Most yoga students begin the practice of yoga to learn and benefit from its physical postures or asana.
It’s the way that I got started. As a former dancer, I was drawn to the slow movements and deep sense of alignment that the poses provided. At that time, I didn’t realize that I was simultaneously tuning into my breath. My first teacher would gently remind the class to inhale and exhale as we stretched and contracted. It felt fluid and natural and my body felt aligned and peaceful at the end of each session. But we didn’t call it pranayama. At the end of class, we took time to close our eyes and sit quietly. We were encouraged to focus on the simple pattern of our breath, the sounds within the space or a specific intention for ourselves. But we didn’t call it meditation. Continue reading “What’s Missing from Your Yoga Practice?”→
For many years, the system of yoga was my “go to” method for health maintenance. After all, it is a terrific course for correcting imbalances in body, mind and spirit. Small episodes of pain and stress would come and go – there was always my practice to guide me through any discomfort.
Until this year. I experienced a rare facial nerve disorder (that I have still yet to diagnose). Although restorative yoga postures, breath work and meditation did help me to relax, the pain and other repercussions of this ailment forced me to search out a viable treatment.
So, I googled my options for healing. You could say that I went on a quest for healing.
And, along the way, I discovered acupuncture, aromatherapy and Jin Shin Jyutsu. Together with the modalities of massage and yoga, these therapies have paved the way toward my well-being.
Because my background is geared to yoga, I applied simple breathing and relaxation techniques to the acupuncture and Jin Shin Jyutsu sessions I received. At first, it merely helped me to stay calm with the uneasiness I felt in these new situations. However, as my comfort level increased, I realized that when I executed these yoga techniques within my treatments, I could awaken my body’s intelligence and amplify my level of awareness.
After a relatively short span of time, not only did my symptoms resolve for longer and longer periods but, in the end, they nearly vanished.
Nowadays, I continue to receive massage and Jin Shin Jyutsu, utilize aromatherapy and am slowly incorporating a stronger yoga practice back into my daily routine. I feel like my body is finally in sync again, a sensation that I had been missing for nearly a year.
Each form of bodywork I experienced has taught me how important the awareness of the present moment is to overall health. I am so thankful that I was able to apply the yogic principles of relaxation and breath work to amplify each modality’s effectiveness.
In turn, I have reapplied this new heightened level of awareness back into my yoga practice. In general, I am staying even more open minded. My body feels a new alertness and there is a deeper level of harmony moving within.
I had discovered that the underlying meaning of each of these modalities is the present moment awareness. And, that, even in the midst of pain, you can lean in, stay attentive and surrender.
Your challenge this week is to locate your own method for generating increased awareness. You may wish to look into one of the modalities that I have mentioned or maybe you already have something simmering on the back burner.
Please keep in mind that whatever you choose should grant you a deeper connection to Self. It should awaken you to your true nature. Only then will you be able to see things as they truly are and live in the present moment.
Balance is a deep subject. There are so many levels to consider. We may look to balance ourselves through yoga but in reality what we are actually striving to balance is our energies. The basic nature of ourselves. We want to be calm yet alert, active but stable, open and centered, lifted and grounded, receptive yet detached… the list can go on and on.
There is a sanskrit term that labels the idea of balance. It’s called Samana. Samana is defined as “equal”, “like”, “staying in the middle” or “straight”.
Samana also describes one of the five vayus or winds. A vayu is an energetic component with a distinct flow or function. The samana type of energy moves from the periphery to the core and unifies (or balances) the upward energy called prana and the downward energy named apana. Since samana vayu is the meeting point between the upward and downward energies, it is called the “balancing air.”
The samana vayu also governs the digestive fire which burns brightly when prana and apana unite. Twists are the yoga postures that most relate to this blend of upward and downward energies. When we rotate the spine, we essentially energize our digestive systems.
Another connection to samana is the practice of samavritti or “same wave” breathing. It is a simple method of matching the length of the inhalations to the length of the exhalations. A nice time to practice samavritti is upon waking as it provides an energetic effect. It’s the perfect preparation for an early morning meditation!
This week, strive to cultivate your samana vayu by bringing your sense of alertness into balance with your ability to remain calm. As you lengthen, ground and as you stabilize, find ease. Take in what you need and release what no longer serves you. Incorporate twists and samavritti into your daily routine.
You can also apply this practice to the various segments of your “life wheel.” Look closely at the amount of energy you spend on your job, your health, your hobbies, your family or any other areas in your life. Reflect on how these energies can be more balanced.
