28 October 2016

abdominal breath flow yoga with intention

                      Image result for meditation

More abdominal breathing

As mentioned in my previous post, the abdominal breath can be done throughout all the postures. Doing this creates a meditative, relaxing class, where there is no need for cleansing breaths such as bhastrikas or kapalabhatis. It's like a flow of breath. A flow of the abdominal breath.

For advanced classes, just add something extra

And for an advanced class, the abdominal breath can be done with ujjayi, along with more difficult poses, if required.

Flowing style and abdominal breath

This type of flowing class works so well with flowing movements. For example, groups of two, three,  or more poses, in little series. The best known example being: plank or all fours, moving into chaturanga or knees chest chin to floor, or even lowering oneself gently to the floor,followed by sphinx, cobra, or updog, finishing with child or mountain/down dog.

Sun salutes can be done slowly, with the abdominal breath. Dancing warrior. Or even just a vinyasa flow class followed by some relaxing poses at the end, finishing with a few restorative poses.

And with breathing practices (pranayama)

You can also use the abdominal breath for Nadi Shodana (where one breathes into one nostril then out the opposite nostril, then back again), at the end of class pranayama. As a stand alone pranayama, nothing else needed.

Which leads to

Which quite naturally leads into meditation. Because this style of breathing in a class, or in home practice (sadhana), is also meditative within itself.

However, in an hour long class, which I think is quite an adequate length of time for moving with the breath, you might prefer to just do relaxation instead. Either way, moving with relaxed focus on the abdominal breath, throughout the postures section of a class, leads one very quickly into something like meditation or relaxation: one simply goes within, naturally.

Abdominal breath helps with setting an intention

Start the class by getting into the abdominal breath (see my previous post), adding "relax on the exhale" after a few breaths,  then gradually moving into adding pauses after a few more breaths. Then ujjayi, if it's being used. If you like to add intention, it really helps to have the mind peaceful. (forceful affirmations are counterproductive) So you could add it here, when the mind is too relaxed to come up with negative reactions to the intention.

What is intention? Some might call it sankalpa. Like a resolve, really. Ideally an intention is something that you are wanting to do in or with your life. In this case, we use it over and over, with the idea being that it will manifest in one's life. Sometimes it actually can be the wrong sankalpa. It's best that it is stated in positive words, with the underlying intention that it will come true. You will know that it is the wrong sankalpa if everything to do with it is, quite frankly, so difficult. It will be difficult in this case in the way that too many obstacles will arise, even in some cases, unpleasantness. If it's the correct sankalpa for you, then things will move effortlessly towards it. You will find yourself wanting to do whatever you need to do to make it a reality!

Sometimes a teacher will ask everyone to make an intention for that class, for themselves. Other times, an intention may be given by the teacher.

I am no longer too rigid about what is done for sankalpa, or intention, with a class. I know two excellent yoga teachers who do something different. One reads a virtues card before the class. A virtue can be courage, grace, kindness, etc. So it's a card with the virtue on it, plus the definition. One could get quite mystical and inspired here. Another friend has all sorts of cards such as Goddess cards, tarot, and other similar packs. Often her class arrives early and chooses a card with the intention that it is relevant to oneself. And some also choose from her lovely array of crystals to place on their mats throughout the class. Totally lovely.

If you really want to know if, and how this all works:

I recommend that all yoga teachers try out these sort of suggestions, such as abdominal breath throughout their own sadhana, intention, things similar to intention. Try it and see. So that you know for yourself the effects and also, how to teach these suggestions. You might like them, or, they might not be right for your classes. Either way, only teach what you know. It keeps one's integrity intact.

21 October 2016

breathing for stress relief

                   Related image

Continuing with The Breath

So we have been looking at ways to do The Complete Breath. here & here  And breathing to stimulate the inner fire here, plus breathing to cleanse the frontal lobes here.

Where to add The Complete Breath

I find it easier to get students to do complete breathing at the front of a class, or in the pranayama section at the end. And, it is easier to teach it as a stand-alone pranayama at the end of the class, prior to relaxation or meditation.

