Pranayama

Pranayama

Pranayama is the yogic practice of breath control. This Sanskrit term is made up of two smaller words; prana and ayama. The term prana refers to the subtle energy that pervades all things. Ayama translated as “to stretch” or to expand. The practice of controlling breath allows us to expand breath capacity and manage subtle energies.

Pranayama is also the fourth limb in Patanjali’s 8-Fold path as described in the Yoga Sutras. According to the sutra 2.50 (bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desha kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah):

“Pranayama has three aspects of external or outward flow (exhalation), internal or inward flow (inhalation), and the third, which is the absence of both during the transition between them, and is known as fixedness, retention, or suspension. These are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.” – translation from SwamiJ.com

The mechanics of breath involve the process of pulling in oxygen and diffusing it through the blood stream. The primary role of inhalation is to bring in oxygen, thus brining energy into the system. The role of exhale is to release waste (carbon dioxide) and releasing stress, tension, even thoughts. The techniques described by Patanjali include inhalation, hold/retention after inhale, exhale, and pause/suspension after exhale. The different parts of the breath can be combined with certain movements to increase the effect of that movement.

There are many pranayama techniques that manipulate the breath to achieve different results (relaxation, invigoration, narrowing focus for deeper states of concentration, etc.). But the first step of controlling the breath is to become aware. Take a moment now to become aware of your breath. Close your eyes and put one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Feel your body move as you breathe. Feel the expansion of your chest, your belly pushing out as you inhale. Feel the contraction of your abdomen and the softening of your ribcage as you exhale. Take a few breaths with this awareness. Even as you bring your attention to your breath it will change, often lengthening without any conscious intent. Take 10 breaths simply focusing your awareness. After you’re done, notice the effect you feel. Notice how much time this practice took. Did it relax you? Did you feel clearer in your mind? Did it bring up emotions – if so what? Now you can do the practice on purpose – breathe on purpose!

 

Pranayama Workshop
Saturday, May 26
12:30pm to 3:00pm at Dragonfly 360, on 86th Street in Nora across from North Central High School

 

This 3-hour workshop will include an asana (physical movement) practice focusing on integration of breath and movement, description and practice of pranayama techniques, information on how pranayama affects physiology, and energetic effects of pranayama practices. You will leave this workshop with data on the practices and an experience of how the breathing practices affect you. Yoga Alliance CEUs are available for participation in this training. This workshop is open to anyone who is interested in developing their breath capacity or teaching breath techniques.

Cost is $50 for the 2.5-hour workshop. Yoga Alliance CEUs available upon request. Register at https://www.dragonfly360.net/events/

 

Abhyasa/practice and Vairagya/non-attachment (Sutra 1.12-1.16)

The practice of yoga includes deep awareness of habit patterns (samskara). These habits of thinking, feeling, and reacting affect our capacity for joy. The unconscious habit patterns create filters over the reality of the present moment, with the potential of creating distress or suffering. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the methods of yoga are described as a pathway to reduce the internal machinations that provoke suffering.

Sutra 1.12 suggests that our thought patterns (vrittis) are mastered, regulated, or quieted (nirodhah) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).  The process of persistent, systematic exploration of thought patterns, fears, and false identifications allows for detachment from the filters that enable suffering.

Abhyasa describes the continuous practice necessary to clear the mind. It cannot be accomplished in one sitting. Clearing the mind requires discipline of consistent attention and time to develop the cumulative power of yoga. It is also true that old habits die hard. The unconscious thought patterns continue to arise. Through continued intentional awareness we can begin to observe these patterns and reduce their impact.

Vairagya refers to the process of letting go of the many attachments our minds accumulate. Panatjali describes these attachments in Sutra 2.5, saying attachments are the thoughts that follow identification with pleasurable experiences. There is no moral judgement about this attachment, rather it is how our minds differentiate between “I” and “other.” Attachment is a natural habit of the mind. The yoga practice is to become aware and witness these natural attachments as thought patterns rather than reality.

“It is not that ‘I’ am attached. Rather, the thought is colored. ‘I’ then identifies with the thought.” Swami Jnaneshvara

Jon me for exploration of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra at 11:30am-12:45pm on Fridays at Dragonfly 360 in Nora https://www.dragonfly360.net/events/ or call (317) 344-9840 to sign up for the Gentle Yoga + Philosophy series. 

