Fulfillment is classically said to be one of the main goals of yoga, in conjunction with freedom. The concept of fulfillment is a broad one, and it may feel abstract at first. Therefore, it can be helpful to contemplate for ourselves what this really means, especially in relation to our personal practice of yoga. We can consider the idea of fulfillment as being related to an experience. If we think about this in terms of our lives, we may find that experiences are usually more satisfying than things, and we may even begin to prioritize them over material objects. You will probably forget the toy that seemed so important when you received it on your eighth birthday, but you can probably still remember the special family trip you took that same year. Direct experience is one of the main goals of yoga because it sticks. Once you have it, you cannot lose it.
In our practice, what is the fulfilling experience we are seeking, and how will we know when we find it? This fulfilling experience is an experience of prana, the life-force energy that is the subtle aspect of breath. Prana is at the heart of yoga. The connection to and awareness of our intelligent life force is what makes our experience in practice and life so deeply fulfilling. We could look at pranic awareness in an esoteric way, but we can also think of it in extremely simple terms: If we have spent any amount of time practicing yoga, then we have most likely experienced pranic awareness as the feeling of goodness and restored equilibrium we may feel after we practice. It’s probably the thing that keeps us coming back to yoga over other forms of movement—that deep feeling of warmth, peace, perhaps even joy, that comes as a result of practice.
Yogic breathing + breath-connected movement = pranic awareness
The more we learn about yoga, the more we can see that this experience of peace and joy deepens and expands into the complete and lasting fulfillment that is an ultimate goal of yoga—especially when movement is combined with other yoga practices such as pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. With this understanding, we can begin to practice systematically to achieve, deepen, and expand our experience over time.
Yoga offers us a simple, systematic formula to cultivate deeper pranic awareness through movement: yogic breathing (deep, smooth, diaphragmatic breathing) + breath-connected movement = pranic awareness. The great thing about working with a formula is that you don’t have to try so hard, and you don’t have to force it. When you apply the formula, that fulfilling, nourishing experience that anchors the mind in a peaceful inward awareness is the natural result. Once we understand that, it becomes easier to progress in both our practice and our life. We naturally experience the sense of inner and outer freedom that goes hand in hand with the fulfilling experience of prana.
Yogic breathing and breath-connected movement will be explained in greater detail in the next article in The Simple Power of Breath-Connected Movement series, but meanwhile, try this short, nourishing practice: Lie down on your abdomen in crocodile pose. This is one of the most effective postures for cultivating healthy yogic breathing, also known as optimal diaphragmatic breathing. Rest your body into the support of the floor and feel the floor supporting you completely. Once you are settled here, breathe into the resistance of the floor beneath you and then allow your abdomen to soften away from that resistance.
Notice the feeling inside. Breathe into that feeling and allow it to expand.
Don’t force this movement; rather, continue to relax and the breath will deepen on its own. After a few minutes of observing your breath in this way, press up onto all fours. Ground yourself here and then begin to move your spine in coordination with your breath. As you exhale, round your spine, lengthen your neck, and gently draw your navel in. As you inhale, move your spine in the opposite direction, stretching and expanding the front of your body and lifting through the back of your head. This is known as the cat/cow stretch. Repeat for a minute or two and then press your hips back toward your heels and rest your upper body on the floor in child’s pose.
Close your eyes and continue to breathe as you did in crocodile pose, focusing on the movement of the breath in your abdomen. Notice the feeling inside. Breathe into that feeling and allow it to expand. Over time, you may experience a feeling of goodness, peace, and a deeper inclination to let the mind rest in this peaceful inward flow.