Archives for posts with tag: inhale

Life itself is a school. When we graduate from university and start earning our living, we think we know everything and we act so. However, education never ends with graduation from university. Life-long education. Life teaches us new things. We develop and progress continously throughout our lives. Yoga classes are the same. When we become a yoga instructor, we think that we know everything. How wrong it is. Every class is an interaction and exchange. It is possible for us — the teachers — to learn new things from our students. Also, it is possible for us to develop and progress ourselves with the help of the questions asked by our students.

In the previous week, one of the students asked why we were breathing through the nose in yoga. At first, I could not make up my mind. I could explain why we were inhaling through the nose but I could not explain why we were exhailing through the nose because I had no information in detail. Every word I said would just be a guess. I promised to look into this issue.

Breathing in yoga? Yes, “prana” simply means “breath.” In deeper sense it means “life force” and “physical, mental, intellectual, spiritual and cosmic energy.” “Prana” is the principle of life and consciousness. It is breath, respiration, life, energy and strength.

“Pranayama” is comprised of two words: “Prana” and “ayama.” “Ayama” means extension, stretch, length, expansion, regulation, prolongation, restraint or control. So, “pranayama” means extension of the breath or its control. “Pranayama” consists of inhalation, exhalation and retention. Retention can be done after both inhalation and exhalation. Inhalation stimulates the system whereas exhalation is to throw away the toxins from the body. Retention distributes the energy throughout the body. When we talk about “pranayama”, we talk about movements including horizontal expansion, vertical ascension and circumferential extension of the lungs and the rib cage.

When we breathe in, the chest expans and the lungs fill with fresh oxygen. When we breathe out, the chest narrows and the lungs are emptied. When we hold breath, the heart rate slows down and the heart muscle takes a rest.

Generally, it is possible to talk about four types of respiration:

  1. High/Clavicular (collar bones) respiration: The neck muscles activate only the upper parts of the lungs.
  2. Intercostal/midbreathing Only the central prats of the lungs are activated.
  3. Low/diaphragmatic breathing: The lower parts of the lungs are activated chiefly whereas the top and central parts remain less active.
  4. In total/pranayamic breathing: The entire lungs are sed to ther fullest capacity. When we inhale, the chest and abdomen rises and when we exhale, all these parts distinguish. The chest and abdomen is lifted up, forward and to the sides.

In yoga classes, “pranayamic breathing” is preferred. In classes, teachers ask students to breathe in and out through the nose. The air is cleaned and warmed up with the help of the structure of the nose. The air then goes down through the neck and reaches the lungs. When the diaphragm muscle contracts, the ribs move up and forward (intercostal muscles), the lungs expand and fill with air. When exhailing, the diaphragm relaxes, the ribs move down and inward (intercostal muscles) and lungs shrink, giving out the air.

When we expand in yoga classes, when we extend the spine, when we open the arms to the sides or lift them, when we are getting out of a forward bend or twist, when we are rising up from a pose against gravity, we inhale. When we close our bodies, when we bring the arms to the center, when we bend forward or twist or do something in line with the gravity, we exhale.

We have told that the reason why we breathe in through the nose is to clean and warm up the air. So why do we prefer to exhale through the nose? When we breathe out through the nose, the air exhaled absorbs moisture, reducing dehydration. When we breathe out through the nose, it is good for oral health.  Mouth breathing causes a drying out of the gums, increasing the acidity in the mouth. Exhaling through the nose reduces snoring and sleep apnoea and enables a good sleep. Moreover, breathing through the nose regulates the volume of air breathed, so that it can effectively match the body’s oxygen needs.

Also, breathing through the mouth causes overbreathing or hyperventilation as we use the upper chest rather than the diaphragm. It dries the airways, causing coughing and worsening of asthma.

Also, breathing through the nose is related with the carbondioxide level in our lungs and blood. When the carbondioxide level is normal, enough oxygen is sent to our tissues and brain. Most of us believe that carbondioxide is bad for us. However, if no carbondioxide, then we cannot get the oxygen our bodies need. When the carbondioxide level is in proper level, it triggers the red blood cells to release oxygen they carry.

We provide the carbondioxide our bodies use through our own bodies, not the air. Therefore, if we do not breathe correctly, we cannot produce the proper level of carbondioxide we need.

The lungs store carbondioxide. If the carbondioxide is under a certain level, we feel some imbalance and some symptoms show up. When there is enough carbondioxide in the lungs, the respiration is done through the diaphragm.

When we breathe out through the mouth, the carbondioxide level in our lungs and blood reduces and less oxygen is sent to the brain and tissues. When the carbondioxide level is less than normal, the blood PH degree rises toward its alkaline limit and a message is sent to the brain. The brain stops the diaphragm to stop the respiration and carbondioxide level increases. When the blood pH is restored and oxygen flows again, the brain tells the diaphragm to start to move and the next breath is allowed.

If we do not use the diaphragm as the main muscle of respiration, we face problems in regulating the carbondioxide level in our lungs, When we breathe out through the mouth, we only use the upper chest not the diaphragm. We can feel tense in the chest and have problems in respiration, We regulate the carbondioxide level we will throw away the body, thanks to the diaphragm.

