Life: lessons in balance.

Length is the key to this pose.
Arm balances are phenomenal for strength development. Place a rolled up towel under the wrists if the pose is too challenging for them.

Life is about balance. We can work to balance our inner selves with the outer elements that constantly engage us during our lifetime. As a yoga instructor, personal trainer and writer, I truly believe that living our lives with awareness can bring the goal of inner balance well within our reach. Every day activities provide insight into our ‘state of balance’, the maintaining of stability and equilibrium while engaging in various activities. Feel the movement, the physical interplay of muscular relaxation and contraction in response to gravity, of your body while standing in place or performing a physical act. Experience the challenge of communicating, conveying thoughts and ideas to others in an understandable verbal fashion, your point of view to someone or them communicating their point of view to you. Give attention to the fullness, shortness or inconsistency of your breathing, the process of exhaling fully and inhaling responsively. We can, by striving toward and maintaining balance in these activities, positively affect our daily lives.

core stability and joint stabilization
This pose enforces the joint stabilization and limb extension necessary for downward facing dog.
Movement is part and parcel of our bodies. Actions such as standing, walking, twisting, lifting, pulling, pushing, running, and carrying create bodily imbalance. Unless the body is stable during the course of these actions we might topple over or, worse, injure ourselves. Mechanisms within the body adjust for imbalances automatically and we don’t have to think about how we do things. Unfortunately, for the most part, we don’t think about how we perform many of these actions, some of which are repetitive in nature. This can lead to physical imbalance. For example, a task, such as loading / unloading packages in one direction or twisting repeatedly in one direction to complete a task while seated. Not to fear as these situations can be reversed: we can bring the body back into balance. By taking time to perform a sustained twist in the opposite direction or by strengthening our back muscles and strengthening our core, we can return our bodies, in these two situations, to a more stable base.

Comminication
Communication . . . it is a big part living in society.
Communication is important in that it is the vehicle through which we interact with others in society. Without communication, human interaction would basically be reduced to pointing, grunting and grabbing. Balance, in communication, involves mentally coordinating give and take interactions. The formal process goes like this:

  1. You form an idea and communicate that idea to someone
  2. That person receives the idea and processes it
  3. That person communicates a response to you and you process that response
  4. You then respond in kind to the response that was communicated to you

The process intensifies when another person, place or thing, which is viewed from opposite perspectives by the communicators, is the focus of discussion. Regarding the interposing of external objects into the discussion, the balanced exchange of ideas will result in either an amicable agreeing upon the course of action or an intended outcome or one of the parties will convince themselves to alter their point of view. Achieving balanced communication is not always easy but, with compassionate patience, passionate persistence and sufficient compromise, it can happen.

Where are my hands???
Backbends facilitate deeper breathing by opening up the chest and shoulder areas.
Breathing is important on many levels. It supports our physical efforts and is important in the process of speaking. Most importantly, it is how that the body brings in the oxygen that serves as a fuel source in the liberation of food energy for our bodies. Breathing is something that the body does without our thinking about it but the body will only bring in as much oxygen/energy as is needed. The total lung capacity of the average male is about 1.5 gallons; that of an average woman is about 1.1 gallons. That same average male, or average female, is doing well to utilize 8 ounces (1/16 of a gallon) of that total lung capacity in order to sustain themselves. If they were to breathe more fully, with emphasis on complete exhalations, the number of breaths taken, the average is 16 to 30 breaths per minute, would be less. The blood would receive more oxygen and generate the necessary amount of carbon dioxide needed to maintain proper blood pH levels. In addition, the body would more effectively expel metabolic waste products; approximately 70% of metabolic waste is expelled during breathing. Not only is complete breathing good for the body and the mind, it also brings into balance the energies within us and around us.

Balance in daily life encompasses our physical actions, our communication and our breathing. Balancing physical actions establishes a healthy and more functional body. Exercise, rest, complementary movement can help us in maintaining our physical balance. Balance in communication can reduce stress and conflict. It produces more harmonious interactions between people. Balancing the breath is good for the body, the mind and establishes a holistic equilibrium between ourselves and our surroundings. Our lives, which are expressed through our daily activities, are a reflection of our state of balance.

