Schedule
Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘pranayama’

Fall Focus: Top Tips For Finding Balance During Vata Season

Happy Autumnal Equinox! Here at Five Pillars we hold the Intention to move through life in synch with the seasons. Listening to the messages and even advice each has to share with us and going with the flow or counterbalancing where beneficial – letting the pillars of Right Movement, Nutrition, Breathing, and Relaxation support and inform our choices.

According to Ayurveda—an ancient traditional system of medicine in India that’s been called Yoga’s sister science—Fall is Vata season. As the humidity of summer begins to wane and the Northeast experiences the incredible annual display of colorful Fall leaves, you may discover some signs and symptoms that suggest your Vata dosha is aggravated. You can adopt Vata-balancing practices to attain optimal health and feel your best.

But first, what’s a dosha? Three primary energies (aka doshas) based on the elements make up our physical and mental constitutions. These energies are Vata (Air & Space), Pitta (Fire) & Kapha (Earth + Water). Each of us has all of these elements, though one will likely be dominant in our constitutional makeup. If you want to #GoDeeper, try an online quiz.

The cooling weather patterns, Fall winds and shifting daylight hours that have arrived with the equinox often aggravate Vata. After all, the qualities of the Vata dosha are cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic—just like the weather patterns—and a basic tenet of Ayurveda is like increases like. Some common symptoms that occur when the Vata dosha is out of balance are anxiety, dry or chapped skin, indigestion, sudden bouts of fatigue, and light interrupted sleep.

Additional symptoms can occur on the physical or mental dimensions.

Common physical signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • cold hands and feet
  • • constipation
  • • gas
  • • bloating
  • • aversion to cold and wind
  • • irregular appetite
  • • twitches
  • • spasms
  • • restlessness
  • • low body weight
  • • aversion to loud noises
  • • hypertension
  • • arthritis
  • • weakness
  • • restlessness
  • • irregular menstruation

Common mental signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • nervousness
  • • fear
  • • panic
  • • racing mind
  • • worry
  • • spacey
  • • scattered
  • • inconsistency

The Five Pillars of Fall Wellness can help bring you back into balance, achieving your optimal state of being.


Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.19.46 AM

Right Intention: Want To Book The Next Plane Ticket Out Of Here? Think Again And Dig Into A Steady Routine


When the Vata winds blow, we all need a little more grounding and stability. Now is the time to dive deeper into your mindfulness practices and stick to routines. It may help to begin by creating healthy patterns of eating and sleeping—try to sleep before 10 p.m. and eat regular meals around the same time each day. Beyond the basics, this is the perfect time to pick up or continue a yoga and meditation practice. Set an intention to be gentle and loving with yourself, and allow for plenty of time to reflect and go within. Your inner clarity will keep your health and wellness on track no matter what life throws your way.

Our recommendations: Take time to set an intention to stay grounded and stable during Vata season. Avoid the temptation to discard your routines and book the next plane ticket out of here. Instead, take a moment to organize your days into a soothing routine full of self-care and balance.


Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.19.46 AM

Right Movement: Take It Easy


Choose a Right Movement practice that is light and easy on your body. Focus on flexibility and balance rather than long distances and speed.

Top movement tips: Walk through the park or take an easy breezy stroll with a friend. Power down your yoga practice and opt for therapeutics or gentle yoga, yoga nidra, tai chi or qi gong. Take some time out to practice pranayama and meditation. Focus on breathing deeply and be gentle with yourself.


Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.19.46 AM

Right Breathing: Alternate Nostril Breathing


Pranayama (aka breathing practice) has incredible balancing effects on the entire body and can ward off unwanted stress & anxiety. Our favorite pranayama for inner balance and harmony during the Fall season is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, otherwise known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama synchronizes the right and left hemispheres of the brain, helping to focus the mind and keep unwanted stress and anxiety at bay, providing the very foundation we need to stay peaceful and responsive no matter what the Vata winds blow into our lives.


Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.19.46 AM

Right Nutrition: True Nourishment For the Fall Season


Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural seasonal shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.

Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.

As you know, food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.

