Archives for posts with tag: ujjayi

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!

 

December 21… Winter solstice… The shortest day and the longest night of the year… When winter comes, I feel depressed. Even though I am a person who have been practicing and living in yoga for years, I cannot get accustomed to the duality of life. Actually, I have accepted duality in many areas, however when it comes to winter and summer, summer is much more important for me. In fact, the sentence saying “there is winter if there is summer” is not one that I feel like saying.

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Winter… Cold, dark, dry and harsh… All these are characteristics of “vata dosha”, one of the three body types in Ayurveda (Indian science of living). “Vata dosha” resembles adjectives like airy, light and creative. The main feature of this body type is instability and inconstancy. “Vata dosha” controls the central nervous system. When this “dosha” is out of balance, it can lead to nervous problems, including anxiety and depression.

With the cold, dry and harsh weather during winter, the “vata dosha” in our bodies rise irrespective of what our ayurvedic body types are. When the “vata” in our bodies rise, the best thing to do is to ground in yoga classes. Therefore, we should give priority to grounding in our yoga practice during winter and we should keep our awareness in our roots and grounds.

Why do we have to ground when “vata” increases in our bodies? “Vata” is associated with not only cold, dark, dry and harsh but also light and airy. Therefore, when “vata” increases in our bodies, it is so normal to fell ourselves lighter, more airy and as if we are flying. To this end, we should reduce, balance or regulate the “vata dosha” in our bodies. If we give priority to inversions that increase “vata” during our yoga practice and mainly practice “sirsasana” (headstand), “adho mukha vrksasana” (handstand) and “pincha mayurasana” (forearm stand), we raise the “vata” in our bodies. Thus, our mind will be tired, we feel impatient, and we feel like we are flying. We cannot focus, we cannot stay at one place and we will lose attention.

If we have such complaints, we should focus on grounding more than ever during winter in order to ensure physical, emotional and spiritual balance because most probably, the “vata dosha” in our bodies has increased. The standing yoga poses, particularly “tadasana” (mountain pose), “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “trikonasana” (triangle) and “vrksasana” (tree pose) are all poses that ground us and help us regulate the “vata dosha”. These standing poses do not only make us stronger but also help us stand firm and balanced on our feet.
Actually, we do not only ground in standing poses. If our aim is to ground ourselves, we can feel our roots in every pose. You must be wondering how we can do that? For instance, let’s practice “paschimottanasana” (sitting forward bend). If we bring our awareness to our sit bones in this pose and aim to get rooted and ground towards the earth through these bones, we can also make ourselves be rooted and grounded in a sitting yoga pose.

Similarly, we can also get grounded and rooted in backbends. For example, we can get into “bhujangasana” (cobra) or “salabhasana” (locust) poses, and we can ground ourselves onto the earth from our abdomen while we raise only our chest from the ground.

Twists also help us regulate the “vata dosha” in our bodies. However, our breath should freely move when we are in a twist. If not, the “vata dosha” in our bodies can increase.

We can get cold or flu more easier during winter than all other seasons. Therefore, it could be useful if we focus on asanas opening the chest, throat and sinuses. After warming the bodies up with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series, we can open the chest with backbends like “ustrasana” (camel), “dhanurasana” (bow) and “salabhasana” (locust) and clean and purify the throat with “salamba sarvangasana” (supported shoulderstand) and “matsyasana” (fish pose).

Besides all these yoga asanas, warming the bodies up with “ujjayi pranayama” (conquerer breath) during the winter can be a good method to balance the increasing “vata dosha”. Other techniques that can warm the bodies during winter are “bhastrika pranayama” (bellows breath) and “kapalabhati kriya” (skull cleansing method). Particularly “kapalabhati” could help eliminate mucus from the bodies.

What type of a yoga class could we practice on the winter solstice? Focusing on standing poses could be a good alternative or we could just warm the bodies with only “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. In yoga, it is a tradition to mark the solstice with 108 sun salutations. Why 108? First of all, 108 is the number of “Upanishads” (the last part of sacred Indian book Veda). 108 is the number of names of Shiva and Buddha. 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary and “mala” (Indian, Tibetan beads). 108 is twice the number “54”, which is the number of sounds in “Sanskrit” (sacred Indian language). 108 is the number of “sutras” (aphorisms) in “Yoga Sutras” (oldest text on yoga). 1 stands for Higher Truth, 0 stands for Emptiness and 8 stands for Infinity. Moreover, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times than that of the Earth.

