Posts Tagged With: 2012
Hello my yoga friends:
Today I would like to talk to you about Kapalabhati Pranayama to address a few questions that I have received.
Prana is the life force, the subtle energy that keeps you alive, just like the charge in a laptop battery keeps the laptop alive. Your battery, known as Kundilini, is located in your subtle body in the Muladhara chakra (the energy centre at the base of the spine). Prana is the charge that flows from Kundilini, which is an amazing source of prana. Kundilini can limit or completely stop the flow of prana but it never runs out of Prana. Even if you don’t do any spiritual practices, some prana from Kundilini still flows to keep you alive, but proper spiritual practices help tap more prana from Kundilini. When there is plenty of prana in you and if it is flowing properly then you feel energetic, enthusiastic and have a positive attitude toward life. And when there is not enough prana or when it is not flowing properly, negative tendencies take over. You need a lot of prana for your spiritual progress.
Chakras are the energy centres that directly or indirectly receive prana from Kundilini and distribute it to your subtle body via the nadis.
Nadis are the channels in which prana flows in your subtle body, just like the blood in your physical body flows in arteries and veins. There are thousands of nadis connected directly or indirectly to energy centres. Just as poor eating habits can clog the arteries, in the same way excessive stress, too much negativity, and lack of spiritual practices are some of the factors that can clog nadis.
Kundilini, chakras and nadis, like your mind, cannot be seen or touched. They are part of your subtle being. I will write about them in detail another day.
Pranayamas are breathing exercises that are helpful in:
1) Removing any blocks in nadis,
2) Stimulating Kundilini and chakras,
3) Properly regulating the flow of prana, and
4) Purifying your inner being.
There are many pranayamas. Just like different yoga postures affect different parts of the body, similarly different pranayamas affect different chakras and nadis.
Kapalabhati Pranayama is a very powerful breathing exercise well known to yoga practitioners. Kapalabhati means shining intellect, and that’s exactly what the regular and correct practice of this pranayama can achieve. It refines your intellect giving you the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, true and false, real and unreal. For this reason alone, I consider Kapalabhati pranayama to be an essential yoga practice.
The other benefits of Kapalabhati Pranayama are:
– tones abdominal muscles
– improves digestion
– clears the nadis
– increases the quantity of prana
– stimulates all energy centres, in particular, the energy centres in the areas of naval, genitals, and in between eyebrows.
Learning the Kapalabhati pranayama technique:
Sit comfortably in any position, preferably cross-legged. Keep your spine erect.
Let’s first focus on the breath alone. Exhale through the nostrils with some force and sound, as though you are trying to clear your nostrils but don’t tense your face much. And then inhale but without too much effort or force.
Take a few more such breaths in a rhythmical fashion at a medium pace, approximately 20 breaths in 15 seconds. Relax. Do this again 2-3 times.
Now let’s co-ordinate the breath with moving of the belly in and out. As you exhale, contract your belly muscles and pull your naval inward toward the spine. Put some effort into contracting and pulling the belly in. Hold for about ½ a second. Then release the contraction as you inhale. Inhalation doesn’t require much effort. Do this 20 times. It would take about 30 seconds to do it at medium pace. If you are having difficulty holding the belly contraction, practice at a slow speed. Effective contraction while pulling the belly in is a very important part of the practice. It gets easier and better with practice.
Practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama:
It is important to practice Kapalabhati in a spiritual manner.
1. Become aware that you are not just the body. Take your attention to your inner being. Go beyond your thoughts, questions and judgments. Think of your inner-being as something very sacred, and honor it as you would honor a deity in a temple, with respect and gratefulness. This attitude is very necessary for awakening Kundilini and your energy centres. Without this attitude of honoring, the practice would provide benefit only at the physical level.
2. Sit erect with hands on thighs, palms facing up, eyes closed. Chant OM three times.
3. Take 20 Kapalabhati breaths as learnt above at a medium pace. Relax your breath and be still for about 5-10 seconds. Feel the effect of pranayama without any judgments. This will connect you more to your inner being.
4. Take couple of deep and long breaths. Then do another round of 20 kapalabhati breaths as above, and again be still for 5-10 seconds.
5. Complete one more round same as step 4.
After three rounds of Kapalabhati remain still for few seconds and then continue with other practices. If you are not going to be doing other practices, then just be there quietly for a little longer period, 3-5 minutes.
After a few weeks of practice you can increase the pace of breathing without compromising the effective contraction and pulling-in of the belly. Also don’t increase the pace so fast that you start to hyperventilate.
You can also increase the number of breaths in each round to up to 50 times.
But be very careful not to make this practice just a physical practice.
There is also an advanced Kapalabhati pranayama, which should be learnt only in person from an experienced yoga teacher. However, I personally prefer the basic practice as given above over the advanced one.
