Mudras: The Power of Gestures

What are Mudras?

The Sanskrit word mudra can be defined as “gesture”, “mark”, “seal”, or “circuit by-pass”. It is a combination of the root word mud (meaning “delight” or “pleasure”) and dravay (meaning “to fraw forth”). Through the attitudes and postures that we adopt while practicing mudras, we are essentially establishing a link between the physical body, the mental body and the energy body, which allows us to develop awareness of the flow of vital energy (prana) in our body. As we constantly radiate vital energy which releases from the body and into our external surroundings, practicing mudras can help to redirect the energy back within the body to vitalise different parts of our body.

 

Mudras can be performed either in combination with or after asanas and pranayama, to help bring balance to our mind and body. While we usually associate mudras with hand gestures, mudras can actually involve more than just our hands. Yoga mudras can be categorized into the following:

 

  1. Hasta – Hand mudras

Hand mudras are the most commonly practiced mudras, and utilise the fingers and hands to create a gesture. Each of our fingers actually represents a different element: fire (thumb), air (index finger), space (middle finger), earth (fourth finger), and water (pinky). When these five elements are not in balance, it can lead to disruption within our body and this will then manifest into various physical and psychological illnesses. Hand mudras can help restore balance among the five elements, by guiding the flow of energy within our body though different hand gestures.

Imagine the fingers of our hands as wires carrying electric current (i.e. energy). When we form a mudra with our hands, one or more of the fingers get in contact with the thumb to form a closed circuit, which allows the energy to flow through this closed circuit to balance the elements represented by the fingers that are in the mudra. As our body is a cross-system (i.e. the left brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa), hand mudras should hence ideally be performed with both hands to ensure maximum benefits.

 

Chin Mudra (also known as Gyan Mudra)

Benefits:

Chin means “consciousness” in Sanskrit. When the index finger is connected with the thumb, this creates a circuit whereby energy that would typically dissipate into the surrounding environment is now able to travel back into the body and up to the brain. Thus, practicing the Chin mudra regularly can help to increase our mental concentration and memory power, and also sharpen our brain.

Symbolically, the index finger represents individual consciousness, while the thumb represents universal consciousness. As we touch our index finger with the thumb in the Chin mudra, this indicates the ultimate unity of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.

Technique:

In a comfortable seated position, rest both hands on the knees. Have the palms facing upwards, with the back of the hands resting on the knees. For both hands, flex the index finger to touch the inside of the thumb, as if forming an ‘okay’ sign. Extend the other three fingers out and relax the fingers.

 

Hridaya Mudra

Benefits:

Hridaya mudra is beneficial for the heart, as it diverts the flow of energy from the hands to the heart through the connection formed between the middle and fourth fingers (relates to the heart) and the thumb (acts as an energizer to divert energy flow from the hands to the heart). Hence, this mudra helps to energise our Anahata (heart) chakra by releasing any pent-up emotions and burdens that are weighing us down emotionally. The Hridaya mudra is a simple mudra that can be used safely and easily, even during emotional crisis or emergencies such as a heart attack. Practicing the Hridaya mudra regularly can also help to build up the ability to keep our heart open during difficult and emotional times.

 

Technique:

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight. Place the index finger at the root of the thumb, and join the tips of the middle and fourth fingers to the tip of the thumb. The pinky is extended straight and relaxed. Rest both hands on the knees, with the palms facing upwards and the back of the hands resting on the knees. Close the eyes and relax the body. This mudra can be performed for up to 30 minutes.

 

  1. Mana – Head mudras

Head mudras involves the sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and lips; and are mainly used as meditation techniques to focus the mind during meditation. These mudras can help to snap us out of our instinctive habits that may distract us in our meditation practice.

 

Bhoochari Mudra

Benefits:

The Bhoochari mudra is beneficial for calming anger and stress as it tranquilizes the mind and brings the practitioner into a state of stillness and relaxation. This mudra develops the power of concentration and increases mental stability. It also helps to activate the Ajna (third eye) chakra, which is the center of perception, consciousness and intuition.

*Note: The Bhoochari mudra is not suitable for the following groups of people: those suffering from glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy; and those who have just had cataract surgery, lens implant or other eye operations.

 

Technique:

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight, and the hands in chin mudra. Ensure that there are no visual obstructions in the surroundings that may cause distraction to the attention.

Close the eyes and relax the body.

Open the eyes and raise the right hand in front of the face, so that the right forearm is positioned horizontally to the mat. Face the right palm down and keep the fingers close together. Side of the right thumb should be in contact with the top of the upper lip.

Focus the eyes on the tip of the right pinky and gaze at it for 1 minute, without blinking. Try to maintain constant awareness of the pinky.

After 1 minute, lower the hand but continue gazing at the same point, without blinking.

Become engrossed into this point of nothingness and be aware of any thoughts raising in the mind at the same time.

Whenever you feel like you’re losing focus, raise the right hand again and focus on the tip of the pinky. Then lower the hand and continue to gaze into the same spot in the space. Stay in this mudra for 5-10 minutes.

 

  1. Kaya – Postural mudras

Postural mudras are a combination of physical postures with breathing and concentration, and requires the involvement of the whole body. Kaya mudras are similar to yoga asanas.

Yoga Mudra

Benefits:

This mudra massages the abdominal organs and stretches the neck and back muscles, hence ensuring good general health. It also helps relieve anger and tension, and fosters a sense of relaxation and awareness for meditation practice.

