Restore Balance In Your Mind & Body With Pranayama

“I took a deep breath and listened to that old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” – Sylvia Plath

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Breathing is something that we do involuntarily, day in, day out. It comes as no surprise that we hardly ever think about it.

However, the breath is closely connected to the mind and body – so even if we don’t realise it, they can actually influence one another.

When we develop the awareness and learn to breathe consciously, we can then create balance in the mind and body. This can be especially useful since we live in a fast paced world and sometimes forget to slow down.

If you’re dealing with stress on the regular, pranayama (life force extension via the breath) can do wonders for you. For those who simply wish to improve your well-being and health, it is a great tool for you too.

After all, studies have shown that having a regular practice of simple, deep breathing can reduce anxiety and depression, boost energy levels, improve immunity and reduce feelings of stress, among other benefits.

Ready to make every breath count? Try any one (or all) of the below techniques to restore balance in your mind and body!

1. Kabalabathi

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Kabalabathi translates to skull shining, and as its name suggests, this breathing technique rejuvenates the mind and body. Also, it improves memory and concentration as well as enhances blood circulation.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position with your hands on your knees
  • Keep your spine straight and close your eyes
  • With both nostrils, take a deep breath
  • Pull the stomach inward and exhale sharply in short bursts
  • Follow each exhale with an automatic inhale
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 15 minutes

2. Anulom Vilom

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Anulom Vilom, or alternate nostril breathing, helps to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It also boosts memory and improves lung function.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position
  • With your right hand, bring down your index and middle finger to your palm, and use your thumb to close your right nostril
  • Inhale through the left nostril for 3 counts
  • Close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale from the right nostril for 6 counts
  • Inhale through the right nostril for 3 counts
  • Close the right nostril and exhale from the left nostril for 6 counts
  • Repeat this process for 5 minutes and focus on every inhalation and exhalation

3. Ujjayi

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Ujjayi is also known as ocean breath, simply because of the sound you’ll make when you exhale.

If you love being by the beach, take a moment to enjoy the ocean wave-like exhalation sounds while improving your focus, clearing sinus and staying positive, among other benefits.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position
  • Inhale gently, in a long deep breath, from both nostrils
  • As you inhale, contract your throat and avoid letting the air touch your nose
  • With relaxed and light breathing, exhale with your mouth open or closed and repeat 3 – 4 times

YTT: My 200 Hour Leap Of Faith

“What if I fall?”
“Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”

A year ago, if you told me I’m going to spend an entire month waking up daily at 6:15am to travel to Paya Lebar for 5 hours of yoga, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Fast forward to today: I think I’m actually going to miss the 50 minute journey to the studio (even though I started off complaining about it), the challenging poses and learning about the different aspects of yoga – be it philosophy or anatomy. Okay, maybe not so much anatomy but I shall not digress and go into that.

More than anything, I’m having mixed feelings about the YTT ending.

I feel relief, at the thought of not having to worry about juggling the daily homework with my job. Anxiety, at the thought of sitting for my exam two days from now. A tinge of sadness, at the thought of having to say goodbye to a routine that I’ve grown to love. And above everything, a ton of gratitude for the conversations and lessons with Master Sree as well as the privilege to deepen my practice in the presence of five strong, beautiful classmates that have inspired me every day.

Over the last month, I was forced to face my fears, demons, self-doubt and uncertainty.

At some point, I felt like I wasn’t going to be strong or brave enough to make it to the end.

While my head kept spiraling into a never ending black hole of anxiety and doubt, something in my heart told me to keep going. To just show up, and know that it is enough.

So I did. The same way I had to show up for myself all those times when the only thing I could do was lie on the floor with my heart cracked open.

I didn’t see it then, but I see it now. I see the beauty of those cracks because without them, I would never have learned that light can still shine in.

The cracks that were caused by my own thoughts and doubts during this period ended up showing me that no matter the season, or how I may feel, I will still bloom the way I’m supposed to. We all will, and light will meet us wherever we’re at – as long as we keep showing up.

So here’s to showing up every day, for ourselves, our loved ones, and our practice.

As the month (and YTT) draws to a close, I don’t know what my life will be like in the weeks ahead. But after nearly falling to my death – or what felt like it – from Sirsasana, I believe that it’s worth taking that leap of faith because along the way, we will learn to build our wings on the way down.

Sitting All Day? These 4 Yoga Poses Will Relieve Tension

Corporate warriors, this one’s for you!

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If you have a desk job, chances are you’re familiar with that feeling of sitting by your computer all day.

Unfortunately, all those hours you’ve spent hunched over your keyboard contribute to tension in your body – from achy shoulders to tightness in the hips as well as legs, and sometimes even a stiff neck.

For some people, this can also result in bad posture and low energy.

The good news is that it is possible to undo the damage caused by sitting at your desk all day (without having to quit your job). All it takes is a little time from each day to consistently do these 4 yoga poses.

Apart from soothing your body, these yoga poses can also help to calm a busy mind that is plagued by day-to-day work stress. So why not give them a try after a long day at work? Your body will thank you after that!