When to practice
Kapalabhati can be practiced any time of the day except late in the evening, no later than three hours before you go to sleep. It must be practiced on an empty stomach. It can be practiced as a stand-alone practice or combined with other practices, such as before asanas or meditation.
Kapalabhati should not be practiced during pregnancy or during first 2-3 days of the menstrual cycle. People with hernia and any other medical conditions should consult their physicians before starting the practice. I don’t recommend Kapalabhati for children under 12. There is no upper age limit.
Don’t look for benefits: Though Kapalabhati pranayama and other practices provide many benefits; do your practices without expecting any benefits.
Practice with joy without expecting joy from practices.
Keep doing your practicing regularly. Don’t give up. Do even more when you feel like giving up. An accomplished athlete knows the value of practice. Many times he might have felt like giving up but he didn’t. The essence of Yoga Vashishtha is continued self-effort.
Practice is not just doing postures and pranayamas. Applying the wisdom of yoga in daily life is also a practice. Following the yamas and niyamas (social and personal ethics) of Patanjali, and serving others are also essential yoga practices.
You need to do your practices regularly and for a long time, says Patanjali. He doesn’t specify for how long though. It could be one lifetime or many lifetimes. But the good news is that life is very short :).
Happy Mother’s Day!
Here are some pictures of hundreds of us doing Sun Salutations at the Art of Living World Culture Festival held at the Berlin Olympic Stadium.
Also below is an email I received from Jegethiswari Kaledas a few weeks ago:
Hello my yoga friends!
Today I am going to answer a few questions that I have received regarding Sun Salutation (SS).
What’s the spiritual significance of practicing SS?
The significance of practicing asanas (yoga postures) lies beyond the obvious benefits on the body level, and this is even more true with the practice of SS. When we practice SS, we are not just honoring the Sun but all of Nature, including ourselves, as we are also part of Nature.
In order to experience the powerful spiritual experience of SS, a proper attitude is needed when practicing SS. The proper attitude is three-fold:
- ‘I receive so much from the Nature. I am grateful for it.’ We can think of lots of reasons to complain but we can also think of lots of reasons to be grateful for. For now, we remember gratefulness.
- ‘I am part of Nature.’ Like the trees, mountains and rivers, we are also part of Nature. Our bodies are made up of five elements that Nature exhibits; Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. When we feel that we are part of Nature, our minds expand into infinity. The smallness disappears.
- ‘I am connected to everyone.’ The five elements in Nature bind us all together. The Earth connects us together. We share the same Water, Air and Sun. Even the Space that creates an illusion of separateness, in fact, it connects us no matter how far apart we may be. On the subtle level also, it is the same one life that flows in us all, and connects us together.
This cultivated feeling of gratefulness and oneness helps us in experiencing the union between the inner and outer, and the gross and subtle. It helps us in getting rid of negative emotions such as fear, worry and jealousy.
A yogi remains in this state of oneness not just during the SS practice but always.
Can Sun Salutation be practiced in the evenings?
Yes. The Sun is always there:)
How many rounds of Sun Salutation one should practice?
One round of SS consists of doing the SS sequence twice, first leading with the right side and then the left side. It is up to you how many rounds of SS you practice. I personally practice 6-8 rounds, followed by other asanas . Some people practice many more, even up to 108 rounds. If you are one of those people, it is important to become even more aware that you are using both sides of the body equally throughout the practice. After a few rounds of SS, as your mind may start to wander more, and as you start feeling fatigued, the stronger side of the body may take over to compensate for the weaker side, and thus causing misalignment in the body. Remain mindful of this and practice only as many rounds as you can without distorting balance and symmetry in the body. Also, leave time for doing other postures. For proper body fitness, practicing just SS alone is not enough.
At what speed should SS be practiced?
If you are practicing SS as a part of your warm-ups, you can use somewhat faster speed. When you practice SS as a part of the asana practice, you can use slow to medium speed. I mostly follow a medium speed and it takes me about four minutes to do 6 rounds.
How do we incorporate SS mantras with the SS sequence?
The mantras are powerful divine sounds which, when recited with feelings of devotion and trust, affect our consciousness in a positive way. There are 12 positions in the SS sequence and there are 12 mantras that we recite to praise and honor the Sun. These mantras along with their meanings are given in the Sri Sri Yoga manual, and you can also find them on the web. Each mantra is attributed to a different quality of the Sun.
You can recite the mantras either verbally or mentally, but the inner feeling of gratefulness and oneness should be maintained. If you are going to be doing 6 or more rounds of SS, then you could recite a mantra each time at the beginning of the sequence and maintain the proper attitude throughout the practice. On days when you practice just one or two rounds of SS, you can recite a different mantra for each different position of the SS sequence as you go into that position. After you have recited all 12 mantras once, then just be in that space of oneness.
