Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self control. Energy within and energy without. ~Ymber Delecto
Steady. Comfortable. Posture.
Sthiram Sukham Asanam. I love the way this Sanskrit phrase rolls off the tongue. It’s a phrase from an ancient yoga text by the yoga sage Patanjali, and is literally translated as “resolutely abide in a good space.” Generally, however, it’s translated as “posture should be steady and comfortable.” When we do yoga poses, this balance, between being steady and being comfortable, is the goal. In standing poses, the legs, feet and deep core provide the steadiness and grounding, and a calm relaxed breath brings us into ease and comfort. When the two are in balance, the result is effortless effort, and it feels pretty darn good.
Let’s start with breathing, to create comfort, ease and softness (“Sukha” – literally “good space”). If you’re not breathing efficiently, your secondary breathing muscles in the upper chest and neck may be doing most of the work, leaving you with tight, tense neck muscles, and perhaps feeling as if you’re literally gasping for air. You are in “Dukha” or “bad space.”
When you breathe well, you are creating more space for the air to flow into the lungs. The diaphragm, your primary breathing muscle, contracts and drops down, opening space for the lungs to expand fully. Your breath can become longer, smoother and softer. Remarkable changes occur in your body and mind when you breathe well. The chest and rib cage open more fully, with the following benefits:
• Better support for the spine
• Tones the diaphragm and strengthening the deep core
• Relaxes the body
• Eases neck and shoulder tension
• Lowers blood pressure
• Improves heart rate variability, important for good heart health
• Reduces stress and burnout
• More restful sleep
• Relieves pain
• Calms the mind and reduces anxiety and/or depression
• Boosts immune function
• Increases energy
The ancient yogis have said that a person's lifespan is measured in number of breaths, not time. The fewer the breaths one takes, the longer the lifespan. Modern research confirms this. People with greater vital capacity (the amount of air that can be expelled out of the lungs after a deep inhale) have a greater life expectancy. Interestingly, this is true of animals in general – tortoises, which breathe 2-4 times in a minute, live 200 to 300 years. Mice breathe 60-230 times in a minute and live 1.5 to 3 years.
And now to grounding, the steadiness, firmness, strength (“Sthira”). There are many ways to find steadiness. A calm breath, with a longer smoother exhale, calms the mind. In standing poses, when you find your feet and root into the earth, the Earth's subtle energy flows into the body. The earth gives you energy when you step on it firmly - called Ground Reaction Force. Connecting into the Earth with strong feet and legs can help you feel calmer, and connects you to your lower body, which is a source of strength and energy. It strengthens the deep core. Grounding gives more stability and confidence. And it can reduce pain.
The practice of yoga is designed to release blocked energy in the body. Think of it this way. If you have a knot in a rope and pull on one end, the other end of the rope won’t move because the knot stops the flow of energy from the pulled end to the other. And so it is with tight knotty muscles. As your muscles become more relaxed, stronger and more flexible, your body becomes better able to feel and use the energy of the Earth as your feet and legs ground down into it.
Here’s a breathing practise to help calm the mind and create ease.
• Sit up straight or lie down on flat surface. Notice your thoughts. Does your mind feel busy and active or relatively quiet? Begin to notice the sensation of your breath moving into your body. Don’t try to change the breath, just follow it. The less effort, the better.
• Now, bring your awareness to the tip of your nose. Follow the breath as it flows in from the tip of the nose to the space between the eyebrows, just behind the forehead. Follow the exhale as it flows from the space between the eyebrows, through the nostrils, past the tip of the nose.
• Now begin to visualize a stream of air flowing in the left nostril on the inhale, and a stream of air flowing out the right nostril on the exhale. On your next breath, visualize a stream of air flowing in the right nostril on the inhale, and out the left on the exhale.
• Continue for several minutes. Then take a deep breath, release, and notice any sensations, thoughts, feelings. Does your mind feel quieter?
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Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.