My first pranayama experience happened many years ago when my first yoga teacher introduced it in a 10-week yoga class I attended. He explained that pranayama consisted of different breathing techniques that helped yogis shift their energy. Some of these techniques would raise energy and some would bring it down to a relaxed state. It sounded simple enough. I mean, we’re talking about breathing, so it can’t really be a lot to it, right? At least, that is what I thought.
That night in class, my teacher introduced and led us through a technique called nadi shodhana, which translates to “channel purifying breath” and in some yoga traditions is referred to as “alternate nostril breathing”. It is a breathing technique that sounds just as it is; you breathe in and out of each nostril in an alternating fashion.
Everyone in the class sat quietly while he guided us through a breath centered meditation and then layered in nadi shodhana. At some point, I remember vaguely hearing his voice faded into the background of the sound of my own breath. It was amazing that the longer I focused on my breath, the harder it was for me to determine whether I had just taken an inhale and needed to exhale, or the reverse had happened. How could that even be? How could I not know whether I need to inhale or exhale? The whole experience lasted between 20-30 minutes and in that short period of time, I experienced something that I could not quite comprehend and did not yet understand.
It was just breathing, right?
The next day I was at work when the effects of the pranayama I had done the night before showed up again. I stood up from my desk and walked just a few feet to the printer except, it did not feel like I walked at all. It felt like my feet did not touch the floor and that I actually floated over to the printer and back! I remember sitting at my desk wondering and asking myself “what just happened?”
Fast forward a year and to another memorable experience with pranayama. I scheduled a massage with a therapist that a friend suggested and during the initial intake, I mentioned that I practiced yoga. The massage therapist also practiced yoga, so he suggested that we do a bit together before my massage. We proceeded to do some light stretches and then, he led me through a breath-centered meditation. He didn’t give it a name, but I now know that he led me through dirgha pranayama with kumbhakas or breath retentions. Again, I had an experience that I could not quite comprehend. Every time that I inhaled and held my breath, a bright steam of white light appeared over my eyes, accompanied with extreme heat. When I exhaled, both the light and heat would dissipate. This happened for several minutes and at the end of the experience, I asked the massage therapist a rhetorical question, “You didn’t by chance have a lightbulb that you held above my forehead, did you?” Of course, I knew the answer, yet I didn’t have any answer for what I just felt.
Both of these initial experiences with pranayama stayed with me and made me more curious about this yogic practice to shift and change energy. Those experiences are also the reasons that I enjoy practicing and leading nadi shodhana with breath retentions (this is known as Anuloma Viloma) today. This pranayama allows for a very introspective practice and is an excellent way to prepare for meditation or to settle in at the end of the day.
So, yes, it’s just breathing but, I’ve learned that there’s a little more to breathing than just inhaling and exhaling. Each breath is different and unique and any one of them can open to an unforgettable experience.
Enjoy a short video and anuloma viloma practice below.
Stacee Johnson has been practicing yoga since 1999. Through the Pranakriya School of Yoga Healing Arts, developed by Yoganand Michael Carroll, Stacee completed both her 500-hour certification and prenatal yoga training.
Stacee originally started her yoga practice as a way to relieve her migraine symptoms and to reduce stress but quickly became intrigued by the many benefits of yoga. She maintains that yoga brings a sense of serenity to her life and she’s passionate about helping her students find that within themselves. By incorporating Sound Meditation, with the use of quartz crystal singing bowl, Himalayan singing bowls, chimes and wind gong, Stacee provides a deeply relaxing experience that helps everyone StaCentered. Find out more about Stacee’s offerings at StaCenteredYoga.com.