Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Yoga > The Importance of Bandhas and Mudras Explained Very Simply

As a dedicated practitioner of yoga for more than 15 years now, I have always been very partial to one of the 8 limbs of yoga - asanas. A few years ago I started enjoying pranayama. And although I do practice certain mudras and try to incorporate bandhas in my practice I had never really understood the importance of the latter two. This is fine because mudras and bandhas are usually introduced after some proficiency has been attained in the practice of asana and pranyama. 

But the latest issue of the Yoga magazine, published by the Bihar School of Yoga helped demystify the mudras and bandhas. Understanding how they impact our energy body, and hence our complete entity, motivates one to understand these subjects deeper and also make them a part of our regular practice. 

Mudras: In the article entitled 'Hatha Yoga' by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati, it is explained that mudras and bandhas are ways to enhance the workings of the energy body. As observed by various scientific experiments under Kirlian photopgraphy (a camera that captures the images of our energy body) it has been seen that even simple mudras of the hand (some mudras even involve the whole body in a combination of asana, pranayama, band and visualisation techniques) help to preserve and reabsorb the energy that may otherwise get dissipated or wasted. To give you an example, in the jnana mudra, the hand gesture of joining the tips of the thumb and index finger, it was observed that the energy that would have dissipated from the hands, re-enters the body. In other words when one practices mudras in accordance with yogic scriptures and under the guidance of an experienced teacher, the energy can be recycled within our body.  

Bandhas: The same article explains the application and importance of bandhas very simply. Bandhas are locks in the physical body that impact the pranic or the energy body. Bandhas are applied in the three major areas of our body where there is a large mass of nerves. One group of nerves is in the neck region, another is behind the navel in the abdomen and the third is near the rectum. Physically, these are centres that collect sensations from the body and deliver them to the brain. But when you apply a bandha, these sensations are contained in one region and the energy flow is limited only to one place! "Why must we do that?" you may be wondering. 
Swami Niranjananda explains this through an example. "When a running tap is closed it builds pressure. Gradually the pressure increases. Then when the tap is opened, the pipe throws the water swiftly through the tap, and the water pressure normalises. Similarly, the use of bandhas unites the energy by blocking it, then by releasing the bandha the energy is distributed more evenly."

For more details on Mudras and Bandhas refer to the book Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Yoga > The Pawanmuktasana Series – Simple, Yet Highly Effective

I have been talking about the simple asanas being very effective. What could be more effective that the Pawanmuktasana series as designed by Swami Satyanand Saraswati! I can safely vouch for this series to be solely responsible for strengthening my muscles gently and preparing my body for more intermediate and advanced asana practice.

The Series: For details on the Pawanmuktasanas either consult a teacher certified by the Bihar School of Yoga or refer to the book titled Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyanand Saraswati himself. The detailed instructions and diagrams are sufficient to get you started on these series that have almost no, or negligible, contraindications.

The Benefits: As prescribed by Swami Satyanand the Pawanmuktasana series must precede other asanas. Holding an asana for a long duration (even if it is only for half a minute) can be quite intense on the muscles involved. The repetitive movements of the Pawanmuktasana series prepare the muscles gently to enable the holding of a posture comfortably and joyously, instead of putting a strain on the muscle and making one prone to injury.

But if one was to do the complete series it can even amount to a full body workout. In fact, the complete series provides a very balanced routine because it engages most of your limbs and muscles. Just because it seems very gentle it may look rather ineffective as far as toning up the body is concerned. But actually, if you practice the complete series just for a month you'll notice considerable physical effects, including toning of the abs.

The ‘simple’ hand, foot and neck movements are anti rheumatic, the ‘simple’ leg movements are great for digestion and strengthening the abdominal muscles and ‘simple’ exercises like chakkichalan and rowing are great for shakti bandhas. And beyond the aforementioned benefits these seemingly simple exercises work at various levels like loosening and stretching of muscles, nerves and joints at the physical level and even at the deeper levels of the energy and the mind.

