Pranayama. What is it? Why do we do it?

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Yoga.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning extension of the breath or more accurately, “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna meaning life force and āyāma, meaning to extend, draw out, restrain, or control

More simply, Pranayama is a series of breathing techniques or breathing exercises.

Breathing is a normal part of our life, and we often forget to pay attention to it. It is the body’s natural inclination to hold the breath whenever we feel physically or emotionally challenged. Pranayama teaches us the proper way to breathe: slowly and deeply. Breathing this way increases the capacity of the lungs, brings more oxygen into the body and stimulates the Vagus nerve. The Vagus Nerve stretches from your brain stem down to your abdomen. When the Vagus Nerve is stimulated it activates the parasympathetic nervous systems to slow your heart rate, relieve stress, and heal your body.

“When the breath is still, so is the mind.” this basic yoga concept tells us that, with breathing, we can help to either calm or excite the entire nervous system. When the breath becomes irregular and unsteady, so is our mental state. When the breath is steady so is the mind.

You might not always have time for a yoga class but you can always find a few minutes a day to practice Pranayama.

To practice Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing): Sit comfortably with an easy straight back and close the eyes. Fold in the pointer and middle fingers of the right hand. Use the thumb to block the right nostril and the ring finger to block the left nostril. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. exhale slowly through the right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle.

The ancient yogis measured a person’s lifespan not by years but by the number of his respirations. They believed that everyone is allocated a fixed number of respirations in his or her or her lifetime, which differs from person to person.

Breath is life and life is breath. Keep breathing…

Aparigraha. (or my computer crashed)

It happened. My computer crashed. Just a blue screen. On it were countless photos, music, folders, esaays, and a few pie charts and spirographs. It is one of those things that is probably inevitable in the age of fast moving technology. I should have been prepared for it. I wasn’t. Although I did have a nagging feeling a few weeks ago when everything seemed to be running a little slower than usual. I thought I should back everything up, I even said it out loud, but I didn’t. How much info will be able to be retrieved and what is lost I am not sure yet, I will have to wait and see.

While waiting for the result my mind immediately turns to thoughts of one of the Yamas of Yoga: Aparigraha.
There are many interpretations and applications for Aparigraha, this being one of the more literal translations; Non grasping. I may lose all my “stuff” and if so I have to let go of it. This idea of “non-attachment” can be applied to tangible objects as well as to our thoughts and ideas. If we practice Aparigraha we must carefully consider which objects and ideas we choose to hold onto. We must prioritize how our time and energy is spent. Maybe I was spending too much time on the computer, maybe there were too many thoughts tucked into too many folders. When we practice Aparigraha by letting go of something, someone, or some idea we create space for the things that are truly important. We create a space for possibility and begin to understand all that is truly important to us. The important things are those that cannot be lost. A generous heart, a kind spirit, a quiet mind.

It is not fun when a computer crashes, but really, in the overall scheme of things what is lost? Maybe it is time to simply let go of the old to make room for the new.

Kriya or All About the Neti Pot.

NETI POT

It is that time of year again, cold and flu season.  Colds seem to come out of nowhere and then suddenly everyone is sniffling.  It makes sense that we are more susceptible to colds during a change of season, but what can we do to prevent them?  One way to LIVE more comfortably and healthily is to incorporate the use of a neti pot into your daily routine.  Jala Neti is an ancient yoga practice with many health benefits.  In addition to preventing colds, it is beneficial for those suffering from asthma, bronchitis, allergies, headaches, migraines and middle ear infections.

It is a simple process of flushing out the nasal passages with a solution of warm distilled water and non iodized salt. The salt water solution is poured into one nostril, so that it leaves through the other. The procedure is then repeated on the other side.  Neti removes all the dirt and bacteria filled mucus from within the nose and helps to drain the sinus cavities. It takes a little getting used to, but after the first try you will find it to be a really soothing experience. The good news is that the Neti Pot is now easily and inexpensively purchased at your local pharmacy.  They come with detailed instructions and are available with individually prepackaged saline packets to make the experience even more user friendly.  The entire process only requires a minute or two, so there is really no reason not to.

Even Oprah Winfrey and Dr Oz advocate using the Neti Pot.  Dr Oz states that using the Neti Pot is more effective than medication. “The (ear, nose and throat] doctors who are specialists in this area will often say this is a better treatment than a lot of the other drugs that we try to offer folks, because it mechanically cleans out the problem,” he says.

Don’t wait until you have a sniffle to start using the Neti Pot.  Remember that you are trying to prevent that cold from starting.  Think of it exactly as you would think about brushing your teeth.  Make it a part of your daily routine.  By incorporating this small daily change you will begin to feel better and stay healthier.

Quieting the Monkey Mind.

monkey

We all want to be happy. To LIVE happy lives. In Yoga we commonly refer to the negative thoughts that distract us from our happiness as “the monkey mind”. This monkey mind is preoccupied by worry, insecurity, greed, rage, and petty judgments.  The monkey mind is quick and smart and can often lead you down a path before you even know what hit you.  We have all been there; maybe you just got a promotion or started a new job, certainly cause for celebration and joy, when the monkey mind starts talking.  “Do I really deserve this?”  “Am I really qualified?”  “What if they don’t like me?”  Before we have had a chance to celebrate, we are thinking detrimental negative thoughts.  It is natural and normal, we all do it.  Our job is to learn how to quiet that little monkey and calm our mind. Then, we can be free from our own self imposed suffering and find our joy.

