Kapalabhathi Pranayama

Kapalabhathi was one of the first few terms taught to us on the first day of this TTC course and I became fascinated by this whole new world of breathing techniques. There are many different types of kriyas and they are devised to help one with their overall well-being.

 

Kapalabhathi in direct translations means “Skull Shining”. With regular practise of this pranayama, your forehead is said to glow not only from the outside, your mind also becomes sharp and clear.

 

How to do Kapalabhathi?

  1. Sit up tall in Sukhasana, place palms on your knees.
  2. Inhale deeply through both nostrils and expand lungs with air. (Passive inhalation)
  3. Exhale quickly and sharply as you pull your stomach in towards your back. (Active exhalation)
  4. Immediately start to inhale again after exhalation
  5. Repeat this cycle for 20 times before coming to regular breathing

This exercise definitely required some getting used to, or at least for myself.

 

Benefits of Kapalabhathi Pranayama

  • This exercise generates heat, which helps to dissolve toxins in the body
  • It improves blood circulation and digestion
  • It improves the function of kidneys and liver
  • It will help to activate the chakras in your body
  • Your mind will be clear and concentration levels will improve

 

Precautions

Ensure you are well before practicing Kapalabhathi. It can cause dizziness, hypertension or hernia.

Heart patients should go slow on exhale

It is encouraged to have an empty stomach before practising this Kriya

Avoid this technique if you are pregnant or menstruating

Be careful during this exercise if you suffer from respiratory issues or high blood pressure

 

Get started with Mudras

“Mudra” in Sanskrit means gesture. With regular and correct practise, mudras are able to balance the energy within the mind and body of oneself. This can contribute to overall well-being or prevent future health problems.

Mudras done using different motions with our hands are called Hasta Mudra. This can influence the cosmic energy within our bodies. The 5 fingers represent 5 key elements:

Thumb – Fire

Index Finger – Air

Middle Finger – Space

Ring Finger – Earth

Small Finger – Water

There are 399 mudras which one can practice. It is a lot to take in, so here are some of the most frequently used mudras that we should be aware of.

1. Gyan Mudra (Wisdom)

By doing Gyan mudra, it will help to increase memory, concentration and improve sleep. This mudra is known to bring peace and calmness during meditation.
Duration of practise: None
When can it be used: Anytime in the day or during yoga

 

2. Chin Mudra (Consciousness)


This mudra helps to lift dull energy and connect to your higher self.
Duration of practise: None
When can it be used: Anytime in the day or during yoga

 

3. Vishnu Mudra (Balance)

When combined with breathing exercises, Vishnu mudra helps to bring balance to the right and left hemispheres of the body. It helps to support the respiratory system, resulting in an overall detox of body.
Duration of practice: Maximum 15 – 20 minutes.
When can it be used: Using only right hand in Nadi Shodana, alternate nostril breathing

I hope this was helpful in helping you get acquainted with the mudras.

Walking Meditation with Pranayama

Following our theory session on Pranayama in the third weekend of our training course, I thought I could experiment with incorporating in my morning walks the key Pranayama techniques that Master Paalu had taught us. These were:

  • Gentle, regulated and extended breath
  • Using the standard ratio of 1:2 (inhalation:exhalation)

I started with the most basic ratio of 4 counts of inhalation to 8 counts of exhalation. Even then, it was not as easy as I had thought! I had to slow down my steps, and concentrate hard on coordinating each footstep with a breath count to achieve the desired regulated state. I must have looked pretty strange to passers-by in the first few days of my experiment. 

As the days passed, I grew more comfortable with the experience, and was able to lengthen the breath counts slightly, even fitting in breath retention in between. Personally, I still find the mindful walking practice described in my earlier blog which involves focusing on the surroundings more enjoyable. However, I do find this practice of “walking Pranayama” a lot more effective in helping to sharpen mental concentration.

Curious to find out if “walking Pranayama” is just my own somewhat unorthodox approach, I decided to do some research on this topic. I found out that walking meditation is indeed practised in several branches of the Buddhist tradition, typically in between periods of sitting meditation. 

When it comes to the Yoga tradition, Pranayama is certainly predominantly a seated practice. Nonetheless, there does exist a practice named Bhramana Pranayama (“going round” Pranayama) which is the practice of controlled breathing performed while walking. 

Some of the benefits of Bhramana Pranayama include improving stamina and endurance through fine-tuning the heart and lung, and releasing negative thought and energy. 