*Note: The Yoga mudra is not suitable for people who are suffering from sciatica, high blood pressure, pelvic inflammatory disease or any other serious abdominal illness.

Technique:

Sit in padmasana (lotus pose) and rotate the arms backwards. Use the left hand to take hold of the right wrist behind the back.

Close the eyes and relax the body. Bring awareness to the Muladhara (root) chakra.

Inhale slowly and feel the breath gradually rising from the Muladhara (root) chakra to the Ajna (third eye) chakra. Hold the breath for a few seconds while concentrating on the Ajna chakra.

Exhale slowly and bend forward from the hips to touch the forehead on the floor. Feel the breath gradually descending from the Ajna chakra down to the Muladhara chakra. Hold the breath for a few seconds while concentrating on the Muladhara chakra.

Inhale and raise the torso up to a vertical position. Feel the breath moving upward from the Muladhara chakra to Ajna chakra.

Remain in the upright position and hold the breath for a few seconds, concentrating on the Ajna chakra. Exhale slowly while moving the awareness back down to the Muladhara chakra. This completes one round.

Perform 3-10 rounds.

 

  1. Bandha – Lock mudras

Bandha means “lock” in Sanskrit. Bandha mudras combine mudras and bandhas together, engaging the skeletal muscles such as vocal, respiratory and pelvis muscles to hold the energy and awaken the kundalini energy (i.e. a dormant life force resting within the base of the spine) in the body.

 

Mula Bandha (Root Lock)

Benefits:

Mula means “root” or “base” in Sanskrit. Mula Bandha massages the entire pelvic region such as the urinary, excretory and genital organs; and helps to strengthen the uro-genital and excretory systems. It is also able to relieve depression, and aids in the realignment of the physical, mental and psychic bodies in preparation for spiritual awakening. Additionally, the Mula Bandha helps to redirect sexual energy upwards for spiritual growth and can hence be used as a method to achieve sexual control.

*Note: The Mula Bandha should not be practiced during menstruation.

Technique:

[Stage 1]

Sit comfortably in Siddhasana or Sukhasana (Simple cross-legged position). Close the eyes and relax the body. Focus the awareness on the perineal/vaginal region. Contract this region by pulling up on the pelvic floor muscles and then relaxing the muscles. Continue to contract and relax the perineal/vaginal region in a rhythmic and controlled movement. Continue to breathe normally throughout the practice.

[Stage 2]

Contract the perineal/vaginal region and hold the contraction. Contract a little tighter without tensing the rest of the body. Relax the pelvic floor muscles slowly in a controlled movement.

Focus on contracting only the muscles related to the Muladhara (root) chakra. Repeat the contraction and relaxation for 10 rounds.

 

  1. Adhara – Perineal mudras

Perineal mudras aim to redirect energy from the lower centres of the body upwards to the brain, and involves the pelvic floor region to stimulate the Swadisthana (sacral) chakra.

 

Ashwini Mudra

Benefits:

The Ashwini mudra is beneficial for people with pelvic floor dysfunction or urinary incontinence, as it strengthens the pelvic and anal muscles. It is also effective for people suffering from piles (hemorrhoids), as it increases blood circulation in the anus and treats swollen veins in the rectum. This mudra also helps to prevent the escape of pranic energy from the body and redirects this energy upward for spiritual purposes.

Technique (Rapid contraction):

Sit in a comfortable position. Close the eyes and relax the body. Bring the awareness to the anus. Rapidly contract the anal sphincter muscles for a few seconds without any straining, and then relax the muscles. Perform contraction and relaxation of the anal sphincter muscles for 10-20 times, in a smooth and rhythmic manner. Gradually try to make the contractions more rapid.

 

How Scents Can Influence Our Yoga Practice and Mood

For centirues people have been using all kinds of scents in various forms to influence the mind and body. Almost every spiritual path includes the burning of incenses for different rituals: there are scents to cleanse the surroundings, to calm down, to attract money and luck, etc. From the modern scientific point of view we know that scents not only cleanse the air of bacteria, but the air actually becomes charged with negative ions that refresh and renew both our environment and bodies.

The science known to us as “Aromatherapy” is believed to be at least 6,000 years old. Burning of incense and the application of sacred attar oils can be called the oldest forms of it that still present as well as modern forms like diffusing essential oils or applying perfume. The science of Aromatherapy confirms that scent, whether inhaled or applied topically, exerts dramatic effects on our minds and bodies. So how does it work?

Brainwaves Frequency

It is well known that the brain is an electrochemical organ. Electrical activity emanating from the brain is displayed in the form of brainwaves.

Our brain can work in 5 main frequencies that are in constant motion:

  • Beta (14 – 30 cycles per second) – strongly engaged mind;
  • Alpha (7 – 14 cycles per second) – detached consciousness, relaxation and meditation, the bridge between Beta and Theta;
  • Theta (4 – 8 cycles per second) – the first stage at which we begin to dream while we sleep, state of daydreaming; it is considered a powerful, almost magical state of mind in which people can literally walk on hot coals without getting burned, or are able to heal their bodies;
  • Delta (0 – 4 cycles per second) – deep sleep;
  • Gamma (25 – 100 cycles per second) – peak concentration and high levels of cognitive functioning.