1. Forward fold (Uttanasana)

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If you have anxiety, the forward fold can do wonders for you as it calms your nervous system.

Besides that, your hamstrings, back muscles and glutes also get a nice juicy stretch while your abdominal muscles enjoy a gentle massage.

To get into this posture, stand with your feet hips-width apart and slowly bend forward from your hips. Bend your knees slightly to avoid locking them so you protect your tendons, ligaments and meniscus from tearing.

 

2. Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

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The downward facing dog might look like a simple pose, but it is not to be underestimated because it can strengthen and stretch various parts of your body.

To get into this posture, come into an inverted V by stretching your hands out in front of you with your hips lifted and feet grounded at hips-width distance.

When you’re in the downward facing dog, the muscles in your arms, chest, shoulder and back are engaged. Also, you’re able to strengthen your wrist and ankle joints as well as stretch your leg muscles after a long day of sitting.

It is not only relaxing, but also energizing. So the next time you need quick relief from a stressful day, get into this pose!

 

3. Cobra (Bhujangasana)

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The cobra pose is a simple backbend that can counteract the hours of hunching over your desk.

It strengthens your wrist, arm, shoulder, back and abdominal muscles. As it also stretches your abdominal muscles, it helps to tone uterine muscles. Apart from that, it also contracts the dorsal muscles in your spine’s lumbar region, flushing out your kidneys.

To get into this posture, start by lying on the ground with your hands slightly in front of you. Tuck your elbows in and push up into your hands with a slight backbend. Make sure you bring your shoulders down to open your chest, while gazing upwards.

 

4. Fish (Matsyasana)

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If you feel tension in your neck or head, the fish pose can help you to relieve it.

Since it stretches the front of your body, expect to engage your throat, chest, hip flexors, abdomen and intercostal muscles. Also, as it contributes to strengthening the back of your neck and upper back muscles, you’ll have improved posture and spinal flexibility.

To get into this posture, sit on your hips with your legs stretched out together in front of you, with toes pointed (or get into a seated lotus position if you’re able to). Bring your hands under your hips and prop yourself up on your forearms while learning back.

Here’s How Yoga Brings Me Moments Of Peace

Disclaimer: I’m still not 100% at peace, but I’m figuring it out one day at a time. And that’s okay.

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve learned that yoga is so much more than just asana (physical postures). Instead of only realigning the body, it is just as important to also focus on realigning the mind and soul so as to create more balance in life.

Most days, my mind is constantly busy and still not as calm as I’d like it to be. However, I’ve decided to consciously commit to practicing some of Patanjali’s teachings in my day-to-day life.

I’ll be honest and tell you that it hasn’t always been easy because it’s not how I’m used to living my life.

Speaking of honesty, this brings me to the first principle I’ve been keeping in mind.

 

1. Be truthful and genuine

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Satya, or truthfulness, is one of the yamas (guidelines for how to behave in relation to the world around us) in yoga.

By being truthful in our actions and thoughts, we can then show up authentically and be true to ourselves instead of trying to fit ourselves into what society or others tell us is best.

As I used to be a people pleaser, I had the tendency to focus on others instead of myself and what I really feel.

Now that I’m aware, I make it a point to catch myself and show up truthfully – even if it means that I might not be able to please everyone all the time. This has helped me to prevent self-abandonment and set better boundaries. Thanks to this, I can now make decisions more aligned with what I genuinely want.

 

2. Practice gratitude

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Santosha, or contentment, is one of the niyamas (guidelines to conduct ourselves) in yoga.

As we live in a material world, it can be easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves and our lives with others. As a result, we believe that the grass is greener on the other side and lose sight of what we have.

Even though it might not feel like it sometimes, there’s always something to be grateful for.

Whether it’s appreciating the people in my life or simply being thankful for the lessons I learn, I make it a point to practice gratitude daily. This has helped me to build a deeper appreciation for the simple things and embrace where I am in every moment.

 

3. Act from a place of love

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Ahimsa, or non-violence in our thoughts, actions and consequences of our actions, is another yama.

In turbulent times, I tend to easily succumb to negative thoughts and would sometimes even beat myself up when I don’t get the results or outcome I want. Unfortunately, this has led to over two decades of being unkind to myself.

It was only last year, in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, when I noticed that I struggled to show up for myself because I didn’t have a solid relationship with myself.

After being forced to go inward and start healing, I started working on self-compassion and acceptance. Now that self-love is a priority, my cup isn’t empty anymore so I no longer have to rely on external things to keep it full. This helps me to be better at showing up for not just myself, but also the people around me.

I’m still learning to be kind to myself when I notice myself slip into old patterns and I understand that it is a daily effort to lead with love. So I’m doing my best to take it a day at a time and more importantly, change the way I talk to myself.

 

And so, the journey towards peace continues

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Now that I’ve gained a deeper understanding about the different yoga philosophies, I’m aware that there’s still a lot more to explore and discover.

As I embark on the next chapter of my healing, I hope to be able to be more present and also learn to let go of what no longer serves me.