Rox Does Yoga

Musings on Everything Yoga

Meditation introduction June 30, 2011

Recently I talked with a friend who mentioned having some medical problems. I said I’d heard that yoga could help with the problem she was experiencing (because really, what else do I talk about these days), and she said, “I tried yoga once in college but I couldn’t get into it! That last pose – the instructor kept saying we had to make our minds TOTALLY BLANK. And I just can’t do that!” I wanted to hug my poor friend because she got cheated so badly! Here’s someone willing to give yoga a try, who could really be helped by it, who’s been turned off from yoga because of bad and inaccurate teaching. I wish I could give her old instructor a talking-to! Instead, all I could do was tell my friend I hoped she’d give it another try with a new teacher and that it might be different for her this time.

Contrary to what a lot of people may believe, meditation isn’t about making the mind a blank. The mind is never blank! Anyone who says that to practice meditation we need to make our minds completely blank is dead wrong. Our minds are like crazy drunk monkeys, careening around from one thing to another. Meditation, savasana, pratyahara, the pranayama breathing exercises I did last month – it’s all about calming down the monkey in our brains and training it to do what we want it to do. It’s still a monkey – it’s always going to be a little crazy! But you can teach the monkey to listen. Meditation isn’t about making the mind a blank, because that’s impossible; meditation is about working with what you have and learning to calm your monkey down.

The first step in meditation is to give your mind as little to worry about as possible. Sit in a comfortable position, arrange your clothing so nothing’s bothering you, take off your sweatshirt or put on some socks, blow your nose, drink some water, shut the door, tell your family not to come in for a few minutes. Eliminate the distractions before you get started, so that once you start, you can stay put. Before meditation, do some yoga poses: they keep the body limber and healthy, so that when we sit for meditation, we can be still for a while without the body distracting us. (I got a reminder of that this morning, when I skipped yoga and went right to meditation, and my back ached the whole time.) You could also take a walk, which allows you get some fresh air and some exercise, refreshing you before meditation. Try reading from a sacred book or inspirational text to get in the mood for spiritual practice. It’s also good to do some pranayama breathing exercises like alternate-nostril breathing: this slows down your breathing and gets the mind starting to focus on the breath.

When we sit down to practice meditation, our crazy monkey brains are going to be bored. They’re going to want to do anything other than meditate. If you sit down and try to just make your mind a blank, your mind will fight you! It’ll make lists of everything you need to do after this, it’ll wonder what happened to Kristin who sat next to you in third grade, it’ll replay every embarrassing moment with every past sweetheart, it’ll remind you to call your mother. But if you give the mind something to do, something to focus on, it won’t have a chance to do all those things, and this makes the whole process easier.

The simplest thing to do is just to focus on the breath. Make the breath quiet and calm; on each inhale, say to yourself “inhale”, and on each exhale, say “exhale”. You could also try working with your breath energy: inhale “peace” and feel peacefulness flooding through your body; exhale “love” and imagine your love and compassion going out to all beings in the world. Choose any concept or word that resonates with you. You’ll get distracted at some point, because that’s what happens, you can’t avoid it. Don’t get angry or upset, as that just gives your monkey brain more ammunition to work with. When you get distracted, just accept it calmly and start over, bringing it back to your practice, inhaling and exhaling.

There are a few other meditation practices that I’ll share with you over the course of this month. What’s key is to remember two things. First, meditation is hard work, requiring a lot of self-control and self-discipline. Second, anyone can meditate. Not just Buddhist monks in orange robes, not just really holy people, but everybody. The more crazy stuff you have going on in your life, the more you probably need to meditate! Be open to learning, be gentle with yourself, and pretty soon you’ll start to enjoy those quiet moments.

 

June Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday: pratyahara, meditation, and teaching practice June 29, 2011

In Saturday’s teacher training class, we continued our discussion of relaxation and moved on to pratyahara and meditation.

