YOLY Challenge #32: Breathing in the Moment

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. birds-216827__340In 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.”

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

YOLY Challenge #21: Find Your True Voice

bird-287109__180Unwavering 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 PoseSimhasana_Yoga-Asana_Nina-MelA 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, imagesthe 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)images  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.

One of my favorites is this Gayatri Mantra recording.

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
all things.
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
pervading light.

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.

Photos credited to Yoga Journal & LA Times

YOLY Challenge #18: Breathe for the Belly

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. body-1621161__340

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.

Holding Your Belly In Will Not Make You Fit

My first introduction to this concept was from a yoga teacher named Donna Farhi. Like many women, she was originally told that holding your belly in was paramount to exhibiting a fit physic. As a dancer, I was taught the same and can relate. Many men and women believe that a tight, sucked in stomach is the hallmark of fitness and what you need to do to “look thin”. The deeper practice of yoga does not support this claim. Yogis believe that you should allow the belly to move with the breath.

The belly should be permitted to lift and expand with the inhalations.

In The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi explains that if the belly is not allowed to move with the breath “the organs in the abdominals are cut off from circulation due to constant abdominal contraction. This can negatively impact digestion, assimilation, and elimination (think digestive disorders).” When the belly learns to move, these functions improve and weight is actually lost.

Pulling the abdominals in all the time can lead to back pain.

The expansion of the front body directly affects the back body.  The only way that your spine can receive healthy blood flow is through movement of its joints. The mobility of the spine is triggered by the movement of the chest, diaphragm and belly muscles.

Focus on your core.

Employing the internal postural muscles along with the external musculature provides the abdominal length, strength and support that your body needs.

In the words of Tom Seabourne, an exercise scientist, martial artist, and coauthor of Athletic Abs (Human Kinetics, 2003), “The key is flexible strength, and that’s what yoga develops,” he explains. “Too many people still think ab training is doing crunches, which does nothing for flexibility. If you just train for strength, your muscles can actually shorten. And if you train in only one direction, you’re limiting your range of motion.”

So, while a rock solid rectus abdominus is not exactly conducive to a strong yoga practice, a sturdy core is. Practicing Phalplank-1327256__180akasana, Vasisthasana (left), Chaturanga Dandasana and Navasana will give you the strength you need to support the entire body and keep it healthy.

 

 

 

Save

YOLY Challenge #7: Take a Resurrection Breath

So far, in this Year of Living Yogically, we have learned two ways to formally begin our yoga practice:

1.) by creating a sacred space (see week #6).

2.) through invocation (see week #2).

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.
meditation-609235__180

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.

Control Your Life Force

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.

creek-21749__180

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.

YOLY Challenge #5 : Breathe Ujjayi

Your YOLY challenge this week is to incorporate a simple form of pranayama or breath control into your daily practice. The technique is called Ujjayi Breathing.

On YOLY Week #1, I challenged you to take 5 minutes each day to just breathe. If you took this first step, you had the chance to follow your breath and become more aware of the quality of your breathing. In pranayama practice, it is important to get to know your breath before you start manipulating it.  

design-250075__180Ujjayi Breathing can be described as a slight deepening of the normal breath.  It is best done from a supine or seated position in which your body is nicely aligned.  Allow your belly to remain soft and close your eyes.

As you inhale, visualize the stream of your breath entering the nose and moving along the upper palate to the back of the throat.  It will feel as though you are drinking your breath. Allow the exhalations to return along the same path.

In the beginning, it may be helpful to open your mouth slightly. Ujjayi is sometimes characterized by a sound that is similar to that of a scuba diver or Darth Vader.

As with any form of pranayama, begin with a few rounds and rest in between.  If, at anytime, you feel anxious or agitated, return to your normal breath.  Take no more than 5 minutes per day to practice your ujjayi this week.

Enjoy and let the life force be with you!