Pranayama and Dealing with Tattoo Pain

     Random cool tattooed yogi [1]

First world problems, I know. What with all the world’s best doctors and scientists hard at work developing links between yoga and its effectiveness for use in treatments of REAL pathologies, it’s granted that more inspired topics are to be regulated to the backburner, and the scientific community at large can surely be forgiven for overlooking this potentially very fruitful area of research.

But such is. And we can’t all be engaged in solving life’s big problems, need some of us to engage in the little ones as well. Like ya know, dealing with tattoo pains. We all do our own part, eh?

 

Pranayama

So a quick recap on pranayama. That’s the thing you do (or try to do) during your weekly yoga classes right;

Controlled breath in. Controlled breath out. Hold for 6 counts. In… out… 

In…. out….

Stretch out your breaths, until the thoughts ease off from your mind. Your heart slows. Your muscles relax. Time unwinds, consciousness eases, softens and fades off into the background.

Going to go catch some samadhi’s. [2]

In yogic practice, breath represents (or ontologically supervenes on) prana (lifeforce). Regulation of the breath entails regulation of your lifeforce. When I stretch out my breathing, I draw out my life force. As I harmonize my breathing, I clear up my vital energies, and prepare my mind-body to transition into the next stage of heightened consciousness.

Pranayama brings about pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses and an inward turn of consciousness). Pratyahara further facilitates progression towards dharana, dhyana, and the superconscious samadhi. 

Now, I’d love as much as anyone to reach this samadhic enlightenment. But a dude’s still gotta navigate all the toil and toil and tribulations of samsara, ya know? Eventual self-actualization defo stays in the books, but I’ve a scheduled needling appointment soon, and I’d really like all the help I can get for that next marathon session coming up.

 

Pranayama and Pain Management

I think anyone who has gone for one of those hardcore Yin Yoga classes can immediately relate to the pain-management benefits of controlled breathing during a long drawn out and particularly excruciating frog, lizard or king pigeon pose. Fold deeper, keep breathing. Push deeper on each exhalation, breath into those knots and tight areas. Fold deeper. A bit more. A bit more And then the insane bastard actually comes over and pushes you balls deep into the stretch, into that white abyss of pain. Gotta love those Yin classes.

Don’t let that smile fool you. This here is the true face of pain. [3]

Going to geek out a little bit here on the physio-neurological basis for the efficacy of pranayama on pain management. For those not entirely turned on by latin gobbledygook, skip straight ahead to the next pretty picture below.

For the rest of you intellectual types; regulated breathing leverages the bidirectional affect between (para-)/sympathetic state activation and directive electric signals originating from the central nervous system (“CNS”). Conscious activation of segments of the overall (para-)/sympathetic response (i.e. the slow, deep breathing part of an overall relaxed state) in turn triggers the unconscious sensory neurons transmitting parasympathetic activation back up the CNS into the brain, who then plays catch up by transmitting further motor signals down the spine out the rest of your peripheral nervous system. Upregulation of the parasympathetic (relaxed muscles, slow breathing, steady heartbeat) state opposes the rival sympathetic state activation (fight or flight; erratic heartbeats, cold sweats, jitters, pain sensitivity, tensed up muscles). By a parallel and identical process, similar activation towards the sympathetic state can be achieved through conscious exercise of rapid forceful breathing (e.g. kapalbhati), which transmits back up to the CNS, back down to the sympathetic nervous system as so.

I picked most of this from wikipedia by the way, so I know what I’m talking about.

Now there’s a good bit of research attempting to close the final leg from (para-)/sympathetic state activation and pain sensitivity. The interface between subjective mental experiences (the feeling of pain) and neuro-physiological body states has always been a bit tricky to bridge. Observed behavioral responses and subjective reporting of pain would to be sure show some difference when obtained from a sympathetically activated individual or a para-sympathetically inclined one. It’s one thing to observe behavioral responses, and another to conclude that the pain was experienced mentally, internally as more painful; am I just overreacting, or am I really feeling more pain? 

Nevertheless, I’ll just throw out here the bits we wanted to hear; the experimental controlled trigger of pain and its association with activation of the sympathetic nervous system. [4] Pranayama and its promising use in patients with pain related pathologies. [5]

Tattoo Pain Chart [6]

But anywho, some personal n=1 experience has informed me that that long, deep breathing REALLY helps during the particularly wee sensitive bits in the ink session; Nice long slow breaths in the green. Some REALLY HEAVY DEEP BREATHS as we move on to the red. Take a 5 minute breather to help clear your mind, then that existential dread again and that moment of panic right as the needle homes into your skin…!!!!!!!…!!…haaaaaa…… Oohh yer fluffin beautie.