The Abdominal Breath

But sometimes I start with an easier breath, which people often call the abdominal breath. This quickly calms and brings the mind to one-pointedness. Then I encourage it through out the class. It's done similarly to the complete breath, but is also not at all like the complete breath! I started teaching in this way as I could see that people were not relaxed in a class. And were therefore straining and overheating. (Two of my bug-bears). Abdominal breathing calms our emotions. In this way, it also calms the ever-fluctuating mind. So, it's an absolute blessing. When the mind is calmed, the Higher Realms can be effortlessly reached.

     "behind the veil of stress is a beautiful silence"

How to do the abdominal breath
  • put one hand on your navel
  • on your next exhale, gently draw the navel back towards the spine. You could say "draw the abdomen back to the spine", if you prefer
  • release the abdomen to breathe in
  • continue for a few breaths
  • move into doing a tiny pause after each inhale and after  each exhale. The wee pauses are like the icing on a cake, they add the finishing touch to the abdominal breath, and take it to the next level. Surprisingly, this type of breathing gives longer endurance in a class.

Adding ujjayi

Doing the abdominal breath in this way, leads one easily into ujjayi. Ujjayi is sometimes called the Victory breath, the Psychic breath, the Whispering breath. I was taught decades ago, to use it for teaching for heart recovery, such a s strokes. Unfortunately, over the decades I have noticed that it was being taught quite strenuously. I was originally taught to constrict the glottis as I breathed in and out, to make a soft noise> Doing it this way did seem to encourage some people to be very loud with it. It isn't supposed to be about loudness.  And with the glottis constriction, some people would tense their jaw. This is counterproductive to stress release.

Swami Janakananda stayed with me once, and proclaimed that ujjayi was being incorrectly taught in Australia & New Zealand.

These days I teach it in a more sublime way:

Using the abdominal breath, with the tiny pauses, open your mouth as you exhale, quietly saying "ha-a-a-a". Inhale through the mouth. Do this a few times. Then add: "a-a-a-h" with the mouth open, for the inhale. The sound being made is very soft, & the breath sort of skims backwards/inhaling, & forwards/exhaling, along the upper palette. Try it, ujjayi this way is beautiful: instant happiness! There is a gentle stimulation also to Lalana chakra, in the upper throat.

Abdominal breath and meditation

The abdominal breath is a stand alone breath which can take you very easily into meditation....just keep doing it, & for meditation, add the mantra, or sounds, of  so/inhale; ham/exhale. Ham sounds like "hum". Do it for a few minutes.

You can also add ujjayi to this, making it even more relaxing & profound.

19 October 2016

why breathe in this way? & a correction

                                  Image result for lungs

But first, a correction

Following on from my previous post here, I said that the lungs don't actually go up to the shoulders, which was not what I meant! They don't go all the way up to underneath the collarbones is what it should have read. And the top tips of the lungs, they go up in a beautiful arc to peak just slightly out to the sides, towards the shoulders. These arcs are quite little, & frequently overlooked. But as part of the lungs, they should be included. If you put the palms, fingers pointing in, just under the collarbones, & breathe in & out in this position, you will be influencing those lung tips.

Why do the complete breath? 

  • it reduces inflammation, by cooling the body. So anyone who overheats for any reason, will find it effective
  • it gets more oxygen to the brain, & for those who have never experienced the complete breath properly, it will be interesting. Suddenly, the brain lights up! 
  • we feel great, &, as oxygen is one of the key components that our brain needs, we feel fantastic
  • we get less tired. Often tiredness can be traced back to our brains needing more oxygen
  • our overall health improves, as we get improved nerve function, via the lungs & the brain

And the channelled technique mentioned, is actually for the same, but also different, reasons. The different reason are this: 

  • breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs, expanding in all directions, causes the abdominals to move even more, as well
  • so first we learn to expand the lower lungs in this way. A lot of the work of the lungs is supposed to be done deep in the lungs
  • then the breath continues, naturally & effortlessly, in that expansive manner, in an upwards motion, as though travelling up a big tube.  The breathing capacity will naturally increase
  • exhale as though the lungs are emptying from top to base, gently drawing the abdominals back towards the spine, as you do so
  • release the abdominals to start the next breath.

