Archive for the ‘pranayama for breath awareness’ Category

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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When people think of yoga, they think about asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). If meditation is directly associated with yoga, it might be a repetition of a mantra, or some short guided visualization, or deep relaxation. Serious meditation is associated with Buddhist practices, not “yoga.” This is a serious misconception.

Mindfulness is another way of saying “pay attention,” which is another way of saying dhyana, which is translated as meditation. There is no “yoga” without this objective, witnessing awareness (sakshi) that pays attention to everything. Just as Buddhist meditations are numerous—mindfulness-based meditations, numerous insight meditations, anapana meditation, tantric meditations, and Zen—so are yoga meditations. Yoga Nidras are now in vogue. But there is so much more. Meditations from the Tantras  (see the complete, comprehensive review on www.mahasriyoga.com) by Swami Satyananda (he brought us Yoga Nidra) gives the reader the world of yoga meditation that is simply not found anywhere else. This book will completely change a reader’s perspective on yoga meditation.

In this book, Swami Satyananda gives transcripts of live classes he taught. Along with Yoga Nidra, there are the following meditations: japa yoga, mantra siddhi yoga, ajapa japa, antar mouna, inner visualization, chidakasha dharana, trataka and antar trataka, nada yoga, abstract meditations, prana vidya, and kundalini kriyas! So yoga has step-by-step meditations along with step-by-step asanas and pranayamas.

The best source of yoga meditation is probably the Bihar School of Yoga. It is a well-kept secret, though it does not have to be.  Read Meditations from the Tantras and you will discover the practical wisdom of yoga meditations, given in all the details you could possibly need. These are transformational meditations with enormous potential for learning, creativity, and innovation. There is no other book like Meditations from the Tantras for anyone who wants to learn yoga meditation.

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It is that time of the year again! With the emergence of crocuses and daffodils in the West, life renews itself from the dormancy of winter (tamas in yoga and kapha in ayurveda). The joyful colors of Spring abound everywhere as seen in this painted haveli (old-style mansion) from the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

We are coming up to the Spring Equinox–equal day and night. It is the time of perfect balance in nature and the rhythms of our own bodies. The inner rhythmic balance is a joyful state.

With Spring we balance the inner and outer lives as we observe the projection of our inner consciousness (inner space) reflected in our daily lives (outer space). All major religious traditions celebrate with holidays at this time of the year. We are reminded to connect with the essence of who we are–spiritual beings undergoing the human experience.

It is the perfect time for several rounds of sun salutations (surya namaskar) for balance in the body and mind. Many have been able to achieve hormonal balance through the practice of sun salutations.  See the blog posts on surya namaskar and Q&A: How To Practice Surya Namaskar.

Full yogic breath or diaphragm breathing is a gentle and effective way to detoxify and clean the respiratory system and flush out lungs. Bumble bee or buzzing bee breath (bhramari) is another gentle method to detoxify and increase lung/breathing capacity. Skull shining (kapalbhati) and bellows breath (bhastrika) can be helpful for seasonal allergies along with neti. They can be help strengthen the respiratory and circulatory systems and are stronger methods for lung detoxification. Balanced breath (sama vritti) and alternate nostril breath (nadi shodhan) are perfect balancing breaths. Adding the mantra so ham or aum can make the pranayama a more meditative practice.

Chaitra Navaratri is the nine-day Spring festival (March 23 to April 1, 2012), particularly important in many states in northern India. The first three days are devoted to the removal of darkness of tamas (physical and mental inertia and negative qualities) through the worship of Durga. She is the fierce goddess who resolutely destroys the negative aspects. The destruction of undesirable clutter makes space for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. She brings in the wealth that is linked with the cultivation of positive qualities–material and spiritual wealth. She depicts rajas  (activity and movement). Lakshmi is worshiped for the next three days. This prepares the aspirant for the next stage which is the light of wisdom. Wisdom is personified by the goddess Saraswati. She is worshiped for the next three days. At this stage in meditation, divine sounds such as the lute are heard in the inner space. Aum is experienced within. Saraswati is sattwa  (absolute purity).

Our previous posts on spring cleaning also give information regarding Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Mind, Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Digestive System, Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Respiratory System.

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A dear friend of mine in Mumbai had breast cancer several years ago. In fact, she is the one who took me to my first yoga class over 30 years ago. In 2007, when I was looking into yoga and cancer, I asked her about her own personal experience. It is hard to talk about intensely personal issues and I am truly grateful to her for sharing this experience.

Yoga really works! It was pranayama and practices involving visualisation that was most effective for me. Radiation (I did not have chemo) can be a frightening and wearying experience. Fear and fatigue dissolve through visualising while tuning in to the rhythm of the breath.

Humour helps! My friend told me to visualise the “rays” as Cupid’s arrows. As regards asanas, it was recommended that no body weight be taken on the arms (for example, downward dog pose) in the first month. But it is most important at the right time to do stretching and raising of the arms because the nerves and muscles feel numb in the area of surgery (and very stiff).

Yoga Nidra, the book Love Medicine & Miracles by Dr. Bernie Siegel, and Eckhart Tolle‘s The Power of Now are worth reading. But the greatest healing comes from letting go; I mean resolving old hurts through forgiveness, of others, and most importantly forgiving oneself. You have to do a mental turning away from old conditioning (ever so difficult), but the feeling of GRATITUDE for being alive and receiving so much kindness or abundance is the way to healing.

