Just keep breathing.

In Yoga we are told that breath is the singular most important thing. We’ve all been told by our yoga teachers to breathe deeply, to consciously bring awareness to our breaths, to synchronize breath and movement, and so on. Indeed, I’ve come to learn during this course that the power of our breaths is truly astonishing and far-reaching. Our breath is the key to unlocking our true potential.

Breath is life.
Breathing is the most essential function of the body that can be directly controlled. It not only powers our cardiovascular system (we would die in a matter of minutes if we stopped breathing), but also serves as a critical ingredient in all our body’s electro-chemical processes. As Swami Sivananda said, “A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.” Thus, learning to control, extend, and maximize each breath we take is the key to longevity.

Conscious breathing heals.
Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex which impact emotions and thoughts. This helps promote mental clarity and focus, an inner calm. This also helps removes blockages to allow prana to flow more freely to enable the body to heal and repair more quickly.

Pranayama is a powerful tool.
Prana means life, vitality, or energy, which is inherent in our breath. Ayama means length, expansion, or control. Thus, pranayama is the extension and control of the breath. Using ancient pranayama techniques passed down through Yogic tradition, we can regulate our physical and mental states to achieve homeostasis, i.e. healthy body and mind. Additionally, Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras instructs the use of breath to achieve higher states of consciousness, i.e. spiritual growth.

Asana without proper breath is… not Yoga.
Proper breathing technique during Asana makes a meaningful difference in ability, awareness, safety and comfort. More importantly, not breathing defeats the purpose of practicing Asana in the first place, which is to prepare the body and mind for a meditative state to aid spiritual growth. Without the breath to connect the body and mind, Yoga would just be gymnastic!

Understanding Mudras

Mudra means ‘seal’ or ‘gesture’ and we use them in yoga to facilitate the flow of energy. By placing the hands in certain positions, it helps to stimulate parts of the brain. We often use mudras in pranayama and mediation, but you may also be familiar with them in some asanas too.

Each of our five fingers represents one of the five elements that make up the universe and mudras help to balance the elements within us:

  • Thumb – fire
  • Index finger – air
  • Middle finger – ether/space
  • Ring finger – earth
  • Little finger – water

Gyana Mudra, also know as chin mudra, brings the thumb and index finger together, with the other three fingers gently outstretched. Gyana mudra is known as the gesture of knowledge – palms facing up allows you to receive and palms resting on the knees, facing down is observed for feeling more grounded.

Prana Mudrais the mudra of life and is performed by touching the tip of the thumb with the tips of the ring and little finger together, keeping the other two fingers extended. Observing this mudra provides energy and strong health, stimulating the entire body.

Shunya Mudra is performed to reduce the space element in the body. Bending the middle finger and holding with the base of the thumb, gently apply pressure with the thumb, just below the knuckle. Practicing shunya mudra is thought to provide relief from a range of hearing and balance issues and it can be performed for 15 minutes up to 3 times a day.

Varun Mudra– by touching the tip of the thumb and little finger together, varun mudra, the water mudra, reduces dryness in the body particularly the skin.

Anjali Mudra – bringing the palms together at the heart center symbolizes honor and respect. Anjali means ‘to offer’ and this mudra is often performed at the beginning or end of an asana practice – it connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain and represents the yogic unity.

Try practicing some of these mudras and observe how you feel over time…

Namaste

Faye

 

 

The Humming Bee!

Do you love nature? Do you love music? Do you like to meditate?

Yes, I do.

My new found love is this Bhramari pranayama, which calms my mind instantly and prepare me for meditation.

Bhramari means ‘the Goddess of bees’. In Bhramari pranayama the humming sound is produced during exhalation.

The father of modern science, Albert Einstein said – “Everything in life is vibration”. In fact, this pranayama has a soothing effect on the brain and calms the mind.

Practice:

Sit in a comfortable cross legged pose, with spine erect.

  • Breathe normally and relax the body.
  • Keep your eyes and mouth closed.
  • You may choose to close your ears with your hands. Another variation is you can keep your hands in chin mudra, place on your thighs and keep your ears open.
  • Concentrate at the center of your forehead.
  • Take a slow deep inhalation and fill the lungs fully.
  • Then exhale slowly, making a continuous humming sound like the bee. Feel the vibrations in your head.
  • Repeat the process 5 times and come back to normal breathing.

Benefits:

  • Calms the mind, reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Helps to reduce anger.
  • Improves concentration and prepare you for meditation

Contradictions:

  • Better do this pranayama in empty stomach.
  • Stop the practice if you feel dizzy.
  • Do not press the ear cartilage too hard.

Hum a happy tune for peace!

Devi

Is Kapalabhati beneficial for you?

