By Sandra AndersonTraveling in Tibet in the 1920s, Alexandra David-Neel encountered a lama moving alone and fast in the remote Tibetan desert. “He ran like a ball bouncing,” she wrote, levitating with each step, moving faster than her entourage on horseback, and seemingly in a trance, unaware of his surroundings. Eventually she learned that the training for this extraordinary capacity is not aerobic conditioning; it’s pranayama, the mastery of prana. Part of the training involves sitting in a small, below-ground pit, using the breath and mind to lift the body out of the pit with the power of prana.
“If you can control prana, you can completely control all the forces of the universe, mental and physical.”
So what is this mysterious prana? Prana is our vital life force. It works through the mind and in the heart, in the breath, and in digestion; in walking, running, talking, and thinking; and in projecting the personality in all ways. It’s also the sum total of all the energy manifest in the universe. Swami Sivananda, an influential yoga master of the last century, writes, “If you can control prana, you can completely control all the forces of the universe, mental and physical.” This explains the prodigious feats of memory and strength traditionally associated with yogis—things like the power to fly through the sky, levitate, and control body temperature. But perhaps more to the point for us, by controlling prana, the mind is also controlled.Just to be clear, yoga is the mastery of the mind, and for yogis, pranayama is the ticket for learning to use all the wondrous powers of the mind. The yogic texts tell us the mind is tethered to prana like a bird to a string. And here’s the really good news: by controlling the breath, we can control prana, and thus the mind. And the really, really good news? Basic pranayama practices are both powerful and accessible to all of us.Though many pranayama techniques are not that difficult physically, sustaining a practice and developing the mind can be tricky. Here are six pointers for getting started, and for improving, sustaining, and deepening your practice.
- Steadiness of body: The body must be comfortably motionless for a prolonged period of time, and yet support alertness, breath control, and mental focus. Asana practice is essential for pranayama, partly because it’s nearly impossible to maintain a balanced, still, comfortable sitting posture for any length of time without it. Just as importantly, asana activates and integrates the flow of prana, helps us develop the capacity to direct prana with bandhas (energy locks), trains the body to breathe diaphragmatically, and develops sensitivity to inner states of being. Preferred sitting postures for pranayama are sukhasana (easy pose), svastikasana (auspicious pose), and padmasana (lotus pose), but sitting on a chair is also an option.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: Just as your sitting posture is the foundation for the body in pranayama practice, diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation for the breath. This is where deliberate training of the breath begins in earnest. Don’t assume that because you have been practicing yoga for years, you are breathing diaphragmatically. Our breathing patterns are typically subconscious—controlled by persistent habits that are out of our awareness. Get started with Breath Training on the Pranayama Channel at YogaInternational.com for tutorials and tips to refine your basic breathing pattern, balance the nervous system, and reinforce a relaxed state of inner equilibrium.
- Balanced lifestyle: Avoid too much or too little food, too much or too little sleep, and too much or too little mental and physical activity. Be regular in your lifestyle habits. A fresh, nourishing diet is particularly important.
- Mental/emotional stability: Here’s my teacher, Pandit Tigunait, a masterful pranayama practitioner, on the subject of emotional balance: “To get the benefit of pranayama, you must be steady in thought, speech, and action. Without some measure of contentment in life, pranayama brings misery.”
- Regularity: In general, the benefits of yoga accrue from consistent, systematic practice for long periods of time. “If one practices pranayama continuously for a year, he is sure to attain wisdom,” writes Swami Rama, a modern master who demonstrated extraordinary control over his body’s autonomic functions. “With regulation of the breath,” he continues, “karma acquired both in this life and in the past may be burnt up.” This is a big job, and progress is necessarily incremental. After all, it took lifetimes to build your unconscious mind and habits, so naturally it will take some time to reshape them!
- Inner focus: Success in yoga depends on this. Becoming sensitive to the flow of breath, the subtlety of the breath, and finally the suspension of the breath, leads you to awareness of the force behind the breath—prana. Awareness of prana is the thread that links you to deeper states of mental awareness, independent of the physical body and the senses. This is the beginning of mastering the mind.
Finally, (and thankfully), my teachers also have this useful advice: Don’t bind yourself with too many rules. So why delay? Start now, even if your sitting posture and diet aren’t perfect and equanimity isn’t your forte. In the memorable words of Swami Sivananda, “Start the practice this very second in right earnest and become a real yogi.”About Sandra Anderson
For over 20 years Sandra Anderson has shared her extensive experience in yoga theory and practice with students from all over the world. A senior faculty member and resident at the Himalayan Institute, her teaching reflects access to the living oral tradition, and the embodied experience of 30 years of dedicated practice. With a background in the natural sciences and interest in classical Sanskrit, along with frequent pilgrimages to India, Sandy has a rare capacity to eloquently convey the richness of spiritual life in our contemporary world. She is the coauthor of the award-winning book, Yoga Mastering the Basics, and was a contributing editor and columnist for Yoga International magazine. She is now a frequent contributor to YogaInternational.com, offering instructional videos and articles. Sandy leads workshops, trainings and retreats both nationally and internationally, and at the headquarters of the Himalayan Institute.
Lords on the Mats
According to NDTV, the session began with meditation, during which an audio-visual history of yoga was played in the background. Following this, they began with pranayama, following a yoga teacher through a series of breathing exercises.