So, we can regulate and balance the “vata dosha” in our bodies by trying to ground ourselves more on the ground and earth during this cold, dry and harsh winter. Let’s try to ground ourselves more and more on earth in standing yoga poses but at the same time let’s try to feel the energy rising from our soles. Let’s try to flow our energy to the ground, and feel the energy coming from the earth and ground in every yoga pose.

Grounding… One of the main principles of life. Everybody and everything wants to have roots and belong somewhere. Winter is a good opportunity to get grounded and be rooted and to improve our sense of belonging. If there is duality in life, we should continue being grounded until the moment we need to take our feet off the ground, i.e. till summer. Don’t forget that the days when we will need to take our feet off the floor are also ahead of us…

We have started to feel the winter thoroughly. I have mentioned in my previous posts that I do not like winter. When winter comes, I feel depressed and unhappy. My mood also affects my classes. The ball of fire teacher in summer days goes and comes a calm and dignified teacher. I decided to start moving more in the week we experienced the winter solstice. Even though I felt myself unhappy, I had made up my mind to be active and lively in my classes throughout the week and focus on asanas and flows to celebrate the winter solstice. (A detailed post on this topic is available at https://burcuyircaliblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/yoga-during-winter/)

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This was my mood during my private and group classes last week. A part of me was telling me to stay at bed and spend time at home all day long whereas a part of me reminded me that I should teach active, lively and energetic classes. In the end, I decided to cleberate this winter solstice with 108 “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. However, I had a time limit in my private and group classes and it did not seem possible to complete 108 sun salutation series in one hour classes. The best thing to do was to practice 54 sun salutations in my classes. I know myself well. If I counted the series in my head, I would definitely forget and count wrongly. We would either do more or less. Then I found a solution. I would bring dry beans to classes to count the series correctly. And I went to the studios with a bag full of dry beans.

We began the classes with mediation as usual. Before starting “surya namaskara” flows, I talked about the bodily and mental changes we were undergoing during winter, the increasing “vata” dosha in our bodies according to Ayurveda (Indian science of living), the need to ground in yoga classes during winter and the “ujjayi pranamaya” (ujjayi breath) we may use to warm the bodies. Lastly, we talked about the reason why to practice 108 sun salutations. As I mentioned in my previous post, 108 is the number of “Upanishads” (the last part of sacred Indian book Veda). 108 is the number of names of Shiva and Buddha. 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary and “mala” (Indian, Tibetan beads). 108 is twice the number “54”, which is the number of sounds in “Sanskrit” (sacred Indian language). 108 is the number of “sutras” (aphorisms) in “Yoga Sutras” (oldest text on yoga). 1 stands for Higher Truth, 0 stands for Emptiness and 8 stands for Infinity. Moreover, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times than that of the Earth.