 

It is believed that when we are in the Gamma state, which is the state of deep meditation, we experience the most favorable brainwaves for mind and body healing.  Scientists have discovered that time spent in meditation helps to significantly release stress and anxiety and clarify the mind. What’s wonderful is that this mindfulness stays even for days after meditation session has finished. Brain hemispheres become more synchronized and function more efficiently which leads to creative thinking and enhancement of imagination. Due to the release of endorphins the state of Gamma fields can be called the state of bliss.

So what about the scent? Every smell we feel goes to our brain and “talks” to it in a certain way. Studies show that particular scents stimulate particular brainwaves more than others.

For example:

  • Alpha brain waves are stimulated by the scent of lavender;
  • Beta brain waves are increased by jasmine, resulting in a relaxed, yet alert and clear state of mind;
  • Theta and Gammas brain waves arouse in response to patchouli, musk, sandalwood, which makes them ideal aromas to use when meditating;

 

 

Frankincense, cedarwood, and palo santo are also fragrances that have been used for centuries in spiritual and religious pursuits. Of course, the ancient practitioners didn’t have any scientific basis and just picked the most appealing species, but they really worked. The same way as sick animals know what plant can cure them, we can feel which scent will be favorable for us so there’s actually no need to be a scientist. The fragrance that is the most pleasing to you is guaranteed to enhance your meditation or spiritual practice simply by putting you in a positive frame of mind.

 

 

Natural only!

Scientists have proven that in order scents have effect on our minds and bodies they must be 100% natural. Synthetic scents contain chemical structures that simply do not fit into our cell receptors so they can never produce the same effect that natural ones. Of our five senses it is only smell that links directly to the limbic system. Therefore, natural fragrances can do miracles over our bodies as the limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, stress levels, and hormone balance in addition to memory.

Even if the person cannot feel the odor due to some health issues, aromatherapy will still work as the natural constituents will be inhaled and influence the brain.

Different Forms

Modern market provides different options for scent spreading and it’s often easy to get lost in the variety. Here’s a short guide how to choose the perfect form for you.

  • Incense sticks and cones are made from a variety of combustible substances that give off a fragrant scent when burned. The word “incense” is actually derived from the Latin word for “to burn”. This form gives a quick boost of fragrance making it the ideal choice when you don’t have a lot of time. Incense sticks generally burn for less than an hour and the fragrance and scent throw can be quite strong.

Pros:

  • Give fast fragrance boost
  • Give stronger scent

 

Cons:

  • Mess made by falling ash
  • Danger of burning
  • According to several researches burning incense may cause lung problems when used regularly

 

Recommendation: if you want to find natural incense stick of a good quality keep in mind it shouldn’t produce any smell until it’s lit. Before buying a pack of sticks sniff them and if they exude a powerful aroma don’t pick them, there’s nothing natural.

 

  • Scented candles are made from a combination of wax and scent oil, that when lit, diffuse aromas into the air.

Pros:

  • Not only give he scent but also cast a warm glow creating cosy atmosphere in the room
  • Due to combination with the wax the smell is more complex

 

Cons:

  • It takes about an hour for the scent to fill the space, moreover short burns considerably cut down the life of a candle
  • Again – better don’t leave them unattended

 

  • Reed diffusers come with three main parts; the fragrance oil, the vessel and the reeds or sticks. The sticks are made out of porous types of wood, they absorb the fragrance oil and gently diffuse it into the surrounding air, giving off a continuous stream of scent until all of the oil has dissipated.

 

Pros:

  • Give contineous long-lasting scent
  • Flameless, so no need to worry
  • You can place them even in the most distant corner of the premises

 

Cons:

  • Not suitable when you need a quick aromatic boost
  • You can get tired of the same smell every day.

 

 

  • Oil diffusers are maybe the newest scent devices on the market. Oil diffuser breaks essential oils down into smaller molecules, dispersing them into the air.

 

Pros:

  • Flameless
  • Provide fast boost of scent
  • Usually have beautiful design
  • You can combine different oils to create a unique scent of your own

 

Cons:

  • water diffuser can harbor bacteria in the liquid if it’s left sitting, which can cause health problems the next time you turn it on, so regular cleaning is needed
  • essential oils can be pricey

What Oils Are the Best For Yoga Practice

  1. Frankincense Oil – provides relaxing effect, ideal for meditation; has a very neutral smell that almost everybody will like.
  2. Sandalwood Oil – similar to Frankincense: very good for relaxation and meditative purposes; one of the best oils for focus and concentration. It reduces cortisol level, so can be used in the evening to calm down after stressful day.
  3. Rose Oil – promotes self-confidence, ideal to use in the morning.
  4. Orange Oil – activates the endorphin centers of the brain, so promotes good mood, boosts concentration and focus.
  5. Lemon Oil – has similar properties with the orange oil but a bit quieter smell; boosts energy and improves self-esteem.
  6. Lavender Oil – the most popular relaxing oil, creates peaceful environment and slows down the mind.
  7. Ylang-Ylang Oil – alleviates negative emotions and releases tension, boosts flexibility and relaxex.
  8. Peppermint Oil – improves breathing, alleviates respiratory problems.
  9. Clary Sage Oil – relaxes the mind, increases inner peace.
  10. Cedarwood Oil – a very natural smell that creates atmosphere of the forest.

 

 

The world of scents is vast and it’s only you who knows what smell will pull the strings of your soul right and when it’s better for you to use it. The only thing to remember – it should be natural and you should truly like it. Feel free experimenting and enjoy your journey!

