Group classes , private classes and corporate classes .
Beeda Christina Gautier,
Yoga Instructor,
Ananda Marga Yoga
and Certified by Malaysian Association of Yoga Instructors

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yoga Sequence To Open Your Hips If You Sit Too Much

A Simple Yoga Sequence To
 Open Your Hips If You Sit Too Much

Our hip flexors can become really tight and shortened from sitting too much
which can lead to lower back issues.
So it's important for not just our sedentary society to stretch their hip flexors daily,
 but also for runners, walkers
and cyclists. We can all benefit from stretching out our hip flexors, whether it's to
 open up tight areas from
 sitting too much, or to help counterbalance prolonged or strenuous hip flexion
 from a more active lifestyle.
Yoga is great for stretching these areas. There are many asanas you can ease yourself into,
to allow for a
 gentle opening of the hips. Here is a simple six-pose sequence that you can hold fo
r five slow breaths,
and allow your body to soften for optimal hip flexor relief. Be sure not to force yourself
 into any of these
 poses, but move with patience and intuition based on what is best for your body. Alway
s be sure to
complete both sides of the body in each pose!
1. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Low lunge is ideal for those who find balancing difficult. This stretch focuses on the hips, groin
 and quadriceps.
From standing, exhale and step your left foot back and lower it to the floor with your hands framing
 your front foot. You can bring your hands to blocks or to the floor, just be sure to keep your right
foot between your hands, and directly below your knee. Inhale and lift your chest to reach up and
forward, pressing the shoulder blades in against the back. Keeping your hips square, draw the tailbone
down and gently pull your belly in toward your spine.
Hold here or for a deeper stretch, inhale and reach the arms over the head with your palms facing in.
Be mindful to lift out of the pelvis so you don't jam the lower back.
2. Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana Variation)
Crescent lunge opens the front of the body, extends the spine and builds leg strength and balance.
 The psoas muscle of the main hip flexor is targeted, as the thigh bone moves away from the lower
 back. The nervous system is awakened and the heart is opened.
From Low Lunge, tuck the back toes and exhale as you lift the back knee off the floor and stand 
up into the pose. Feet are hip width apart and both toes face forward. Start with your hands on
 your hips and bend the front knee to 90 degrees, with your knee over the ankle and hips pointing 
straight ahead. Keep the back leg bent if the hamstrings are tight, and only straighten if you 
can keep the pelvis square to the front of your mat. Draw the left hip forward and right hip back
 to keep the hips square, and tuck your tailbone to keep the pelvis from tipping forward. 
For more extension, inhale and raise the arms, hands apart and palms facing in, and soften the shoulders.
3. Warrior I (Virabradhasana I)
In Warrior I, the turned-out toes of the back foot 
increases hip flexion. If you press into the outer 
edge of your back foot, you will notice the hips
 square off more easily. This pose builds strength
 and steadiness, as it increases body awareness,
 improves circulation and energizes the entire body.
From Crescent Lunge, drop the back foot to 45
degrees and soften the shoulders away from the
 ears. Inhale and reach the arms above the head and soften the shoulders away from the ears.
 Exhale to soften into the front bent knee, keeping it at 90 degrees.
For a deeper stretch try reaching the right hand toward the floor and feel the hip flexor get a bit more love!

4. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana)
Pigeon pose releases tension from deep in the outer hip joint, and many people
 feel this stretch releases emotional tension as well. With the forehead resting in a forward fold, the nervous system is also relaxed.
From Warrior I, release your hands to the ground and fold the front leg to the
 floor, tucking the heel in
close to the left groin and you slide your left leg back behind you. The front shin
 should rest on your mat at about 45 degrees, but you might be able to rest it in
 parallel to the top line of your mat. Keep the front foot flexed to protect the knee
 and make sure the back of the left foot behind you is flat on the ground. Square off your hips.
Stay here, or walk the hands forward and lower the torso to the ground, and rest
 the forehead on the hands, block or mat for at least five breaths.
To take this pose deeper, walk the hands back in by your sides and inhale to reach
them above your head. Keep reaching up out of the pelvis to protect the lower back.
 Hold for another five breaths and return your hands to the floor.

5. Supine Pigeon (Supta Kapotasana)
If tight knees and hips mean Pigeon pose isn’t for you, try it lying down. This pose is a great
 preventative knee stretch as it will lengthen the iliotibilial band (ITB) that runs from the 
pelvis (on the outside of the leg) to the shin bone.
Begin with the soles of your feet on the floor and lift the left ankle and rest it on top of the 
right knee, keeping the left foot flexed. Bring the knees closer towards the chest, and thread
 your left arm between the legs and the other hand around, to join them together behind the
 right thigh.
Keeping the hips low to the ground, draw in the clasped thigh closer to the chest and open the
opposite knee wider. Soften your shoulders into the mat.

6. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
An invigorating stretch that will open the entire front of the body and stretch the
 front of the hip flexors.
Kneel with your legs shoulder width apart, with the feet untucked and palms
 placed on the lower back, fingers facing down. Inhale to lift and open the chest, 
exhale to lower back towards your heels, keeping the gaze upwards. Be sure
 not to just throw your head back. Use the fingers in the back to encourage
 tucking the tailbone and prevent jamming in the lower back.
Hold the pose here, or for more extension, release one hand at a time to lightly
 grip the tops of the heels. Inhale to lift up and out of the pose by pressing 
on your lower back.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Author

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

5 Basic Yoga Poses To Make You Feel Fantastic In 15 Minutes
The practice of yoga can do wonders for your overall mood, physique and peace of mind. With our fast-paced lives and crazy work schedules we rarely get to take time for ourselves to reboot. Fortunately, spending hours at an ashram or a week at a spa is not required. Yoga is the perfect practice to implement into your daily life, because you can experience its many benefits quickly. All it takes is 15 minutes a day for a sunnier disposition, heightened sex drive and a greater sense of well-being.
Here are five basic poses that will help you feel better in your own skin, and they don't take long if you want to include them in your daily routine!

