This Thursday (4/23) is a new moon and in our Evening Slow Flow, Pranayama and Meditation Class, Maneesh will be introducing ‘Chandra (moon) Bhedana (piercing or passing through) Pranayama’. In times of stress such as during self-isolation, the sympathetic nervous system becomes overstimulated. As a countermeasure, we apply this left-nostril breathing technique which activates the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the mind and body.
Join us this Thursday to learn more how a gentle flow, pranayama and meditation practice can help decrease your stress levels and increase your resilience.
The word ‘mindfulness’ often conjures up images of people sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, melting into serene silence. But this virus has forced the whole world to be mindful all the time and in so many ways.
We are more mindful of ourselves – how we wash our hands, how often we touch our face, how we feel each day.
We are more mindful of friends and family – how they are surviving the anxiety, social isolation and lack of toilet paper
We are more mindful of strangers – social distancing, concern for the elderly and those with underlying medical issues, and an deep appreciation for healthcare workers and others on the front-line,
And we are more mindful of information and misinformation as we attempt to sift through the relentless onslaught of news, data, advice, and conspiracy theories.
However this kind of mindfulness is rooted in anxiety and fear. We are scared therefore we are mindful.
We need to take a well-deserved break from it all. We need mindfulness rooted in ‘shanti’ (peace). I suggest sitting cross-legged, closing your eyes, and melting into serene silence.
How to Strengthen Lungs: An Introduction to ‘Kapalabhati’ pranayama
After being stuck indoors for all these days, its not just our bodies and minds but our lungs as well that long for the outdoors. We need air for our lungs to rejoice. And we need our lungs to be strong to deeply breathe in this air that supports every activity in our body from movement and digestion to immunity.
So one of the other practices (in addition to Trāṭaka candle meditation we introduced last week) that I have recently ramped up is “Kapalabhati”. Like Trataka, this is one of the Shatkriyas / Shatkarmas or 6 purifications of Hatha Yoga. It is known to:
cleanse lungs and respiratory system
strengthen & tone the abdominal muscles
energize us! – hence the name “lustrous or shining (bhati) skull (kapala)”
The actions consist of a powerful exhalation – like blowing out the candle after your candle meditation but with your mouth closed – and a passive inhalation.
While on the surface Kapalabhati may seem like a relatively simple practice, it requires a lot of control and refinement. So like any of the great yoga practices, it is important to learn this technique under the guidance of an experienced teacher and then practice, practice, practice!
Kapalabhati is one of those amazing high return practices that requires only a few minutes but benefits us the whole day. So the next time you are feeling a little down or low energy, think about adding this traditional breathing practice to your daily regime.
Coronavirus, uncertainty, and self-isolation have inspired me to rediscover and re-explore my yoga practice in a new way. One practice I reinserted into my daily regimen is Trāṭaka, one of Shatkriyas.
In traditional Hatha yoga, we are introduced to the concept of Shatkriyas (aka Shatkarmas) or six purification techniques. These techniques are said to cleanse various parts of the body like the sinuses (‘neti’ nasal cleaning), digestive tract (‘dhauti’), etc. Trāṭaka is one such kriya that not only cleanses the eyes but is a powerful meditation technique to reduce anxiety and normalize sleep.
Trāṭaka typically involves focusing one’s gaze on a candle however the object of focus could be an idol, picture, etc. Yogis believe that focusing on a single point activates the ‘ajna chakra’ (‘third-eye’) and results in a multitude of cognitive benefits. Research published at NCBI (NIH) concluded that “Trāṭaka can be used as a technique to enhance cognition in the elderly”.
What I realized in going back to this practice is that I had been unknowingly storing a lot of stress in my eyes – all that staring at screens during isolation and being ultra-sensitive whenever I left my apartment had taken its toll. And I think that this is even more true for those who tend not to cry very often (whether for joy or pain). Tears are cleansing.
