Our focus for this year will be Anahata – the heart chakra. Anahata colours our life with love, compassion and beauty. Through our yoga pracite we’ll fill our hearts with love and generosity – give ourselves the time and space we deserve to feel loved and give love with joy and radiance.
In our asana this term we’ll be opening the chest area with back bends and twists, creating space to breath and for the heart to beat. Following a warm up we’ll steadily increase the complexity, strength and duration of postures to ensure that a gradual opening of the body is achieved.
We’ll be working with Mudra and Bandha for relaxation and the relief of stress and anxiety. Our aim will be to develop compassion for ourselves, those around us and the wider world. Many of the readings and practices will come from the Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche – you may like to get your own copy for inspiration of your home practice, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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.
We have been listening to the wonderful music and chanting of artist Rajesh David at the beginning of our sessions this term. The CD (titled ‘Mantram’) is available from his website here and contains several mantras set to haunting melodies which are ideal for relaxation and meditation. All of the tunes are famous mantra chants. The one of particular interest to us has been the Gayatri which we have listened to a variety of versions this year.
The Gayatri chant is from the Rig Veda one of the oldest known written works. It has been sung from the very beginnings of time. Why not join in and hum or sing along? It has a calming and uplifting effect and once you know it you can do it anywhere. There are many benefits to chanting the Gayatri including helping you breathe more slowly, stimulating the subtle energy centres in the body and improving concentration. For 10 benefits of chanting the Gayatri see this site
There are many translations, here is one by Deva Premal:
Om bhur bhuvah svah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonah prachodayat
Through the coming, going, and the balance of life
The essential nature illuminating existence is the adorable one
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.”
One Saturday in the summer a group of us went up to the Purelands Meditation gardens and spent a wonderful day with Buddha Maitreya a Buddhist Monk of great experience. He spoke gently and kindly to us all, seeking to know what we did in the world and proceeded to explain that all we needed to meditate and be happy was here with us – there was nothing to learn, no goal, no achievement but simply to be here now and relax.
I have visited Buddhist Monks before and been led in meditation, but none had got to such a point. It seemed with the other practices that there was actually very much to learn (recitations going on for hours). But with Maitreya the words and the way in which he showed us to hold our hands and arms was so simple and effective that I truly believed I did have all that was necessary to relax into the moment.
“Meditation is not trying to stop thinking. It is the moment of quiet appreciation of the inner truth”
For more information about the Purlands garden and events see their website here
In the Stretch and Relax classes this term we’ll have some time dedicated to our faces…. working with the muscles around the eyes, mouth and neck yoga can be used to literally give yourself a ‘facelift’. By toning the muscles of the face and giving them a ‘workout’ we improve the contours underneath the skin which can help to reduce fine lines and sagging. The circulation of blood and oxygen is improved and toxins are removed; giving a healthy glow to your skin. Don’t underestimate the power of our relaxations on your face too – 15 minutes of deep relaxation is said to be as valuable as 4 hours of sleep… and they don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing!
We will of course be working around the whole body with exercises some old favourites (Trikonasana) and some new poses (Dwikonasana) to give you a complete practice ending with a deep relaxation.
These classes take place
Monday Tinwell 7.15 – 8.15
Tuesday Preston 8 – 9
Wednesday Ryhall 6 – 7
The term runs from Juse 6th to July 22nd and the cost is £42. If you would like to sign up for this course please do get in touch asap and I can let you know the availability.
“When the mind is silent and at peace, the true self is revealed. The connection to the soul can be made. It is like a pool of still water, with no ripples or waves, the water becomes crystal clear.”
This version of Patanjali’s Sutras is interpreted by Michelle Corrigan and is called Your Quest for a spiritual life. I think it is one of the best interpretations for our time, copies are available on Amazon.
AKASA – is Sanskrit meaning space – a wide, free, open space. We can use it to describe the ether, sky or the atmosphere.
When a sunny day arrives, enjoy it and make the most of it… lie on your back out in the open air, gaze up at the sky. Allow your mind to wander and the eyes to soften. Let the breath be slow and smooth. Feel as though you are connecting with both the whole world around you and your soul within. It is an opportunity to let go of the feeling of isolation;- let go of the feeling of being an individual and join in with the flow of the universal cosmos.
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.