1. Come into a straight-arm plank with wrists under shoulders and legs extended straight back. Keeping your hands in place, shift your hips up and back.
2. Point tailbone straight up to the ceiling, relax head and draw shoulders away from the ears. Press chest toward thighs, spread hands wide and begin to engage your core.
3. Hold for 10 deep breaths.
Warrior II

1. Stand with feet wider than hip-width. Turn right toes out and left toes inward at a 45-degree angle. Deeply bend right knee so thigh comes close to parallel with the ground. Keep left leg straight.
2. Extend arms directly out from shoulders and gaze over your right finger tips. Draw core in tight and stay low in the legs.
3. Hold for 10 deep breaths each side.

1. Stand with feet wider than hip-width. Turn right toes out and left toes inward at a 45-degree angle. Keep both legs straight as your hinge at your hips toward the right leg. Draw your torso as far to the right as possible, maintaining length through your spine.
2. Place right hand above or below the knee and extend left arm directly above shoulder. Spin right hip forward and left hip back. Gaze toward the floor to stretch the neck.
3. Hold for 10 deep breaths each side.
Warrior III

1. Come into a lunge position with right foot forward (knee bent) and left foot back (straight leg). Hinge forward at your hips and bring torso close to parallel with the floor. At the same time, kick left leg up to hip-height, forming a straight line from the crown of your head to your toes.
2. Place both hands at heart center, draw belly button toward the spine and gaze a few inches in front of you.
3. Hold for 10 deep breaths each side.

1. Come into a downward dog (see pose #1) with tailbone pointing toward the ceiling and hands pressing into the floor. Lift right leg up to hip height, then gently swing it forward. Bend right knee and lower leg onto the mat.
2. Try to get your shin close to parallel with the front of the mat and always keep foot flexed. Left leg stays straight. Fall forward over right shin and rest hands or forehead on the mat.
3. Hold for 10 deep breaths each side.
*If your hips are very tight, please place a pillow or blanket under right hip to assist in this posture.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Yogic Approach To Back Pain

A Yogic Approach To Back Pain

Suffering from back pain? Yoga can help.
By Timothy McCall, M.D.
forward bend
Each year, millions of Americans suffer from debilitating back pain. Despite Western medicine's phenomenal advances and powerful technology, two of the most commonly prescribed solutions—painkillers and surgery—do little to address the underlying causes of pain and can potentially cause side effects.
In truth, a one-size-fits-all solution is impossible given that the causes and manifestations of pain—arthritis, strained ligaments, scoliosis, and herniated disks, to name a few—vary widely.
But as many practitioners can attest, yoga can offer effective healing that's relatively free of side effects. The key is to proceed with caution and be willing to treat your healing as a process. It will likely take time and perseverance to find a treatment program that is helpful. Here's how I suggest you get started.
Rule Out Serious Causes
While potentially life-threatening causes of back pain, such as cancer, infections, and rupturing aortic aneurysms, are a lot less common than muscle spasms and sciatica, you should check with your health care practitioner to make sure it's safe for you to practice yoga as part of your healing program—especially if you are over 50 or if you have worrisome symptoms like fever or unexplained weight loss.
Treat the Initial Injury With Caution
When tissues are acutely inflamed or when you're feeling a lot of pain, it's important to proceed slowly. Aggressively working to improve strength or flexibility at this stage can backfire, causing even more pain, inflammation, and injury. However, studies have shown that strict bed rest causes more harm than good. Try breathing exercises and a gentle asana practice as soon as the first day of pain.
Find an Experienced Teacher
Back problems are complex, so it's important to find a teacher with adequate training and as much experience as possible. A yoga therapist not only will suggest exercises but will be able to create a unique and personalized program that's appropriate for your levels of fitness, strength, and flexibility as well as your medical condition. By observing your practice and tracking how your body responds, he or she can gauge which elements are likely to be helpful and determine whether modifications are necessary.
Balance Strengthening With Stretching
Doctors often prescribe stomach crunches to prevent future episodes of back pain. From a yogic perspective, such an approach is imprecise. Indeed, doing too many stomach crunches or other ab exercises can increase tightness in the hip flexors, like the psoas, potentially exacerbating back problems. The yogic approach is to determine which muscles need strengthening and which ones need stretching and to design a program to address those specific needs.
Make Yoga Your Ally, Not Your Enemy
Avoid poses that could make the problem worse. If you have a lumbar disk problem, be careful with forward bends, particularly those that include a twist, like Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose). Also take care during transitions, when attention tends to wane: Avoid sudden changes of position and try stepping rather than jumping into poses.
Consider Psychological Causes
While I don't believe that stress, anger, and other emotions are typically the sole cause of back pain, they can play a role. Psychotherapy as well as yogic tools such as svadhyaya (self-study) and meditation may help.
In the Yoga Sutra (II.16), Patanjali taught that future suffering can be avoided. When applied appropriately and intelligently, yoga not only can help you recover from back pain, it may prevent it from recurring.

