Pranayama: Ujjayi breathing

In our yoga practice, we learned different breathing techniques. They are all important, and I enjoy breathing practices and meditation. However, I will write about a type of breathing method that helps active asana engagements—ujjayi breathing.

 

When I first learned about ujjayi breathing, my teacher said it is a good pranayama to warm up our body. Later, in our training, I also learned that it helps trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system functions to assist our body’s rest and digestion response when the body is in a relaxed, resting, or feeding mode. This means that ujjayi breathing works to make us more relaxed and calm, and deepens our postures by relaxing the muscles. I do feel like this breathing indeed helps me keep my mind focused on the ‘present’ moment during my asana practice. I feel that it helps reducing stress and anxiety especially when trying challenging poses.

 

After practising yoga for a while, I started to notice how the quality of my breath impacts the overall quality of my learning journey. While it is challenging, I came to enjoy ashtanga practices, which requires a lot of focus and strengths. If I want to be in a fully focused state, I have to be ‘present’ with my breathing. Increasingly, I realized that ujjayi breathing stops me from rushing through the asana and helps me create inner stillness. Eventually, my goal is to be able to really combine my mind and body with the breathing during my ashtanga practice, and be able to embody the experience the breathing, as if my breath is moving my body (and no longer me).

 

I really appreciate the powerful nature of breathing. After all, yoga is an ultimate form of balancing act, and breathing is the key for the balance. With steady, controlled breathing, our bodies are able to reach places where we want to be, physically and mentally.


Special Travel Buddies

 I’ve been blessed all my life about having good friends. In childhood, school days, at work, etc., I always met great people and enjoyed their company at different phases of my life. Among these great friends, yoga friends hold a really special place in my heart.

 

When it comes to practicing yoga, many people use a metaphor of ‘journey’. I do agree with this idea; my yoga practice has been a long, challenging, and enjoyable journey. There has been ups and downs, sometimes, the journey is slow, sometimes, it’s speedy.

 

Yoga has been part of my life, and my practice cannot be compared with other peoples’ journeys. However, having a group of ‘travel buddies’ along my yoga practice has been one of the most important part of my ‘journey’. These friends became so special as we’ve been seeing each other regularly and engage in the common activity together. We all love our yoga practice and we are not necessarily traveling the same paths. Yet, we support each other tremendously for each other’s individual journey.

 

After practicing yoga together for a few years, my yoga friends and I came to know each other’s strengths and improving points. We enjoy helping each other with different poses, stretching methods, and getting feedback from one another. Sometimes, we wear matching yoga outfits, other times, we have our own group sessions outside the yoga studio. During the circuit breaker period, we got together online almost every day and kept our practice going. My yoga friends never fail to motivate me with my journey.

 

Outside our asana practice, we also spend time to share meals, thoughts, or just stories of our everyday happenings. Our bond we built became so strong that I feel Iike I’ve gained family members through my yoga practice. In the middle of my journey, I know for sure that the time I’m spending with these special friends will be with me for the rest of my life.

 

A writer, Douglas Pagels said, “a friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.” My yoga friends has truly been one of the nicest things that have happened to me. They openly accept me for who I am, and are always there for me. I certainly hope that I am doing a good job being a special friend for them.

 

After all, the journey is so much more fun and meaningful with these special friends. Thank you for being you!

 

 

Camel – Ustrasana

 

          

          This kneeling backbend can help you boost your mood and leave you feeling confident and energetic! Camel pose counteracts our flexion-dominants lifestyles by broadening the chest. This pose stretches the front of your body which including your abdominals and thighs, while engages your back muscles, buttock and thighs.

 
Neck

~ Your cervical extensors (splenius muscles) and upper trapezius engage to extend your neck, while your cervical flexors ( longus muscles, sternocleidomastoid) stabilize, preventing your head from dropping back and creating and even, controlled curve.

 
Torso

~ Your spinal extensors (erector spinae) and quadratus lumborum engage to extend your spine while your abdominals stretch, Your pectorals ( pectoralis major) stretch when you broaden your chest. Your middle and lower trapezius work with your rhomboids to retract and stabilize your scapulae, while your serratus anterior stretches.

 
Arms

~Your posterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi, and teres major muscles engage to extend your shoulders, while your triceps extend your elbows.

 
Legs

~ Your hip extensors (gluteus maximus, biseps femoris, semitendinosus ) engage to help you lean back, while your hip flexors (iliopsoas, rectus femoris) stretch. Your quadriceps (vastus lateralis) engage and lengthen, working with your hamstrings to stabilize your thighs,

 

 

The past, the future, and the present

          Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, widely known as B.K.S. Iyengar, said “Your body exists in the past and your mind exist in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present.” The more I practice yoga, the more appreciative I became about this saying. Before I became familiar with yoga philosophy, or the way of thinking in yoga, I had a tendency to worry about the past and the future for no reason.

 

          Many teachers said that yoga is not just a physical exercise, but it’s a way of lifestyle. After I started to be more mindful about my practice, a link between B.K.S. Iyengar’s saying and my yoga teachers’ comments appeared to be clearer and clearer. Yoga certainly is much more than a workout for the body as it strengthens our minds as much. I came to realize the importance of ‘being with present’ in my practice. I stopped worrying about the past or the future as I progressed my journey. Moreover, there was a sense of realization that I cannot just focus on my physical body in order to better my practice since I need to balance it with a development of my mind. Mind and body; this is yoga.

 

          When one becomes more aware about the balancing act of the body and the mind, there will be peace—peace of mind and peace of body. This balancing act functions as a generator of relaxation at a moment of focus. It became especially evident during my yoga practice. This philosophy applies to all aspects of yoga. For example, in my asana practice, whether it is at a warming up phase or at a peak pose, my body and mind need to be at the mindful ‘present state’ to successfully reach the equilibrium.

 

           Thanks to this yoga philosophy, I came to learn how to honor myself—my past, my future, and most of all, my present. I came to accept who I am no matter what. With the self-acceptance, I gained peace, compassion, and happiness in my everyday life.

image source: https://twitter.com/jana_yoga/status/999716524771414017