What are the Benefits of Pranayama? by Sharlene Poole
There are two main pranayama’s that I have consistently practiced during the last 18 years of self-practice. They are the sama vritti (same breath) ratio of 1:1 breathing and abdominal breathing.
1:1 breath ratio sets the rhythm for an asana based yoga practice. Counting for an in breath of 3 seconds and an out breath of 3 seconds this sets the pace for a steady and energising asana practice.
1:1 ratio also acts as a ‘spring-board’ pranayama to add to. If you come across difficult times or a difficult posture you can slightly extend the out breath, edging towards 1:2 breath ratio. Thus assisting you to breath through life situations or flow through challenging postures.
You can also add to 1:1 breath ratio by observing the pause after the out breath for a while. Then observe both the pause after the out breath and the in breath. Repeated for many repetitions I would most likely use this breath for the beginning of meditation practice rather than an asana based practice. This would be because my energy levels will begin to be less energised with this type of awareness on my breath.
You could also create a more relaxed (less energised) state with 1:1 pranayama. This would be by breathing in and breathing out for a longer count, perhaps for a count of 8 seconds. Energetically I begin to feel I am perhaps in abdominal breathing territory about now.
Placing the thumbs and index fingers together, palms flat on the belly in a modified yoni mudra. Simply observe and feel into the rise and fall of the abdominals on the in and out breath. Traditionally we would perhaps be in a seated posture for this pranayama. However with the fast pace of life perhaps a little modification should be allowed. If you were to wake up in the middle of the night for example, either lying on your back or your belly observe the rise and fall of the abdominals as you breath.
Whilst discussing lying on your belly when abdominal breathing you could put a thinly folded blanket underneath your abdominal and thoracic area. As you breath in feel your belly push into the blanket, as you breath out feel the belly-button sink back to the spine. This practice would benefit those with lower back issues as you would not only begin to relax the belly, but around the waistline and below and eventually the lower back.
These are however my observations which I have come back to many times throughout self-practice. The benefits of which are: setting the pace to an asana based practice; controlling energy levels to compliment practice; settling the mind for meditation; comforting lower back issues. So observe for yourself and see what works for you.
(The intention was to keep the answer simple as it can be considered that an ‘asana based yoga practice’ is a moving meditation. And ‘the pause after the out breath and the in breath’ enters the realms of four-part breathing).
The Super Sun by Sharlene Poole
On a beach during the Summer I dutifully saluted to the sunrise most mornings. The moon was behind me whilst the sun rose above the mountains. ‘Why do we salute to the sun?’ I wondered.
We have experienced the super moon late last year but by default the sun is always super. At 93 million miles away from earth the sun is our closest star and without which life on earth would not exist. The temperature of the sun’s core can reach more than 15million degrees celsius. Whilst the earth’s core temperature is 5700 degrees celsius, which is as hot as the sun’s surface temperature. As hydrogen turns into helium energy is created which powers the sun.
Many ancient civilisations before us have worshipped the sun. Karnak Temple in Egypt (2055BC to 100AD) was dedicated to the Sun God Amun-Re. He was born from a lotus blossom and gave light to the cosmos which brought about creation.
Ancient yogi’s honoured the sun as a symbol of the Divine. The sun represented the gateway between the gods and humans. Originally sun salutes were a sequence of sacred words rather than the sequence of postures we see today. However whether we recite Vedic mantras or we practice a sequence of postures perhaps ‘one is offering salutation to the Divine, represented by the sun, as a source of light removing the darkness of a clouded mind’ (A.G.Mohan).
Greek philosophers, ancient yogi’s and many other civilisations considered the relationship between the external sun of the macrocosm and our own internal sun of the microcosm. So our individual world corresponds to the world of the universe.
The ‘Ha’ and ‘Tha’ of Hatha Yoga represent the microcosmic sun and the moon. Yoga can be expressed as the union between the two. When we are more in touch with our solar energy we are feeling dynamic and extrovert (our right nostril is dominant). When we are more in touch with our lunar energy we feel dreamy and introvert (our left nostril is dominant). We use asana and pranayama to balance our internal sun and moon. We may even consider our internal sun is housed at the heart centre.
There are many reasons as to why we may salute to the sun. Perhaps we should just because we want to as the sun energises us and simply makes us feel better. Or as a nod to the respect we have for the world around us - all that wouldn’t exist without the sun.
Resources - books/articles
Wonders of the Solar System - Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen
Wonders of the Universe - Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen
The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga - Georg Feuerstein
Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya - Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Shine on me by Kelly McGonigal, Yoga Journal 2010 March
The Origin of the Sun Salutation by Olav Aarts, Ekhart Yoga 2013 August
Here comes the Sun by Richard Rosen, Yoga Journal 2007 August
The Ant with Fancy Pants by Sharlene Poole
A quiet mid morning ...
on a still Summer day
Everyone at the house had gone away
With thoughts that were still
And not a cloud in the sky
A tiny ant looked up and said ‘Hi’
‘Hi ant’ said I
An ant with fancy pants!
‘Hey ant with the fancy pants ...
even you have the yoga bug it does seem
Your patterned, pretty pants so much they gleam!’
He laughed and said ‘yogi, you look a tad sad!’
I said ‘ant I’m a yoga teacher and for that I’m glad
I’m not a business woman, publicist or wish to entertain
I just teach yoga to help people to gain ...
a nice life free from strain!’
He said ‘be happy lady
and wear your fancy pants too!’
I said ‘thanks fancy ant in fancy pants
I’ll keep teaching yoga to everyone
including you too!’.