Tag Archives: Asana

‘medium’ and ‘breathable’

Partly it’s going to be based on your mood, or your feeling at the time. It’s going to be based on what the posture is demanding. The point is, the breath is breathable. It’s varying. Guruji, he said that the breath is a medium breath. Which meant that it’s not too long and it’s not too short. It’s not like your best pranayama each vinyasa position — if that was the case, it would take too long; it would become forced, unnatural.


breathing in yoga

inhale_exhale

The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

Many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you’re likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names like Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn’t bother with it until you’re well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what’s a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.

read more…

Excerpts of Yoga Journal article, Six Views on Breathing in Yoga, by Claudia Cummins


crane or crow?

bakasana_yogi_toes_inc

The two names for the asana come from the Sanskrit words baka (“crane”) or kak (“crow”), and asana (आसन) meaning “posture” or “seat”.

While different yoga lineages use one name or another for the asana, Dharma Mittra makes a distinction, citing Kakasana as being with arms bent (like the shorter legs of a crow) and Bakasana with arms straight (like the longer legs of a crane). In the west, practitioners often mistranslate the Sanskrit “Bakasana” as the English “Crow Pose”.

From Wikipedia


eka pada bakasana with kino


pasasana

pasasana

You can be sure that when you fold your legs like a grasshopper, bend your ankles into a superlow squat, twist in half, and hold hands with yourself behind your back, a variety of sensations and emotions will arise. Although examining those feelings is an important part of the yogic process, beware of sensation hunting. Notice whether you instinctively push and pull on yourself until the grasping noose of your arms becomes like a scary vice that inhibits your breathing. Struggling in your asana practice like this leads to injury, and it can dull your natural sensitivity to the point where you don’t feel anything at all without extreme effort. The whole idea of yoga is to tune in to yourself so that you can create more sensitivity to subtlety—not less.

At the same time, Pasasana is a pose that requires some perseverance. If you are too passive as you practice, you will miss the vibrant aspect of juicy exertion that strengthens your muscles and bones and increases your ability to stay focused. Put simply: If you don’t put enough oomph into it, you’ll never touch your hands behind your back.

The solution then, is to look for the middle path, the place where you walk the line between too much effort and complete passivity. You tap into the middle path by listening to your body, moving with sensitivity, and engaging with what’s happening. You often hear the phrase “being present to the moment.” What this really means is being part of the moment. This happens through the middle path of commitment, patience, and listening.

The Buddha offered insight into this process. The story goes that a musician asked the Buddha how he should meditate. The Buddha replied, “How do you tune your instrument?” The musician said, “Not too tight, not too loose.” The Buddha said, “Exactly like that.” If you learn to apply this to Pasasana, your noose will evolve into a warm feeling of being held and supported by yourself and by your healthy, wakeful, engaged practice.

Pasasana (Noose Pose)

Extend your legs into Dandasana, and send some refreshing breaths into your ankles, knees, and hips. Bring your knees into your chest, rolling back on your exhalation and forward on your inhalation. The last time you rock forward, come up onto your feet into a low squat.

Start by doing a variation of the pose. Squat with a block or a wall about one foot behind you. Organize your legs and feet just as you did in Utkatasana, heels and toes touching. If your heels do not touch the ground in this position, slip a folded blanket underneath them.

Exhale and twist to the right. Place the outside of your left shoulder between your legs. Internally rotate your left arm and wrap it around your left leg. Reach your right arm behind you and place it on the block or touch the wall. After a few breaths, untwist and try the other side. Continue to work this way until you feel an opening to go farther.

To develop the full pose, use your abdominals to twist to the right again, but this time place your left shoulder on the outside of the right thigh. Strongly activate the inner thighs and cinch your legs together. Internally rotate both arms and reach around behind your back to bind. Use a strap if you can’t reach. Eventually, you will hold your right wrist with your left hand. Try to find a way to hold hands with yourself so the noose can be more a garland of flowers. After a few breaths, release the pose and do the other side.

As you work on Pasasana, take time with every step of the process. Listen to your muscles, bones, connective tissue, breath, and mind. They will all have valuable suggestions for when you should engage more effort, let go a bit, or perhaps just stay where you are, waiting to see what unfolds. Eventually your experience of physical feelings in your asana practice will evolve into an evenness of sensation throughout your entire body.

Often when you feel intensity in one particular area, it draws all your attention there. The entire mind becomes occupied by the little drama of the right shoulder, and you may forget you even have a whole body. Doesn’t that sound similar to how we sometimes live life, getting stuck in the small stuff and missing the big picture? When we do that, we have a harder time keeping things in perspective and making smart choices.

Rather than going for extremes, see if you can discover subtle shifts that might begin to even out your various sensations as well as your responses to sensations. Find balance by letting your awareness spread through your whole body. Observe what happens with your breath and your mind as your body finds balance and creates a container—not too tight and not too loose—of equanimity.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article and Sequence Find Freedom in the Noose By Cyndi Lee


stretch and strengthen the psoas

Most yoga students are aware that the psoas is a central player in asana, even if the muscle’s deeper function and design seem a mystery. A primary connector between the torso and the leg, the psoas is also an important muscle off the mat: it affects posture, helps stabilize the spine, and, if it’s out of balance, can be a significant contributor to low back and pelvic pain. The way that we use the psoas in our yoga practice can either help keep it healthy, strong, and flexible, or, conversely, can perpetuate harmful imbalances.