Bright Eyes

Try these natural strategies, and your eyes will feel good and look great.
By Catherine Guthrie
"Talking about the third eye is very trendy in the West," saysAyurvedic clinician Reenita Malhotra. "But in order to reach a more spiritual plane, you must first care for the physical body."
Summer is the perfect time to give extra attention to your physical body's eyes. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun casts its strongest ultraviolet rays during July and August. An unprotected outing can toast the orbs—and contribute to long-term eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration—just as sunburn can harm the skin. But take heart: 75 percent of the vision loss from such ailments is preventable or treatable if caught early. Here's what you need to know.
Pamper Your Peepers
The science and mythology of Ayurveda hold the eyes in high esteem. In ancient Indian lore, a fetus's eyes were thought to be formed when light particles from the sun and moon passed through the eyes of the expectant mother, traveled along the nervous system, and entered the womb, says Vasant Lad, founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The eyes, he says, are ruled by the sun: "They are bright, brilliant, and full of luster."
Because of this connection with the sun, the eyes are thought to be fiery in nature and therefore more easily irritated by the hot days of summer. Luckily, Ayurveda offers many ways to douse the flames. In Ayurvedic theory, there are three doshas, or energies, that influence our bodies and minds. Pitta is associated with fire, and people in whom pitta is typically dominant tend to be motivated and focused; those with lots of vata (linked with air and wind) are often lively; those in whom kapha (ruled by earth and water) is strongest are thought to be stable and compassionate.
No matter what your dominant dosha, you can refresh your eyes by splashing them gently with cool water, blinking seven times (once for each chakra, or energy center in the body), and rotating them in all directions. If they burn or are bloodshot or light sensitive, an excess of pitta may be to blame. To counter it, lie down for 15 minutes with milk-soaked cotton balls on your closed lids. Cucumber slices will also do the trick.
Although pitta is most easily provoked during summer, the other two dosha, kapha and vata, can also get out of balance now. If you awaken to eyes that feel tired or more crusty than usual, a kapha imbalance may be to blame, says Malhotra, the author of Inner Beauty: Discover Natural Beauty and Well-Being with the Traditions of Ayurveda. To quell kapha, she suggests sprinkling the eyes with rose water. You can look for rose water in health food stores or Middle Eastern markets, or make your own by soaking an organically grown rose in filtered water overnight. (You can boil the water to extract more of the rose's essence; be sure to cool the water and remove the rose before sprinkling your eyes.)
Dry, itchy eyes may signal that your vata is out of balance. To restore them, Malhotra recommends a home version of an Ayurvedic treatment called netra basti. To start, warm a quarter cup of ghee (clarified butter) over medium heat, cool it to room temperature, pour half the liquid into an eyecup (sold at drugstores), lean your head back, and bathe the eye for five to seven minutes. Repeat on the other eye using the remaining ghee. (This treatment can be messy, so do it in a bathroom, in clothes that can handle a few drops of ghee.)
What's more, it's a good idea to save this self-care routine until just before bedtime, because your vision will be clouded for a few minutes afterward, says Malhotra. This gives you a good excuse to rest your eyes and your whole body, which should also help calm a vata imbalance. If you sign on for netra basti at an Ayurvedic spa, don't be surprised if you wind up with dough on your face. Traditionally, the dry-eye remedy involves placing a wheel of uncooked whole-wheat dough around each eye to act as a dam as the eye is immersed in the ghee.
Feed Your Head
What you eat also affects your eyes, and one of the best ways to shore up your vision is to chow down on antioxidants. Sunlight creates free radicals, rogue molecules that damage the eyes. Antioxidants scour the bloodstream and neutralize the harmful invaders. To suss out the best antioxidants for eyesight, scientists at the Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University collected and reviewed dozens of clinical studies. Their findings point to vitamin C, vitamin E, and lutein as the best antioxidants for eye health.
To infuse your diet with these nutrients, dish up spinach, broccoli, corn, strawberries, and nuts. The researchers suggest at least 250 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, 90 mg of vitamin E, and 3 mg of lutein daily. These levels are higher than the government's recommended dietary intake; hedge your bets with a daily multivitamin.
Rest for the Weary
Technology may bring us many marvels, but it has also helped create a world full of people rubbing tired eyes. Don't blame the gadgets, says Marguerite McDonald, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The problem is how we use them. Essentially, we become zombies in front of a glowing screen, blinking only three times a minute instead of the normal 20. The result? Dry eyes.
Time on the yoga mat may be a source of relief. Last December, research published in the journal Head & Face Medicine hinted that yoga can soothe irritated eyes. Scientists in Bangalore, India, enrolled 291 employees of a software company, all of whom spent at least six hours a day in front of a computer. (Sound familiar?) The researchers assigned half the group to a yoga class that met for an hour a day, five days a week. The class included asana, pranayama, and guided relaxation. Those in the other group spent equal time in the company's recreation center talking to friends, working out, and watching TV. By study's end, the yogis reported a 30 percent decline in eye problems like dry eye; eye complaints increased in the other group. The authors note that relaxed people blink more, which moistens the eyes.
But what about eyestrain? The word is a bit of a misnomer, says Eli Peli, a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Peli says that vision happens in the brain, not the eyes; therefore, sitting at a computer isn't a strain for the eyes in the sense that it causes trouble for their muscles. Instead, the fatigue you feel is your brain asking for mercy."The brain, in its smart way, projects fatigue onto the eyes, so you'll take a break."
Both Eastern and Western healing traditions view eye care as a holistic affair. The eyes are a reflection of the body's overall health, says Ilene Gipson, a senior scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston. "All the risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke cause eye disease as well," she says, "so taking care of the eyes isn't one-stop shopping."
Malhotra agrees. "The eyes are only one of the five sense organs, along with the ears, nose, mouth, and skin; unless you maximize the health of all five, you'll never fully access your true potential."