The Modern Application: Although it can work up to be an effective cardio activity, the simplicity of movements ensures that it works gently even on stiff muscles, hence greatly reducing the chance of injury. I also feel that the Pawanmuktasana series may have been the base for vinyasa yoga, and hence most of the trendy and new age flow yoga styles. In this series the emphasis is on movement and repetition. 

My Experience: Even though I have been practicing yoga consistently, whenever I let go of the pawanmuktasanas for a long gap I start seeing the stiffness coming back into the body, especially in my shoulder joints or wrists. I have thus decided to incorporate the Pawanmuktasana series regularly in my practice. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

Insight > For The Love Of Yoga

I love yoga for its versatility and flexibility, vastness and simplicity, intensity and ease. Yoga can be curative and restorative. Yoga enables you to use the power of your body optimally, in turn leading the body towards optimal health. 

There literally is something in yoga that everyone can do. And I learnt this only by experience. I went through a phase when i had given yoga a rather long break in my life. So while my body was still quite flexible, my muscles had lost considerable strength. Every time I got back to an intense yoga practice, I landed with a mild muscle injury. Although the injury was mild enough to be cured only with adequate rest, it was painful enough to keep me away from practicing yoga for a few days. This went on for almost a year.

This is when I truly realised the flexibility of Yoga. Instead of refraining from yoga altogether due to a muscle strain,  I started designing practises for myself that included asanas that didn't require any movement or pressure on the strained muscles. For example, with a strained intercostal muscle in the chest, I focussed on asanas for the lower body and the core, without any pressure on the chest muscles. When I strained a muscle in the hip/thigh, I focussed on asanas on the upper body, and so on. The vast choice of asanas, along with umpteen variations, made it possible for me to practice a full hour of yoga without overstraining the already strained muscles. This choice of practice not only made it possible for me to practice yoga regularly, it also slowly started building strength in my muscles. The variety of sequences that I followed also made the entire experience more interesting for me, without falling into a boring repetition.

I like my Yoga practice to leave me feeling energised and refreshed and not groaning with pain unlike some other physical workouts. It has been over a year now that I have not succumbed to any injury due to yoga. Having done my teacher's training helped me in designing balanced sequences for myself. But even if you can't do that, always discuss openly with your yoga teacher and help them to offer sequences that are most suited for you.

Insight > Acceptance: Do We Really Have A Choice?

We've heard many-a-guru make a big deal of Acceptance. Accepting our circumstances is a very brave thing to do, they say. They even teach us the difficult practice in order to enrich our lives.

But is acceptance really a choice?

If we don't accept what is, we are merely running away from reality. Living in a bubble of falsity and what should "have been". And if you fail to accept the past and present exactly the way they have been you are simply living in denial! Since you cannot change the past and this very present moment, not accepting it is a mind-game that many people get trapped in,

Not accepting your present graciously usually arises from dissatisfaction of what is. It also relieves you or your responsibility in creating your present life. We can ponder all we like on the various permutations and combinations of an imaginary past. "If that had happened then this would not have happened", "if so-and-so had done this then that would have happened" and so on. But isn't all this a mere waste of time and energy?

In not accepting your present you even give away the power that you have in creating your highest life. Only when you truly accept your circumstances exactly as they are can you work on effectively working towards a future that you truly desire.

Acceptance of your life exactly as it is opens you up to the power of the present moment. It is in this present moment that you can make choices that will create the rest of your life. And if you choose each action wisely you can make a string of decisions that you will one day look back at and feel happy about the life that you created for yourself.

So instead of living with regrets for the past (or even the present, for that matter), start by accepting totally and whole-heartedly your current circumstances, embrace your life exactly as it is. Then you can take stock of the things that you would like to change. But be very mindful of the fact that you cannot change the past, but you can do things differently in the present and steer your life towards your most cherished goals and deepest desires.