Granted there are probably even more niche areas for controlled breath applications out there. Like getting a covid/flu jab. Like when going for a foot massage. Or going to the dentist. Don’t know anything about those, I’m trying to write for the everyman here.

Calm mind through long slow breaths. Reversal of cause and effect. A real wonder of science, that pranayama.

 

Takeaways

– Slow, controlled breathing makes me less of a fidgety beech during tattoo sessions. 

– There’s a bit of science backing the idea that pranayama can help with pain (or at least its management)

– Bit of pranayama would probably help with my spiritual side too, enlightenment and all.

 

Will end off with a bit of #inkspiration, because dayum, some of these pins look mighty fine. 

 

One day, I too will be able to be like that. [7]

 

[1]: https://thetattooedbuddha.com/2016/09/04/the-tattooed-yoga-project-building-community-through-art/ 

[2]: https://www.indiadivine.org/prana-and-pranayama/ 

[3]: https://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/how-to-do-frog-pose

[4]: Neuroanatomy, Parasympathetic Nervous System, Jacob Tindle; Prasanna Tadi.[2020]

[5]: Yoga: Can It Be Integrated with Treatment of Neuropathic Pain, Telles S. · Sayal N. · Nacht C. · Chopra A. · Patel K. · Wnuk A. · Dalvi P. · Bhatia K. · Miranpuri G. · Anand A. [2017]

[6]: https://www.facebook.com/rxtattoomd/posts/tattoo-pain-chart/453490595301962/ 

[7]: https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1617350

 

Practical Application of the 3 Gunas in Food and Fishing

“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The three Gunas describes 3 basic qualities or tendencies that groups states (harmony, activity, chaos), attitudes (positivity, self-centeredness, apathy) and dispositions (peacefulness, dynamism, ignorance) that is generally encountered together in daily life.

This system provides a useful conceptual framework to help understand, categorize and leverage in our life’s undertakings. The following details my attempt to outline a practical application of the 3 Gunas framework in the (hypothetical) feeding, capture and post-catch management of a really hot guy/(s).

It is my hope that this contribution to the yogic community will provide an aspirational yogi at least some help to attain their happiness, or at least bring the rest of us a little amusement in hearing about how the capture attempt goes.

 

Three Gunas & Food:

The following table handily summarizes the categories of food that promotes the respective attitudes. Identical tables, charts and infographics can very easily be found through a quick check with Google.

   
Figure 1: Food that promote the 3 Gunas [1]

The long and short of it is that the eating certain types of food will promote certain kind of energies. Managing the types and proportions of food you eat will assist to regulate your energies (sattva, rajas, tamas); eating chicken if you’re a tamasic kind of person who needs a bit of energy, minimizing spicy food and downing some nuts if you’re the rajasic sort who needs to prepare for a presentation, etc etc.

The standard application prescribes the active evaluation and choice of food types to facilitate the yogi’s own life practices. Numero Uno. Yours truly. The one and only.

But that’s boring. Managing [2] others based on your esoteric yogic guru super-wisdom is where it’s at.

[1] The Gunas in Yoga – Understanding the Significance, [https://yogacentral.in/2017/09/12/gunas-yoga-significance/], YogaCentral [2017]

[2] /məˌnɪpjʊˈleɪʃ(ə)n/. Verb. The action of manipulating something in a skilful manner.

 

A Very Practical Problem

You’re you. You’ve just trudged through an exhausting week of meetings, emergencies, client/customer management and snide passive aggression from your bosses/colleagues over the past five days.

You’re dragged your miserable self down to a fancy bar on a Friday night. You meet this cute guy, struck up a discussion and immediately hit it off. You two had an engaging discussion of the Bhagavad Gita and Sankhya philosophy because you’re both kindred modern enlightened new-age spiritual liberal types like that.

You somehow worked up the courage to invite him back to your sweet (hypothetical) bachelorette pad for a nice meal together. You have just opened your fridge at your generously stocked kitchen when you snapped a little out of your martini-tipsiness;
“Oh sh~eesh. I have no idea what I should cook here.”

