A ten day experimentation with pranayama whilst reading, ‘The Wisdom of Yoga; A Seekers Guide to Extraordinary Living’ by Stephen Cope. This journal was posted daily onto the Facebook Group, ‘Yoga For Men Leeds’ incrementally over the last ten days. Here it is, collated.
I arrive to Jibhi a bit of a broken man. The rising heat, months of repeated ill-health and the resulting lack of exercise have conspired to make me weak. I am worn out and I have ulcers in my mouth. I managed but a solitary hour of sleep on the night bus from Rishikesh to Shimla. After that, the wild ride from Shimla to Aut was a real test and I failed miserably. An old injury had flared up in the days before travelling and I have a very painful and very swollen elbow. I swear that the death-wish driver knew this and he was trying to cause me as much discomfort as possible as he flung the bus around the mountain roads.
So I am tired, grumpy and in pain but we have made it. And boy have we made it. We have a wooden hut for the next two weeks with the most breathtaking view I can imagine. Jibhi is in Himachal Pradesh about seven hours North of Chandigarh and some three hundred kilometres from the border with China. We are well into the Himalayas. The steepest green hillsides are covered in dense pines across the valley. We have a cabin hand built from local cedar by our neighbour Naryan. The taps plumb straight into the icy fresh water in the river below. The lights flicker on and off as the electricity struggles in the thunderstorm that rumbles between the majestic, jutting peaks outside. We are wrapped up in our cedar loft and the rain on the slate roof makes it romantic. I can’t be grumpy too long.
I had planned on spending this two weeks learning the Ashtanga primary series and getting strong but my elbow means that I’m out of asana for a while. Still wanting to get some yoga in, instead I will read, ‘The Wisdom of Yoga; A Seekers Guide to Extraordinary Living’ by Stephen Cope and I will commence a morning practice of meditation followed by some different pranayama (breathing) practices. I’m sure that the meditation will amplify my enjoyment of this truly magical place and I hope that the pranayama practices will set me on the road towards the recovery of my physical well-being. Hopefully, once my elbow is a little better I can add some asana.
To get the most out of the reading and the practices I’ll be taking some notes and I’ll share them with Yoga For Men Leeds as I go. See you tomorrow. Did someone say grumpy?
I’d actually been up for a couple of hours when the alarm went at 6.30am. I had struggled through the night with my bad arm. My tiredness meant that I was a little abrasive but Collette navigated the worst of me with her usual skill and she sought light through my cracks. I have to admit, the three hours of not eating before pranayama was a clincher. If I didn’t do it there and then I’d have to not eat for three hours again at some point. Imagine?
Collette taught me my first four types of pranayama today; kapalabhati, bhastrika, agnisar and nadi shodhana. In order to complete these effectively I first had to understand the three bandhas, or ‘body locks’; mula bhanda, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha. Confused? Me too. But this will become easier for me as our practice continues over the coming days I’m sure. I will go into more detail of the breathing techniques as I myself become more aux fait. I am taking thorough notes.
We spent about 75 minutes with the breathing practices and then we had a ten minute meditation. As the breathing practices intensify throughout the next ten days or so, the length of my meditation will increase and by day 10 I’ll be mega Zen. Just you watch.
My awareness was raised to certain things today throughout the pranayama and the meditation: I am disruptive, I have a little cold, I am tired and I have ulcers in my mouth, my arm is killing me and I need a solution, breathing deeply dusts the cobwebs from my brain, it’s refreshing to expand the lungs to full capacity and I realise this is vital for increasing health, my body needs looking after. All very useful. My arm was so swollen actually that we decided to bite the bullet and we took a ten hour round trip on the bus to the hospital and I’m now in pot. Poor Collette. The things she does for me.
On the bus I got stuck into the first part of The Wisdom of Yoga. The opening section focused on the ‘Puppy Mind’ (or the monkey mind) and ‘The Witness’. We are all surely familiar with the notion of Puppy Mind or a busy mind where we get carried away with thoughts. The Puppy Mind pulls you out of the present moment to fill your head with thoughts of what happened yesterday, what is going to happen tomorrow, worries, concerns, fears, anxieties. The Puppy fills your head and ultimately pull us away from clarity and equanimity. The Puppy hangs around with you but starts getting flanked when The Witness arrives. The Witness is basically that guy inside you that first manages to genuinely make you realise that you’re a prick. And once he has helped you see that you are prick you have to do something about it. You can keep going back to The Witness to give yourself a check up from the neck up and the more you look at yourself from his perspective you slowly become less of a prick in general. Believe it or not, I used to be more of a prick.