If you haven’t heard about Kapalabhati before, I will tell you what I learned last week in my Yoga Teacher Training. Kapalabhati was the first learning of the entire course and I now understand why. It is a Kriya or cleaning method used by yogis to clear the forehead Nadi and the mind from any thought. It also helps improving your respiratory system, sinus, nostrils as well as increases your energy levels, improving your concentration and even your digestive system. Some people also refer to the Kapalabhati as a pranayama or breathing exercise as I could read in the B.K.S. Iyengar book: Light on Pranayama.

Kapalabhati is a Sanskrit word formed by kapala that means skull and bathi meaning light or shine. It is considered to be beneficial for multiple things, that’s why it’s recommended to be practiced first thing in the morning on a daily basis.

How to practice Kapalabhati:

  1. Sit on the floor in cross leg position keeping your back straight and your hands on the knees with the Chin Mudra
  2. Keep your mouth and eyes closed during the exercise
  3. Inhale through your nostrils
  4. Exhale vigorously and quickly contracting  the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to push the air out of your nostrils (let the exhalation make a hissing sound)
  5. Keep your body relax, with the chest and shoulders still while doing the practice
  6. Inhale again keeping a regular rhythm for every breath  and repeat the cycle 30 times

Note: to make sure you practice Kapalabhati correctly, press your lower abdomen with your hand while exhaling and feel how it moves inward contracting your muscles. You can also start helping yourself pressing with your hand until your muscles understand the movement.

 

As everything in life this technique, even when it has lots of benefits, also has some contraindications mostly when practised in determined situations or if you have some health issues. So please be aware of them before starting to practice Kapalabhati to prevent any discomfort or injury.

Benefits of Kapalabhati:

  • Is beneficial for the respiratory system, treating any sinus problem
  • Improves digestion, and strengthen the abdominals muscles
  • Increases the focus and concentration
  • Boosters the energy so it’s recommended practising it in the morning
  • Promotes immune system function
  • Warms the body, so it’s a good practice in cold countries
  • Cleanses the toxins of the organism

Contraindications to the practice of Kapalabhati:

  • Pregnancy
  • Hypertension
  • Heart conditions
  • After any surgery
  • Abdominal pain
  • Depression or any mental illness
  • After eating or drinking (wait at least 2 hours after eating to practice this technique)

 

So, if you have never tried Kapalabhati before and you don’t have any of the contraindications, why don’t you follow these few steps and experience by yourself the benefits of this Kriya method?

You can start practising the Kapalabhati 3 rounds per day in the morning or afternoons. Remember that nothing is good in excess, so start slowly and increase the pace and strength of your exhalations enjoying all the positive benefits of Kapalabhati.

 

Adriana Esquivel

How to Hold Your Breath

This is a good skill to have if you wish to take up freediving as a hobby. Or if you run into someone trying to strangle you. 

Yogis (and freedivers) can hold their breaths for extended periods of time. A number of techniques in yoga practice is useful for lengthening the period in which you can hold your breath. The average lung capacity is 4 litres for women and 6 litres for men. You can directly impact your lung capacity and effectiveness with knowledge of yogic pranayama (breathing techniques), asanas (physical postures) and meditation techniques. 

Awareness of Intercostal Muscles: The intercostal muscles run between and around your ribs. With awareness of how these muscles function and operate, you can expand the area covered by your ribcage on every inhale, which increases the volume of air that you can bring into your lungs. Ideally, your ribs should be able to expand sideways, giving additional room for your lungs to fill with air. Practice with a twisted yoga pose such as Marichiyasana C or D, which requires that you engage your intercostal muscles fully in order to continue taking deep breaths in the pose. 

Breathing Techniques: The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle when relaxed, and flattened when contracted. It extends across the bottom of the thoracic cavity which separates your heart and lungs from your abdomen. During inhalations, the diaphragm contracts flat to create space for your lungs to expand. Yogic pranayama techniques such as Kapalabathi and Ujjayi trains your diaphragm further by bringing your awareness to how it feels and works in your body when you practice a variety of breathing exercises. In Kapalapathi, you forcefully pump the air out of your lungs by engaging your abdomen muscles. In Ujjayi breath, you lengthen the period of exhale by slowing down the amount of air released from your lungs. 

Meditation: Calming your mind and reducing the amount of thoughts in your head reduces the body’s metabolic rate, which slows down the conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide, allowing you to go longer on the air that you already have. When you start holding your breath, you begin with a mental battle with yourself to believe that your body can survive on the oxygen available to it. In meditation techniques, you are supposed to hold that thought and let it disappear from your mental horizon, thus in a sense ignoring your mind and body’s compulsion to breathe. When you are very relaxed in meditation, you will find that you have dramatically slowed down your pace of breath. 

