Thursday, February 10, 2011

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

I've decided to go back to Oslo next Thursday, which means that I have another 7 days to enjoy my lovely NYC before returning to Snowland, where dear friends and family await. Alas, the yoga sequences and the tips about the city that I wanted to post soon, will be postponed a bit longer since I'll be busy packing and preparing for my departure. I will of course continue to write from Norway as I really enjoy writing my blog; this outlet where I get to write about my passion for yoga.

And when April comes I'll be back in NYC again, just in time to see the leaves in Central Park turn into shades of light green. Although NY is freezing cold these days, I have a feeling that spring is in the air already. People's faces are more open and smiley as they pass me by on the streets, the days are longer and the sun is shining.

If you feel that you need some more light and sunshine in the last remains of your winter days, try some heart opening and uplifting backbending sequences in your home practice. We did a lot of them in Carrie's class tonight and I left class feeling happy and light as a feather.
Dwi Pada Viprarita Dandasana; a young Mr Iyengar in Light on Yoga and us in class tonight. 

The cold weather and heavy clothing can make your body compress, almost as if you're shrinking, so it truly feels great to expand your limbs and open the chest. 

Enjoy the remains of your week, may it be filled with light and glimpses of spring!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Smile, breathe and go slowly.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Even though I practiced Pranayama before coming to NYC, my practice was never consistent. When I did have the discipline to do it however, I always felt better after. But it wasn't until I moved here that I got a regular Pranayama practice. Like with meditation it takes consistency and regularity to be able to master the art of yoga breathing, but don't let that discourage you from doing it every not and then if that's all that works for you. You can still experience benefits such as deeper states of relaxation, feeling balanced and a heightened level of concentration. Or as Mr Iyengar puts it in his "Light on Pranayama", p.10: "The  practice of Pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power and sound judgment."

Here's a little knowledge refreshment for my yogi readers, and perhaps some new information for my non- practitioner friends, before moving on to the techniques.
Many people living in Western societies today mostly associate Yoga with Asana (the physical postures we do in Yoga), perhaps not aware that when we speak of the discipline of Yoga; Asana is only one of its eight limbs or stages. Pranayama is another.
The path of Yoga is a scientific, systematic and spiritual approach that can help us live harmonious, better and more meaningful lives, and might ultimately lead to liberation; a state of pure bliss.
The Eight limbs of Yoga are different guidelines that together form the structural framework for our Yoga practice, prescribed by Patanjali; often considered the father of Yoga.

These different stages are:
  1. Yama: Universal morality, like Ahimsa; nonviolence
  2. Niyama: Self observances and self discipline
  3. Asana: Physical postures
  4. Pranayama: Breathing techniques
  5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses
  6. Dharana: Concentration
  7. Dhyana: Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Complete absorption, union with the Divine, Bliss
Pranayama, the art of Yoga breathing, is often described as control of the life force; Prana. BKS Iyengar writes in his book, "Light on Pranayama" that;
"'Prana' means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength. [...]'ayama' means streach, extension, expansion...restraint or control. 'Pranayama' thus means the prolongation of breath and its restraints." p.13.

With that said, here are some things to have in mind before practicing Pranayama:

-Many people find it beneficial to do Pranayama after their Asana practice as the body is warm and the joints lubricated. The physical practice makes it easier for the body to sit still for an extended period of time. The mind is also often more still and relaxed after Asana, which makes Pranayama easier.

- Practice on an empty stomach.

-Take some time before starting Pranayama, allowing your focus to settle within.

-Sit up with the spine upright. If this is challenging for you, try sitting with your back against a wall. Sit upright yet without hardness and rigidity.

-Keep the knees below the hips so elevate the floor if necessary by sitting on blankets (if in Sukhasana or Siddhasana) or sit on a block in Virasana.

-Broaden across the collarbones, shoulder blades rolled up and down the back. Soften the heart and relax the facial muscles.

-Change the crossing of your legs if they fall asleep, or stand up and move a bit if it becomes unbearable before continuing.

-Know that you can also do Pranayama laying down on your mat with a bolster or blankets behind your back to open your chest. Make sure that your chin is slightly tucked in towards your chest (you can also place a little rolled up towel behind your neck). Legs straight, or bent w/ feet on the mat if knee issues, buttocks are also touching the mat.

-End with meditation and/or Savasana.

-I also want to mention that some schools of Yoga, like the Iyengar tradition, believes that one should have somewhat mastered Asana before starting a Pranayama practice, where as other traditions in cooperate these breathing techniques right away. 
The 3 different Pranayama techniques I'll share are some of the most common ones, many of you have probably been introduced to these in yoga classes already.

Seated Pranayama:
-Seated on blankets or block. Focus inward. Relax, take a few moments to arrive.
Then start w/ Ujjaji. (ca 5 min)
- Viloma 1(5 min)
- Nadhi Shodana (5 min)
- Seated meditation (5-10 min). Your meditation of choice if you already have a meditation practice. Or you can meditate by simply focusing on the area of your nostrils where the breath enters and exits. Whenever your mind wanders try to return to the focus of your nostrils without getting too wrapped up in your thoughts.
(More on meditiation later in another post).

Ujjayi w/deeper exhalations
"Victorious breath"

Start by narrowing the pass way in the back of the throat, making a whispering sound with your breath. Make the breath smooth and even and not too loud. Just loud enough that you, and maybe a person sitting next to you can hear it.Make your inhalations and exhalations smooth, and allow there to be a natural space in between the breaths. Notice this space.

After a couple of minutes with even breaths start deepening your exhalations. Make sure that this feels good and not forced. If it doesn't feel comfortable simply return to normal Ujjayi breathing or breathe naturally for a while.

Deeper exhalations than inhalations have a calming effect on our nervous system, and may promote a sense of well being and profound relaxation. It is a wonderful tool to use when feeling anxious or agitated.

Viloma 1

Breathing technique where the inhalation is divided into 3 parts with pauses in between each part, followed by one long, smooth, uninterrupted exhalation.

First inhale and exhale all your breath. Then start by inhaling 1/3 of your breath (on the count of 3) in your lower abdominal area, from the pubic bone up to the navel. Pause.
Inhale again (on the count of 3) from your navel up through the side ribs to the armpit chest area. Pause.
Inhale the rest of your breath (on the count of 3) from your chest up to the collarbones and throat. Pause.
The exhale all your breath from the throat all the way down on the count of 9.
(If you have the lung capacity you can amount the inhales to 4 and try exhaling on the count of 12).

Take a few belly breaths then repeat several times.

If you get a feeling of unease, simply stop and return to Ujjayi or normal breathing for a while before trying again. Like with all pranayama techniques; make sure the breathing is soft and never forced.

Nadi Shodana

Digital Pranayama, alternate nostril breathing.

This breathing technique balances the left and right brain (Ida and Pingala). It creates balance and a sense of equilibrium, and purifies and calms our nervous system.

Use the right hand, the thumb and the pinkie and ring finger on the nose. The pointy and middle finger bent into the palm. Make sure that you allow a slight bit of air to enter through the closed nostril.

First exhale all stale air from the lungs. Start by inhaling through the left nostril, closing the right one with your thumb. Then close the left nostril with the pinkie and ring finger, and exhale through the right. Inhale right, close, exhale left. Inhale left, exhale right.

Continue for several minutes like this. Smooth, even Ujjayi breath when doing this digital breathing, never forced. Allow a natural space in between the breaths.

After finishing this Pranayama sequence just sit and observe any potential changes in the body or the mind. Then follow with your meditation of choice and or Savasana.

Good luck! Feel free to ask if you have any questions <3