To do all this, causes the breath to slow down, which settles our emotions & therefore correspondingly settles our restless minds. An absolute bonus. As well, the breath helps reduce inflammation, & working the abdominals also encourages digestion & bowel function.

Once you can do the complete breath in this way, the next step is ujjayi. Soft ujjayi, & this will help open up hridayakasha, the non-physical space of the heart chakra/anahata.

The outwards tubular effect of the lower lungs, & gently drawing back of the abdomen & the navel, especially with ujjayi, works on the pranamaya kosha: the body sheath of our life - force, our prana. When the pranamaya kosha awakens, our kundalini energy can be released upwards. This is not necessarily Mother Kundalini snake, the entity of kundalini. I am talking about the trapped energy of kundalini here. Our pranic energy also "lifts up" as we take our breath up. The natural movement of energy is upwards. Earthbound energy likes to move up.

11 October 2016

the best pranayama

                   Image result for lungs and nerves

The best pranayama: the complete breath

If you only ever do one pranayama exercise, the complete breath would be the best. You use it different ways:

  • can start class or your practice with it
  • do it between poses as a recovery
  • or, just do it at the end of class, as the pranayama
  • another great option, is to do it before other pranayamas, also at the end of class

How do we teach it?

There are many ways to do and teach this. I first learnt it, over forty years ago, from Dr Swami Gitananda: 

  • he divided the lungs into left and right lobes. This is how they are, physiologically
  • then into lower, mid and upper sections
  • front, back, and sides
  • in the left lobe area, the heart takes up a fair bit of space, but still he recommended to stick with the two lobes, three sections, front, back, and sides

It is so beneficial for our nervous system

This was for pranayama reasons, and also lung health. There are networks of nerves in the front and in the back of the lungs. And, as we know, nerve impulses carry messages to and from other parts of our physiological being. To build up nerve health is also to build up our nervous system so that we are then able to decrease, without any effort, our over-sensitivity, and in this way we can become calmer and more balanced.

                               Related image

I learnt sequential breathing

  • Dr Swami Gitananda taught the use of hand placement on the front, sides, and back of the chest.
  • leading up to the Complete Breath. The Complete Breath is a deeper and longer breath than what we normally use
  • from here, he introduced hand mudras for the upper, mid and lower lobes, and also for the Complete Breath. 
All of this is very profound. I learnt all of the hand positions and mudras with the breathing practices and diligently practised them. It all taught me the power of deep breathing. How it definitely gives one more physical energy, more mental energy, as well as the transformative power on one's consciousness and  prana levels too.

I later learnt another way

Later, I lived in an ashram, where we were taught to breathe deeply. It was:

  • breathing deep so that one's belly moved, then adding the breath travelling up the lungs. I did not find this so effective, but this was supposedly the official complete breath of the time, so I taught it
  • later adding one hand on the upper abdominals, one hand on the centre of the chest, as the breath will automatically go to under where we place our hands
  • quite a few years later, the same ashram added hand mudras for breathing, using the three lobe areas: lower, mid, upper. 
The thing is, our lungs are not just flat "things", they have depth and width, lots of tubes for the air to move in. They are complex, and I do not feel that, except for Swami Gitananda, and now Dr Ananda, his son (successor, at Ananda Ashram, Pondicherry) , that this has been properly understood.

