Sunday, September 27, 2009

inside the bod

Each of us lives inside a human body, or physical vehicle. It's kind of inconvenient to have to live that way at times, but there's no alternative available -- yet.

Inside each of these bodies of ours, an interrelated bundle of functions constantly occurs -- breathing, heartbeat, circulation, digestion, and so forth. Beyond these gross, physical manifestations of our existence, there also dwells somewhere inside each body a mind or intellect which is hardly ever still or at rest as long as we are conscious, a set of personal attributes we call ego or "personality," and at the very center of these subtle energy forms, a core, or soul, or what might be called the germ of personality. The psychoanylist C.G. Jung theorized that this last aspect of ourselves existed not just inside us, but outside and everywhere as well, as what he called a "universal pre-consciousness."

One of the best ways to condition and optimize the muscles, joints, and organs of the physical body and its vital functions is through asana, the movements prescribed by the various lineages of Hatha Yoga. Pranayama, the art of disciplined and controlled breathing, also can have a profound impact on the vital functions, as well as opening up avenues by which we gain deeper access to the mind and personality. The mind is also susceptible to improvement through reading and study, and can be quieted by meditation, which also affects the personality. The personality can be further refined through chanting, prayer, and other forms of ritual.

Devoting an hour a day to any of these practices will enhance the flow of anyone's life. There is a logical sequence inherent in the array, and each person can determine, with guidance, which of the elements and in what proportion best suit his or her needs. This may seem egotistical or narcissistic, spending one hour of every 24 attending strictly to the details of life inside one's own body, but it actually shows consideration for others, especially those closest to us, since in the long run our steady practice means that we will be able to care for ourselves so others won't have to.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

...and the day after...

9/21/09 -- combined (mainly) chest inhale with "closing a zipper" exhale. Over all a successful 6: 2: 12: 2 practice lasting about 12 minutes, with some disruption due to shaking.

9/22/09 -- Same as yesterday's routine, but with added pelvic floor contraction on the exhale. I found as this practice progressed that I was not paying as much attention to breathing technique as I had been. Much of my mental effort went into monitoring the level of relaxation in shoulders, arms, hips, and thighs, in order to minimize the shaking in the right hand.

This points the way to the emphases in my future pranayama method, and concludes the two-week personal practice assignment due 9/24.

9/23/09 -- Stayed with the same number of breath cycles adopted during the assigned practice (36), but with slightly altered duration of each cycle (6: 1: 12: 1 = 20). The techniques I'm using are the ones I've mostly used learning pranayama -- breathing mainly into the chest above the diaphragm by concentrating on filling the space between the large ribs, and "closing the zipper" on exhale, with a mild perineal-floor squeeze at the end. I've used these techniques long enough now that they seem almost natural, which enables me to devote sufficient attention to relaxing the large joints and appendages sufficiently to minimize the shaking due to Parkinson's, along with frequently shifting the position of the right hand.

This assignment and the journaling that went with it helped me determine my optimum approach to pranayama.


Monday, September 21, 2009

the dopamine chronicles

Hey wanna feel really good for a few minutes? Try some of this.

Unfortunately, that stuff has become hard for me to get. And there's only one place I can go to get it -- in my brain.

Sounds like a figment of the imagination, eh? But it's not, and most days I just have to practice without it.

Friday the 18th -- did not practice, after arriving home from class very late the night before and staying up even later.

Saturday the 19th -- the day for "solar plexus inhale" was something new, as I have almost no experience with this technique. Without knowing whether I was actually doing it right, it felt as if air was filling the entire body cavity evenly on inhale, and my trunk felt as if it was shaped something like a kidney bean (only much bigger, ha ha). Using the "closing a zipper" exhale in tandem with this inhale, it was easy to establish and maintain the same 22-second breath cycle I've been using all along, divided into 6: 2: 12: 2. Also experienced some shaking during this practice, but was able to stay concentrated on the task at hand in spite of it. Mission accomplished, second week, first day.

Sunday the 20th -- not a good day. A relaxed exhale apparently does not permit complete or near-complete emptying of my impaired lungs. My counts today were off, although for a while I was able to achieve a duration of 19 seconds divided into 5; 2: 10: 2, but was not able to sustain it over a dozen cycles. The problem I think is that an incomplete exhalation messes up the inhalation that follows.

