Saturday, March 27, 2010

Breath of fresh air

I found a nice article explaining how yogic breathing(pranayam) works.

I have compiled a few things from my notes and books for you to read.


Prana means breath, respiration, life, vitality, wind, energy.

Ayam means length, stretching, expansion or restrain.

In simple terms it can be explained as yogic breathing exercises.

How do we breathe? We all breathe in 3 parts

  • Inhalation – Inspiration (puraka)
  • Exhalation – Exhalation (rechaka)
  • Retention – Holding the breath (kumbhaka)

Physical Aspect: In the first stage of breathing, the diaphragm descends causing the abdomen to expand filling in the lower part of lungs. In the second stage intercostals muscles expand the rib cage filling the middle part of lungs with air and lastly our collar bones lift up filling air in the top part of the lungs.

Importance of learning and practicing yogic breathing (Pranayam) we have been breathing since birth. Nobody taught us how to breathe properly. Because of improper breathing habits we use only a fraction of our potential respiratory capacity. It results in not getting maximum oxygen to the cells. Brain cells have high rate of metabolism and require relatively more oxygen. Lack of which leads to mental stress, loss of concentration and control of emotions. Supplying enough oxygen to brain is greatest tool in stress management.(no wonder that immediate and effective remedy for stress relief is taking a deep breath)

Breath(an outward manifestation of prana) is seen as the important link between or physical and mental aspects; a link between body and mind.

Mental benefits:

  • Improved concentration
  • Reduces stress.
  • Better emotional control

Physical benefits:

  • Sufficient oxygen for efficient function of every cell in the body.
  • Rid the body of all the unwanted by-products of metabolism especially carbon dioxide
  • Cleanses and strengthens the physical body and calms, steadies and clears the mind.
  • strengthens the respiratory system
  • Calms the nervous system.

Simple Breathing Techniques

Abdominal Breathing – Laying on your back in corpse pose breath slowly and deeply.

Make proper use of diaphragm.

Feel your belly rise as you inhale and feel it sinking as you exhale.

Full Yogic Breathing – Sit with your legs crossed and back straight.

Keep one hand on abdomen and one on your rib cage gently.

When you inhale, feel the belly expand first then the rib cage and then chest.

As you exhale observe the lower lungs emptied first then the middle and top part at the end.

There are also many other yogic breathing practices namely, Bhasrika(bellows breathing), kapalbhati(breath of fire/skull shining), Anulom-Vilom(alternate nostril breathing/nadi-shodhana),Bhramaree(sounds like bee humming), sitkaree, sitalee .

Hints and cautions about practicing pranayama

Prana should be tamed more slowly and more gradually than lions, elephants and tigers.

  • One should gain sufficient proficiency in Asanas and gain strength and discipline arising there from.
  • Practice on an empty stomach. Evacuate bowels and bladder before your practice.
  • Allow at least 6 hours to elapse after a meal before practicing pranayam
  • Preferably should be done in the early morning or after sunset.
  • Sit in a comfortable posture with back absolutely erect from the base of the spine to the neck.
  • Practice in a clean airy place
  • No strain on facial muscles. Tongue should be kept passive. Eyes should be closed to keep the mind from wandering.
  • Measure your own capacity and never exceed it.
  • Asanas should not be practiced immediately after Pranayama
  • Never practice when exhausted.
The gist of it is using rhythmic patterns of breathing to give ample supply of oxygen to all cells in our body. Focusing on breath alone is the stepping stone for Vipassana meditation as well. our breath has profound impact on our physical and emotional states.
आला सास, गेला सास, जीव तुझा रे तंतर
अरे जगन-मारणं एका सासाचं अंतर
(Breath in, Breath out, life so is your doctrine
Life and death are just a breath apart)
Poet: Bahinabai Chaudhari

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More yoga thoughts

It all started when a friend forwarded an email about differences between right nostril breathing and left nostril and effects it have on your body and mind, commenting "yeah sure". I had to butt in and defend pranayam. Another friend asking how and why it works and its benefits which are "scientifically proven". He had a very valid point and a right to be skeptical. His point is that he is piqued, more than peeved, that there seems to be so much general agreement about the benefits of anything vaguely Indian nowadays. It smacks of slum dog millionaire.