When I began exploring a meditation practice some years ago, I found it difficult to remain present at first. Who hasn’t? Luckily there are a myriad of techniques available for generating awareness. And, through trial and error, it’s possible to discover a method that speaks to you. In the end, a meditation practice should give you energy, enthusiasm, peace and joy.
That’s what the Hong Sau Kriya technique has given me. Hopefully you will attune to it as well. Here is the process and some tips:
What is it?
Hong Sau Kriya is a form of meditative breathing. The practice is simple – you mentally chant Hong as you inhale and Sau as you exhale. When the breath is still, the chanting stops. As your breath elongates, so does the word.
The word Hong is pronounced like “hong kong” & Sau like the word “saw”. Its meaning is simple and profound: Hong= I am Sau=spirit.
Kriya means action or movement.
How Should I Practice?
Although Hong Sau Kriya can be practiced anywhere and at anytime, it may be best to set up a regular schedule to get the most of its regenerative benefits. So, a quiet place in an upright seated position with no distractions is ideal. If you already have a meditation practice, then place this technique at the end of your session so that once the mantra fades, you can sit quietly and enjoy the stillness.
Your Challenge this Week:
Try to practice the Hong-Sau Kriya technique for a few minutes daily. Keep it a passive process by allowing the breath to breathe you. The less effort you put into it, the more you will enjoy it. The more you enjoy it, the more it will become a habit you look forward to doing.
The most important quality of a practice such as Hong-Sau is its effectiveness. Not the technique itself but the outcome. When you approach it with positiveness and joy, it will bring you serenity.
For your reference, here is a lovely story written by Goswami Kriyananda that explains the essence of Hong-Sau in greater detail:
“In Sanskrit, the word Hamsa (Hong-Sau) means wild gander, and has great symbolic significance. No matter how far the wild gander flies, at some point it remembers, and migrates back to its home, always at the proper season. In the same way, we as spiritual beings following a spiritual principle must, like the wild gander, remember, and migrate back to our spiritual home. The spiritual home is the inward state of Samadhi. The Hong-Sau Kriya meditation is a key technique whereby you return to the spiritual home.”
Unwavering in its pronouncements, the songbird vocalizes in clarity and honesty. Like the songbird in the sky, we should feel free to sing out and fill our surroundings with positive vibrations.
The 5th Chakra is located in the area of the throat and is your communication center – figuratively and spiritually. The Sanskrit name, Vissuddha means pure. When your throat chakra is balanced your self-expression is clear, virtuous, and free of pollutants.
The challenge this week is to incorporate a “Vissuddha” yoga posture into your practice each day. The following poses and practices will target the areas of expression – your neck and throat.
Ujjayi Breathing – a superb pranayama practice for honing your larynx, nasopharynx and all parts related to the breath and speech. Look back to our YOLY Challenge #5 for directions on this method.
Lion Pose – A focus for the mouth, jaw and neck, this posture is especially good for stimulating the platysma muscle – unattractively known as the “turkey neck.”
Upward Facing Dog – Correctly performed, the shoulders should be aligned above the wrists so that the neck can comfortably balance the head. Through this pose, all the structures surrounding the neck and throat are learning to support and stabilize.
Shoulderstand(variation with a chair)– Targets the thyroid to balance the blood flow in this area. A boon for the entire neck and shoulder areas if supported correctly. This posture should be initiated under the guidance of an instructor.
Chanting – Find a recording that speaks to you and learn it. Silently follow along until you are comfortable reciting the words clearly and with purpose.
Here are the words and definition for your reference:
Om bhur bhuvaha svaha
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonah prachodayat
Praise to the source of
It is due to you that we attain
true happiness on the planes
of earth, astral, causal.
It is due to your transcendent
nature that you are worthy of
being worshiped and adored.
Ignite us with your all
The Gayatri Mantra is a prayer that allows me to express gratitude to the universal spirit. I see it as an all-embracing chant that transcends religion and speaks to my intention. The vibration of its sounds is known to be a healing source for our subtle bodies.
This week’s challenge will allow us to linger on the solar plexus area for another week. It also gives us a chance to return to the breath in our daily practice.
In normal breathing, the abdomen puffs out gently with the inhalation and moves back in as you exhale, while the rib cage doesn’t move as much. In reverse breathing, the belly moves in on the inhalation an out on the exhalation, and there is more movement occurring in the upper rib cage.
Focus on your belly breath each day this week:
Step #1: Lie on your back. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other over your lower ribs. As you gently inhale and exhale, notice which way your hands are moving. Don’t try to change anything right now, just notice.
