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Archive for May, 2012

Mahasri Yoga is now on You Tube. Certain breathing practices help significantly with hypertension. It is hoped that the following two audio tracks in English and Gujarati recently uploaded on You Tube will be helpful and enjoyable:

Mahasri Yoga: Pranayama-Body Stillness (English)

Mahasri Yoga: Pranayama-Body Stillness (Gujarati)

Dealing with hypertension in its early stages, using yoga and breath awareness, is much easier than when it progresses extensively. Prevention is better than cure. These are simple, effective, basic practices used before starting the more familiar pranayamas.

As stated on www.mahasriyoga.com/pranayama:

“The first step to having an effective pranayama practice or meditation practice is learning to use the breath to still and calm the body. As long as the body is restless or tense, the mind is drawn to the body and distracted by it. Making any progress in pranayama is difficult in the agitated or distracted state.

Conscious breathing, used to become aware of the physical body, will allow you to stop running ragged with the mind and emotions. It gives you a way to slow down, to stop. When you breathe in, know that you breathe in. When you breathe out, know that you breathe out. Without your attention, your awareness, the emotions run out of energy and slow down. With the awareness focused on the breath and body instead of on thoughts, the mind becomes still, the body calm.

A still body, not a sleeping body, tends to increase attention span and pacify a restless mind. A restless body can be a reflection of a scattered and unfocused mind. This practice will help the body become still and quiet, the mind more focused. It is also effective in releasing stress and pain.”

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Several studies have indicated the positive effects of alternate nostril breathing (ANB)/anuloma viloma on heart rates, blood pressure, and hypertension. The study cited below provides some of the specific research papers. However, this study in the International Journal of Yoga, Ghiya S, Lee CM. Influence of alternate nostril breathing on heart rate variability in non-practitioners of yogic breathing. Int J Yoga 2012;5:66-9,  compares the effect of ANB to the practice of paced breathing (PB)/samavritti pranayama. Why is this important?

The breathing in both is paced at the same rate, but in one it alternates between nostrils and in the other it is through both nostrils.

The aim of the study was to compare the effects of the two types of yogic breathing in people who had no experience of either practice. Here is the description of the breathing practices used in the study along with the rate of breathing and the time spent on it. It works as a yogic breathing prescription for stage 1 hypertension.

“Alternate nostril breathing : While sitting in a crossed leg position, participants inhaled through the left nostril, held the breath for a moment while keeping both nostrils closed, then exhaled from the right nostril keeping the left nostril closed. This was followed by inhalation through the right nostril and exhalation through left nostril in the same manner. The participants repeated this cycle at a breathing rate of 5 breaths/min-1 for 30 min. Paced Breathing: The participants were instructed to breathe normally while maintaining a breathing rate of 5 breaths/min-1 for 30 min. An investigator provided verbal cues to ensure that the appropriate breathing rate was maintained.”

It is known that ANB may increase parasympathetic activity (ida nadi) for reduced basal heart rate, lower blood pressure and improved autonomic nervous system function over the long-term.

The study states that, “On the other hand, there is less information on autonomic nervous system function in the time period immediately following a session of yogic breathing.” So we still do not know the immediate effect conclusively according to the authors.

They concluded that their research suggests that both ANB and PB were equally effective in their sample.

Now this is of great interest and important to me as two of the seniors I work with have Parkinson’s. They both find ANB helpful in calming anxiety and a reduction in tremors for short durations of time. However, they can only practice 10 breaths with comfort (about one or two minutes). After that they feel light- headed. The arm gets tired (for most people) as the right hand is used to manipulate the nostrils. What if PB, which does not require the arm to be held up, has the same effect? Is it possible to practice PB for longer periods of time than ANB and have the same effect? Does the light-headed feeling lessen or disappear with PB? It is something we shall try out. These are questions for a vast range of people, not just seniors or those who suffer from Parkinson’s.

Source:

Ghiya S, Lee CM. Influence of alternate nostril breathing on heart rate variability in non-practitioners of yogic breathing. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2012 [cited 2012 May 26];5:66-9. Available from: http://www.ijoy.org.in/text.asp?2012/5/1/66/91717

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Yoga: A Journey Within

A special two-hour traditional yoga class that includes pranayama and meditation will be offered by Mahasri Yoga (www.mahasriyoga.com). This class is being held by popular requests for a live class. The proceeds will be donated to Akshaya Patra (featured on PBS) toward feeding millions of malnourished children in India. A corporate sponsor will generously match the funds raised.