This practice could be a less intimidating entry-point for beginners to the Pranayama practice, or perhaps a nice occasional alternative to a seated Pranayama practice for more active people who find it challenging to stay focused while staying still. 

I can’t wait for the day when I can practise this without having to wear a face mask!

 

Yoga and Climbing Part 2

Mental/ Spiritual Similarities between Yoga and Climbing
More importantly, both yoga and climbing share similarities that transcend beyond the physical body.
Focus and Calm
Through the practice of pranayama, yoga practitioners are invited to focus on breathing in order to calm the mind and be in the present. And we need to keep coming back to this breathing techniques throughout our asana practice for good reasons.
Imagine doing balancing poses such as Warrior III (Virabhadrasana C) or Ardha Badha Padmottanasana while thinking about lunch? Or forgetting to breathe while holding Navasana?
During climbing, the same focused and calm mindset is imperative to continue progressing upwards, one step at a time while trying not to fall and getting injured.
Thinking about lunch while up on the wall/rock few meters above the ground will definitely be worse than losing balance from Warrior III!
Therefore, yoga and climbing share Dharana (or concentration) both as a mean to an end and an end itself.
Courage and Confidence
I still remember the fear and doubt I had before my first inversion – Fear of falling down, breaking my neck and back.
And the fear during bouldering, when there is not any safety rope and I need to jump down after reaching the last hold. Or when I reach halfway during wall climbing and accidentally look down at how far the ground is.
But it doesn’t just stop there – once we conquer inversions or solve that V6.
In Ashtanga, once we complete the Primary series, there will be 5 other series of complex poses. Climbers would often feel stuck making the progress to the higher problem. For me now, V8 seems very daunting and just simply beyond my reach.
Both disciplines bring us out of our comfort zone, constantly require us to have courage to confront and grapple with our fears. Over time, the practice becomes mind over matter. We develop confidence and trust on our body and capability – and above all, on ourselves.
Looking back at some videos of me attempting inversion or V3 made me realise how far I have come.
There would be no progress without courage and confidence.
Humility and Perseverance
 
Falling down in climbing and failing to execute the asanas are common, shared by all practitioners.
Yet we keep trying again. And again.
We may not have developed enough grip strength or our hips are not open enough.
Whatever the reasons are, as long as we can identify them, both yoga and climbing teach us humility and perseverance – to keep trying and learning while honouring our bodies and other limitations.
Acknowledging that everyone is work in progress. There are people who are better than us and there are others who can learn from us.
Humble enough to receive adjustments for certain poses or to listen to beta (tips) from the crowd watching below.
As well as humble enough not to judge anyone but to encourage fellow practitioners.
Meditation
With those aspects above, both yoga and climbing have become forms of moving meditation for me.
While they may not be as profound as Dhyana described in Yoga Sutra, but these exercises have provided me with glimpses of peace and calm, interrupting my otherwise hectic days with endless fluctuations of external stimulus.
These exercises invite me to look inward and know who I actually am.
These mental (some would even tag this as spiritual) aspects of these disciplines may not be as easily observable as the physical ones, but over time, practitioners would slowly notice their applicability and integration into the daily life.

My Mind through Mantras

During my yoga practices, I’ve always enjoyed hearing teachers chanting “Om” or other Mantras. Chanting Om along with teacher, each exhalation I feel the sense of calmness, relaxation and peace. My perception of mantras is that it is a ritual of yoga practice, showing gratitude or devotion to Yoga masters or Gurus and a calming effect through sound. The same as music which I love and has been one of the sources for my relaxation and stress-relief.

Through this YTT, I’ve gained a better understanding of Mantras and how to benefit from them.

Man in Sanskrit means something you think about and Tra means repeat. So if we repeat something, being counting numbers, words, sentences or anything, our mind will consciously remind ourselves again and again. Mantras can be chanted aloud or silently. If we chant mantra internally, the “inner sound” becomes object of attention for our meditation.  Chanting aloud is given the sound vibration and energy waves to our body, brain and mind. The sound of the mantra becomes the focus of our attention.

Mantras have several benefits such as:

  • Relaxing mind and body: During chanting, our mind relieves the stress and our body automatically start to relax. Mind also releases positive energy that decreases negative thoughts or stress. It will help to enhance the brainwaves of meditation: alpha, theta and delta, as well as open the Chakras.
  • Improve attention, change mood and Increase concentration
  • Physical benefits:  Help to regulate and slow the heart rate. Lower blood pressure. Boost immunity.

