Experimentation and Pranayam: what do you do with “prohibitions”?

My Very Last Breath

Photo credit: Wikipedia


I started thinking about this last December when I was reading a lot about Brahmari, or “Bumble Bee Breath.” I read in several places to always practice Brahmari sitting upright, but never any reason for avoiding other postures. So I asked the writers and what I heard back was that they were simply repeating what they’d read or been taught.


I thought a lot about why practicing Brahmari supine or even prone or twisted or inverted might be cautioned against and wondered if it was because of the mid-forehead focus and pranic flow, or because of the deep, seemingly skeletal vibration, it creates in the torso – or some combination.

Memento Mori

Memento Mori (Photo credit: Reini68)

Many of my students use this technique to power down at night or even to encourage deep sleep and some have asked about doing it in bed. While I know that the ideal for all pranayam and meditation practices is to remain alert, when these techniques are used for what might be considered their “side” effects – calming, relaxing, stress release, anti-insomnia – it makes sense not to fight the very thing you’re courting, right?


After consulting the many and varied sources – primary and secondary, dog eared beloved books and websites – and finding no discussion of “Why not,” I decided that the only way to tell was to run the experiment. After all, I thought, I was taught Kapalabhati as a seated practice, but I’ve experienced power and kundalini classes in which we combined with Fierce (or chair) pose and even Ardha Navasana (or half-boat).


I practiced Brahmari in corpse (modified for hand position) and Viparita Karani primarily, in bed, on the mat, with a cat and in a hat. (Not really; I don’t have a cat.) Having my back on the floor dissipated and dampened the torso vibration more rapidly, so my guess is this is the source of prohibitions against doing so. However, it also released tension in my neck and shoulders (massive for me) and was the perfect pre-sleep ritual.


Going back to my students and reporting my findings after several weeks of practice and experimentation, they told me they’d been secretly doing it, too -and loving it – reporting the same findings.


Hence my question: what do you do when you hear a pose or technique is “contra-indicated” for you or a position or whatever? Inversions are verboten women menstruating, goes the common wisdom, but many report loving the practice.


I’m all for respecting the wisdom of the ages, it’s part of what led me to yoga after all. But the discipline of heeding instruction is balanced by the wisdom of listening to my body, in my experience. How do you maintain this balance? Is there a line you won’t cross?


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10 thoughts on “Experimentation and Pranayam: what do you do with “prohibitions”?

  1. Definitely a combination, but my comfort level with changing up things has grown with experience and education. The line I dont cross is the same as with traditional instruction – feeling discomfort, pain, or unsafe in the pose.

  2. Pingback: Kapala-mula-bhati in the morning: breath + posture = happiness | Badlands Yoga

  3. I try to use common sense and listen to my body–but also follow wisdom of the ages. 🙂 I tried practicing inversions on my cycle and it didn’t work for me, which means I think there’s something too the idea of avoiding them. Also try to do medical research to back up the whys and why nots for postures, breath, etc.

  4. Hi yogainbloom and Lora! Sounds like we’re mostly of a mind, trusting body, intuition, research on the path 🙂 I’m with you, Lora, on the inversion question, but I have students who love it, so I say, “More power to ’em!”

  5. Where I was trained pranayama was a big part of the practice and we used kappalabhati during many different poses (even down dog). I think pranayama is a very personal practice and I offer it as an option to the students I know dig it.

    Just like all practices in yoga we have to look within for the answers to your questions. If they don’t feel right then they should not be done even if they are in a text book fashion. If they feel right in a modified way (seated vs lying down) then do them that way.

  6. I’ve often contemplated the inversion menstruation thing. Then I decided it was another patriarchal way to control women’s bodies. So, if I feel like it, I do it!

    • I’m in the explore and do what resonates camp. I think that dudes thinking about what things might feel like for a woman menstruating and giving instruction could either be a generous act or an exercise in futility and possibly control depending on the dude and the circumstance. In general, though, prohibitions make me suspicious.

  7. Great questions! I always familiarized myself with all contraindications & keep the info in the back of my mind…I’m with you all with going with what feels right for me…I’ve noticed that I’m coming back to many of the asana & pranayam practices that I tried many, many moons ago, when perhaps I wasn’t quite ready…you know, when the ego was leading my practice..now that I’m a little more in tune with “me” it’s interesting to revisit some of this…

  8. Is there a line you won’t cross? I suppose in my practice I cross lines all the time but am much more conservative with students and give options with the options of the conservative approach. It is easier for me to have these lines be fuzzy in non prenatal classes than prenatal or when working with the infirmed.

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