The Lords attempted a variety of positions from Ardha Chandrasana to Vrikshasana, reports NDTV. The lesson was led by yoga instructor Neil Patel, who instructed the Parliamentarians on proper form and etiquette, reminding them not to kick their neighbors even if they didn’t belong to the same political party.
The yoga session was kickstarted by Indian-born Lord Karan Bilimoria as part of the U.K.’s International Yoga Day celebrations. Bilimoria praised India’s influence on the world, calling yoga a “shining example” of its “soft power.”
“Yoga is rapidly gaining in popularity around the world for its recognized benefits for wellbeing and mindfulness,” Bilimoria told Outlook India.
He joked that the Lords were well suited to yoga because they’re already in such good shape and in need of relaxation.
“We are very fit, you see,” Lord Bilimoria told NDTV. “We have just eight minutes from the time the bell goes to come and vote from wherever we are in the vast lobbies of this grand building. We run to make it…so this yoga session was very welcome.”
Other Lords agreed, saying that yoga was easier than they thought it would be. Patel called them “sports,” adding that they don’t need to attempt complicated asanas in order to stay in shape.
“A little bit of simple yoga a day would be good for inner peace and health,” he said.
Durban Beach Front Amphitheatre (in front of the Elangeni Hotel)
Starts at 08h30 and ends at 10h00, all welcome! Please bring a mat!
Be part of this world wide event !
You got to be there !!!
June 21 will see thousands of fitness-loving people descend upon the Durban amphitheatre, opposite the Elangeni Hotel, to join the rest of the world in observing International Day of Yoga.
Last year, the prime minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, made a proposal at the 69th UN General Assembly (UNGA), that the said day be celebrated each year, which was approved. Locally, the Consulate of India’s office in association with the Sivananda World Peace Foundation and Vishwa Shakti are organising a special programme that will take place in Durban, Stanger, Phoenix, Chatsworth, Tongaat and PMB.
Speaking at a meeting, the Consul General of India, Rajagopalan Ragunathan, said they are expected to draw in a crowd of about 2000 people in Durban. “The objective of celebrating the International Day of Yoga is to create awareness about yoga and how it benefits everyone in better understanding the significance of traditional and authentic yoga techniques. We really want to make this event a success and urge the community and organisations to join in and be part of it,” he said.
The activities include a lecture cum demonstration by yoga instructors/experts from 8:30am to 10am. “People from all walks of life are expected to join. In collaboration with different associations, the Consulate General of India will be holding similar yoga camps in Phoenix, Chatsworth, Tongaat and Stanger,” he said.
The day also coincides with Father’s Day so share a memory with your dad on father’s day by being of this relaxing experience. Simply come attired for yoga with your mat. T-shirts and hampers will be handed out to all participants.
Yoga is essentially a discipline which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. It is an art and science for healthy living. According to Yoga scriptures, the practice of of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness. One who experiences this oneness of existence is said to be ‘in Yoga’ and is termed as a Yogi who has attained a state of freedom. Yoga is a 5000-year-old physical, mental and spiritual practice speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, but most likely developed around teh sixth and fifth centuries BC, in ancient India.
How Inversions Help Balance the Physical and Subtle Bodies
Known as the king of Asanas (yoga postures), the headstand may at first seem intimidating to the new practitioner. However, the benefits of this posture to one’s mind, body, and spirit are plenty. In an environment where we are either sitting down or standing for most of the day, our circulation tends to become sluggish. This often results in our heart overworking to pump adequate blood to the upper body. Normally, our heart works against the pull of gravity. Inversions lessen the strain on the heart and allow an abundant supply of oxygen-rich blood to reach the head and brain.
Here are 5 of the many benefits of regular practice of headstand:
1. Inversions reverse the pull of gravity on the organs, especially the intestines. Performing this posture increases digestive fire and body heat. The intestines are cleansed while releasing clogged blood in the colon.
2. By inverting, the flow of blood reverses in the body and stimulates the nervous system. Headstands stimulate and provide refreshed blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands. The hypothalamus gland links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. These glands are vital to our wellbeing and are considered the master glands that regulate all other glands in the body (thyroid, pineal, and adrenals). Performing headstand helps to dissolves stress, sadness, depression, and lethargy. The cleaner your adrenal glands are, the more optimal they will function. This will help you to adapt to stress better.
4. By performing headstand, you will be directly stimulating your lymphatic system and thereby helping to remove toxins from your body. The lymphatic system is responsible for waste removal, fluid balance, and immune system response. As lymph moves through the body, it gathers toxins and bacteria to be eliminated by the lymph nodes. Lymph moves as a result of muscle contractions and gravity. By inverting, lymph travels more easily into the respiratory system where much of the toxins enter the body.
5. The improvement of cognitive abilities such as concentration, memory, and processing can be attributed to a regular headstand practice. The posture helps us overcome fear (of falling!) and develop concentration – see how long you can hold the posture if your mind wanders. This pose requires a still mind. Headstands also strengthen deep core muscles. To be able to hold this posture, the practitioner must engage the obliques, the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis.
When done correctly, headstands help the spine become properly aligned, improving posture, facilitating good breathing and reducing muscular stress. It positively affects the four major systems in the body: cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine. Although I recommend learning headstand from a qualified teacher, its multifaceted benefits should not be ignored. Headstands should not be performed if you have neck injuries, unusually high blood pressure, ear or eye problems, or if a woman is on her monthly cycle.