After reviewing all this information, we began “surya namaskara” flows. I decided to stop and rest every five series. If you ask me why five? Some myths say that the elements earth, water, fire, air and ether are also present in our bodies and therefore we stay in every “asana” for five breaths. When practicing sun salutation series, we flew from one asana to another in every inhale and exhale and stayed in “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) for five breaths. After completing five series, we joined the palms together in front of the heart in “anjali mudra” and slowed down the breath in “tadasana” (mountain pose).
The first twenty series were so easy to practice. In the following series, the students started to get tired and take some time to rest during the flows on their own. I was not practicing the series. During the group class, I asked one of the students to be a “model student” and practice the flow instead of me. I was only giving verbal directives and walking in the class. In some flows, I was staying between the students and joined the sun salutation flows. “Inhale and raise your hands, exhale and bend forward. Inhale and open half way exhale to plank. In the next exhale bring your knee, chest and chin to the ground (ashtangasana) and open up to cobra in the next inhale. Exhale come to downward facing dog. Rest here for five breaths and regulate your breath.” We were not practicing “classical” surya namaskara. There were new students in class and therefore I thought that the sun salutation series with “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank) could be hard. We were practicing the easier flow that included “phalakasana (plank)- ashtangasana.” However, I should also take old students into consideration. They could practice the “chaturanga dandasana-urdhva mukha svanasaan (upward facing dog)-adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog)” if they wished. Moreover, they could jump backward and jump forward during the flows. Being flexible was the right thing to do as everybody had a different body, breath and strength.
When resting in “tadasana” in every five sets, I adviced students to exhale longer than their inhales in order to regulate their breath. I asked them to calm their minds down by keeping their eyes closed because it was not the body that was getting tired. It was the mind that was telling the body, “you are tired. Look you are short of breath. Your heartbeat has increased. You can no way complete 54 sun salutation series.” However, when the breath, mind and body were a whole and we did every asana in line with the breath, we could complete not only 54 but also 108 or more series.
When I said, “yes we have completed 54 surya namaskara series”, students could not believe. “We think we could also practice 108 sun salutations. If only we had enough time!” When I heard these sentences, I was so happy. When the mind stopped talking and when the breath and body flew together, we could achieve everything.
I wanted to calm down the bodies with “vinyasa”s (flow) instead of immediately sitting down and stretching the body. In-between “surya namaskara” series, I added asanas including “ashva sanchalanasana” (high lunge), “anjaneyasana” (low lunge), “eka pada raja kapotasana” (pigeon), “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “viparita virabhadrasana” (reverse warrior), “trikonasana” (triangle), “parsvakonasana” (side angle pose) and “prasarita padottanasana” (wide-legged forward bend), continued to ground the body and stretch different parts of the body. In the last “vinyasa”, we jumped forward and sat down in “dandasana” (staff pose) in which we tried to ground more and more on hips. We stretched “hamstring” muscles with “paschimottanasana” (sitting forward bend) and relieved the spine with “marichyasana A” (Sage Marichy pose A). We then laid supine and stretched the spine more with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist). Then came “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).
When ending the class, I talked about the duality in life and said that we could not be happy and find the balance in our lives without the duality of life. Life was full of duality. There was winter and the summer. If there was not winter, we could not appreciate summer. We ended the class wishing that we should accept everything in life as it was and find balance.
Well, could I accept the duality of life and find my balance in life? It was easy to talk about but not so easy to do. Nevertheless what was important was to try. What was important was to be open to experiences. What was the main idea of the class? Stop your mind’s talking, harmonize your breath and body and just try.

A few days ago, one of my students told me that she was feeling so exhausted and unhappy all the time, she did not have any strength to even lift her arm and she was having sleepless nights. I told her that she was probably tired because of the hot weather and summer and suggested that she could eat more vegetables and fruit and take some vitamin C. Of course, it would also be beneficial if she practiced vinyasa or flow yoga.