What is a girl/non-binary/liberal-male to do?

 

Scenario 1: Mr Tamasic
“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Mr Tamasic is quite a looker. Unfortunately, he’s also a tad bit apathetic, lethargy and slow on the uptake. Left on his own, this fella doesn’t seem to have the initiative to really step/stand-up, hold himself erect, and really bring things forward tonight.

In this case, you want to cook up something to really ramp up his rajasic energies (Passion, desire & attachment), and a dash of stattvic (Truth, Intelligence & consciousness) to open his eyes to what a treasure he is missing out on if he doesn’t hustle and seize the damn opportunities when they’re standing right in front of him.

Here’s a couple of nice recipes to get his blood boiling:

– Indian Chicken Curry (Murgh Kari): https://www.simplycook.com/recipes/murgh-kari-for-2
– Tamarind Fish Curry (Asam Pedas Ikan Pari): https://www.nyonyacooking.com/recipes/asam-pedas-ikan-pari~ByZH_viDfcZQ
– Lemon Daal (Nimmakaya Pappu): https://blogexplore.com/food/curries-gravies/nimmakaya-pappu-lemony-dal-recipe/

 

Scenario 2: Mr Rajasic
“When strong, avoid them. If of high morale, depress them. Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Mr Rajasic is a total hottie. Unfortunately, he also appears just a tad bit hot-headed, impulsive, wilful, and maybe a little wild. While you’re interested to secure a little more than just the passing acquaintance with this eligible bachelor, you’re worried of the seemingly considerable risk of a one-night stand, a passing fancy, and/or a pelvic fracture/sore hips the next day.

We really want to tone down Mr Rajasic’s rajas over here. Really load up on the tamas to get him nice and satiated. A lot of red meat, some mushroom sauce, a few bottles of red wine for extra romance. Hold the coffee, garlic, and for God’s sake, do not feed the man any spicy curries.

Try one of these recipes:

– Steak with mushroom gravy: https://cafedelites.com/ribeye-steaks-with-mushroom-gravy/
– Juicy Steakhouse Burger: https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/steakhouse-burgers.html

 

Scenario 3: Mr Sattvic
“The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Now, Mr Sattvic is an intelligent (and very attractive) chap. He says all the right words, makes all the right moves, makes you laugh with his witty jokes, fascinates you with his insightful observations. Unfortunately, he might be just a little bit too clever, able to sniff out your plans and check all your advances. Can’t have that upsetting the balance of power in your future relationship.

Where we’d usually promote the consumption of sattvic food, here we want to do the exact opposite; stuff the fella full of rajasic and tamasic food to throw him off balance;
“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” – Sun Tzu

Here’s a couple of nice dishes to obfuscate, obscurate, and enfeeble:

– Butter Chicken (Chicken Makhani): https://www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/butter-chicken/
– Paneer Tikka: https://www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/paneer-tikka-on-stove-top/
– Aloo Chaat: https://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/aloo-chaat-recipe/
– 5 Minute Chocolate Pudding: https://laughingspatula.com/5-minute-chocolate-pudding

 

Back to Basics: Self-care

Of course, being busy with whipping up specially tailored epicurean gastronomical miscellany is no excuse to neglect the proper care and maintenance of player one. In between juggling 4 frying pans, 2 stewing pots and a smoking oven that’s just about the trigger the fire alarm, one should make sure to whip out a solid sattvic main to keep yourself primed and alert during the coming meal.

Probably a small pretty salad, a plate of fresh fruits and a nice pot of herbal tea. Just tell your wondering meal buddy that you’re on a diet. Maybe leave the washing for tomorrow.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad: https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a19885314/mediterranean-chickpea-salad-recipe/
Fruit platter: https://divascancook.com/how-to-make-a-fruit-tray-beautiful-fruit-platter-idea/
Homemade Herbal Tea: https://www.acouplecooks.com/herbal-tea-recipes/

I don’t think we have had enough Art of War quotes. Here’s one more for good measure:

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

P.S. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

4 ways to get your family into yoga

Yoga has had a such a positive impact on my health and mental well-being that I’m an enthusiastic advocate of the practice.  Give me a willing listener, and I’ll gladly share my story of how yoga has helped me.  While I’ve converted by husband into a fellow yogi, it has been difficult to convince other adult family members to give it a try.