For all these reasons, we prefer inhaling and exhaling through the nose. In spiritual and mental dimension, breathing through the nose calms down the body and breath and silences the mind. When we breathe in and out through the nose, the breath is extended, deepened and thus, the mind is calmed down.

As a result, “prana” is not just “breath.” It is “life force.” “Prana” is breath, respiration, life, energy and strength. Yoga classes are a part of life and it is possible to learn new things during classes. The aspiration of students to learn new things make them ask questions to questions, which in return develop and progress teachers. If one of the students had not asked me why we were breathing through the nose in yoga, I would not have made such a deep research. Every moment is an opportunity for us to develop and progress. Every yoga class is an opportunity for us to develop. What is important is to open to development and progress. I am so glad I have so many wonderful students. Namas’te.

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“Teacher, I was undergoing an MRI last week. There was something wrong with the MRI device and I had to stay in the device for about one and a half hours.” “So, how could you endure it?” “Teacher, I only thought about the yoga classes. I told myself that this would not last forever but would end soon. And I closed my eyes and focused on my breath.”

One of the students told me all these things in one of the yoga group classes last week. That day, we were working on “vayu”s (wind/air flow/energy flows in the body). Therefore that class was a bit different and more spiritual than any other yoga classes. We were working on some “asana”s (pose) related to the energy flows and trying to observe towards where the body was moving  and how the body was moving together with the breath.

When we were resting in “balasana” (child pose) in-between the flows, one of the students said, “teacher, I can see the advantages and benefits of yoga classes in my daily life. Yoga has changed my daily life. I have turned into a very different person. A recent incident helped me once more see how yoga is beneficial to me.”

The other students and I wondered what had happened to the student and asked her to tell the whole story. At that point, the student said,”teacher, I was undergoing an MRI last week. There was something wrong with the MRI device and I had to stay in the device for about one and a half hours.” “So, how could you endure it?” “Teacher, I only thought about the yoga classes. I told myself that this would not last forever but would end soon. And I closed my eyes and focused on my breath.”

“I remembered the opening meditation and overviewed what we were doing in that meditation. I remembered that we closed our eyes and focused on the breath. I inhaled and exhaled and started to count my breath. I tried to realize at which part of the body the breath was moving. At first, I panicked and my breath was shallow. Then I closed my eyes and tried to leave my mind aside and shut it down. Then the breath started to calm down. And I started to take longer breath. I could deepen the breath from my chest to the abdomen and even to the pelvic floor. The deeper my breath was, I was calmer. As I kept my eyes closed, I was calmer. I concentrated my mind on my breath. A while later, my breath was so calm that it almost stopped. My body was no more tense but relaxed.”

“At that very moment, I realized your words. Bad news, nothing lasts forever. Good news, nothing last forever. Nothing is permament. Everything changes. We were closing the eyes and focusing on our breath in order to silence the mind in yoga “asana”s in which we really have difficulties. We were trying to connect the body and the breath. This was one of the moments which was really hard for me. And, I told myself that it was not permanent and it would last soon. And I believed in what I was telling myself. I hadn’t realized before how yoga got a part of my daily life. It was the first time I realized that I was applying to yoga in the moments I really felt difficulties and problems in my daiy life.”

I could not explain how happy I was to hear all the story. Yes, I am teaching yoga in gym clubs but this does not mean that yoga should be regarded just like any other physical activities. Of course, our priority is to get a good physical and body shape and look. Even though many people come to group yoga classes at gym clubs for only this goal, they start to “be yoga” in time. “To be yoga”… “To be whole bodily, spiritually and mentally.” Then in time, the goal to have spiritual and mental peace replaces the goal to get a good physical shape and look. I guess this is what yoga is and here we can find the philosophy of yoga. To get loved and adored by people just by being itself and without imposing anything or forcing anything or anyone.

I have been facing the same exhaustion, unhappiness and insecurity in the eyes of the students in my yoga classes recently. Everybody in tense, everybody is afraid and everybody is restless. Terrorist attacks one after the other increase the exhaustion, insecurity, unhappiness and uneasiness of our bodies and souls in these long, dark and gloomy winter days. When I show up in class and ask students what they want to do that day, they always say, “something that can make us relax and something that can make us feel peaceful and happy only if it is for an hour.” For this reason, I focused on flows that would stretch the chest in this week’s yoga classes.

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I aimed to focus on backbends and stretch the chest in three different yoga classes. The peak pose would be “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel pose). Before the flow began, I told students “today we will try wheel pose. When trying it, we would try to look behind, look at the past and look at the unknown. To look behind, have trust in our arms and lift the body upward is something that requires courage. If we are afraid, if we have something to fear in our lives, we cannot open our chest with courage. But we can try it with confidence and courage and can proceed towards love, enthusiasm and happiness.”

And the class began. We stretched the chest and hip flexor muscles and worked on our shoulder girdle in order to externally rotate the shoulders. I decided to make students try the peak pose in three stages. In the first trial, we would practice “setu bandhasana” (bridge pose). When inhaling, we would lift the spine up to the thoracal area and in our second inhale, we would lift the chest up more. In our second trial, we would again begin with “setu bandhasana” and after we got in the pose, we would place the arms beside the head and put the top of the head on the ground. If this stage was impossible for us for that day, we would again do “setu bandhasana.” In our third trial, we would try wheel pose. We would get in the second stage first and when inhaling we would lift the body on the arms and lift the head up also. If this pose was hard and challenging for us that day, we would stay in the second stage.

