Yoga

Yoga is the union of the body, mind, and spirit.

Yoga is the rage of the health industry today. Taught in a warm room, yoga allows the individual’s mind to zero into one’s breath and focus on creating a flow through the different asanas, building strength, agility, balance, and flexibility…All the attributes of a body aging well.

“Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are. The practice of yoga is the practice of meditation – or inner listening – in the poses and meditations, as well as all day long. It’s a matter of listening inwardly for guidance all of the time, and then daring enough and trusting enough to do as you are prompted to do…” from the book ‘Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness

 

Yoga

is the science that deals with the body, breath, mind, soul, and ultimately the universal self. In ancient times Hatha Yoga was practiced for many years as a preparation for higher states of consciousness (meditation). In some respect, the real purpose of this great science has been forgotten about and yoga has become a physical exercise. Yoga was never meant to be a sweaty and exhausting exercise. The Hatha Yoga practices were created by the rishis and sages of old, for the evolution of mankind. The main purpose of Hatha Yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind, and energy. When this balance is obtained, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to the central force (sushumna nadi) which is responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. When this is achieved, the rise of the Kundalini/pranyama from the base of the spine to the top of the head is amazing. An individual may feel their spinal column get very warm.The Yoga Sutras (a collection of aphorisms relating to some aspect of the conduct of life) are thought to be the philosophical basis of yoga and authored by the father of yoga, Patanjali around the year 250 CE.  They make little mention to the actual yoga postures but more to the actual behavior of the yoga practitioner. When teachers speak about yoga off the mat, they are referring to one’s behavioral conduct in everyday life.

From the Yoga Sutras come the eight fold path: “the eight limbs”. The first two steps on the eightfold path are the yamas and niyamas. These are ethical and spiritual observances and help us develop the more profound qualities of our humanity.  The yoga teacher may take one or more of these yamas and or niyamas and focused on them during yoga class.

The yamas are directed towards others. They are as follows: Ahimsa: nonviolence towards others, Satya: Truthfullness, Asteya: not stealing, Brahmacharya: Chastity or controlling one’s sexual impulses, and Aparigraha: non coveting.

The niyamas are directed towards oneself.  Niyamas are recommended activities and habits for healthy living, spiritual enlightenment and liberated state of existence which are: cleanliness of mind and body, equanimity, temperance or tapas, self-appraisal, and attentiveness to God, who is conceived of as a completely free spirit.

The practice of the yoga postures (the third limb) is considered to loosen the body and prepare it for meditation. Surya Namaskara, the Sun Salutation is prized highly for its ability to exercise the entire body and is practiced in the morning facing the rising sun in the east or in the evening facing the setting sun to the west. Yoga postures known as asanas are synchronized rhythmically with the breath (pranayama) and were originally created according to Patajali’s Aphorisms (the 5,000 year old book that codified the entire spiritual practice of Yoga), to prepare the body to be flexible enough to sit in meditation for many hours without discomfort. Somewhere along the way, folks discovered that these same postures kept you young and filled with vigor. It is said that if you practice 12 Sun Salutations daily you will always feel young.

Pranayama is the practice of breathing and the fourth limb. The word Pranayama consists of two parts: Prana and Ayma. Ayma means stretch, extension, expansion, breath, regulation, prolongation, restraint, and control, describing the action of Pranayama. Prana is energy, the self-energizing force that embraces the body. Pranayama is when this self-energizing force embraces the body with extension, expansion, and control. Your breath will give you clarity. During your yoga practice, we encourage you to breath in what you want to bring into your practice at the present moment and breathe out anything that might get in the way. Let your breath guide you as you practice your yoga. Take notice of the breath. Does it get easier to take deeper breathes as you continue to move. Does your breath get easier and deeper?

Breathing

Basic Breath Awareness—Anytime anywhere. Breathing through your nose, observe the inhalation and the exhalation. Which happens faster? Which is longer? Don’t manipulate them. Just watch. Continue for 2-3 minutes. After you have watched the breath can you see if your  inhalation and exhalation can become rhythmic? Four counts in for an inhalation and four counts for an exhalation. Image an ocean wave…the smoothness of the wave. Can you breath become fluid? Can you breathe 50 full inhalations and exhalations? Work up to 50 if need be. Once achieved, take notice of your entire self, have you changed along with your breath. Remember, your breath is your life force.

Ujjayi Pranayama

(Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath)—This classic pranayama practice, known for its soft, soothing sound similar to breaking ocean waves, can further enhance the relaxation response of slow breathing.   The theory is that the vibrations in the larynx stimulate sensory receptors that signal the vagus nerve to induce a calming effect. Focus your attention on your breath during asana. Inhale through your nose, then open the mouth and exhale slowly, making a “HA” sound. Try this a few times and then close your throat in the same shape you used to make the “HA”, as you exhale through the nose.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

(Alternate Nostrill Breathing)—This practice of alternating between the right and left nostrils as you inhale and exhale “unblocks and purifies the nadis, which in yogic belief are energy passages that carry life force and cosmic energy through the body. (One pilot study found that within seven days of practicing this technique, overactive nervous systems were essentially re balanced. A study of 90 people with high blood pressure found Nadi Shodhana lowered blood pressure and improved mental focus.

