Kumbhaka

yoga stillness

In the yoga classes last term we explored the feelings of movement and stillness. There were complicated movements that really got our minds concentrating, simple flowing movements and then bringing the body to stillness – standing, seated and lying on the front and back of the body.  And we asked ourselves… can we ever be really still?

In the yogic teachings we are guided to bring the body to stillness to help bring the mind to stillness. Within the Pranayama (control of the breath) practice we observe the points at the ends of the inhale and exhale – where the tide of air changes direction. It is here that our body can be stiller, in this pause, which is called the Kumbhaka.

Try this simple practice – sitting in a comfortable position, breathe in and out through the nose, smooth 3 part breathing if you are familiar with it. Count 5 for the inhale and 5 for the exhale. Watch for the pauses at the end of the inhale and exhale (don’t feel as though you are holding the breath, just let the pauses feel like natural pauses). Practice for about 5 minutes. Watch for the spaces to arise, feeling the stillness in your body and your mind. If you feel dizzy at any time stop the practice. It should feel comfortable and relaxing.

If you have blood pressure issues it’s best to work under the guidance of a teacher rather than on your own with this kind of work.

 

Shining Skull Breath (Kapalbhati)

Kapalbhati Pranyama

In our yoga classes this term we have begun to work with Kapalbhati Pranayama. This is a practice which is cleansing and energising – the forceful exhalation clears out the nasal passageways and the pulling force of the abdomen stimulates and strengthens the abdominal muscles and organs. When you have got the hang of this practice it literally takes 5 minutes and you feel strong and ready for anything!  It will make sits up a thing of the past.

The way this makes you feel so good is because the blood is enriched with more oxygen than your usual breathing which is very good for your circulation, renewing body tissue and helping your nerves and metabolism. There really is no other practice in any sport or exercise like it – which can make it difficult to understand and get into.

The following guide is meant as a supplement to our class work. It’s always best to learn from an experience teacher and exercise caution – building up the tummy muscles gradually and the bodies’ capacity to deal with the changes. If you feel dizzy at any time you should stop and sit still until you feel better. People suffering from high blood pressure, eye problems, hernia or recovering from any abdominal injury or operation should not do this practice. IF IT HURTS OR MAKES YOU DIZZY THEN STOP

The body should be prepared over some weeks before even having a go.  A gentle way to do this is to lay on your back in the semi supine position and work with leg raises and apanasana (knees to chest) to bring your awareness to your abdominal muscles and strengthen them. In class we worked with a routine called Mooncat (which I have given as half term homework). This sequence of postures includes the cat and cow, half moon pose and plank – all of which work the abdominal muscles.

Further preparation is required to understand abdominal breathing and our breathing process in general. Visualise air travelling into the body thought the nose and down into the abdomen allowing the abdomen to swell and then visualise the air travelling back out up through the body and out through the nose squeezing the abdominal muscles increasingly tighter with each round. You can begin practising in the semi supine position and then move onto a sitting posture. For more information about abdominal breathing read this post.

To practice Kapalbhati – (it is very important to have taken the steps to prepare, this lays the foundation for your success)

Sit in a comfortable seated posture (one that you can hold and feels as if your back is upright and if someone came along and gave you a shove you wouldn’t fall over)

The back must be upright and the crown of the head up towards the ceiling

The hands resting on the knees, shoulders and elbows relaxed – use your favourite mudra

Close the eyes and relax the whole body – especially the abdominal area

Inhale a deep abdominal breath and then pull the abdominal muscles back to force and exhale back out through the nostrils

The next inhale happens passively as you relax the abdomen then pull the abdominals back again to force the exhale out through the nose.

Continue pumping the air out like this for 10 – 20 rounds or less if your tummy feels tired.

Relax and then take a deep slow inhale, pause gently then exhale smoothly and slowly.

This concludes 1 round, begin again and practice up to 3 rounds.
Always practice with awareness – keep your mind on what you are doing. Stop at once if you feel faint or dizzy.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is the most efficient and natural way to breath. It’s great to watch dogs, cats and children sleeping and watching their little abdomens expanding and contracting with the breath – it’s nature – how we are all meant to breathe. However, it’s a technique that is forgotten by most of us by the time we reach adulthood.

Tense abdominal muscles can be the result of continually holding the tummy in, tight clothing, poor posture, back ache or emotional issues. All of which are often totally unconscious.  Once correct, natural breathing is restored and becomes part of your daily life improvements in health and wellbeing can be quite amazing.

As breathing is the most vital process of the body, even slight improvements can give benefits to the practitioner. The breath influences the activities of each and every cell, and is intimately linked to the performance of the brain.  Abdominal breathing is a preparatory practice for Pranayama (control of the life force) and encourages correct breathing. Slow, rhythmic breathing brings about a calm state of mind, which in turn calms the nervous system and leads to less stress in the body. Deep breathing in this manner increases absorption of energy into the body and keeps the heart healthy and strong.