Try cooking a healing coconut-milk curry with plenty of spices and seasonal vegetables. For inspiration, view this recipe: South Indian Style Vegetable Curry. For more information about Ayurvedic wisdom, check out this article: Vata Pacifying Diet.

Additional Vata-Pacifying Recommendations:

  • *Eat full-sized, well-portioned meals, but avoid overeating.
  • *Sip on tea and warm liquids throughout the day. Avoid chilled beverages.
  • *Sweet, sour, and salty tastes pacify Vata. Favor warming, oily, and heavy foods such as natural grains (particularly rice and wheat), soups and stews, cooked root vegetables, and sweet fruits (bananas, avocados, coconut, figs, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, dates, etc.). If you consume animal products, warm milk soothes Vata. Buy organic eggs, chicken, turkey and seafood.
  • *Integrate Vata-pacifying spices: cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, basil, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper.
  • *Avoid bitter, pungent and astringent foods. Minimize your intake of beans, aside from mung bean dahl and tofu. Light, dry fruits such as apples and cranberries can aggravate Vata. To avoid indigestion, steer clear from cabbage, sprouts, and raw vegetables in general.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.19.46 AM

Right Relaxation: Self-Care


Book your favorite masseuse, invest in acupuncture, or get some reflexology done. These practices boost circulation and promote relaxation. Consider investing in a weekly or monthly self-care routine that includes your favorite treatments.

Want to keep it simple and stay at home?

  • *Give yourself a massage using warming oils such as sesame or almond.
  • *Play relaxing music
  • *Connect friends who make you feel calm and relaxed
  • *Try aromatherapy
  • *Take deep breaths often
  • *Pause in between tasks
  • *Take an Epsom salts bath
If you’d like to discuss how best to attune to the season, we’re here to support you! Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, or for an individual consultation.

 

 

*Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

The Yoga of Swimming

If you love swimming and are interested in deepening your pranayama practice on the mat, you are in for a wonderful surprise. Whether you swim laps or enjoy water recreationally, you probably recognize that swimming can transform the way you feel. Similar to yoga, the before and after effects are astounding! A powerful, low-impact activity, swimming can also become a incredible pranayama.


Pranayama refers to breathing exercises or breath control. Breath control is one of the very first things we learn during swim lessons by blowing bubbles into the pool. Aside from yoga practice and swimming, there are few places in life where we intentionally control our breathing. With intention and awareness, we can transform swimming into yoga.


What was that about pranayama? Most of the time, we breathe automatically. During yogic breathing exercises, we control the breath to create more energy or prana in our bodies. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga = eight limbs) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is a pathway to ultimate freedom and bliss. Although modern-day yoga is often dominated by yoga asanas or postures, breathing exercises are given equal importance in the Yoga Sutras.



How do we practice pranayama while swimming? When we swim, we hold our breath to go under water and then slowly let the air out while we propel ourselves forward or backward. When we surface, we take another big breath and continue the pattern we have started. The more rhythm we create with our breathing, the more ease we feel when swimming. In essence, we learn to coordinate our breath with movement, which is the foundational concept in a yoga vinyasa class. In fact, the word vinyasa means “a method in yoga in which movements and breath are coordinated.” Paying attention and controlling our breath during yoga practice and swimming alike has the capacity to create a vinyasa, or a moving meditation.


 Swimming and pranayama are mutually beneficial.


Practicing swimming requires breath control and rhythmic breathing, which will deepen your yoga practice on the mat. And practicing pranayama on land can help to enhance your swimming techniques and lung capacity in the pool. Win-win.


That said, you may be thinking to yourself: I swim all summer and even during the other months of the year, but my mind races while I swim and I am hardly aware of how I am breathing… I am on autopilot. How is this like yoga?


Like the ease we feel peddling and balancing once we have learned to ride a bike, breath control while swimming becomes automatic. Even though we are raising our energy levels and opening energy channels in our body when we swim regardless of our intention, awareness and mindfulness gradually shifts our experience in the water.


