Sūrya Namaskāra - Salutation To The Sun
The practice of Sūrya Namaskāra has many benefits and is a refreshing and centering way to greet the morning. It is also known as sun salutation and is a flowing sequence of āsanas with a set pattern of breathing. Each of the twelve āsanas has a benefit(s) for a specific part of the body. Sūrya Namaskāra improves cardiovascular health and blood circulation, helps decrease stress, and strengthens and tones the body, along with other benefits. If there is a morning when you only have a little time, let a few rounds of Sūrya Namaskāra be your 'hatha for the day'.
1. Prānamāsana (Salutation posture)
Stand erect with feet together. Bring the palms together in front of the chest. Exhale fully.
2. Hasta-uttānāsana (Raised arm posture)
Inhaling stretch both arms above the head, palms facing upward. Arch the back and stretch the whole body.
3. Pādahastāsana (Hand to foot posture)
Exhaling bend the body forward and down, keeping the spine straight. Avoid collapsing the chest or "over-rounding" the upper back. Keep the legs straight and perpendicular to the ground. The knees may be allowed to bend a little if needed.
4. Ashwa Sanchalanāsana (Equestrian posture)
On your next inhalation, extend the left leg back and drop the knee to the ground. The right knee is bent and kept between the hands and the right foot placed flat on the ground. Lift the spine and open the chest.
5. Adho Mukha Śvānāsana (Downward facing dog posture)
On the exhalation bring the right leg back to join with the left leg. Simultaneously raise the buttocks and lower the head between the arms, so that the body forms a triangle with the floor. Try to place the heels flat on the ground.
6. Ashtanga Namaskāra (Salutation with eight limbs)
Exhaling gently drop both knees to the ground and slowly slide the body down at an angle as you bring the chest and chin to the ground. All eight limbs - toes, knees, chest, hands and chin - touch the floor. The buttocks are kept up. Hold the breath.
7. Bhujangāsana (Cobra posture)
On the inhalation, lower the hips while pushing the chest forward and upward with the hands, until the spine is fully arched and the head is facing up. The knees and lower abdomen remain above the floor.
8. Adho Mukha Śvānāsana (Downward facing dog posture)
Exhale and return to Adho Mukha Śvānāsana.
9. Ashwa Sanchalanāsana (Equestrian posture)
Inhale, swing the right leg forward between the hands. The left leg remains back.
10. Pādahastāsana (Hand to foot posture)
Exhaling, bring the left foot forward. Join both legs and resume Padahastāsana.
11. Hasta-uttanāsana (Raised arm posture)
Inhale, raise the trunk up and bend backward. Return to Hastauttanāsana.
12. Prānamāsana (Salutation posture)
Straighten the body and bring the hands in front of the chest.
- Pregnant women should not practise this after their third month of pregnancy
- Patients of hernia and high blood pressure are advised against this practice.
- People suffering from back pain should seek proper advice before commencing Surya Namaskar.
- Women should avoid Surya Namaskar and other asanas during their periods.
The Sanskrit word prānāyāma comes from two words: prāna; the energy of life or the vital force that permeates the entire animate and inanimate worlds; and āyam, to control, to name, to own, to call, or to take in.
Prānāyāma is the practice of calling forth and consciously directing prāna. It is the cultivation of awareness in life through the cultivation of the awareness of breathing. When we inhale (pūraka), we are taking the energy of life into us: "inspiration". When we exhale (recaka), we are releasing the energy of life into the world: "expiration".
As long as we are alive, there is prāna, the breathing spirit, within us.
When prāna leaves, we die.
Vāta people generally exhale easier than they inhale. It is beneficial for them to learn to increase the capacity of their inhalation. Kumbhaka (retention) should be gradually learned; otherwise, vāta may become aggravated. Vāta types should increase the duration of puraka (inhalation) and kumbhaka (retention) when doing prānāyāma.
Pitta people generally exhale faster than they inhale; therefore they need to increase the volume of their exhalation to help cool the body. Pitta types should do a little less retention than what is normally done.
Kapha breathing is usually steady and rhythmic. Breath retention or kumbhaka is useful in promoting cellular metabolism and reducing excess kapha.
The four prānāyāmas below are tridoshic and beneficial for all three doshas.
Nādi Shodana - Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi Shodana can easily be done just about any time and anywhere. It can be done before meditation to help calm the mind, or to still the thoughts. You can also do it as part of your centering prior to an asana or posture routine.