Rise And Shine

Get your prana moving with this playful morning vinyasa sequence.
By Andrea Ferretti, sequence by Kira Ryder
Some days you step on your mat and need a neatly prescribed yoga routine. Other days you just want to let your body and breath move you on a journey from pose to pose, as you morph into and out of different shapes.
Kira Ryder, a vinyasa yoga teacher in Ojai, California, prefers this second type of practice—one that moves into forms, investigates them, and then plays with them to find the best fit for each moment. Her aim is not to minimize the importance of alignment but to help students move intelligently, according to what their bodies need in any given moment. "The poses are designed to meet you where you are, not for you to conform to each pose," says Ryder. Ryder shares a morning routine that wakes you up slowly and pumps prana, or life force, into all the nooks and crannies of the body, especially the hips and sacrum, which often get stiff and stagnant. The poses look familiar—Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Plank Pose, Cat-Cow Pose—but each has its own unique expression.
The final pose is a twist with a slightly rounded spine to encourage softness in the lower back. "The twist is investigative," Ryder says. "You'll know it's working if you come out and your lower back feels big and broad and warm. It's real subtle stuff. It's not always sexy and pretty."
As You Practice
Gage Your Tension: As you do the poses, use your face to measure tension in your body. Ryder calls the face "the dashboard of the pranic system." In other words, when your face is tight, your body is too, which limits the flow of prana. Start the sequence with your face soft and check in often to find out if tension is accumulating.
Breathe Naturally: Allow your breath to soften and notice whether you move into a breathless state. This state is a type of stillness that can happen spontaneously. Allow it to happen.
1. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Sit with the soles of your feet together about 20 inches from the groin. Let your knees drop out to the sides. (If your knees are higher than the tops of your hip bones, sit on a folded blanket.) Walk your hands forward, allowing your back to softly round. Drop your head for a neck stretch. If that's uncomfortable, support your head with your hands. Breathe into the back body. Stay for 5 minutes.
2. Cowboy Negotiation Pose
Take a wide squat with your feet turned out. If your heels lift, place a blanket or a rolled mat underneath them. Bring your weight into your left leg as you press your right knee away from your midline to create space in your hips. Stay for 5 breaths, then do the other side.
3. Hammock Pose
Stand sideways on your mat with your legs wide apart, toes turned in and lifted to engage the inner arches. Walk your hands forward and draw the tailbone back. Let the upper back be like a hammock and your heart relax downward. Wake the legs by isometrically squeezing your heels together on the inhalation and pressing them apart on the exhalation. Then relax and use your awareness and breath to connect with prana flowing up and down the legs. Stay for 5 breaths.
4. Horse Stance with Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock)
Keep your wide stance and turn the feet out. Bend your knees and see that they are over the toes. Straighten your legs and reach your arms overhead. Inhale deeply and, as you exhale, bring your hands to your thighs, bend your knees, and stick out your tongue. Curl your tailbone under. At the bottom of the exhalation, draw your chin toward your chest and the navel toward your spine. Feel your pelvic floor lift up. Hold the breath out as you sway your hips side to side to access different spots. After a few seconds, relax all muscular effort, then inhale and bring your arms overhead as you straighten your legs. Feel the vitality in your body and mind. Take a clearing breath in between holds. Do 5 rounds.
5. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II)
With your legs straight and arms overhead, inhale; on your exhalation, open up into Warrior II. Repeat this movement 5 times, until you eventually land in the shape. Try softening your elbows and turning your palms up, connecting with the flow of prana from your heart out through your hands. Stay for 10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
6. Low Lunge with External Rotation
From Warrior II, windmill your hands to the floor and come into Low Lunge. Stay for a few rounds of breath, draw your hips back on the inhalation and sink forward on the exha-lation. Turn the front foot out to externally rotate the hip. Relax your jaw and walk the hands back. If your hands are far from the floor, use blocks for support. Do both sides.
7. Rounded Plank Pose
Transition into Adho Mukha Svanasana(Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Draw your tailbone under and round your back as you bring your shoulders over your wrists. Breathe into your full open back. Feel the work in the belly; relax your neck and head. Stay for at least 5 breaths here.
8. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
From Rounded Plank, bend your elbows and lower your hips to the floor. Roll your shoulders back and down and lift your heart. Slowly turn your head from side to side to stretch your neck. Stay for 10 breaths, then lower down and rest.
9. Rocket Cat
Curl your toes under and press your hips back as if to move into Balasana (Child's Pose), but pause halfway. Exhale through your mouth and stick out your tongue. Alternate leaning right and left for 10 breaths to stretch.
10. Slumpy Swami Twist
Contraindications: The combination of the twist and rounded back puts pressure on your lower back. If you have any lower-back injuries, take a twist that lengthens the spine instead.
Find a comfortable cross-legged position likeSukhasana (Easy Pose). With your right hand on the floor behind your right buttock, place your left hand on your right knee. Inhale and exhale, curling your tailbone under and rounding your back. Carefully and with a lot of attention, exhale through your mouth, draw your lower belly back, and twist your rib cage to the right. The work is not as strong as it is in Uddiyana Bandha, but the awareness is similar. If you feel open, reach the left arm across the right knee and dip in deeper. After 5 breaths, relax your effort, inhale, and slowly unwind. You will know it was effective if you have a warm, expansive feeling in your lower-right back. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
After You Finish
Sit Quietly: Find a comfortable seated position like Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Allow for a few deliberate deep inhalations, followed by audible exhalations to help the body become more grounded. Allow your breath to help align your body. Feel your neck lengthen. Feel your jaw relax. Feel the circumference of your mouth soften. Invite a sensual quality to your lips as your face really relaxes. You can use a timer to help you stay seated for however long you desire. Start with 10 minutes and work up from there.
Rest: Take Savasana (Corpse Pose) for 5 to 10 minutes.