Sounds, simple words and phrases do really have power to stop negativity, shift our mindset and invite change in our life…Pick your Mantras today!

Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda

I was first introduced to Yoga through Ayurveda. I was fascinated by the discovery of Doshas in my last blog post that I would like to share about my Ayurvedic treatment: Kriya. Before coming for treatment, I am to fast because I am needed to do lots of purging.

  • Jala Neti

My yoga therapy first starts with Jalaneti. It is essentially nasal irrigation, where lukewarm saline water is taken through one nostril and leaves the other. This is done on both nostrils.

  • Kapalabathi

After Jalaneti, I blow out all remaining water from both nostrils using the technique of Kapalabathi Pranayama.

  • Vamana Dhouti

I proceed to then do Vamana Dhouti – the purification of the upper digestive tract. It is done by induced vomiting after drinking several glasses of saline water. After my sixth or seventh cup, I would naturally puke the water back out (now you know why I am needed to fast prior to treatment!)

  • Sankhapraksalana

Once I am done with Vamana Dhouti, I will then do Sankhapraksalana. It is a full intestinal cleanse, where it detoxifies the body. Here, I am to continue drinking several glasses of saline water till my bowel is clear (which means, the water that comes out is as clean as it has entered!). In between, I am to do five different asanas which include the Tadasana Stretch and Bhujangasana twisting.

  • Kitchari

Once the water that comes out is as clean as it has entered, my therapist cooks for me a Kitchari porridge with five simple ingredients – rice, lentils, cumin, ghee, turmeric. Kitchari is a staple Ayurvedic healing food that helps to line my gut after the purges.

  • Deep Relaxation Technique / Mind Sound Resonance Technique

After the full purging is done, I come to Shavasana and practice Deep Relaxation Technique (DRT) or Mind Sound Resonance Technique (“MSRT”) with my yoga therapist.

And then I am finally done! This usually takes up a few hours of my day. Over time, this treatment has tremendously helped me in my skin recovery. Whenever I share this, many who aren’t aware of Ayurvedic treatment, don’t understand how this can help a skin condition but I can attest it is a more holistic approach. Through researching on Doshas, I learned that the Kapha type likes to cling to things, where toxins are absorbed and retained by the body. This is made clear how the detoxification helps to rid it (I’m a Kapha-Pitta).

My mental and emotional stress/health were manifested through my physical health and I believe the pranic flow within my body was disturbed. But yoga and Ayurveda has assisted in the healing of my mind, body, and soul.

Vedic traditions and the nervous system

Our body has two main nervous systems :

  • Sympathetic nervous system, controls the “fight or flight” reactions in the body
  • Para Sympathetic nervous system, controls the “rest and digest” reactions in the body

The “fight or flight mode” will withdraw blood and energy from your vital organs, to focus on mobility, sending blood to your legs in case you had to flee a tiger attack, focusing on prefrontal cortex activity to take quick decisions.

But this mode goes against learning, creating, and on the long run exhausts your body, weakens your digestion and immune system as well as your hormonal system.

On the other hand, the “rest and digest” mode is responsible for all the seamless, vital actions in your body such as cleansing, defending your body, digesting food, processing information and learning.

In the modern world, we are often stuck in fight or flight mode throughout the day, which leads us to be weakened, exhausted, drained and over sensitive. To come back to a more sustainable nervous state, there sometimes needs to be deep changes in lifestyle and in our own perception of the world.

However, some “tools” developed in the Vedic science, some simple actions, can help you get back in a few minutes to para sympathetic mode.

  • Pranayama helps get you deeply relaxed
  • Yoga nidra is a fantastic tool and deeply restorative for your nervous system, it strengthens it
  • Yin/ restorative practices with soothing music are great approaches
  • Abyanga (self oil massage) also helps relax your entire body

Whenever you feel tired, irritated, stressed or drained, remember that you need to switch to parasympathetic mode to truly recover and start again. Use those tools. Chances are your anger and un-groundedness will transform into a deep but peaceful fatigue. After resting, you will feel fresh and full of energy again.

Being present

Inhale, exhale. One breath, one move.

Behind this cue of action, it is actually reminding us to be aware. This sense of awareness can be translated to different parts of our life.

