Most yoga students begin the practice of yoga to learn and benefit from its physical postures or asana.
It’s the way that I got started. As a former dancer, I was drawn to the slow movements and deep sense of alignment that the poses provided. At that time, I didn’t realize that I was simultaneously tuning into my breath. My first teacher would gently remind the class to inhale and exhale as we stretched and contracted. It felt fluid and natural and my body felt aligned and peaceful at the end of each session. But we didn’t call it pranayama. At the end of class, we took time to close our eyes and sit quietly. We were encouraged to focus on the simple pattern of our breath, the sounds within the space or a specific intention for ourselves. But we didn’t call it meditation.
For many, pranayama and meditation are not addressed in a typical yoga class. If you are fortunate, you will find a teacher that generates an awareness of the breath for you. Breath awareness is best felt when the body is relaxed and still.
The best example of this is Savasana or the final relaxation pose that is usually done at the end of a practice. Developing a connection to the breath takes repetition and time. Eventually, it will become easier and you will find it within many of the postures you perform. You may continue to access the breath within the simpler standing poses and forward bends. That will lead to its accessibility in the more difficult backbends and balancing postures.
Technically, pranayama and meditation are part of the entire system called yoga. In its design, yoga is made up of eight parts – three of which are asana, pranayama and meditation. The ancient texts describe asana and pranayama as preparation for meditation.
We can incorporate the the more subtle aspects of meditation into our practices when we focus, relax and locate a deep sense of peace. One way to do so is to pay attention to the chakras when we practice yoga.
This week we are focusing on the sixth chakra. It’s sanskrit name, ajna, means the perception or command center. This chakra, which is also known as the third eye, is spiritually located between the eyes at the level of the brow.
The third eye or ajna chakra allows us to see things as they are meant to be seen – it is the connection to the quiet voice of the soul. When maintained and balanced, it is believed that this chakra’s energy can grant us clearer intuition, insight and vision.
Here are some posture variations that will allow you to zero in on the breath and cultivate a greater sense of peace.
Tree Pose (with your eyes closed): a wonderful way to get more insight into this pose through balance.
Supported Seated Forward Bend: descend into a comfortable place and support your forehead to increase blood flow to the brain and become more inward.
Child’s Pose: make this as supportive as you can and cushion the forehead slightly – give attention to the third eye as you restore.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall): use an eye bag and detach from your surroundings.
Once you can use the breath to bring more ease and depth into your asana practice, you are ready to explore the more advanced levels of pranayama or breath control. With the alignment developed in asana and the breath control of pranayama, you can move into the phases of meditation more naturally and effectively.
To be continued…always.🕉