Pranayama and Meditation, plus Discourses

Notes from the 2012 Yoga Shibir given by Swamiji Asanganand Saraswati. (Any errors or omissions are mine, and mine alone.)

Originally published 2012

Friday Evening

Yogic Breath

  1. Expand chest to maximum. Relax. (inhale)
    1. Expand upward, rather than outward
  2. Compress abdomen to maximum. Relax. (exhale)Notes:
    1. I add Moola Bandha as part of the compression. When relaxed, energy rises up the spine.
    2. The sequence can be done as “Yin-Yang” practice, with one part blending smoothly into
      the other. But as I found out the following day, the “relax” part is very short, with most of
      the time in each cycle spent either expanding the chest or compressing the abdomen.

Nadi Shodana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

  • First two fingers curled into base of thumb.
  • There are many stylistic variations for this practice: First finger at 3rd eye, middle finger at 3rd eye, or all three fingers at 3rd eye. All are fine. This style curls the first two fingers into the palm.
  • Active fingers slightly curled, rather than straight.
  • Press into the indentation at the side of the nose.
  • It takes very little pressure to close the nostril, at that point.
  • Inhale left, Exhale right. Inhale right, exhale left. (=one round)

When to Practice

  • Like eating, practice 2 or 3 times a day, to nourish and cleanse the body.
    (I find it a blissful prelude to meditation, as well.)

Discourse: Rebirth

  • Hinduism is the only religion that says, if you’re questioning everything, if you’re doubting everything, even if you’re denying everything, that’s fine. You’re still a Hindu!
  • Hinduism is the only religion that recognizes and explicitly teaches the doctrine of reincarnation
  • There are hints of it in the Old Testament. (In the New Testament, as well, when Jesus says that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Joshua, or some such thing.) But the church removed it, because it led to people looking for liberation all by themselves. (Horrors!)

Saturday Morning

Yogic Breath

All pranayam practices use principles of the Yogic breath, so it needs to be mastered:

  1. Compress abdomen to exhale fully.
  2. Relaxing the abdomen, begin expanding the chest immediately*
    Only a little air goes into the abdomen. Most goes into the chest.
  3. Relaxing the chest, begin compressing the abdomen immediately.Notes:
    1. Having experimented with this for a while, I find that breathing into the chest brings the energy up the spine way more effectively than the “belly breathing” I was taught in the martial arts.
    2. It takes more energy to expand the chest, which may be why the martial arts prefer the belly breath, but the energy also builds the chest wall, making it more muscular. And lifting the chest has a terrific impact on your posture — which makes it easier to breathe, and easier for the energy to rise. (Which may help to explain why, after a few days of this practice, I find that I have a lot more energy. After a round of pranayama with the Yogic Breath, I feel the expansion in the chest and energy in the chest muscles, as though I was lifting weights or something.)
    3. I now understand why Yogic adepts have a large, expanded chest, while “internal” martial artists (e.g. Taiji) tend to have a large belly. Belly breathing keeps expanding the abdomen, stretching it. This style inhales without constantly distending it. Meanwhile, the compression on the exhale helps to keep it naturally taut.
    4. One exception was Taiji Master Chen Youze, who had an exceptionally strong physique, with a muscular chest and taut stomach. A multi-time Push Hands champion, he was unique in that he taught inhaling into the chest, and then “pushing the energy down” to the dantien (abdomen) when exhaling. So he was using the Yogic Breath!

Nadi Shodana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) with So Ham (“soh hah-m”)

  • Start by closing right nostril, inhaling left
    (one round is completed when exhaling left)
  • SO: Inhale
  • HAM: Exhale

Bhastrika (aka Phastrika-bellows breath) with So Ham

  • Hands in fists, next to shoulders
  • SO: Inhale, hands shoot up, fingers open to the sky
  • HAM: Exhale, hands shoot down to shoulders, fingers into a fist
  • Do 8-10 fast, forceful inhalations and exhalations
  • Finish with 3 slow

Sitting Still / Padmasana

  • Padmasana (Lotus pose) is the best asana for sitting still for prolonged periods
  • But don’t force it. If not comfortable, do Half Lotus.
  • If that’s not comfortable, sit cross legged (Sukhasana)
  • When you can sit absolutely still for 3 to 3-1/2 hours, you can get somewhere.
    (The exact phrase was: “ready for enlightenment”, or words to that effect.)
  • Holding a pose for 3 or 3-1/2 hours: That’s Asana.

Meditation: Sitting Still, Watch the Breath

  • Patanjali wrote that meditation occurs in the interval between the breaths (ingoing and outgoing)
  • There is no strain involved. It’s just the natural pause between the two.
  • Sit absolutely still, and simply watch the breath, making no attempt to manipulate it.
  • Observe the pauses.
  • Start with 2 minutes. Work up to 5. Then go for 10, 15, 20, 30.
  • Your contribution for the free Yoga Shibir: Still totally still for 2 minutes a day.
    (That’s what Swamiji wants for us.)

