Monday, August 31, 2009

Pranayama Exercise: End of August

Success at last! I think I'm finally following the instructions precisely, and did so during the past two nearly-identical days of practice, at seven in the morning.

After asana practice and savasana, tuned into the ticking of my alarm clock and spent six breath cycles lengthening the two active portions of respiration, then continued breathing according the the following patterns:

6 breaths: 4: 0: 12: 0
6 breaths 4: 2: 12: 0
12 breaths 4; 2: 12: 2
6 breaths 4: 0: 12: 0

for a total of 36 breath cycles.

Did this twice, on 8/30 and 8/31/09. I'm relieved that I finally got right with the instructions, and also that this particular pattern seems well-adapted to emphysema, natural, and comfortable.


Saturday, August 29, 2009


Thursday, 8/27/09 -- Pranayama was part of a complete morning practice, immediately after savasana and before meditation. Began with six breaths to establish length, then six with a count of 4 -- 2 (retention) -- 14, then 12 cycles of 4: 2: 14: 2. Ended with six long breath cycles uncounted as a transition to meditation.

Friday, 8/28/09 -- Followed exactly the same routine as yesterday, with the only difference being a slight lengthening of the exhale during the 12-breath segment, yielding a count of 4: 2: 15: 2.

I reviewed the instructions and again found I am still not following them precisely. I'll try again tomorrow to get it right.

8/29/09 -- no formal pranayama today, but I did some breathing in Deirdre Wilcox's class at Whole Life.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Instructions

OK, so I finally carefully read my instructions for this week (and for the rest of this four-week exercise), and I think I'm finally doing it right. Better late than never.

8/25/09: After asana practice and a five-minute savasana, I began pranayama practice with a six-breath lengthening of the cycle, during which I concentrated on pushing the belly to the spine on exhale. Following that I began to count, establishing a pattern of 4 counts inhalation, 2-count retention, and 12-count exhale for six breaths. This was all done with the supervision of the clock/metronome.

Then, introducing a 2-count suspension after exhale, maintained this pattern for 12 breaths: 4: 2: 12: 2.

The exhale felt a little short at times.

Six breaths at the end restored respiration to a normal but considerably slowed-down pace as I transitioned into meditation.

8/26/09: A virtually identical repeat of yesterday's exercise, only today the 12-beat exhale did not feel short or uncomfortable at all. Meditation was very satisfying today also.


Monday, August 24, 2009

In Between

Yesterday, 8/23: It was that rare day when formal breathing was not preceded by asana practice. I felt pressed for time, so sat down and did pranayama followed by meditation with no prep other than bringing attention to the breath for 2-3 minutes before commencing, followed by a short prayer.

It didn't work out all that well. I had the usual six-cycle warm up, maintained 12 cycles of 6: 2: 14: 2 without any struggle, and followed with six cycles during which breathing returned to the new normal (it's always longer and slower than normal for a while after pranayama).

However, I experienced quite a bit of shaking today, and it's a distraction, both during pranayama and meditation. I don't doubt that early asana practice helps keep the shaking down the rest of the day.

Today, 8/24/09: Same routine as yesterday, only with much better results, as pranayama was preceded by movement practice, and shaking due to Parkinson's, while still present, was minimal. Used the same pattern and same length breath components as yesterday, yielding a strange ratio of 3-1-7-1, but such is my idiosyncratic respiratory system.

I always use a clock as a metronome now.

Woodcut: "The Knight, Death, and the Devil" by German artist Albrecht Dürer (1513).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Air Supply

Yesterday, 8/21/09, begins week two of this four-week exercise.

It was a full one-hour practice, and included a pranayama sequence of 6: 2: 12: 2 as measured by the clock.

Six breaths to establish the pattern; 12 cycles of measured breath; six more cycles for decompression and transition to meditation. Total elapsed time for this exercise was about 8:50.

This is a comfortable ratio for a person with moderately severe emphysema -- 3: 1: 6: 1 -- in which the lungs cannot be emptied completely due to the permanent destruction of a significant percentage of the alveoli, which necessarily limits the ability to inhale fully.

Today, 8/22/09: almost exactly the same routine as yesterday -- a one-hour practice with a pranayama sequence which included the same identical constituent parts, breath proportions, total duration, etc., with the difference that today 12 counts did not seem adequate for fully emptying the lungs as much as I'm able to empty them. So tomorrow I'll try to lengthen the exhale just a little, while still retaining the short suspension at the end. That will mess up my nice, symmetrical breath ratios, but one must listen to the body.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dave's Yoga Journal

Decided to write up the whole practice today rather than just doing the assigned pranayama notes, so as to get a better idea where I am overall.