Pratyahara refers to the drawing-in of the senses. It’s a gateway to higher levels of consciousness, which makes sense when you think about it, because it’s our senses that distract us from meditation and spiritual practice. We want to look out the window, we hear a strange sound, we adjust our clothing or shift around, something smells funny, and it all leads to distraction, whether you’re in a church or on your yoga mat. Our senses exist to protect us and help us to survive, but in the modern day and age, we rarely need to rely on our senses for survival anymore. Drawing in the senses, blocking out the outside world, can help us to focus on our meditation or spiritual practice.

J gave a great talk on meditation as well. Meditation begins with concentration, and we actually start meditation right in the middle of yoga practice as we concentrate on our asana postures. Then we take that concentration and apply it to focusing our minds. This month, I’ll be talking a lot about concentration and meditation as I practice these things every day. Here are this month’s homework projects:

  • Read the book Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran
  • Read book II of the Yoga Sutras (we’ve read some of this; just need to finish whatever we haven’t done yet)
  • Practice meditation daily
  • Keep a journal of my meditation practice; write a reflection paper based on the experience
  • Write up a guided relaxation sequence
  • Pose of the Month write-ups: two backbends

When I first heard the homework assignments, I was excited because I’ve wanted to do more with meditation for a long time. Then J began to talk about how important it is to practice meditation every single day, always at the same time and in the same place. This month, F and I are going to be moving to a new home – there won’t be a same time, same place for a while, at least not every day. As J talked, I began to feel discouraged before I even began. I asked J for advice, and he said, “Then practice meditation sitting with your boxes.” He said not to let the situation get in the way of my practice, and to focus on appreciating the boxes – after all, they mean we’re moving to a beautiful new home! I felt so much better and was glad I’d said something.

Saturday’s class was a big help to me because I always feel like I’m doing meditation wrong. I read a lot of books by Buddhist monks and other spiritual authors, and they always say that it’s difficult to calm the mind, but I figured, a Buddhist monk has no experience with the insanity going on in my brain. I thought I must be terrible at meditation because I keep getting so distracted. Now, though, I feel a little more reassured that getting distracted is part of the experience – that’s just what happens, and it happens to everybody. I’m not doing it wrong, and I’m actually doing it not too badly. I have a variety of meditation exercises to try this month, and I’ll share them all with you here.

At the end of Saturday’s class, we did some yoga teaching practice. J told us to pair up, but my pair decided to join with another pair into a group of four. This meant that none of us got quite as much teaching practice – instead of teaching half of the time, we each taught a quarter of the time – but the experience more than made up for this. It was really good to work with my classmates and hear their voices as teachers. We’re all getting much more confident! We also had the freedom this time to teach poses that aren’t necessarily part of J’s or N’s usual repertoire. Sarah gave us some challenging standing poses to do, and I taught some of my favorite seated poses. We’re all getting there! I don’t know if I’ll have time to practice teaching on friends and family this month, but I hope I get the chance soon.

 

June Teacher Training Weekend: Friday: relaxation/savasana discussion June 28, 2011

Friday night was the start of our fourth teacher training weekend. This month, our topics were relaxation, pratyahara, and meditation; on Friday we talked about relaxation, and savasana in particular.

In Western culture, we tend to rely on external things in order to relax: TV, computers, music, video games, alcohol, social events, all kinds of things that are external. We fill our lives with these things, telling ourselves that they help us to relax, but really when we depend on external things to help us relax, we become unable to relax without those things. In yoga, all you need to relax is yourself. Relaxation in savasana is an active, conscious process, but one that relies on nothing but your own mind and body.

Savasana, or corpse/rest pose, is the final pose at the end of a yoga class. After working hard and exerting yourself throughout your yoga practice, you come down to the floor, lie on your back, let your feet flop open and your arms rest and your eyes close. Although it’s an easy pose physically, savasana is said to be the most difficult of all yoga poses, because it’s here that you lie still, quieting and slowing down your mind. For many people, it’s incredibly difficult simply to be still; for others, it’s hard to release all the tension that builds up in the body. Many students come into savasana but can’t keep their eyes shut, can’t stop moving (maybe scratching an itch, maybe adjusting their clothing, maybe just moving around), can’t quiet the mind. I’m a victim of this too as much as anybody.

