20 August 2016

still with bhastrika & mukha

When a tennis player grunts as they hit a ball, this grunt helps with the effort. In the same way, we can use mukha bhastrika to help us with a few poses. In Surya Namaskara specifically. As you go to the floor as in astanga asana/8 points pose/knees chest chin to floor; or come down into chaturanga asana/low plank, whether from standing or plank; or just lower yourself, even gently, to lying flat on the floor; go down with one mukha bhastrika. And then as you go up into mountain/downdog, do another mukha bhastrika. This is particularly effective as a method to build up strength. Again - no overkill, please!!

An alternative version is to omit mukha bhastrika with Surya Namaskara as we described above, & instead hold mountain/downdog as in Surya Namaskra A, with or without plank pose included, & in downdog, do 1 - 5 rounnds of mukha bhastrika, in this way: inhale nose; exhale mouth in a bird's beak: shoo! shoo! shoo! 3 - 6 "shoos" per one inhale. This is wonderful for increasing daily alertness.

There is also a mouth bhastrika whereby one does bhastrika as normal, pumping the abdomen, but with a twist: do both inhale & exhale through the mouth. Do 20 or more. Powerful for alertness & cooling inflammation, especially in the gut. You can do bhastrika through the nose first, then do the same amount with the mouth, an equal number of times. Do this at the end of poses, in your pranayama section.

And another alternative, channelled by myself: inhale/nose; exhale/blow out through the mouth. This is not the mukha bhastrika that I have been describing, it's just a strong "blow", pulling in the abdomen at the same time. Do this fast, about 20 times, then follow with 20 fast kapalabhatis. Very nice. Do as your cleansing breaths in your pranayama section, without adding extra types of bhastrika.

Another type of bhastrika that I have successfully used in therapy, & it has been so strong in waking up the brain, is a hissing breath. For people who cannot do poses, they can sit, inhale/drop head; exhale/lift up head as you hiss the breath out loudly, look up at the end. For the rest of us: do this in cobra! As you raise head/shoulders/chest, hiss the breath out loudly. Inhale back to the floor. Do 3 -5 times. Not in Surya Namaskara, but as a pose on it's own. Be sure to look up as you go up. This also lifts the spirits, so is most useful, & is great for when we are feeling "down".

So, we now have several different ways to use bhastrika. Overkill is not advised. Make sure that you don't add too much to the poses. Always remember: less is more! & we want people to have a good experience, not a hyped-up one. Avoid bhastrikas in the evening, for they will keep you awake.

Do one thing & teach it for a while. Try to be consistent & not chop & change. Your students will love it. If there are any queries, please post in the comments section.

14 August 2016

mukha bhastrika

So far we have been looking at bhastrika for kundalini, &, also done differently for health. We have been looking at nasikagra bhastrika. Nasikagra is referring to the nose. But it can also be done through the mouth, the mouth bhastrika being known as mukha bhastrika, & there are several forms of it.

I always advise students to exhale through the mouth if they are having difficulty doing a posture: for example, lying on the back bringing one or both knee/s towards the chest as you lift the head & shoulders up: pawanmuktasana/leg lock pose/reclining head to knee/gas relieving pose...whatever you know it as. And in cases of even more difficulty, I advise just pulling the knee/s into the body, blowing the air out firmly through pursed lips, at the same time, & pulling in the abdomen as it is done. But for a morning class, I suggest mukha bhastrika instead. In mukha bhastrika, the inhale is through the nose, but the exhale is done firmly & vigorously through the mouth, with the mouth being made into a hard beak shape, like a crow's beak, so the lips are pushed forwards. When you exhale, you pull the tummy back as you make a loud: "shoo!" sound. If you don't get the beak movement right, then you don't get the full effect.

This form of mukha bhastrika is deceptively profound. And, if your student is a smoker, or hasn't done much deep breathing, or is prone to breathing disorders, such as asthma...too much of it will really be too much. Take care here. Avoid if your student has bronchitis.

Mukha bhastrika increases alertness, so this is why I don't teach in it evening classes....it keeps one awake all night.