Being aware of our surroundings, our train of thoughts, reaction to different situation as well as our own emotive states. Oftentimes, we are so ingrained with our daily habits – brushing teeth with our master hand, picking up the phone to check the time when we wake, wearing watch on the left wrist and etc. It has become second nature to us that we do not even realize or be aware of it until either we lose the privilege to do the same things or if someone pointed it out to us.

Practicing yoga has made me more aware, specifically, more aware of my breathing, the limits of my physical body as well as the noise inside my head. By not listening to my body and breath during asana practice, there is a high probability of me injuring myself.

Being aware also helps me to stay grounded and stay present. People always say, be in the moment. But do they practice it? The pace of life in Singapore is so fast and ever changing. It is so easy to get swept up with the paper chase, material security and what not. Are we truly appreciating being in the moment – e.g. savouring the taste and texture of the food in our mouth, appreciating the time people took out to spend us with or just shovelling food in as we reply our text messages and make plans for later?

With the current flurry of fluctuation and uncertainty that the world is facing right now, yoga reminds me that one breath, one move. Be present with yourself, appreciate this current moment and sometimes, that is all we need, for that moment.

Yoga and Awareness

One thing that yoga has taught me is awareness.

Physical awareness: Being aware of my surroundings, being aware of my posture, being aware of the way I am presenting myself.

Mental awareness: Being aware of what I am thinking, being aware of how I am reacting to situation, being aware of the inner conversations that I have.

Emotional awareness: Being aware of my emotional state at work, with friends, when I am alone.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our daily lives that we forget to be in the moment. Have you ever had a moment where you stopped and wondered what happened to all your time? All those days? All those months? All the years? Those moments come to me most during the night, just before I slip into slumber… I suppose this is when there is an increase of alpha brain waves. Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) are present when your brain is in an idling default-state typically created when you’re daydreaming or consciously practicing mindfulness or meditation.

With regular practice of yoga, these moments come to me more often, as I turn inwards to reflect on my actions and my thoughts more consciously. How are my actions affecting my surrounding, my environment? What would I do differently if I were given a second chance? What if I just lived in the moment instead of chasing something far away in the distant future?

Sometimes, as cliche as it sounds, yoga brings you back to your mat, to smell the roses, to appreciate this life. And sometimes, that is all we really need at that moment.

Meditation.Self Journey

For me yoga was always about physical practice. I have never done meditation at home and was skipping that “boring part of yoga” in yoga classes. But after some time, part of me has developed feeling that I maybe missing something. So when I signed up for Tirisula yoga teacher training course, one of my goal was to concentrate on  spiritual part of yoga. And that’s what I have learned so far.

Meditation is an integral part of yoga practice. Yoga helps to improve and develop physically. But spiritual development is no less important for a person. The goal pursued by meditation is self-knowledge of oneself, achieving clarity of mind, the ability to relax, the desire for complete inner harmony.

In medicine there is a concept such as “chronic fatigue syndrome” – a disease of modern man.By doing meditation, you can learn to concentrate and relax, control your emotions and mind. Meditation helps to strengthen health, get rid of existing diseases, prolongs life.

The best part –  you can do it yourself, in any convenient place. In yoga centers, classes are led by experienced teachers who will help you understand and master the basics of meditation.If there is no time and opportunity to visit specialized centers, you can master meditation yourself. After a hard working day, it’s good to take 15-20 minutes. relaxation in a homely atmosphere.

As in any practice, there are certain rules in meditation. Here are a few points for conducting an independent practice:

  •     Choose a place for relaxation, where nothing will distract from immersion in yourself. Although, it should be noted that neither advanced noise nor extraneous sounds interfere with advanced practices.
  •    Take a comfortable position.
  •   Try to relax as much as possible each muscle of the body, mentally observing relaxation.
  •    Concentrate on breathing. Monitor inhalation and exhalation – the exhalation should be longer.
  •    Try to turn off your mind. Throw all thoughts out of my head. This will help focus on something specific – on breathing, on relaxation.
  •   Try to withstand a certain time. 10 minutes is enough for a start.
  •     To leave meditation smoothly, without rushing, trying to feel new sensations and maintain a state of calmness.

After trying my best and practice it regularly every day for some time , I came to understanding that : Meditation is not as difficult as it may seem. But the benefits of this practice are undeniable. And very good when it becomes a habit.