In yoga breath is often called the cornerstone of teaching – the cornerstone of technique. When you have learned to use your breath effectively and properly, you will directly increase your capacity to stretch, your strength, your endurance, and your balance. Deep inhalation allows ease in lifting the body and increased relaxation into the posture. Therefore, when doing your postures, your body will relax more easily if it is guided by your breath, instead of your mind.
When your breath and your body are coordinated, your energy flow will increase; therefore, the quality of your posture will be greatly enhanced. The proper use of your breath will get you out of your mind and into your body, which creates a movement that is more graceful and much more beneficial.
Most injuries of yoga, or any exercise, generally occur because of ambition or inattention – sometimes both. Ambition is when we try to stretch further then someone else. Inattention is when we let our mind wander, which can be avoided if we keep our mind or our breath.
When you were inside your mother’s womb, you didn’t have to think about breath – everything was provided to you through the umbilical cord. Then you were slapped awake, and there was a spontaneous breath – a very natural breath without thought. Later you began to have impressions, sensations, responses, emotions, and your whole breathing pattern changed. It was no longer natural. It became hampered and labored by different attributes. Unless you consciously bring your breathing back to its original naturalness, each attribute will affect the quality of your breathing and, therefore, of your life. Think about the quality of your breathing when you are anger or excited: It becomes very short, very quick, very erratic. When you are depressed, your chest sinks as though withdrawing breathing. Learn to regulate your breathing, and you will regulate your life.
Breathe in harmony and live in harmony. Although you are what you eat, you breathe what you are. Take the time to breathe correctly all the time, not only while you practice your postures. Simply check yourself during the day. Go even further and take time to just sit and breathe deeply. You will become very calm and very peaceful. Everything that this world casts at you will be a lot easier to handle because you will be in control.
Control your breath; control your thoughts; control your ego. Controlling your ego is becoming master of your self, and by mastering your self you will know peace. The tempo of our respiration determines the quality and length of our lives. Yoga calls it prana energy, others call it oxygen – call it anything you wish. The fact is that will less oxygen, we are more fatigued, our mental capacity is reduced – we become death. Out of the approximately the 23,000 breaths you take each day, try to take most of them properly. Interestingly, most people who are tired or fatigued all the time get very little oxygen.
Lateral Stretch. Stand with your legs comfortably apart and your arms at your sides. Inhale and lift your arms out to your sides about shoulder height. Exhale and bend your body to the left side and side your left hand down your left leg as far as you can. Keep your legs straight and do not bend forward. Inhale to raise your body up and repeat for the right side. This is similar to Airplane pose, but the stretch downward should be deeper.
Moon Stretch. Stand with your feet together. Inhale and raise your arms over your head with your palms together. Keep your eyes straight ahead – do not look down at the floor. Exhale, bend, and stretch to the left side. Inhale and raise your body upright. Exhale and repeat for the right side. Inhale as you raise your body up, and exhale to lower your arms to your sides again.
Fingers. Sit cross-legged with your eyes closed. If sitting cross-legged is difficult, sit in a position that is comfortable to you. Vigorously rub the palms of your hands and your fingertips together to generate energy. Keeping your eyes closed, gently and lightly tap your fingers all over your face and down to your neck. We carry a lot of tension in our faces and this is a wonderful releaser. Pay particular attention to the area around your eyes. When you are finished, just shake your fingers and feel the tension drain away. Your face will feel relaxed. Smile!
Relaxation/Meditation: Spontaneous Peace
One of the greatest qualities we can have in life is spontaneity. Spontaneity helps bring about equanimity – calmness and composure. In other words, we are not tied and bound to a strict, unbending, unyielding rule of conduct. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t hold on to our morals. I am simply referring to our movement through life. We should not always have to “do this” at “that time” in “that way.” Our spontaneity should be similar to the attitude of a child – an unplanned unstructured, and involuntary reaction to life. Think of it as dancing: We do not dance with the intent of being at a certain spot on the floor when the music ends. The dance is in the movement. This is being spontaneous. So how can this spontaneity bring about the equanimity of calmness? Movement and Stillness are not opposites. When you are spontaneous to life, you are more likely to come back to your centeredness, which, in turn, facilitates calmness. Those who are not spontaneous – who are accustomed to being more formal and staid – have difficulty with the changes that are needed to become centered.
Think of a spontaneous person as a rubber band that can stretch out from its usual roundness into an elongated shape, then it can snap right back to its original roundness of shape – its centeredness. Even if a nonspontaneous person should become so daring as to stretch beyond his or her ritualized existence, he or she would have difficulty in snapping back to centeredness. Someone who is so stressed from the strictness required by living in expectation and anticipation has lost his or her elasticity. Which type of person do you think you are? Take a few minutes to think about this.