Antidotes To Anxiety

While any yoga program can help ease social anxiety, three poses are especially helpful.
The practice of yoga offers solutions to all types of stress, including social anxiety. Here are three poses that can be especially helpful.

Crocodile Pose: This is a deceptively simple posture that can deliver dramatic benefits. Relax on your stomach with arms folded on the floor above your head. Similar to Savasana (Corpse Pose), in which you lie face-up, Crocodile Pose allows you to release all of your tension, but because it puts your belly and face to the ground, it can make a socially anxious person feel less exposed and vulnerable. In Crocodile Pose, you can practice yogic breathing (consciously using your diaphragm), which feels both calming and empowering.

Seated Twists: Seated twists of all kinds are powerful anxiety relievers. They teach you to relax even when you find yourself in a tight spot. Once a deep twist has been achieved in the pose of your choice, focus on the breath. You'll soon discover that breathing relieves the anxiety and discomfort of the pose. Next, you can apply this insight to other life situations—going to a party, sitting in a meeting, or talking with people.

Headstand: More advanced yoga students can practice Sirsasana (Headstand), which is great for increasing balance and strength and can also stimulate mental clarity. Holding Headstand can be tough, but it's an effective way to calm anxious thoughts and build confidence.

Prescriptions For Pranayama

YJ profiles the pranayama practices of six yoga traditions and finds differences ranging from the subtle to the profound.
By Claudia Cummins
The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they're hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Adho Mukha Svanasana(Downward-Facing Dog) to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

"My first American yoga teacher, a guy named Brad Ramsey, used to say that doing an asana practice without a pranayama practice developed what he called the Baby Huey syndrome," says Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller. "Baby Huey was this big cartoon duck who was very strong but kind of stupid. He wore a diaper. Basically what Brad was trying to say was that asana will develop your body but pranayama will develop your mind."

Like Miller, many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you're likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names likeKapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn't bother with it until you're well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what's a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.
Inegral: Connecting Movement with Meditation
In the integral yoga tradition propounded by Swami Satchidananda, pranayama is incorporated into every yoga class. A typical session starts with asana, moves on to pranayama, and ends with seated meditation. "A hatha yoga class in the Integral Yoga system systematically takes the person deeper," says Swami Karunananda, a senior Integral Yoga teacher. "Asana is meditation on the body, pranayama is meditation on the breath and subtle energy currents within us, and then we work with the mind directly, with the ultimate aim of transcending body and mind and experiencing the higher Self."

While practicing asana, students are advised when to inhale and exhale, but no additional manipulation of the breath is introduced. Within the pranayama portion of the class—which may comprise 15 minutes of a 90-minute session—students sit in a comfortable cross-legged posture with their eyes closed.

Three basic pranayama techniques are routinely taught to beginners: Deergha Swasam; Kapalabhati, or rapid diaphragmatic breathing; and Nadi Suddhi, Integral Yoga's name for alternate nostril breathing. In Deergha Swasam, students are instructed to breathe slowly and deeply while envisioning that they are filling their lungs from bottom to top—first by expanding the abdomen, then the middle rib cage, and finally the upper chest. When exhaling, students envision the breath emptying in reverse, from top to bottom, pulling in the abdomen slightly at the end to empty the lungs completely.

"Three-part deep breathing is the foundation of all the yogic breathing techniques," Karunananda says. "Studies have shown that you can take in and give out seven times as much air—that means seven times as much oxygen, seven times as much prana—in a three-part deep breath than in a shallow breath."

In the Integral tradition, Kapalabhati consists of multiple rounds of rapid breathing in which the breath is forcefully expelled from the lungs with a strong inward thrust of the abdomen. Students might start out with one round of 15 breaths in quick succession and build up to several hundred breaths in one round. In Nadi Suddhi, the fingers and thumb of the right hand are used to close off first one nostril and then the other. This pranayama starts with an exhalation and an inhalation through the left nostril, followed by a full breath through the right, with the whole pattern repeated several times.

Instruction in the breathing practices is systemized in the Integral system, with each technique practiced for a specific duration or number of rounds in one session. As students progress, they are taught to incorporate specific breathing ratios—inhaling for a count of 10, for example, while exhaling for a count of 20. Students move on to advanced practices only when they meet specific breathing benchmarks along the way, indicating that the nadis, the subtle energy channels of the body, have been sufficiently purified and strengthened.