The book is great. It is essentially an investigation of Patanjali’s ancient yoga sutras in modern speak with accessible real-life examples and references from the likes of Carl Jung, Ram Dass (giggle every time. Apparently you can even get Ram Dass tapes. Double giggle) and Sigmund Freud. This is definitely the perfect setting to be soaking this in. I feel incredibly lucky to have this time of rest, reflection and introspection. I just wish my arm wasn’t in a pot.
See you tomorrow.
Oh and thanks to Collette for everything she has done for me today.
When I feel like I reach a nice place in meditation I can often get what I call ‘bodygasms’. Apparently the sensation is very common as a result of meditation but I think I’m particularly susceptible. It’s like an ejaculatory shudder or rush of bliss that fills my body. I feel it through my limbs, my extremities, my chest, my head and today I felt it particularly in my penis. Which was great.
‘What is the actual aim of this technique?’ I’d asked Collette, prior to our second round of nadi shodhana. My first round had not seemed to affect the way I was feeling and, at this stage, it didn’t feel as impactful as the bellows breath (bhastrika) and kapalabhati we’d done prior. Nadi shodhona is much more subtle and concentrative.
“The practice balances the flow of vital energy, or prana, through the left and right hand nadis.” She knowledgeably imparted, “So it’s a balancing practice ultimately.’ Well, if this is a balancing practice then there must be something majorly off-kilter with my nether-bits because I ended up getting a full on boner from it. As well as the bodygasms. Awesome.
Our morning practice today went like this:
Netty pot and turmeric tea (I’ll talk netty pot tomorrow. It was proper.).
kapalabhati – 3 rounds of 2 minutes
bhastrika – 6 x as many as I’m comfortable with. I did around 10
agnisar – 5 x rounds as many as you’re comfortable with
nadi shodhonar – 3 x rounds of 2 minutes
shitali breath – (new one I learnt today) X 5
sitting meditation – 10 minutes.
By the end of the practices I felt fresher, clearer, energised and a little headache had vanished. At this point my erection had subsided, so some banana and mango porridge sufficed my appetite. I am really enjoying learning about the breathing practices and what they can do; getting a meditation chubby was unexpected.
In yogic readings today from the book, I have learnt how an, ‘afflicted mind’ can be transformed into a state of sukha. A mind troubled by craving, clinging, greed, hatred, avoidance and delusion can become quiet, unobscured and unitive as opposed to separative. In summary, Cope (and Patanjali) argue/s that this can be achieved by ‘direct, systematic and careful personal investigation and experience’ as well as an acceptance of the real work that is to be done when we are The Witness to our own aversion, delusion, craving etc.
Right, I’m craving some gore. I have ‘Blood Meridian’ by Cormac Mccarthy so all this work I’m doing to get Zen is going to get hung from a tree by a hook through the jaw and scalped in the wild borderlands of mid 1800’s Texas.
See you tomorrow. And stay erect.
Estoy recibiendo mi caballo. Adios.
We must get this netty pot thing out of the way first. Google it. It’s a little watering can for your nose and you run it in one nostril so it pours out of the other. It’s weird. It feels like when you used to get water in your nose at the swimming baths as a kid. It helps to clean out your nose so you can breath more easily for breathing meditations. I have a little cold so it’s a good way of flushing snot out before I start in the morning. I’m doing it. Let’s stop going on about it now.
Our breath meditations today followed the same sequence and repetitions as Day 3. I feel that I was a bit too snotty today to get full benefit from the exercises. There was lots of ear popping and nose dribbles. No boners. Less intense bodygasms. Maybe I just have a cold. Or maybe these exercises and the meditations are prompting some kind of cleansing. I’d like to think that. All I can do is keep going and see what happens.
