by Shameem Akhtar
Shameem Akhtar explains how focussing more on exhalation while doing yoga, relaxes, heals, and empowers the mind along with the body.
|Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology. |
In yoga, things are done a bit topsy-turvy to what we are otherwise used to. While preparing for any intense activity, the normal manner of breathing involves a deep drawing in (inhalation) of breath. In yoga, be it in a pose or the other parts of the practices, especially in pranayama, we are advised to focus on the exhalation. This training is done consistently, to reverse our normal mode of behavior. During exhalation, the body relaxes, while during inhalation, the body gears up or contracts. So, the idea behind yoga is to teach the body to relax, instead of contracting, when doing something that requires more effort. This is what is advised even in poses. For instance, in the shoulder stand, when we hoist ourselves up on our shoulders, we are required to do that with an exhalation. This is exciting, as a matter of forced yet playful training, that we can do tough things with the breath at ease, unlike others who do not practice yoga. Similarly, in anulom vilom (alternate nostril breathing whose actual meaning is “going against natural order”) we must exhale after retention! All our millions of years of evolution have prepared us to inhale after retention. But we talk back to that, and instead exhale! What a powerful, subconscious tool in mind-control this particular sequence is! This may be why pranayamas are seen as very healing if the mathematical, technical aspect of its ratio is maintained. It is said that practices like anulom vilom can prevent and control diseases in its practitioners by going to the root of the problem, where it all starts, in the mind. Again, in any breath sequence the exhalation must be longer than inhalation. If you do not empty your lungs (as happens in exhalation), however deep your inhalation, its impact will be pretty much useless. So, as you advance in practice, your exhalation becomes longer in most pranayama practices, as much as double your inhalation. Again, this reverses the tension we build up in the body, and allows the body to loosen up, even as it empties the lungs and improves its volume and capacity. And how well your lungs work will manage your moods – shallow breathing is the major cause for most emotional upsets.
Vyaghrasana (Tiger stretch pose):
Kneel on your fours, as shown. Inhale, bending the left leg at the knee. Exhaling, first draw the knee towards your face, while simultaneously moving face inwards, to look at the bent knee. Inhale to lift the left knee behind and up, as shown. Continue normal breathing. Reach right hand to hold the left ankle (or foot or toes, as shown). Lift the leg higher, drawing the ankle away firmly. Inhale, lift the head up to look at the ceiling. Hold for as long as is comfortable, breathing normally throughout. Release leg, exhaling. Repeat for the other side. Points to note: This calls for a keen ability to balance. So attempt it only after trying other advanced cat pose variations. Do not lift the head until balance has been achieved.
Involves balancing skills which have a tremendous impact on calming and grounding the mind. It also uplifts moods. Is a complete body workout, toning every part of the body as well as the face with its intensity.
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