Only at more advanced levels do students learn to incorporate retention, or breath holding, into pranayama. At this point Jalandhara Bandha, the chin lock, is introduced. Retention is said to be important because "it super-injects prana into the system," says Karunananda, and "builds up tremendous vitality." Students are also sometimes invited to incorporate healing visualizations into this practice. "As you inhale you can visualize that you're drawing into yourself unlimited quantities of prana—pure, healing, cosmic, divine energy," Karunananda says. "You can picture any form of natural energy that appeals to you. Then on the exhalation, visualize all the toxins, all the impurities, all the problems leaving with the breath."
Kripalu: Cultivating Sensitivity and Awareness
Pranayama is also introduced from the very beginning in the Kripalu tradition. Here, however, breathing exercises are just as likely to be offered before asana practice as after. "I always begin my classes with 10 to 15 minutes of pranayama," says Yoganand Michael Carroll, former director of advanced yoga teacher training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. "I have folks sit down and do pranayama until they're quiet, they're sensitive. If we can feel more when we go into our postures, we're more likely to be aware of our limits and be respectful of the body."
 Pranayama is almost always taught in a seated position in the Kripalu tradition, with eyes closed and with little emphasis on particular bandhas, or energy locks, until intermediate stages of practice. Students are counseled to follow a slow and gentle approach. Teachers may stop and ask students to note sensations, emotions, and thoughts that come up for them, in order to help them taste more subtle aspects of the practice.

"In Kripalu Yoga, one of the premises is that through developing sensitivity to the body we can learn a lot more about the unconscious drives," Yoganand says. "Breathing is a really integral part of that because unconsciously we choose how much we're going to feel by how much we breathe. When we breathe more deeply, we feel more. So when I'm leading pranayama, I'm primarily encouraging folks to slow down, to release constrictions in breathing and focus on what they feel."

Attention is also paid to the breath during the practice of postures. In beginning asana classes, students are instructed when to inhale and exhale as they enter and release postures, and to simply pay attention to their breath at other times. In more advanced classes, students are encouraged to observe how different postures change their breathing patterns and what feelings arise with these changes. In addition, seasoned students are encouraged to employ a gentle version of Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath), a practice in which the throat is slightly constricted and the breath made softly audible.

In the pranayama portion of the class, beginners usually start with a three-part deep breathing pattern similar to that of Integral Yoga. Beginners are also introduced to the Ujjayi breath during seated pranayama, as well as to Nadi Sodhana, Kripalu's term for alternate nostril breathing. In addition, Kapalabhati is taught in a particularly slow and steady fashion. "When I teach this," says Yoganand, "I usually have folks visualize that they're blowing out a candle, and then I have them exhale in the same way but through the nose." Students learn to extend this practice gradually, starting with 30 to 40 breaths and adding repetitions as well as speed as they grow more adept.

Only at more advanced levels do students move on to additional pranayama practices, Yoganand says. At this level, students use a centuries-old yoga manual called the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as a guide, mastering the subtleties of the eight formal pranayama practices detailed in this text. "The pranayama is to make you more sensitive," says Yoganand. "As folks become more aware of sensations and feelings, there's a real possibility for personal growth and integration."
Ashtanga: Unifying Action, Breath, and Attention
Join a workshop with students from different yoga traditions and you can pick out Ashtanga practitioners with your eyes closed. They're the ones who sound like Star Wars's Darth Vader even when they're standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). That's because they're practicing Ujjayi breathing, which is carried all the way through the vigorous series of postures in this tradition.

Ashtanga teachers say the deep and rhythmic breath fuels the inner energetic flames, heating and healing the body. Just as importantly, Ujjayi breathing keeps the mind focused. By returning again and again to the subtle sound of,this breath, the mind is forced to concentrate and become quiet. "Since the Ashtanga practice is very breath-oriented, in a sense you're doing a kind of pranayama from the moment you begin the practice," says Tim Miller, who has been teaching this approach to yoga for more than two decades.

In the Ashtanga tradition Ujjayi breathing is taught in concert with both Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Lock). This means that while breathing, the pelvic floor and the belly are gently drawn inward and upward so that the breath is directed into the upper chest. When inhaling, students are instructed to expand the lower chest first, then the middle rib cage, and finally the upper chest.

Seated pranayama practices are also a part of this tradition, although Miller says that Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga Yoga, hasn't taught it to groups since 1992. Today only a handful of teachers regularly teach this series, which is comprised of six different pranayama techniques. These practices are learned progressively, each one building upon the previous, and are practiced in a seated position with the eyes open. Typically, they are only introduced after students have practiced yoga for three to five years, Miller says, and have mastered at least the Primary Series of Ashtanga postures.

"As Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutra, one should have reasonable mastery of asana first, which means for sitting pranayama practice you need to have a comfortable seat," he says. "Not that people necessarily need to be able to sit in Padmasana (Lotus Pose) for 45 minutes, but at least they have to be able to sit in an upright position where they can be relatively still." In the first technique, students practice Ujjayi breathing while adding a pause at the end of the exhalation, a pattern called Bahya Kumbhaka. Then they reverse that pattern and pause at the end of the inhalation, a pattern called Antara Kumbhaka. Once mastered, these practices are integrated into a single sequence: three Ujjayi breaths with no breath holding, three Ujjayi breaths with exhalation retention, and then three Ujjayi breaths with inhalation retention. Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha are engaged throughout, and Jalandhara Bandha, the Chin Lock, is added only during the inhalation retention.