So try adding a brief Trāṭaka (candle meditation) to your daily self-isolation routine and sleep and feel better. Thank you ancient Yogis!
Take care, stay calm, and stay vigilant yet optimistic. We will get through this together.
The world has changed in an instant and we all anxiously wait for ‘normality’ to return.
However, there is a lot we can do in the interim to improve our chances of staying healthy and thereby reducing risk to those around us and to the health system.
Clearly, thorough and frequent hand washing along with social distancing (reducing contact with others especially large crowds) are essential. Also important is self-care of both your body and mind.
It is equally important to take care of the mind. The uncertainty surrounding this virus creates anxiety and fear. And these emotions put strain on the immune system at a time when we need to be at our strongest.
Here’s what I do to maintain mental equilibrium:
simple breathing practice — take even just 5 minutes every morning (or several times a day) to sit quietly, observe your breath, and deepen it comfortably. ‘sama vritti’ (‘even waves’ of inhalation & exhalation) is a simple but effective practice.
simple meditation — again take even just a few minutes every morning (or several times a day) to sit quietly and observe your mind. You can do this before and after your breathing exercises.
sound / mantra — sound vibrations can be extremely calming. If you have a mantra you like to chant, use it as a practice. Or listen to sounds/music that has a calming or uplifting effect.
Do the simplest things to take care of yourself. And in that way, you will be in a much better position to care for others.
Philosophy often sounds like a far away, difficult subject to grasp. However the truth is, it is especially relevant in uncertain times like these. With Coronavirus devastating so many lives and turning all that we thought normal onto its head, it is crucial that we think about and speak with loved ones on topics of life, death and everything in between. And yoga is here to help with that.
During an intro yoga philosophy course I gave in Osaka recently, the participants really got that yoga is ultimately an inquiry into ourselves and the life we lead, an inquiry that leads to a more conscious approach to life.
They got that philosophy can be a frank and open discussion about some of the most important things in life like life itself, how we should live it, how to handle and view ups and downs such as seeming successes and failures, sickness and health, and the inevitability of old age and death.
They got that these discussions are something we should all be having with our family and friends; the irony being that the two places we entrust to educate us the most – the school and the home – are the very two places that we rarely hear these conversations.
And they got that yoga is not necessarily saying we have to agree with or believe in concepts like ‘advaita vedanta’ (non-dualism) or the myths and stories like the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, or the Upanishads.
Yoga is only encouraging us to have the conversation, to question the reasons for why we do the things we do, and to allow these actions to help us take a more conscious approach to living.
If you are not having these conversations, what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone, call your friends and family and have a heart-to-heart on life, death and everything in between.
‘tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam’ (Then, the witness abides in the True Self.) ~Patanjali Yoga Sutras 1.3
With the looming threat of #coronavirus, this year’s flu season has become one of the scariest ones in recent years. What can you do?
In addition to all of the typical precautions – hand-washing, mask-wearing, avoiding public gatherings, etc, – one of the best things we can do is yoga.
Yoga protects us by helping to boost immunity. Well-documented, direct benefits of yoga asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing) include: improved circulation, deeper breathing & better oxygenation, and reduced stress.
However, yoga also offers powerful indirect immunity-boosting benefits: self-awareness and consistency in routine.
Self-awareness – we become better observers of ourselves, our current condition, and what we need to do to maintain physical and mental harmony. We listen to our body when it asks us to eat something light or take a little more rest than usual or extricate ourselves from a stressful or noisy environment. In this way, we preempt major issues. Catch yourself before you catch a cold!
Yoga as Anchor for a Daily Routine – the evidence is clear: maintaining a consistent routine is critical to maintaining physical and mental stability. We see this in our community. Students who practice yoga with us 5 days a week tend to be sick less often then those with intermittent practices a few days a week and these students tend to get sick less often than people who don’t practice yoga.
Want to reduce pain, suffering, medical bills and all the other miseries caused by bacteria and viruses of all kinds? Maybe its time you committed to a regular, consistent yoga routine.