Channelled version

We can get around this, without using hand placements, by how we describe the complete breath. This is my channelled version, and it is very effective. Try it and see:

  • breathe into the base of the lungs, as though they form a tyre inner tube, and you are breathing into this tube, filling it up. Like an expansive front, back, and sides movement. Do this a few times
  • progress to doing this and continuing the breath up through the chest to under the collarbones and shoulders, as though you are breathing up a wide column and filling it up, front, sides, back, middle
  • pull the abdominals in slowly, as the lungs deflate, as we exhale. 
Our lungs don't go up to the shoulders, but, in order to get the breath up into the top peaks of the lungs, this is a good visualisation to use. This technique also leads nicely into adding ujjayi.

7 October 2016

Bhastrika & Kapalabhati

Bhastrika is sometimes known as the breath of fire, whereas kapalabhati is also known as shining skull breath, or breath of glow

I have also seen a fast, easily paced, kapalabhati, being called kapalabhati, with the slower, more forceful kapalabhati being called bhastrika.

                    Image result for kundalini breath of fire

How to do them

  • bhastrika is rapid breathing in & out of the nose
  • kapalabhati is also nostril breathing, but with a passive inhale, with the emphasis being on the more active exhale, like a sneeze. Usually 1 sneeze per inhale
  • Dr Swami Gitananda from Ananda Ashram, Pondicherry, advised one to two of either of these breaths per second, using a steady rhythm
  • each done up to 120 breaths
  • as a yoga teacher, I teach both of them in rounds of five breaths. Starting with maybe three rounds, then as the student can do more, I do ten breaths, then fifteen, then twenty. Often this is sufficient in a beginners or general class of about an hours duration. Obviously, for more advanced students, a higher number is fine. When I am teaching like this, the pranayama is at the end of a class, before meditation, and/or relaxation.

When to use them

  • we have looked at the use of bhastrika (september and august 2016 posts), in sadhana and in classes
  • when the warmer weather comes, I like to use kapalabhati, instead. It is more cooling
  • bhastrika is heating whereas kapalabhati is more cooling
  • however, if you like to use both, do bhastrika first

If you are teaching bhastrika on it's own in summer, follow each round with one deep cooling breath, such as sitali or sheetkari. This helps to reduce the heat which is so important for those who are adversely affected by heat. These people can also do this in winter, but for those who are sensitive to cold and wet, this use of a cooling breath should be avoided in winter.

There are other differences between these two breaths. Bhastrika can be used as an energy building pranayama, as a lung purifier, or both, as mentioned here.

In this case, you would do the bhastrika pumping the navel, then move into pumping the chest area, doing each an equal number of times. Frequently, I will be crosslegged, and will twist to the right to do twenty bhastrikas, then repeat to the left side. Now face forwards, pump the navel twenty times, then do chest bhastrika twenty times. Finish with a deep breath in and out then be aware of the effects of this before doing another pranayama.

This gives eighty bhastrikas. Sufficient on it's own, for most people, without kapalabhati. For advanced students, you could just add about thirty to sixty kapalabhatis, after.

In summer, I do the twist to right, then left, then facing forwards, twenty kapalabhatis each, making sixty all up. If you make them smooth and rhythmic, rather than loud and slow, you will get a better cooling effect. 

And in the same post mentioned above, there are directions for adding bhastrika to some poses. In summer, do kapalabhati instead. And then just do kapalabhati at the end for pranayama, rather than adding bhastrika. Consistency is key with teaching, and it's also important not to try to fit everything in, as this does not create a nice effect.

                          Image result for kundalini breath of glow

Actually, bhastrika is a pranayama, but kapalabhati is one of the six main purification techniques (shat karmas) of hatha yoga. 

What does kapalabhati purify? It's the frontal lobes, the area of discrimination, of good judgements and choices. And with the frontal lobes we have the forehead. There is a square portal in the forehead which is the gateway to the inner realm of Ajna chakra. Ajna is also known as the third eye, and the eye of the soul (whatumanawa). Ajna is a cosmic realm.

And, the inside of the forehead is where the manifestations of mind, energy, chakras, tattwas, koshas, everything! manifests. Kapalabhati is an exemplary aid for this. It's easy to see why it is also called shining skull breath, and breath of glow.