What I learned on Friday night is that savasana, like any yoga pose, needs to be practiced actively. In most yoga poses, you’re active physically; for example, in Warrior 2, I’m always thinking, is my knee right over my ankle, is my back leg straight, am I pressing through the back foot, are my arms high enough, is my core balanced, are my abs engaged. Even when I’m just holding the pose, I’m actively working to improve my posture. In savasana, you do the same work, but you do it just in your mind, working to observe the breathing and observe the mind, to let the body relax, and to learn to enjoy being still. In yoga asana practice we exert conscious effort; in savasana we enter conscious relaxation.

As a yoga teacher in training, it’s important that I learn how to teach savasana. If even I still have trouble surrendering and relaxing in this pose, then my future students certainly will. Many yoga studios, and especially yoga teachers at gyms and fitness centers, do not really teach their students how to relax, so this is crucially important for me to learn.

Savasana is valuable because it allows the body to truly relax. Did you ever have a night where your dreams were so vivid and so engaging that, when you woke up in the morning, you felt like you didn’t get any rest? The mind interprets dreams as if they’re really happening, so all night long while we dream we’re still working. In savasana, when it’s done correctly, you can properly, consciously relax. J told us about a past teacher of his who never seemed to sleep, because he got all his rest during savasana so that he didn’t need to sleep at night. That’s a little extreme, but savasana or conscious relaxation can give us that little bit of extra rest to help us feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day’s problems.

On Friday night, we talked about all these aspects of savasana. We did a little basic stretching, and then N put us into a deep relaxation. She used a 61-point relaxation exercise and talked us through it. We all left the yoga center on Friday night feeling profoundly relaxed and calm. I got a great night’s sleep on Friday night (although at least one of my classmates reported a restless night, as if the deep relaxation had thrown off her usual rest patterns). The experience made me think a lot about my usual practice of savasana, and ways to consciously improve my experience of this pose.

 

Pose of the Month: Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold June 26, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:59 pm
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Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold 1

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold 2

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold 3

Pose Name:

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold

Sanskrit Name:

Prasarita Padottanasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in mountain pose (tadasana). Step your right foot back into a wide-legged stance. Your feet should be approximately 3-4 ft. apart – about the length of one of your legs.
  2. Point both feet towards the side wall and face the wall. The feet can be parallel or slightly pigeon-toed, but should not angle outwards.
  3. Placing hands on hips, come into a slight backbend, extending the front line of the body. Then keep your front torso long while bending forward from the hips.
  4. As your torso begins to come parallel to the floor, drop your hands to the floor right below your shoulders. Begin to walk your fingertips back  between your feet. If you have the flexibility, walk your hands back until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor and your upper arms parallel. Be sure to keep the arms parallel and don’t let your elbows wing out to the sides. If it’s comfortable, rest the top of your head on the floor.
  5. For an alternate stretch, you can grab the big toes with the first two fingers and thumb of each hand; wrap hands around ankles; or clasp hands behind your back and lift the arms up.
  6. Press your weight into the whole foot: don’t let the weight rest in the outside edges of the feet but press through the inner foot, and keep your weight balanced between ball and heel. Breathe deeply, continuing to extend and bend deeper, keeping the back flat and the front of the body long.
  7. Bring your hands back to center, right under your shoulders. Slowly walk your feet in until they’re hip-width apart. Bend the knees, clasp your hands around opposite elbows, and relax, shaking your head to release tension in your neck.
  8. Slowly roll up to standing, one vertebrae at a time, keeping knees bent. Your head should be the last thing to come up. Close your eyes and breathe here for a moment before returning to your practice.

Benefits:

Prasarita increases strength in legs and feet and stretches inner legs and the backs of the knees. Forward folds are beneficial for digestion and the internal organs, and can help to calm the mind. The pose can also be helpful for mild backaches and headaches.

