The mind is sometimes compared to the wind — impossible to control. The genius of Pranayama is that it engages the breath, which is easily controlled, to influence the subtle energies, prana, that animate all movement in the mind. A regular focused practice of these techniques has a direct impact on the mind, bringing a calm, clear awareness that empowers us to witness the mind, focus it at will, and make conscious choices instead of impulsive ones.
Since our attention is constantly pulled outward by sensory stimulation, even a dedicated practitioner may forget the subtle yet profound effects of pranayama practice. We have become so accustomed to jumping quickly from one device, image or message to another, that we are losing the capacity to focus on one thing, and to exercise choice over what we think. Pranayama practices make use of the breath to engage our attention in the present and steady our physical and mental levels.
More importantly, these practices cultivate the refined awareness that enables us to observe and examine our own thoughts, and make conscious choices over what we dwell on. Over the long run, what we focus our attention on determines our ability to be happy, to experience love and to be free of the cultural conditioning that can close our hearts and imprison us in a me-centered way of life.
During these days when the air quality in San Francisco is often compromised by the smoke from the fires up north, it is especially important to take care of the respiratory system. Jala Neti, or nasal wash, is an excellent way to keep the nasal passages clean of any unhealthy particles from the air. You will likely feel a noticeable difference in the condition of that area and it can be done in times like these with no side effects.
Kapalabhati is also highly recommended for its cleansing effects, speeding up the elimination of CO2 and any excess mucous or toxins that may have accumulated in the nasal passages. This is best practiced with windows closed if the air quality is not healthy. Prana itself cannot be polluted so we can be assured that Kapalabhati will always charge the subtle energy body with life force that heals and builds immunity.
One of my favorite ways of deepening the breathing practices is to repeat a mantra along with the inhale and exhale to create a steady rhythm. The rhythmic breathing calms the nervous system and the mantra vibrates peace throughout the whole body-mind, drawing the attention inward for meditation.