Category: Yoga Postures
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The Practice of Bhastrika Pranayama
I’m a bit confused regarding the practice of Bhastrika. I always thought it was practiced by breathing forcefully (but not too much) pressing and pulling the stomach in and out. But a teacher I lately met with told to practice this way: “Breathing is done only in the chest, not in the abdomen. It should be shallow and rapid.” He has another practice he calls Bhastrika plus Agnisara looking closer to the way I used to practice Bhastrika. Can you give me your point of view on this practice?
As you have discovered, different traditions practice Bhastrika in different ways. In Ananda Yoga, it’s done with the abdomen, and it’s as follows:
Quickly push the abdomen out, thereby causing an inhalation through the nose. Then quickly squeeze the abdomen inward, causing an exhalation through the nose. Both movements should be smooth and firm—not shallow, but not as deep as possible, either. Your inhalations and exhalations should be of equal duration. Practice at a rate of about one breath per second.
In Ananda Yoga, very few pranayama techniques involve the chest intentionally. Most focus on the abdomen, and although the chest will expand and relax a bit with any breath that is somewhat deep, that movement is incidental to the practice, not intentional.
I came to know energization exercises in Ananda Sangha but what is the use in tensing and relaxation of body parts in most of your exercises.Please reply kindly
There are many reasons for the practice of Energization Exercises as created by our Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. The main purpose of these unique rechargers, this specific pranayam application, is to prepare the body and nervous system for deeper meditation and God-realization.
We accomplish this in discovering, awakening, controlling, then directing the flow of prana (energy) to specific areas of our body. And we must learn to relax so we can be channels for this divine energy we seek to serve.
In this regard we use tensing and relaxing to first become aware of specific body part while at the same time sending it energy/prana. We recharge that area/limb/organ/region (energy, life-force, to some extent is already there) as if it were a dormant or undercharged battery that we are hooking up to a wall-charger, from a source much stronger and abundant. Yogananda said, "The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy!"
So in this regard, once we determine and visualize what body part we are going to energize and awaken, we affirm our willingness and willpower to actually do it, and then we comply to send energy by directing, visualizing and feeling a flow of energy from the medulla oblongata (back of the head at the top of the spine).
Concurrently tensing (vibrating) the designated part of the body, then after a few seconds we relax the tension/vibration and note the feeling of that area. It should feel empowered as should you, and ready for whatever life sends your way! You will feel more magnetic, entertain better health of body and mind and be able to, as Yogananda would emphasize, "Give your body a breakfast of energy!" and keep it fit for God-realization in meditation or any activity.
The result of this technique is to give you the knowledge you'll need to quicken your ability for deeper and longer meditations. I suggest you read or participate in our first step of the Ananda Course, Lessons in Meditation, where these extraordinarily practical contributions of Yogananda are explained and taught in detail. Every Ananda Center worldwide offers this opportunity to dive deep into greater awareness and joy.
Blessings to you,
Breathlessness vs. aerobic exercise
I often read about breathless state brought about during deep meditation. It intuitively appeals to the mind that slowing the breath is associated with tranquility and longevity.
My question is what about aerobic exercise? It is very much necessary to avoid diabetes and heart problems and one breathes very fast during the exercise. I wonder what the Yogis' take on this is? In Hatha Yoga Pradipika it is mentioned that the Yogi should not exert himself. Makes no sens from a fitness perspective.
You’re right: aerobic exercise is an important factor in health. In fact, Paramhansa Yogananda taught that one should "perform some sort of exercise every day until perspiration breaks out over your whole body." (See his book, How to Achieve Glowing Health and Vitality.)
As for the Pradipika, I suspect that it is merely warning against over-exertion, which will diminish the benefits of the practice. Exertion certainly is required in some asanas, but it should be done in moderate doses, Over-exertion will elevate pulse and breath, and inhibit energy awareness and control, such that one misses out on the higher — and much more important — aspects of Hatha practice, especially the serene mind, inner awareness, and uplifted consciousness.
If one wishes to use Hatha Yoga for spiritual purposes, which was its original intention, it is better to get one’s aerobic activity through walking, running, swimming, etc.
Hatha Yoga and Energization
I once read "somewhere" that Master said that you could get the same energy flow from Hatha Yoga as you can from the energization exercises, but you would have to be a master of the postures and know exactly which ones to do and in what order. That it is probably wiser to simply do the energization exercises. Could you expound upon this, and also if you know where that was written would you please be kind enough to give me the source.
Thank you, Namaste,
Thanks for your question. Paramhansa Yogananda thought well of both Energization and Hatha Yoga. Although I am not aware of his having made a statement such as you mention, either orally or in print, I can offer a few facts:
- The only comparison I know that he made is in a recording, in which he says, "The tension [Energization] exercises are better than the asanas." (He emphasized "better.")
- Energization is a cornerstone of his teachings, and he urged all his disciples to practice it. He left it to his disciples to practice Hatha Yoga if they felt benefitted by it, but he didn't urge them to practice it.
- In The Essence of Self-Realization, Swami Kriyananda quotes the Master as having said: "Hatha Yoga is a wonderful system. The body, moreover, is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit lest it obstruct our spiritual efforts. Devotees, however, who are bent on finding God give less importance to the yoga postures. Nor is it strictly necessary that they practice them."
One clarification: Energization is not so much about achieving a particular energy flow as it is about drawing into the body a lot of energy, gaining an ever-clearer, ever-deeper awareness of energy, and bringing that energy under your direct control. Certainly Hatha Yoga practice can do much of that as well.
