This week's practice focuses on building energy through the breath. We will use gentle asana as a way to open the upper body to facilitate deeper breathing and better prana absorption. I recommend practicing this sequence first thing in the morning to boost your mental and physical energy.
Medha Prana Kriya Mudra
Touch index finger nails to the middle joint of the thumb and apply light pressure, extend all other fingers and turn palms up.
Benefits: Encourages breath in the side ribs
Breathe into Strap
Sit comfortably. Place looped strap around middle of the torso (for the ladies, right around the bra line). It should be tight enough that you can feel it when you take a deep breath. At first breathe normally and notice where the body expands into the strap. Then try breathing evenly into the circle of the strap. You can also try breathing into the front half, back half, right half, left half and the quadrants of the strap separately.
Circle the Ribs
Remove the strap and begin to rotate the ribs around in a circle. Isolate the movement in the middle of the torso, bo both directions. If you get confused, remember the Cabbage Patch dance from the Eighties? It's like that without the arms! Repeat 5 times
With the hands on the knees, inhlae into cow by arching the back and lifting the chest, the hands slide back towards the hips. Exhale into cat by drawing belly in and rounding back, the hands slide towards the knees. Repeat 5 times.
Seated Side Bend
Inhale the arms overhead and exhale the left arm to the floor beside you, side bending to the right. Inhale to center with arms over head and exhale to the opposite side. Repeat 5 times.
Inhale the arms overhead and exhale twist to the right with left hand on outside of right knee, right hand behind you on floor. Inhale to center with arms overhead, exhale to opposite side. Repeat 5 times.
Sphinx with Bolster
Lie on belly with bolster under solar plexus, pelvis on floor and forearms on floor in front of bolster. Press arms into floor and life through crown of the head.
Remove the bolster if you like and as you inhale lift right lower leg from floor by bending knee, turn head to the left. Exhale lower leg and return head to center. Inhale to opposite side and repeat 5 times.
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.
Come into Downward facing dog and place right hand in center. Reach left hand to the outside of the right leg, the lower on the leg you go the more difficult it is. Hold for a few breaths then change sides.
Breath of Joy
From standing, inhale 1/3 of a breath and raise both arms up in front of the body parallel to the floor; then release arms back to sides quickly; inhale 2/3 of breath and raise both arms out to the sides of the body parallel to the floor, then release quickly; inhale final third of breath and raise arms forward and all the way over the head; exhale and bend forward swinging arms down beside the bent legs and make a deep HA sound from the solar plexus. As you are taking your first 1/3 breath stand up and repeat.
Ganeshasana (Elephant Pose)
Begin standing with feet slightly wider than hips distance apart. Keeping the knees soft, begin to swing arms around the body like two elephant trunks, lightly tap the body with the hands wherever they land as you twist right and left. Go faster or slower depending on how it feels to you for about 1 minute. Then slow down the swinging until you are again standing still.
Begin standing with feet wide apart. Inhale and raise arms out to sides of body. Exhale and bring left hand down to floor, block or chair as you twist the torso to the right. Inhale return to standing with arms out to the sides of body. Exhale and bring right hand down to floor, block or chair as you twist the torso to the left. Repeat 5 times.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Shoulderstand)
Place a block on the first height against the wall and a bolster lengthwise in front of the block. Sit on the bolster facing the wall and lie back so that the upper shoulders and back of head reach the floor. Press feet into wall resting heels on the block. If low back is stressed, bend knees and place feet on floor. Hold up to 5 minutes then release by rolling to side.
Of the some 82,000 energetic channels (nadis) that create the energetic sheath of the body (pranamayakosha), there are three that are most important for the practice of pranayama. The central channel (sushumna nadi) runs from the third eye to the perineum. The right channel (pingala nadi) is the solar, masculine, activating aspect of our energy and the left channel (ida nadi) is the lunar, feminine, receptive aspect. The graphic here shows how pingala and ida nadi begin on their respective sides at the third eye, but they alternate sides between the chakra points, blending this active and receptive energy throughout the body. In this weeks practice we will explore these two channels in the breath and the two sides of the body.
Check Nostril Dominance
Close one nostril and breath through the other, then switch. Can you sense which nostril is more open? Nostril dominance changes about every 90 minutes and when either the sun or moon channel is open, we are more attuned to that energy in the body. When the left channel is open, it is easier to fall asleep, be creative and be romantically receptive. When the right channel is open, food is digested more easily and thinking is more analytical.
Use this mudra on the hand where the nostril is less open by touching the tip of the thumb to the tip of the ring ringer and placing the back of the hand on the knee. Hold for a few minutes focusing on breath moving through the same side nostril. Then release and check nostril dominance again, the closed nostril should now be more open.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Lie on the back with the knees bent.
Variation I: Draw your right knee into your chest and lengthen the left leg onto the floor. Wrap a strap around the ball of your foot and extend the leg into the air. Reach the hands up the strap until the elbows are straight but the shoulders are still grounded.
