40 Days Without Breathing

Two-score days ago I started a little New Year’s Resolution, and guess what? Today is day 40! I did it!

“It” was a simple daily practice of Navel Lock with breath retention for 10–40 seconds. In most cases it was about twenty or twenty-five seconds; I’ve always had trouble with retentions on exhales more than inhales. Of course, I wasn’t using a metronome to count, just “Om 1, Om 2, Om 3…” like they do at Sivananda… so the actual times were who knows what. I started off doing it in bed, right after I sat up, but I felt like I had no capacity at all. Plus, I was sick for the first few days of this practice, and couldn’t breathe so well. So, after a few days I went for shower, clothing, makeup, pranayama, breakfast as my routine. (It is kind of bizarre to put on makeup before yoga, but it feels like part of my “getting dressed” bit.) This also created a nice pause if any rushing-to-get-ready feelings had built up.

This kriya/pranayama is called a Golden Nugget, one of the most powerful yoga practices (according to the excellent blog/resource Mastery of Meditation, Yoga & Zen). I did the intermediate option: one retention only, for 10–40 seconds max — although I had quite a few vinyasa classes this month that threw in this bandha practice too! So I might be disqualified. And on two mornings I forgot to practice, and did it later on the subway platform or in bed. We’ll assume that those disruptions did not affect the efficacy of the exercise (?). As for the quoted benefits:

  • “Dissolv[es] blockages (granthis) caused by emotional debris and toxin buildup in the psychic channels (nadis)” — I’ve never directly experienced the specific energy channels in the body, only the more general waves and tingles of energy or lethargy. So I can’t give a full traffic report on my blockages and channels. But I have felt more like myself lately; enlivened by spurts of real joy and actual relaxation. The lows are not so low, the highs are actually high.
  • “Tones and cleanses all the digestive organs and markedly improves the entire digestive system” — My digestion is getting better, but I’m doing some dietary changes as well. My skin looks better. I should have kept watch on my tongue, that’s a real indicator of toxins. But if this kriya is cleansing, shouldn’t I feel WORSE as the toxins come out?
  • “Works on the respiratory system and nervous system” — Not sure what “works on” implies, but I’m less nervous and more easy-going.
  • “Builds core strength and power” — Definitely. It’s helped my postural awareness too.
  • “Most importantly, its goal is to burn up unresolved emotions stored in the subconscious mind.  Steady and sincere practice of Golden Nugget Yoga Pranayama, results in a significant refinement of awareness and a calm, peaceful, silent mind capable of connecting with the Divinity that lies within.” — This has been the most pronounced or noticable change: I can meditate again. For the last six months, or even year, I’ve really struggled with my mind’s dances and dashes when I sit. It was really depressing and discouraging, because I really craved those moments of peace, and didn’t know why they had disappeared. I went back to open-eye, object-focused meditation; no luck. I tried a more regular schedule; still crazy. Group practice, solo practice; same thing. But in my Hatha class the last week or two, I’ve finally felt really at ease in the poses, and ended up in a peaceful little buzz of stillness. Credit to my teacher, too — he’s quite radiant :)

We can debate if I was “steady and sincere”; I will put forth that I felt genuine excitement to do the practice each morning. I’ve missed my pranayama routine, it really cleared my head in the mornings, and I was happy to have the inspiration to restart it. (In fact, these Golden Nuggets often led into a long round of Breath of Fire and a few rounds of Alternate Nostril Breathing.) One of the nice things about pranayama is that it doesn’t trigger my athleticism or vanity like asana sometimes does. It’s unique, mental, and wholly engaging, and in any case I’ve reached a point in my life where I think 80% effort is a lot better than 100% (and the subsequent 0%). It was a very valuable exercise to focus a practice on regularity versus quantity.

Overall, however, I’m left with a chicken-and-egg situation, because there are a lot of things going on in my life right now, so I can’t credit or blame individual factors with any degree of certainty. In the last two months, I ended a long relationship, I started talking to a therapist, I turned 30, and I finished a big job  — all these things affected my habits and health. Did the kriya inspire some of these events, or did the events actually cause the above benefits? This is one of my continual confusions with yoga; it’s not a black-and-white science, and none of us are isolated laboratory subjects. It’s empirical, holistic, and slow; you have to get a big-picture perspective of yourself over time. A steady practice works you like water in canyons — the current is most eye-catching, but years later what’s dramatic is the epic change.

The image that keeps coming to mind is from the Scientific American piece on rapid thinking: “even brief periods of heightened mood can lead to upward spirals.” This pranayama practice was part of an upward spiral… or the bellows beneath the whole great contraption.

2 thoughts on “40 Days Without Breathing”

  1. Congratulations! That’s so awesome. Great to read about the benefits and affects on you as well.

    I still haven’t finished my 40 day sadhana due to missed day 35… and having a few hiccups getting restarted… but am back on track and loving doing it every day. Definitely has amazing results, and looking forward to completing that fortieth day!


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