Counterindications:

Students with lower back problems or knee problems should take care and work very gently with this pose. Pregnant students should be careful in any forward bend. Those with balance problems may want to practice at the wall and should come up slowly; those with low blood pressure should move very slowly into and out of the pose to avoid getting dizzy.

My Experience with Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold:

Prasarita has always been difficult for me – I find it painful on my outer calves and outer ankles, and also on the backs of my knees. Because of this discomfort, I don’t usually practice prasarita at home, so I decided to challenge myself by choosing this pose to work on this month.

I was surprised to find another source of discomfort in this pose that I hadn’t known about: I realized that the pose makes me uncomfortable because my head is so close to the floor. I know that many yogis come into headstand from this posture, and I don’t yet have the confidence to do headstand away from the wall. I think prasarita makes me uncomfortable for this reason, because it brings me close to a pose that makes me nervous.

Practicing prasarita this month more intensively hasn’t caused any great changes in my experience of the pose – I still feel pain in my legs, and I still feel uncomfortable in the pose. However, I think I have a better understanding of my feelings now and can work more mindfully on the pose in the future.

 

books: Moola Bandha: The Master Key, by Swami Buddhananda June 25, 2011

Filed under: books — R. H. Ward @ 1:58 pm
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Moola Bandha: The Master Key, by Swami BuddhanandaMoola Bandha: The Master Key describes a system of muscle exercises and locks that lead to a release of pranic energy in the body and ultimately to spiritual enlightenment. Swami Buddhananda defines a “bandha” as a bind, restraint, or lock. The idea is that “by locking or contracting certain muscles on the physical level a subtle process of ‘unlocking’ goes on simultaneously on mental and pranic levels” (2). By working with bandhas in conjunction with pranayama breathing exercises, a variety of physical benefits are said to occur, calming the heart rate and blood pressure, harmonizing the function of bodily systems, and creating a sense of relaxation. Bandha practice is also said to improve flow of pranic energy in the body, activating the chakras and leading to the release of kundalini energy and to heightened states of consciousness.

The most important of these muscle locks or bandhas is moola bandha, or perineal contraction, the subject of this book. “Moola” means root or foundation, and moola bandha refers to the contraction of the muscles at the “root” of the spine/trunk at the perineum. The physical contraction of moola bandha is useful in treating problems of the lower abdomen such as digestive or sexual disorders. However, moola bandha also involves a spiritual/psychic contraction of the mooladhara chakra. This has the effect of activating our latent sexual energy and channeling it upward for spiritual awakening.

The first half of the book gives background on bandhas and moola bandha in particular, as well as on mooladhara chakra and kundalini energy; it situates moola bandha in the context of ancient scripture, discusses physical aspects and pranic effects of moola bandha, and describes how moola bandha can be used in a therapeutic context. Thus prepared, the reader can move on to the second half of the book, which details several practices of moola bandha, including specific instructions and illustrations. This provides the real meat of the book – everything that came before is simply building to this point. The section on practices opens with techniques appropriate for any beginner, then moves on to gradually more advanced techniques as the aspirant progresses in her practice. Attention is paid to the anatomic differences between men and women as applied to the practice of moola bandha, making this book a good resource for truly any spiritual seeker.

(From a personal standpoint, I realized while reading this book that I won’t be making any forward progress on my spiritual journey, at least not through moola bandha, until I can get over my inner 12-year-old boy. This book is about clenching all the muscles in pelvic region! The author uses words like “heighten”, “sensitivity”, “stimulation”, and “contraction” all on the same page (65). Kundalini energy is depicted as a big snake. The beginner practices instruct one to focus on the genitals – really focus your awareness intensely, breathing into the genitals – and then to contract and relax the genitals rhythmically. After this practice, one is intended to go on to meditation. Meditation! After sitting and focusing intently on the genitals, contracting them rhythmically, who’s going to be in the mood for meditation next? (The short answer here is: probably not me.) On the other hand, improved muscle control in the genital region can’t really ever be a bad thing, so I figure I’ll try out the exercises. Whether it leads me to becoming a calmer, more enlightened person or not, my husband won’t be complaining.)