Set up to start at noon, but waited until three striking clocks in the house had struck before commencing to attend to breathing.

Asana practice ran just a couple ticks shorter than usual -- about 28 minutes today, not counting savasana. I looked back over my written-out routine and discovered I'd left out uttanasana. It's an easy one to forget -- so simple, yet so important. I do it right after trikonasana, and today because my breathing was stressed during that somewhat demanding pose, I must have been anxious to get to down dog, a rest pose for me.

Pranayama was like this: six cycles to lengthen breath (and it really needed lengthening); 12 cycles of inhale = 6, retain for 3; exhale = 12, suspend for three. This makes 6: 3: 12: 3, yielding a total duration of 24, or a ratio of 2:1:4:1. Then six breaths of decompression followed. All this took about 8:30 altogether.

The suspension was somewhat straining, while the retention feels very strong and natural. Today ended the first week of this exercise. Tomorrow I'm going to try to smooth things out and lengthen the cycle by going to a retention and suspension of one count each.

Followed up pranayama with a meditation on the first four chakras, mentally chanting their associated syllables on exhale (bija mantra). Ended practice with one "Om" and a seated forward bend from cross-legged position, at about 52 minutes.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Disturbed Breathing

August 18 -- Pranayama notes for the fourth day of the 65th year of our Babylonian captivity.

The breathing was interrupted several times by coughing today, and concentration was difficult because of excessive shaking due to Parkinson's Disease. I need to see an acupuncturist.

Today I changed the counting method, and counted each individual tick of the pendulum as "one" rather than using every other tick as I had been doing before. After six warm-up breaths, the ratio was 6: 2: 12: 2 for a total duration of 22 per cycle.

After 12 monitored breaths and six cycles of decompression, 10 minutes exactly had elapsed.

August 19 -- Breathing was disturbed again today, and during asana practice I noticed the inhale coming rapidly and quite shallow.

The six warm-up breaths went by quickly. Once monitored breathing was begun, I couldn't get any suspense after exhale for about the first six of 12 monitored cycles and was counting 4: 4: 12: 0. During the second half of monitored breathing I settled into 4: 4: 12: 4, for a total duration of 24 per cycle (using the grandfather clock) and a ratio of 1: 1: 3: 1.

Six unmonitored (but deeper than the warm-up) cycles returned breath to normal. The total elapsed time today was about eight minutes.

I noticed that my breathing was better during the meditation period that followed pranayama than it was during pranayama itself. Tomorrow I'll try setting a goal and preparing mentally for pranayama and see if that makes a difference, because right now I'm not getting the results I want.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Three Days in August

8/15/09 -- I was very busy with a garage sale on this day, and so did not practice. I'll stretch the period for this project out to 29 days, and hope this is the only day I miss.

8/16/09 -- In-class practice at Whole Life. During this coached session of pranayama I was able to sustain a period of suspense after exhalation for the first time, having never been able to do this before.

After a warming-up period, maintained a consistent inhale of three beats, retention of two, exhalation of six, suspension of two, for an unusual ratio of 1-1/2: 1: 3: 1. Followed this with a short period of returning the breath to normal.

I have no idea of how much time this exercise took.


Morning practice at home. Six cycles of lengthening the breath, followed by twelve cycles of 3: 2: 6: 2, just as I did yesterday. Used the grandfather clock as a metronome.

I forgot to keep track of the time, but I'll be sure to do that tomorrow.

Painting, "Pranayama" by Ketna Patel; mixed media on canvas.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Midpoint of Meditation

The manipuraka chakra at the level of the navel, is the seat of transformation, corresponds to the transformative power of digestion, and is represented by an equilateral triangle. It's also where one of the body's three diaphragms, which we know simply as "the diaphragm" is located, and is associated with the fire element.

If the digestion is weak or ineffective, our physical well-being is undermined and we suffer from lethargy and energy deficits. Through lack of energy, we become incapable of transforming our lives when necessary.

On deep inhale, think of the manipuraka chakra as the transforming fire, and imagine it as an upright triangle resting on a solid base. Retaining the breath after inhalation, mentally invest this mid-point chakra with its power of mutability derived from its strong but flexible central location. On exhale, mentally chant the syllable "rahm," the sound associated with this chakra. Five repetitions.

A span (the maximum distance between thumb and forefinger) above the navel chakra is the source of love, the anahata or heart chakra. Our feelings of empathy emanate from this spot, and our freedom from the dead weight of resentment and selfishness as well, for it is associated with the air, in which the fire of the third chakra dissipates.