Physical Actions:

If you stand during the day, lay on your back and put your feet up on the wall (not recommended for those with high blood pressure or abdominal problems). If you sit all day, stand up and do a couple of standing back bends.

Communicating:

Express your ideas clearly and confidently. Listen with compassion. Realize that it is sometimes better to agree to disagree.

Breathing:

Take a short verse from a song, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gayatri Mantra or whatever resonates with you. After a deep inhalation, repeat your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ as many times as you can before running out of breath. After another couple of breaths repeat the process.

Life is an invaluable teacher and can teach us about balance. By balancing our actions, speech and breathing, we create a more wholesome internal environment for ourselves. The balanced state of our internal environment makes for a more pleasant experience when dealing with the external world.

Christianity and Yoga – Commonalities

Religion and spirituality are part of the everyday lives of people across the face of the earth. However, they are often seen as being mutually exclusive of each other. Barriers are often erected between the two and serve only to bury, under the opacity of dogma and doctrine, their commonalities. Commonalities between religious doctrine and spiritual practices can be bridges that lead to a more expansive and grounded realization of The One Source (TOS). Specifically, yoga practice that incorporates the precepts of yama/niyama can be a supporting aspect of the Christian journey.

TOS is an acronym for The Source of All Creating/ Sustaining/ Dissolving. As mere words cannot really encapsulate the immensity of this concept, the term GOD is what many Christians find easy to grasp. TOS, for all intents and purposes, is a more expansive and encompassing concept that references the religious and spiritual acknowledgement that everything comes from TOS. Within the context of Christianity, the Bible states that TOS created the heaven and the earth and the sea and ALL that in THEM is. TOS did this by SPEAKING reality into existence. In the case of Man, TOS formed the matter (the dust of the earth) and put the spiritual essence (the breath of life) into man (spirit and matter). From the standpoint of yoga, TOS-GOD is actually a whole that exudes the duality of nature. (i.e. subjective and objective, spirit and matter). It is this duality that is perceived as everyday reality.

The practice of yoga, to include various concepts and methodologies, promotes the observance of certain precepts. These precepts are: Yamas – Asetya, Asteya, Aparigraha, Ahimsa, Brahmacharya and Niyamas – Ishvara Pranidhana, Tapas, Santosha, Shaucha, Svadyaya. These are Sanskrit (Ancient East Indian) terms which translate to Avoidances – Non-Lying, Non-Stealing, Non-Greed, Non-Violence, Non-Sensuality and Non-Avoidances – Attunement to a GOD Principle, Austerity, Contentment, Purity, Self Study, repectively. Yama (avoidances or conduct which is controlled) are those habits that should be minimized in one’s life. They are stated in a negative sense. Niyama (Non-avoidances or conduct which is cultivated) are those practices or acts that one should increase in their lives. These same precepts and the practice of them can be found in the KJV Bible.

These precepts, yama and niyama, can be the conduit through which the Christian can find common ground on which to explore the practice of yoga. Christians (sic) approach their salvation through observing a philosophy of monotheism. Yogis strive for self-realization by harmonizing the duality that comprises existence in this plane of reality. This plane of reality is that which emanates from TOS-GOD. By one being grounded in Christianity, the connection with observing non-greed, non-violence, non-lying, non-stealing, non sensuality, purity, self study, contentment, austerity, Attunement to a GOD Principle can be a place to more comfortably see that there is an inter-connectivity between all of life on earth. One can utilize the yamas and the niyamas as a way to bring yoga into a Christianity and yoga, via , to make the practice of yoga a practice that supports and even bolsters one’s Christian beliefs.