There were students who did all three stages, those who only did bridge pose, and those who tried the first and second stages. Everybody tried the pose as much as their bodies and souls prevailed and accepted their condition.

When the students were in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting position), I was thinking. All students felt unhappy, desperate, sad, disappointed, tired, exhausted and unsecure due to recent incidents in the country. Every one was afraid. Even though we thought that we were not affected, we were feeling unsecure, tired, exhausted and hopeless about the terrorist attacks. Accurate or inaccurate — we were getting tip-offs from social media every day. “Don’t go there, don’t wander around this area.” Even though the bodies were not tired, the souls were. All the incidents caused insecurity, exhaustion and desperation. Even though we bent backward in order to avoid this spirit and stretched the chest, we could not get the desired outcome and effect. Maybe we used to bend backward so easily in the past and now we were facing difficulties. Was it because our souls and hearts were so heavy? What about the fear? New fears every day? And to be deprived of the courage to overcome this fear? And not to feel brave enough to do something? Not to take any steps with courage and confidence. To feel exhausted and not being able to lift the chest up by all these emotions…

One of the main questions I come across in my yoga classes is about how breath should be used in yoga. When we are flowing in yoga classes, we inhale as we open the chest and broaden ourselves and exhale as our chest is closed and as we narrow ourselves. Whe exhale as we bend forward but inhale as we open our spine up. We, the instructors, give breathing directives to students throughout the flows. However, we still face problems and questions about breath in yoga classes. So what should be done is to elaborate on this topic.

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One of the main problems I face in yoga classes about breath is to inhale and exhale through the nose. In almost all other physical activities, we exhale through the mouth but in yoga we prefer exhaling through the nose. Those who show up in yoga class for the first time might have problems in exhaling through the nose.

The second problem is faced during “vinyasa”s (flow). People who have been practicing yoga for a long time can extend and deepen their breath however the new students cannot deepen and prolong their breath so they are out of breath during the flow. We can face such problems mostly in gym clubs because new students always show up in the gym clubs as well as group classes. Most yoga studios solve this problem by teaching basic yoga classes, advanced or intermediate classes. However, there is not such a classification in gym clubs so there can always be new ones in a group of students who have been practicing for a long time. If we are teaching an intermediate or an advanced class, we may face problems in not only “asana”s (pose) but also “vinyasa”s and breath. Advanced students can take in and out deep breath and do one “asana” in each breath but the new students need to take more than one breath throughout one “asana.”

Maybe one of the most important problems about breath is holding breath. During a “vinyasa,” we — the instructors — give breathing directives and students practice in line with the directives. However, students tend to hold breath in any “asana” we add in-between “vinyasa”s or in poses which are hard and challenging for them. Particularly in backbends, arm balancing poses and inversions. When we hold our breath, our heart beat is quicker, adrenaline is released and we are not able to do that pose since the sympathetic nervous system is activated. However, if we do not hold breath and go on breathing as if we are sitting in a meditative position and if our heart beat is calmed down, the parasympathetic nervous system will be activated and we may have a chance to do that “challenging” pose. What we want to do in yoga is to always keep our breath calm and deep, slow down the brain waves, calm down the mind and thus activate the parasympathetic nervous system and be able to do the most challenging pose in a “calm and peaceful” way. Unfortunately, we cannot achieve this goal when we hold our breath.

We want to harmonize the body and breath in yoga flows. One breath for one “asana”. Exhale to “uttanasana” (standing forward bend) inhale to “ardha uttanasana” (standing half forward bend)… Exhale to “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank) inhale to “urdhva mukha svanasana” (upward facing dog) and exhale to “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog)…

We practied “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) and a few “asana”s in-between the sun salutation series throughout a class. Just by watching the breath. First we tried inhaling and exhaling in three counts. We did each “asana” when inhaling in three counts and another when exhaling in three counts. Then we prolonged the breath to five counts. Some students felt difficulties in prolonging the breath to five counts at first but as the “surya namaskara” series continued, the breath prolonged and body and soul become more harmonized. Instead of acting separately, the body and soul tried to act together. And in the end, each “asana” was done in five breath counts. Each “asana” without being quickly done… Slowly and deeply…

One pose in each breath. One pose throughout one breath. When the exhale ends, the final shape of that pose as if each pose is that day’s peak pose. To prolong the pose throughout one inhale or exhale. Yoga was the harmony of the body, mind and soul. If “asana”s were the physical and bodily part of yoga, the breath was the spiritual part of yoga. When we harmonized body and breath, the only thing we should do is to make the mind watch and follow the body and breath. But the priority was always the harmony of the body and breath.

What is the difference between yoga and other physical activities? I sometimes find myself asking this question. What is the difference between yoga and “dynamic stretching” or “pilates”? Or any other physical activity?

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Yoga literally means to unite, to yoke. Yoga means the unity of the body, mind and soul. It means the harmony of the body, mind and the soul. If we lose the harmony among body, mind and soul when flowing in a yoga class, we are not in a state of “yoga”. “Yoga” is actually a “state” instead of a physical activity.