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Being in flow is losing sense of self and Daniel Kahneman talks about it in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. My sons talk about “being in flow” when they are deep in work or a math problem–losing all sense of self, time, space, as they produce their best work that seems to just flow effortlessly from them.

It is another way of describing meditation. There is a lot about the Kahneman book that in my mind connects dots between behavioral economics and yoga philosophy, but that will be another blog post at some future date.

The breath is a constant flow and an awareness of it is Being in the Flow of Being –the state of mindfulness or meditation. This is what Amarnath Mukherjee posts on Facebook: Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God. ~Krishnamacharya

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The results of the study in the previous post are in line with expectations. Studies often raise more questions and the blog has received several questions on how to practice surya namaskar. I hope this answers the questions.

1. How does one define slow versus fast surya namaskar?

I don’t think that the study in the previous blog post refers to the extremely dynamic styles where you jump from one asana to another. These are not yet that popular in India as they are in the West. So “fast” to me means keeping a constant flow, without pause, taking 2-3 seconds from asana to asana. “Slow” could mean 5-6 seconds and more.

It would be helpful for the terms (including slow and fast) to be clarified in any study. As there are so many different styles, some explanation about what constitutes “aerobic” and what is “yogic” is also essential. How many rounds did the participants do? When were the various measurements made–immediately after the practice, or after a defined interval, or at the end of the six-month study? What time of the day did the children practice? Perhaps yoga research journal editors might see this post and think about these points when publishing articles!

2. Can one alternate between slow and fast surya namaskar?

Yes. Some days your body will tell you what it feels like doing.

As mentioned in the summer yoga blog post, I do not recommend surya namaskar in very hot summers. But if people still feel the need to do it, the practice must be done early morning and slowly. The body’s metabolism must not be overheated in the summer.

Conversely, in cold winters, fast surya namaskars are helpful in speeding the metabolism and balancing out the tamasic inertia with the rajasic activity. Fast surya namaskars can be very helpful for the winter blues, for depression, warming up the body, improving circulation, and sometimes increasing appetite.

 3. Can slow and fast surya namaskars be combined?

Yes. I often taught a combination practice. Begin with a couple of slow rounds, then do two-three fast rounds, and then cool off with a slow round.

4. How does one incorporate mantras?

Surya namaskar is wonderful when practiced with surya mantras. This would be a slower practice. When done with bija mantras (seed sounds) it becomes a fast practice. The body flows effortlessly to the rhythm of the mantras and people find themselves being able to do more rounds with the mantras than they could without them. The only caution is to be careful not to overstretch. In my years of teaching, even if people have no idea of what the mantras mean, they still love the vibrations of the mantras and how their body/mind responds to them.

5. How should the surya namaskar practice end after several rounds?

It is essential to then practice shavasana and body awareness till the heart beat and breath have settled down completely–spend 5 minutes in shavasana.

This can be followed by a pranayama practice. There are some audio tracks on www.mahasriyoga.com/pranayama.  A Yoga Nidra is also good and several audio tracks are on www.mahasriyoga.com/meditation. Particularly around the holidays, Candle Flame Trataka can be an effective practice–the audio track is on the website as a meditation track. All content and audio tracks are free.

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There is a change in the air with cooler temperatures as we anticipate Fall. It is time to begin thinking about Fall clean-up of the mind and body. Fall planting will be here soon. We are gathering seeds to sow peace.

We begin with this beautiful clip of universal appeal, The Principle of Emptiness. The seed text is written by Joseph Newton, the stunning photography is by Gregory Colbert, and the exquisite music is that of Coeurs D’or Clayderman. It is a lovely meditation on peace.

How do we sow this seed? Prepare the soil by doing a breathing practice. Then watch the video clip with the music. Let the seed of message plant itself and take root.

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Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is not restricted to war veterans. Yoga meditation is proving to be very effective according to the article “War to Peace” in the the latest available online issue of the magazine Australian Yoga Life. It describes how trataka, full yogic breath, ujjayi pranayama, Yoga Nidra, sankalpa (positive affirmation) have helped Vietnam veterans in Tasmania. This will not surprise those of you who have found Yoga Nidra enormously helpful in overcoming emotional pain.

The magazine is an excellent free online resource. The article “Kleshas” on p. 34, and “Playing it Safe: Virabhadrasana 2” on p. 52 are recommended.

A permanent link to the website is being added under Blogroll.

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Two new pranayama (breathing) audio tracks have been added to www.mahasriyoga.com: Samavritti Pranayama (equal inhalation and exhalation) and Deepening Body Awareness in Gujarati. Both breathing practices are calming and clear mental space. In 10-15 minutes of meditative breathing, they make the mind stop racing with thoughts and give a much-needed break from the constant mental treadmill. They are suggested for stress and anxiety as well as insomnia or difficulty in sleeping.

New recipes added are: Apricot Peach Crumble and Hira’s Kadhi ( a yogurt-based traditional Gujarati recipe) eaten with rice or khitchdi (rice and mung porridge).

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