Thursday, June 05, 2003

In medicine, the word interesting is an adjective that often carries with it negative implications. If someone comes up to you and starts to tell you about this interesting patient that they'd like you to consult on, you know you're about to get slammed. The patient is likely at death's door or will end up being in the hospital for two weeks and have every complication known to your profession. So today, it was interesting in pranayama. Asana practice helps us learn how to focus our attention internally. Pranayama takes that internal focus a couple of steps further. Ideally, all of your attention is turned inward to the effect that the breathing and the retention of breath are having on your body and your mind.

To do pranayama well, it helps to have as few distractions as possible. Normally, the class is done in a fairly small group. The room is still a little dark in the early morning, most of the light coming from a candle positioned in the middle of the circle of students as a focus point. The participants take up a cross legged posture sitting posture that they can hold for the duration of the class with little or no movement. There are no vocal commands. The only sounds audible are those made by the breath of the group. There of course are inadvertent distractions that come up, a loud motorcycle outside, someone coming in early for the next class, maybe the sound of the folks moving about the apartment overhead. I usually sit with my back to the door to minimize being pulled away by some of those distractions.

One of the group today was maybe not ready for doing this sort of thing, or maybe today was just a bad day. She started making these loud gulping sounds near the ends of the breath, like she was overtly trying to ovoid releasing the breath. This is on the second retention into the practice. By the time we got to the retentions with both the inhales and exhales, she didn't appear to be doing it at all. When we did the alternate nostril breathing, she kept her hands in her lap. As we would let our held breath out, she would sometimes times jerk her body like she had just been startled. We would be in the middle of a long retention, when it really helps to be able to not be distracted, and she would start fidgeting around tapping her hand on her foot or would lean way forward and make these sighing sounds. I figured she had just decided to sit out the class without participating anymore, but once in a while she would make gestures of doing what we were but without really doing it. As we neared the end of class and began the closing chants, things deteriorated even more but by that point, we were pretty much done. I was fairly distracted by the whole deal. It seemed to me that everybody else kept their focus going, so maybe I was just too attentive to things that I should have been able to ignore. I've never seen anything like that before though. It was interesting.

Addendum: I've debated quite awhile with myself on whether to include this story or not. I don't want the people I practice with to have to worry about what I might write about them. The last thing somebody needs as they struggle with some aspect of their practice is whether or not it's gonna be displayed for the world to look in on in some blog. But, this was enough above the ordinary that it warrants including I think. If I've crossd the line and end up offending the person I've described, I'll address that one on one.

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