What instructors care about the most in yoga classes is the harmony of the body and the breath. Inhaling and getting into one “asana” (pose) and exhaling into another “asana.” Let’s elaborate it. Doing one “asana” as long as we breathe in and doing another “asana” as long as we breathe out and end up in the final position of that “asana.” Surely we cannot ignore the importance of breath in all physical activities however breath has a peculiar place in yoga. Breath is our soul and therefore any obstruction in the breath means making a concession of our soul. For this reason, we practice “pranayama” (breath liberating) exercises at the beginning and end of yoga classes. Sitting in a cross-legged position or on the knees, keeping the spine erect and focusing on the breath. Focusing on the breath and expanding the breath and in time achieving “pranayamic breathing” which means “yoga breath.” A respiration with the lungs, diaphragm and the abdomen. Using the full capacity of the lungs, deep and long breaths with the help of the diaphragm and the abdomen. And when doing the “asana”s throughout the class, expanding the capacity of the lungs and using “pranayamic breathing.” This breathing style and the importance attributed to breath i.e. the soul throughout the class differs yoga from other physical activities.

Using the breath when flowing from one “asana” to another in fact reduces the burden on the body. We helped our body be opened and closed with the help of the breath and continued the flow without making ourselves physically exhaused thanks to our breath. Actually we were generating energy within our bodies. We were focusing the mind on the breath and thus the mind could not think any other thing when trying to harmonize the body and the breath. It was only watching the breath and the body and tried to move the body simultaneously with the breath. Therefore, the mind was just dealing with the body and the breath and was wandering neither in the past nor the future. It stayed right in the moment and the present time. And this was what differed yoga from other physical activities. The breath, i.e. the soul, the mind and the body was in unity and harmony.

Moreover, we were working on a certain part of the body in yoga classes and made a peak pose at the half of the class depending on that certain part we had stretched and strengthened. We could work on a hip opening flow in one yoga class and focus on inversions in another. We could choose to backbend in another yoga class.

Lastly, the most important feature that differs yoga from other activities is to work on a mental relief. To meditate for at least five minutes at the beginning of the class and to direct the attention and mind on the body and breath in order to release all the tension and tiredness of the day. A long “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) at th end of the class in order to overcome the physical tiredness of the class.

You may think why I am writing this post. I am writing it because I talked to one of the students before a group class last week. The student said, “it is not important how tired I am or how it is hard for me to come to class or how a challenging and difficult flow we do throughout the class, I feel energetic after resting in “savasana” and waking up after this pose. It is as if my body is re-charged.” Yes, it was really so. As we deepen our breath in yoga, more fresh oxgyen is pumped to the blood and this boosts our energy, making us feel more healthy, strong and enthusiastic. According to some studies, yoga poses adjusts “cortisol” hormone, which makes us feel energetic. Like in all other physical activities, yoga helps increase “serotonine” and “endorphine” hormones and we end up the class smiling. I think there is no need to talk about how energetic and enthusiastic we may feel with laughter and smile. What differs yoga from other physical activities? And you are still asking me this question? No traces of tiredness after class but instead a body full of energy which may take you to the next class. And haven’t you still tried yoga yet?

The falling leaves, cool weather, less sunshine, more clouds and sudden rainfall… Yes, again autumn has come. And September 23rd the fall equinox. Day and night was equal. However, this equinox was a bit different from that on March 21. On March 21, there is the summer ahead of us. We all know that days will be longer, the northern hemisphere will be hotter with longer and brigther days. However, on September 23rd heralds darker, shorter and colder days for the northern hemisphere. You may think, “what’s the use of informing us about all these geographical facts?” In fact, it concerns us. If you keep following  my blog for some time, you must have seen that the sun and the moon affect our bodies, souls and minds. So do the changing seasons. They all affect our yoga practice. What type of yoga should be do in the fall equinox and the following two-and-a-half-month fall season?

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Before talking about this issue, I have to first remind some facts about Indian science of living, “Ayurveda.” As you all know, Ayurveda classifies bodies in three different types, called “doshas” and named “vata”, “pitta” and “kapha.” “Vata dosha” dominates in some bodies whereas “pitta” and “kapha” doshas dominate in some others. Similarly, certain “doshas” dominate the seasons. Fall is the season of “vata dosha.” “Vata” is a “dosha” that activates the nervous system and the process of elimination and governs movement in the body. The qualities of vata are cold, dry, rough, light, changeable, irregular and moving. Vata is composed of elements of air and space. As the energy of vata increases during fall, we may feel ourselves unbalanced and ungrounded. For this reason, we should attach importance to grounding in our yoga practice. When we are practicing a standing asana, we should feel the energy of the earth under our feet and try to feel more grounded and when we are in a seated asana, we should try to ground ourselves from our buttocks.

In order to balance the energy of vata and to feel a bit warmer energy, we can also use “pranayama” (breathing) techniques. We can close our left nostril and inhale and exhale through our right nostril, which will wake the male and solar energy in our bodies and help get and feel warmer in the cooler days of autumn.