He is a tenacious little guy, he certainly won’t go quietly, and so, where to begin?  It starts with understanding that we cannot control the world around us; we can only control our thoughts and mental attitudes.  The Sanskrit saying is:  “Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoho.”  Which means  “As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.”  The world does not make you happy or sad, only your perception of the world does.   Is it heaven or hell?   You get to choose.  You decide.   Try applying this philosophy in your daily life and you will soon see how freeing it can be.  You might be stuck in an airport waiting on a long delayed flight and start worrying about being late, getting angry and upset, maybe yelling at the gate attendant. Or you could take that delay and see it as an opportunity to have some newly found free time.  You can read a great book, call a friend you haven’t had time to get back to. The flight will still be delayed, you cannot change that, it is only your perception of the situation that can change.

Think good thoughts.  With time, and practice, you can slowly begin to quiet the monkey.

Pranayama and Diaphramatic Breathing.

clouds

The Sanskrit word for yogic breathing is Pranayama.  Prana is the life force that keeps us alive.  Yama refers to expansion and extension, the ability to expand the breath and increase energy in the body.

Breath is the most important tool in yoga.  By connecting with the breath we find a feeling of lightness and clarity; create an instant support system for the postures.  When we are feeling challenged in a pose our natural instinct is to want to hold our breath, to grit our teeth and push through it. Holding the breath can create tension, dull our awareness and often cause us to feel light headed or woozy.

Diaphragmatic breathing (the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm) is the cure for reducing tension in the body and quieting the mind.  In a normal healthy breath, the abdomen puffs out as you inhale and relaxes in as you exhale.  One type of inefficient breathing is “reverse” breathing.  In reverse breathing you are working against yourself and using the diaphragm in a completely inefficient manner.  Reverse breathers pull the abdomen in as they inhale and push it out as they exhale.  Breathing this way can be very taxing on the nervous system.  Take a moment to check in with the breath to determine if you are a reverse breather.  Finding this out can change your life immeasurably and is very easy to correct.

“Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma, and reducing signs of oxidative stress. Practitioners report that the practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, and sound judgment, and also claim that sustained pranayama practice extends life and enhances perception.”

It can also be a most important tool in our daily lives.  We have all heard the phrase “take a deep breath” when confronted with a stressful or upsetting moment.  By taking a slow deep breath through the nose we can relax the nervous system and calm the mind.   We may not have time for a full asana practice, but we certainly have 2 minutes during the course of a day to close our eyes and bring our awareness to the breath.   Inhale expand the belly, exhale deflate the belly.  Just.  Breathe.

The 4 Immeasurables: Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, and Upeksha.

shoes

Today is my wedding anniversary.  I am filled with love and joy and gratitude.  And so, today this post is dedicated to love.  You can’t really LIVE without it.  Many of the principles that yoga teaches are easily applied to a loving relationship.  The word yoga itself means “to come together”; “to unite”; “to attain what was previously unattainable”.

By embracing the 4 Immeasureables as discussed in Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we have a wonderful support system that encourages positive attitudes and behaviors to create a fufilling relationship.

These 4 sublime attitudes are: Maitri (Lovingkindness)  It is a gentle, loyal acceptance with a deep sense of appreciation and regard. Karuna (Compassion) “ It is the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering, to lighten sorrow.” The Buddha described karuna as the “quivering of the heart” we experience when we are open and able to truly see suffering and are moved to do something about it”.  Mudita (Joy)  “True love brings joy, and mudita is the joy we take in the simple pleasures. When we love, joy seems to surround and pervade us”.   Upeksha (Equanimity)  “ It is the ability to feel  a connection fully, without clinging or possessiveness.”

Through these immeasurables we can talk honestly and openly without harm,  we can cultivate a greater awareness of our partner’s needs and put those needs before our own, revel in the simple joys of the everyday, feel a greater connection that allows us to trust that we are always with each other and that this love is constant.  A knowing that this love is greater than ourselves and that all beings are tranquil, happy, and aware of their gifts and accomplishments.  We in turn then feel interconnected to everyone and everything.

As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said:  “Love is the supreme blessing of life; love as love is universal.  Personal love is concentrated universal love.  Ah my heart flows when I say: Personal love is concentrated universal love.  The ocean of universal love flows in the streams of individual love.  What a blessing in life.”

Indeed.

Niyama Of Yoga: Santosha.

sunrise
Embrace the concept of Santosha, one of the Niyamas of Yoga.

It is the feeling of contentment with what we already have, in all aspects of our life.  Focusing our energy on what we have rather than on what we are lacking.  These things can be material like a new car or more conceptual like a better relationship with a family member.  There will always be someone who has a bigger car, a more lavish house, the seemingly perfect relationship.  These “things” are not our concern.  We can take refuge in knowing that we already have all that we need.  However, Santosha is not to be confused with complacency, it simply means that we are at peace with where we are right now.   We can be content where we are while we are working toward something.

Be content, be grateful,  and be truly happy.