Also, try it at various times throughout the day. Nadi Shodhana can help control stress and anxiety. If you start to feel stressed out, 5-10 rounds will help calm you down. It can also help to soothe the anxiety caused by flying and other fearful or stressful situations. It is a very balancing pranayama.
Sit in a comfortable position with the spine erect and straight. Keep the palm of the right hand facing the face. Bend the first two fingers (index and middle) as shown below. If this cannot be done somewhat easily, leave them straight. Now, put the right thumb on the right nostril, closing it enough to restrict the flow of breath. The last two fingers of the same hand (ring and little fingers) will be used to restrict the flow of breath in the left nostril. Remember, for the practice of this Prānāyama, always start and finish the breathing from the left nostril.
Inhale normally through both nostrils. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and then exhale through the left nostril.
Begin the following procedure:
Breathe in through the left nostril. Pause briefly.
Close the left nostril with fingers and breathe out through the right nostril.
Breathe in through the right nostril. Pause briefly.
Close the right nostril with the thumb and
breathe out through the left nostril.
This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana.
Do five to ten rounds at each sitting, to begin with.
You can gradually increase to 10-15 minutes each sitting.
Do not do this prānāyām if you have a headache, cold, fever, seizures, clogged nasal passages, or are agitated.
Also, it is best not to do Nādi Shodana immediately after eating.
Full Yogic Breath
Breathing into the belly sustains good health and supports a grounded and relaxed body. It also helps to correct poor breathing patterns and habits.
- In a lying, sitting or standing posture, do one full breath consisting of an inhalation and exhalation as follows:
- As you begin to inhale, breathe deeply into the belly, the area directly around and below the navel. Initially draw the breath to a spot just below the navel. Equally in all directions, move the breath into the abdominal area including the lower portion of the back, so that the entire pelvic region expands in all directions.
- When the belly is completely expanded, draw the breath up into the rib-cage area and expand it in all directions just as you did the belly.
- When the ribs are completely filled, draw the breath evenly up into the upper chest area. Lift and expand laterally as the breath rises to the heart and sternum and finally to the upper chest and collarbones.
- When you release the breath, release and empty the breath first from the belly, expelling all the air from this area before you then release air from the rib cage and finally from the chest.
This completes one round of Full Yogic Breath.
Full Yogic Breath forms the basis for all other prānāyāmas. It can be practiced at any time and is especially beneficial during the practice of Hatha yoga. Contraindications: None
Promotes mental clarity and focus and releases deep-seated emotions held in the tissues.
- From a lying, sitting or standing position:
- Breathe in completely with a Full Yogic Breath.
- Make a soft closure at the very back of the throat by gently pressing down on the epiglottis (as when you begin to swallow). Exhale so that you hear a quiet sound as the breath passes out through this closure.
- Extend your exhalation as long as you can without straining.
- Release the breath slowly, listening to the sound at the back of your throat until the sound disappears when there is no more air to expel. If you naturally go into a breath retention after either inhalation or exhalation, allow it to happen.
- Begin the next breath before you have the urge to gasp or make a harsh movement with the belly or throat. Be patient and relax completely. In time, with consistent practice, the breath will extend without strain.
- Contraindications: None
Kapālabhāti Prānāyāma — Cleansing Breath
Kapālabhāti is also called the "skull shining breath". It cleanses the lungs, strengthens the nervous system, and helps agni (the digestive fire) and appetite by toning the digestive organs. It brings alertness by removing sensory distractions from the mind. Kapālabhāti is best done on an empty stomach.
- Focus on the exhalation; the inhalation happens naturally, without effort.
- From a seated position, expel the breath through the nose as the navel dynamically draws in towards the spine, slightly contracting the abdominal muscles.
- Fill the lungs naturally on inhalation, without effort. The inhalation is spontaneous and involves no effort while the exhalation is strong and active.
- Begin and end gently. There is no breath retention at the end of a round. Start with one round of 20 repetitions; relax the breath, rest for a moment, and repeat two more times. Then sit quietly and observe the effects.
Contraindications: Detached retina, glaucoma, high or low blood pressure, heart problems, nose bleeds, hernia, ulcers, recent history of epilepsy, recent abdominal surgery, pregnancy and menses. If you experience vertigo, discontinue the practice.