References:

Pratipaksa Bhavana

Have you ever gotten stuck in negative or disturbed thinking? Ever had a time when all looks dark and there seems to be no good in the world? Yoga philosophy offers a suggestion for changing perspective, inviting new ways of thinking.

Patanjali’s Yoga Stura 2.33 “VITARKA BADHANE PRATIPASHA BHAVANAM” suggests that when suffering from afflicted thinking, we need to cultivate a different perspective. Patanjali continues to describe how negative thinking is a kind of violence done to ourselves. The practice of yoga is to develop clear thinking and introduce thoughts opposite to the negative.

The Western psychology perspective of this idea is cognitive restructuring. This is where the individual works to adjust their attitude, thoughts, and reactions. “Cognitive restructuring refers to the process of replacing cognitive distortions with thoughts that are more accurate and useful.  Cognitive restructuring has two basic steps:  (1) Identifying the thoughts or beliefs that are influencing the disturbing emotion;  (2) Evaluating them for their accuracy and usefulness using logic and evidence, and if warranted, modifying or replacing the thoughts with ones that are more accurate and useful.” (Benggeli, 2010, para. 15)

The process of pratipakha bahvana must start with understanding/belief that events or situations do not have inherent meaning. We assign meaning in our interpretation of the events.  Our brains are story makers.  Often, we get so caught up in the story that we increase our suffering. The practice of meditation in yoga creates the space to see clearly our thinking patterns and the stories created in our minds. Once we are able to see more clearly, we can build more functional thinking.

 

References

Benggeli, N. (2010). CBT techniques, part 1: Cognitive restructuring. Retrieved from http://www.nelsonbinggeli.net/NB/CBT-CR.html

ACTIVITIES

*see Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet – saved in Dropbox/Research on 3/21/14.

*https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/ndarc/resources/AppendicesQ.pdf

Yogas chitta vrtti nirodha

The long tradition of yoga is rooted in the exploration of the human mind and developing perspective to reduce suffering in this life. One of the primary sources of yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutra is a collection of short statements with deep meaning. Sutra translates from Sanskrit to thread and this thread, or multiple threads, weave a tapestry of insight and path for direct practice.

The second sutra “Yogas chitta vrtti nirodha (1:2) is where Patanjali defines yoga. It translates to “yoga is the practice of stilling of the mind.”

Our minds are in constant motion. We are trained to identify, categorize, label, and judge the input from the world. All of this processing can lead to a distracted mind, like a pinball machine, constantly reacting and bouncing to the next thought. This type of mental activity can create barriers or lenses through which we view the world.

Stilling the mind completely seems an impossible goal. Patanjali suggested that there are methods for quieting and clearing the mind. The sutra(s) offer specific practices to consciously remove the lenses that distort thinking, cultivate a witnessing presence to release identification with our thoughts, and detach from false identifications.

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः

yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ

(yoga chitta vr-it-tee nee-ro-da-Ha)

Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.

yogaḥ = (nom. sg. m. from yoga) yoga
citta = (iic.) all that is mutable in human beings; thoughts
vr̥tti = (iic.) thought-wave; mental modification; mental whirlpool; a ripple in the chitta. A vritti alters perception like a misconception, or as waves on the surface of a pond obscure or distort our view of the bottom.
nirodhaḥ = (nom. sg. m. from nirodha) to find tranquility; to control

I will be leading a 6-week workshop designed to explore some of the practices outlined in the Yoga Sutra. Each class meeting will include an introduction of the sutra, asana (physical practice), pranayama (guided breathing), and meditation. Classes are designed to provide an experiential practice where you can explore your own thinking patterns and techniques described in the Yoga Sutras. Visit https://www.dragonfly360.net/events/ or call (317) 344-9840 to sign up for the Gentle Yoga + Philosophy series.

  • Friday, January 5 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: intro to philosophy & viniyoga)
  • Friday, January 12 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Viyoga/developing awareness)
  • Friday, January 19 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Samskara/habit patterns)
  • Friday, January 26 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Vairagya/non-attachment)
  • Friday, February 2 11:30am-12:45am (Pratipaksha Bhavana/perspective)
  • Friday, February 9 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Abhyasa/dedicated practice)

The Power of Gratitude

That old saying, “count your blessings” has more power to improve your mental health than you might think. Gratitude has been shown to have a negative relationship to depression and positive relationship to life satisfaction. Some studies have shown that grateful people are more agreeable, open, and experience less depressive symptoms than those who have a low sense of gratitude. In a 2003 study, Emmons and McCullough found that people who focused on gratitude in their lives for 10 weeks showed significantly more optimism in many areas of their lives, including health and exercise. Expressing your thanks can really improve your overall sense of well-being.

