Three Months of Pranayama Practice: On Flexibility

This entry was posted on Mar 30, 2011 by Charlotte Bell.

Back in January, I wrote a post about my resolution to practice pranayama every day this year. As my third month comes to an end, I’m reflecting on the practice so far. Here’s what I’ve learned—or more accurately, relearned:

Flexibility is a positive: In late January after I wrote my first post I succumbed to what was likely a tenacious case of the flu. After three flu-free years, this bug was determined to make an impression. I had all the classic symptoms: fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, and a monumental cough that eventually displaced a rib. As much as I wanted to stick to my daily pranayama practice, deep inhalations brought violent coughing. All I really wanted to do was sleep.

For the first few days I abandoned all practice. Then I eased back into practice with a single, daily restorative Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose). After five days of supported bridge, I could breathe well enough to add some light pranayama and meditation.

As much as I had wanted to remain absolutely consistent, adhering to my daily regimen would have amounted to an act of violence, or at least an expression of disrespect, to my body and my being. My body was busy fighting a virus, and that is where I needed to invest my energy. I’m happy to note that I did not waste precious energy flogging myself for not practicing—a sign that the accumulated decades of meditation practice have indeed borne fruit.

Gradually, day by day, my practice returned. I again look forward to it each morning. That said, since my return to health I’ve chosen to skip practice once—when my alarm awakened me while I was in a deep and vivid dream, my body and spirit so heavy with sleep that rising at that moment felt impossible. That day letting my body continue to sleep would be my practice.

Within the framework of committed daily practice, I’ve learned that I can occasionally let it go without losing momentum. Missing a day here and there neither helps nor hinders. As my teacher Pujari says: “It’s not what you do once in a while, but what you do every day that matters.” I remain open to what each day brings. And that is a practice too.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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