often focuses on working harder to achieve more – or that more is better. In pranayama it’s an interesting practice to find that to draw in a deep inhalation comes from staying relaxed, slowing down – not gulping and not forcing. In my practice sometimes I just have such simple intentions – can I take just one breath without tensing the throat? Or can I inhale and keep the eyes soft? What surprises me is how very difficult this can be for me to do and at the same time what a deep effect it has when I can just follow such simple intentions for even one breathe. The pranayama practice gets right to the energy body – sort of strips it all down and digs right in. In meditation, an instruction I’ve often been taught is to work with dropping the storyline and returning to the energy body/the sensations. Pranayama practice puts me directly in touch with the sensations of the body – it skips that step of putting up the obstacle of the storyline – and puts me directly in touch with the raw experience. When I can experience life in that way, it feels more possible to let life flow through me and around me without trying to hold onto it or push it away.
Sutra 2.52 - Then, the covering of the illumination [of knowledge] is weakened.
Edwin begins his commentary stating, “Prakasa, illumination…..is a synonym for sattva. The covering of illumination, prakasa-avarana, says Vyasa, is ultimately karma, and this is destroyed by the practice of pranayama.”
It strikes me as how remarkably difficult it is to do such a basic thing as inhaling and exhaling without adding something more to it. And what an important life lesson – it’s the very foundation for taking the self/the ego out of all of our actions. Karma is accumulated when we mistake our thoughts, actions, feelings for the self. Pranayama gives me a tool for learning how to loosen that grip of the ego on such a fundamental act of life as breathing – and from that a glimpse into what is possible in the rest of life. When I practice I feel held by some greater force, aware of a union to something bigger than my small sense of self. Pranayama helps dissolve the concept of a separate self by putting me in touch with that connection – and what’s incredible is how this can happen in just one breathe!