The idea being exposited here is that neither, religion nor spirituality, has to have dominion over the other; that they can be wholly supportive of each other. Unfortunately, in a world of wrong or right, the side of the fence where one resides is usually viewed as the correct side. By allowing the commonalities between the two to bring about a melding of ideas, there could be great beneficial results from this. When practicing (true yoga), one’s breath is always, should always be, at the forefront of the practice. The breath of life is what energetically and spirituality sustains the body in the body in this earth plane. If the practice of yoga can assist in the developing the ability to breath fully and completely, then why not practice it. It is the breath of life, as was bestowed upon humankind by TOS, that connects us to that all encompassing power. The precepts of yama-niyama can serve as a source of ideological common ground between religion and spirituality, between Christianity and yoga. One can, then, more confidently stand on their religious ideals while engaging in a spiritual practice.

To Breathe or to Breathe Fully, LFSB

Intense Seated Forward Bend
This pose is great for taking breath into the backside of the body. Even so, there must still be breath going into the front side of our body as well.

Breathing exercises, that utilize long, full, slow breaths (LFSB), provide benefits that enhance the gains obtained from conventional, western exercise. LFSB, as is encouraged through the practice of yoga, tai chi or meditation, allows for maximum oxygenation of the blood and the ensuing, corresponding development and exhalation of carbon dioxide. During exercise, the actions of skeletal muscles, and associated physiological processes, require that fresh oxygen (O2) constantly replace carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lungs. O2 supplies fuel for the bodily processes that supply energy.

Some of the benefits of LFSB include:

  • Slows the heart rate – the heart rate slows when the parasympatheric nervous system is operating.
  • Full diaphragmatic breathing increases the ratio of O2:CO2. Normal inhalations result in a 1:1 ratio. Full diaphragmatic inhalations create a 5:1 ratio. Thus, more O2 can be absorbed into the blood.
  • Normalizes blood CO2 levels – full exhalations facilitate CO2 build up in the blood. This triggers and facilitates maximal uptake of O2 from the following inhalation.
  • Reduces blood pressure – Dilation of venous-blood vessels decreases venous-blood pressure. This allows a slower heart rate and more efficient blood flow/O2 transfer.
  • Reduces stress – Breathing deep, full inhalations and exhalations, synchronizes CO2/O2 blood levels and produces a natural autonomic relaxing effect.
  • Increases the health of lung tissue – The lungs are completely expanded and contracted during deep breathing. This maintains the elasticity of the lungs, especially as we age.
A very relaxing pose. Good for relieving tension in the ankles and for taking breath into the front of the body.
This pose requires hip flexor length and good opening in the knees. It is a great pose for allowing breath into the front of the body.

Conventional exercise (Running, Tennis, Basketball, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Aerobics) focuses on developing (1) the external muscles and (2) the body’s ability to make O2 consistently available in the presence of an O2 debt. In a totally complementary manner, LFSB exercises help develop the ability to fully expand the lungs, which is beneficial for maximal absorption of O2 into the lungs and into the body and contract the lungs, which exhausts CO2 from the lungs and increases blood CO2 concentration. LFSB exercises also provide a natural massage for the internal organs which has a beneficial and rejuvenating effect on the physical, physiological and psychological processes. This can greatly benefit the vigorous exerciser.

LFSB training is a methodology. It can shift the autonomic nervous system away from fight or flight (sympathetic) mode into a more relaxed state (parasympathetic). LFSB inhalations and exhalations have ‘been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders‘ (Jerath et al., 2006). Jerath and colleagues add that investigations, regarding stress and psychological improvements, support evidence that deep, full breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile.

intense twisting posture from a standing position. Ground through the rear foot and initiate the rotation from the rear ankle, rotating the rear leg outer hip down toward the ground and spiraling the torso.

LFSB exercises can enhance the benefits gained from vigorous exercise. The physical aspect of western exercise is good for muscle strengthening and development of aerobic capacity. LFSB practice benefits the body on the physical, physiological and psychological levels. Studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of LFSB. Breathing to finish that mile run is good; breathing fully to assist the body in processing O2 more efficiently will provide long lasting effects throughout one,s life.

Some techniques that can be employed to develop one’s LFSB capacity is to breath full inhalations and full exhalations at a rate of 4 breaths per minute. As one’s ability improves, the rate can go to 3 breaths per minute, then 2 breaths per minute, and then one breath per minute. This practice should not exceed a period of 15 minutes and should be done no more than twice per day.