Discourse: The Importance of a Guru

  • Finding a guru: Ask the right question. Ex: How do I find ultimate truth, or Total Love
  • If you are asking the right question, you’ll know when the answer is right.
  • When you are in the presence of someone who makes you feel calm, content. Stay there. That is your guru.
  • A saint has experienced the “ultimate truth” (Total love, universe consciousness, etc.)
  • But saint, knowing only one way, may not be able to teach another, unless they are very similar
  • A guru has experienced the ultimate truth, and is versed in the teachings of thousands of others
    (the Vedas)
  • A guru is therefore able to teach many others
  • For most, a physical guru is necessary. It’s the foundation of Bhakti.
  • There are very few exceptions (i.e. someone advanced enough to connect with a non-physical guru,
    and disciplined enough to follow their inner voice without question)

Saturday Evening

Yogic Breath

  • SO: Inhale
  • HAM: Exhale
  • Sit quietly

Nadi Shodana

  • SO: Inhale
  • HAM: Exhale
  • Sit quietly


  • There are many variations: No hands. Standing. Standing with knees bent, bending further on the exhale.
  • The key is the forceful exhale, and short, forceful inhale.
  • SO: Inhale
  • HAM: Exhale
  • Sit quietly

Kapalbhati (Kapal Bhati, or “head awareness”)

  • Improves digestion (the seat of all illness). Raises kundalini.
  • Don’t do it if you have high blood pressure, or have had a heart attack
  • Inhale. Short, sharp exhale. Natural, unforced inhale (very small) as the abdomen relaxes.
  • Do 10 times, at first. Then inhale deeply. Exhale slowly.
  • Sit quietly. Rest and watch the breath.
  • The rest is very important!
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • SO: Inhale
  • HAM: Exhale
  • Sit quietly
  • Do 10 times, at first.
  • When more advanced: 20
  • An adept might work up to 40

Pranayama Series

  • Yogic Breath
  • Nada Shodana
  • Bhastrika
  • Kapalbhati

Mantra Jap (“jahp”)

  • Om (5x or 11x)
  • Gayatri Mantra (5x) — prayer for the enlightenment of mankind
  • Guru Mantra (mantra given by Guru or one you favor, 5x)
  • It is necessary to do Pranayam first. (It stills and calms the mind, allowing for focus on the mantra, and warms up the lungs and diaphragm in preparation for the physical effort.)


  • Meditation begins when the mind is stilled
  • The mind can concentrate for 40-45 minutes. So in school, classes are that long.
  • In other words, true meditation starts after 40 minutes.
  • We generally stop before we get there. It’s like we get dressed to go running, go the door, then go back and take everything off again, without ever getting out for a run!

Practice Sequence

  • Asana
  • Pranayama
  • Mantra
  • Meditate
    • Sit still, watch breath

Discourse: Yoga and Spirituality

  • When a seed germinates, it has two halves. One half grows towards the sun. The other puts roots deep into the earth. (There is a good parallel to tantra, here!)
  • “Growing towards the Sun” is the seed’s nature. Just as it is the fire’s nature to shoot upward. No effort is required.
  • It takes effort to change the natural tendency. But as soon as the effort stops, the natural tendency reasserts itself.
  • It is our natural tendency to seek happiness.
  • But like a man in a dessert, we often chase a mirage.
  • When we get there, we find that the happiness isn’t there. So we chase a new mirage.
  • It took many lifetimes of good deeds or preparation to get to the point that we are seeking true happiness.
  • What we desire is sat-chit-ananda. (Eternal-consciousness-bliss)
  • That it is our true nature. It takes an effort not to grow in that direction.
  • Religions that don’t understand reincarnation can’t teach the way to moksha (liberation) or samadhi, because they don’t understand the nature of the soul.
  • Yog leads to samadhi. Real happiness. True bliss.
  • Yog is not just asana. It is also spiritual practices. (Here are two)
  • Ahimsa (Non-Violence, Not-Hurting)
    • Not wishing violence on another. Instead, wanting them to be comfortable/happy.
    • Being kind/considerate. (If someone is excited about their new car, not one-upping them!)
    • No traffic cops needed in Ahemedabad. And no accidents. (So much consideration for others!)
    • Guru had a visitor who sipped tea loudly. Guru began doing the same. After the man left, disciples asked why. Reply: To put the man at his ease! So he knew that what he was doing was OK.
  • Satya (Truth)

Sunday Morning

Review of Yogic Breath

  • Always start with this practice
  • Always sit quietly after each practice

Nadi Shodana + Bhastrika

  • Nadi Shodana done with short, forceful inhalations and exhalations
  • Finish with 2 rounds of slow, normal Nadi Shodana

Kapal Bhati

  • Superb for stilling the mind (couldn’t agree more! also superb for getting the energy to flow!)
  • Remain still, after each round. Enjoy the quiet mind.
  • When the mind gets active again, start up again.

Yoga Nidra

  • Wonderfully relaxing, “lucid dream” state where affirmations take hold

Q & A

  •  Most questions were in Hindi, and translater was off duty!

Previous Year’s Shibir: Asana and Pranayama, plus Discourses

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