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Suddenly she confessed something. She thought she was depressed. As I was not a doctor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist, I approached carefully and thought she was feeling tired because of hot weather and summer. After this confession, I recommended that she went to a psychiatrist or psychologist. She then surprised me with her remarks: “I do not want to go to a doctor and be drugged. Aren’t you a yoga instructor? Doesn’t a giant world like yoga have anything to recommend against depression?” Now, come on Burcu. You say that you are a yoga instructor, how can you answer this question?
I immediately think about my own personal practice. When I am feeling blue or sad, what do I want to practice? Yes, five minutes is over and I am answering. Let’s focus on backbends. Let’s open your chest and heart up. I guess this was the most sensible answer.
After relieving her with this answer, I told her that I would read more on this issue and that we could talk in detail in our next meeting. You have earned a few days of time Burcu, but what would you do when that day comes? I came home and started to skim and scan a book by Indian guru Dr. Omanand, whose two-day yoga therapy program I joined last winter. I could not find any detailed information in that book. Then, I looked into a book by yoga master Iyengar named “The Path to Holistic Health”. I could just find a list of asanas to counter insomnia. Then I remembered another book named “Yoga as Medicine.” I checked that book and saw a chapter on “depression.” What a joy!
When I started to read the chapter on “depression”, I saw a very interesting sentence. Iyengar once said, “if you keep your armpits open, you’ll never get depressed.” At first, I did not understand what he was talking about. But then, I realized that he was talking about my own recommendation. Opening and stretching the chest and heart. In other words backbends. In the same chapter, I read the symptoms of depression and saw that they were similar to those my students mentioned. “Depressed mood on most days and for most of each day, loss of pleasure in formerly pleasurable activities, sleep problems, either insomnia or excessive sleepineess.”
The book was defining depression in medical sense. It said depression was related to abnormal levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Therefore, doctors were prescribing serotonin-raising drugs to such patients to raise serotonin level in their brains. Then what could I recommend to my student who does not want to use drugs? Yogic approaches that can raise level of serotonin in her brain. Serotonin is a hormone that makes us happy and keeps as away from depression and anxiety. In fact, it is true that all physical activities, sports and yoga makes us happy and raises serotonin. So, I could recommend any kind of sportive activities and yoga. However, she is suffering  from some previous injuries and I want to stay in the safe haven, i.e. yoga. I would especially ask her to practice “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series to warm up the body and then “setu bandhasana” (bridge), “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel), “ustrasana” (camel), “salambhasana” (locust), “dhanurasana” (bow), which are all backbends. I could help her use “bolster” when practicing some of these asanas. I would decide according to that day flexibility of my student. Moreover, some inversions could also be a good way to raise serotonin in the brain. Therefore, I could ask her to practice “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog), “prasarita padottanasana” (wide-legged standing forward bend), “salamba sarvangasana” (shoulderstand) and “sirsasana” (headstand). I know my student well and quite sure that she could not practice “sirsasana”. I would ask her to practice “sasangasana” (rabbit pose). The aim is to put the top of the head on the ground and practice an inversion. So, the rabbit pose will just give the same effect as the headstand. All these asanas are beneficial to cope with insomnia and deprsession.
In addition to asanas, I will ask her to perform meditation at the beginning or end of the class because meditation raises the level of serotonin in the brain. Moreover, it raises alfa waves in the brain and helps us get more focused. That is, meditation is a natural way to solve not only depression but sleeping problems.
When looking into the book, I saw that yoga and Ayurveda (Indian science of living) divides depression into two groups. Rajasic and tamasic depression. In other words, agitated and atypical depression. Agitated depression shows itselfas anxiety, restlessness and impulsiveness with quick and erratic breath and difficulty in exhaling. However, atypical depression shows itself as inertia, dullness and hopelessness with shallow breath and diffiulty in inhaling.
We did not talk about how her breath was. This will be the first thing I will ask her in our next meeting. But in short, a person with tamasic/atypical deprsession can use “pranayama” (expansion of breath) technique focused on inhaling. “Ujjayi pranayama” (victorious breath) can be beneficial in such a case. However, a person with rajasic/agitated depression can use “pranamaya” technique focused on exhalation. S/he can prolong his/her exhale.
Moreover, I could suggest a depressed student to benefit from sunlight, eat more vegetables and fruit and refrain from cafein to raise the level of serotonin.
If s/he is still depressed after implementing all these things, then I would insist that s/he see a doctor because the world of yoga can no more be beneficial to him/her.
Just one question urged me to make such a detailed search. Was it bad? No, never. It was so good. I did not know so much about this issue and I have learned something now. However, I also saw that my first answer was so logical and I made a right recommendation at the first instance. What was that recommendation? Focus on backbends, open up your chest and heart. We are yoga instructors not doctors. If we do not have any idea about a certain issue, we should not misguide our students. We should accept that we are insufficient and we could be wise enough to say that we could make a recommendation or a comment after making a research. Yoga is such a big world that there is something everybody can benefit from. Only if we make the right recommendations to right people at the right time.

Breath… The most important source of nutrition of our body and soul… Can you think of a life withouth breath? Will you manage to live without breath? So, breath is our main source of nutrition. Breath is also our source of nutrition when doing yoga. We flow from one asana to another with breath. So what type of breath should we use in our yoga practice?