Yoga: A Therapy for Kyphosis

Everyday life can have major impacts on our muscular and skeletal systems. From the way we stand and sit to the pressure that we put on our bodies doing daily activities can have lasting impacts throughout the years. One major result of poor prolonged sitting posture is kyphosis, which is when the thoracic vertebrae are rounded exaggeratedly. It is normal for the spine to have a slight curve in the thoracic area, however a kypho spine can resemble the letter ‘C’ in extreme cases. It affects posture, flexibility and can lead to pain in the upper back. Many practitioners recommend yoga to individuals who experience the rounding of the spine as it can help to properly align the spine. One of the poses that helps alleviate kyphosis is mountain pose. Standing up straight, properly aligning the spine and shifting the shoulders back so that the shoulders are aligned will help to push the curve back to a normal amount. Marjaryasana, or cat pose, is also another posture that aids in kyphosis. It is done by going to table top position and slowly arching the back and then pressing it up (cow) repeatedly. This helps to stretch the spine, in a way that it may not experience during daily activities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) is one of the most popular poses for realignment of the spine as it also builds strength within the erector spinae muscles. Matsyasana is another posture which helps to correct the curve of the spine. Due to the movement of the shoulder blades drawn together, this helps to open up the chest, and relieve any tightness within the pectorals major and minor which could be causing the need to round the shoulders. This fish pose targets the erector spinae muscles as well, helping to build strength within the back to create the proper strength to keep the spine straight. Bhujangasana or Cobra pose is another very therapeutic posture for rounded shoulders and curved spines as it involves the opening of the chest and curving on the spine towards the back, counteracting the forward facing curve of kyphosis. Chest opening and erector spinae strengthening postures are very important for aiding kyphosis as the shoulder muscles, including the pectoralis major and minor, and the subclavius are stretched and therefore the tension built from kyphosis decreases. The shoulders are then free to externally rotate back to the proper alignment. Kyphosis also causes the rotator cuff muscles to be weakened and therefore poses that require the conscious external rotation of the shoulder blades to squeeze them together, such as warrior 1, utthita/parivritta trikonasana, Prasarita padottanasana series, dandasana, purvottanasana and many more are very therapeutic to properly align the spine.

Semi-whispering the wonders of David Attenborough

Since Master Sree encouraged us to breathe life into the way we instruct a class, akin to Sir David Attenborough, I was inspired to learn more about this famous BBC broadcaster and how his voice creates an ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). 

One of the UK natural treasures, Sir David Attenborough is most famous for bringing the natural world into our homes through his BBC nature documentaries. His narrations of the natural world whether it be the secret wonders of the Amazonian rain forests or the intense showdown between octopus and shark, have enthralled viewers all over the world. He has also done many historically significant interviews and is no stranger to yoga. Not only did he interview yoga master BKS Iyengar back in 1963, for his 93rd birthday last year, he narrated instructions for a yoga class in Sea Life Manchester to raise awareness for marine life conservation. He’s not a man to just rest on his laurels, he is championing action against climate change even at the ripe old age of 92.

What makes David Attenborough’s voice so compelling? It is gentle yet authoritative and his thick British accent sounds very regal and kind. His calming voice has inspired thousands of impressions and my favorite is this tutorial which asks you to 1) posh up your accent 2) deliver in a semi whisper and 3) have a low-mid tone male voice with a few croaks. Perhaps it might be hard to posh up one’s accent without sounding pretentious especially as a non-British person, but we can most definitely start to experiment with teaching in a low-mid tone voice and using the technique of semi-whispering. 

In particular, the semi-whispering technique is known to trigger ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). This signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterized by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin” according to Wikipedia.  It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control. A psychology study in 2015 by Nick Davis and Emma Barratt found that whispering was an effective trigger for 75% of the 475 subjects who took part in an experiment to investigate the nature of ASMR.

Now that I understand the effect that semi-whispering can have, I will most definitely try it out when I teach my next class!

How can yoga help with menopause?

Symptoms of menopause vary significantly in duration and severity from one woman to the other. They are generally linked to declining levels of estrogen and other hormones. It takes time for the body to adjust to those changes. And during this transition, symptoms can be quite debilitating both physically and emotionally. They commonly include hot flashes and night sweats, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, palpitations, reduced libido and vaginal dryness, joint aches and pains (joint, back, neck), problems with memory and concentration, reduced muscle mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy is now widely used. But it has been linked to an increased risk for certain health conditions (cardiovascular risks, breast/lung/colon cancer, urinary incontinence…) and comes with side effects. Therefore, health practitioners and patients alike have been looking for healthier and natural alternatives to support this transition. Those include lifestyle changes, diet, exercise… and of course yoga! Research has shown that specific regular yoga practice is bringing significant relief to several menopausal symptoms.

 

How can yoga relief menopausal symptoms?

  • Yoga helps building mental resilience

Regular yoga practice helps to quiet the mind and body. It has been associated with an increased tolerance for pain over time and may help reduce the discomfort. Yoga, and specifically pranayama, have also been shown to relieve stress and quiet the mind. Hence, insomnia can be improved, overall mood is more balanced leading to less irritability and mental calm can help going through menopausal aches and pains. Finally, mental focus required for yoga practice and meditation exercises can improve memory and concentration issues.

