Tag Archives: Kundalini

breathing in yoga

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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.

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


mula bandha

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Here is a detail of an illustration by Susan Chiocchi from ‘The Mirror of Yoga’, that combines physiology and metaphor.

Mula Bandha may be the most befuddling, underinstructed technique in the world of yoga. Here, one intrepid reporter gets to the root of things and discovers that Mula Bandha is not just a physical action but a doorway into bliss.

Benefits Abound

So, once you “get it,” how will the bandhas change your practice? In the Ashtanga tradition, Mula Bandha is so critical to the correct performance of asana that K. Pattabhi Jois, the leader of the tradition, instructs his students to keep Mula Bandha engaged throughout every practice; in fact, he’s often quoted as saying that it should stay engaged 24/7. That’s a metaphorical overstatement, of course, meant to emphasize the importance of Mula Bandha, which when mastered and used correctly has the potential to transform even the most lackluster practice.

Mula Bandha is what helps Ashtanga practitioners find the balance they need to tackle arm balances and inversions, and the strength and control they need for difficult tasks, such as jumping through and jumping back. But the list of the physical benefits to a yoga practice is nearly endless, and Freeman can rattle them off handily: “It’s grounding, so students feel much more stable. They won’t lose balance. Correct movement of limbs becomes more natural. When they do a backbend, they’ll be less likely to compress the spine. They’ll find more space under the belly, which is very convenient for twists.”

“By practicing Mula Bandha, you gain a real sense of the central axis of the body,” says Freeman, a student of Jois. “You learn to move from the lower belly, feeling the pelvic floor and letting it participate in aligning the body. It will help you integrate the movements of the body and give you the sense that you are composed of radiance…One becomes juicier, more intuitive, more sensitive, and more able to express feeling with the entire body through every movement.”

The Inside Line

That inward path, let’s not forget, is the point of yoga. “I think it’s important for people to remember the original context of hatha yoga,” says Pomeda, who was a Vedic monk in the Sarasvati order for 18 years. “This opens up your perspective, puts the practice into a much larger framework. From that reference point, all practices are geared to the awakening of kundalini and the attainment of the highest realization.”

Kundalini is the feminine energy that is classically depicted as a serpent coiled and asleep at the base of the spine, which is also the seat of Mula Bandha. When she awakens, she rises up through the spine to merge with universal consciousness at the crown chakra, found at the top of the head. The bandhas —particularly Mula Bandha and Jalandhara engaged together—can be used to help create the internal pressure necessary to roust her out of her comfy home, where she might otherwise snooze away forever.

And though spiritual life certainly does not end with Mula Bandha, it does, in a sense, begin there. “Engaging Mula Bandha creates a foundation,” Harrigan says. “The root of the tree is important for the entire tree. Likewise, Mula Bandha is important for making asana and pranayama beneficial. Without the bandhas, these exercises have only physical effects.”

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Bound for Glory By Hillari Dowdle, Asana Instruction by Tim Miller

To learn more about how to integrate Mula Bandha into your daily asana practice, read Mula Bandha in Action.


prana

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Prana is the first energy: The word Prana comes from two roots. Pra means first, and na is the smallest unit of energy. Prana is therefore the first breath, the primal or atomic beginning of the flow of energy. Out of this first unit of energy manifests all aspects and levels of the human being. It is one and the same with kundalini shakti.

Prana flows in nadis: That kundalini, manifesting as Prana flows in certain patterns, or lines, or channels that are called nadis. There are said to be some 72,000 such nadis coursing through the subtle body that supports the physical body and its various systems. When the Prana flows across the latent impressions, they spring to life in the form of awareness in the conscious mind, in the physical body and brain.

Intersections of the nadis are chakras: When kundalini manifests outward, those thousands of nadis intersect here and there, forming the matrix of the subtle body. The major intersections are called chakras, and the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space manifest around these so as to form the gross body. Often, we speak of chakras as if they are in the body. Actually, this is somewhat backwards. It is more like the body has been suspended on the subtle chakras, with these chakras being formed or constructed by the major highway intersections of the nadis, which are none other than kundalini shakti.

Prana divides itself into five Vayus: When kundalini comes outward as Prana, the Prana operates in the body, it divides into five major flows called Vayus. These can be thought of as somewhat like major currents in one of the large oceans of the world, while there may be thousands of smaller currents. These five Vayus are the major currents that contain thousands of smaller currents.

• Prana Vayu operates from the heart area, and is an upward flowing energy, having to do with vitalizing life forces.
• Apana Vayu operates from the base of the torso, in the rectum area, is a downward flowing energy, and has to do with eliminating or throwing off what is no longer needed.
• Samana Vayu operates from the navel area, deals with digestion, and allows the mental discrimination between useful and not useful thoughts.
• Udana Vayu operates from the throat and drives exhalation, operating in conjunction with Prana Vayu, which deals with inhalation.
• Vyana Vayu operates throughout the whole body, having no particular center, and is a coordinating energy throughout the various systems.

