Breathing (also known as pranayama) is a very important subject in Yogasana. Allow me to explain how to do this:
- Sit or stand comfortably; if you find it inconvenient to sit down, use a straight backed chair. Keep a tissue or handkerchief handy to clean the nose if it becomes necessary.
- Use only your right hand thumb and ring finger (index and middle fingers should be folded) and do not worry about your smallest finger – to block the right and left nostrils respectively. At the same time, place your left hand on your left knee, palm facing upward, and connect your thumb and index finger by the tips (which will look like a circle). Now close the right nostril with your thumb, and slowly breathe in through left nostril until you feel your lungs are full; then, close left nostril with ring finger, remove thumb from right nostril and slowly breathe out through right nostril. Now repeat the process through the other way – that is, inhale through right nostril and exhale through left nostril. This will complete one round. Practice up to 20 rounds (on the first day) both morning and evening, and slowly increase to 50 rounds (2 times) each day. DO NOT PRACTISE THIS EXERCISE AFTER EATING – wait at least 45 minutes after food to do this. Practice of conscious breathing not only fills every nook and corner of the lungs but also supplies oxygen to the brain. Exhalation is as important as inhalation as carbon dioxide is removed from the lungs. This practice soothes the nerves and tones up the entire system.
- Once you are fully familiar with the above method of breathing, say after a month, you can try the next stage of breathing, that is retention of air in the lungs starting with five seconds and slowly increasing retention to ten seconds. I have explained this at the end of this series. However, please note that this should be done very carefully and only after you master the above mentioned breathing procedure.
Now let us begin the yogasanas.
- Sun Salutation ( Surya namaskar) – a limbering all round exercise in which breathing and movements are synchronized – Once you master this asana, you can discard the Warm-up exercises explained in the previous page. In the initial stages do the first three steps (a, b and c) and slowly add the other steps.
- Stand straight, legs together, body erect, fold the hands in front of your chest so that the palms touch each other.
- Now breath in (inhale) deeply, raise the arms above head and bend back;
- Then breath out (exhale) bend forward and let the palms touch the floor with palms (in the initial stages you may not be able to keep your knees straight, but that is alright);
- Then breath in (inhale) and take a long step backwards with your left leg, hold your breath and move your right leg back in line with the left leg, keeping both feet together with head, body, thighs and legs in a horizontal position,
- Exhale (breath out) and lower the body so that toes, legs, knees, thighs, stomach, chest and forehead touch the floor and stretch your hands fully in the front. Then, bring your hands in line with your shoulders.
- inhale (breath in) raise your chest and bend back your spine, shoulders and head as far back as possible (your body will look like a snake with raised hood);
- Then exhale and lower your back, head touch the floor and extend your hands fully in the front
- Breathe in (inhale) and raise the back in an inverted U-shape, keeping the knees and arms steady; only your feet and palms will be on the floor;
- Exhale and bring the feet forward to the level of hands touching the ground. Raise your hands, breathe in (inhale) and take your arms upwards, bend back.
- Bring back your arms to the front, exhale (breath out) and relax.
At first do this one time slowly and steadily doing the breath in (inhale) and breath out (exhale). On the next day, increase it to two times. When repeating the exercise, don’t relax in between; but, follow the breathing in and breathing out properly. Slowly increase to six times after ten days or so, and upto twelve times after the end of first month.
Benefits – the whole body will become flexible and if the breathing in and out are done properly your oxygen intake will increase and your chest will expand. You will also sweat, which will open up pores on your skin.
If for any reason, whether illness or due to busy schedule, you have discontinued the exercise, please start from beginning (that is one time on the first day and slowly increase) and don’t overdo it on the first day itself.
- (2) Strong back (Vajrasana) – Sit in a kneeling position, and then slowly lean back until your buttocks rest on your heels, and keep the body erect, and your arms parallel to body and rest on thighs. This is the only asana or exercise which CAN be done after consuming food! Sit in this posture for as long as you can. This is an excellent exercise for late dinner eaters and if you manage to sit in this posture for 30 minutes the food will be completely digested and assimulated. If you feel numbness in your legs or feet or toes, raise your body and sit in kneeling position to enable blood circulation to your legs. Breathe normally.
– This posture ensures better blood supply to stomach, urinary and reproductive organs, and the muscles and nerves in thighs, legs, ankles, foot and toes become stronger. Alimentary disorders, especially lack of appetite, gas, kidney and bladder diseases will vanish. Additionally your ankles and feet are stretched to full extent.
(3) Vajrasana – Variation – 1 – For stretching the spine, sit as explained in (2) above; keep your hands on the back holding them together, breath out, bend forward and try to touch the floor with your forehead. After 10 seconds, breathe in and come back to original position, place your hands on the feet (soles) and slowly bend your head and shoulders in the back as far as possible without straining your neck. Remain in that position as well, for 10 seconds. Then return to regular position. This will stretch and contract your spine and make it flexible.
(4) Vajrasana – Variation – 2 – sit as explained in (2) above; raise hands above head, breath out, bend forward and touch the floor with your palms and forehead, remain in this position for 10 seconds in the beginning and increase slowly to 30 seconds. Come back to normal position and breath in. Do it 5-10 times. This exercise will stretche the spine, hip joints, lower back and hands.
(5) Poorna/supta (full) Vajrasana – after you are comfortable doing (2), (3) and (4) above, do this final stage. Sit as explained in (2) above, lean back slowly with the help of hands (keep elbows on the floor) till back of the head and shoulders touch the floor, take the hands over the head so that they lie on the floor. This is a very difficult pose and hence do it slowly over a period of time. This exercise will help you stretch the thighs, knees, ankles and toes and at the same time gives a natural curve to the vertebrae. Also stretches the chest muscles and shoulders, tones the nerves in the pelvic cavity, develops lungs and assists elimination. The knees and ankles are stretched to the limits.
(6) Strong back (kammar asana) – For a strong back, arms, shoulders, wrists and fingers, lie on your stomach, bend both arms at the elbow and place them together in front of your head, palms and fingers touching the ground (or yoga mat). Your forehead should also touch the mat. Inhale deeply, keep the knees together and raise your body so that it rests only on your palms and toes – remain in this position for one minute.
– Once you are comfortable with this posture, you can stretch your hands a little further from your head. Thereafter, try with your fingers (your body will rest only on your fingers and toes – start with ten seconds and slowly increase to one minute.
~ A. Santhanam