Kumbhaka Pranayam

(Breath Retention)—Inhale fully and then wait 10 seconds, you will be able to inhale a bit more. Why? Holding your breath increases pressure inside the lungs and gives them time to fully expand, increasing their capacity. As a result, the blood that travels to the heart, brain, and muscles will be more oxygenated. The body becomes more alkaline as we learn to breath deeper. (Use after asana to prepare for meditation) Inhale, inflating the lungs as fully as possible. Hold the breath for 10 seconds (people with anxiety start with 3 seconds and have them work their way up), inhale a little more. Then hold it as long as you can then exhale.

Kapalabhati Pranayama

(Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath)—This rapid breathing technique is energizing, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. It has been shown to increase the speed of decision-making. Breath of fire is not recommended for people under stressful situations. Try it to jump start your asana practice when feeling lethargic, or for brainpower when you are foggy. Take a full, deep inhale and exhale slowly. Inhale again, and begin exhaling by quickly pulling in the lower abs to force air out in short spurts. Your inhales will be passive between each active, quick exhalation. Continue for 25-30 exhalations.

4 More Reasons to Breathe Right

  1. Happiness and Emotional Stability—manipulating the breath can alter how we feel by 40 percent variance in feelings of anger, fear, joy, and sadness.
  2. Weight Loss—yogic breathing practices increase levels of leptin, a hormone produced fat tissue that signals the brain to inhibit hunger.
  1. Better exercise stamina—studies have shown that yogic breathing increases the use of a large percentage of the surface area of the lungs, amount that maximizes the O2 taken in.
  2. Longer Life—just one session of relaxing practices like meditation, yoga, and chanting influenced the expression of genes in both short-term and long-term practitioners according to a Harvard study. Blood samples taken before and after the breathing practices indicated a post-practice increase of genetic material involved in improving metabolism and a suppression of genetic pathways linked with inflammation. Since chronic inflammation has been associated with such deadly diseases as Alzheimer’s, depression, cancer, and heart disease, it’s probably fair to say that better breathing may not only change your life but may also save it.
  3. Perhaps one less workout and one 30 minute session of breathing will make all the difference in one’s body, one’s life. During my exercise teaching career, many people would stay in class until the very last abdominal or leg exercise. But once the cool down and stretching began, everybody immediately left. “Gotta go pick up the kid” they would say. Now, yoga is all the rage??? Or are the fancy postures all the rage? Let’s try making the simplest postures/asanas the best we can make them and incorporate that rhythmic breathing. Give yourself the opportunity to see the effects of breathing before twisting like a pretzel.

When to Inhale and When to Exhale

When bending forward, exhale. When you exhale, the lungs empty, making the torso, more compact, so there is less physical mass between your upper and lower body as they move toward each other. The heart rate also slows on the exhalation, making it less activating than an inhalation and inducing a relaxation response. Since forward bends are typically quieting postures, this breathing rule enhances the energetic effects of the pose and the depth of the fold.

When lifting or opening the chest, inhale. In a heart-opening back-bend, for instance, you increase the space in your chest cavity, giving the lungs, rib cage, and diaphragm more room to fill with air. And heart rate speeds up on an inhalation, increasing alertness and pumping more blood to muscles. Plus deep inhalation requires muscular effort that contributes to its activating effect. Poses that lift and open the chest are often the practice’s energizing components, so synchronizing them with inhalations takes optimum advantage of the breath’s effects on the body.

When twisting, exhale. In twists, the inhalation accompanies the preparation phase of the pose (lengthening the spine, etc.), and the exhalation is paired with the twisting action. Posturally, that’s because as your lungs empty there’s more physical space available for your rib cage to rotate further. But twists are also touted for their detoxifying effects, and the exhalation is the breath’s cleansing mechanism for expelling CO2.

The fifth limb is Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses. This means that the exterior world is not a distraction from the interior world within oneself. This is the beginning of totally calming the mind and become one within yourself.

The sixth limb is Dharana: concentration, meaning the ability to focus on something uninterrupted by external or internal distractions. Here is a good place to be just conscious of the one’s breath.

The seventh limb is Dhyana: Meditation. Building upon Dharana, the concentration is no longer focused on a single thing but is all encompassing.

“If every child in the world would be taught meditation, we would eliminate violence from the world within one generation”. The Dalai Lama

We humans have explored the farthest regions of outer space, have probed the deepest depths of the oceans, have split the atom, and discovered that our entire world of matter is actually made of waves and particles of light but for the most of history we haven’t had a clue about our inner world. That clueless time is over, the word is out; the battle for the future is on. It’s time to awaken, come into your power by becoming fully conscious. The only way to do that is by going inward, by meeting your higher self, by mastering meditation.

The eight and most symbolic limb is Samadhi: Bliss. Building upon Dhyana, the transcendence of the self through meditation. The merging of the self with the universe.

 

Namaste,

    May the light in me honor the light in all of you…

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