The second practice in the Ashtanga sequence combines the retentions learned in the first sequence into each breath cycle, so that the breath is held after both the inhalation and the exhalation. The third sequence builds on the second, this time adding alternate nostril breathing, and the fourth incorporates Bhastrika (Bellows Breath), a rapid, forceful, 

diaphragmatic breathing that's similar to the practice Integral Yoga calls Kapalabhati. The more advanced practices build upon the first four in ever more complicated and demanding patterns.
"I think a lot of people are scared off by , and yet personally I think it's the most important part of yoga," Miller says. "People spend all those years making a 'good seat' with asana practice. At some point I hope they're going to use it."
Iyengar: Developing Precision, Power, and Subtlety
Like Ashtanga yoga, the Iyengar tradition takes seriously Patanjali's counsel that should be introduced only after a student is firmly grounded in asana. In this approach, formal breathing practices are separated from asana and are introduced in a slow and methodical fashion. Mary Dunn, who was a senior teacher in the Iyengar tradition, once said that students are ready to begin when they can practice deep relaxation in Savasana (Corpse Pose) with a calm and attentive mind. "They have to really be able to go inward and not just drop off into sleep," she said. "And they have to have a refined place where they can stop and simply be—not in an action or in the imagination, but in recognition of their internal state."

Savasana is introduced in a reclining position, with the chest and head supported, so students can focus on the breath without the distraction of needing to maintain proper posture. Precise directions are offered to ensure that basic aspects of yogic breathing are well understood before students move on to more strenuous practices. True to Iyengar's "Come watch" approach, it's not uncommon to see 40 students fervently gazing at their teacher's rib cage, watching the instructor point to the precise area of the chest that should be engaged in any given phase of the breath.

Fundamental breathing awareness is introduced first, with students guided to observe the rhythm and texture of inhalation and exhalation. Ujjayi breathing is then introduced, first extending the breath on the exhalation and then reversing that pattern, lengthening the inhalation while exhaling normally. The belly is kept passive, and the lower ribs are activated first, followed by the middle ribs, and finally the upper chest—as if filling the chest from the bottom to top. Even when exhaling, emphasis is placed on maintaining an expansive quality to the rib cage.

The practice of Viloma (Stop-Action Breathing) is also introduced early on. Here, a number of pauses are interspersed into the breath—first during the exhalation, then during the inhalation, and finally during both. Dunn said this teaches students how to direct the breath into specific areas of the chest, ensuring that the entire rib cage is fully activated while breathing deeply. "Viloma allows you to work on a piece of the breath at a time, and it also allows you to be more subtle in terms of placement, developing steadiness, control, and inwardness."

Once seated is introduced, Iyengar teachers focus on maintaining a balanced posture, starting out with a well-supported Sukhasana, or simple cross-legged posture, with the hips elevated on folded blankets. Specific breathing practices are introduced with the same methodical approach as when students lie down for Savasana, and in a similar sequence. Special emphasis is placed on Jalandhara Bandha, which Dunn said should be maintained throughout practice to protect the heart from strain.

At more advanced levels of practice, students incorporate Kumbhaka (Breath Retention) into Ujjayi and Viloma techniques, and are introduced to alternate nostril breathing. Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha aren't even mentioned until students have reached the most advanced levels of practice. Outside of practice, Iyengar Yoga has a reputation for focusing more on alignment than breath, and often in a beginning asana class you won't hear much more than "Breathe!"

 But Dunn said the system attends carefully to the breath during movement, just in somewhat subtle ways. She pointed to Light on Yoga, the bible for Iyengar students, in which B.K.S. Iyengar offers detailed descriptions about breathing during the practice of specific postures. "There are instructions about the breath all the way through. It's the linchpin; it's in every pose," she said. "Once the shape and actions of the asanas are mature, form and breath merge," Dunn added. "The breath in all its aspects becomes an integral part of the experience of practice."
Viniyoga: Creating a Personalized Practice
In the Viniyoga approach, pioneered by T. Krishnamacharya and his son T.K.V. Desikachar, breathing is the foundation upon which all other practices are built. "For us, even at the level of asana the focus is on the relationship between the flow of the breath and the movement of the spine," says Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute. "Even within asana itself our emphasis is to understand very technically, even biomechanically, how to control the flow of the inhalation and the exhalation, and how and when to progressively deepen the flow of the breath."

During asana practice students are instructed to breathe in a way that supports the movement of the spine: usually inhaling during backbending movements, for example, and exhaling during forwardbending and twisting movements. Students are sometimes asked to change the length of the exhalation relative to the inhalation in a particular posture, or even to briefly hold their breath. At other times they are asked to alter their breathing pattern progressively as they repeat a movement. "Let's say we do an asana six times," Kraftsow says. "We can make the exhalation four seconds the first two times, six seconds the second two times, and eight seconds the last two times."

Once students are familiar with the quality and control of the breath during asana, they are introduced to formal breathing practices. It is generally introduced in a comfortable seated position—occasionally even in a chair—and is adapted in a reclining position for those who aren't able to sit for long periods of time. Long retentions and bandhas aren't introduced until more advanced stages of practice, Kraftsow says, unless there are therapeutic reasons for incorporating them.

In the Viniyoga approach, students are often taught to inhale from the top down, emphasizing an expansion of the upper chest first, then the middle torso, then the lower ribs, and finally the abdomen. "Our view is that chest-to-belly expansion will actually help you deepen the flow of breath," Kraftsow says. "If I'm trying to expand my chest, chest inhalation is going to facilitate that. If I'm trying to straighten my thoracic spine, chest inhalation is going to facilitate that. But there are many contexts in which chest breathing is contraindicated. If I have asthma, chest breathing might aggravate this condition." In such cases, he notes, a student would be offered a different breathing pattern, one that eases rather than exacerbates the condition.

