About

Photo: Michael Smith seated on a Caribbean beach - 2008
On the beach at St. Johns, Virgin Islands in 2008

breath, energy, life, spirit = self-discovery through yoga was my original tag line for this blog, but it’s changed:  an agnostic yogi explores life, breath and spirit, one asana at a time.

I made the change because I came to the conclusion that my relationship with yoga could not be based on blind acceptance of a pre-existing belief system (and there is a proliferation of rigid, arbitrary systems being marketed in the US yoga world), but on the actual experience of practicing yoga and related disciplines. By its very nature, yoga is empirical, experiential and practice-based. Even the centuries of yoga-related history in India cannot be applied mechanically to Western culture.

Prana Journal has existed since April 2004, but I have been around a lot longer, more than 60 years. But this blog really represents the culmination of a life-long search: Prana Journal is a running account of my learning process with yoga, mediation and breath work as tools for personal realization. I don’t write as an expert, but rather as an engaged student who gains better understanding by describing what he has learned and sharing it with others.

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée
Urdhva Dhanurasana or wheel pose. My friend Glenn Buco helps move move deeper into the pose

Prana is a Sanskrit word that has multiple meanings. It literally means “to breathe forth.” It can also mean “breath of life, breath, respiration, vitality, vigor, energy, power and spirit,”  (a nod to Richard Rosen’s excellent book,  The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama). It is the all-pervading vital energy or life force of the universe, equivalent to the concept of chi in Chinese. The conscientious monitoring of breath is one of the distinguishing features of yoga, which separate it from Western forms of exercise. Breath is also the gateway to mindfulness because it keeps us firmly anchored in the present moment in our bodies and our minds.

Vectors

One of my entry points to this exploration was the Art of Living Foundation and its spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and that is probably why most visitors come to this site. The kriya practice led me to yoga. However, I’ve not participated in the local AoL groups in the DC area in recent years and I have reservations about a guru-led spiritual practice.

I practice in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and I try to comment on the yoga scene in the area, though not as much as I’d like. I have set up an incomplete directory of yoga studios. I am also interested in how yoga has seeped into mainstream culture in North America and Europe and the dynamic, socio-cultural tensions resulting from this convergence.

A Personal Story

But the most important aspect of a yoga practice is the dynamic flow as it affects spirit, mind and body. It’s a personal story. It starts with a simple question:

In August 2013, I completed the 200-hour Thrive Yoga teacher training intensive (one month) as a way of consolidating my yoga experience. Teaching was not the primary motivation but who knows what the future holds. I forged heart-felt, lasting bonds with my classmates and instructors.

Photo: students and teachers of yoga training
Thrive Yoga Teacher Training July Intensive (2013). I am the sole male in the crew and it did not bother me.

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