A few years ago I taught it very successfully for older people with dementia, alzheimer, psychosis, in a mental health unit. The people in the class could do nothing, could barely open their eyes, let alone speak or move the body...many were just there to live out their days in brain deterioration. Most sad. I felt that the best I could do was to "wake up the brain" as best as possible. It worked! It was a miracle! I did several things...& we gradually got around to be able to do a modified form of mukha bhastrika. It woke up many of the students brains, & they started talking to each other & moving around. The whole place changed. It woke up, became alive, even for those who could not do mukha bhastrika.

It is amazing for "waking up the brain", & my personal experience is that it seems to reduce inflammation, by cooling down the body. This is not the same as doing cooling breaths. Different. So, doing it in the morning with pawanmuktasana as described above, will have a very positive on blood sugar, as blood sugar problems are often an inflammatory disorder. Just doing both legs together 3-5x is enough, with mukha bhastrika.

Mukha bhastrika is another pranayama which is to be used a bit. Not a lot. Start just with the above mentioned pawanmuktasana pose. See for your self what the effects are like. Always remember: teach only what you know!

5 August 2016

pranayama for general health

So we have looked at pranayama for spirituality, but there are other ways to use pranayama, too. And because we have been seeing how bhastrika works for the internal fire, today we will look at it for health.

Bhastrika means "bellows". Bellows are a gadget which one moves to pump air into a fire, to fan the fire. To recap, bhastrika done with the emphasis around the navel region, will do exactly that. It will fan the inner fire, especially when it is done consistently. However, we can also use bhastrika to emphasise lung action, instead.

In a class, I will often have 1 or more selected poses to "force" air into particular areas of the lungs, such as a crosslegged spinal twist: often at the end of a class, we will do 10-20 bhastrikas whilst we are twisted to the right, then the same to the left, finishing with 1-2 rounds facing forwards. In this way, we have forced air predominantly into 1 side of the lungs with the twist. Sometimes I will do the final bhastrikas (facing forwards) emphasing the navel, but more often than not, I get people to visualise a square outline in front of the chest area, hold that image as you do the final bhastrikas, not the twists. This makes it more of a lung action, it's less of an abdominal pumping action, & is very effective. It sets up that bellows action in the lungs. I learnt this visualisation off Dr Swami Gitananda, over 40 years ago, he was an expert on pranayama. I find that it reduces mild lung inflammation.

Yoga teachers beware: do not teach pranayama to some who has chronic lung inflammation! When we have this condition, we are having great difficulty breathing, & to add pranayama is a great stressor. Sleep, rest & sun are more effective here.

Swami Gitananda said to only ever do 120 bhastrikas, or 120 kapalabhatis, or 120 of each, in one sitting. I feel that, for health purposes especially, to work up to these counts is not only doable...but also maintainable. Of course, you can also do less in a sitting.

I also do some bhastrikas: 5, 10 or 20, in a few poses at the start of a vigorous class, to get the energy going: tadasana up on toes with arms overhead..you can go up & down 3-5x first, & hold the last time whilst you do the bhastrikas, or just go up once & hold with bhastrika. Balance, one-pointedness & energy all at once. Priceless. Another is the chair poses...again, either do a few repetitions & hold, or do once & hold. Do the bhastrikas in this pose. Only teach what you know, & remember that it just doesn't work if you do bhastrikas willy-nilly in a class. Too much is silly.

Be consistent with how you teach. If you are doing repetitions then holding...then keep doing it throughout the class; if you are just holding poses, then keep doing that.

For a class where people are not used to doing pranayama...& also some of your students will not like doing pranayama, bhastrika can be very nicely done like this: do 6 left nostril, 6 right nostril, 6 both nostrils together. Do 3 only rounds. This is really nice.

For those who are prone to nose mucous, & sinus problems, teach students to do this each morning 1st thing, as a maintenance programme for those conditions: 6 right nostril; 6 left; 6 both; do 3 rounds. This is very effective & experience has taught me that it works. In this case, there is no need to add extra bhastrika. Adding more when there is this sort of tendency is not always productive.

