By Shameem Akthar August 2013 A continuous awareness of the breath is what makes yoga so deeply meditative, says Shameem Akthar Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic sychology. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org://jaisivananda.blogspot.com Though everybody knows that yoga asanas involve breath awareness, some people get bogged down by the very thought that they have to remember when to inhale and exhale. A few get bored when the suggestion is made, and may often switch off. Others believe that they may pick that habit up after they get habituated to co-ordination issues and would rather deal with the learning of the right form and technique. All of these are valid inhibitions for beginners to yoga. However, lack of breath awareness may well become a habit on the mat and is best avoided from the start. Also, breath awareness is what makes yoga rather special as a physical form of activity that also, through movement itself, encourages a deep meditative state. There is also the fear that inhaling and exhaling at the ‘wrong time’ may cause some deep, irreparable damage. Actually, the cues to inhale and exhale at a particular junction of a pose, though common to most yoga schools, may also vary. So, in a manner of speaking, you can take it that the cues are for you to remember to breathe and to be aware of that breath. Often, when we focus intensely on something, we have the habit of holding our breath, and the yogic cues for inhale and exhale are meant to shake that off first. So, the fear that something terrible will happen if the inhalation and exhalation is done at the ‘wrong time’ can be dispensed with. The cues are actually meant to facilitate a movement into a pose. For instance, the body is naturally relaxed when you exhale, so often the difficult part of a pose may be tagged with the suggestion to exhale. Then, again, when two parts of the body come close, as happens in a plough (when the legs drop over the chest) you are required to exhale: to tide over a difficult part of the pose, plus, the exhalation empties the lungs and creates the space to squeeze in the body more tightly. Most of the cues to inhale and exhale have this sort of logic to them, and once you begin to make the connection, it is rather easy to cover this aspect of a pose comfortably. Once the meditative part of an asana sinks in then the mind and body begin to feel connected. Then, you could settle into the special state of an asana, where hanging upside down would feel just as comfortable as lying on your back! Ardhapadmapaschimottanasana(Half lotus forward bending pose): Sit with your legs stretched out. Fold the right leg at the knee, placing the back of the right foot on your left thigh, almost at hip joint. Ensure that the right knee is touching the ground (or pointing down, if you are a beginner). Inhale, raising both arms up. Exhaling, extend the arms ahead, bringing them down to the legs, to hold the left foot (or any part of the left leg, if a beginner). Drop the head, relaxing the neck and moving the chest towards the left thigh. Breath normally. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat thrice. After regular practice, do only once, holding for up to a minute. Release the pose, raising arms up, inhaling. Exhale to relax arms at the hips. Repeat for the other leg. Benefits: Prepares you for the full lotus (padmasana). Improves blood circulation at the hips, tones the spine, removes stress, calms the mind, controls diabetes.
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