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Pranayama

Updated on July 31, 2009

The room is tiny, the walls painted white with colorful symbols: the Om sign, a black and white yin yang, a blue bird crossing the sky, a ripple of orange sunlight. The door to the room is flung open, and travelers in baggy pants walk up and down the street outside, dogs lounge in the sun.

We are learning to breathe. We close one nostril and breathe through the other. Then we switch. We inhale and throw our arms in the air, we exhale and pull them down to our sides. We breathe rapidly through our noses, contracting our stomachs powerfully on every exhale. We cover our eyes and ears and say Om again and again.

“Now turn to each other,” he says. “Make partner.” Danny and I are the only two students today, so this isn’t too confusing. Danny is like my cousin, or my little brother, so our next task makes us both laugh. “Sit cross-legged and face each other,” says Alpesh. “Hold your arms straight out. Now make okay sign with hands and twirl wrists to the right.” We begin twirling our wrists. “Now say, ‘You are beautiful, you are beautiful,’ every time you twirl.” Danny and I look at each other with big eyes and begin to giggle. “Go now!” says Alpesh, so we start. “You are beautiful, you are beautiful,” we tell each other as we twirl our wrists. It is impossible to hold eye contact, twirl your wrists, and say “you’re beautiful” over and over without laughing. It also feels great. We say it seven times, and then switch our wrists so we are twirling to the left. “Now do again!” says Alpesh, so we twirl our wrists, and tell each other we are beautiful seven more times.

Next he has us stand up and start jumping. We jump and jump, shaking out our wrists and laughing. Then we begin to get a little breathless. Alpesh has us moving our feet in and out, kicking our legs, and twirling. We keep jumping, and soon we are panting and dizzy. Finally he lets us stop. We collapse, embarrassingly breathless.

The last exercise is the best. Laughing yoga. I’ve done it a few times before. It’s pretty easy. You just… laugh. Alpesh starts. He throws his hands in the air and starts laughing like it’s the funniest thing in the world. Danny and I look at each other and start laughing in response. Alpesh roars in laughter, and claps his hands together. I start laughing harder, holding my sides. “Ah ha ha ha ha!” cries Alpesh, his eyes huge and wild. We laugh hysterically, more in response to Alpesh than any inherent hilarity in ourselves. “Oh! My! God!” Alpesh calls out, slapping his thighs and bellowing. He is laughing so hard he is shaking, and I find myself with my hands on my knees, gasping for air. This is hilarious.

When we leave the session, I feel cleansed and energized. The breath truly is the life flow of the body.


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