The psoas major is the biggest and strongest player in a group of muscles called the hip flexors: together they contract to pull the thigh and the torso toward each other. The hip flexors can become short and tight if you spend most of your waking hours sitting, or if you repeatedly work them in activities like sit-ups, bicycling, and certain weight-training exercises.

A tight psoas can cause serious postural problems: when you stand up, it pulls the low back vertebrae forward and down toward the femur, often resulting in lordosis (overarching in the lumbar spine), which is a common cause of low back pain and stiffness; it can also contribute to arthritis in the lumbar facet joints. On the other hand, a weak and overstretched psoas can contribute to a common postural problem in which the pelvis is pushed forward of the chest and knees. This misalignment is characterized by tight hamstrings pulling down on the sitting bones, a vertical sacrum (instead of its usual gentle forward tilt), and a flattened lumbar spine. Without its normal curve, the low back is weakened and vulnerable to injury, especially at the intervertebral discs.

Although the psoas is one of the most important muscles in yoga poses, it is also one of the most misunderstood. Many students and even teachers have only a vague idea of where it is located. The psoas originates from the lumbar vertebrae and forms a strip of muscle almost as big as a wrist along each side of the spine. Looking at the front of the body, you’d have to remove the intestines and other digestive organs, as well as the female reproductive organs, to be able to see the muscle in the very back of the abdomen. It proceeds down and forward, crossing the outer edge of each pubis, then moves back again to attach on a bony prominence of the inner upper posterior femur (thigh bone) called the lesser trochanter.

Along the way, the psoas picks up its synergist, the iliacus, which originates on the inner bowl of the pelvis (or the ilium) and joins the psoas on its path downward to attach to the femur. The two muscles work so closely together that they’re usually referred to as one, the iliopsoas. The other hip flexors include the sartorius, the tensor fascia lata, the rectus femoris, the pectineus, and the adductor brevis. Besides flexion, these muscles might also contribute to the internal or external rotation of the hip. This action is important for yoga practitioners to understand because the psoas may try to externally rotate the hip in poses where we don’t want external rotation, such as backbends or forward bends.

Virabhadrasana I

Virabhadrasana I (Variation)

A good way to isolate the psoas stretch, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced practitioner, is to practice virabhadrasana I in a doorway. Find an open doorway (or a pillar) and step up close so that the right side of your body is just behind the door jamb. Step your left leg through the doorway, and place your right foot two to three feet behind you, with that back heel off the floor. Stretch your arms overhead and rest your hands on the wall. Bend both knees slightly, and align your pubic bones, navel, and breastbone with the door frame.

The whole key to stretching the psoas is in the tilting of the pelvis. Remember, a tight psoas tries to tilt the pelvis anteriorly (pulling the spine and top of the pelvis forward and down), so you must tilt the pelvis posteriorly to stretch the hip flexors. The door can help you achieve this action: simply move your pubic bones toward the door jamb, your upper pelvis and navel back away from the jamb, and draw your breastbone toward the jamb. These actions help you tilt the pelvis posteriorly, move the lumbar spine toward the back of the body (instead of letting the tight psoas pull it forward and down), and lift the rib cage vertically up out of the low back. Altogether, you’ll be lengthening the psoas and relieving compression and discomfort in the low back.

When you’re ready to deepen the stretch, straighten the back knee fully (let the back heel stay off the floor, especially if you’re a beginner or have knee or low back problems), and gradually bend the front knee more. If you’re not getting a deep stretch on the front of the right hip, redouble your efforts to bring the pubic bones toward the wall, and the navel away, and bend the front knee more. Hold the pose for a minute or more, keeping your breathing slow and steady to help the muscle relax into a deep stretch. Then repeat on the other side.

A well-balanced asana practice helps keep your muscles strong enough to do their job and flexible enough to allow full range of motion of associated joints. By incorporating poses that both strengthen and lengthen the psoas, you can release habitual muscle-holding patterns, improve your low-back alignment, and create a more balanced and spacious posture.

Excerpts from Yoga International Article How to Stretch and Strengthen the Psoas: Want to find a new sense of balance and freedom in your practice? Learn how to skillfully stretch and strengthen the mysterious psoas muscle. By Julie Gudmestad


jumping back with paige warthen

Ashtanga Yoga: Mind + Body Episode 9. Ashtanga Yoga practitioner Paige Warthen demonstrates and talks about picking up and jumping back, a movement for connecting seated postures, from the Ashtanga Yoga method.

Ashtanga Yoga: Mind + Body Episode 11. Ashtanga Yoga practitioner and teacher Paige Warthen follows up Episode 9 with more details and a demonstration of how she broke down the Ashtanga Yoga pick up and jump back movement.