There are many pre-conceived notions of yoga.  Ask a non-practitioner what they think of when it comes to yoga and they may describe a yogi, deep in a meditative state floating across mountain tops.  Others may instead immediately associate the practice with the bendy photos of yogis striking poses on social media.  Both images can be equally intimidating and off-putting for someone who feels their life is worlds removed from what they see as the practice of yoga.  

While some yogis can be intensely focused on mediation and spirituality or flexibility and athleticism –the practice of yoga needn’t be, and can be very accommodating to individuals of varying abilities and at different stages in life.

As I’m keen to share a part of my life that has benefited me greatly with those I care about, I’ve been eager to understand new ways of opening their minds to the practice.

4 Ways to Get Your Family into Yoga

Here’s some suggested approaches that are worth a try –

  1. Show rather than tell

Going straight into all the benefits and evangelizing about yoga will often overwhelm people. Instead, you can start slow. When my family has asked how I am, I try to drop subtle hints about why I feel like I do – whether it’s feeling refreshed, more active, or more calm, it’s been easy to link this back to yoga.

The goal here is to incite curiosity. Showing them the benefits of yoga, rather than telling them to do it.

  1. Baby steps

It can be daunting to attend a yoga class as a newbie. All the cues in a yoga class can be overwhelming when you don’t know the movements.  I’ve had friends –not used to taking direct instruction –feel pressured in class and cry.  

You can help them gain comfort and confidence by practicing some initial poses together. When my husband first started yoga we kept this really simple – working through well-known poses such as downward dog. Having this basic knowledge in a safe space made him more comfortable when joining an actual class.

  1. Breathing exercises

Classes and postures may still be a bit too much at the start. Instead, you can start with breathing exercises – who can say no to breathing? 

Helping them to gain control of their breath is already a benefit. For these, they can start with a simple easy exercise –sitting in any comfortable position, closing their eyes, and breathing to counts of 5 breaths in, 5 breaths out.

  1. Address their concerns

If subtle hints aren’t drawing curiosity and your family won’t engage, there’s often a reason for this and some probing questions might be necessary. Some common concerns are around fitness – that they’re not flexible or fit enough. This often goes back to the preconceived notions of yogis from social media.

Once you get a sense of where the hesitancy may be, try to speak to their concerns and relate yoga benefits back to their situation and how it can specifically help them –whether it be physical like fixing a stiff back or mental like destressing the mind.

Although it can be a challenge to convince your family to first try yoga, the rewards that they’ll get are well worth it!

 

 

The Science of Pranayama

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is the process by which the prana (or breath) is controlled or regulated. It comes from 2 Sanskrit words:

“prana” which means life energy and

“Ayama” which means extend/draw out. Some scripts also mention that it comes from the word “Yama” which means control.

 

I’d like to expand on prana a little bit more. The term prana is very interesting because many of us may misunderstood the action as “breathing in air”. But that is not the case, According to The Science of Pranayama (written by SriSwami Sivananda), prana is the sum total of all energy that is manifest in the universe. It exist in everything that moves or works or has life, including in all men, literally it is everywhere around us. It is not atmospheric air that we breathe in, but all the energy that exist around us. 

So when you see how some persons are more successful in life, more influential and fascinating than others. It is all due to the power of this prana. 

 

Why practice Pranayama?

 Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the Yogic student removes the impurities of the body by blowing his lungs.

 

According to the Akhand Sutra (written by Dr.Shiv Bhushan Sharma): “… It means that the practice of Pranayamah prepares the mind for the practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The Body-breath-mind forms the three sides of a single functional triangle…” The aim is for you to reach antaratma sadhana, or your innermost quest of Dharana concentration, Dhyana meditation and ultimately Samadhi enlightment.

Before I summarise the main points of Pranayama’s benefits, I would like to watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIfwbEvXtwo

For me, what was the most interesting part of the video and perhaps the most relatable to science is this:

“…. So yogic breathing stimulates salivary secretion. And the saliva, the compounds or the principles in the saliva say nerve growth factor or several other factors in the saliva can be:

  • transported to the central nervous system through specific transport mechanisms
  • Or it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and available throughout the body
  • Or it can just stay there in the oral cavity to help us fight germs…..”

So in relations, Pranayama allows you to:

– utilise consciously for self-development

– heal many incurable diseases in your system

– heal others and

– for other various useful purposes.

An excerpt from The Science of Pranayama (written by SriSwami Sivananda): “… It is through Pranayama that you can control your circumstances and character and can consciously harmonise the individual life with the cosmic life..”

