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Pranayam—the Art of Self-Management

By Hari Kaur Khalsa

The disciplined practice of the various breathing techniques that are integral to the practice of Kundalini Yoga can bring you confidence and energy. If you embrace the philosophy of yoga, you begin to realize that true happiness, true radiance, and true satisfaction come from within you, from the realization and experience of your true self, timeless and limitless, and not from the outer environment or circumstances.

Kundalini Yoga breathing techniques balance you from within by adjusting your physical body chemistry and the subtle chakras. In this balanced state, you can experience your true self. Living from the core of your true self gives you the relaxed confidence to make decisions and live comfortably in the chaos of a changing world. Kundalini Yoga is the science of Self-Management.

The Pranic Edge

The goal of each Kundalini Yoga practitioner is to master the art of pranayama, to become a pran yogi, one who has mastery over the direction of life force. The pran yogi maintains a state of self-management, directing life’s energy resources toward inner peace and balance and toward an outward projection of wisdom and spirit that uplifts all. Your actions—the work you do—are a direct result of how you direct your energy. It is not what you are doing; it is how you do it. If you are not in your dream job, is your energy low, restrained, and constricted? Do you save yourself for the “fun” times and the people you like, and withhold your smiles from those you dislike?

Pranayam Meditations for Self-Management

Each Kundalini Yoga practice session begins with Tuning In to create a sacred space of increased awareness and attention to spirit and limitless possibilities. The first breath you take to chant the Adi Mantra is the seed of transformation for your yoga practice. Acknowledge that first breath and feel the powerful and profound energy of one breath—like the energy of the sun itself. Embody this pranic energy and begin to direct it toward the goal of your practice.

1. Create a Sacred Space by Repeating the Adi Mantra Three Times

Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo

Translation: I acknowledge One Creation; I acknowledge the Divine Wisdom.

Vibrate the mantra with energy and intention. Surrender to the sound by listening and taking a moment to reflect after you chant.

2. Long Deep Breathing

Lie on your back. Inhale slowly, allowing your lower back and abdomen to expand. Exhale as you relax your belly. As a learning aid, lay a pillow on your belly and feel it lift as you inhale and come back down as you exhale. Continue in a smooth, effortless manner for 3 minutes. Mentally chant the mantra Sat Nam as you breathe (True Name, Truth here and now). As you inhale, mentally chant Sat. As you exhale, mentally chant Nam. Linking breath and mantra helps you achieve deep relaxation and focus your mind.

3. Spinal Flex

Sit cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Practice flexing your spine forward and backward. Inhale a short breath as you flex forward and exhale a short breath as you flex backward. Keep your chin level and your head steady. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

To end, bring your spine straight, inhale deeply, and suspend (hold) your breath briefly. Exhale and relax. This exercise can help release back tension and, by stimulating the flow of spinal fluid to the brain, can sharpen and refresh your mind.

4. Two Segmented Breath Meditations

The following breath techniques can help you maintain balance in working with others and in keeping up when the job is challenging and you feel you’re burning out. Let these powerful practices be your tools for shifting your inner environment to one of light, energy, and positive projection, despite the challenges of the circumstances. In the workforce, when you have energy that is strong, as well as the consciousness to direct that energy, you can penetrate the negative and turn it into positive—and then you have the edge. Give yourself the pranic edge. Become like the sun, giving affirming and positive energy to all.

“It’s not the life that matters, it’s the courage that you bring to it.”[1]

Both meditations listed here use segmented breathing. Segmented breathing is the technique of dividing the inhale and/or exhale into segments, or sniffs. The breath can be “broken” into as few as two sniffs or as many as 22 sniffs, depending on the desired effect. The number of segments can vary on both the inhale and the exhale to create different breath ratios. Meditations and breath exercises that use segmented breathing direct the flow of prana according to specific rhythmic patterns that adjust and balance both the subtle energy channels and the nervous and glandular systems to achieve a desired effect. When practicing segmented breathing, strive to maintain and refine the breath so that each of the segments is equal. In general, when you complete the required number of segments on the inhalation, you have a complete inhale, and when you complete the required number of segments on the exhale, all the breath is out. The sniffs are short, distinct, and yet smooth and without force. The overall effect is a deep sense of rhythmic patterning that becomes effortless with practice.