  • Yoga supports a strong physical body and the flow of energy

Yoga has been associated with good joint health and joint pain relief. It helps strengthening joints and increasing flexibility. Yoga practice is also energizing and can help with menopausal fatigue. Finally, it will help counteract reduced muscle mass commonly observed with menopause.

  • Yoga helps regulating body functions

Blood pressure may increase after menopause and a consistent yoga practice has been linked with reduced blood pressure and better blood circulation and oxygenation. Yoga is also linked with better weight management which can assist in menopausal weight changes due to hormonal imbalance. Similarly, it can help with hot flashes.

 

Which specific yoga practices are recommended for menopause?

Regular practice of specific asanas, pranayama and dyana have been shown to be all beneficial to relief menopausal symptoms.

Specific Asanas

While asanas may not directly influence estrogen production, specific postures can help control unpleasant symptoms. Restorative postures, in particular, can help relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system.

Hot Flashes

This is the most common symptom of menopause which is characterized by sudden increase in body temperature and pulse rate. And stress or any tension in the body can make it worse. Hence, recommended poses should be cooling and restorative poses. Supported reclining poses are interesting such as Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), Supta Virasana (reclining hero) and Supta Padmasana (reclined lotus) which will soften and release any tightness in the chest and belly. Ardha Halasana (half plow) with supported legs and Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee) with the head supported, can also help to calm nerves.

We should use props, blocks, or any other support that will help to relax. Supported postures can help relief from anxiety and irritability, without heating or stressing the body. It is important to note that unsupported inversions, strenuous poses, and backbends can sometimes make hot flashes worse.

Anxiety, Irritability, and Insomnia

Hormonal imbalance imposes continual stress to the sympathetic autonomous nervous system and the adrenal glands which exhaust themselves. Forward bends, such as Uttanasana (standing forward bend) Padangusthasana / Pada Hastasana and Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend) are helpful to relax those by calming the mind. For insomnia specifically, inversions then followed by restorative postures can help such as Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand).

Fatigue

Also, a very common symptom, it is likely due to low levels of progesterone and/or exhausted adrenal glands. Gentle supported backbends can help to reenergize: Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), again, is recommended. Standing poses like Virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II) help feeling strong and combat the fatigue.

Depression and Mood Swings

Regular yoga practice is associated with better regulation and control of your thoughts and attitude. It helps to feel strong, healthy and grounded. Backbends, especially if supported, are recommended bringing a sense of lightness into the body and opening heart and lungs such as Ustrasana (camel) and Chakrasana (wheel). Furthermore, chest opening poses energize the body by improving breathing and circulation such as also Dhanurasana (bow), Bhujangasana (cobra). The same inversions as above, can also help to improve mood. All those positively affects the mind.

Memory and concentration

The same postures that counter depression, such as backbends, chest openers, and inversions, can help increasing cognitive abilities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (dolphin) can also improve mental alertness. And Savasana soothes the nerves and can help with better concentration after.

Pranayama

Regular practice of pranayama has also been shown to be beneficial in treating a wide range of stress disorders. It develops a steady mind and strong willpower. It slows down mental chatter and infuses positive thinking. Practice can help, in particular, with menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings.

Some cooling pranayama such as sitali and sitkari pranayama can be very interesting in menopause. Both are activating the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, relaxing the body whilst also cooling it down. It is important to note that in the case of hot flashes, other more regular pranayama such as Ujjayi or Kapala Bhati are not recommended as they are also heating up the body.

Dhyana

Meditation or dhyana is known to help still the mind and regulate the nervous system. It will similarly help for all stress related and mental imbalance of menopause, with no contraindication. It has been also found to be associated with increased melatonin level leading to improved sleep quality, particularly if done in the evening before sleep.

As a conclusion, we need to highlight that every woman is different and will experience different symptoms. Those will also evolve over time and may not be the same from one day to the other. So, it comes down to each of us to experience and adapt practice accordingly to smoothly ride through this life transition!

Yoga for Anxiety and Depression | Pranayama•Mudra•Meditation•Poses

1 in 5 adults is experiencing mental health problems – such as anxiety, panic attack, insomnia, depression, you name it. I was one of them as well.

 

I was mentally dead from the soulless job, burnt out from chasing goals after goals, trying to meet the social expectations, and wanting more and more of the external validation and materialistic things.

 

When I was recovering from the great depression, I started a meditation practice, went to Bali for yoga retreats, tried Ayurveda cleansing, and experienced sound healing – and fell in love. Long story short, I booked a flight to Nepal and went for sound healing training by the third generation master from Tibet.

 

Through meditation, yoga, and sound healing, I slowly found myself again and got in touch with the spirituality within. Now as a Sound Healer, I am sharing my story, experience, and sound with others, to help them find the light within – just like I did.

 

One of the reasons I wanted to join the Yoga Teacher Training was, to deepen the self-mastery by learning the philosophy of yoga.

 

I can feel… I am exactly where I am meant to be – at Tirisula Yoga, I have met amazing Yoga masters, and I am having a little taste of 3,000-year-old yoga history and deepening my physical-mental-spiritual practice every day.

I am overloaded with joy to be on this journey. I thank Universe for this divine timing and opportunity and for bringing the blessings of finding the gurus I need at this exact moment in my life and the meaningful learnings.

 

Today, I am going to share with you my learnings from the Yoga Teacher Training – focusing on the yoga techniques that help anxiety and depression. Because if you are reading this, you probably need to hear this.