We practice abdominal breathing by enhancing the movement of the diaphragm and minimising the movement of the ribcage.  I think it helps to visualise the air moving into the body through the nose and travelling down into the abdomen (this does not really happen) and then visualise the air travelling back up through the torso and out through the nose. This movement allows full use of the diaphragm and the lower lobes of the lungs to fill and empty (the parts that don’t get used fully when the diaphragm can’t move).

Try practicing at different times of the day – when you have a little time waiting for something or when you are in bed last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Also try this type of breath in more difficult circumstances – say after a meal or when wearing a tight waist band, it will help you to appreciate where you are making life difficult for yourself! And finally, try this abdominal breathing when you are in a stressful situation and see if it works to reduce your anxiety.

Yogic Breathing (3 Part Breath)

Yogic breathing (or 3 part breathing) combines abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing (chest) and clavicular (lower throat) breathing. In class I call it the ‘3 part breath’ – it can also be call the ‘Complete’ breath – but of all the names I like ‘3 part’ because it reminds me of the 3 stages.

 

This breathing exercise is used to maximise inhalation and exhalation. Its purpose is to gain control of the breath, correct poor breathing habits and increase oxygen intake. It is a worthwhile practice to do every day as the body takes a long time to make corrections and needs continuous effort. With most of us leading a sedentary (seated) lifestyle plus the pressure of gravity upon us the 3 part breath helps us to avoid a slouching posture.

 

It may be practiced at any time and is especially useful in situations of high stress or anger for calming the nerves. However, while its inclusion in a daily yoga programme will correct and deepen natural breathing patterns, yogic breathing itself should not be performed continuously.

 

Yogic (3 Part) Breathing

 

Sit in a comfortable seated posture with the spine upright or lay in semi supine.

Relax the whole body, begin to watch your natural breath.

Inhale slowly and deeply, allowing the abdomen to expand fully.

Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound of the breath can be heard.

Feel the air reaching into the bottom of the lungs.

At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand the chest outward and upward.

When the ribs are fully expanded, inhale a little more until expansion is felt in the upper portion of the lungs and around the base of the neck. The shoulders and collar bone should also move up slightly. Some tension will be felt in the neck muscles – but no strain.

The rest of the body should be relaxed.

Feel the air filling up the upper lobes of the lungs.

This completes the inhalation.

The whole process should be one continuous movement, each phase of breathing merging into the next without any obvious transition point. There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain. The breathing should be like the swell of the sea.

Now begin to exhale.

First relax the lower neck and upper chest, then allow the chest to contract downward and then inward.

Next, allow the diaphragm to push upward and toward the chest.

Without straining, try to empty the lungs as much as possible by drawing or pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.

The entire movement should be harmonious and flowing. Hold the breath for a few seconds at the end of exhalation. The breath should flow naturally in and out of the nose and not be at all forced.

This completes one round of yogic breathing.

Begin with 5 – 10 rounds and slowly work up to 10 minutes a day.

Understanding Your Own Breath

Sitting still and simply observing your own breath or working with a Pranayama (Ujjayi, abdominal breathing, 3 part breath etc) are all calming exercises that will help you to get to know your own breath. Simple practices such as these help to relax us – body and mind –  a relaxed body breathes better; a relaxed mind thinks clearer.

I’d like to share with you ‘Natural Breathing’  a preliminary practice taken from Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. This exercise follows the ‘journey of the breath’ and gives us an excellent focus for a 10 minute meditation. You could easily record it onto your phone and then listen to it whenever you wish. Besides calming the mind and the breath, this practice helps us to learn the mechanics of the breathing process.

Remember the words of Tich Nhat Hanh

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

― Thich Nhat HanhStepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices

 

Natural Breathing – The Journey of the Breath

Sit in a comfortable meditation posture or lie in shavasana.

Relax the whole body.

Observe the natural and spontaneous breathing process.

Develop total awareness of the rhythmic flow of the breath.

Feel the breath flowing in and out of the nose.

Do not control the breath in any way.

Notice that the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils and warm as it flows out.

Observe this with the attitude of detached witness.

Feel the breath flowing in and out at the back of the mouth above the throat.

Bring the awareness down to the region of the throat and feel the breath flowing in the throat.

Bring the awareness down to the region of the chest and feel the breath flowing in the trachea and bronchial tubes.

Next feel the breath flowing in the lungs.

Be aware of the lungs expanding and relaxing.

Shift the awareness down to the abdomen. Feel the abdomen move upward on inhalation and downward on exhalation.

Finally, become aware of the whole breathing process from the nostrils to the abdomen and continue observing it for some time.

Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as one unit and open the eyes.