The Yoga of Swimming = Swimming + Intention + Awareness


Without intention and awareness, yoga resembles stretching, calisthenics, sitting, or even napping. Similarly, without mindfulness, swimming is the act of moving through water. Intention and awareness transforms these movements and postures into what we call yoga. Yoga is the union or yoking of mind with spirit.


When you cultivate mindfulness and intention, swimming can become yoga, leaving you with a deep sense of inner peace, freedom, and even bliss! Ready to dive in?



Three Ways to Practice the Yoga of Swimming:


In the pool: How does your physical body feel before and after you swim? What happens to your energy before and after you swim? Do you feel pulsing, streaming or tingling sensations? How do you feel emotionally before and after your swim? Notice your state of mind before you enter the water. Then notice your state of mind at the end of your practice.


On the mat: While you are practicing yoga on your mat, imagine you are moving through water. Anytime you expand (raise your arms, lift your heart, head, or hips), inhale deeply. And anytime your contract (fold forward, root into the ground, sink your hips, lower your hands), slowly exhale. When you hold postures, create long inhalations. Imagine you are about to dive under the water at the top of your inhalation and pause. Then slowly exhale. At the bottom of your exhalation, imagine you are still under water and pause. Continue this breathing pattern. With a little intention and imagination, you can use your experience in the water to deepen your yoga on the mat.


Practice yoga by the water: Practice yoga by the water. If you are by a pool, take your standing balancing postures into the shallow end of the pool. Then, end your asana practice with savasana on a floatation device or lying down next to the water. Try meditating near water after you swim or practice yoga.


*Be sure to use safety precautions while practicing by water, especially the ocean, and have fun!

 

 

 

 

Yoga 101: Breaking Down the Bandhas

Much like the chakras, the bandhas are an esoteric, unseeable internal-energy system. This makes them pretty hard to describe, let alone use, but chances are you’ve wondered about them if they’re not already part of your yoga tool kit.

Let’s break them down.

Bandha means lock or bond in Sansksrit. There are three bandha spots in the body that correspond to three chakras, or energy centers. From the ground up they are:

  • 1st chakra: Mula Bhanda (Root Lock)
  • 3rd chakra: Uddiyana Bhanda (Navel Lock)
  • 5th chakra: Jalandara Bhanda (Chin Lock)

When a bandha is engaged it stops the flow of energy, in the form of breath, to that part of the body; when a bandha is released it floods that area with extra energy.

Why use them?

We’ve nested this post under the pillar of Right Breathing because the energy dynamics at play when the bandhas are engaged and released are pranayama energies. By manipulating breath—in some sense, the body’s greatest natural drug—we’re able to shift our internal landscape. Think about the heat-building qualities of Breath of Fire, the balancing effects of Alternate Nostril and the cooling capabilities of Sitali—all ways to enhance or shift our experience.

The same is true of the bandhas. When we incorporate the bandhas into our yoga and pranayama practices they enhance and change the nature of the poses, essentially kicking them up a notch. Simultaneously, they support the pranamayakosha—one layer of the energetic body—in deep cleaning by encouraging the flow of energy up (toward the crown chakra, seat of enlightenment) instead of down.

For the purposes of this post we’ll explore Mula Bandha, the root lock. Mula bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi, internal resistance to change that resides in our first chakra. Muladhara chakra is the one responsible for keeping us grounded and safe, so it makes sense that we’d have a natural aversion to anything unknown.

sharma-satyakam-muladhara-chakra-yoga-poster-467503

How to Engage Mula Bhanda

First, release any weirdness around talking or thinking about the sex organs—they’re what this pose is all about.

A true root lock is very subtle. It takes time, practice and the help of a good teacher to really “get it,” so, in the beginning, cultivate a relationship with your pelvic floor and just get used to playing around down there.

  • Engage the muscles you use when you are trying not to pee.
  • For women, contract the muscles behind the cervix, at the base of your pelvic bowl, like a Kegel exercise.
  • For men, contract at the perineum, the sensitive spot between the anus and the testes.
  • Think about drawing the base of the pelvic floor up.
  • Start with big contractions. Initially, your anus will likely lift into the body, but over time, with refinement, it will stay neutral.
  • Sit on your heel or atop tennis ball. Position in at your perineum and roll over it while contracting the pelvic floor to feel the difference between anal and perineal contractions.
  • Like we said, it’s subtle, but the act of putting pressure in this zone will make Mula Bhanda feel more natural.
  • For women, this perineal contraction is happening while also drawing the vaginal walls in and up.
  • As you get more comfortable, explore Mula Bhanda from a deep squat, Goddess Pose, or Warrior 1.