Step #2: Then inhale, and on the next exhalation gently contract your abdominal muscles, bringing your navel in the direction of your spine. With a little or no muscular effort, let your abdomen gently lift as you inhale. Breathe this way for a minute or so.
Step #3: Go back to your natural breathing rhythm. Observe any changes in your mind or body.
Loma means hair, Vi denotes apart or divided. So, Viloma means divided hair or against the natural order of things. In Viloma pranayama, inhalation or exhalation is not a continuous process, but one that is interrupted by several pauses. This form of pranayama may be compared to climbing up or down a tall ladder, with a pause at each step.
We will start with the second stage of Viloma pranayama because the exhalation is usually a more natural portion of the breath to extend.
For this week’s YOLY Challenge, try the following pranayama practice each day this week:
Viloma Stage II (Interrupted out-breath)
Lie quietly in Savasana
Exhale whatever breath is in the lungs
Take a long deep breath without any pause, filling the lungs completely, but do not over-strain.
Exhale for two seconds, pause, and hold the breath for two seconds and do this again. Continue this way until the lungs are completely empty. No strain should be felt throughout the practice.
Repeat this cycle 3-5 times.
Breathe normally for a period, remaining in Savasana.
Why do we need to practice Viloma Pranayama?
As in all pranayama, gaining control of the breath helps to expand lung capacity, oxygen levels and every other benefit that stems from having enhanced your body’s breathing machine. In particular, by practicing Viloma II, you will gain an unforced, greater access to your exhalations. Which will, in turn, deepen your inhalations.
Click here if you would like to review the basics of pranayama – ujjayii breathing.
Please keep in mind that any pranayama practice can cause irritation or anxiousness. If you are affected in this matter, either decrease the number of cycles performed or discontinue the practice altogether.
This week, I offer you a third method for initiating your practice – it’s called the Resurrection Breath.
Deeply inhale. While holding that inhalation, turn your head to the left. Exhale in two quick breaths (haa, haaa). Turn your head back to center. Inhale your “first real” breath to mark the start of your practice.
Symbolically, this technique gets rid of the emotional self (with the exhalation) so that we can reawaken to a new level of awareness (through the inhalation).
Keep it simple. Only use this Resurrection Breath to initiate your practice this week.
Eventually, if it feels appropriate, you could combine the three methods: Resurrection Breath, Sacred Space and Invocation. Although it may seem overwhelming and time consuming, once you are practiced, it only takes a couple of minutes to merge the techniques.
Because the oxygen we breathe in gets converted and leaves our bodies as carbon dioxide, one would assume that we are always drawing in a “fresh breath.” However, there is 1% of our breath that doesn’t renew as we inhale and exhale. This part of our breath is made up of atoms that are chemically inactive or inert, so they are simply released back into the atmosphere.
Argon atoms. We breathethem in and breathe them out without absorbing them. So, when you exhale, those argon atoms re-enter the air to be inhaled by others. According to astronomer Harlow Shapley, a year from now, those same argon atoms will have circulated around the entire planet, and fifteen of them will have made their way back to you to be breathed in again. This means that there is a good chance that your next breath may contain argon atoms that were inhaled and exhaled many, many times by many, many others over many many years …
…this is certainly a topic for Throwback Thursday.
This sounds like a pretty intense request, doesn’t it? Control your life force. What exactly does that mean?
In yoga, we define life force as Prana.
It is simply the energy that flows through us. Although it is not physiologically documented, prana is known to be carried into and out of the body through the breath.
Pranayama is the control of the life force.
You may remember the term pranayama from this week’s YOLY Challenge. We can control our life force or prana when we manipulate the breath and direct it in some manner.
As the fourth limb of the yogic system, pranayama is made up of a range of techniques that begin with simple awareness and continue with more intensive control approaches. Although pranayama is an integral part of the postures, it is not generally taught until a student is comfortable resting with their breath in either a supine or seated position.
Why should we practice pranayama?
It is an essential aspect of yoga that takes into account the body as well as the mind.
As we learn to deepen and slow down our breathing habits, our lung capacity extends, oxygen levels increase and all systems benefit.
Breathing practices also give your mind focus – you virtually tune in when you pay attention to your breath. This can occur whether you are in a resting pose or actively performing the asanas. As many teachers will tell you, “if it is not with the breath, it is not yoga.”
Through this blog, I hope to share many of the various pranayama methods with you. While some are relaxing and clarifying, others can be energizing, stimulating, or even mind blowing.
I told you this would be intense. Proceed with caution.