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We mention “prana” when we talk about breath in yoga philosophy. Prana means “life force.” However, in its simplest form, we talk about “breath” in our yoga practice when we say “prana.”
As we talk about breath, we should also mention “pranayama.” Pranamayama consists of two separate words, including “prana+yama” and “prana+ayama.” Do you wonder why have I talked about two different combinations? Because two different combinations end up in two different meanings. When we say “prana+ayama”, we mean expansion of breath. However when we say “prana+yama”, we mean constraint of breath. How interesting to see that only one letter can make such a big difference! In fact, our only aim is to expand our breath by first controlling with certain practices and to expand and increase our life force.
After so much information about breath, let’s discuss how we should use breath in yoga classes. I am usually asked this question in my classes. I used “ujjayi pranayama” not only during the hatha and vinyasa yoga teacher training program but also the classes I joined and my own internship class. “Ujjayi” means “victorious” in Sanskrit language. We use this breath in our hatha and vinyasa classes because it warms our bodies up. As it warms the bodies, it reduces the risk of injury and helps us deepen in asanas.
The “ujjayi” breath can be performed by narrowing the back of the throat. If you haven’t tested so far, I can give you a clue. Imagine that you are at home in a cold winter night. You come near the window and you exhale to the window and make a vapor on the window. Or we may say that you are inhaling with the sound “saaa” and exhaling with the sound “haaa”. After testing this breath with open-mouth for some time, you may close your mouth and start inhaling and exhaling through the nose. When doing so, you narrow the back of your throat and work this breath. Some call it “ocean breath.” Maybe it’s because they compare it with the sound of waves of the ocean. Who knows?
Again after such a brief information, let’s come back to the breath I use in my own classes. I am used to “ujjayi” breath so I continue using it in my own yoga classes. However, do I force all my students to use this breath? No. Breath is our life force. Therefore, I think we should not force it. If students are new to yoga, they can have difficulties in performing ujjayi breathing when trying to do the asanas. So, why should they try to do something by force? What is important is an expansion, a relief and stretch, isn’t it? To this end, I do not force my students to use a certain type of breath. First of all, I advise them to inhale and exhale through the nose because some people still have difficulties in doing so. After they manage to do so, now it’s time to deepen the breath. Deep inhales and exhales. Expanding the breath. Then comes “ujjayi” breathing when flowing from one asana to another. Because in my opinion, what is important is to remember to inhale and exhale when practicing asanas and not to hold breath. In further stages comes different “pranayama” techniques like “kapalabhati”, “nadi shodhana” and “bhastrika.” Either at the beginning or end of the class, depending on the impact of the class I am planning. I am using these breath techniques to make student feel a certain effect in classes.
Breath? How long can we live without breath? Therefore, “prana” and “pranayama” are two things that should take place not only in yoga but also in our daily lives. The final aim in yoga is to perform pranayamic respiration. In such respiration, we use both our lungs and our diaphragm. We use our lungs at full capacity and spread the breath to upper, lower, middle parts of our lungs as well as both of the sides.
For all these reasons, I allow my students to use whatever breath they want to use in my classes. We aim expansion, relief and stretch in a yoga practice. So let’s try to internally and externally expand when inhaling. Take the energy from the outside world when inhaling and to get rid of all emotions and thoughts when exhaling. To surrender to a higher subject when our lungs are breathless. Whether yoga asanas or pranayama, to expand, deepen and open up in our yoga practice. Only such a breath, nothing more…

Unity and integrity… Integrity of the body, mind and the spirit… Yoga.. Yoga means unity and integrity and being one and being a whole, so why do we face different types of yoga in our daily lives? Why does hatha yoga exist? Why do we name a certain style of yoga as vinyasa yoga? And then, what is yin yoga?