The implications of Mula Bhanda on your yoga practice are manifold. Some schools recommend engaging it throughout your entire practice, a constant reminder to lift up and stay light. It’s especially useful in standing sequences or balancing poses, any time you want to shore up your foundation.

From a meditative standpoint, Mula Bhanda means bringing our senses in; it’s a cousin to the practice of Pratayahara, the fixing of our internal gaze inward. When we restrain our outward gaze we tune into our inner landcape and strengthen the third eye, our energetic seat of insight and intuition.

Check back for future posts on Uddiyana and Jalandara Bhanda.

Images: Sacred chakra wheel and Muladhara illustration

The Year of the Roar

For many of us, the end of the year and the start of the new can be both uplifting and exhausting. Travel, meal planning, angst over consumerism, and dark days (although they are getting lighter!) may contribute to the latter, while the feeling of working with a clean slate, having the opportunity to give to and receive from dear ones, and allowing time for introspection can give us a loving boost.

Whether we’re reveling in the fresh start or recovering from end-of-year commitments and festivities, we’ve all got stuff to clear.

Enter Lion’s BreathSimhasana.

e9ab9702b9b884b656e7c410f318b938

“Stretches away tension lines in the face. Helps prevent wrinkling.”

As you can see from the bold claims on this OG poster (Yoga for no wrinkles!), Lion’s Breath has long had a reputation for relieving stress. More recently, Colleen Saidman Yee reccomended the posture for releasing trauma and anxiety in her excellent book, Yoga for Life.

dsc_8205

Here’s How It’s Done

As a pranayama practice, Simhasana can be done in any posture. You may release the breath in heat-building poses like Utkatasana, or in a shape that exposes the throat, like Cow or Upward Facing Bow. We explored Jalandhara Bandha in a recent post, where the throat is constricted and the chin and sternum meet. Lion’s Breath is that bandha’s physical and energetic opposite. Here the focus is on expelling air forcefully through a wide-open mouth and opening the front side of the body.

The classic posture with breath is taken like this:

  • Sit on your knees and cross the front of one ankle over the back of the other, letting the feet splay out to the sides. Gently snuggle the perineum onto the top heel.
  • Flatten your palms against your knees, fingers spread wide—think lion’s paw. Press down firmly to lenghten and straighten you arms.
  • Breathe deeply through the nose. Pause at the top and open your mouth wide; stretch your tongue out, tip curling toward the chin; lift your brows to widen your eyes; contract the muscles in the front of your throat, and exhale out the mouth with an audible “HAAAAA.”
  • Repeat two or three times before changing the cross of the legs and roaring for the same number of times with the other heel on top.

    9a07224464cad7377c0d1125c436b54bThe Gaze

There are two options for where to set the drishti in this posture. One is right between the eyebrows, gazing up toward the third eye. This technique, Bhrumadhya Drishti, means “mid-brow gazing”–bhru is Sanskrit for brow while madhya means middle–and is often used in meditation to acheive dharana. Another possibility is to focus the gaze at the tip of the nose in Nasikagra Drishti, another common gaze for meditators looking to go deep; here nasa means nose and agra meas the foremost point, which, in this case, is the tip of the nose.

b94d8ceab734d771cf70ec1f4e62988c

However you sit or wherever you choose to gaze, use Simhasana to move energy, clear what feels stuck, or as practice for saying what it is you want to say. A hallmark of this pose is that you will look fiercely ridiculous while doing it; you could also think of yourself as looking ridiculously fierce.

Photos: Lion; vintage yoga photos; Colleen Saidman Yee shot by Johanna Yee; awesome illustration by Miriam Castillo

Yoga 101: Jalandhara Bandha

We’ve been exploring the bandhas in a series of interconnected posts. If you want to catch up, our 101s on Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha are here and here.