Yoga: A Journey Within ($25) will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 PM on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, 113 Cottage Place, Ridgewood, NJ 07450. The class will be in the Fellowship Room.

For registration and further information, please e-mail info@mahasriyoga.com. As the room is expected to fill up and many have registered already, prior registration by June 15 is strongly suggested.

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Hope is born and sustained when delusions and illusions are seen clearly and acknowledged. We are then able to see past them to the underlying core of being. This is the message of hope and strength in the Bhagavad Gita. In Part 4, Swami Niranjan explains this part of the Gita.

Meditation or dhyana enables a clear vision of who we are and what is absolute reality. Experiences are transient and reflect the mental conditioning and programming. They are the illusions and delusions created by the  programming of past experiences. The absolute is pure consciousness which is divine. Realizing this reality is a message of hope in the midst of any troubling experience. We are all deeply interconnected, one. Reading the full article in Swami Niranjan’s words is recommended (he gives the meaning of Hari Om Tat Sat, formless versus worship with form, and more).

“When you see that divine spark in others then you are connected with everybody, without separation or duality. There is an experience of oneness, a feeling that we all belong to each other, and have to support each other and be a source of strength and inspiration.”

Instead of tearing and pulling each other and ourselves apart and down, we heal and lift each other up. We first heal ourselves and see others as one with us through the awareness that arises from a  meditation practice.

“The description of dhyana which Sri Krishna gives is also unique. He says again, ‘By sitting in a stable and firm posture, fix your gaze at the tip of the nose, the nasikagra drishti, see nothing else, and with each inhalation and exhalation, merge your consciousness with Om. Chant the mantra Om with every inhalation and exhalation. … Block and close all the doors of the senses. Do not allow the senses to move at all. Hold your mind firm; do not allow it to move. Concentrate at the tip of the nose and merge your mind with breath and the mantra Om. If the pranas leave in this state of meditation, there is only merger into me.’ ”

Swami Niranjan explains the attitude of a witness or mindfulness:

“The awareness is of me the practitioner; the process of meditation, and the goal or aim of meditation. I am sitting down; I am practicing antar mouna [meditation of inner silence taught in Satyananda Yoga] or ajapa japa [never-ending japa or mantra repetition also taught in Satyananda Yoga] or dharana  [concentration and focus practices are part of Satyananda Yoga], and my aim is to find this. But in the final stage of meditation, the practitioner and the process both merge with the aim and when the merger happens the process disappears, I become the aim, and that is samadhi.”

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What is the cause of grief, despair, and suffering? How does one stop the mind from its constant churning? In Part 3, Swami Niranjan writes how Krishna explains to the despondent Arjun, in the middle of the battlefield, the meaning of karma yoga.

Bhagavad Gita begins with a person in grief and despair who finds it difficult to decide what his dharma is. This difficulty and indecision arises due to attachments and desires which have given birth to grief, dejection and depression.

As Sri Krishna goads Arjuna to perform action he also instructs him to keep actions and attachments separate. Actions and the desire for action or the results of actions have to be kept separate. Do not let anything affect your creative and natural skill and ability to perform.”

This is karma yoga.

“If at any point there is an expectation from the action, for the result and gain or loss, then the mind will become entangled in that action and will reap the consequences of either grief or elation.”

This is karma.

“In this manner the mind will continue to swing between grief and happiness and this swing of mind will always keep it disturbed, distracted and looking outwards.”

The mind is like the wind, never still, and impossible to stop. Arjun questions how it is possible to stop the mind? Krishna explains that it is possible. This ability to stop the mind comes through training the mind with regular practice of pranayama and mantra japa (repetition of mantra).

“This ability comes with abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa means practice and vairagya means detachment from actions. In the Yoga Sutras, Rishi Patanjali describes abhyasa as constant, continuous practice and effort, which has been sustained over a long period, with faith. Through abhyasa one can attain mastery or perfection of the practice. Sri Krishna has said the same thing; it is possible to manage the upheavals of the mind with practice. Practice means following a system, a sequence of changing the perception and awareness, and observing the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of human experience.”

The Bhagavad Gita, like the Yoga Sutras, is a book of psychology, a book of life lived through yoga philosophy. Understanding the mind, observing it, knowing it, is crucial to keeping it under check.