Bhastrika stimulates & cleans. For health, using it higher, in the chest, it clears the lungs & stimulates better breathing. For spiritually, pumping to create an internal fire, this also stimulates brain activity. Our thoughts start to come to the surface, & it can be overwhelming. This is one of the reasons why it is essential to follow bhastrika with a balancing, calming pranayama.

3 August 2016

the importance of consistency with our practices

Personally, I absolutely believe in trial & error in working out what works best for us. Then, & I feel that this is important, when we find out what suits us best, for our personality, our body, our time, our life, sticking with it, as much as possible, until it is time to change things. This is one of the easiest ways to have a yoga practice, & makes it easy for us to maintain it.

I know that we see very beautiful & charismatic photos & videos of amazing yoga practitioners doing incredible poses. In all of my years of practising yoga, there were some postures that I just could not do. Ever. But my focus was on something else with yoga: deep spirituality. And when we are after the experience of the inner realms, we need something else other than physical agility: we need structure, & consistency.

It has been found that if we do deep breathing at a particular time each day, our body starts responding to this regularity about 30 minutes prior, by increasing our breathing capacity. So we get a head start. I cannot remember when or where I read this, it was quite a few years ago. Based on just the breathing aspect, we could safely assume that our body also starts "acting as though" we are doing some asanas, prior to us actually starting, & that our brain responds also with getting into a relaxed yet energised state, in preparation for meditation. In this way, we are getting double effects.

When our body & mind complex starts to get regularity in our life, our hormonal structure comes into a rhythm. This is one of the reasons why yoga people look so youthful...our glands are working well, & therefore our body is also working well, for the glands are involved with many of our body functions. The glands also have an intimate relationship with the chakras. So there is chakra stimulation involved too. Surya Namaskara, sun salute, is the easiest way for overall glandular & chakra stimulation. And most of us can do a variation of surya namaskara, whether easy or hard. Pick a number of sun salutes that you can do & maintain, & stick with it, whether it's 3 rounds, or 10. Add a twist, even as a dynamic warm up, & an inversion such as bridge pose, or 1/2 shoulderstand...which can be done against the wall, if needed, & you have a doable, easy to maintain posture session. And another thing: our bodies, including our brain impulses, they will come to expect this, & will be ready.

We will also be creating "tracks" in our brains....pathways & brain wave patterns. We have lots of tracks, already, from our thinking & emotive patterns. This is one of the ways that our brain operates. What happens with a consistent, doable, yoga practice, is we start to build new tracks, & have a more relaxed, & therefore happier, brain wave pattern. The thing is with creating new tracks, it needs regularity for this to happen. So we have a happy sensation, & it will create a weak pathway though the brain. If we continue to have this sensation, in this case it's a happy experience with something, the pathway will start to strengthen, until it become stronger than another, less happy, pathway/track. This is a general rule, & is one of the reasons why consistent meditators are calmer & happier: they have effortlessly & created calmness & happiness in their minds, & brains, & they have become established as a personality feature. Just from consistency.

In my previous post, when I wrote about bhastrika for kundalini....consistency here is paramount if we are to traverse the internal realms on a very deep level. Bhastrika stimulating the navel, builds up our internal pranic body, & is one of the practices to awaken it. This pranayama also builds up to the awakening of Mother Kundalini. It is incomparable for this...but consistency is necessary. If you build a fire in your fireplace at home, & wanted it to keep going, you wouldn't just build a fire, then not add any more firewood. No, you would be adding a wee bit of wood here & there, to keep it going, & maybe tossing on a log for overnight. During the night, the fire would then die down, but at some point it would catch on the big log, flare up, & keep going. In a similar way, this is what we are doing with our daily bhastrika, when we are doing it for spiritual purposes. We are lighting a fire, keeping it stoked with our daily kindling, then at some point it will flare up on a pranic level, we will have an experience during meditation, yoga nidra, or sleep, & we will have a spiritual "leap" up to another level. Consistency is essential for this to happen.