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Excerpt 1 from Richard Rosen's "The Practice of Pranayama"

Rosen-PracticeofPranayama-Cover-BL Starting a mediation practice or yoga practice?  Pranayama - or working with the breath -- is critical for both practices.  This transcribed excerpt from Richard Rosen's The Practice of Pranayama: An In-Depth Guide to the Yoga of Breath highlights the importance of having a solid foundation in pranayama and offers very specific instruction on how to begin.

Many of the old yoga books such as the yoga sutra begin with the Sanskrit word “atta” which means “now.” Atta is said to be a blessing indicating that now at this most fortunate juncture the student is ready to hear the teaching and take up the practice of yoga. And so now let’s prepare for our practice of pranayama.
Folding a blanket, introduction: First, I will briefly explain how to fold and use a blanket for a reclining support and then I will give you three preliminary breathing practices. At the start of the practice we will be reclining for breathing for awhile, so let me remind you why many schools of modern yoga sit for breathing practice right away. But the approach I’ve learned over 25 years ago begins by reclining and stays in that position for many months to come. The reasoning is that most Western students are not accustomed to sitting on the floor. We are a culture of chair sitters. And chair sitting is much different than and not conducive to floor sitting. Most of us slump when we floor sit even if we’re propped up on a folded blanket or cushion, and this misaligned posture makes even everyday breathing difficult, not to mention pranayama. But reclining is something most of us can do relatively easily, and getting aligned while supine on the floor is relatively easier than when sitting. The premises is then that reclining frees us from the concern of maintaining a proper sitting alignment and allows us to concentrate solely on our breath.
You’ll need the following props. At least one blanket is required. A second is optional to use as a neck and head support. If you’re practicing on a bare floor, you might also want to pad yourself with a sticky mat, folding and reclining on a blanket for support. To prepare for reclining practice, I will describe how to fold your blanket for two different forms of support. The first one we’ll call narrow, the second we’ll call broad. The narrow support is generally comfortable for most students but not for all because of its narrowness; some students find it unstable and as a result have a difficult time relaxing. So I’ll offer you an alternative broad support that you might try if the narrow support doesn’t suit you. Even if the narrow support feels fine, you might want to try the broad support. So I’ll offer the folding instructions and then we’ll ask you to lie down on each support so you can feel what works best for you.

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Pranayama (Wikipedia)