Think about what you discovered about yourself. Did you feel relaxed and comfortable being spontaneous or was it difficult for you? Take a moment to reflect on how you really feel.
When we get to know ourselves better, it is easier to correct the stumbling blocks that lie on the road to the peace we seek. If you are still uneasy, not as peaceful or content as you would like to feel, imagine yourself becoming more peaceful. Remember that your mind controls your body. You can become what you believe. Try now. (pause. )
If you still do not feel peaceful, try an affirmation. Simply repeat to yourself: “I am beginning to feel more centered.” (pause.)
Then follow this thought with : “I am centered.” Repeat the words slowly and with attention to what the mean: “I – am – centered.”
Did you ever hear the joggers experience a certain “high” after a long run? Rather than being tired, they have more energy. If you haven’t experienced this you probably wonder how it’s possible. The answer is very simple: Oxygen is energy.
The more oxygen we get into our system, the more energy we have. This doesn’t mean that you have to go running to get energy. It works just as well if you develop your lung capacity. As discussed previously, most people use only one-sixth of their lung capacity – just enough to stay alive. This is similar to running your car on one cylinder: it will run, but after a while, it will simply break down.
Why do joggers feel “high,” great, or happy after a run – after getting oxygen? The answer is simple: they feel good physically, which affects them mentally. One always affects the other. When we breathe deeply, more oxygen enters your body and more carbon dioxide is expelled. We feel light and free. It is a happy feeling that we should all experience, and it’s a great releaser.
Breath: The Passageway to Meditation
Deep breathing is a release in yoga also. It releases tension from the body and makes the postures easier to perform. Although deep breathing is a relaxant it does not completely relax the neuromuscular system. It allows us to remain relaxed in the midst of activity. Deep breathing also provides a splendid passageway to concentration and meditation. Concentration is a progressive refining of the mind toward a focused, one-pointed awareness. We can’t meditate until we learn to concentrate. Concentrate is focusing your mind for 12 seconds, while meditation is 12 times 12 seconds of 2 minutes or 24 seconds of concentration. However, concentration becomes meditation when the chosen object is no longer of a physical nature, but of a spiritual nature. Concentration is a make of genius, while meditation is a mark of saintliness. Meditation is a continual flow void of the ego. It is the merging of your higher consciousness into the universal consciousness – the fourth consciousness – God consciousness, or whatever you wish to call it.
Hatha Yoga becomes Raja Yoga when we successfully combine body control with breath control. When body control, breath control, and relaxation are combined they become samyana. In meditation, we do not have a thought, nor do we think per se; we are simply aware of the thought process. We just witness the mind. We look at it, we don’t interrupt it. The minds gradually slows down, becomes still, calm, and peaceful. That’s bliss! Let your breathing and your postures, prepare your for the meditative state of bliss that is waiting inside of you. Open yourself to it and know that it can happen. Be expectant, but not forceful, Simply be.
Ceiling Walk Variation. Lie on your back. Inhale and raise your arms and legs straight up in the air as though you are beginning ceiling Walk and Cross. Exhale and let your right leg stretch and fall out to your right side as far as you can, and stretch both arms to your left side. Inhale to return to your starting position. Exhale and reverse the positions. Your left leg stretches and falls to the left side and your arms stretch to the right. Inhale to return to the starting position. Exhale and let your arms and legs fall gently to the floor.
Side Scissors variation. Lie on your right side with your right elbow bent and your right hand supporting your head. Your legs are straight and your left arm is lying along your side. Inhale and lift your left arm and leg straight up. Bend your left knee and hold of with your left hand. Exhale and bring your left knee to you nose. Inhale to raise your knee up and exhale to lower it down. Turn onto the left side of your body and repeat this movement with your right arm and leg.
Half Bridge. Lie on the floor on your back. Bend your knees and bring your heels as close to your buttocks as you can. Raise the lower part of your body as in Pelvic Lift posture. Bend your elbows and place your hands, palm down, by the side of your head. Roll your body forward onto your toes to take the weight off your shoulders. Your weight is now on your hands and toes. Tip your head back and roll your body back onto the flat of your feet, and gently lower the top of your head to the floor. The weight is still distributed between your hands and shoulders. Do not put any weight on your head. You should also be very careful with this posture if you suffer from neck problems. In order to release this position, roll your body forward onto your toes and raise your head off the floor. Roll your body back onto the flat of your feet and lower your neck and shoulders. Stretch out your legs, as you return your lower body to the floor and your arms to your sides. Take a long relaxing breath.