 

Focus on the Diaphragm

Diaphragm

Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most important things you can teach yourself to do – simply letting go of the tension in the tummy and allowing the diaphragm to move naturally up and down will not only release tension in your back and shoulders but also enable a fuller, more complete breath to enter and leave the body. When the breath is full in this way, your body will naturally take on the correct amount of oxygen for the activity that your body is working on – this means that your heart and circulation will adapt too.

A simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise…

If you are sitting in a chair, place both feet on the floor and feel that both sitting bones are connecting with the seat. Release the abdominal muscles as you draw a breath in and feel the breath rise up straightening your spine all the way into your shoulders. Keep the height of your head as you exhale and maintain the feeling of being lifted in your ribs. Now close your eyes and continue repeating the simple mantra – I am breathing in 1, I am breathing out 1, I am breathing in 2, I am breathing out 2 and so on up to about 10 breaths.

To learn more about the diaphragm see this website…

http://www.swamij.com/diaphragmatic-breathing.htm

Relax and Refresh – a one minute wonder…

Portrait of pretty young woman doing yoga exercise on mat

Sit up tall, place both feet evenly on the floor and, if you’re sitting press down a little to feel yourself connected to the earth. Breath in and out through the nose.  Imagine that you are filling your lungs from the bottom up – like pouring water into a bucket.  Breath right up into your throat and then out again.  Don’t go too mad or you will get all dizzy – simply take 4 or 5 full breaths and then smile.

SALUTATIONS TO 2016

Our Yoga and Meditation classes start back on 4th January and run for 6 weeks up to 12th February. If you would like any information about my classes or wish to book a place – please contact me here

We will begin the year working with Salutations (or Greetings) to the Earth, Sun and Moon… This physical and mental workout will help you to improve your focus on living in the moment, loosen up in the hips and shoulders and strengthen the core and upper arm muscles.

charlottes web spider

“Salutations are greetings,” said the voice. “When I say ‘salutations’, it’s just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.”  E B White, Charlotte’s Web

In this terms classes, we are saying hello to the new year, hello to a new focus of BE HERE NOW, and hello to some muscles that we may not have used for a while.

Our Pranayama will utilise the deeper core muscles, as we’ll be practising Kapalbhati, a cleansing breath that rids the mind of negativity and the waist of unwanted fat (what’s not to like???)

As usual we’ll end our practice with deep relaxation for 15 minutes of pure bliss – don’t forget to bring 2 blankets this term to make sure you are warm and comfy.

Yoga – what do you see in your reflection?

cat reflection

You may come to yoga classes to build fitness, strength and flexibility; which of course you will over time; however, through these practices, right from the off, we are engaging in the act of Swadhyaya.  We flow through postures using breath and movement, building concentration… we scan the body, we bring our awareness to our breath, we still the mind…all these are practices of self-reflection.  And by doing this, we get to know ourselves more honestly and see ourselves for what we are, not who we think we are.

Swadhyaya is the 3rd nyama (code for living) and the generally accepted interpretation of this is ‘the practice of self-study and self-analysis’.  Sva is interpreted as ‘self’ and adhyaya means ‘investigation or inquiry’.   Our path along life as a yogi is to self-inquire through our daily and weekly practices such asana, pranayama and meditation.

(Often with Sanskrit, there are more than a single interpretation, some Sanskrit scholars interpret swadhyaya as the study of sacred texts.  According to Patanjali, in order to attain a greater understanding of one’s true being, the study of scriptures is important.  The scriptures are used to assist one in engaging in life through self-reflection.)

I feel that, although Patanjali’s Sutras were written thousands of years ago (and were passed on orally for thousands of years before that) they are just as important – if not more so – to us today. We can often go through life without stopping for a moment to look within ourselves, study our values, observe our actions and truly see the impact we have on others by our thoughts, words and deeds.  The yogi is encouraged to engage in self-reflection by analysing all of these things.

So how well do you practice Swadhyaya in your life?

Take a moment now… reflect on your breath. Is it fast or slow? Is it deep or shallow? Are you allowing your diaphragm to move fully? What was the breath or pranayama practice that you did in your last class – can you remember? Practice this now and then remain seated for a while to see the effect it has upon your breath.

 

 “Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”  -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44

Workshop – What is Pranayama?

Nadi sodhana

Well done to all who came along this morning despite the blustery wet and windy weather and took part in the ‘What is Pranayama?’ workshop.

We spent time learning about the journey of our breath and understanding that the foundations of pranayama – or pre-pranayama really have to be laid before we can begin the feel that fabulous effects of the practices themselves.

That said all were inspired to learn about the Nadi Shodhana practice (alternate nostril breathing) and there were some very balanced and peaceful faces leaving the room at the end of the morning.

“That was a real treat.” said Hazel

“Thanks for a wonderful morning.” said Robyn

It’s my pleasure, as always, to introduce and remind students, new and old to these ancient and yet so very needed practices in this day and age.