Who knows: it might come down to a question of which system does it more efficiently, or for a greater percentage of the God-seeking population. And for anyone who is a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, it would certainly come down to which system he recommended: Energization.
In any case, Master gave meditation a higher priority than either system.
Blessings on your practice,
Is Kapalabhati a Pranayama or a Kriya Technique?
I was told Kapalabati is not pranayama but kriya, is this true? If so what is the difference between pranayama and kriya
Different yoga traditions use different terminology, and sometimes different meanings for the same terminology.
Before I explain more, let me offer a clarification: Many people reserve the word "pranayamas" for breathing techniques, as opposed to its broader, and truer, meaning: energy-control techniques. Well, for this discussion, let's use the narrower meaning of breathing techniques.
Kapalabhati certainly involves breathing, and a lot of it, so it's quite right to call it a pranayama. On the other hand, it's also a cleansing technique: it cleanses the body of carbon dioxide and cleanses the mind of restlessness. Techniques that have a strong cleansing component are sometimes called kriyas. (Kriya just means action, so it's a very generic term that applies to many different yoga techniques, including the Kriya Yoga meditation technique that Paramhansa Yogananda taught, which is not a cleansing technique.)
So there you have it: Kapalabhati is both a pranayama and a kriya. Some people might protest my saying that, but again, different yoga traditions do things differently. (There are cleansing techniques that have nothing to do with the breath, by the way.)
What's one to do? Just practice the technique - safely, with self-honesty and common sense - and don't worry about whether someone else wants it to be called something different from what you call it.
We go much deeper into the subtler aspects of pranayama practice in the Advanced Pranayama course at The Expanding Light. You might consider attending it next year when it's offered again.
Hearing Sounds During Hatha Yoga Practice
Hi. I've been hearing inner sounds for just over three years. They began about six months after beginning to practice hatha yoga and pranayama again after having decided not to engage in these practices for a few years.
This began gradually, with various discrete sounds, but I'm now what sounds like many human voices (40 to well over 100) singing. The sound is outside my physical body, because I can reorient myself to the sounds.
Could this be the Anahata Chakra opening?
While I cannot give you a definitive answer as to exactly what those voices are, I can offer some thoughts for you to consider.
First, are the voices are pleasant or unpleasant? If pleasant, then embrace them, enjoy them. They might be angel voices, a sign that you have entered into a deeper-than-usual state of receptivity. If the voices are not pleasant, then call strongly upon God and offer the experience to Him/Her, with the prayer, "This comes from you, and I offer it back to You. If it's not good for me, please guide me as to what I should do about it. If it's good for me, please show me how to relate to it, that I may absorb the blessing."
As to the anahata chakra, "opening" a chakra means that all its energy is flowing inward and upward toward the brain. It doesn't mean that the chakra was blocked, as your house's plumbing might become blocked. Rather, a non-open chakra is simply a chakra that has energy flowing downward and/or outward instead of inward and upward. Our job is to withdraw that downward or outward energy, back into the chakra, and get more and more of the chakra's energy flowing inward and upward.
Each chakra has its own distinctive sound. The anahata chakra, when you hear it, sounds like a deep gong bell, like a church bell. When heard less clearly, it's more like a cow bell or even a tinkle bell. Hearing a chakra sound doesn't necessarily mean that the chakra is open, but it's nevertheless a good thing, as it indicates a deepening level of inner perception. Absorb your awareness in such a sound, as deeply as you can.
In general, let the sounds be as they will. Don't get caught up in them, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Simply experience them with God, referring them back to that Inner Presence. Then S/He can guide you in the right way.
Blessings on your practice,
Internal sounds during yoga practice
Hi Soul friends,
Sometimes I hear a rising "whooshing" kind of sound in my head when I am in yoga postures esp. the more demanding ones like locust or full peacock.
I am wondering what this phenomenon could be and if its normal.
Thanks for your time.
Since you specifically cite two quite demanding asanas, I am guessing that the sound you're hearing is related to elevated blood pressure due to exertion and (perhaps) irregular or nonexistent breathing during the asanas.
(It happens to me, too, in those asanas, and sometimes also in other physically demanding asanas.)
To test this, try gentler forms of those two asanas, staying relaxed in the midst of effort and breathing smoothly and evenly, and see if the sound persists. For example, try half peacock, or the simple locust in which you're on your belly and you lift everything else off the floor.
If the sound doesn't happen in those cases (this works for me), that's a big clue. My guess is that it will subside for you also if it's due only to the exertion/breathing factor.
Blessings on your practice,
What's a Good Mudra for the Abdominal Chakra?
What's a good mudra for the abdominal chakra?
Specifically for energizing the entire gastric system ?
Thank you for this wonderful service!
One of the most effective techniques for the abdominal chakra (manipura chakra) is Uddiyana Bandha - Stomach Lift. There are some strenuous versions of Uddiyana Bandha, but in the Ananda Yoga approach, it's done gently, and usually with the breath held out.
Here is the technique: As you finish an exhalation, lightly engage your abdominal muscles, smoothly and gently squeezing in toward your spine. Hold your abdomen in for as long as is comfortable. When you need to inhale, relax the abdominal contraction and let your belly expand with the inhalation.
You'll also find in the Energization Exercises that Paramhansa Yogananda taught, a variation on the above technique.
Blessings on your spiritual journey.
In divine friendship,
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