He wanted go beyond the cursory checks and actually try to dig out whatever truth he can.

So I gave him a few links which I am copying below

Post about alternate nostril breathing from a blog written by a medical doctor

http://yogashaastra .blogspot. com/2009/ 09/nadis- or-nervous- system.html

Another couple of links about pranayama

http://yoga- health-benefits. blogspot. com/2009/ 12/brahmari- deep-breathing- exercise. html

http://yoga- health-benefits. blogspot. com/2009/ 09/kapalbhati- pranayama. html

For the "scientifically proven" part (I personally do not wait for things to be proven scientifically coz then there could be another debate as to caliber of the scientist and who sponsored it, which science journal, it's authenticity and so on and so forth)

http://www.naturaln yoga_brain_ health.html

These were very general posts though, what we call Holistic marketing - which means enveloping your product in feel good, positive, key terms that sell today. much like "organic foods", and "free range chicken" and Green Energy.

What followed is my thoughts, rants, views, opinions on this matter…

Western mind is analytical, inquisitive and want quantitative measurable parameters before embracing anything. That is the way to go. Why take it for granted without testing it just because some Indian dude wrote it in "yoga sutras" or "hatha yoga pradipika" hundreds of years ago. we need to experience it ourselves in order to believe it. Which certainly should be the way to go.

I am 100% with you when you say that anything vaguely Indian sales these days or anything with feel good, positive, key terms.

In the world of my "firang" yoga friends, if one has fallen ill then rest of them send messages like "sending healing energy your way", or "healing vibrations to you sweetheart" which really make me cringe. I say what's wrong with plain and simple "get well soon". Is that not authentic, genuine, heartfelt enough?

I get invitation to attend kirtans every now and then but I can't get myself to go there as I do not have that devotion in me. It does not feel like me.

I find it weird when my yoga friends dig stuff like incense sticks, OM pendants, Ganesh idols, drink chai, love the vibrant costumes, chant gayatri mantra. I feel like telling them that they do not have to like anything and everything Indian. Not liking Indian food or any of the above mentioned things is not going to make them less of a yogi.

In the same way, I also find it weird when we dismiss things just because they are Indian.

Having said all that, I also have to say that unless we have open minds and non judgmental attitude there is no way one can convince anyone about anything(yogic or non yogic) .

I am glad that this email exchange is making me revisit my books and making me question myself and ask myself tough questions. I will compile a separate email about how PRANAYAM benefits on physical and mental levels. I will be doing that from my yoga books are not science journals:)

Now, anyone of you reading this post has already done your research and found scientific reasoning of how and why PRANAYAM works and benefits us please do share with me in the comments section. I love short cuts :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

So, I finally got the "Enlighten Up" movie from Netflix last week. I had read about it in the yoga blogosphere a LOT and was very curious to watch it myself.

So, this lady, Kate, who is a yoga lover/devotee of sorts thinks that yoga can transform any one. She finds her guinea pig in Nick and puts him on the yoga path and follows him around and asks him during the journey ( that takes him to NY, California, Hawaii and all the way to India ), "Are you transformed yet? Are you transformed yet?". Well, not exactly like that :)
Nick and Kate analyze, dissect the styles and teachers of yoga. Nick gets frustrated, Kate sheds a few tears ( I believe ). For what? Nick's so called transformation! which is nowhere to be seen on the horizon. Then in the grand finale of the movie, he figures that he needs to deal with the complicated relationship and different influences from both of his parents. We are lead to believe that, it is his transformed self but I just kept thinking that Nick is just homesick in a colorful, vibrant country called India.
I did not see the whole point of making this movie in the first place( or may be I just missed the point completely ).
Why discuss it to death? I remember an old commercial of a soda( Limca ) back home in India. I do not need to explain to anyone why I drink it. I drink Limca because I like it!

I practice yoga because I like it.