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In eastern philosophy, yoga is just yoga. It does not have different names and styles. Only the time during which you stay in poses can change, duration of your stay in a pose can be long or short. However, yoga is not divided into styles and types according to the duration of your stay in poses in the eastern world. In eastern culture, yoga is simply “yoga.”
Yoga has started to be named differently according to different styles after it was introduced to the west. More rapid, dynamic and flowing yoga classes are called “vinyasa yoga.” We can also define these classes as “yang” classes. Calmer, more static classes with long-awaited poses are named “yin yoga.” Actually, “yin” and “yang” represent female and male energies, i.e. everything in nature and life are either “yin” or “yang.” “Yin” and “yang” refer to opposite poles like dark and light, female and male, cold and hot. Moreover, “hatha yoga” can be defined as a style of yoga in order to be performed to harmonize female and male energies in our bodies.
It is so natural for us not to have so much time for ourselves in the daily life in the western world. Therefore, we find ourselves in gym halls after we spend a tiring day at work. When we go to gym, our aim is to “achieve the most in the shortest time.” Sometimes we feel ourselves strong, more active and join dynamic classes. Sometimes we feel tired and we wish to have peace in calmer classes.
This is exactly why the western world divided yoga into styles and addressed the working people of metropolises. If we feel ourselves strong, energetic, active and ready to sweat that day, “vinyasa yoga” can be the ideal choice for us. “Vinyasa” means flow. In vinyasa yoga classes, we flow from one pose into another with our breath like a river. Non-interruptedly, we change from one pose into another with the help of breath, and like flowing water. And as if we are dancing. Instructors can add “surya namaskar” (sun salutation series) at the beginning, middle and end of these classes. And also they can ask us to perform a set of “surya namaskar” between some sitting poses, thus we can overcome and eliminate any stiffness in our bodies if there are some at that time.
“Ashtanga yoga” is one of the most well-known of vinyasa classes. It is a style of flow yoga developed by Pattabhi Jois. It has an unchangeable flow, and it is not performed during new or full moon because we do not want to hurt our bodies with moon’s effects. This style of yoga uses “ujjayi” (hero) breath, “mula” (root) and “uddiyana” (abdominal) “bandha”s (locks) and we always have a “drishti” (a perspective) in the poses.
On some days, we may feel something different in our bodies but we cannot even define what it is. This may result because of a change in our male and female energies. One day, our male energy may prevail and the other day we may be under the influence of our femal energy. Hatha yoga can be the best thing to do under such a circumstance. In simple, hatha yoga is the yoga of sun and moon, i.e. the unification of male and female energies. We try to balance these two energies when doing hatha yoga. A bit female, a bit male… After doing “purvottanasana” (reverse plank), we do “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend) in order to regulate and balance the two energies in our bodies. “Purvottanasana” means looking towards the east, which is a male asana. However, “paschimottanasana” means the posture heading towards the west, which is a female asana. For this reason, we do poses affecting sun and moon, male and female energies, in hatha yoga. Thus, we balance the energies in our bodies and we try to harmonize our mind, body and spirit– which is the final target of yoga.
One day, we may feel ourselves tired and exhausted. Such a day may be a good opportunity to experience yin yoga and spoil ourselves. Yin yoga is a style of yoga that has come out as a synthesis of hatha yoga and Chinese Taoist tradition. In fact, what we should do is to stay longer in asanas, and feel the relaxation and stretch in our connective tissues.
Yin yoga aims at relaxation and stretch. Finding peace in our bodies and mind. Since we aim to relax and stretch up to our connective tissues in yin yoga, we enter into poses and we give ourselves in. We loosen our muscles. However, it is out of question for us to loosen our muscles in hatha and vinyasa yoga. We tighten our muscles all the time when doing hatha and vinyasa yoga, and we try to warm our bodies up by using “ujjayi” (hero) breathing and thus, aim to eliminate the risk of injuries. However in yin yoga, we aim to give ourselves in, and accept the situation we are in. Under such a circumstances, relaxation and peace prevail. Sometimes, our mood and bodies let us do yin yoga but sometimes the instructors asks us to do such a pose that we cannot stay even a single moment in that pose. We should not forget that the philosophy of yoga is associated with flexibility and acceptance. In that case, we can accept this situation and we can try another pose that has the same affect. What does this mean? We are not depended on a single pose in yin yoga. If our aim is to work a certain part of our body and affect our internal organs, then we can achieve this goal with many different asanas, not just one asana. This is what differs yin yoga from others. If our aim is to work the hip external rotator muscles, i.e. the gluteal muscles and iliotibial band, then we can achieve this goal with many poses like “shoelace”, “square” or “sleeping swan” and we can stimulate our gall bladder.
Yoga is such a flexible and wide world. The western world has adopted classical yoga to its own habits, and turned it into a system and philosophy acceptable to everyone.
In fact, yoga is just “yoga”. Yoga asanas are all the same irrespective of what type of yoga we are performing. Only the duration of our stay in the poses change. We can sometimes use props and try to modify the poses for our bodies.
Whatever it is named, yoga is the art of being a whole in the past or today’s world, in the west or the east. It is a mental and bodily relaxation and stretch, finding peace, and acceptance.
The only matter is to stay yin, calm ourselves, accept and give ourselves in, under a yang pose or circumstance whenever doing yoga or in real life. Similarly, we should become yang, get more energized, strong and active in a ying pose or situation if we are supposed to do so.
We should not forget that yin and yang is an indispensable whole. Every yin element can also be yang, and every yang element can be yin at the same time. What we should do is to balance our yin and yang energies, listen to our inner voice and insights, and meet our instant needs. This can sometimes be running or jogging, dancing, meditating, jumping, a yang style yoga, or a yin style yoga. What can we expect and hope more if we balance our yin and yang energies and if one does not dominate the other?