Agni is the Hindu god of fire, he who accepted sacrifices and is mentioned in the Rig Veda. We also have a manifestation of this transformative power within our bodies, the fire of our digestion that transforms the food we eat into nourishment. At times this agni burns very brightly and we are able to assimilate both food and experiences completely. However at other times our fire begins to go out and we are sluggish, fatigued and even constipated, and are not able to use this natural power of fire well within our bodies and minds. This week's practice will work on activating agni at the solar plexus with mudra, breath and movement.
Abdominal Activating Forward Bends
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Clasp hands behind the back or hold opposite forearms if clasping the hands is difficult. Inhale and sit up tall, extending through the spine, exhale and lean turn to the right, leaning over the right thigh. Inhale return to center with an extended spine, exhale and lean forward between the legs to the center. Inhale sit up with an extended spine, exhale and turn to the left, leaning over the left thigh. Repeat 5 times with the breath.
Benefits: Puts pressure on the abdomen in the direction of the intestinal peristalsis to assist in digestion and assimilation.
Begin sitting cross legged and inhale to draw the arms overhead. Exhale and first twist to the right bringing the left hand to the right knee, the right hand on the floor behind you. Inhale return to the center with the arms overhead. Exhale and twist to the left (shown) bringing the right hand to the left knee, the left hand on the floor behind you. Repeat with the breath 5 times.
Therapeutics: Gently opens the ribs, massages the organs and muscles along the spine, builds agni.
Curl tip of the ring finger into the base of the thumb and press thumb on top, extend index, middle and little fingers; rest back of hands on thighs.
Benefit: Activates energy at the solar plexus, stimulates metabolism, lengthens breath
Practice Tips: Use when feeling a lack of energy
Contraindications: High blood pressure
Bhastrika (Bellows Breath)
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Begin by watching your natural breath pattern for a few moments. Then begin to forcefully push breath out the nose quickly and inhale quickly through the nose. Repeat for up to 10 rounds at a time, monitoring the affects.
Benefits: This breath activates agni, the digestive fire. It also assists with clearing nasal congestion and iincreases energy
Balasana to Bhujangasana (Child's Pose to Cobra Pose)
Begin in Balasana with the arms overhead on the floor. Inhale keep hands where they are and move torso through arms to come into a backbend with pelvis pressing towards floor. Exhale return to Balasana.
Repeat 5-10 times with the breath.
Benefits: Alternately stretches and strengthens front and back of body to build agni.
Balasana to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Child's Pose to Downward Facing Dog)
Begin in Balasana with the arms overhead on the floor. Inhale and rock up to an all fours position with the toes turned under. Exhale and life the knees as you press the hips back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Inhale and lightly land on the knees in the all fours position. Exhale press hips back over heels in Balasana. Repeat 5 times with the breath.
Benefits: Alternately compresses and expands the front of the abdomen to build agni.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose or Queen's Pose)
Sit in front of two long-fold blankets or a bolster parallel to mat. Place soles of feet together and let knees move apart resting on blocks or bolster. Place looped strap around back of pelvis between thighs and over outside edge of feet to help lengthen low back. Lie back over bolster and place blanket under head. Rest 5-15 minutes, then release
Therapeutics: Relaxes floor of pelvis, opens belly and chest, creates a sense of safety and calm
Flapping Fish Pose
Lay on belly with hands under forehead and elbows out to the sides. Draw right knee up and lean upper torso toward the right so that the elbow and knee come close together.
Hold for up to 3 minutes per side
Benefits: Activates intestinal peristalsis.
Chronic stress is a condition that many of us face as the pressures from work, family commitments, finances, watching the news and lifestyle choices combine to leave us feeling fatigued and cranky. Over time we come to believe that this is our new normal state of being and the body has a difficult time disregulating these reactions in the body, even at night when we are sleeping.
The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and they secrete hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, the chemicals responsible for the fight or flight response. Our heart rate increases, blood is sent to the muscles of arms and legs to prepare us for action, and blood is shunted away from the digestive and reproductive systems. When this reaction is a short lived event, such as when someone cuts us off in traffic, we are usually able to return to a calmer internal state after a few minutes. However, prolonged stress can be taxing on the adrenal glands as they continually work to provide the blood stream with the hormones that give us the energy to act and react to what our body perceives as threatening situations.
This week's practice will focus on gentle movement of the upper abdominal region, middle back and lower rib cage - the area of the third chakra, Manipura. Here the fire element rules the metabolism of food into energy and the transformation of our experiences into wisdom. We will combine gentle lateral bending and twisting to stimulate deeper breath to refresh tidal volume (the often stagnant air in the lower lobes of the lungs that can lead to increased acidity in the blood stream). A trio of restoratives finish the practice to provide the third chakra region of the torso the support it needs to rejuvenate the organs found here, the stomach, spleen, kidneys, liver, gal bladder, pancreas and adrenal glands.