In addition, shaking in the right hand today was so severe I could hardly keep my mind on what I was doing. On top of that, my mind, being agitated, tended to wander. I did manage to finish the 36-cycle practice, but just barely. This is all just a part of the learning experience entailed in this particular lesson, I suppose.


Thursday, September 17, 2009


Much better today, after a really good night's sleep. I think that was half the problem yesterday.

Techniques: "Belly only" inhale; bottom-to-top ("zipper") abdominal squeeze on exhale.

Duration: 22 seconds -- inhale 6, retain 2, exhale 12, suspend 2.

Cycles: 36 -- 6 to prepare (not timed), 6 inhale/exhale, 6 inahale/retain/exhale, 12 inhale/retain/exhale/suspend, 6 inhale/exhale.

Elapsed time: about 12 minutes.

Shaking due to Parkinson's was mild to moderate.

This concludes the first week of the current two-week assignment.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

cut short again

After asanas this morning, I began pranayama practice following the instruction for the day of doing belly breathing only on the inhale, and using the same count, duration, and ratio as before.

Unfortunately, however, I was unable to complete the practice. About halfway through the 12-cycle portion in which all four elements of the breath are activated, the shaking in my hands due to Parkinson's intensified to the point where I could no longer keep my mind on what I was doing, and I had to stop.

This is a distressing and dark turn of events. The disease seems to be progressing very rapidly now, and every day is worse than the day before. Besides the shaking in the right hand and forearm, I've began shuffling and stumbling around the house.

I'll try again tomorrow, but I may have to suspend this practice until I can see a doctor and begin to manage this disease more than I have so far, which is to say not at all. I've just been living with it and hoping for the best, but apparently that's no longer going to work for me.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Practiced in class for about three and a half hours on Sunday, 9/13, but with very little pranayama, and did not practice yesterday, 9/14.

When I returned to my routine this morning I used the same ratio and total duration for the same number of breath cycles (36) as before, but this time with full-chest-only breathing on the inhale.

I found this to be almost, but not quite, a strain to draw the inhalation out for six seconds. It was not as effortless as with the chest-t0-belly technique of inhaling. However, by the time I got into the 12 breaths in the middle of the cycle where I was using all four elements of the cycle, it felt pretty natural and comfortable.

Left to my own devices, however, I'm sure I'd prefer a chest-t0-belly inhale for six seconds as a standard practice.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cut Short

Here are the first two days (of eight) of the new pranayama exercise.

On both these days, inhale was chest-to-belly, and exhale was accomplished by pressing the abdominal muscles toward the spine from the bottom, below the belt and navel, to the top, just below the diaphragm. So in a way these two days were simply a continuation of the previous 28 days -- same breathing technique, same total duration of the breath cycle, using the same ratio.

9/11/09 -- As before, a fully-articulated cycle of 6: 2: 12: 2 for 12 breaths, preceded by six cycles of extending the inhale and exahle without a count, six cycles of 6: 12 without retention or suspension, and six cycles of 6-2-12-0. It was also supposed to be followed by returning the breath to normal with six more cycles of 6:12, but I had to cut that short after three breaths due to a full-blown attack of emphysema, complete with violent coughing and extensive sneezing. I have no idea what caused this, except it might have been triggered by residual smells or smoke in the air from having a fire in the fireplace the night before.

9/12/09 -- As yesterday, only this day I was able to complete all 36 breath cycles in good order. Same breathing technique, durations, ratios, etc. The total elapsed time for this practice is about 12 minutes, which is exactly what one would expect from 36 repetitions of a breath cycle which averages 20 seconds, or roughly three breath cycles a minute.

Painting: "Nearly Hit," oil on canvas, by Paul Klee.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

change for the better

This concludes the 28-day formal paranayama journal, though by my count I still have two make-up days to practice and chronicle. I'll send that last part of the assignment along by e-mail when it's done.