After the pelvic floor and the navel, we arrive at the chin.

Etymologically, Jalandhara Bandha breaks down to jal, Sanskrit for throat; jalan for net; and dharan for stream or flow. Jalandhara Bandha is the lock, or hold, that controls the flow of energy in the neck, throat, and chin.

This bandha’s corresponding chakra is Visuddha, the fifth chakra centered at the throat. Visuddha deals with openness and communication—how willing or able are you to speak your mind and practice Right Intention through speech and listening?

be28a83b5eb8abb027acd0099b940500

Poses that expose the throat, like Ustrasana, and ones that draw energy in through constriction, like Shoulder Stand, are beneficial for opening a blocked fifth chakra. Jalandhara bandha happens naturally in throat-constricting poses: consider the double chin of Bridge or the immobility of the head, neck and throat in Halasana, Plow Pose.

While a chin lock is part of certain poses, Jalandhara bandha on its own is most commonly used as part of a pranayama practice. At the end of a round of Kapalabhati you retain the breath by engaging all the bandhas from the ground up, ending with a chin lock to keep any air from leaking out of the nose or mouth. Or, when practicing Uddiyana Bandha in a pose like Goddess, you would seal off the throat by bringing the chin and chest to meet. That’s Jalandhara bandha.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

How to Find Jalandhara Bandha

  • Sit tall in a comfortable pose.
  • Use your breath to fill and lift your sternum. On your exhale, draw your front ribs toward your spine.
  • Breathe in deeply to lift up the crown of the head and the roof of the mouth.
  • Retain the breath as you lower your chin to your sternum and lift your sternum to your chin.
  • Hollow the front of the throat by lengthening the back of your neck and releasing your shoulders.
  • Think of heart openers like Bridge or Wheel to find the complementary lift of the sternum.
  • If the chin and chest don’t meet, don’t force it.
  • Release the retention with a long, slow exhale.
  • On empty float the chin off and away from the chest.

Like all bandha practices, start slowly with Jalandhara and never retain breath to the point of discomfort. In addition to connecting you with your throat chakra and communication center, engaging Jalandhara bandha may help to regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems and balance our thyroid function and metabolism. And, as it’s an action that draws the gaze down and in it’s a quick way to calm the mind and remove ourselves from external stressors.

4e3486f44b8bdae793339ae03fb1f205

 Images: How-to drawing;@riva_g_ in floating camel; extended bridge posethroat chakra symbol

Yoga 101: Uddiyana Bandha

A few weeks ago we dove into the Bandhas, a series of energetic locks in the body. We’re working from the base of the pelvis up, so read our first post for a refresher on Mula bandha, the Root Lock.

The next bandha is Uddiyana, the Navel Lock. In Sanskrit Uddiyana means to fly or rise up. On a physical level, your diaphragm, stomach and abdominal organs lift up when this bandha is engaged. Energetically, you’ll feel uplifted.

In the chakra system, Uddiyana bandha corresponds with Manipura, the third chakra; fiery and powerful, Manipura is the seat of our personal will and motivation. Picture it located at the solar pelxus and imagine the energy of fire and the sun. If you’ve ever practiced Breath of Fire you’ve connected with the third chakra and experienced an element of Uddiyana bandha. In that breath the belly contracts in and back with each exhale, a quick and less concentrated version of the abdominal engagement that occurs in Uddiyana.

How to Engage Uddiyana Bandha

Before you begin, be sure to:

  • Practice on an empty stomach after a complete exhalation.
  • Start your inquiry in a standing position. Over time, you can explore this bandha while seated.

1.

  • Stand with your feet about hips’ width distance apart.
  • Take a slight bend in the knees and rest your hands above your kneecaps.
  • Keep your arms straight but round your torso forward.

2.

  • Breathing through the nose, inhale deeply and exhale quickly and forcibly. Use your abdominal muscles to push as much air as possible out of your lungs.
  • Relax and stay empty.

3.

