I am so delighted to share this love note and contribution to the Healthy, Happy, Sexy bonuses from Dr. Claudia Welch, my all-time fave Ayurveda Trailblazer.
Dear Katie,I hope this finds you well, and send my congratulations on your book, and best wishes for your endeavors. May your work inspire many to good changes and kind hearts.in Love,CW
Using Love, Focus, and a Morning Practice To Re-pattern the Pranamayakosha
Prana. We hear about it in yoga classes and discussed in hushed, milk-of-magnesia tones, and often relegate it either to that place in our brains where woo-woo garbage goes, or to some high level position—too lofty or esoteric to be attained or understood by any but the most advanced and practiced yogis. Either way, many of us may have never actually consciously experienced prana—often translated as, “life force,” as a tangible substance or experience.
But it is indeed a tangible force, and we can begin to feel and experience it if we turn our attention from our external environments to the subtle sensations that pervade the space our bodies occupy. These sensations include variations in temperature, feelings of heaviness, hollowness, tightness, stickiness, and variations in the direction, gait, and pace of movement in different areas. We may even sense colors associated with different parts of this internal space. As we become more attuned to paying attention to our internal environment, our internal sensory apparatus becomes more refined. Our internal sensory apparatus allows us to see inside our bodies without aid of our external eyes, feel inside without nerve endings, hear inside without the aid of our external ears, even smell or taste what is inside without the aid of external organs.
With an even moderately refined ability to “turn on” our internal sensory apparatus, we can feel sensations and impressions, not only in the space our bodies occupy, but also in the space extending some inches or feet beyond the boundary of our skin. When we feel and experience these sensations, we are feeling prana. The combined field of prana that pervades our body, and extends some measure beyond, is called the pranamayakosha. This is our prana body, and it pays to become familiar with it.
Prana has a distinct feeling when it is unobstructed and flowing smoothly. Though invisible, at least to most of us, it does not feel empty. When it is flowing smoothly, it feels warm, full, and homogenous. To imagine what an unobstructed pranamayakosha feels like, imagine being in a comfortably warm bath of water that surrounds and permeates you—a porous version of you, and in which you can breathe. Like being a fish in water.
Only when the flow of prana is obstructed or constricted, do we feel lumpy, choppy, sticky, tight, black or hollow-feeling areas in the pranamayakosha. It is a sad truth that prana will not flow in the face of tension (or in the neck, back or legs of tension either, I’m afraid). Sad, because most of us hold some tension somewhere in our bodies, and that tension constricts the flow of prana.
There is a pithy saying in Chinese medicine that says, “Xue follows Qi.” If we translate this into terms and ideas related to Ayurveda and Yoga, we could say that the blood and other dhatus (tissues) of the body coalesce around whatever prana is doing. If prana is flowing smoothly, blood will flow smoothly and the bodily tissues, organs and systems will be well nourished by prana and blood. When the flow of prana is constricted or obstructed, blood flow also slows and our tissues, organs and systems suffer either from malnutrition, or stagnation.
If we are interested in irrigating our tissues and organs with energy and blood, it is useful first to dissolve or remove whatever may be constricting or obstructing prana.
What constricts or obstructs the flow of prana? Acute or chronic tension or stagnation. Tension constricts, and stagnation blocks a flow. Either way, the flow of prana is obstructed. Obstruction may be temporary, like when we are briefly shocked or scared, or it may be long standing, like when we have chronic anxiety, injury, tension or physical or emotional pain.
In my experience, most effective, non-surgical techniques for dissolving obstructions in the pranamayakosha, involve a combination of love and focus.
Love Makes Us Receptive To Change
Almost every time my guru would put his students into meditation, he would say to do our practices lovingly, without thinking of them as a burden. He said this so often that I stopped hearing him. His words almost ceased to mean anything to me. Until I was studying hormones and ran across this interesting fact: When we are in love, the hormone oxytocin increases. When oxytocin increases, it makes our brains more receptive to the creation of new neural pathways. And that comes in handy when we’re trying to meditate and transform our thought patterns and perceptions.
When behavior is either strong, or repeated enough times, the resulting patterns become set, like cement hardening over time, memorializing whatever impressions were imprinted when it was new and wet. Some obstructions in our pranamayakoshas may have been planted in early childhood. Or we may have repeated behavior—consciously or unconsciously—throughout our life that has constricted prana in certain areas of our body.
Our brains and pranamayakoshas are intimately connected. When one is softened, the other softens. When oxytocin levels increase, it acts as a softening serum for the cemented patterns in the matrix of the pranamayakosha, as well as the brain, so we may more easily clear impressions and obstructions.
This is why it is helpful to do pranayama—techniques that affect the pranamayakosha—in an attitude of love.
Naturally, there may be mornings we don’t feel like doing our practices, and it might be hard to get to Love. When I feel this way, I find I can sometimes more easily find my way to gratitude. Even being grateful for a nice fragrance, sound, vision, or the fact that I just had the privilege of sleeping in a warm, dry place, or gratitude for the fact that I will likely be able to enjoy a particularly nice cup of tea or type of jam after my practice—gratitude is gratitude, and gratitude for any one of these small things is enough to get gratitude flowing in my veins. And, to me, the feeling of gratitude irrigating my consciousness feels similar to the experience of Love. In either case, I feel more receptive to change.
Focus Creates Change
Prana follows focus. Once love or gratitude has softened the matrix of the mind and pranamayakosha, we can employ focus, first to dissolve obstructions, and then, if desired, as a tool to etch new patterns into that now oxytocin-softened matrix.
There are many techniques that have been developed that serve to move and cultivate healthy prana. As long as they work, any of them are good. I often share a technique I have found effective to dissolve obstructions in the pranamayakosha. [This technique is described in the “Dissolving Obstructions” track on Dr. Welch’s “Prana” cd.] It involves cultivating a loving mood, visualizing the pranamayakosha and using focus and breath to dissolve obstructions.
Getting rid of patterns and pockets of obstruction in the pranamayakosha can happen instantaneously, but keeping the prana flowing smoothly requires practice and attention. It is helpful to practice throughout the day, but especially to devote some time every morning. Early morning is to the twenty-four hour period of a day, as birth is to a lifespan.
The Transformative Potential of a Morning Practice
Each morning we have a little window into a kind of energy present at the beginning of life, and we have the potential to set or reinforce new patterns for the day ahead. We know from science that what we do and experience in infancy and early life shapes our experience in the rest of our lives, and so it is with early morning shaping our experience from day to day. And if our days change, our lives change.
With love, focus, and practice—especially in the early morning, it may even be possible to shift old patterns that originated in trauma in our own birth, infancy or early childhood.