When we talk about equinox, whether its fall or spring, we should always talk about a balance. Day and night are equal in these times of the year and either night or day will start to get longer in the following few days. When night and day are equal, dark and brightness will be equal. We should establish a balance between fire and water and yin and yang are equal. Static and dynamic, known and unknown, inner and outher journey, seen and unseen, logic and intuition, conscious and unconscious because on September 23, we are moving from sun to moon, light to dark, yang to yin, outer achievements to inner reflection, action to contemplation and fire to water. To this end, balance is so important in these times of the year. Either in our yoga classes or own yoga practice, we should practice balancing poses like “vrksasana” (tree pose), “garudasana” (eagle pose), “natarajasana” (dancer’s pose), “utthita hasta padangusthasana” (hand to toe pose) and “virabhadrasana III” (warrior III).

Moreover, we can practice asanas stimulating the lung and large intestine meridians during the fall equinox and autumn. For instance, “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch), “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog), “uttanasana” (standing forward bend), “tadasana” (mountain pose), “high lunge”, “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “parsvakonasana” (wide angle pose), “garudasana” (eagle pose), “natarajasana” (dancer’s pose), “apanasana” (knees to chest pose), “yogic cycles” (abdominal work) ve “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist) can be a beneficial flow to stimulate large intestines and lungs.

“Eka pada adho mukha svanasana” (three legged downward facing dog), “virabhadrasana III” (warrior III), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “trikonasana” (triangle), “parighasana” (gate pose), “ardha chandrasana” (half moon pose), “malasana” (squat pose), “bakasana” (crow pose), “sirsasana” (headstand), “dandasana” (staff pose), “paschimottanasana ” (seated forward bend),  “balasana” (child pose), “phalakasana” (plank pose), “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank), “salabhasana” (locust pose), “dhanurasana” (bow pose), “supta virasana” (supine hero pose), “bhujangasana” (cobra pose), “vasisthasana” (side plank pose- Sage Vasishta pose), “marichyasana” (SageMarichi twist), “ustrasana” (camel pose) are other asanas we may practice in our yoga classes and own yoga practice during fall.

I have said that we should attach importance to grounding in our yoga practice during fall. “Ujjayi pranayama” (victory breath) not only warms our bodies up but also prevents us from getting injured. So, it is an efficient breathing technique we can use in all our yoga practices throughout the year, not only in autumn.

We can feel more flexible due to the increasing element of “vata” in fall and we can cross our limits and get injured. Therefore, we should practice at a slow, smooth and steady pace. We can stay in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) — the sine qua non asana of all yoga classes — longer than usual to balance vata energy. We can get a blanket and cover our eyes with an eye pillow to feel calmer.

We can also welcome the equinox with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. “Vata dosha” is related with the elements air and ether in the body. In order to balance the elements air and ether, we could increase the element air in the body. Therefore if we practice 108 sun salutations in the equinox, we can warm the body up and increase the elements fire and water, i.e the “pitta dosha” in the body.

I had no intention to celebrate the equinox when I went to group class this week. What a coincidence that everybody wanted to focus on grounding in all classes. They all wanted to try standing poses, particularly “warrior” posses. All students wanted to pay attention to alignment and grounding and feel the element earth. “Virabhadrasana I”, “virabhadrasana II”, “virabhadrasana III” (warrior I, II and III), “parsvakonasana” (side angle pose), “trikonasana” (triangle). Reviewing all alignment from the sole of the feet to the top of the head… And we waited at least ten breath in all poses to feel the grounding more and more. We paid attention to harmonize the body and the breath. We tried to do one pose throughout one inhale or exhale. We tried to feel the harmony of the body and the breath by closing the eyes. We also experienced to feel the energy earth climbing to the top of the head through the entire body. We felt the unity of body, breath and mind.

I had forgotten to focus on equinox in my classes however the bodies had not. Students wanted to ground and feel the energy earth instinctively. And this was what had happened in all my yoga classess last week.

Days, months and seasons… One come after the other. There is a flow in our daily lives like in yoga. Always an action. Winter, spring, summer. And now comes the autumn. We can practice different types of yoga to make our bodies, minds and souls happier and calmer in each season What is important is to ensure the integrity, unity and balance of our bodies, minds and souls in all these seasons. The rest! No need to care about!

 

We all want some things to happen in our lives. We all struggle to achieve some things. We all push things hard to get some thing in our lives. Not only in our daily lives and professional lives but also in our emotional lives and in any physical activity including yoga, we all try to get some things done. Sometimes we are so obsessed with “that thing” that we cannot even think of any other thing and guess what “that thing” is so away from us.

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When I went to my private yoga class last week, I decided to teach a “yin” (female energy) yoga class due to the mood of the student. She said that she had issues to settle and maybe she needed to let some things go and wanted a class that could be good for her. And I decided to teach a “yin” yoga class and asked her to watch what would come out.
We began with a long meditation. We started to warm up the spine with “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch). When moving with breath between two “asana”s (poses), I asked her to close her eyes and watch her breath moving her spine. Instead of moving her body consciously in each asana, I asked her to see how her breath moved her body. “Let the body open to the outside world in each inhale and turn inward in each exhale. In which pose do you feel more comfortable? Is it better to open to outside world or to turn inward? How do you feel in these two poses today?”