“Passion resides in the senses, mind and intelligence, and disturbs the pranas of the body. One cannot control the passions, but one can manage the pranas, and through the pranas control the passions. Therefore Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna in the practice of pranayama. To reduce attachment, to reduce mental and sensorial attractions, to overcome insecurities and fears, to manage anxieties and the aggressive character, Sri Krishna teaches the method of pratyahara. To overcome passion which disturbs the energies and forces of body and mind, he teaches pranayama. The basic pranayama is nadi shodhana (alternate nostril)– which is the simplest and the most intense also. As you increase the length of your respiration, with continued slow and deep breathing, the flows in ida and pingala nadis are balanced.”

Instructions for a higher type of meditation is :

“Hold the body perfectly still, gaze at the eyebrow centre and with the gaze fixed at the eyebrow centre stop looking at everything else. Fix the mind on the inner self and remember God.”

This is done by repeating a mantra and visualizing the form of the inner guide.

To get your own context and meaning, it is best to go directly to the article.

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In Part 2 of “Yogasadhanas In The Gita”, Swami Niranjan writes:

“Before one can focus on the awareness of the higher Self, the layers of mind have to be traversed. Just as to reach the bottom of the ocean one has to swim through many, many metres of ocean water, in the same way one has to go through many layers of mind to eventually realise and see the presence of higher consciousness within. The deepest part of the ocean is six kilometres deep and you have to swim all the way down. In the same manner you have to walk through six kilometres of your mind before you come to realise the presence of the supreme Self within you.”

He cites that in the Gita Krishna tells Arjun to begin with pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. The turtle is used as an analogy–withdraw the mind and five senses as the turtle withdraws its limbs, tail, and head. The body becomes still and the breath is regulated. A good beginning, I think, can be the bumblebee/ buzzing bee breath/bhramari pranayama (see Calming The Storm which has the audio practice after the short story). Then equal inhalation and exhalation are recommended (see Samavritti Pranayama) in alternate nostril breathing/nadi shodhana.

“Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a sadhana, to fix the mind at the eyebrow centre and regulate the breath, make the inhalation and exhalation of breath as long as possible and in the gap between inhalation and exhalation, focus the awareness on the inner Self.”

The various simple pranayamas help control hyperactive thinking, passions, reactions, and emotions. This management of emotions leads us to the inner stillness within.

Other factors in the Gita are karma yoga–the attitude with which we work changes kama or work to karma yoga (path of selfless work).

To get the full benefit of the teaching, a reading of the whole article is suggested.

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Recently, I had e-mailed “Yogasadhanas In The Gita Part 4” by Swami Niranjanananda of the Bihar School of Yoga to a relatively small circle of yoga friends. This was sent to me by Anahita in Mumbai and circulated by the Satyananda Mumbai Google Group.

Well, e-mails came back to me asking for the other three parts as people really got into part 4! This also fits well in our current theme of reading and being exposed to a range of speakers and thinkers.

Swami Niranjanananda is the spiritual head of the well-known Bihar School of Yoga (www.yogavision.net has an updated website now) based in Munger, India. It has several centers around the world. The ashram is known for its outstanding, practical books on yoga and meditation. Several books have been reviewed on www.mahasriyoga.com/bookreviews. Swami Niranjan is a highly respected and beloved authority on spirituality and yoga. You can find him on You Tube! If you have attended a Yoga Nidra class, the chances are high that it is a Satyananda Yoga Nidra that has undergone some minor modifications.

Here are the links:

Yogasadhanas In The Gita Part 1

Here is a short excerpt, but do read the whole article for full context and meaning:

“There are three things which disturb the mental behaviour: attachment, fear, and anger. Attachment represents connection, association, relationship. Fear represents insecurity, whether financial, personal, family, or social. ‘Society is not safe, my family is not safe, I don’t have financial resources to buy my food tomorrow or maybe after a month, I don’t have enough to pay the bills this month.’ Such thoughts indicate fear and insecurity. Anger is the third disturbance of mind–aggression and high anxiety. Anything that stimulates and brings in the state of high anxiety in your nature and character is included in the word anger. The instruction that Sri Krishna gives in order to manage the mind is to reduce desire and restrain anger, fear and attraction. Practise these four things and the mind will become stable.”

The next three parts describe how this can be achieved with yogic practices.

Yogasadhanas In The Gita Part 2

Yogasadhanas In the Gita Part 3

Yogasadhanas In The Gita Part 4

I will add short excerpts to each of these parts in the next three posts.

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