Kapalabhati and agnisar have raised a valuable and subtle enquiry in relation to a hernia operation I had a few years ago and helped me focus on the need to protect this area and build strength incrementally and consciously with the support of other areas of my core. Exhalations and particularly inhalations through my right nostril were a challenge today with my snotty conk. However, I enjoyed the meditation and focus required to manage my breaths, knowing that I’d have to wait until the in-breaths of my left nostril to get a good lung full. The subtle concentration required was a good minor practice to establish calm and patience. A feeling, once experienced, I feel I can call back on during my day.
In the book today I have read about the benefit of mantras and of chanting mantras in nature. Inspired by this, Collette and I will head into the valley at 6am tomorrow. We will sit on rocks in the river for tomorrows breathing practices and we’ll also chant a fucking mantra. Mint. We are gonna chant, ‘Om. Namo Bagavate Vasudevava’. It’s in the book and it means, ‘Yes, I bow to Lord Krishna’. We are going for this one because Krishna is a prankster and a model lover. Meeeow.
Mantra is a tool for the mind. Cope says, ‘When the mind settles into this phrase over and over again, it eventually gives up and surrenders.’ When our minds surrender tomorrow on the rocks in the river I fully expect butterflies to be landed on my head and possibly a few small mammals, like field mice, to be on the rocks chilling with us. I’m gonna take my sketch pad, like the Judge out of Blood Meridian, and I’m gonna sketch some nature.
Right. I’m getting back into Blood Meridian. Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow, my friends.
The body and mind are clever things and to make life easier for us they take a lot of things off our plate. Our heart beats without us having to think. We sweat when we need to keep cool or release toxins. Our diaphragms draw our lungs down and open our lungs to breath. But there are times when, rather than run on autopilot, it’s beneficial to make choices.
We receive inputs through smell, touch, taste, sight, sound and thought. Our clever bodies receive these inputs, process them and then react. These initial impulses or reactions can lead to action. The action is not always what is best for us. Take me as an example:
– pete sees pizza shop on way home
– pete processes information about dribbly cheesy pizza
– pete’s processing results in craving for pizza
– pete orders pizza vegetariana from Constantino’s in Armley
In The Wisdom of Yoga, we learn how the practice of yoga can bring awareness to these inputs and processes. When we recognise them we can respond consciously as opposed leaving our body and mind to automate the process. Let’s see how this could work:
– pete sees pizza shop on way home
– pete processes information about dribbly cheesy pizza
– pete consciously intervenes to remind himself that he is 2 stone overweight, addicted to sugar and far too sweaty
– pete prepares healthy food at home at 1/3 of the calories and cost
Cope argues that this simple chain of events; input, process, impulse and action ‘runs our lives much more than we’d like to believe’. When we understand this in the context of the laws of cause and effect, or karma, and that we are, ‘heirs of our actions’ we must start to consider what world we are creating for ourselves. ‘What you practice get’s stronger’. Our actions proliferate. One pizza leads to two, two leads to fifteen, fifteen leads to Pete being Constantino’s number one customer and getting free Fanta with every order and being a fat bastard with spots, low energy, low fitness, a real addiction and a terrible arse. The difference between the smallest automaton response or a conscious choice can proliferate to keep us looped in negative cycles, or help us navigate a new conscious territory of choice.
With the intention of raising our levels of consciousness and lowering my level of pizza, this morning we sat on rocks in the river valley and practiced a series of meditations. We have added a new type of pranayama called bhramari breath or the humming bee breath. It’s basically like a big long ‘om’ with your mouth closed. You can hold your head if you don’t have your arm in a cast. Two bees actually landed on me today just after doing it. Collette said, ‘It’s because you’ve been talking to them.’ Meditating by the river was lovely and we were surrounded by hoopoes, yellow billed blue magpies, black spotted butterflies, lilac butterflies in pairs, crows, kites, lofty pines, cedar trees, bees and all manner of wildlife. Even the rocks in the river take on a new life when you come out of a long breath meditation down ‘t’ stream.
I tried some chanting today but I ended up just listening to Col because my throat started hurting. I’ll try that again tomorrow and see if I can’t give it a better shot.
Constantino’s are on Whingate. You can get them through Just Eat and I also recommend their starters and pastas.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.