The guiding principle behind Pranayama is that we all hold physical or emotional blocks in our bodies which inhibit the flow of breath and of prana – life energy. This can leave us feeling unwell and “stuck” or blocked physically and emotionally. By practising Pranayama (and asana) we are clearing these blocks so breath and prana can flow freely, our bodies can then function properly and our minds can become calmer and clearer.

 

So what is the basic steps of Pranayama?

There are many types of Pranayamas. Some says there are 7, some says 9, and some say 12. Regardless, according to the Yoga Sutra, Pranayama is the regulating of the breath in three steps.

  1. Regulating the exhalation (rechaka)
  2. Regulating the inhalation (puraka)
  3. Regulating retention of the breath (khumbaka)

The regulation of the breath can be measured by place, time, and number. The goal of regulating the breath is for the breath to become long and fine.

As you progress in your own pranayama, you can do your different types such as:

  • Ujjayi Breath
  • alternate nostril breathing (nadishodhana)
  • and female honeybee humming breath (bhramari)

I’d like to end off this post with an Eastern philosophy saying: ‘Mind is a monkey. It’s not a normal monkey. It’s a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion!’

It’s simply means that our mind is something hard to manage!

But as the video has so clearly stated: “… there is an easy way. Mind cannot travel on its own. Mind needs a vehicle. Mind is using a horse. That horse is your breathing. So if you want to control the mind, the rider, you have to control the vehicle, the horse – the breathing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga: My journey to a happier life

I came to practice yoga in 2019 when I wanted to have a better health. At that time, my health screening result was quite bad and it took me to a point that I should do something to improve my physical health, then yoga came to my mind. I signed up for a yoga package later.  

I had been practicing yoga on and off from then until late 2020, I started to practice regularly and I saw some positive changes in myself – physically and mentally.

  1. I am healthier – this has proved by my job as an assistant to mural artist. When I have to draw at site, I tend to stand for long hours. Previously, I had painful back and legs every time after I finished my work, but now, I have no pain at all and I am not easily get tired like I used to be. I am more productive – it’s just wonderful!
  2. I love my body even more – with yoga, I can see improvement in my body. I become more flexible and stronger. With the regular practice, I am able to do some poses that I was not able to do before and I don’t have to compete myself with anyone, it’s just myself. It’s a kind of development that I can see in my body. Also, after yoga classes, I feel good to eat healthy food and I opt to eat vegetarian more often. I feel that my body is much lighter when I eat Sattvic food.
  3. My mind is clearer – I easily get stressed and yoga helps me to relieve stress and anxiety. Being mindful with the practice, it helps me to stay present and enjoy the moment. It’s a kind of meditation to me. Especially, when I came to practice Yoga Teacher Training, I learned more about alignment and when I practice with correct understanding of the alignment, I have more body awareness and the practice become even more mindful and joyful.    
  4. Lastly, I am happier and just feel I can achieve what I want in life easier. From yoga philosophy I have learned, maybe it’s just because I am contented and grateful for what I already have.

I believe yoga will continue to give more benefits to me, so what I can do is…KEEP PRACTICING.   

When Santosha (being contented) hit me hard!

People always want to have something they don’t have and never feel enough for things they already have. We keep seeking happiness from outside. Me too!

When I studied yoga philosophy, this Santosha which is the second of Niyama of the 8 limbs of yoga has hit me hard.

Niyama is freedom from all observances, consist of:

  1. Saucha: purity of thoughts
  2. Santosha: contentment, acceptance
  3. Tapas: discipline, persistence
  4. Swadhyaya: self-study
  5. Ishwara-pranidha: devotion

I felt that Santosha is telling me something. From young, I always wanted to be successful especially in my career and whenever I got what I wanted e.g. promotions, salary increments, I still wanted to have more and took more actions to get more. I thought that when I get what I want, I will be happy. Yes, I was happy for a moment and started to want to have more again – sounds so greedy, but I am sure I am not alone. The result was I rarely enjoyed and appreciated what I had, I aimed for more and more. My next goals were bigger and more challenging.   

In Santosha, being contented (not happy or sad), enjoy every moment, supreme joy is achieved. Wow, it sounds easy than I thought and from my own experience, it’s so true. Yoga teach me to stay present. When I practice yoga, I am mindful with my body for movement and alignment, I forget about my past and my future. I enjoy the moment. That’s why I fall in love with yoga.