 

Pose of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana / Half Moon June 24, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:42 pm
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Pose Name:

Half Moon Pose

Sanskrit Name:

Ardha Chandrasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in a wide-legged stance, right foot facing toward the front of the room, arms spread wide. (For example, it can flow nicely to go from a wide-legged pose like Warrior 2 or Triangle pose into Half Moon.)
  2. Cartwheel the arms down so that the hands come to the floor on either side of the front right foot. Walk the hands forward a bit, about 6-12 inches in front of the foot.
  3. Press into the hands and the right foot, straighten the right leg, and lift the back foot off the floor. Try to lift the left leg to hip height.
  4. Extend actively through the left foot to keep the left leg raised up strongly, but don’t lock the left knee.
  5. When you feel steady, lift the left hand off the floor. You can bring the hand to your left hip and open the chest; to go deeper, raise the left arm straight into the air.
  6. Now you’re balancing on your right foot and right hand, with your left leg and left arm making the shape of a half moon. Most of your weight should be on the right foot, with your hand just providing balance as you need it.
  7. Breathe here. Focus your gaze on a point in front of you, and use your ujjayi breath to help balance. If you feel steady, you can raise your eyes up to look at your left hand.
  8. Bring the left hand down to the floor, then gently bring the left leg down. You can come back into your wide-legged stance, or you can bring the left foot together with the right foot at the top of the mat.
  9. Come back up to standing, bringing hands to a prayer at your heart.
  10. Complete the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Ardha Chandrasana is excellent for improving balance. Because it works the standing foot strongly, it’s good for the health of the foot. The pose also benefits the core muscles and improves strength in the raised arm and leg. Half moon pose can also help with conditions like indigestion, constipation, menstrual pain, fatigue, and backache.

Counterindications:

Half moon pose may be quite difficult for someone with balance problems. Such students can try to practice the pose at the wall for added stability. This pose also puts some strain on the standing leg, so those with leg injuries should take care. If you have neck problems, keep the gaze focused on the floor and keep the neck long and even. Low blood pressure is another counterindication for this pose.

My Experience with Half Moon Pose:

I’ve hated half moon pose for years. I tend to dislike all the forward-bending balance poses: half moon, warrior 3, and standing split are all very uncomfortable, so this month I decided to challenge myself and practice half moon regularly. I’ve even been practicing the pose in the kitchen while cooking dinner! In addition to my home practice, I also attended N’s Tuesday night class several times this month, where she had us do a series of balance poses strung together, including half moon. These sequences were really difficult for me – when doing one or two balance poses and then coming down, I can do well, but several all at once without a rest was challenging.

I think that one thing I don’t like about poses like half moon is that the forward bending action makes me feel off-balance. In poses like tree or dancer, I’m standing up tall and can see what’s going on around me, but in a forward-bending balance, I’m relying on just my leg, and if I fall, my head is a lot closer to the ground. I wobble much more in half moon than I do in an upright pose like tree, even though in half moon I have two points of contact with the floor. I think the change in my center of gravity, plus the discomfort of trying to balance while bent over with my head close to the ground, have combined to make me dislike half moon pose and the other poses like it.

Working on half moon pose this month, I feel like I’ve identified why I don’t like the pose as well as the areas where I feel physical discomfort – the pose seems to put a lot of strain on my standing leg, for example. After practicing the pose frequently this month, I do feel stronger and more balanced in it. I want to cultivate a feeling of lightness and ease in the pose. Before this month, I didn’t like the pose so it was never a part of my home practice; from now on, I want to continue to practice the pose regularly and see where it takes me.

(Photo artistry by F. The yoga room is too small for him to fit all of me in one shot, so he took a bunch and collaged me together.)

 

Pranayama Round-up, part 2 June 23, 2011

Filed under: breath,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 1:50 pm
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Seated Meditation

Back to pranayama: the continuation of my post from Tuesday.

