Many schools of occidental yoga and meditation focus on "utility", meaning getting right down to business and exercises that claim to provide direct benefits. The traditional yogic paths and ways to meditate, be it Zazen or Transcendental, are far more progressive and demand more of everything from the adept; more discipline, more repetitions, more concentration - and more time.
Free time being such a rarity in Occident, there is no wonder that schools here would adopt short cuts. Yet in all of this, what remains one of the most important paths is neglected: The fourth limb of Yoga, Pranayama – the yoga of breathing. Breathing is at the core of our continued existence, since without breathing, in one form or another, there can be no life. The practice of Pranayama techniques has been studied and can clearly have an influence on brain wave patterns, helping to attain a deeper level of concentration, meditation and falling asleep.
Without proper breathing, deep meditation can be a challenge. With Pranayama, it easily falls into place. Take for instance one well-known technique, the Ujjayi breath, also called "the ocean breath" often seen jointly with Asana practice. This simple exercise increases oxygenation, builds internal body heat, and helps to both relax and center the student. It will also sustain proper circulation of prana (the life force) throughout the body.
While many students will be familiar with the term "ocean breath" from classes and practices, how many know of the origin of the technique in Pranayama? And this is just a bit of the many exercises contained in the school of yoga that can provide a great deal of support, both in Asana practice and in every day life. For that reason, it could be a great disservice to yourself to pounce forward in one school without at least exploring what the others have, and how that age-old knowledge would be of assistance to your personal growth.
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