Monday, 3 February 2014

Fusion of Asana + Bandhas + Breath = Yoga( AKA awareness)

Ultimately Yoga is a practice of awareness. According to Yoga, what might begin as an internal physical practice, extends out to the world as an awareness that all things are interwoven, all beings are interconnected, and all life is exquisitely interpenetrating.

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root YUG meaning yoked/joined/or woven together. The body, the mind, the heart are not separate, the physical, mental, and even cosmic, are woven together as part of the whole.

If we were only interested in the physical, we could practice Yoga exercises to strengthen where weakness resides and lengthen where tightness holds us back thereby becoming strong efficient physical bodies. However, Yoga does offer a deeper awareness wherein our thoughts, our actions, and our character can be shaped to find alignment with a bigger mind, less effort and more flow. Once again, and this time with our hearts and minds, we strengthen where we are weak, lengthen where we are tight and let go where we hold on.

The Breath
The breath serves two important functions. First and foremost, the breath is a tool of awareness. When we observe the quality of the breath, we automatically slow down, we become present. According to many Yogic systems, this is foundational in terms of body awareness, asana, meditation and of course, mindful living.

As well as a tool of awareness, the breath can be a tool of action. We can manipulate the breath to bring about mind body changes. Yoga proposes that when the breath ratio is 1:1, (inhale equal in length to exhale), the body will warm up. When the exhale breath is longer, there is a cooling response. The longer the exhale, the calmer the nervous system

Therefore, we need to know how to control the speed of the breath, and for this we need Ujjayi. One simple exercise will help you to find Ujayii but you will need to really practice it to get it. Open your mouth and exhale saying HHHHAHHHHH, now try again with your mouth closed making the same sound in your throat. Inhale is slightly trickier. Inhale and make a whisper with the back of the throat saying AAAAAhhhhh. When you get it, the breath is a beautiful sound, like music, and when you don’t hear it you are reminded you might be holding your breath.

What are the bandhas and why are they so important? In Yoga, applying a bandha means applying a force that will change the energy of the body. At first, this is a learned muscular application at the area of the pelvic floor, the navel centre as well as the throat. Later, as we become advanced in Yoga, the bandhas are more subtle, with less muscle needed.

If we wish to move the energy up (called udana in Sanskrit), we start by applying the bandhas on the exhale. If we then hold the bandhas while inhaling, there is more heat, and more energy moving up towards the head. We will see why this is not always a good thing.

Releasing a bandha will bring the energy down (called in Sanskrit apana). When we release the bandhas on the inhale, we are grounding and centering, and in effect staying calm even if performing difficult postures.

Moolha bandha lies at the floor of the pelvis and is associated with the root chakra. By lifting the pelvic floor one sparks the metaphoric flame, and shoots energy up.

Udiana bandha lies at the solar plexus, or power centre. When we pull the belly in and up this fans the fire created by moolha and heat continues up towards the heart and the throat chakras which often need energetic clearing.

Jalandara bandha is located at the throat chakra. In the full jalandara bandha, the chin is tucked down on a lifted chest. It is said that applying jalandara bandha is like putting the lid on the pot, and sealing it, keeping the nutrients in. The same applies here in the body. You do not waste or deplete the body’s essential life force.

It is interesting to note that applying this bandha in partial form is what is responsible for the Ujjayi breathing and is also how we control the speed of the breath.

Asana is the Sanskrit word for posture, and posture is at the core of the physical practice. The literal translation is “seat” and so Asana is the seat of awareness.

Postures as physical exercises will indeed make the body strong and aligned. As well, they have the potential, as the breath does, to heat or to cool, to moisten or to dry, and to enliven areas of stagnation. Choosing postures which nourish where depleted and pacify where there is excess help bring our lives into balance. 


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