Off the mat:

To adopt Santosha into my life, I practice to be more mindful in my daily life activities. I practice to be grateful and appreciate with what I have including my work, my health, my relationship, my possession, and even my food. Yoga, pranayama, and meditation help me a lot to be more mindful and I added all these into my daily life. I meditate every morning and practice yoga and pranayama at least 3 times a week.

On the mat:

I also adopt Santosha to my practice in a way that there are some poses that I can’t do well, for example, all hips flexion poses like Paschimottanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana. I need to keep practicing to make my hips more flexible. Sometimes I am unhappy that I can’t do the poses like my other classmates. With Santosha, it makes me understand that I should enjoy that I still can do the pose, it is not perfect, but it may be better than last year and it’s enough. Everyone is different and I should be contented with the way I am, the way my body is. With continued practicing, one day when my body is ready, I will be able to do the pose 🙂 

Anulom Vilom and its benefits to my body and mind

I am personally interested in spirituality and I have been trying a few kinds of meditations. But I only learned more about pranayama techniques in the yoga teacher training (YTT) with Tirisula, so Pranayama is new to me. I practiced some pranayama when I attended some yoga classes earlier, but I didn’t know much about its benefits and details. 

 

In Sanskrit, ‘Prana’ means life energy and ‘Ayama’ means expansion. I am interested in pranayama because the course manual says it’s a link between body, emotions, mind and spirit – so interesting!

 

Because of the homework of pranayama practicing, so I have been practicing Anulom Vilom every morning for a few weeks. For myself, I want to be more mindful and energize my body before I start my day so I choose to do Anulom Vilom to see if there is any effects to my body and mind.

 

Anulom Vilom is an alternate nostril breathing. To breathe with Anulom Vilom technique, we use the right hand with middle and index fingers folded towards the palm. Place the thumb on the right nostril and ring finger on the left nostril. Close the left nostril (or right). Inhale through the right (or left) nostril, close and exhale through the left (or right) nostril. Focus on the breath and continue for at least 10 rounds. It’s best to be done on an empty stomach.

 

From my studies, there are many benefits of Anulom Vilom:

  • Intake more oxygen and purify blood
  • Relieve stress and tension
  • Improve concentration and focus
  • Energise the body when do it in the morning
  • Calm the mind down when do it at night

 

When I do Anulom Vilom in the morning, it helps to improve my concentration and energise my body. I like the fact that we can control our mind by control our breathing.

 

At night, when I can’t sleep, I will lie down on my right side so I can breathe well from my left nostril and it helps me to fall asleep faster. I don’t have insomnia, I only take time to fall asleep and Anulom Vilom helps!

 

This is only one pranayama technique among many other techniques that I learned e.g. Bastrika, Brahmari, Sheetari, Sama Vritti, etc. I will also use other pranayama techniques to suit the benefits I want for my body and mind and I would encourage everyone to try too 🙂  

Nadi Shodana

The Nerves Calming Effect

To rest my eyes from staring too much on the screens during work, sometimes I like to look around and peculiarly, I would pick up one or two random facts in the room, for example, different breathing patterns. In a same room, some people breathe fast and shallow even though they are not working out, some people has less belly movement when breathing, and some create noises. I guess there are many reasons causing the differences, such as their body types, respiratory systems and living environments, or the effect of certain diseases or trainings. 

Breathing is vital because the oxygen we breathe in keep us alive, we use the oxygen to create energy. One person uses about 550 litres of oxygen per day and the tiny capillaries, the smallest type of blood vessel in our body transport the oxygen to the 50 trillion cells in our body. Over the century, human understand the importance of the oxygen in our body and developed many techniques, practices or exercises to educate the generations on how to take the full advantage of the air, and one of it is pranayama in Yoga. 

In Sanskrit, pranayama is the combination of 2 words, prana (vital energy) and ayama (expansion), literally, we shall learn how to expand the flow of the energy in our body. Pranayama is the teaching of using different breathing techniques to manifest the prana of the air into every cells of our body, and to train our breathing pattern within the realm of our conscious awareness.

One way to train our breathing pattern and to have a good control of it is to practice nadi shodana, a nerves calming breathing technique. Nadi shodana enable us to learn in getting control of our breathing by elongating the length of inhalation, exhalation and retention of the breath. And by elongating the length of the breathing, we slowly maximise the use of our lung capacity, which in turns able to provide healthier amount of oxygen to all the cells in our body.   