  • Perform a mock inhalation. Expand your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but don’t take in any air. This will pull your abdominal muscles up and hollow the belly.
  • Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest. We’ll go into this posture, Jalandhara Bandha, in more depth in our next post.

4.

  • Hold on empty until you feel any strain, tension, or tightness—anywhere from five to 15 seconds for beginners. The hold should feel effortless.
  • Slowly release the hold and inhale normally.
  • Perform several more rounds, keeping an eye on any dizziness or lightheadedness, alternating with normal breaths between each round.

static1-squarespace

Benefits

If you’re looking to float, fly, lift, twist, or invert in your asana practice with less effort, Uddiyana bandha is key. This is a hold that’s all about rising up.

Given all the focus on the gut and its connection to the chakra in charge of digestion, it’s no surprise that Uddiyana bandha is an effective remedy for constipation, indigestion or bloating. It tones the inner abdominal muscles and serves as the yogic equivalent of crunches (i.e. flat abs). Try it when you need to beat fatigue, lethargy or stress.

Photos: How-to drawing; third chakra; floating yogini.

 

 

Morning Breath

Earlier this week we wrote about caffeine’s influence on the body (CliffsNotes’ version: It’s a mood-altering drug.) and suggested a few caffeine-free beverage recipes to try instead of coffee. The caffeine-free and mood-altering substance we didn’t mention was breath. Regular pranayama practices, as part of an intentional morning routine, may eliminate the need for coffee or energy-boosters entirely.

Try a morning practice that uses breathwork to prepare the body for meditation. Commit to a length of time that feels comfortable to you and feel free to adjust the minutes you spend on each component. If you’re new to the practices outlined below, start with five minutes and then work your way up to a 10, 20 or 30 minute practice.

If possible, let this be the first thing you do in the morning, before you check your phone or engage in conversation. For a really mindful morning, wake up with oil pulling and tongue scrapping, and then settle into a comfortable seat.

Morning Pranayama Practice

  • Seated well and free of distractions, start with Alternate Nostril Breath. For a five-minute total practice, do two minutes of this pranayama.

  • Next, take one minute of Kapalabhati or Breath of Fire. A long spine is especially crucial here. Work with your arms extended overhead in a wide V with your thumbs extended and your fingers curled into your palms; or rest the backs of your hands on your knees, palms up, thumb and index finger touching in Chin Mudra.

  • When that round of breathing is done, sit in silence. If you’re short on time, dedicate two minutes to stillness. Otherwise, stay for as long as you like.

chin-mudra-hand-position-yoga

As you gain comfort and familiarity with this practice, try to weight it a little more heavily toward meditation. The breathwork here serves as a way to subtly focus and balance the mind—that would be the work of Nadi Shodana—and then purify the container—the work of Skull Shining Breath or Breath of Fire. Those two, especially, work like an espresso shot on the nervous system: practicing them helps everything come into sharper focus.

For a 10- or 20- or 30-minute practice, try the following breakdown:

  • Alternate Nostril ~ 3 / 5 / 6 minutes
  • Kapalabhati or Breath of Fire ~ 2 / 3 / 4 minutes
  • Seated Meditation ~ 5 / 12 / 20 minutes

If possible, commit to the practice for a week and see what, if anything shifts. If you can ditch coffee that week, too, go for it. Here’s to getting high off your own supply.

Photos: Morning light by Ethanea; Chin Mudra by Cortnee Loren Brown via The Chalkboard.

Breathwork Basics: Sitali Pranayama

Have you ever wished you had your own portable A/C unit? Or that you could cajole someone into following you around with a giant fan? If you haven’t, then you’ve probably never spent time on a New York City subway platform in the summer, hoping not to sweat through your shirt before you make it to work.

If you have, this pranayama practice has got you covered. A few weeks ago we wrote about balancing pitta — the hot and volatile Ayurvedic dosha associated with summer — and Sitali breath is another tool to help bring your fire and water elements back into equilibrium.