After warming up the spine, I wanted to see what would come out of “dragon” pose when we focused on inner thighs and groins. We began. It would be useful to make one thing clear. The student was on paid leave and she had not practiced yoga for a month. Naturally her body was reacting to the first yoga class in a month. “Dragon” was a challenging pose both physically and emotionally. So she could not stay long in this pose and got out of it. If the body tells you to “get out of the pose because it cannot endure any more”, we should listen to it.
Resting in “balasana” (child pose), we would stretch hip flexor muscles with “half saddle.” I thought that it would be good for the student to try “dhanurasana” (bow pose) after stretching hip flexors and the chest. In the right side of “half saddle”, the student thought that she could not endure any more and she got out of the pose. In the other side, we began to talk.

As the student had the opportunity to ship books abroad, I had asked her if we could ship two yoga books. She told me it would not be a problem so we asked for the books. Neither of the books came but a DVD came instead. The student was so angry with the post office and told me that she felt so sorry and she did not know what to do.
“No problem. Maybe it would not be good for me if I got those books. Maybe those books were no use for me. Maybe that DVD would be so useful to me. Really no problem” The student, “teacher, I feel so bad and so sorry. I made a promise to you and I told you that we could get your books but something different came.” Me, “if something does not happen, it is really for a reason. There is no need to force.” The student, “how come if it does not happen, it is for a reason. I cannot manage to do that. I cannot let go. I cannot accept. I think I should learn this. If we have made up our minds and decided something, that will happen. I cannot just walk away.”

And I started to tell her about something that happened to me recently. Something in my daily life and something not philosophical. There was something I wanted to buy and it was on sale. It was a good sale and I decided to buy it. I gave my credit card. However, the salesperson could not get the price from the credit card. That day, something was wrong with their lines and the system was not working. And I had not enough cash money one me. They tried again, but failure again. So when it could not be done in the second trial, I asked them not to try again and give back my credit card. Can a salesperson give up? No, of course not. She tried again. And no success. I told her that it was not a problem, maybe I should not buy that because it was not good and useful for me. The salesperson insisted: “If you are in this mall, come again in an hour.” No, whatever she told me would be no use. Even if she gave it as a present, no. Why would I force it? Maybe it would be no good to me, maybe I would be allergic and it would give harm to me. If it doesn’t go well and happen, no need to force.

I would meet one of my friends however we could not make a plan and adjust our schedules. “Let us not meet for a while. Maybe we should not see each other for some time. Maybe we would have a fight or argue if we meet. Maybe the flow keeps us away from us and prevents it.” Maybe everything happens for a reason. If it doesn’t happen, no problem.

Maybe all these may seem you like “giving up.” No, it is not giving up. It is following the marks and trying to see what the signs are showing us and acting accordingly. Not to force life, to move with the flow in real sense and to really be together with the flow. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. No problem. This simple. Not only in our daily lives and emotional lives but also in our physical activities, yoga and meditation. Everywhere… “Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe the thing we are so desperate about will be bad for us and therefore it does not happen. So, do not force. Let go if it doesn’t happen. Just try to look at from this perspective and try. What will you lose?

When was the last time I taught a yoga class in English? I cannot remember. A year, one and a half years or two? When was the last time a foreign student joined my yoga class? And how could I forget how to teach yoga in English in such a short time?

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This week had again been the week of the “first experiences” for me. When I showed up in the first group class of the week, I had seen that a foreign student was joining the class. I talked to the new student before the class in order to learn whether it was his first yoga class and whether he had some physical problems. Of course, I wanted to learn whether he knew enough Turkish to follow the class. Because that day the class was so crowded and I was trying to figure out whether I was supposed to talk in both Turkish and English. Yes as you have guessed, the student was not so fluent in Turkish. So I started to give directives both in Turkish and English.

“Gozlerinizi kapatın. Oturma kemiklerinizden yere uzarken basin tepesinden de gokyuzune dogru uzayın. Omuzlari geriye yuvarlayin, kurek kemiklerinizi kuyruksokumuna dogru ittirin. Nefesler dogal akisinda.” And English: “Close your eyes. Ground your body down from your sitting bones while at the same time extend your spine up to the ceiling from the top of the head. Roll your shoulders back, bring your shoulder blades down towards the coccyx. Breath is natural pace.”

It seems easy when I write it down. Believe me, I could hardly remember the English terms of coccyx, sitting bones and even the shoulder. Writing was one thing but voicing it was another.

My aim was to open up the chest and try “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel) as the peak pose. In the first half of the class, we did poses to open up the chest, roll the shoulders back and stretch hip flexor muscles and prepared the body for “urdhva dhanurasana.” In the meantime, I was getting used to speaking in English. “Nefes alin sag bacaginizi yukari kaldirin, nefes verirken sag bacaklari matin onune getirin.” “Inhale and lift your right leg up, exhale and bring the leg to the front of the mat.” “Nefes alin kollari yukari dogru uzatin, nefes verirken one katlanin.” “Inhale and lift your arms up, extend and bend forward.”

Just before the peak pose, we prepared the body with “setu bandhasana” (bridge pose). We now would either try “bridge pose” once more or try to get into “wheel pose.” If our elbows were opening to both sides, we could use a yoga belt to keep the elbows parallel to each other. If our knees were opening to both sides, we could put a block between the legs. If we were having difficulties lifting the chest up, a friend could help us. I showed all the alternatives before the class tried the peak pose. Everyone did the pose as much as s/he could do.