Alternate nostril breathing: I found this breathing technique to be the most difficult and the one I least wanted to practice. Now that I use Flonase spray and a Neti pot regularly, I get more and better airflow through my nostrils than I ever have before in my life, but alternate nostril breathing still somehow made me feel like a stuffed-up kid with a cold. One nostril almost always felt very clogged, and practicing the breathing technique never seemed to help; it usually seemed to make the clog more pronounced. Usually by the end of nine rounds of alternate nostril breathing, I feel like I’m gasping through my clogged nostril, and it’s always a relief to breathe normally again. This technique was not enjoyable to practice and never really got better over the course of the month. On a practical level, I often found it difficult to remember where I was in my breath count, too, which of course is a sign that my mind isn’t quiet enough, but I still found it hard to count the rounds of breath accurately until I started counting on my fingers. I know that I should persevere and continue practicing alternate nostril breathing, but without it being an actual assignment, I’m not sure that I will.

Summary: Overall, I did enjoy the pranayama exercises this month. Some of the techniques were physically difficult, and as always I had trouble calming my mind and keeping it calm, but I did enjoy the practice and often found time to incorporate it naturally into my day (although pranayama is much harder to do in tight jeans). Practicing before bed seemed to help me to sleep better, or at least it helped me fall asleep more quickly. Also, and most importantly, I think the pranayama practice improved my overall mood this month. A lot of good things have happened in my personal life this month, but also some stressful things (like buying a house) and not-so-good things (like a car accident and my husband being injured after a fall). I think ordinarily under such circumstances I would be more stressed out, more worried, and more tense, but this month I’ve mostly been pretty serene, and I’ve been able to be a good support to my husband. In the kitchen the other day, he told me that I seemed really happy and together lately. The cause of that positive energy could be the many good things that have happened counter-balancing the stressful things; it could also be the warm weather, since I know I am always happier in summer and sunshine; but it could also be the pranayama practice. It might be a combination of all of these, which seems most likely. Since it’s very possible that the pranayama is helping me to be a calmer, happier person, I don’t really want to take a chance and stop doing it! I’m glad to have one more tool in my arsenal to help me deal with stress (and with cold and bad weather when the time comes again). I will do my best to keep finding time for pranayama practice, even alternate nostril breathing.

 

Yoga Mob in Times Square June 22, 2011

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:17 pm
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I’m postponing my previously scheduled pranayama post to bring you this: Yoga Mob Celebrates Summer Solstice in Times Square. What an amazing crowd! Here’s another longer story about the event.

Yoga Mob in Times Square

(Photo by sjunat55, courtesy of CNN iReport.)

 

Pranayama Round-up, part 1 June 21, 2011

Filed under: breath,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 9:01 pm
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This month, my homework was to practice pranayama exercises (diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing, and alternate-nostril breathing) every day, and to keep a journal of my reflections and observances. Overall I felt like this was pretty difficult for me, because I still have trouble observing myself internally without altering the behavior I’m observing. In terms of pranayama, that meant that while I was sitting there breathing, I’d be wondering if I’m doing the breathing technique correctly, wondering if I should be feeling calmer right now, and wondering if I’ve felt more calm over the past few weeks. I know that pranayama practice and meditation are supposed to be two different things, but for me right now they sure look and feel the same: I’m sitting quietly on the floor paying attention to my breathing and trying not to get distracted.

So. The stats for my breathing. I can do stats. Since the last teacher training weekend, I neglected to practice breathing on 4 days, but I did practice on 26 days. I may not have been really engaged every time I practiced, and my practice sessions may have been shorter or longer in duration, but I did some sort of pranayama practice on 26 of the past 30 days. I feel proud that I accomplished this.