Sitali Pranayama is often translated as “cooling breath.” It calms the nervous system, quenches thirst, adds moisture to the body and lowers your body temperature. 

sitali-pranayama-660x375

 

How To Practice Sitali

  • Find a comfortable seat (or stance, if you’re on the subway platform).
  • Take a few diaphragmatic breaths to get the oxygen flowing.
  • Open your mouth and make an “O” with your lips.
  • Curl your tongue, making a little alleyway for air to enter in, and stick your tongue out just a bit.
  • If you can’t curl your tongue, curse your genetic makeup and simply slide your flat tongue out between your lips. This is called Sitkari breathe and will do the trick just as well.
  • Inhale through your mouth like you’re drinking from a straw.
  • Close your mouth and exhale completely through your nose.
  • Focus on the air entering in and the cooling sensation against your tongue. Breath in deeply enough for that breath to expand into your lungs.
  • Continue for two to three minutes, pausing if need to take a break.
  • Eventually you can work your way up to a longer practice, breathing through your pursed mouth and out the nose for 10 minutes.
  • End the breath practice gradually, giving yourself time to stay in your new, cool headspace before entering back into the heat.
Photos: Top photo found here; tongue curl found on Well + Good

Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Pranayama

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas. So far we’ve also covered the niyamas and asana.

Pranayama, the fourth limb on Patanjali’s path, acts as the gateway between the first three (yamas, niyamas and asana) and the final four (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi). In the first three limbs we are focused on the corporeal body and our place in the world; in the latter limbs we shift our focus to our internal landscape.

Assisi

Pranayama is tied to both worlds, bridging the physical and the spiritual. The word breaks down to pranalife force — and yama, which, taking it back to the first limb, means a reining in or a mindful monitoring of our thoughts and conduct. But ask another Sanskrit scholar and she might highlight the word ayama tucked in there, too, which translates to extending or drawing out.

Pranayama, then, is a mindful controlling of the breath, the source of our life energy; it is also the extension of that vital force, the act of fostering and stimulating it. However you slice it etymologically, pranayama is about getting intimate with what keeps us moving. Practices like Breath of Fire and Alternate Nostril Breathing (get breathing with our how-to guides) ask us to retain, quicken, watch, manipulate and imagine the breath in unusual and initially uncomfortable ways. The result is a greater awareness of our own organism and of the dynamic life force at work within it. By feeding our breath we grow it, strengthening the respiratory system and soothing the nervous system. More prana in our systems makes us more vibrant and more dynamic. As Iyengar once said, “The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths.”

f25d620149f0d8484bb9d22e19997492

Alongside asana, pranayama can also serve as a potent tool for purification. By generating tapas in the body and by making space for prana to flow freely, these practices cleanse and condition from the inside out. And, as the body settles and relaxes into its rightful state — healthy and unblocked — the mind is free to dive deeper into meditation and reflection. We’ll revisit this idea in our next Eight Limbs post on pratyahara, the withdrawal of our senses from the outside world.

For more on pranayama take a look through our articles on Right Breathing; clearly we are pranayama advocates, seeing as intentional breath is one of our five pillars! And consider this quote from Krishnamacharya, the widely acknowledged father of modern yoga: “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”

 

Photos: Iyengar in a breath vortex found here; Travis Bedel’s anatomical collage found here

 

Breathwork Basics: Kapalabhati + Breath of Fire

In our last breathwork post we covered Alternate Nostril Breath, a harmonizing practice designed to balance the left and right sides of the body. This week we explore Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire, two similar and dynamic pranayamas that significantly increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and the brain. Stimulating and detoxifying, they can clear the head and sinuses and fire up the belly — perfect for alleviating springtime allergies and general sluggishness.

While the terms Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire are often used interchangeably, they are slightly different. Breath of Fire is prescribed in Kundalini yoga on its own (eventually building up to a 31-minute practice) or as a jetpack to boost many kriyasKapalabhati translates to Skull Shining Breath and is practiced with the intention of clearing the cobwebs of the mind — imagine polishing a fogged-up window until you can see through it clearly.

The main difference is in the length and nature of the inhale. In BOF they are the same length. In Kapalabhati the exhale is longer and the inhale is passive; essentially it happens on its own.