The feelings behind reciting the mantra are more important than the proper pronunciation of the mantras, but I still recommend that you learn to pronounce the mantras properly. It will make you feel good about yourself…that you can do it!J
Learn the SS sequence and other asanas properly. Let someone observe and correct you. Practice at slow speed first, paying attention to balance and symmetry.
You may come across different variations of SS sequence. They all are basically the same with only some small variations. It is okay to practice different variations as long as you are mindful of balance and symmetry, and are maintaining the feeling of gratefulness and oneness.
Do your asana practice regularly. It is better to practice daily for 20 minutes than to practice for an hour occasionally.
When you practice Sun Salutations, don’t just expect sunshine. Welcome the rain also! They both support life.
A Sun Salutation Story:
I have many presonal stories from around the world related to Sun Salutations. Today I will share one with you.
About four years ago I was conducting Sri Sri Yoga TTC at the Art of Living Centre near Montreal. As we were practicing Sun Salutations in the afternoon inside the hall, outside it was thunder storming with heavy rains. Being in that space of honoring the nature, I felt inspired to go out in the rain. I quietly went out and started to practice SS on the deck.
The students also followed me, some with joyful enthusiasm, and others with reluctance. After a few rounds of SS we all felt so happy and started singing and dancing. It was then that we experienced something magical. The sky was covered with dense clouds, but for a little while a small cloud right above us cleared and Sun came out displaying its full splendor. It was unbelievable. The sky, filled with clouds, rain, wind, thunders and sunshine, looked amazingly majestic and beautiful. We just stood there silently in awe. We felt that all the elements of Nature had come together to bless us, and we truly felt blessed.
Was it a coincidence or was it a spontaneous play of the Nature just for us? Believing in the later makes me feel closer to Nature. It makes me feel protected and loved! Yogic wisdom tells me to be with the experience without labeling it.
The wonder lasted only a few minutes but its effect on us remained for the remainder of the day. I had never seen Antoine, Jennifer, Al, Adam and many others so happy before! The singing and dancing continued…
This is Shriram in Shoulderstand. He is one of my very sincere yoga students, and a very likable Sri Sri yoga teacher. Though being extremely flexible is not his goal, but he is like rubber. You can bend and twist him in any way and as much as you like but he will not lose his smile:).
He has written a very nice and detailed article on Shoulderstand which you can read on https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=351760952754
Shouldstand is one of my favorite postures. It turns your whole world upside down….in a good way. The legs and feet get to experience freedom and relief from carrying body weight, and the head that is always up in the air, gets to experience grounding, and acceptance of responsibility in a joyful manner.
Shoulderstand, in addition to providing so may benefits on the physical level, brings rest to the wandering mind. It is very calming and soothing . It reduces mental conflicts, anxiety, confusion, worries and fears. It brings relief from insomnia.
Staying in Shoulderstand even for a few seconds is very beneficial, but in order to experience its full benefits you would need to stay in the posture for 2-5 minutes.
It is important that you learn to practice Shoulderstand in the presence of a yoga teacher or an experienced yoga student who can observe and correct your alignment properly. Like any other fitness exercises, if Shoulderstand practiced incorrectly for any prolonged period of time, it can have severe effects on your neck and spine. And when practiced correctly, it provides tremendous benefits to all levels of your being.
While in Shoulderstand, the two important things to consider are 1) that your neck is relaxed and 2) both shoulders carry equal body weight.
In order to relax your neck, press your both hands firmly onto your back , and press both arms and shoulders onto the floor. Think of carrying all your weight on the shoulders. Use the strength of your legs to pull and straighten yourself up.
To check the balance, observe if both arms and shoulders are pressing down equally onto the floor. You should have the same feeling in both arms and shoulders. If one side feels to be pressing down more, that is the side carrying more weight. Balance the weight by pressing down the other side equally. Keep both elbows close to the body.
In the photographs above, Shriram is pointing the toes upwards. You can practice sometimes this way, and sometimes with the toes flexed towards you. In either position, you should have the same feeling in both legs and feet.
If for some reason you are not able to do Shoulderstand, you can just raise your legs up on a wall as shown here. To come in this position, sit with your one side against a wall. Lie down and turn simultaneously and raise your legs up on the wall, keeping the hips close to the wall.
This position is also very relaxing and provides many benefits of Soulderstand. Stay in this position for 2-5 minutes, and let go totally with a feeling of meditating.
Make a point of practicing Shoulderstand every day.
It’s good for you!
Happy Shivaratri! May Lord Shiva bless us with contentment, an essential virtue needed to walk on the path of Yoga.
Below is a photograph a friend of mine sent me…..two friends in a rare expression of contentment.