Posts Tagged With: Asanas
Asanas and Breath:
The two frequently asked questions in my yoga classes are:
- How to co-ordinate asanas with breath, and
- Should we use ujjayi (sounding) breath when practicing asanas ?
I recommend the following:
- In any posture where you feel expansion of the chest, such as when stretching the arms upward or sideways, doing backward bend, cobra etc., inhale as you go into the posture.
- In any posture where you feel contraction in the tummy, such as when doing a forward bend, sideways bend, twist etc., exhale as you go into the posture.
- Keep breathing while you hold a posture.
- If you go into a posture with an inhalation, come out of the posture with an exhalation and vice versa. For example, inhale as you go into a backward bend, keep breathing while you are holding the posture, breathe in just before coming out of the posture and exhale as you come out of the posture.
- There are certain positions where a teacher may ask you to hold the breath. In that case holding of the breath is intentional and serves a purpose. But don’t hold the breath unintentionally; it is a sign of unnecessary tension in the body and mind.
- When you are not sure whether to breathe in or breathe out, don’t worry about it, just breathe normally.
- Take deep breaths and keep the face and throat relaxed. Taking ujjayi (sounding) breaths continuously for a long time can be tiring and you may end up contracting your throat a little too much, which can restrict the proper flow of breath.
- Before you begin your asana practice, you can do some ujjaayi and bhastrika pranayamas, both are energizing and they generate some sound that helps reduce chattering of the mind. But when doing your asana practice, keep the breath long and quiet. This will enhance the quietness of the mind. If you keep breathing with a sound, the mind may not settle down and, when in a class, it may be disturbing to other students. When practicing at home, you can try both ways and see which way you prefer.
Saint Kabir’s advice for a seeker: “With each breath remember God. Who knows this may be your last breath!”, says Kabir, a mystic poet and saint who has been a great influence and source of inspiration in my life.
Sri Sri Yoga Teachers Refresher.
Many of you are wondering if I am planning to travel and teach this year. I am planning to conduct couple of refresher courses for Sri Sri Yoga teachers this year. The first one is scheduled to be held at the Canadian ashram in Montreal, November 16 – 23. Another one will probably be held either in India or Malaysia sometime in December or early next year.
Enjoy breathing. It will bring contentment.
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.