 

Yoga does not mean practicing poses only. Breathing, meditation, and there are so many other aspects of yoga.

 

Often, when we are anxious and depressed, we are trapped in the mind and the body. In fact, traumas and negative emotions can be stored in your body.

That being said, mental illness is not just what you think, but it is real. It shows physical symptoms such as nausea, panic attack, pains, fatigue, and you name it.

 

Please hold in mind that mind and body are the one – there’s a strong connection in between and turning into your intelligence and physiology will help improve your mental wellness.

 

In this article, I will introduce

  • Pranayama
  • Meditation
  • Mudra
  • Asana

to help you improve mental health.

 

Pranayama – breathing regulation

Pranayama is a yogic breathing technique.

In Sanskrit, “Prana “(prāṇa (प्राण)) means life energy or life force. Prana is also known as Chi (氣, 气) in Chinese or Ki (気) in Japanese. And “Ayama” means regulated expansion and control.

Together, “Pranayama” means yogic energy regulation practice.

 

Regular pranayama practice is known to be good for both anxiety and depression. We, humans, breathe 24/7. By controlling our breathing, we can achieve the desired calm state.

 

When we are stressed, we breathe fast. When we breathe fast, more oxygen than the usual amount diffuses through and enters the blood system and decreases the carbon dioxide, which will destroy the balance of pH level – acid-alkaline balance – of the blood.  This is a condition called respiratory alkalosis, and it causes muscle twitching, nausea, irritability, lightheadedness, confusion, and anxiety.

 

By slowing and regulating our breath, biologically, balance the ph level of the blood to less alkaline.

 

There are many kinds of pranayama, and for anxiety and depression, try Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing). This helps in balancing the subtle life energy of the body, calms the mind, and emotional imbalance.

Watch the video below to learn how to;

 

Meditation

Meditation in yoga is called “Dhyana” which means ‘No thought’.

To achieve the dhyana state, we can first begin practicing “Dharna” – 1 thought.

Dharna is a mind fit for concentration.

Dharna practice involves focusing your attention on one thing – be it an external object or an internal idea – your breath, a mantra, or a part of your body.

Training on focusing on 1 thing at a time, not only helps you calm your mind, but this can also empower you to consciously be in the desired state and reclaim the power of your mind back.

 

Once we achieve the Dharna state by bringing the mind to a certain object, there’s a moment you become to lose the boundary between the object the mind is meditating on and the one who is meditation. You become One and this oneness is called Dhyana.

 

Meditation is a mental practice of going inward. Meditation won’t cure the mental health condition overnight, however, it can be a big help when you look at a longer period of time.

 

Mudra

Mudra means ‘gesture’. In yoga, mudra expresses and channelizes cosmic energy within the mind and body.

The body is made up of 5 elements; Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space.

When these 5 elements are not in balance, it causes physical and mental misalignments.

Here is a couple of Hasta Mudras (hand gestures) you can try on your own.

 

Surya Mudra for anxiety

  • Bend the ring finger, touch the root of the thumb with it and press the finger with the thumb
  • Practice it daily twice for 5 to 15 minutes

 

Gyan Mudra for anxiety and depression

  • Touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger, with the other three fingers stretched out
  • There is no time duration for this mudra
  • You can practice by sitting, standing, or lying on the bed whenever wherever

 

Pran Mudra for depression

  • Bend ring finger and little finger and touch the tip of the thumb with tips keeping the remaining fingers stretched
  • There is no time duration for this mudra
  • You can practice it at any time

 

Asana

Asana is the yoga postures. The physical practice of yoga falls under here.

Yoga poses are not only meant for fitness but rather used for achieving holistic balance and enhancing your mind-body-spiritual practice.

Here are a few basic asanas that help reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

 

Seated forward bend – Paschimottanasana

Bond Angle Pose – Baddha Konasana

Bridge pose – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Corpse Pose – Savasana

 

 

 

 

“I am not the body, I am not even the mind”

So… who are we?

Because the mind is so genius, and often because of the defense mechanism it has, it will trick you to think in a certain way of yourselves, as well as you feel physical discomfort in your body.

 

We are just born in this body this life, and it does not define who we are. We are pure energy. In our lifetime, we are borrowing this shell to do what we are called to do but there is a life force within us which cannot be defined just as mind and body.

 

Mental illness does not define you. Remember, there’s a light within you always and I hope you return back to who you truly are as energy.

Breathe yogis…there is so much more you can breathe!

Why is breathing so important for the body? Life begins and ends with breathing. About 5 minutes without breathing and we are dead. All cells in the body need oxygen to live. Oxygen is necessary for the cell’s energy supply, to ensure its metabolism. Low levels of oxygen will have a direct impact on the functioning of the cell. Breathing is also vital to remove waste products during exhalation, such as CO2 from cellular respiration.