After relieving the spine with “dandasana” (staff pose) and “paschimottanasana” (sitting forward bend), we laid down. We had a long rest with “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) following “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist). But this was the most difficult moment of the class for me as I was saying something in Turkish and then in English. “Ayaklari gevşetin, bacaklari gevşetin.” “Relax the feet, relax the legs.”

I also had some difficulties in the closing speech. I usually end the class by telling about my emotions and feelings. That day, we focused on “going back, looking back and confronting fears.” And the class was over. I was exhausted.

And guess what had happened? The following day, I went to a private class and I had to teach a bilungual yoga class again. That day was our first class with that group. My aim was to introduce yoga and “asana”s to them. We had a slow-pace class. After warming up the bodies with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series, we did a “hatha” (sun-moon) type yoga and focused on alignment in “asana”s. In the second half of the class, we sat down to stretch the body and stay long in “asana”s to calm down the mind. And a long “savasana.” Again “nefes al kobra, nefes ver aşagi bakan kopek.”  “inhale to cobra, exhale to downdog.” “Nefes ver omurgani yuvarla gobek deligine dogru bak, nefes al beli cukurlastir ac gogus kafesini.” “Exhale round your spine and look at your belly button, inhale tuck your tailbone out and open up the chest.”

And what had I learned? I had forgotten how difficult it was to teach a bilingual yoga class. Teaching in my mother tongue was a great happiness. I could not express the same way in a foreign language. I should once more review the body parts in English. Everyday something new happens and I should be open and eager to welcome the new things.

Have you ever thought why we are so much interested in yoga? If we live a busy life, if we work long hours before computers and if we have lower and upper back problems including herniated discs, we get interested in yoga. We really want to learn what yoga is and go to a yoga studio or a gym club to get to know yoga. The reason why we are interested in yoga is totally physical. A physical relief, to alleviate the pain and to gain an erect posture.

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Days, weeks, months and years pass. As time passes, our interest in yoga changes. When we start attending yoga classes regularly, we start to discover the mental and spiritual benefits of it besides its physical benefits. At first, we do not like the opening meditation and the “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) at the end of the class. But in time, they both become enjoying. As time passes, we get more interested in the spiritual and mental benefits of yoga than its physical benefits. We overcome the mental and physical fatigue of all day in a yoga class and feel refreshed.

You may ask me why I am writing such a long beginning. I have realized that I focused on “male energy”, “being a doer” and “achievement” in my posts for a long time and I have decided to deal with the mental and spiritual aspects. And I have been asked questions about spiritual and mental relief and meditation. So, let me try to elaborate meditation as much as I can.

Yes, if it is your first yoga class, you may probably not like the opening meditation and “savasana” at the end of the class. Generally, we are used to rushing and always “doing something” in our daily lives so it is hard for us to slow down, to stop, to calm down. Actually, sitting silently at the beginning of the class, closing the eyes and focusing on the breath are so good for calming down, turning inward and relieving. However, when we join a yoga class and see someone familiar, we immediately start talking to them and we continue the chat and the murmours even if the teacher turns the lights on and starts to prepare us for meditation. Have you ever thought why we cannot stay silent? Why cannot we just sit and wait? Why do we think we are obliged to socialized? Because this is how the mind works. The mind does not want to stay silent, calm down and stay on its own. Think of the mind as a “naughty kid.” It always wants a toy and to be kept busy. This way, it will always be active and continue to push you like a “devil”. It will always talk and make you uneasy.

Just think that you have silenced your mind! Eyes closed, you are sitting with an erect spine and the mind is silent. You are just watching your inhales and exhales. You are just watching your spine move upward and downward and realizing that your chest is expanding and narrowing. Your face is soft, your eyebrows soft, your breath is calm and this serenity spreads to all your body. Just imagine. And yes haven’t you feeling yourself peaceful even when you are imagining?

On one hand you are keeping your spine erect so that your breath can freely and easily move through your body and on the other hand your face and body is soft and comfartable. And a moment has come and you think you are not breathing. The breath is so silent that you think you are not breathing and you panic. Do not panic. The breath is naturally flowing in your body. The breath is a part of the autonomous nervous system and so it is flowing through your body naturally. You just do not realize it anymore. You are so relieved and relaxed, your body and mind are so relaxed that you do not realize your breath. And those moments when we do not realize breath and which we define as breathless are the moments of “meditation.” Yes, it is just so. One second, two seconds maybe three. And then you are pushed by your mind again and welcome back to regular life.

And a moment came and colors in front of your eyes. The colors of rainbow. Yellow, red, blue, purple. Or maybe geometrical shapes in front of your closed eyes. Square, rectangular, circle. Maybe colorful geometrical shapes.

Maybe your body is tired of sitting in the same shape for a long time and you change your sitting position without opening your eyes. You want to lean your back on somewhere or maybe you want to lie down in “savasana.” If we feel body disturbances, we are living in the moment. It means the mind has not gone away.

Maybe it has been just five minutes but it is a long time or a decade for a beginner. And the teacher asked us to open our eyes.

