Amrit Yoga Stage I: Willful Practice

lvl1yogatrainingI wrote a brief overview of the various Stages of Amrit Yoga on Tuesday of last week.  This week we will begin a detailed exploration of theses Stages.  I will tell you about the various tools that are available in each Stage and some of the experiences common to each Stage.  As you read about this, there is something extremely important that you must remember:  Do not believe anything I write.  Do not believe it simply because I wrote it.

Yoga is an experiential discipline and that means simply reading or hearing will give you some understanding of the practice but to know Yoga, you absolutely must experience it yourself.  Take what I write and experiment with it, that is the only way to know whether it is true or not.  If you just trust what I write is true then it has no power to effect change for you and you will have a head full of Yoga trivia and mandala-posturenothing more.

The primary tools of Stage I are

  • Breath & Pranayam
  • Asana
  • Inward Focus
  • Acceptance
  • Intention


Breath and Pranayam are the most basic tools and are used extensively throughout the teachings and practices of Amrit Yoga.  Pranayama are breathing techniques and there may be some confusion about why I would say both breath and Pranayam rather than combine them.  I see them as very distinct tools and having very different uses.

Breath, without it we die and that alone makes it a very critical part of everything we do every moment of our lives.  Considering breath is so crucial, we pay it very little attention if any.

Experiment I

Take a moment right now and notice your own breath.  Close your eyes and do it.  Is your breath deep or shallow, slow or fast?  What does it feel like?  Is it calm and relaxing or panicked and agitated?  Simply noticing breath like this tells us so much about the current state of the body and mind.  Rapid, shallow, agitated feeling breath says the body is on the cusp of a fight or flight reaction.  It also says the mind is in a hyper-vigilant state, ready to take immediate action.  Breath that is slow, restful and relaxed says the body and mind are in a state of reception.  This is still a place where immediate action can occur but action comes as a response rather than a reaction.

Now that we have a basic knowledge of breath, we can apply that knowledge to our daily sadhana and in our everyday interactions.  Before I explain how to use our knowledge of breath though, let me explain Pranayam.


Pranayam is a compound of Prana meaning breath/spirit/energy and Yama meaning restraint/bridle/progress/extension.  On one hand, Pranayam is controlling or bridling breath.  This is appropriate because for most of us breath is a wild, unbridled thing.  On the other hand, Pranayam is the growth, cultivation or extension of breath.  As you practice various Pranayama, you will find that your breath naturally becomes slower and more complete.  Besides breathing more deeply, what are we cultivating?  This question leads into a more subtle aspect of Prana:  Spirit or energy.

The ancient rishis recognized that breathing was more than just filling and emptying the lungs.  They also noted that at birth, life began with the first breath in and at death it ended with the last breath out.  This quality of breath they identified as being spirit or vital energy and called it Prana.  You may be more familiar with the Chinese term Qi but whether you call it spirit, Qi, or Prana, this is the subtle energy of the body and it is directly tied to breath.

Experiment II

Dirga Swasam is a Pranayam technique commonly called Yogic Breath or Complete Breath.  Without struggle or strain, breathe in deeply, filling the lungs from the bottom to the top.  Feel the belly expand as you breathe into the bottom of the lungs.  Feel the chest begin to expand as you continue your deep inhale.  Feel the belly go down slightly as you inhale up under the collar bones.  Do not struggle or strain.  Exhale gently from the top to the bottom.  The collar bones drop slightly as the chest begins to go down.  Continue your gentle exhale until the belly begins to pull in toward the spine.  Repeat a long, slow inhale and a gentle complete exhale.  Continue for another four or five complete breaths.  Allow your breath to return to a natural rhythm, close your eyes and feel the effect of Dirga Swasam.  Notice that your mind is quieter and that your body is more relaxed.

Experiment III

Close your eyes again and take one complete breath as described above.  Notice what sensations you feel.  On the second and third inhale, imagine inhaling all the way out to your fingers.  Notice the sensations you feel in your arms and hands.  On the fourth and fifth breath, imagine inhaling all the way out to fingers and toes.  Notice any sensations along the way.  Obviously, air is still only moving in and out of the lungs despite what we imagine; however, it is very likely that you felt sensations throughout your body, why?  This is the subtle energy of the body, Prana, in action and it is directly influenced by breath and attention.


How can we use our knowledge about breath during our daily practice and everyday life?  Breath is always a good barometer of the condition of the body and mind.  As you practice, listen to your own breath.  Ragged, harsh or forced breathing means you are over your physical or mental edge and need to modify or come out of the posture.  Steady, even breath shows an even and steady body and mind.  This is also true in everyday life.  When you find your breath beginning to race away from you, you will find that life is racing as well.  Modify or step out of the situation if you can.  If you cannot, then turn to Dirga Swasam.  Complete breathing will help balance the tension you face and restore you to a calm and relaxed state.

Just as complete breath can return you to a relaxed state in everyday life, it can also help you drop out of struggle and strain into ease and relaxation during your daily practice.  When you find yourself struggling in a posture, return to your breath.  Long, smooth inhale.  Soft, gentle exhale.

Common Experiences

As you focus on breath and practice Pranayama, you may experience any or all of the following:  Increased awareness of your body/mind connection and how breath affects both.  Increased relaxation ability to intentionally let go of the day’s stressors and relax.  Increased awareness of the sensations in your body.  Increased V8 moments where you gently smack your forehead and think, “Why didn’t I just breathe?”

Don’t forget to breathe my friends.

Jai Bhagwan