To practice nadi shodana, sit comfortably, spine straight and body weight distributed equally on the hips and legs. Eyes close, body relax and take a few smooth, even breaths. 

Take a last smooth and even breath and exhale completely. Gently close the right nostril with right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Inhale deeply for about 6 seconds.

As soon as the inhalation is completed, gently close the other nostril with the ring finger. Retain the breath for for about 12 seconds, or up to 24 seconds.

Keep the left nostril close and release the right thumb, begin exhaling through right nostril. Exhale slowly for about 12 seconds.  

After the exhalation and still on the right nostril, inhale deeply for about 6 seconds. Subsequently, block both nostrils and retain the breath for about 12 seconds and exhale through the left nostril for about 12 seconds.

Continue the breathing cycles for 10 minutes and finish the pranayama practice with three resting breaths through both nostrils and feel the calming effect.

The advantage of practicing nadi shodana is to help calming the nerves, or the astral energy tubes (nadis), as well as to reduce the soreness of the muscles.

Going Upside Down

We should all turn upside down.

I mean, we should all do inversions for our yoga practice. It doesn’t matter whether you are going into a handstand, headstand, shoulder stand, Pincha or downward facing dog – It is a great addition to your practice for the multitude of benefits it brings. I would like to bring our focus to the headstand aka Salamba Sirsasana in this article. In Sanskrit, salamba means “supported” and sirsa translates as “head”.

Headstand is considered the king of yoga poses. It builds stamina, alleviates insomnia, reduces the occurrence of heart palpitations, helps to cure halitosis, strengthens the lungs, improves the function of the pituitary and pineal glands, increases the haemoglobin content in the blood, relieves the symptoms of colds, coughs and tonsillitis. Additionally, it brings relief from digestive and eliminatory problems when practiced in conjunction with Salamba Sarvangasana. Mentally, as inverting your entire body brings a rejuvenating supply of blood to the brain cells, it enhances clarity of thought, increases your concentration span, and sharpens memory. Consistent practice of this asana widens your spiritual horizons. This asana also helps those who get mentally exhausted easily. (2)

Normally, headstand is practised towards the end of a yoga class and functions to allow energy to flow towards your head, activating our crown chakra. While this advanced pose does require much focus, precision, balance and strength, this asana is essentially meant to be a resting pose. (3)

Getting into a headstand:

Kneel in front of a wall and interlace your fingers. Place your interlaced fingers down on the mat with the palms apart so you create a support for your head and place the crown of your head in your interlaced fingers onto the mat. If you’re unsure where, bring your thumb to your third eye in between your eyebrows and wherever your middle finger lands, that’s where the crown of your head is. Make sure that your elbows are shoulder-width distance apart and that your wrists are perpendicular to the floor. Shoulders should be protracted and rotated upwards. Cradle the back of your head with your hands firmly.

Next, lift your knees off the ground and straighten your legs and your spine. You will be in a modified dolphin pose with your head on the ground. Start to walk your feet as forward towards the body then lift your legs. The goal is to get your hips stacked over your shoulders. This is where hamstring and lower back flexibility comes into the game.

Once you feel stable, lift your legs straight up towards the ceiling. If you feel confident and have done it a few times, lift them both at the same time. Make sure that your body is in one straight line and there is no bent in the hips. (3)

Being in a headstand:

When you stand on your head, the first sensation you will feel is pressure—pressure on the crown of the head, pressure in the arteries and veins, and pressure in the soft tissues of the head and neck. And along with these comes more subtle aspects of pressure—the demand for maintaining your balance and the psychological urge to come out of the posture. These physical and psychological pressures affect every system in the body in one way or another: muscular, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, immune, and reproductive. (1)

In headstand no muscle is in an eccentric movement, but every body part is either stabilizing or contracting. Ultimately, your body will be stacked in a single vertical line. Muscles involved in this pose are the trapezius, the rhomboid muscles, rectus abdominus, the levator scapulae, the pectoralis minor, iliopsoas and flexors, and the serratus anterior. It is important to strengthen them through regular practise of asanas and strengthen training. (4)

Contraindications:

Please do not practise this asana if you have high blood pressure, cervical spondylosis, a backache, headache, or migraine. Also, refrained from starting your yoga session with this pose if you have low blood pressure. Perform the asana only once in a session and do not repeat it – seasoned yogis can hold up to 5 minutes. It is best not to practise this asana during menstruation. (2)

 

Let me end this article with a quote:

“Sirshasana is really a blessing and a nectar. Words will fail to adequately describe its beneficial results and effects. In this Asana alone, the brain can draw plenty of Prana and blood. This acts against the force of gravity and draws an abundance of blood from the heart. Memory increases admirably. Lawyers, occultists, and thinkers will highly appreciate this Asana. This leads to natural Pranayama and Samadhi by itself. No other effort is necessary.”