Prana drives the ten indriyas: Prana is the source of energy that operates the ten indriyas. Five are the karmendriyas or instruments of actions, which are elimination, procreation, motion, grasping and speaking. Five are the jnanendriyas or cognitive senses, which are smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, and hearing. These ten operate through the chakras, and receive their power from the Prana.

Excerpt From swamij.com Article Kundalini Awakening


teaching pranayama

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Breathing in a House by Pak Sheung Chuen

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. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. pPranayama 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.

How can so many experts offer such different approaches to pranayama? In part this variety results from the brevity of the ancient texts upon which our modern practices are based. Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra, for example, says that lengthening the exhalation can help to reduce disturbances of the mind, but doesn’t offer detailed techniques for doing that.

“Different people come along and interpret these very succinct verses in different ways, and then they practice based on their interpretation,” says Kripalu’s Yoganand. “Yoga is so powerful that people tend to get an effect almost regardless of what they do. So someone says, ‘I did it this way and it worked, so I must be right,’ and someone else says, ‘I did it completely differently, but it worked, so I must be right.’ Since neither can convince the other and since they both have experience to support their beliefs, they go off and generate two schools. It makes perfect sense that no one can agree. Everyone’s experience is different.”

In the West you can even find teachers who counsel us to step with caution into traditional pranayama practices. When students aren’t well prepared, they say, classical breathing techniques can actually distort natural and organic patterns of breathing, forcing us into rigid and controlled ways of being.

“Most people begin yoga with so many pre-existing blocks and holding patterns that to introduce a controlled breathing regime right away further concretizes the blocks,” says Donna Farhi, yoga teacher and author of The Breathing Book (Henry Holt, 1996). “I think it’s extremely important to remove the blocks and holding patterns first, to reveal the natural breath that is our birthright. And then it can be very interesting to explore the subtle movement of prana through formal pranayama work. But for the most part this controlled practice is introduced too soon and often only obscures the unconscious forces that drive the breath-holding patterns.”

Viewed alongside one another, these varied perspectives offer us the unsettling yet inspiring prospect that there may not be one right way to reap the gifts of pranayama. As teachers, we need to offer a range of tools to our students and let them use their experience and discrimination to discern which approach works best. Each of them must decide for themselves which method steers them closest to yoga’s ultimate gift: the ease, balance, and inner quiet that reveals the very heart of life.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Teaching Pranayama by Claudia Cummins


nadi shodana

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Sushumna by Julian Vadas

A student of the great Indian poet Kabir once asked him, “Kabir, where is God?” His answer was simple: “He is the breath within the breath.” To understand the profound implications of Kabir’s reply, we need to look beyond the physical components of breath—the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other molecules that stream in and out with our every inhalation and exhalation. Beyond this breath—yet within it—is prana, the universal vital energy that is quite literally the stuff of life.

For those of us who practice yoga, the challenge is to harness this energy so it can fuel our physical, mental, and spiritual development. To do this, we need to look deeply into the mysteries of the mind and the subtle body. Fortunately, the early practitioners of Tantra voyaged into this inner landscape, mapping the many ways energy circulates within us. Among their most important discoveries were the nadis, the vast network of energy channels that makes each individual an integrated, conscious, and vital whole.

Three nadis are of particular interest to yogis. The sushumna (most gracious) nadi is the body’s great river, running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, passing through each of the seven chakras in its course. It is the channel through which kundalini shakti (the latent serpent power) —and the higher spiritual consciousness it can fuel—rises up from its origin at the muladhara (root) chakra to its true home at the sahasrara (thousandfold) chakra at the crown of the head. In subtle body terms, the sushumna nadi is the path to enlightenment.

The ida (comfort) and pingala (tawny) nadis spiral around the sushumna nadi like the double helix of our DNA, crossing each other at every chakra. If you visualize the caduceus, the symbol of modern medicine, you’ll get a rough idea of the relationships among the ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis. Eventually, all three meet at the ajna (command) chakra, midway between the eyebrows.

The most powerful method of balancing ida and pingala is Nadi Shodhana, alternate-nostril breathing. (Literally, the Sanskrit means “nadi cleansing.”) This practice is effective because the ida nadi is directly connected to the left nostril, and the pingala nadi to the right.

To practice Nadi Shodhana, sit in a comfortable meditative position. Make a fist with your right hand, then partially reextend your ring and little fingers. Lightly place the pad of the thumb on your nose just to the right and below the bridge; lightly place the pads of your ring and little fingers on the corresponding flesh on the left side of your nose. Gently pressing with the ring and little fingers to close the left nostril, exhale fully through the right. Then inhale fully through the right, close it with the thumb, release the left nostril, and exhale through it. Inhale through the left nostril, close it with the fingers, release the right nostril, and exhale through it. This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana.

Excerpt From Yoga Jounal Article, Balancing Act, By James Bailey