Here is a simple exercise that you can do to start practising: 

  • Come to a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes. 
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 6 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds. 
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 18 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds.  
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 24 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds. 
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 48 seconds, and exhale for 24 seconds. 

It takes time, technique, and a lot of patience. You will find that your capacity to hold your breath improves. 

In the meantime, don’t hold your breath!

 

– Vanessa Tang – 

Our Breath of Life

The first skill we learnt when we were born was to breathe. Somehow or rather, it came so easily, naturally and effortlessly since our birth that we don’t even consider breathing as a skill. We then start to pay less attention to our breath and took the most important thing in our life for granted.

When I first started practicing Yoga, I am more interested in the end result of the posture than the awareness of the subtle breath I was taking. Even with the constant reminders from the yoga instructor to keep breathing , I was still holding my breath on many occasions to try to get into the challenging yoga postures.  

And then, I was being introduced to Pranayama (practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force) during the Yoga Teacher Training. On that faithful day, I started to pay attention to my breath, so much so, I integrated pranayama into my daily routine.

These are the different pranayama techniques I perform first thing in the morning on a daily basis:

  1. Kapalabhati (also called Skull Cleansing)
  • I do it with the purpose of clearing my head to keep my mind fresh and to kick start my day with a positive feeling)
  • 40 pumps for 3 rounds

2. Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing )

  • I do it with the purpose of  keeping my mind and body calm,composed and relaxed
  • Inhale 6, Hold 12, Exhale 12 for 10 rounds

 3.  Bastrika

  • I do it with the purpose of giving me courage and clarity and increasing my Aura
  • 20 pumps for 5 rounds

Doing these 3 pranayama will only take 15mins. Im glad to say this worthy 15mins keeps  me sane and balanced.

On the aspect of asana practice, I do make it a point to be aware of my Ujjayi breathing throughout the practice. Our trainer, Paalu, once said, when you can’t hear your breathing during your asana practice, it means that you are not doing the pose correctly. And I come to understand that without breath, there is in fact no yoga.

Now, I  appreciate my Breath so much and breathing will continue to be my lifelong learning skill.

Namaste.

 

Jeslin (March 2018 Weekend YTT)

Pranayama helps!

Inhale……exhale…………inhale…..exhale…………

Just a week before the training starts, I was having a bad allergy reaction over some “unknown allergen”. With face swelling, red and lots of frustration. I was prescribed with oral corticol steroids to ease the conditions. With much discomfort due to side effect, I almost wanted to cancel or postpone the training (glad I did not do that). I told myself to hang on and see how it goes for the 1st week.

I have been doing some Pranayama during regular Yoga class, but have never been diligent in it. Until Master Paalu taught us how to do it correctly, and instruct us to practice it daily. During the 1st week I was having a bit of struggle practicing, due to congestion in my nostril. And to make things worst I got a bad sinus infection, then again another 1 week of antibiotic (why again…frustration..). But I have not give up practicing.

Waking up 6am daily to practice Pranayama was not easy for a start. I usually woke up at 7am to prepare for work, to ‘sacrifice’ that 1hr of sleep was tough 😀 but nevertheless, I did it. It’s all in our mind, as long we set a goal in our life I believe it can be achieve.

Just after 2week, my hub say this to me “bb, I don’t hear you sneeze anymore” lolx. YES! that the best gift I have for myself isn’t it. I could breathe better.

3rd week, I suddenly turn to my hub ” are you eating some kind of sweets bun?” “Yes” He replied. Since young I have sinus problem, couldn’t smell most of the fragrance/aroma. Now I could smell and tell what others are eating by not looking at their food.  This is a kind of feeling that I have never had before, guess only people with sinus problem could understand how I feel.

4th week of training = 4 weeks of waking up at 6am, never stop and I already getting used to it and even started to enjoy waking up early. Breathing in the early fresh air and appreciating all things around me.

My daily practice schedules: 30mins Pranayama and 30mins Asanas.

  1. Bhastrika – 10 times x 3sets
  2. Kapal Bati – 30 times x 3 sets
  3. Anuloma Viloma – 10 rounds
  4. Ujjayi  – 5 rounds
  5. Uddiyana Bandha – 5 rounds
  6. Surya Namaskar (Hatha Sun Salutation) – 3rounds
  7. Paschimottanasana – 1min
  8. Bhujangasana – 1min
  9. Double legs circles – 10 round right, 10 round left
  10. Boat Pose with crunches – 10 round
  11. Crow pose – 1mins (still trying to hold on the pose)
  12. Head stand – 3mins (at this moment still trying, it will come..)