— Swami Sivananda

 

Reference:

  1. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners-Body & Breath Inc (2017) by David H. Coulter
  2. The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Ivengar Yoga
  3. How To Do Headstand – Alignment, Anatomy, Benefits & Preparation by Joschi Monika
  4. Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition by Leslie Kaminoff

Uttanasana

The Magic of Standing Forward Bend

I think most of us experienced a friend of ours asking to perform an asana when they first hearing that we are practicing yoga. At most circumstances, I would quietly fold myself forward to a standing forward bend (in Sanskrit, uttanasana) and surprisingly, this always does the trick and they started to acclaim.

For most people, the long hours of sitting in office or studies have slowly constraints the flexibility of their spine and hip joints, to bend forward and able to touch the toes appears to be an impossible task.

The spine, also known as vertebrae column is a part of the axial skeleton in the human body to maintain the upright posture and to protect the spinal cord, a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue. From top, the cervical vertebrae is connecting the skull to the torso, the thoracic vertebrae is the upper and middle back of the torso, the lumbar vertebrae is the lower back, the sacrum is at the hip, and lastly the coccyx is commonly known as the tailbone.

In between the vertebrae, there are intervertebral disc, or disc in short. These are the spongy cushions that separate the bones of the spine and provide shock absorption, keep the spine stable and give the vertebrae ‘gliding points’ to allow movement. Disc changes happen across our lifetime as connective tissues change with age, and the structures of the spine adapt to cope with the physical loads of daily life. These changes happened even in healthy people with no back pain and they are common age-related changes. The changes include disc bulge, narrowing of the disc space (loss of disc height) and disc dehydration. Overtime, the disc would develop from spongy cushion to a harden cushion if the persons are rarely moving their spine. To prevent the disc become harden, regularly exercising and stretching the spine is the key.

Back to the yoga asana, standing forward bend, a pose where we align the long axis of the femur and tibia bones with the direction of the gravity and allow the spine to elongate in a comfortable or effortless position. This asana help us in releasing the pressure on the disc that it sustains from long hours of sitting during the daily activities. It also helps to activate the movement of the spine. An active spine benefits the spinal cord and in result keeping the brain cells active.

     How to get in and out of the pose?
  1. Stand in tadasana, a normal and relax standing position. Feet together or slightly apart.
  2. On inhalation, tilt the pelvis and arch the lumbar. Grab hold on the side of the lower waist to feel the anterior tilt of the pelvis.
  3. Keeping the anterior pelvis tilt and on exhalation, slowly bend the torso forward, belly touching the thigh.
  4. Place the hands on the outer side of the feet, or holding on the back of the calves.
  5. Continue normal breathing in this intense stretch pose. Lengthen the spine in every inhalation and try to bring the chin closer to the knee in every exhalation.
  6. To get out of the pose, place the hands back to the side of the pelvis bone, inhale and slowly raise the head up and bring the torso back to the upright position.
  7. Relax the hands to side of the body and take a few breaths in the standing position to feel the benefit of the stretch.

What are the muscles that we are stretching on while in this position? Mainly we will feel like the pose is stretching on the hamstrings and the external rotators of the hips because these muscles are the factors that normally limit a person from going deeper into the forward bend if he or she has a tight hamstrings or hip rotators. Even so, we shall always try to shift our attention to stretch on the back muscles, such as erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and trapezius because the main aim of the pose is to elongate the spine. A healthy erector spinae muscle will help in preventing the spine from rounding when lifting heavy weights. The latissimus dorsi stabilise the lumbar spine and the trapezius will greatly influence the smoothness of the neck movement because it is an important shoulder mover and stabiliser.

For contraindication, a person who is having slipped disc shall avoid from doing this pose because the herniated disc may pressurise the nerve when bending forward and cause pain.