Day 6 and Day 7
The quest for ancient wisdom continues here in the Himalayas. Close to China. Much has been learnt in two days. The rain and hail has come. The thunder has rocked the very mountains upon which we perched in blankets. Blood Meridian by Cormac Maccarthy has reached it’s dancing climax and what a character The Judge is. In ‘The Wisdom of Yoga; A Seekers Guide to Extraordinary Living’ by Stephen Cope, I have been learning to consider, ‘Who is the real me?
Am I organised Pete? Funny Pete? Can’t be arsed Pete? Grumpy Pete? Sexy Pete? Bully Pete? Drinky Pete? Shouty Pete? Sensitive Pete? Sporty Pete? Exaggerating Pete? They’re all valid. Please feel free to throw others at me. While I’m Zen. I have multiple personality disorder. In fact, sometimes I actually consciously decide to be any one of these Petes in a social situation. Does this make me a fraud?
‘Just be yourself’.
I hate this phrase. It has always confused me. And I always get cheesed off when some chump on Big Brother or some other bobbins show says, ‘All I can be is me.’ Or ‘Be true to yourself,’ as it they have some fundamental wisdom or they have reached some pinnacle of knowing. For me it sounds like utter fudge. For me it means nothing. If I am true to myself, what me does that mean? Which me should I be true to? I can’t be true to myself because there are too many of me.
“Hi Pete, do you want to come drinking with me for three days in my house and watch documentaries about cannibals?”
“Hi Pete, as you’re into not drinking these days do you fancy cooking some healthy food and doing some exfoliating?”
The confusion of my life as me, myself and I plays out constantly. I don’t want to close the door on opportunities and so I keep parts of myself alive whilst some parts of my life serve me incredibly well but often require attention and consciousness. I feel the answer is not to seek my truth. My truth might be any one of a hundred truths. The answer is to seek the truth.
I’ve gone off tangent here but Cope describes, ‘The world that is splendidly composed of patterns and processes – a river of energy and intelligence.’ Take a look at a tree. Look at a mountain. Consider the sky. Watch a butterfly painting the barley. That is truth. Who am I to wade in with my truth. Sit. Be still. Truth will arrive.
Restraint is discussed in the book. ‘Don’t harm other beings, lie, steal, commit sexual indiscretions or cling.’ The ‘cling’ one resonates with me today as this has now planted a seed in Collette’s head that I need not cling to the idea of crisps or chocolate for the next week. We’ll see how that goes. In fact, I am familiar with this idea of restraint. I have noticed that I have been quieter in the last few years since the practices of yoga have been in my life. I find myself listening more. I have intentionally held back from unnecessary or useless chatter. I still do it but not as much. It was a big realisation for me when it became clear that a lot of what I said hurt others, was exaggerative or was born out of some bullshit that didn’t serve me or any of the people around. Shutting up helped a lot in my own personal growth. At first it was more intentional but more and more it has become a way for me. I have become quieter. As a result I have had a good number of realisations. I have become more interested in others and myself and I have been The Witness to how I feel as opposed to going off on some forgettable narrative.
Some dude called Taimni, an Indian scholar of yoga says that, ‘When established in perfect truthfulness, whatever such a person says will come true; whatever he attempts will be accomplished.’ Basically, the reason I haven’t got very far in life is because I’ve not been truthful. This explains my bullshit too. I’m not anywhere near a place of ‘perfect truthfulness’ yet by any stretch but my quieter, more relaxed mind-set is starting to present me with some of the more subtle clues that one day may lead me closer.
We’ve had a day off practices today and we’re having treats and just chilling on the balcony watching the river of intelligence run past.
Sweetness and light my bendy friends.
Our Indian neighbours up here in the mountains have a cute little white puppy. He’s all scrappy and tenacious. He flaps and flops and scratches and pounces. He wobbles and wees and is all happy, sad, needy, calamitous, cute, friendly and lost all within the space of a few wags and wimpers. Early this morning he knocked over our organic waste bin onto the yoga deck. It was a bit of a mess at first but it was soon cleaned and normality was resumed. I can’t help thinking how analogous this was to the morning’s escapades.
As we were sitting to meditate on the balcony this morning, Collette and I fell out. Unheard of or what? Yogi tiff. We both triggered each other with one thing or another and I eventually came inside to do the breathing practices by myself. What at first seemed ridiculous, actually became incredibly useful and offered both of us some very valuable insights.