Breathing impacts all the major body’s systems:

  • cardiovascular system: slow, deep breaths will cause the heart rate to slow; inhalation is linked to vasoconstriction and exhalation to vasodilation; blood homeostasis (pH / pO2 and pCO2 to avoid acidosis)
  • nervous system: breathing volumes and rate will either activate or relax the body; the brain consumes a lot of oxygen (20%) and optimal breathing will support intellectual activities and concentration
  • endocrine system: the variation in blood parameters (pO2, pCO2, pH) modulated by breathing will regulate the hormonal activity aimed at restoring homeostasis. For example, a deep inhale and a full exhalation will decrease the production of noradrenaline and if this is done over a few hours, the cortisol level will also decrease.
  • muscular system: as mentioned above breathing is fundamental for metabolism and energy supply (aerobic). A well oxygenated muscle will increase its power and tone. A good exhalation will eliminate the CO2 produced by muscle activity.
  • digestive system: the mechanical movement of the diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation massages digestive organs and stimulates peristalsis so that digestion and transit are improved.
  • immune system: Shortness of breath increases, over time, the level of cortisol which kills lymphocytes (key cells of our immune system).

Breathing is an “automatic” function governed by the autonomic nervous system, but consciously, we can control our breath e.g. modify the amplitude, the frequency, choose to breathe through the nose or the mouth.

When we discussed about the respiratory system during the Yoga Teacher Training and I went on checking the various pulmonary volumes, I was quite amazed at what I discovered. Our lungs have a volume of around 5 L. But the “automatic” breathing, also called “tidal volume”, is only of 0.5 L, so only 10% of our lung capacity! By consciously inhaling fully we can add another 1.5 to 2.5 L (also called “inspiratory reserve volume”) so increasing the air coming in (and out) fourfold to 2L! And by consciously exhaling fully and then inhaling fully we can add an extra 1.2 to 1.5 L (also called “expiratory reserve volume”), so overall increasing the air coming in (and out) sevenfold to 3.5L! And now we use 70-75% of our lung capacity…so much more powerful! So much more oxygen we can provide to our cells, so much more toxins we can get rid of.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have optimal breathing, leading to both physical and psychological consequences. People are now advised to “learn to breathe” and many techniques have emerged for various indications such as stress management, depression, ENT ailments, nasal structure defects, snoring, concentration…Yoga, and Pranayama specifically, have a great role to play there.

Practicing pranayama is a great way to learn to control our breath and leverage its impressive power. Research shows that regular practice of pranayama significantly improves  numerous pulmonary parameters: it increases vital lung capacity, tidal volume, expiratory reserve volume, breath holding time, diffusion capacity, resting respiratory rate…And those indicators are important for both prevention and treatment of all respiratory dysfunctions and illnesses.

So, yogis, don’t forget to practice your pranayama and…breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out….

Cardiac coherence and Ujjayi breath: when old meets new

The impact of breathing on the nervous system has long been established. Increasing the inhalation volume and the respiratory rate will act on the sympathetic autonomous nervous system, which will activate the body: increased heart rate, vasoconstriction, sweating… Conversely, increasing the exhalation volume and reducing the respiratory rate will act on the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, which will relax the body: slowed down heart rate, cell regeneration, digestion… And when the two systems are in balance, one is serene, both alert and relaxed.

Cardiac coherence is gaining traction and is now regularly used in the cardiology field. Research has shown that regular practice was regulating blood pressure and was significantly decreasing overall cardiovascular risks, the #1 killer in the world today. But what is cardiac coherence? It is a method based on respiratory techniques bringing the cardiac and respiratory systems into resonance and thus balancing our autonomous nervous system. The principles were developed in the 1990s in the United States from medical research in neuroscience and neurocardiology. The technique is simple: it consists of, 3 times a day, breathing calmly at the rate of 6 breaths per minute (inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling over 5 seconds; rate can vary slightly for each person) for 5 minutes (“365 method”). Inhalation is abdominal through the nose and exhalation is through the mouth with pinched lips. To all yogis, does it ring a bell?

When I learned about the Ujjayi breath, it felt familiar! Cardiac coherence is in fact a simplified or less “throat activation” Ujjayi breath. Indeed, in both techniques, one breathes calmly and continuously (without retention), equalizing inhale and exhale, using abdominal inhalation and some restriction on the exhalation. Ujjayi breath, though, is constricting exhalation at the throat level with mouth closed, whilst cardiac coherence is constricting exhalation at the mouth level, with lips pinched. Hence there is more throat activation in the Ujjayi breath and consequently also more building of heat.

What can we learn on Ujjayi breath from recent research on cardiac coherence? Of course, as the two methods have slight differences, one cannot strictly extrapolate research on one to the other. Nevertheless, given the level of similarly, results on one are very likely to constitute a solid proxy for the other. Firstly, both techniques target the physiological balance of the autonomous nervous system through equalization of inhalation and exhalation. The heart rate is constantly changing, with the heart modulating its activity according to internal and external stimuli. By controlling your breathing, you allow an increase in the heart variability amplitude (an important health indicator). Additionally, there is a direct heart-brain link as the heart informs the brain. And by improving your cardiac pattern, you send positive messages to the brain (less stress, a feeling of well-being). Finally, recent research on cardiac coherence has demonstrated numerous benefits on physical, mental and emotional health with short, mid- and long-term effects. Short term immediate benefits include improvement of cardiac patterns and relaxation. Medium-term benefits, after about 4 hours, include hormonal regulation (the main effect being the decrease in cortisol -stress; also increased DHEA -youth and atrial natriuretic factor- antihypertensive), regulation of neurotransmitters (dopamine – pleasure and serotonin – well-being), increased cognitive abilities (increased alpha brain waves for concentration and memory). Long-term benefits, after ten days, include significant regulation of cardiovascular risk (significant regulation of blood pressure and improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels), improved stress management and emotional balance, improved cognitive abilities, increased immunity (in particular via lower cortisol levels), improved conditions for inflammatory diseases and asthma.

