balasana and ujjayi

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For many of us, this asana possesses a deep physical and psychological memory of our time as infants. The shape of the pose is useful for many reasons, but in particular, it forces you to confront your attitudes and patterns of breathing, the health of your organs, and your level of awareness in moving from the abdomen. It is a very simple pose to begin with physically, yet it requires patience and the ability to surrender to gravity and a state of nondoing.

In Balasana, the shape of the pose forces the front of the rib cage to compress and causes an internal resistance to full, frontal breathing, which is the adopted pattern for most of us. In this resistance you will confront—possibly for the first time—the notion of breathing somewhere other than the front of your lungs, or in such a way as to avoid distending your belly as you inhale. As the frontal ribs are compressed, the unyielding presence of the internal organs and the compression of the abdomen trapped against the thighs limit the diaphragm, sometimes resulting in feelings of claustrophobia, nausea, or even fear. This further precludes soft, even breathing.

In “Salutation to the Teacher and the Eternal One,” a paper written by T. Krishnamacharya and distributed to students at the Yoga Mandiram in Madras, he says: “One important thing to be constantly kept in mind when doing asanas is the regulation of the breath. It should be slow, thin, long, and steady: breathing through both nostrils with a rubbing sensation at the throat and through the esophagus, inhaling when coming to the straight posture, and exhaling when bending the body.”

The breath described here is commonly known as Ujjayi Pranayama (Conquerer Breath). The word “ujjayi” can be broken down into the prefix ud—which means upward or superior in rank and conveys a sense of preeminence or power—and jaya, which means conquest, victory, triumph, or success. Like many Sanskrit terms, the word “jaya” has a compound meaning—it also implies restraint or curbing. Slightly contracting the back of the throat (the glottis) in ujjayi breathing creates a delicate friction and produces a soft, audible sound. Try fogging up a window with your breath—the sound you hear will be similar to the sound of ujjayi.

Slowing the inhalation and exhalation forces the breath to lengthen, and by the very nature of elongation, the vital force of the breath “narrows.” As it narrows, it moves closer to the spine, toward the sushumna nadi. The word “nadi” comes from the Sanskrit root nad, meaning movement.

Simply defined, nadis operate as conduits for the movement of subtle energy, prana, through the body. Like water, prana manifests in a dynamic flow, and hatha yoga is the body’s elemental irrigator: A yoga posture both increases the amount of prana available and removes obstacles to smooth circulation.

Ujjayi breathing, done while in Child’s Pose or other poses, squeezes the body as if it were a sponge and increases its capacity to soak up energy.

Excerpt From Yoga Journal Article Balasana By Peter Sterios

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