“When no one believes in you, You can believe in yourself” Anonymous.

Jess Chua

200hrs YTT wkend, March 2018

 

A Promise to Myself

Throughout the entire YTT course, we have learnt many different techniques and practices to improve our overall well-being, be it physical, mental, or emotional. 

I’m going to be realistic and start with baby steps.

Here’s my upcoming daily routine (starting tomorrow)!

 

Morning

  • Wake up and start my day with Pratirhara to be aware of my physical and mental state
  • Practice Kapalbhati Pranayama (if I’m not on my period) / Nadi Shodana (if I’m on my period)
  • Surya Namaskara A & B (2 rounds each)
  • Hold my Mula Bandha while waiting for the bus and inside the train

 

Lunch Time

  • Pratirhara
  • Simple stretching exercise open up my shoulders
  • Go for Sattvic food
  • Sheetali Pranayama (if the weather is hot) to cool down the body

 

Evening

  • Asana (the choice of asana will depend on my mood)
  • Shower with Salt Water

 

Before Going to Bed

  • Balasana & Paschimottanasana
  • Pratirhara
  • Think positive thoughts and practice gratitude

 

Weekly

  • Work on inversion poses, starting with perfecting my headstand
  • Designate 1 day to go on a vegetarian diet

 

In General

  • Let go of attachments towards the things I own and the people in my life
  • “You must have the heart (and guts) to give your most precious item/ person away.” — Quote from Master Paalu (4th November 2017)
  • Have positive intentions, speak positive words, carry positive actions

 

Namaste,

Ziyu

September 2017 Weekend Class

 

 

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

In the modern perception of a yoga practice, under the influence of social media, it is often misinterpreted that Yoga is a pose and the goal of yoga is to achieve the pose. However to practice yoga holistically is to go much deeper than the physical.

The yoga poses also known as Asana, is only one part of the 8-limbs as laid down by Patanjali. A holistic yoga practice will need to seek union between mind, body and spirit as it explores the synergy between breath, postures and drishti. Together this allows our external practice to draw inwards and foster an awareness of ourselves as individuals seeking peace and ultimately a connection to the greater whole. Through practicing the teachings of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, the body and mind is both strengthened and softened, and prepared to go the depths into the exploration of yoga.

In brief the teachings of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

The first and second limbs:  Yamas and the Niyamas, it all starts there, with how we show up in our lives (personal observances) and in the world (universal morality). The attitude we have towards external (people and things) is Yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is Niyama. When we incorporate Yamas and Niyamas into both our daily practice and our day-to-day lives, we become more present, cultivating awareness and gratitude in all things that we do and the people around us.

I. Yamas

The yamas are Ahimsa – Non-violence, Compassion for all living things.   Satya – Truthfulness.  Asteya – Non-stealing. Brachmacarya – Sense Control. Aparigraha – Non-hoarding.

II. Niyamas

The Niyamas are Sauca – Purity and cleanliness. Santosa – Contentment. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy. Svadhyaya – Self awareness, self-study. Isvara pranidhana – Surrender to the higher power.

III. Asanas

Practice of physical postures combined with the fourth limb, Pranayama to foster a quiet awareness of breath, increase flexibility, physical and mental wellness.

IV. Pranayama

Breathing technique practiced together with the third limb, Asanas to balance the flows of vital life forces and energy within us, then directing them inward to the chakra system.

V. Pratyahara

Withdrawal of senses from external stimulation and bringing the focus inwards. With the senses no longer easily distracted, this is a preparatory stage for meditation.

VI. Dharana

Intense concentration, closely linked to the previous limb, pratyahara where with senses withdrawn and focus drawn inwards, we will find a focus and point of concentration. Through this one will be able to steady the mind and 100% focused on 1 thing or subject.

VII. Dhyana

Meditation absorption where one has become completely absorbed in the focus of the meditation.

VIII. Samadhi

The final stage and 8th limb, Samadhi means bliss and enlightenment. In the state of Samadhi, the practitioner merges with the object of their meditation and becomes one with it and their surroundings, to bring together, to merge.

 

So obviously everyone has a choice when it comes to yoga. Patanjali 8 limbs of the yoga sutras can sometimes feel like it will take time (a lifetime!) to cultivate. I’m still scratching the surface with putting some of them into full practice in my life, but having them as goals in my mind and heart is a start and while I’m far, far, far, far (read: not achievable in this lifetime) from enlightenment. I have had moments of what I like to call mini small enlightenment when I’ve practiced them. When I look at my life experiences and my asana practice through the context of their lessons, I often tell myself that perhaps moments of mini-enlightenment in one lifetime is better than nothing.

Louine Liew
(Weekend warrior /YTT200 – Sep 17)