True to the Viniyoga approach, which holds that yoga's practices should be offered in a personalized form that matches the needs of each particular student, Kraftsow says there's no set sequence of techniques once an essential awareness of the breath has been cultivated. "My first emphasis will be progressively lengthening the flow of the inhalation and the exhalation," he says. "And then the direction I'll go depends on your needs or interests. If you find yourself having low energy in the morning, I'd suggest one thing. If you're overweight or have high blood pressure, I'd suggest a different."

And although Viniyoga focuses on adapting the practice to suit the needs of each person, this doesn't mean students can approach the breath in a willy-nilly fashion. "One should be careful unless one has been initiated by someone who knows what they're doing," Kraftsow says. "I would encourage students to seek out a well-qualified and highly trained teacher before going deeply into strong practices."
Kundalini: Combining Mudra, Mantra, and Breath
In Kundalini yoga, introduced to the West by Yogi Bhajan, breathing practices are integrated into all classes along with asana, chanting, meditation, and other cleansing practices designed to liberate healing flows of energy from the base of the spine. Strong techniques are fundamental to this approach, and breathing is given greater emphasis than precision of movement or technique. "In Kundalini Yoga, breath is as important as asana," says Kundalini instructor Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa. "That's the root, that's the structure—breathing into a soul, living within a body. Everything else is frosting on the cake."

Techniques in this tradition are often woven directly into the practice of asana. For example, in a class students might hold a posture like Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) for five minutes or more while breathing rapidly, inhaling through the mouth and exhaling through the nose. Or one particular movement—standing on your knees and then bowing down into Balasana (Child's Pose)—may be repeated for 10 minutes or so, while breathing in a particular rhythm and chanting one phrase or mantra, sometimes to music.

An important element of Kundalini Yoga is the Breath of Fire, a rapid diaphragmatic breath similar to what's called Kapalabhati in other traditions. Khalsa doesn't overwhelm beginning students with detailed techniques; instead, she encourages them to dive into the practice immediately. "Usually I just say, 'Open your mouth and pant like a dog,'" Khalsa says. "or, 'Pretend you're a Saint Bernard in the Mojave Desert.'"

 Once students get a feel for this fast-paced breath, with the belly swelling on the inhalation and pressing back in toward the spine on the exhalation, Khalsa instructs them to close the mouth and continue this breath through the nose. In a typical class, Breath of Fire might be practiced for several minutes on its own or else performed while moving through a repetitive series of movements, like scissoring the legs back and forth overhead while lying on one's back.

In addition to Breath of Fire, students are also taught techniques that emphasize long, deep breathing, Khalsa says, as well as alternate nostril breathing. Kriyas (cleansing practices),mantras (sacred sounds), and mudras (hand gestures) are combined together with various breath techniques. Khalsa says the unique combination of these techniques helps turbocharge the breath and foster deeper states of meditation. "Breath alone is just a physical exercise, " she says. "But when you start adding the other components, that brings change about much quicker than sitting and following your breath alone."

Consideration of the chakras, or energy centers, is also integral to the Kundalini tradition. Khalsa encourages her students to feel the breath originating from the lowest three chakras at the base of the torso. "We have to bring forth the prana, the life force, from the source," she says. "And the source is really the mother, the Earth."

When they're not practicing a particular breathing pattern, Khalsa encourages her students to breathe in a very relaxed and easy fashion, with the belly swelling on the inhalation and then releasing back toward the spine on the exhalation. Sometimes if she notices that a student's belly isn't moving with the breath, she'll place the spine of a book into the belly horizontally and tell the student to press against it with the abdomen on an inhalation and then release the pressure against the book on an exhalation. "So many people do yoga for years and never breathe right," Khalsa says. "Their breathing is nutty; it's barely there. Their practice might look really good, but it's not taking them where they really want to go," she says. "Most of us inhale way more than we exhale, and we need to reverse that so we give back more than we take. The breath heals more than anything else in the whole wide world."
Finding Your Own Way
How can so many experts offer such different approaches to pranayama. In part this variety results from the brevity of the ancient texts upon which our modern practices are based. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, for example, says that lengthening the exhalation can help to reduce disturbances of the mind, but doesn't offer detailed techniques for doing that.

"Different people come along and interpret these very succinct verses in different ways, and then they practice based on their interpretation," says Kripalu's Yoganand. "Yoga is so powerful that people tend to get an effect almost regardless of what they do. So someone says, 'I did it this way and it worked, so I must be right,' and someone else says, 'I did it completely differently, but it worked, so I must be right.' Since neither can convince the other and since they both have experience to support their beliefs, they go off and generate two schools. It makes perfect sense that no one can agree. Everyone's experience is different."

In the West you can even find teachers who counsel us to step with caution into traditional practices. When students aren't well prepared, they say, classical breathing techniques can actually distort natural and organic patterns of breathing, forcing us into rigid and controlled ways of being.

"Most people begin yoga with so many pre-existing blocks and holding patterns that to introduce a controlled breathing regime right away further concretizes the blocks," says Donna Farhi. "I think it's extremely important to remove the blocks and holding patterns first, to reveal the natural breath that is our birthright. And then it can be very interesting to explore the subtle movement of prana through formal work. But for the most part this controlled practice is introduced too soon and often only obscures the unconscious forces that drive the breath-holding patterns."

 Viewed alongside one another, these varied perspectives offer us the unsettling yet inspiring prospect that there may not be one right way to reap the gifts of . Our teachers offer us skilled instruction, but we need to use our experience and discrimination to discern which approach works best. Each of us must decide for ourselves which method steers us closest to yoga's ultimate gift: the ease, balance, and inner quiet that help us see into the very heart of life.