Here’s what you need to know about both:

  • Breath is rapid, rhythmic and continuous.
  • Inhales and exhales are through the nose.
  • Breath is powered from the navel and the solar plexus through rapid stomach pumps: On the exhale, air is expelled through the nose by pressing the navel back toward the spine. On the inhale, the belly relaxes and the diaphragm flattens down
  • For Kapalabhati, focus on the exhale; it should be forceful but not forced. The vacuum created by the exhale will naturally lead to an inhale; teachers often call this a passive inhale.
  • In Breath of Fire, work toward producing inhales and exhales of equal length.
  • This breath can be fast and rigorous but the body stays relaxed, especially the face. No wrinkles!
  • As you become more accustomed to them, these pranayamas can be practiced for long periods of time; but start small, one to three minutes — this is powerful stuff.

tumblr_ls9kg4MpPA1r1znxpo1_500

How to do them:

  • Find a comfortable sit with a long spine, head gently inclined toward your chest.
  • Set your attention at your third eye, just between the brows, with eyes gently closed.
  • Hands can rest on your knees, fingers in maha-chin mudra (index fingers under the thumbs); or, to turn up the volume a bit, arms extended in a wide V over your head, fingers tucked into your palm with your thumb stuck out like a cosmic hitchhiker.
  • Take a regular inhale and exhale to begin. Then, inhale partway and begin breathing rapidly while engaging the belly, letting it move in with the exhale and out with the inhale.
  • When you’re done, draw a deep breath in, retain the air in until it no longer feels comfortable, and then slowly release air through the nose.
  • Sit quietly and observe the effects.

Why do it?

Breath of Fire and Kapalabhati are incredibly potent practices for arriving in the present moment, a snap to attention.

Here are some additional benefits:

  • Releases toxins
  • Expands lung capacity
  • Strengthens the nervous system
  • Balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
  • Powers up the third chakra
  • Increases stamina
  • Energizes blood flow and circulation
  • Delivers oxygen to the brain, resulting in improved focused and a natural state of calm awareness
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Aids in digestion

As noted above, these are powerful practices, so begin with short sessions and rest if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Neither of these pranayamas are recommended for pregnant ladies and they’re uncomfortable to practice on a full stomach. As with any pranayama practice it’s wise to study with a teacher. Energy moves up and out in unexpected ways, so a safe container for experimentation is really vital. Practice them on their own, as part of your meditation, or add to an asana like plank or utkatasana to heat things up.

 

Top photo from Open Hearted Healings; bottom photo courtesy of Susan Rae

Yoga 101: Breathing!

Nestled under the rib cage at the base of the lungs, the diaphragm is the body’s best breathing muscle. Here’s how it works: When we breathe in our diaphragm flattens out and moves down, creating a vacuum for air to rush into; when we breath out, our diaphragm relaxes and moves up, pushing air up and out of our lungs.Image-1While our diaphragm is always working, we often don’t use it as much or as well as we could. Think of bending over to pick up a heavy box and straining your lower back instead of squatting down and lifting from your legs. That’s what shallow breathing is like — using your chest and neck to pump air in and out when there’s a much stronger muscle (the diaphragm) made for the job that’s waiting for some action.

Yoga is an incredible practice for engaging with the breath; we are constantly reminded to return to it, witness it, and listen to it. But off the mat it can be easier to let the thread of breath slip away.

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing is a super simple way to breathe more deeply wherever we are, immediately increasing the amount of oxygen in our system and blood in our brains.


First, try it lying down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, following the movement of the diaphragm as it fills with air. If you’re breathing into your diaphragm your top hand will stay where it is while your bottom hand will rise as the belly fills. On the exhale, follow the movement of the diaphragm in and up. Continue until you feel euphoric.

maxresdefault

Once you’ve gotten the hang of diaphragmatic breathing in a supine position, try it sitting and standing. The more aware you become of the sensation of deep, vital breaths, the easier it is to recognize when you move back into shallow, chest-centered breathing. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is an absolutely ace relaxation tool to have in your arsenal. Try it the next time you feel unfocused, tired, irritated, disconnected or just want to get a little high, au natural.

 

Illustrations from Honeybeery Diary and The Acoustic Singer