As you inhale, visualize the heart chakra as a lotus flower opening upward, and imagine tapping into the enormous power of love, previously inhibited up by feelings of fear and insecurity generated by an unstable foundation in your first chakra or a lack of fire in your transformative third chakra. Suspending the breath, imagine the relief conferred on your entire life by the potential empathy you possess. On exhale, mentally chant the syllable "yahm," the sound associated with the anahata chakra. Five repetitions.

Take a cleansing breath, then inhale deeply. On exhale chant "Om." Three complete breath cycles, three times.

Open your eyes slowly. You've been meditating deeply, so don't move too fast too soon.


Friday, August 14, 2009


Yesterday: 8/13/09, mid-morning.

6 breaths preparatory breathing -- lengthening the breath.

12 breaths at a ratio of inhale = 5, exhale = 10, duration 15.

6 breaths returning respiration to normal.

Total elapsed time was 10:30.

Did not use the grandfather clock.


Today, 8/14.

Counting with the grandfather clock, inhale = 6, exhale = 12, duration 18.

Same pattern of preparation, counting, and decompression as yesterday, but today's practice only lasted about eight minutes altogether.

Something felt not right with it. It didn't feel natural like yesterday's.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lumpy Gravy, Soggy Crust

What a very pleasant and auspicious full practice I had this morning. It set me up nicely for today's work, which was to write up and draw the final sequencing assignment that's due before our yoga class goes on three weeks' vacation.

The writing went pretty easily, now that I have a printer. I've had serious problems writing by hand lately. It's become nearly impossible, and really slows me down. I can still use the keyboard, though, and I'm still able to draw.

Didn't finish the assignment today, but the writing's done, and I'll finish drawing it out tomorrow.

For dinner I made homemade pizza (tomato and basil) for the first time in a great long while. I found that it's a little harder to work with whole wheat floor than the white flour I used to use, but I sweated away and got a decent doughball made at last. Then later, I forgot to pre-bake the crust by itself for about ten minutes before adding the toppings, which I've found over the years you have to do with homemade pizza or end up with a soggy crust every time.

So tonight my crust was a bit underdone, but the flavor was excellent and now I've reviewed everything I need to know to get it perfect next time, which will be Friday.


Monday, August 10, 2009

On the Mountain

As I look back over my life from the beginning of old age, I see recurring behavior patterns that have limited or at times blocked my growth as a fully-evolved human being, and some of these I'm just now starting to deal with effectively. I've grown and matured rapidly in the last couple of years, partly under the benign influence of yoga and the positive outlook yoga encourages, partly out of necessity and because survival requires it, and partly as the result of the natural evolution of a normal, aging human soul.

Blocking personal cohesion and concentration of the mind, and causing its opposite ("inner obstacles that disperse the mind" according to Bouanchaud's translation), Patanjali lists nine roadblocks. Of these, my history has probably been most severely affected by vyadhi or sickness, most often caused by avirati, which Bouanchaud translates as "intemperance." That word refers among other things to the kinds of substance abuse which pretty much crippled any opportunity I might have had to grow and mature for many years. Alcohol abuse was the main negative actor in my life from the time I was in my late teens, and with increasing severity from about age 30 until age 49 (when I quit for good). The associated illnesses included mental and spriritual immaturity and most of the other personality disorders Patanjali lists, as well as acute inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis) aggravated by alcohol.

After I quit drinking I was able to mature somewhat, and would estimate I finally shed my adolescent self-absorption and became a full-fledged adult at about age 50. I began to excel in my job of teaching high school English, becoming much more self-controlled and able to deal more effectively with my students. For example, if a kid went out of his way to give me a hard time, I no longer took it personally, like some insecure semi-adult. I went to A.A. meetings, admitted my shortcomings, and faced the music. It was all good.

However, I was still physically and mentally sick because of drug addiction -- cigarettes (nicotine) to be exact. Also, I never exercised and ate a poor diet, especially heavy on refined white flour. I was still quite sick, often couldn't sleep well, felt lethargic and tired all the time, and at times didn't know by Tuesday where I would find the energy to finish the week. And this combination of conditions led to depression sometimes.

I don't blame myself entirely for acquiring all these destructive habits, often referred to as "lifestyle choices." Looking back at the way things used to be, I think some of these behaviors were at the very least culturally encouraged, although I would never go so far as to "blame society" for my becoming a drunk or a cigarette addict. Neither am I ashamed of my past, and there's very little that I wish I had done differently. For as I was taught in A.A., there is no reason to "regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it,"* and past suffering helps put our present, changed conditions into perspective.

