Pranayama: Meditation Preparation and the Fountain of Youth.
While visiting Charleston, SC last month for a meditation workshop instructed by my multi-talented friends Muni Natarajan and his wife MaryBeth, the takeaway was focus on meditation preparation. Muni teaches at his Daniel Island yoga studio many of the Raja Yoga principles he studied and taught at the Hindu monastery on Kauai where he was known as Natarajnathaswami for 37 years (pictured below is a photo from the first time I met him in 2007). From his study and experience, Muni believes that the formula for dropping into a mediative state effortlessly for beginners and seasoned practitioners alike is using a pranayama (breathing exercise) and mantra combination.
While I have always used pranayama as a grounding exercise at the beginning of a mediation and/or yoga class (and frequently offered mantras to use should they resonate with students), following Muni's instruction in his studio was the first time I had ever lost my balance while meditating. It was truly a transformative experience and I hope to replicate how "deep" I went following using his formula practicing at home. Again, it was only a series of breathing exercises that moved me to another state; I hadn't even tried to still the brain activity to meditate. An otherworldly experience to be sure. I look forward to signing up for another monthly workshop later this year and collecting more tools to enhance my practice.
In addition to practicing with Muni, I had the good fortune of meeting his friend and colleague Sundar Balasubramanian, PhD. who published "Pranascience Decoding Yoga Breathing" from research conducted at Medical University of South Carolina. While Muni and I discussed elements of pranayama, the "yoga doctor" explains in detail in his book the physiological benefits of consistent breathwork leading to a happier life and improved health at a cellular level. Reading his book has not only reinvigorated my pranayama practice but it provided the factual supporting material needed to convince the skeptical meditation beginner to try "plug the right nostril and inhale through the left" without question. Looking forward to incorporating (and sharing with students) more of the pranayama benefits Sundar translated from ancient Tamil literature.
Rereading my notes from the weekend, pranayama power emerged as the theme. Muni showed me how it can yoke body and mind, taking a practitioner to a transcendent state in preparation for meditation. In each chapter of his book, Sundar supports Muni's findings "it is the slow path that pranayamam practice takes one into the highest level of human being consciousness" in addition to stating that inhaling, holding, and exhaling can reduce toxic build-up at a cellular level whereby postponing cellular degeneration. Moving forward, pranayama will certainly be taking a more prominent role in my personal practice as well as my classes thanks to the insights of Muni and Sundar.