So, the actual asana. Haven’t written so much about that lately. I once took a workshop with Richard Freeman (yes, if you’re a regular you’ve heard this before 🙂 in which he said all of yoga could happen for us in Mountain, or Staff pose. The rest is just to distract, wear out, and discipline the mind. I paraphrase, of course.
Not that there’s not a lot to love on the mat. It is the cause of hand and leg bending after all, which is a joy unto itself. And the more open our bodies become, the more freedom I notice we each find in our lives. And there really is something good about finally finding yourself in that pose you never thought you’d do. It may be monkey mind, but it’s a good monkey!
So with the blazing yellow of the trees just beginning to trace the New Mexico landscape, I’ve added some pranayama to my teaching. In addition to our usual friendly yogic three part breath attention, we’ve added Alternate Nostril Breathing, and depending on the day & class Skull Shining Breath beforehand.
Skull shining breath is a fast, exhale focused belly pumping breath, really excellent at creating heat, clarity & focus. If you make a diamond by joinging your thumbs and forefingers, then place it on your abdomen by putting your thumbs in your navel, you’ve framed the portion of your belly you want to be engaged. It’s the transvere abdominus, and you pump breath out in short bursts, allowing the breath to flow back in passively before pumping it out again. A slow set is one per second, fast 2 per. What keeps this from being pathological hyperventillation? Well, I actually tested myself on 300 rounds of Skull Shining Breath (Sanskrit: Kalabhati) on our capnography at work. I maintained a constant 32-35 mm Hg with good waveforms. Translation: it’s the CO2 retained by not exhaling fully that makes you pass out with hyperventillation. By focusing on deeply generated full exhalations, you maintain a balance of offloaded toxins and invited nourishments.
Start with three rounds of ten, the first at a pace of one per second. Go faster or increase your pace only as you feel comfortable and confident.
This is a great waker upper in the middle of the night, and heat generator for winter camping, among many other things.
Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing, takes this fired up breath and balances it by directing it in & out of each nostril, well, alternately. We know from experience and scads of research on EMDR as well as cross patterning that stimulating the halves of the body alternately assists the nervous system in sorting information. Alternate nostril breathing is also really great for allergies, at least in my case.
Take your right hand and bend in the first and second finger. Place the thumb against the right nostril and inhale smoothly, slowly (say, to a count of four if that’s comfortable) through the left. Close off the left with the ring & pinkie (both nostrils are compressed right now) for a retention of comfortable length (you might try one equal to the count for the inbreath). Release the right nostril and exhale – smoothly and slowly for the same count as the inhale – through the right nostril, and observe a rest, or kumbacha of the outbreath, at the bottom, allowing your spirit to reside in the emptiness, for a comfortable period of time, again you might try another count equal to the inbreath.
Then inhale right nostril, compress it (the left is still compressed from before, so both are closed at the top); practice a comfortable, non-straining retention at the fullness again, release the left nostril and exhale smoothly, yes, for the same count, resting in emptiness at the end of your outbreath.
This was one round and it won’t take as long to do as it does to read about. Do about four rounds to start and add as you become familiar and comfortable.
We’ve also been doing more twists and sided poses, compressing the organs and flooding them with luscious nutrient and oxygen filled blood and prana upon the release.
Does your practice change with the fall? Do you consciously plan this? Is it something you intuitively and naturally fall into?
Whatever you’re doing, make it yoga… and breathe, open, find the metaphor, embrace your meaning.