13002Re: Question about severe leg, feet, & hand cramping
- Jun 26, 2004--- In email@example.com, "Nina"
> Hi, Bob,Dear Nina,
> Let's take a step back and look at the difference
> between meditation and pranayama. For the purposes
> of this discussion, let's assume that meditation
> operates on the level of 'observing'. Pranayama,
> on the other hand, while it may begin with observation
> of the breath, does entail actively altering the
> patterns of respiration in the body.
I had told the email originator before posting the query about
cramping/etc that I would not disclose their name or the specific
technique, but it is one of the most widely used of all meditations,
and the pranayama that was being done involves only observing the
breath, and does not "entail actively altering the patterns of
respiration in the body." As for some of the rest of your commentary,
the classic teaching is in agreement with your advise to "seek out an
experienced teacher of pranayama", but it is of course possible that a
meditation or hatha yoga teacher is knowledgable about pranayama, and
I think you will find them to be few and far between, outside of the
meditation/hatha teachers available to most people.
Peace and blessings,
> For this reason,
> I would not compare the cramps one may experience
> while practicing pranayama necessarily with those of
> The first thing that comes to my mind in response to
> this emailer's question is: has your practice of
> pranayama lowered the levels of oxygen available
> to your muscles, either by sitting/lying in a position
> that is constricting your circulation or by breathing
> in patterns that reduce the levels of oxygen in your
> body? This is sometimes difficult to know on your
> own, so it is helpful to seek out an experienced teacher
> of pranayama (not just a meditation or hatha yoga teacher)
> and have him/her evaluate your practice.
> One of the most common things I have seen in pranayama
> practice is the tendency to push too early and long into
> an altered pattern such that one's body tenses around the
> breath, or one becomes breathless, spacey, or emotionally
> volatile. It would be unwise, when dealing with pranayama,
> to point to these 'symptoms' as 'noise from my inner
> chatterer' and press forward. These are signs of disruption,
> and the causes are often directly related to how one is
> When you experience disruption in your pranayama practice,
> it may help to back off on the frequency and duration of
> altered breath cycles. For instance, practice the altered
> pattern for 1 or 2 cycles and then return to several cycles
> of normal breathing or until you feel entirely relaxed again.
> At any time, if you feel tension anywhere in your body,
> thoughts or emotions, go back to normal breathing.
> The other issue may indeed be the position used for practicing
> pranayama. For many western folks, sitting in Padmasana for
> pranayama simply isn't productive. Most of us simply don't
> have the degree of hip flexibility necessary for most positions
> that require us to sit on the ground, including Padmasana and
> Sukhasana. The exception might be sitting on a block in Virasana,
> but again, if you wish to reduce your cramping, make sure you
> circulation is in no way impaired. The block must be high enough
> to provide ease to your knees and level support to your pelvis
> so that your central channel and spine can lift into alignment.
> Or you might try reclining pranayama or pranayama while sitting
> in a chair.
> In any case, if your muscle cramps do not resolve with simple
> fixes such as those articulated above, it is advisable to seek
> out an experienced teacher of pranayama to evaluate your practice.
> (Note: a teacher of meditation and/or hatha yoga will not
> necessarily understand the workings of pranayama.)
> Have you read Richard Rosen's book 'The Yoga of Breath'?
> It and David Coulter's section on breathing in 'Anatomy of
> Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers and Practicioners'
> are excellent companions to a pranayama practice. Rosen's
> book gives a practice outline and offers numerous options
> as regards sitting/lying positions for the practice. Coulter's
> book is highly informative as regards the physiological
> workings of pranayama.
> Good luck...
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