Closing my eyes to start my meditations I was able to feel the more subtle effects of my afflicted state. My nervous system was agitated. My breath shorter. My mind busier. I was also clinging onto the idea that Collette was to blame for the way I was feeling. Sure I had reacted but in my mind she had started it. After my first round of kapalabhati I still had this busy mind. Why did she have to…? She’s always… It’s one of her things when… She can be so…
I remember the exact moment where my mind had a little check up with itself. The Witness arrived to tell me, ‘it was me’. The Witness said, ‘It’s you. She’s not here anymore. The only one that can calm you is you. It’s you.’ I had a little self-giggle at myself as my nervous system calmed and I once more took control or my own state.
Not only did I have the opportunity to test the meditation out with immediate results in a real stress situation, I also did my first full self-pranayama practice. It was like it was meant to be. I went through my practiced pranayama sequence of kapalabhati, bhastrika, agnisar, nadi shodhana, shitali and bhramari breath all in solitary bliss. It was both a test and a blessing. I concluded with a ten minute sitting meditation. Through my sitting meditation I also used the Krishna mantra, ‘om. Namor bhagavate vesudaveya’. It just came in. And it helped. Practicing alone was a new experience. I usually have moral support. It was both liberating and truly rewarding. I had a lovely short, but quickly deep meditation, with lots of blissful feelings. I’m looking forward to starting to lengthen my meditations next week.
Afterwards I made up with Collette and we did some rolling about on the floor for a bit before eating breakfast of curried black-eyed beans, brown rice, yellow dal, mixed pickle, curd and coriander flowers. We then had a couple of hours of our book, The Wisdom of Yoga.
Has anyone tried any pranayama practices yet?
Keep it real.
Day 9 and Day 10
There is this thing called, dharma-mega-samadhi. According to yogic scriptures this is the highest state of ecstasy in the path of classical yoga. Stephen Cope in ‘The Wisdom of Yoga’, describes seeing the world a kind of ‘shower’ of phenomenon. It sounds like The Matrix. Check it out:
“Your heightened perception of phenomenon slows down time so everything moves in slow motion. It’s like seeing a movie but seeing it in individual frames. You see the succession of momentary events as they each rise and pass away. They don’t blur together like the movie does when it’s going at regular speed. You see it all in mind-boggling detail.” He say’s “At this stage of practice, phenomena are seen to be like a rainstorm in which each discrete raindrop is perceived by the consciousness”
OK, so me and Collette are not here in the Himalayas in our leather outfits and shades, dodging bullets and downloading the mainframe. We aren’t quite at that stage yet. But we have experienced some of the benefits of our pranayama practice which I’ll share:
Clearing of chest, nose and throat
Clearer hearing and a clearing of ear blockages
Greater sensitivity to my own physical condition
Activation, increased awareness and improved definition of abdominal muscles
Increase of circulation to arms and hands
Improved levels of focus and concentration
Better connection to others
Raised level of empathy
Greater affinity to, and interest in nature
Mental and physical re-set to a sense of peace and equanimity
Removal of a headache
More considered decision-making and reduction in reactivity
Assistance in helping me experience gratitude
I conducted my first breathing ‘self’-practice
Reduction in fatigue through the ability to rest effectively
Contribution to the establishment of a healthy sleeping pattern. Early-to-bed and early-to-rise.
Improvement to mood and mental alertness
Better self-awareness and objective analysis of self
Reduction in cold symptoms throughout the ten days
OK, so The Matrix would have been shit if Neo calmly got up early in the mainframe to thank people for having better hearing, but the benefits I’ve experienced are a start, and all this experienced in only ten days. Maybe one day I’ll be able to see things in slow motion but for now I’m grateful and happy with these few benefits I’ve experienced.
If you are interested in learning more about yogic breathing techniques then I have it on good authority that www.Yogaglo.com is a good resource. I have used the site for asana practices before, and it seems very consistent, professional and with knowledgeable teachers you can pick and choose from. It’s on a subscription basis but you can try it out for a month free first. Try kundalini classes too. Let me know how you get on.
I also really recommend The Wisdom of Yoga for people of all levels too. It’s accessible for beginners and there are plenty of references to other sources of information for further reading.
Thank you for your interest and best of luck with your practices.
Read about The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope here.
Read more about Stephen Cope here.