At the end of the class, again a meditation but a different meditation. “Savasana” i.e. deep relaxation and resting pose. Can we call it a conscious sleep. Maybe. Lying down on our backs and relieving all your body. Leaving all the body on the ground as if the body does not belong to me and as if I am a puppet. As if I cannot rule my body and it is doing whatever it wants. Lying down on the ground and the body is left there on its own. Am I just consisted of breath? I now realize my breath. My breath is getting calmer each passing moment. Am I really inhaling and exhaling? I am not sure. As if somebody is pushing my body down to the earth through my arms and lgs. As if my body is stuck on the ground and I am no more in that breath. Is my soul free? I am lying down but is my head turning? I am turning on my own axis. Similar thing happened during the opening meditation when the teacher kept the meditation long. What has happened to my mind? Has it stopped irritating and disturbing me? I think it is tired. Has it really stopped talking? I have left everything, I have left my body, I have left my mind. “Savasana” is like the death of body, mind and soul for some time. Leaving everything, giving up, self-surrendering, totally vanishing, melting and a temporary death. A conscious sleep. A state of “being” instead of a state of “doing.”

Yoga which I started for just physical purposes has been the cure of my soul and mind. I have loved “meditation” and “savasana” more than yoga “asana”s in time. Watching my breath, soul and mind. Observing my body. Just to be a spectator and looking at myself from outside. To see how much I am unaware of myself and how strange I am to myself. To see that I have forgotten to “just be”, stop and experience the “state of being” because I focused so much on “doing.” To be calm, serene, silent, peaceful, free and to feel myself home.

I have told you in my previous posts that I have not been practicing with my students for a long time. But sometimes I want to flow with the students. A moment comes and I cannot stop myself from practicing with them. And I find myself practicing the asanas together with the group and flowing from one asana to another.

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I had two classses on December 21 winter solstice. One in the morning and the other in the evening. I had decided to practice 108 “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) in order to increase the element fire in our bodies and to warm up in these cold winter days as well as to mark the winter solstice. Unfortunately, our class only lasted for an hour and we could not practice 108 sets of surya namaskara within this time. Therefore I would limit sun salutation series with only 54.

Before we began the morning class, I told the students that we would practice “surya namaskara” series and those who were tired could rest for a while and catch up. Students objected to my decision. They were feeling so tired that they could not even practice a single sun salutation set. Everybody was feeling exhausted and therefore wanted to strecth their bodies. This was the impact of the solstice on our bodies. Mostly I take into consideration the wishes of the students and teach a class in line with their requests. However, I would focus on grounding and standing asanas that day. Following five sets of sun salutation, we started to practice standing asanas. That day we were practicing a “hatha” (sun-moon) style yoga class instead of a “vinyasa” (flow) type class. We stayed five to ten breaths in “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “trikonasana” (triangle) and “parsvakonasana” (side angle pose). We stayed in asanas longer than usual that day and felt the grounding beneath our feet. We closed the eyes in “tadasana” and tried to realize the grounding beneath the soles of our feet.

When we sat on the ground, we went on grounding with the seated asanas. Grounding does not happen only beneath the soles of our feet. When we sat down, we could also feel the “ischium” (sitting) bones and ground from those bones while we felt the extention of the body to the ceiling from the top of the heads. “Dandasana” (staff pose), “janu sirsasana” (head to knee pose), “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend) and “marichyasana” (Sage Marichy pose) were the other asanas we grounded while we were sitting.

I also took into consideration the requests of the students. That day, everybody wanted to stretch their bodies. We used “paschimottanasana”, “half saddle”, “sleeping swan” and “dragonfly” in order to stretch the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip external rotator muscles and groin muscles. Those who could not get into “half saddle” because of knee issues practiced “ardha bhekasana” (half frog pose) and those who could not practice “sleeping swan” due to the same problems used “eye of the needle” pose as an alternative. Lastly we twisted the bodies to right and left in “dragonfly.”

We laid down and ended the class with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist) and “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).

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The evening class volunteered for 54 sun salutations. That evening, I also wanted to join the flow with the students because I wanted to feel the element fire and grounding. I aimed to close my eyes and flow from one asana to another, listenining to my favorite “mantra”s.

We began the class with sun salutation A series. We closed the eyes and rested in “tadasana” once in every five sets. Twenty sun salutations with the “phalakanasana” (plank pose) version, we went on with the sun salutations with “anjaneyasana” (low lunge pose) version. After completing five sets, we went on with sun salutation version with “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank). Then again sun salutation series with “phalakanasana”. The last four sets were sun salutation B series. Exhale “chaturanga dandasana” inhale “urdhva mukha svanasana” (upward facing dog). Exhale “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) inhale “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I) exhale “chaturanga dandasana”… Then warrior I with the left leg in the front and the same flow. Staying in downward facing doga for five breaths. And end of sun salutation series with a speedy flow.

When we completed 54 sets, we closed the eyes in “tadasana” and felt the grounding beneath our feet. We squatted with “malasana” (squat pose) and sat down. Unfortunately there was another class after our yoga class. So I had to invite the students to resting pose immediately and end up the class. Therefore we twisted the bodies to right and left in cross-legged position and rested in “savasana.”

Cold, dark, gloomy and short winter days…. Long winter nights… Inequality and imbalance… The element air… And the element fire throughout the class… Warming up the bodies and finding the balance with the fire we burnt in our bodies… Then grounding beneath our feet… Feeling the earth… And finding balance… Finding the balance between the wishes of the students and the plans of the instructor…