Through the use of segmented breathing, the breath becomes slower, as well as highly refined and controlled. As you learn to control the breath in this way, you begin to gain control over the prana itself, and you develop the ability to manage and direct your own energy resources.

It is important to follow the instructions for each meditation, not adjusting or changing the ratio of the inhale and exhale, the number of segments, or the maximum amount of time given for the practice. 

After you complete steps 1 – 3, choose one of these 2 meditations to practice:

Meditation for Increased Energy and Working in Groups—the 4/4 Breath

Posture: Sit comfortably with your spine erect. Place your palms together in prayer pose at the center of the chest with the fingers pointing up.

Focus: Focus at the brow point, which is the point between your eyebrows and up a bit, at the root of your nose. This is the location of the 6th chakra, the command center of both your subtle intuition and your glandular system.

Breath: As you inhale, divide the breath into four equal segments (sniffs). Hold a few seconds. Exhale, breaking the outgoing breath again into four equal segments. Hold out a few seconds. On each segment or sniff of the inhale and exhale, pull your navel point (belly) toward your spine slightly[2]. One full breath cycle takes about 7-8 seconds. If your mind is anxious, or your thoughts are distracting you, add the mantra Sa Ta Na Ma on both the inhale and exhale. Sa is infinity, Ta is life, Na is death, and Ma is rebirth. The mantra will help focus your mind, and the power of the vibration of Sa Ta Na Ma stimulates connection with the true self.

Time: Continue powerfully for 3-5 minutes.

To end: Inhale deeply and press your palms together with maximum force for 10 seconds. Relax for 15-30 seconds. Repeat this ending two more times. Relax completely.

This meditation can bring you the energy to participate fully and work with energy. It can rejuvenate coordination and spirit. If you are tired, do this meditation and then take a 2-minute relaxation on your back, relaxing every part of your body. To awaken, take a few deep breaths, stretch your body, and you will be ready to act!

Meditation to Prevent and Recover from Burnout

Posture: Sit in a comfortable position with your spine erect. Raise your forearms parallel to the floor and in front of your chest. Bend your wrists down and bring them in to press the backs of your palms together, with the backs of the hands level with your chest. Your fingers are pointing down toward the floor. Fold the tips of your thumbs across your palms until they rest at the base of your ring finger. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest lifted.

Focus: Focus your eyes gently at the tip of your nose.

Breath: Inhale, dividing the inhalation into eight equal segments (sniffs). Exhale, also dividing the exhalation into eight equal segments. Focus your attention on the sound of your breath.

Time: Continue for 11 minutes, or start with 3 minutes and build up to 11 minutes. You may build this meditation up to 22 minutes and ultimately 31 minutes with practice.

To end: Relax completely.

The posture of this meditation helps balance your electromagnetic field so you can contain your own energy and manage your pranic resources. The meditation helps create baseline energy so that you can prevent overworking and feeling the stress of burnout, or recuperate from exhaustion. Do this meditation when you have time to relax afterward.

After you meditate and relax, take a moment to feel the shifts in your energy. Gather the prana, the life force energy you feel, and radiate a prayer for peace and healing for yourself, your community, and all of creation.

[1] This quote is originally from Fortitude, by Horace Walpole.

[2] Do not pull the belly in if you are over 4 months pregnant or heavily menstruating.

Hari Kaur Khalsa directs and teaches Kundalini Yoga Classes and Teacher Trainings, Level 1 and Level 2, in the US and abroad. Hari is co-author of “A Woman’s Book of Yoga: Embracing Our Natural Life Cycles” (Penguin 2002) and author of “A Woman’s Book of Meditation: Discovering the Power of a Peaceful Mind” (Penguin 2006). Hari and Husband Dave Frank – world- renowned Jazz pianist, founded Hari NYC – Kundalini Yoga, Meditation and Jazz.  This cozy NYC loft is dedicated to the expression of the creative Spirit – through the arts, yoga, meditation, and music.  Prior to that Hari taught classes and training programs to all ages and levels. Hari is a caring, inspiring, and down-to-earth teacher, making the powerful and healing teachings of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan accessible to students of all levels. Inspired by years of study with Yogi Bhajan. www.HariNYC.com