The symptoms of suffering remaining in my life are also disease-related, but I don't know whether to regard them as obstacles to growth or motivational tools. Emphysema is simply the permanent legacy of cigarette addiction, and even though it manifests as physical limitations, I can't exactly say I suffer from it. It causes no discomfort except when I climb a mountain (which I did at my sister's urging not too long ago), and my breathing is so much stronger and less troubled than it has been for the past 50 years that I feel nothing but gratitude for still being able to breathe decently, even with limitations. Parkinson's Disease was probably caused by environmental factors in combination with smoking, but dealing with it has become a spur to action, and a challenge to maintain the new-found joy of living without surrendering to depression or the self-pity that sometimes accompanies such a condition.

Yoga, especially since I started a daily practice including pranayama a little over a year ago, and doubly especially since I started yoga teacher training, along with other seismic events in my mature life, has caused me to experience rapid physical, mental, and personality changes. I have no idea where this is going. The changes occur so quickly from one week to the next that I don't have time to evaluate where I am before finding myself somewhere else. Out of necessity, this process is about the journey, not the destination, because I have no sense of where that destination might be, or what it might consist of, and no expectations, excepting I don't expect things to go back to the way they were before.

*(The Big Book of) Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Ed.; New York, 1976, p. 83.

Photo by Chris Warmedahl; click on image for a larger view.

More Peacefuler

I've been having problems in class, specifically trouble learning sequencing, but I finally figured out with a little help from my friends that I simply hadn't studied the rules enough. So every time I draw a sequence now, I'll need to go back and spend an hour or so reviewing those "do's" and "don'ts" and keeping them in mind while cobbling together a proper and "elegant" order of postures.

Yesterday we began our teaching practicum in class at the studio (Whole Life -- see left sidebar). Teamed up with two or three other people over the past couple of weeks, we put our heads together, wrote an hour-and-a-half sequence, and then yesterday each taught a third of it to the rest of the class -- a very full room indeed, since the studio only comfortably holds about 20. I was the very first to perform (of course -- I always seem to be) and surprised myself by doing about as well as I could have hoped -- got high marks and lots of pats on the back, and suddenly realized my job was done -- the pressure was off.

Then during the second half of class, it was another team's turn and I got a full practice in moving through their very well-crafted and pleasant routine -- well taught, too. Afterward most of us convened at a very relaxing potluck at the house of one of the students who lives in the Greenwood neighborhood. I went home late, but fed, relaxed, and happy.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sea of Tranquility

Today's was my first full morning yoga practice in a long time, and it felt great.

I still have the remnant of a torn-up shoulder from that fall I took last December, and if I don't get my complete morning stretch it just doesn't feel right.

Concentrated, controlled breathing, pranayama by name, requires more concentration than anything else in the practice, more even than meditation. It's nearly impossible to empty out the mind for more than a few seconds; when unoccupied it immediately seeks a thought, like a child afraid of his own reflection.

Afterward, with tranquil mind and relaxed body, I contemplate the history of our time, which is the last 250 years or so, compared with the time that preceded it -- the previous five thousand years. A historian of the French Ancien Régime I once read -- I forget who it was -- said that the government and culture of Louis XIV's France and ancient Egypt were more similar than the life of the Ancien Régime and that of France in 1890. Materially, we're much better off than our ancestors, better off than they ever even dreamed of being. In our family lives, our spiritual existence, our security or life's foundation...I'm not so sure -- can't really tell. Was there ever a generation before like ours, that didn't know from year to year what their lives were going to be like?


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Supta Badha Adjustasana

Class has gotten tougher lately, I guess because we're getting close to crunch time. Three of us working together have to teach an hour-and-a-half class this coming Sunday, but when I ran through my segment of it twice today I came up about ten minutes short of my allotted half hour both times.

At least we have four days to adjust.

I've also been having a lot of trouble with sequencing, and need to redraw and re-submit an hour-long sequence due day after tomorrow. I can't seem to get my head around the main idea, even though I know it. I think I'm getting distracted by details and zoning out on that main idea -- a bad habit a teacher should know enough to avoid.

We'll try putting a little more effort into it and see what happens.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Since I Can't Remember When

Today's the first day I did a complete, three-part practice since the 30th. At least I think that's right.

I didn't practice at all yesterday, and the day before that I did movement (asana) only.

I don't remember what I did or didn't do beyond that.

I'll have to be more conscientious about keeping a thorough yoga journal, even though it will make for boring reading sometimes.

Today's complete practice was exhilarating.