Tag Archives: Pranayama

‘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.

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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


difference between uddiyana bandha and kriya

Ashtanga Yoga teacher Kino MacGregor talks about the bandhas, a lifelong journey into the core strength of the inner body. One often misunderstood difference is between uddiyana bandha and uddiyana kriya. The first is from the navel down to the public bone and the second is a purification practice that can only be done on exhalation. Watch the clip to see the difference.


its about stamina

stamina vira 2

Yoga can help improve your endurance because it can increase stamina on several different levels—physical, physiological, and mental—depending on your specific needs. For example, one of the keys to endurance is to better utilize your oxygen intake. The body relies on oxygen for producing energy while exercising, and so a person with good endurance has a greater capacity to deliver oxygen to the working muscles that make use of this oxygen during exercise.

Dean Karnazes, a regular competitor in ultra-marathons in physically demanding locations such as the South Pole and Death Valley, believes his yoga practice-especially the breathing aspect-allows him to use oxygen more efficiently and ultimately improves his overall performance. “My feeling is that yoga helps you to better utilize your oxygen intake, delivering it or transferring it to all the cells that need it for metabolism,” he says.

More specifically, Horton explains that yoga improves the respiratory system by creating more room for it to function. “It is hard to take a good breath when your body won’t let you,” he explains. Horton likens the body to a container in which we try to make more space. “If your rib cage, diaphragm, or spine is stiff, lung capacity is reduced by your physical constrictions and limitations,” he says. “Yoga breathing lengthens our bodies through deep inhalations and exhalations, as if we are making ourselves bigger from the inside out and therefore making more room in the internal container for a better breath.

“Being conscious of the breath allows our body to breathe better,” says Horton. “Conscious breath teaches you to pay attention to the quality of your breath, and you learn to observe and perhaps even manipulate your breathing during physical activities.” For improving endurance through better breathing, Horton suggests asanas that enhance both range of motion and lung capacity by opening the chest and rib cage. These include Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose),Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), as well as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged Pigeon Pose).

However, endurance is not only about breathing better. Developing the muscles so they are stronger and suppler so that they do not fatigue as quickly is equally as important. When it comes to using yoga to improve muscle endurance, Horton recommends focusing on any asanas that promote a lengthening of muscles in the body, such as Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), as well as stabilizing and strengthening poses that develop core strength, such as Navasana (Boat Pose).

In addition Horton feels that yoga improves one’s endurance by helping athletes to relax, preserve energy, and better concentrate—especially in demanding circumstances. “Yoga gives you the mental strength to be still and to concentrate in the midst of a difficult pose or while your muscles are burning,” he explains. “With yoga, you learn the ability to observe the patterns of tension in the body that take away from efficiency.

“It is important for athletes not to be distracted. Yoga can help you to sit back and be the witness or to observe and be
a little clearer and make better decisions, like being able to pace yourself during a 10K run or a long workout.”

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Going The Distance by Nancy Coulter-Parker


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


pranayama with sharath


samavrtti

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The early yogis discovered that if they could even out the breath, they could even out the jumpiness of the mind. Over time, they elaborated that discovery into the practices called pranayama.

You will probably notice that your breath is uneven and erratic. The breath is sometimes quick and sometimes slow, sometimes smooth, sometimes harsh; sometimes it even stops for a moment or two and then begins again. You might also notice that some parts of the lungs receive the breath more readily than others, or that your inhalation and exhalation are quite dissimilar. As much as you can, notice these qualities of your breath without interference and without judgments.

After several minutes of observing your breath in this way, begin shaping the breath to make it smoother and more regular. Without hurrying, you want gradually to guide your breath from its naturally rough and ragged gait toward a smooth and even rhythm. Make every part of the inhalation just like every other part of the inhalation, and do the same with the exhalation. This evening-out of the natural breath is called samavrtti, which means “same action” or “same turning.”

It’s the basis for all the more advanced pranayamas, and it’s the single biggest step you can take on the path from breathing unconsciously and erratically to breathing consciously and evenly.

Remember the three little pigs and the big bad wolf? All the old fairy tales can be read as yoga texts in disguise: If your seated posture is a house of straw, or even a house of sticks, the big bad wolf is going to huff and puff and blow your house right down. Your seated posture has to be a house of bricks.

Spend several minutes establishing a firm and balanced seated posture that you can maintain, without distraction, for the duration of your pranayama practice.

In order to practice pranayama in the seated position, you must employ jalandhara bandha, the chin lock or throat lock. This tucking down of the chin to your sternum (breastbone) regulates the flow of prana in the neck and to the head and heart. In Light on Pranayama, B.K.S. Iyengar cautions, “If pranayama is performed without jalandhara bandha, pressure is immediately felt in the heart, brain, eyeballs, and the inner ear. This can lead to dizziness.”

To accomplish jalandhara bandha, raise the top of your sternum toward your chin; retaining that height, tuck the hinge of your jaw toward your inner ears. Then softly lower your chin toward your sternum. There should be no strain. If your neck is a bit stiff, place a rolled cloth between your sternum and chin, and hold it there by continually lifting your breastbone. In the beginning, gravity and your breath will cause your spine to waver and collapse again and again. But with dedicated practice, your posture will become firm, yet still responsive to the breath.

Up to this point in your exploration of pranayama, you’ve been working to clarify and refine the movements of the breath. In the next step, we’ll also work with the gaps between the movements of the inhalation and exhalation. At the end of each inhalation, the breath naturally stops moving, just for a moment, before your exhalation begins. Similarly, at the end of your exhalation, there’s a slight pause before the next inhalation begins. So each breath cycle really has four stages—inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause—though unless consciously extended, the pauses tend to be very brief. The practice of consciously extending these pauses is called kumbhaka, or retention.

Once you gain some proficiency with the smoothly moving breath of ujjayi, you can begin to investigate these pauses. Your goal should be to open and expand the still moments between the movements of inhalation and exhalation. In Light on Pranayama, Iyengar says, “[Kumbhaka] … means the withdrawal of the intellect from the organs of perception and action, to focus on the seat of Atma (purusa), the origin of consciousness. Kumbhaka keeps the sadhaka [student] silent at the physical, moral, mental, and spiritual levels.”

The practice of pranayama cannot be hurried. It can easily take a year or two of daily practice to master the material covered in this article. And pranayama demands daily practice. Pranayama, much more than asana, is a practice you engage in not just for its immediate, direct benefits, but for the steadiness, depth, and patience that are the eventual fruits of practice.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Breathing Lessons by Tony Briggs