Gratitude is something you can build! Practicing gratitude can be a simple habit of focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of your life. Try writing a list of 3 things you’re grateful for each day. Or write a thank you letter to someone and deliver it in person. Even taking just a moment each day to mentally recognize the gifts of your life can cultivate your gratitude. As with most healthy habits, it is more effective if you can practice a little everyday – but a quick gratitude check when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed can also help lift your mood.

Try it now! Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and bring to mind something you are grateful for. It can be one thing or many things. Fill your awareness with that sense of gratitude. If you like, imagine that feeling of gratitude as a light and visualize that light expanding each time you inhale. Imagine the light growing to fill your whole body. Then, imagine that light – the feeling of gratitude – growing beyond the boundaries of your body so that you are filled and surrounded by that light. Imagine that light continuing to expand each time you inhale until it spreads to all of the people that you love. Imagine the light growing even bigger, even brighter until is spread to all of the people that they love. Imagine the light – that feeling of gratitude – expanding until it fills the whole planet, that light shining on all the beings present. Then, imagine the light focusing into the space around your heart. Hold that feeling of gratitude in the space around your heart.

Namaste

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Paradox of Self-care

Have you ever spent all your energy taking care of others in your life before making time to care for yourself? The paradox of self-care is when an individual puts the majority of their time and effort toward caring for others, then finds no time to care for themselves. This path can lead to burn out, resentment, even illness. This idea makes me think of the airline training (that we are all supposed to listen to before taking flight) where we are instructed to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before putting it on our child/neighbor. There is often a mental resistance to this idea, but the truth is that if we cannot breathe we are of no use to others. How do we develop the habits of self-care to support our work/desire/obligations to care for others?

 

Fulfilling Basic Needs

Maybe we should start with the simple things – food, rest, inspiration. In yoga and Ayurveda there is a term ojas which refers to one of the vital essences (paired with tejas and prana) of the human body. Ojas can also refer to “vigor” when used in the context of physical health. To support ojas we need to develop daily habits that balance the body and mind.

Food is basic nourishment for our physical body. Unfortunately, many of us do not take time to eat healthy, nourishing foods. Speed eating is the norm, often combined with driving or working at the computer or watching TV. Simple habits of taking a moment to appreciate where the food comes from, saying thanks for the food, or focusing on eating with enjoyment increase our awareness of the nourishment we get from eating. Mindfully eating – paying attention as you focus on the activity of eating – can allow a moment to focus on the action of self-care. Mindful eating can also Being present when sharing food with others sharing the nourishment of the food and connection with others.

Rest includes good sleep habits as well as mental down time and play. What habits do you have in place to support good sleep? Some simple ideas to support healthy sleep is to have a reminder (like a phone reminder) when you want to start getting ready for bed. This allows you to stop other activities and at least begin the process of going to bed. Similar systems can be put into place to support mental down time and play. If time is tight, set a timer to allow for play time. Some folks find it helpful to reserve time on their calendar for down time or breaks throughout the day. Restorative practices can include 5 minute meditations, short walks, taking 5 breaths, or watching a funny video clip.

Inspiration comes from a wide range of sources. It may be from finding the “flow” mindset where you are fully immersed and feeling energized focus (Csikszentmihalyi). Hearing stories of others who have done amazing things. Learning about the wonders of the universe (Cosmos). Taking time to pray or cultivate gratitude. What nourishes you?

Self-care is a way to nourish yourself, to build the resources needed to live in the world and care for others. Regular self-care activities do not need to take all day or blow your budget. Take a moment to think of small ways that you can take care of yourself, activities that feed your soul and rejuvenate your energy. Save time for these things! Make a specific time for self-care each day, even if it is only 5 minutes.

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” ~Parker Palmer

 

Resources:

New location for Embarque Studio!!

Grand Opening Celebration + Open House

Saturday, September 16 at 12 PM – 4 PM

Explore our yoga studio and holistic wellness center, meet our team, learn about our new spa services and wellness offerings, yoga classes and more!  Shop in our spa boutique by Love Your Body with apparel that will get you from downdog to date night {which is our favorite style}, yoga props to support your practice and more! Also, be sure to try our herbal and essential oil rememdies from Materia Medica Herbal Blending Bar, Twig + Birdie Apothecary and other local suppliers.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2028553427375190/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D

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