I’ll talk about each pranayama technique in order. I did try to practice them in this order in each session, but there were times when I skipped one or another technique, and at bedtime, it seemed to make more sense to practice them in the opposite order (alternate nostril first, then three-part, then diaphragmatic). Also, I strove to practice ujjayi breathing during all the pranayama techniques; this seemed to help me get a deeper stronger inhale, and it also helped me to inhale at all through a clogged nostril during alternate nostril breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing: I struggled with this during the course of the month. I kept thinking that I wasn’t doing the technique correctly; diaphragmatic breath is supposed to be a deep lung-filling breath, but as I experienced it, using just the diaphragm to breathe and not the chest didn’t fill me up enough. I often found myself yawning or sighing with relief after a round of diaphragmatic breath. I did discover that diaphragmatic breath seemed easier and more comfortable when I was lying on my back, and so it was pleasant to practice it at bedtime. After continued practice, I do think I’ve improved in my practice of this technique, and my seated practice has become more comfortable and satisfying, but even up until a few days ago I was still experiencing shortness of breath after practicing. I think I need more work on this.

Three-part breathing: By far this was my favorite technique to practice. This technique combines the deep diaphragmatic breath with chest and clavicular action to really fill up the whole lung. I found it really satisfying and calming as well, and I often practiced this technique on its own (for example, between emails at work, or on the train). At the beginning of the month, I sometimes felt dizzy or light-headed after 10-15 three-part breaths, but that feeling faded. I do sometimes feel the need for a yawn or deep sigh after practicing this technique, but not nearly as often as with diaphragmatic breath. I found that this technique was not comfortable to practice while lying down (this is why it made more sense to me to work in backwards order at bedtime – I did the seated practices first, then laid down for diaphragmatic breath).

In part 2: my experiences with alternate nostril breathing (the technique I felt most conflicted about) and my feelings about how the pranayama practice affected my life and my attitudes over the past month (because I think it did)!

 

yama/niyama redux / I-should-be-better syndrome June 20, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about the yamas and niyamas lately. Remember those? My first big assignment as part of my yoga teacher training was to read and think about the yamas, a set of five practices of self-restraint, and the niyamas, a set of five observances. After spending March and April reflecting on these things, I thought they’d be pretty ingrained in me. I was hoping I’d naturally remind myself to practice them throughout the day, and that I’d start to see my thought patterns changing.

Well, as you all know, I’ve done a lot of stuff during the past month or so, but consciously practicing the yamas and niyamas has not exactly been up there on the list. I think I still work on ahimsa pretty consciously (and I figure, if I’m only doing one of them, that’s the right one), but paying attention to and trying to improve my thoughts and my behavior is important for every single day, not just days when I’m supposed to be studying it. This is kind of the yogic equivalent of the ten commandments here. Don’t harm others, be truthful and generous, be moderate and balanced; be pure and simple, content, and disciplined; study hard and well, practice devotion. Be mindful. If I’m not paying attention, how can I say I’m being mindful?

Thinking back, I can say that even without being fully cognizant of the yamas and niyamas, I think I did a pretty good job of following them. I think I’ve been better about practicing non-violence in my words and in my thoughts. I’ve had the opportunity to be generous with my time and my support, and I think I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve studied hard and worked hard in my yoga practice. I’ve been very accepting and content with where I am in my life right now (although admittedly my life is pretty spectacular at present).

My husband F, with his usual impeccable sense of timing, sent me this great link the other day: Six Ways to Deal With I-Should-Be-Better Syndrome. This fits right in with thinking about the yamas and niyamas.

I’ve actually posted about my own experiences with I-Should-Be-Better Syndrome before, and I already try to do many of the things Amy Johnson recommends in her blog post: striving to be honest and truthful (practicing satya) and breathing (which, I’ve learned this month, is something we could all benefit from being more aware of). I also like her awareness that this is a universal issue – in Buddhism and in yoga, you work to feel compassion for everybody, every living creature, even that nasty parking attendant, even yourself, and if we understand that everyone is striving to be better, that it’s not just us, then that helps us to love everybody a little bit more, including ourselves.

I like Johnson’s practical, no-nonsense approach to this very emotional and personal issue. It’s hard to admit that you think you should be better, because really, you don’t want anyone to notice that you’re not already super-great. We feel shame when we get into I-Should-Be-Better mode, and it’s natural to try to hide shame. But being honest with yourself about these feelings is the first step to moving past them and feeling more content, more satisfied, and more peaceful, and that’s what the yamas and niyamas are all about.

 

 
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