by Megan Skelly
Wouldn’t you love a chance to start over, to slow down, to reset? What if I told you you had about 20,000 of those chances every day? This is the average number of breaths we take in a 24-hour time span, though many of us are so overwhelmed by the rapid pace of modern life that we fail to consciously tune into each opportunity. Fortunately, the ancient science of yoga offers us many tools to regain our full sense of aliveness, and pranayama is one of my favorites!
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, breathing has risen to the forefront of the collective consciousness in new ways. We’ve become much more aware of how the air we take in and return out affects others, how masks both protect us from contagion and inhibit the free flow of oxygen, how hard it can be to carve out moments of stillness when anxiety over the safety of our loved ones is a constant threat. Despite this fraught climate, I can think of no better time to have taken Pranakriya’s Pranayama course with Yoganand; though many conversations center on what is lost in the transmission of virtual teachings, I was so thankful to be a part of this program on Zoom last summer and to be able to immerse myself in these techniques at a point when I (and others) needed them most. In the safety of my own home, I breathed, churned, released, and rejuvenated, connected with my fellow yoga teachers by a screen – yet afterwards I still felt the subtle energetic shifts that live in the practices, which no physical separation of miles or minutes can diminish.
Bolstered with this hope, I resolved to pass on these teachings to my own students despite the continual challenges of online learning. Besides being a yoga instructor for an Ayurvedic school, I am also a substitute teacher in the New York City public schools and an adjunct professor for the CUNY (City University of New York) system. Many of my first-generation, working-class students were facing additional hurdles while also balancing heavy course loads: serving as at-risk essential workers, caretaking or losing family members to illness, experiencing mental health crises as a result of quarantine, figuring out how to navigate college for the first time through a black box. Knowing that many of them would be sitting on a computer all day every day with packed schedules, I began each of my classes with five minutes of breathing, slowly introducing Dirgha, Ujjayi, and Nadi Shodhana throughout the semester. Pranakriya’s Pranayama course gave me a new tool that I utilized many times during these months: the six-step methodology for instructing new pranayama practices. The majority of my students had never been exposed to these techniques, so I was able to contextualize, model and guide them through each exercise in a safe and pedagogically sound way, as any good teacher would desire to do!
At the end of the semester, I asked students to write reflections self-identifying what their highlights and learning moments were throughout the semester. Nearly all of them mentioned what an impact those few simple moments at the opening of class made upon their educational journey! Here are a few quotes from their final essays:
One of my favorite parts of this class was beginning the class as a breathing exercise. After stressing over other classes and having so much to do it was relaxing to do a breathing exercise and calm ourselves down before starting another class. – Z.P.
In terms of what was my favorite thing about this class was the stretches and breathing exercises which was very calming and helped me feel less stress. The environment of the class was very calm and how nice everyone was to learn with. – K.D.
My favorite part is the start of the class where we all do light yoga because it makes me feel less stressed and more engaged with the topic even though I don’t speak much – J.K.
An eternal student myself, I am forever grateful to be part of a lineage that places such an emphasis on cultivating prana, and to be graced with the opportunity to ripple its gifts out through the work that I do into a world desperately in need of peace. As I always tell my students, your breath is readily accessible to you in each moment – no props needed. So if you discover you’ve been disconnected while scrolling and reading, here’s your next brand new chance…take a deep breath!