Pranayama and Emptiness

Posted by: on Dec 1, 2013 | 1 Comment
Pranayama and Emptiness
image from @abigailoneill

“Emptiness, which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness, is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities.”
― D.T. Suzuki

Emptiness.  It’s a big word.

Emptiness does not mean non-being or non-existence. In fact, there’s a big difference between non-existence and emptiness. Suppose we look at an empty glass. The glass is empty, but the glass is not non-existent, right? In order to be empty, you have to be there.  You have to exist.  And when we say the glass is empty, we have to ask, “What is it empty of?” It’s not empty of air. It’s empty of liquid, but it’s full of air. So the next question to ask is, “Empty of what?”  This vital question is a little something I learned from my boy, Thich Nhat Hanh.  We can’t just stop at saying something is empty.  We need to contemplate what exactly it is empty of.

image by @jlomlove


Generally, the word “empty” has a negative connotation. We tend to think empty means void of something, missing something, lacking something. But is that really the case?  Think of an empty building with a “for sale” sign on it. Don’t you always wonder, “What’s that gonna be?!”  Emptiness can be a blank slate, an opportunity! And with this blank slate in front of your eyes you begin to realize the potential and the possibility in what is not yet defined – in what is empty. And when you really think about it, isn’t everything empty? There is always possibility.  Everything is full/empty of something, and therefore empty/full of something else.  Oh no!  I’m making my head hurt!


Now this is not another article that is telling you to look at the glass as “half full”.  Rather than being a perpetual optimist, I think it’s more interesting (not to mention more realistic) to be able to see the  potential in all things. So… how can we apply this idea of emptiness-as-potential?

Pranayama, anyone?

Interestingly enough, I’m fairly new to the practice of Pranayama. And when I say Pranayama I don’t mean Ujjayi breathing in asana class or seeing how long I can hold my breath.  I mean really watching the Prana move in and out of me by way of my breath.  I must admit, when I first started a daily practice of Pranayama about 8 months ago- I hated it. And up until about 2 months ago- I still hated it. I was getting angry, anxious and irritated. And I was thinking to myself, “Why isn’t this working?!?!” However, with a consistent daily practice, something shifted, and I started to notice things in my life changing. I was feeling more like myself. Like I had become who I was all along. Not confused, stressed, rushed or guilty. Just me.

The practice of Pranayama had unlocked a certain potential in ME! It had helped to empty me out so that I could realize my own capacity.  I was becoming the big empty building of opportunity!  (Well, not really, but you know what I mean…)

The Pranayama practice is empty of outcome. Pranayama promises nothing.  Your upper arms won’t get more toned, your ass won’t get tighter.  I can’t promise that you will sleep better or that your sex life will improve.  Now how could you possibly stick to something without knowing what will come of it? Generally, we do things for results, right?

Well, I can’t make you any guarantees, but in my experience, practicing pranayama on a daily basis has helped me empty out in the best of ways.  The shift is subtle but powerful.  Practicing daily helps wipe my own slate clean. And with a blank slate, I can begin to realize the possibility in what is not yet defined in me – in what is empty.  And I have to tell you… it’s pretty exciting!

***NOTE: Only practice Pranayama under the guidance of an experienced teacher!  This stuff is powerful – you can’t just play around with the life force on your own!


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1 Comment

  1. Tracey Toomey McQuade
    July 3, 2013

    Emptiness-as-opportunity. Love it! And now… I’m off to practice some Pranayama! 😉