Vajra MudraTouch the tips of the thumbs and index fingers together then bring the right had and left hands together and join the joined thumbs and indexes as well as the tips of the middle fingers together. Let the ring and pinkie fingers curl softly inward. Hold the hands at the solar plexus.
Benefits: Activates energy and vitality
Seated Barrel Roll
Sitting cross-legged begin to move the upper abdomen around in a circle. Inhale as you arch the back and move the abdomen to the right, then exhale as you round the back (shown) and circle the abdomen to the left. Repeat both directions 5-10 times.
Therapeutics: Awakens the diaphragm for deeper breathing and massages the upper digestive organs.
Seated Lateral Bend
Begin seated cross-legged and place the left hand on the floor beside the hip. Inhale and raise the right arm diagonally across the body and reach it overhead to the left. Bend the left elbow towards the body and keep that shoulder released down the back to help support the weight of the body. Keep both sit bones grounded into the floor. Exhale and return to the center. Repeat to both sides 5-10 times with the breath.
Therapeutics: Opens side rib cage and facilitates breath throughout the torso. Gently warms up the low back and shoulders.
Begin sitting cross legged and inhale to draw the arms overhead. Exhale and first twist to the right bringing the left hand to the right knee, the right hand on the floor behind you. Inhale return to the center with the arms overhead. Exhale and twist to the left (shown) bringing the right hand to the left knee, the left hand on the floor behind you. Repeat with the breath 5-10 times.
Therapeutics: Gently opens the ribs, massages the organs and muscles along the spine.
Cat/Cow with breathing pattern variation
Begin on all fours in a table position. As you inhale arch the back into the cow tilt drawing breath down into the front of the ribs as the diaphragm drops towards the belly. Exhale to table. Inhale into the cat, rounding the back and drawing breath into the back of the ribs. You may not be able to inhale into cat as deeply so do not force the breath in either position. Exhale to table. Repeat 5 times with the breath.
Therapeutics: Refreshes the tidal volume in the lungs, the stagnant air that must stay in the lungs to prevent them from collapsing.
Begin on all fours. Inhale lift right arm out to side. Exhale press right arm under left armpit lowering right shoulder to floor. Continue to press left hand into floor for balance. Can also raise left knee up pressing left ball of foot into floor. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your head.
Therapeutics: Opens upper back, shoulders and rib cage.
Supported Side Bend
Lie on the side with a bolster or rolled blanket under side ribs and a second bolster to support the head Extend bottom arm between the two bolsters. Begin with both knees bent then try extending top leg in line with the rest of the spine. Raise the top arm overhead and support with the head bolster. Breathe into the rib cage that faces the ceiling. Rest 3-5 minutes per side.
Therapeutics: Opens both sides of thoracic region increasing breath capacity
Supported Setu Bandha
Sit in front of a bolster with a long folded blanket on the other side. Lay back over bolster and place shoulders on blanket, head on floor as you lift hips away from the floor. Place block under hips and turn toes slightly in. Rest arms in cactus with palms facing upwards. Rest up to 5 minutes.
Therapeutics: Opens front of belly and solar plexus allowing for increased breath in these areas as well as tractioning the lower spine.
Supta Balasana (Supported Child's Pose)
Kneel straddling a long bolster. Place a second bolster over first with end of bolster in front of your low abdomen. A third bolster can go under the far end of the second bolster or use a folded blanket or block to support under it. Extend front of body over second bolster and rest forehead on backs of hands. Rest up to 5 minutes as you breathe gently into the kidney area.
Therapeutics: Creates a calm, grounded space to get away from the demands of daily life
Viparita Karani (Inverse Seal Pose)
Sit beside wall. Swing legs up wall as you lay back on mat. Place either a bolster or long-folded blanket under the lumbar curve, the buttocks should not be on floor. Lay arms out to sides with palms facing up. Rest at least 10-15 minutes, then roll over to release.
Therapeutics: Activates the Relaxation Response, reduces swelling in the legs and feet, balances the nervous system, good if you have been sitting or on your feet all day
I attend Cheryl's class regularly and feel that my practice has improved immensely over the past few years due to her expert coaching. Her teaching style is clear and compassionate and her previous experience in teaching adults is evident in her organized approach and easy to understand instructions. I also appreciate that Cheryl not only teaches us about how to correctly position ourselves, but also touches on many aspects of yoga philosophy, which in turn has deepened my personal practice and heightened my awareness of the connection between mind and body, breath and relaxation.