Now taking a step back…yoga is a fascinating holistic practice. It encompasses thousands of years of experience and wisdom. It is almost funny to think that a modern successful technique such as cardiac coherence was just “hiding” there, in the millennial knowledge of pranayama. The potential to derive impactful techniques from yoga for the health and wellness space is endless!

Finding the right essential oils

If you are a Naruto fan, you must have heard of “Chakra” powers! Chakra means “wheel” or “centers” of energy that are perpetually in motion along our spine. There are 7 main Chakras that possesses a colour and vibrational frequency. I love to imagine these wheels circling within the centre of my body. It is important to keep the chakras “open” as they are linked to our nerves, and major organs that are in proximity to each chakra. Aside from yoga and exercises, do you know that different essential oils can also help to “unblock” Chakras?

Essential oils are 100% organic as they are extracted from plant components. It is known to enhance the mental and emotional wellness of oneself. You can also use these oils to improve your skin, relieve sore muscles, and improve spiritual wellness.

The 7 chakras will start from the base of the spine to the crown of the head as illustrated below.

Source from: healthline.com

The 7 Chakras explained, represented by its colour.

1) Root chakra Muladhara” 

Location: Bottom of Spine.

It is the foundation of chakra system that manages our most basic needs: safety, security, trust, fear, pooping, survival, etc. When in balance, we will feel safe in life and have a sense of trust on what, who and when toproceed with caution. When it is “blocked”, it may exhibit as fear, insecurities, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, health issues like constipation, or fatigue.

To open this Chakra – Practise poses like wide-legged forward fold, malasana squats, mountain pose, tree pose or any balancing poses.

Recommended Essential Oils: Vetiver, Ginger, Patchouli

2) Sacral chakra Svadhisthana” 

Location: Below Navel

Associated to our reproductive area and responsible for our sensuality, creative energy, and expressing emotions. Issues with this chakra can create health problems like urinary tract infections, lower back pain, and impotency. Emotionally, this chakra is connected to our feelings of self-worth around pleasure, sexuality, and creativity.

To open this Chakra, would recommend doing strengthening of Pelvic floor exercises, bridge pose or hip openers poses like pigeon/Lizard Pose

Recommended EssentialOils: Ylang Yang, Orange, Neroli

3) Solar plexus chakra Manipura

Location: Upper Abdomen, Stomach area.

It’s responsible for self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as helping you feel in control of your life. It is linked to central nervous system, pancreas, liver, digestive tract, skin. If blocked, digestive issues like ulcers, heartburn, eating disorders, and indigestion will occur.

Opening of this Chakra – Do Core strengthening exercises, boat pose, twists, warrior III.

Recommended Essential Oils: Neroli, Rosemary.

4) Heart chakra “Anahata” 

Location: Heart, Center of Chest

Heart chakra is all about our ability to love, show compassion, forgiveness and accepting others. A balanced heart chakra would display confidence, warmth, self-discipline, reliability, and a positive sense of self. A closed heart chakra can let in grief, anger, jealousy, fear of betrayal, and hatred toward yourself and others.

Opening of this Chakra – Do chest opening by doing back bends poses such as Camel, wheel, upward facing dog, reverse plank.

Recommended Essential Oils: Sandlewood, Ylang Ylang

5) Throat chakra Vishuddha

Location: Throat

This chakra rules all communication. It is the ability to speak with truth and clarity. If it is well balanced, you are able to fully listen and express yourself. When it’s blocked, you will find difficulty staying focused, speaking your mind and fear judgment from others. Physically, you will experience sore throat, thyroid issues, stiffness in neck and shoulder areas, and headaches.

Opening of this Chakra – Try fish pose, plow pose, shoulder stand. This will help in opening the back and front sides of your neck.

Recommended Essential Oils: Lemongrass, Peppermint, Eucalyptus

6) Third eye chakra “Ajna

Location: Between your eyes, on forehead.

This chakra enables us to follow our intuition and to open up to new ideas. It is associated with the pituitary gland, left brain, left eye, nose, ears, conscious mind, neurological system. A balanced third eye chakra will have strong intuition, good memory, ability to visualise and imagine.

Opening of this chakra Forward fold, Child’s pose, Dolphin or Eagle pose.

Recommended Essential Oils: Bergamot, Frankincense, Jasmine

7) Crown chakra “Sahasrara

Location: Top of your head.

It represents your spiritual connection to yourself, others, and the universe. It also plays a role in your life’s purpose, self-realisation and enlightenment. When the it is misaligned, you may experience a spiritual distrust, a sense of negativity about life, and a disconnectedness from your body. Whereas a balanced Crown Chakra will be perfect as it brings peace, joy, serenity, and positivity to your life!

Opening of this chakra Headstand, Tree pose, Corpse pose

Recommended Essential Oils: Palo Santo, Lavender

In conclusion, the type of chakra that is imbalanced may affect both emotionally and physically to the parts of your body in close proximity to that chakra. Poor personal habits such as poor physical alignment or posture, eating unhealthy food, or self-destructive behavior may also cause a chakra to be imbalanced.

How To Apply Essential Oils?

There are many ways to use essential oils in yoga classes or at your home, car or workplace. You can apply them on skin, spray around, release from a diffuser, or even use them for cleaning purposes.

Feel good, smell good and may you find the balance in your body.

 OM