Today's pranayama was exactly like the most recent ones from the past couple days. After half a a dozen preparatory breaths to lengthen the breathing cycle:

6-0-12-0 (6)
6-2-12-0 (6)
6-2-12-2 (12)
6-0-12-0 (6)

36 cycles with a target duration of 22, ratio = 3-1-4-1

I think of pranayama as another element in my recovery, a defining lifetime event for so many of us these days. I believe that's because you can't really live in this society of ours, but can only recover from it. I live with residual conditions that result from exposure to our toxic culture, and the way I lived my life. But I don't really suffer from them, since I've eliminated their causes and adjusted. In fact, I've recovered from seemingly hopeless conditions of the body, breath, and mind. A lot of this recovery has occurred since I enrolled in this class. Pranayama and asana have both played significant parts in it.

On a day like today, I can wake up in the morning and thank God for being here, and for feeling the way I do.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Natural Rhythm

After encountering difficulties on 9/7 in attempting to lengthen retention and suspension, returned to the 6-2-12-2 pattern for the last two days.

I'm comfortable with this total duration of 22 and ratio of 3-1-4-1. With the 18-cycle preparation, by the time I get to the 12-cycle sequence that includes both retention and suspension, the pattern feels very natural, and nothing is forced. The main distraction continues to be shaking due to my nervous system disease, but there's nothing to be done about that, at least not right now.

Probably my next step in advancing pranayama practice should be to seek medical help and initiate a program for managing Parkinson's Disease.


Monday, September 07, 2009

Difficulty at the End

Yesterday, 9/6, practice was identical to what it had been in the few days prior. Pranayama total duration was 22 seconds per cycle, with a breakdown of 6: 2: 12: 2, or a ratio of 2:1: 6: 1. Elaspsed clock time for that part of the practice was about 12 and a half minutes.

Today, 9/7, I ran into some difficulty during pranayama. For some reason it felt natural today to slightly lengthen retention and suspension, so I increased both from two seconds to three, which yielded a 24-second cycle, as everything else remained the same. But toward the end of the practice, the pranayama was interrupted several times by coughing, which in turn touched off spasms of shaking that pretty much sabotaged the end part of practice.

We'll see where we are tomorrow.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Extended Breath

Today's practice was long and slow, lasting over an hour altogether.

Picking up where I left off yesterday, I found my inhale to be longer and more controlled during asana practice than it had been previously, with the result that I had less trouble with losing breath, being winded, etc. Plus, I was very attentive to linking movement and breath, and if the breath even began to grow ragged I'd stop and rest.

Pranayama followed a fairly short (five minutes and change) but deep savasana, assumed the exact same pattern as yesterday's, and lasted about 12 and half minutes. The biggest problem I have in this segment of practice is becoming distracted due to the shaking associated with Parkinson's Disease. If I keep the muscles of my hips and thighs relaxed, that seems to minimize it. It's more to think about.

However, even with that, I feel like I'm really getting somewhere in my practice now. Paradoxically, by exerting greater self-control, I feel a greater sensation of freedom.


Friday, September 04, 2009


Practice yesterday, 9/3, was identical to those of the preceding four days, with a pranayama segment of 36 cycles anchored by a four-count inhale and a 12-count exhale.

However, today's practice saw an unaccountable shift in the breathing pattern whose most significant feature was an unplanned lengthening of the inhalation, from a count of four to a count of six. This happened seemingly by itself and completely naturally, without any planning or conscious attempt to make it happen.

After six breath cycles lengthening the two active portions of respiration, I continued breathing according the the following patterns:

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

for a total of 36 breath cycles.

I believe this is significant, and a positive development. I'm not sure what it means, but I suspect it indicates a greater level of control over the process.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Repeating the Cycle

Nothing new to report today or yesterday, 9/1 and 9/2, except two more identical practices to the ones on 8/30 and 31.

Morning, between 7:00 and 7:30 seems a good time to begin the asanas. Pranayama starts about 45 minutes into the practice, and on both of these days went in exactly the same manner as the two days preceding.

I have not been meditating, because I wanted to focus all my concentration on pranayama until I was sure I had it right. But I will start meditating again tomorrow. AG Mohan says that "Pranayama leaves the mind in a state where possible," and that "Without the proper preparation of pranayama, meditation may involve only the imagination." He concludes by reminding the reader that the ultimate goal of this breathing practice is to alter one's state of mind.