Variation II: Hold the strap in the right hand and place a block on the outside of the right hip. As you exhale, lower the leg directly out to the side so that the outer thigh rests on the block. Extend the foot into the strap and reach the left arm out to the side. To release, use the inner thigh to draw the leg up to center.
Reclining Crescent Moon Pose
Lie on the back with the legs extended. Walk feet over to the right side of the mat and bring right knee into chest. Step right sole of the foot on the floor to the outside of the left knee. Raise arms overhead and pull left wrist with the right hand so that the body comes into a crescent moon shape. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then release and change sides.
Half Circle Pose
Begin kneeling. Straighten right leg out to side and bring left hand to floor in front of the left knee. Inhale right arm up as you twist the torso to the right, hold for 5 breaths.
Repeat to the left side.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Begin on all fours with hands slightly forward of shoulders. Turn toes under and lift knees off floor. Keep shoulders wide and palms flat, press thighs and sit bones back, scooping belly in. Hold 1-3 minutes, release into Child's Pose.
Parighasana (Gate Latch Pose)
Begin kneeling. Straighten left leg and press toes towards floor to prevent hyperextension of knee. Exhale and side bend over left leg bringing left hand to block behind knee or to floor. Reach right arm overhead and keep tail bone long.
Hold 5-10 breaths then release and change sides.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Stand with feet wide apart. Turn left out to 90 degrees and right foot in 30 degrees. Inhale arms out from shoulders. Exhale and cock hips to the left. Reach left arm parallel to floor to lengthen the left waist and bring left hand on block, foot or floor. Rotate the chest towards the right and reach right arm towards ceiling.
Hold 5-10 breaths then release and change sides.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
Stand with feet wide apart. Bend forward from hips placing hands between feet. Release spine forward with crown of head facing floor.
Hold up to 1 minute, then return to standing by drawing hands onto hips and lifting entire torso up as a single unit.
Nadi Shodhana with Prithvi Mudra
From comfortable seated position, place both hands in Prithvi Mudra. When you are breathing in or out through the left nostril, keep left palm up and right palm down above left hand with joined thumb and ring fingers stacked atop one another. When you are breathing in or out through the right nostril, reverse the hands. Imagine inhaling through the left nostril, reverse the hands, exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, reverse the hands, exhale through the left nostril. Continue for 10 cycles of Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lie on back with legs straight and feet relaxed to sides. Move arms away from sides slightly and turn palms to face ceiling. You may use support under the knees for low back pain; and a folded blanket under the head if needed. Rest 5-15 minutes.
What happens in the body when we breathe? It may seem that when we inhale, we do so from the nose but actually it is the contraction of the diaphragm, the wall of muscle that divides the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity that causes the inhale. As the diaphragm contracts, it pulls downward toward the navel, decreasing the air pressure inside the thoracic cavity causing air to be drawn in to the lungs. The pressure on the abdominal cavity increases and the belly often expands forward as a result. Then as the diaphragm relaxes and domes upwards toward the heart, air is pushed out of the lungs and we exhale.
This week's practice focuses on separating the breath in three key sections of the torso, the lower abdomen, middle ribs and upper chest in order to fully inflate all lobes of the lungs for optimal efficient breathing.
Lower Belly Breath
Place hands on the lower belly and direct breath gently into this area. Notice the movement expands forward on inhalation and releases towards spine on exhalation.
Middle Ribs Breath
Place hands on the middle ribs and direct breath gently into this area. Notice the movement expands from the center on inhalation and releases toward the center on exhalation.
Upper Chest Breath
Place hands on the upper chest and direct breath gently into this area. Notice the movement expands upward and outward on inhalation and releases downward and back to center on exhalation.
Cow: Begin on the hands and knees, toes pointed. Inhale lift the sternum forward and drop the pubic bone back between the legs to arch the spine.
Cat: Exhale round the back and drop the head and tail bone towards the floor.
Repeat with your breath 10 times.
Wagging the Tail
Begin on all fours. Inhale: lift left foot by bending the knee. Exhale move left shoulder and hip together as you swing left foot to the left. Inhale to center. Exhale move right shoulder and hip together as you cross left foot over the right shin. Inhale to center. Repeat 5-10 times each side.
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.
Supported Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
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.
Supported Heart Opener
Set up two bolsters perpendicular to mat with folded blanket on the one toward the back of the mat. Sit on folded blanket or on floor facing away from bolsters. Lie back so that shoulder blades and upper back are supported by shorted bolster and the head and neck are supported by the taller bolster. The upper line of the shoulders and arms should fall in between the bolsters. If the elbows to not readily reach the floor, support with more folded blankets. Either straighten legs out to floor or rest knees over bolster
Purna Svasa (Three Part Breath)
Begin in Savasana with support under the head and knees if needed. Begin by witnessing the natural breath in and out through the nostrils. Then begin by taking 1/3 of the breath in to the lower belly, the second 1/3 into the middle ribs and the third 1/3 into the upper chest. Exhale and relax the breath out of the body.
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.