Favourite Pranayama Techniques

Prana is a Sanskrit word that means life force and ayama means extending or stretching. Thus, the word “pranayama” translates to the control of life force. It is also known as the extension of breath. 

  1. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing)

This practice of alternating between the right and left nostrils as you inhale and exhale “unblocks and purifies the nadis, which in yogic belief are energy passages that carry life force and cosmic energy through the body,” Cole says. While there is no clear scientific evidence to support these effects, one pilot study found that within seven days of practicing this technique, overactive nervous systems were essentially rebalanced. And a study of 90 people with high blood pressure found Nadi Shodhana lowered blood pressure and improved mental focus.

I have been practising Nadi Shodhana nightly before sleep in the ratio of 1:2:2 – that is inhale for 6 seconds, hold for 12 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds. Can’t tell if it’s been the daily asana practice or this pranayama technique, but I have found my body, mind and emotions to be significantly calmer before sleep and I woke up feeling well rested.

2. Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean’s Breath)

This classic pranayama practice, known for its soft, soothing sound similar to breaking ocean waves, can further enhance the relaxation response of slow breathing, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of The Breath. The breath is directed to the throat’s back while it constricts the muscles which cause a hissing sound similar to the sound of an ocean which is why it is also known as Ocean’s Breath. Her theory is that the vibrations in the larynx stimulate sensory receptors that signal the vagus nerve to induce a calming effect.

This is the breathing technique I have employed throughout most of my asana practice in YTT. I found that it made it easier for me to push past the physical pain during practice as the breath, when loud enough, acted as an anchor to bring my focus back to holding steady alignment, opening up my chakras whenever my mind wandered elsewhere.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: Aparigraha (Part 2)

APARIGRAHA

When we let the moment be what it is without either trying to cling to it, or to push it away, we can really say we’re living in that moment, allowing things to come and go, without the need to possess any of it.


In essence, this fifth Yama from the Eight Limbs of Yoga by Patanjali is about generosity, non-possessiveness and letting go of our attachments and understanding that impermanence is the only constant. It teaches us to exercise restraint from possessing or holding on to anything that does not serve us – be it earthly objects and desires or emotional baggage.

 
Relating this to our yoga practice – progress in practice is encouraging, but it need not be the only reward. Practice is supposed to be nourishing mentally, physically and spiritually. If we let go of fixation on achieving more on the mat, we just might find more happiness.


I end this post with a poem that I feel serves as a simple yet powerful and deep reminder for us to recognise and appreciate the magic of this present moment without yearning for anything more.


Enough. 

These few words are enough.


If not these words, this breath.


If not this breath, this sitting here.


This opening to life


we have refused


again and again


until now.

Until now.

(David Whyte from Where Many Rivers Meet)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: Aparigraha (Part 1)

In the Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali considered the Yamas the great, mighty and universal vows. He instructs us that they should be practised on all levels (actions, words, and thoughts) and that are not confined to class, place, time or concept of duty.


The practice of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is referred to as practicing raja yoga, or the Royal Path, named to distinguish the practice from hatha yoga, which came later. Raja yoga creates stillness and contemplation as the path unfolds throughout the eight limbs which then folds back to the first couple of verses in the sutras.


Yoga was intended to be an entire lifestyle and way of living, asanas were not even a part of what the originator intended.


APARIGRAHA


aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathanta sambodhah


The above sutra is interpreted as: “The permanent reign of non-covetousness (aparigraha) engenders knowledge concerning the goal of earthly life.”


Aparigraha is actually one of the central teachings in the Yogic text of the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna shares one of the teachings that could perhaps be the most important lesson of all to learn:”Let your concern be with the action alone, and never with the fruits of action.Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction” – Krishna. What Krishna is essentially saying here, is that we should never concern ourselves with the outcome of a situation, we should only concern ourselves with what we’re actually doing right now as we work towards that outcome.

Yoga & Digestive Health

HOW DOES YOGA HELP WITH DIGESTIVE HEALTH?

In Yogic tradition, the state of our digestive system can create health and vitality, or be the root cause of disease. The metabolic energy of digestion is called Agni. When this fire is burning strong, it breaks down dense physical matter into nutrients and vitamins that the body and mind require to function. When it’s weak, it creates toxic build up, leading to disease. Yoga can support Agni, creating balance in the body and longevity.

When the organs of the digestive system are compressed in poses, waste and toxins in those areas are encouraged out of the tissues and the body is better able to eliminate them. This then enables nutrients to circulate into the cells. Twisting postures can help to enhance your digestion and encourage your liver and kidneys to flush out toxins.

  • Massages vital organs of digestive tract
  • Stimulates muscles and increases peristaltic movements
  • Pranayama (breath control) techniques send oxygen deep into the cells of the body (which can help with bloating) and help it to absorb nutrients and excrete waste products thoroughly
  • Reduces stress response of the body
  • Dynamic poses improve blood and lymph circulation

COMMON DIGESTIVE DISORDERS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms manifesting as a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder in which patients experience abdominal pain, discomfort, and bloating that is often relieved with defecation. For people with IBS, the nerves of the digestive system become oversensitive. The digestive tract overreacts to food, stress, and other demands on your body and mind.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that affects the lower oesophageal sphincter, the ring of muscle between the oesophagus and stomach. In GERD, the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, causing the stomach’s acid to flow back up into the oesophagus. This constant backwash of acid irritates the lining of your oesophagus, often causing it to become inflamed.

Gastritis

Gastritis is a general term for a group of conditions with one thing in common: an inflammation, irritation, or erosion of the lining of the stomach. It can occur suddenly (acute) or gradually (chronic).

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic illness characterised by gross inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. The two main types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.  The latter is limited to the colon or large intestine. The former, on the other hand, can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to anus. The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease remains unknown. Possible causes are an immune system malfunction and heredity.

ASANAS FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH

1.Pawan Muktasana (wind relieving pose) 

Benefits

  • Flatulence – speeds up movement of trapped wind in digestive tract to help expel intestinal gas
  • Constipation – stimulates bowel movement and encourages defecation
  • Digestion – compresses and massages your ascending and descending colon, and encourages blood flow to digestive organs
  • Provides relief for a sluggish liver or flabby abdomen 

2. Marjaryasana-Bitilasana (Cat-Cow) 

Benefits

  • Pain and bloating – by alternately compressing and lengthening the spine, your intestines will fold and unfold, this movement massages and stimulates organs, particularly the stomach and intestines, bringing a boost of fresh blood and oxygen to cells responsible for healthy gut function

 3. Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)

Benefits

  • Traditional yogic texts say that Paschimottanasana increases appetite, reduces obesity, and can cures diseases
  • The gentle but deep intra-abdominal compression massages and strengthens the digestive organs – esp liver, spleen, pancreas, intestines
  • Enhances the peristalsis, relieves indigestion (dyspepsia), belching and gastritis

4. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Benefits

  • It has been used for thousands of years as a constipation-relieving pose.
  • The rocking bow pose gives the internal organs a powerful massage – particularly the liver and pancreas – the massage aids with better absorption of nutrients, facilitates digestion and elimination of waste and toxins from the body
  • Effective in weight loss – by balancing the entire weight of your body on your abdomen, it provides maximum stretch and toning for the abdominal and oblique muscles, thus reducing fat-buildup around the stomach