Please consult your physician before attempting any of these practices.

Happy Breathing


References

http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/Breathing.html

http://naturalhealthperspective.com/resilience/deep-breathing.html

Yoga and Health, Yesudian and Haich, Harper and Row; pg 67

The Cycle of Breath and Energy


This is a question that was posed to me about one of my comments on LinkedIn.

Question:
Hi, Would you tell me (Yoga begins at the ending and ends at the beginning) in detail? I could not understand the exact meaning and sir I would like to communicate though my email – abc.vwxyz@gmail.com. Would you please?

The beginning is the end, the end is the beginning.
This is a Fractal Representation of Infinity, a continuous cycle of energy.

Answer: Yoga is about union, my friend. Through yoga, the practitioner works to unify their essence with the Source of All Creating, Sustaining, and Dissolving (‘GOD’). It is through unifying with ‘GOD’ that our practice “Begins at the ending and ends at the beginning”.

Yoga is breath and breath is a gift from ‘GOD’. It is the gift of the breath that sustains us. One breathes as they enter into their practice, they utilize the breath, perhaps by engaging in ujjayi breath
or in various pranayamas, to sustain themselves during the practice, and they finish the practice with the natural breath. However, breathing does not stop at the conclusion of the practice: daily activities are carried out in the usual manner. In conducting daily business, one, hopefully, ascribes to the initiating, sustaining and finishing of the breath. The breath, as we know, does not end: it is a cycle of endless inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause . . . . . How fully one breathes is a reflection of the depth of their practice.

Artistic depiction of ajna chakra
Ajna Chakra: Point of unification/differentiation of energy

Through one’s yoga practice, they come to realize that there is no ending or beginning to the breath. The breath is not created or destroyed. The end of breathing for one person, one being, is the beginning of breath for another person, another being. As Einstein so eloquently stated, ‘energy can be neither created nor destroyed’. Breath is the ‘GOD’ Given Manifestation of Energy. Breath is the link through which beings on the earth connect with and are connected to ‘GOD’ (Genesis 2:7, KJV); It is this energy that sustains us. Were it not for this energy, contained within the air that we breathe, we would cease to exist.

This Manifestation of Energy is bestowed to all beings on earth by ‘GOD’, the Source of All Creating, Sustaining and Dissolving. This is not stated as Creation, Sustaining and Destruction because that would imply an Ending. There is no ending. If you look at all natural processes on earth, there is Creating, Sustaining and Dissolving and it is through Dissolving that the process of Creating evolves and manifests. One’s yoga practice is a reflection of this natural process.

It is from here that I say that ‘Yoga begins at the ending and ends at the beginning’

Take a deep breath today . . . for the rest of your life.

These are the directions that the breath can actually extend to throughout the body.
Where is your breath.

And the Lord GOD formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Gen. 2:7

In today’s society, there is little time to experience anything other than the rush of rushing. As we run from here to there and from there to here, the sense of connectedness to one’s self is lost. The act of rushing becomes one of normalcy. As rushing becomes more ingrained into our hectic routines, we do not take out time to even catch our breath. I would dare surmise that few of us even realize what comprises full and complete diaphragmatic breathing

Breath and breathing fully is the birthright of every human on the planet. Yet, as Esau sold his birthright for a mere bowl of food, many of us have tossed aside the fullness of our breath capacity for other things that we deem to be important: i.e. – tight-fitting clothes, developing poor posture, holding in our stomachs, etc. What could be more important than breathing consciously and fully? What could be more important that taking in the energy laden air that animates our bodies down to the very organelles of every cell?

Most of us are not aware of our poor breathing habits. The quality of our breathing can either bolster or restrict the quality of our life. The consequences of poor, incomplete and inadequate breathing can range from headaches to heart disease and sundry common maladies in between. Many people do not understand how they routinely impose restrictions and distortions upon their breathing. For example, habitually breathing high into the chest, breathing shallowly and breathing too fast are grossly endemic today. A trained eye need not be employed to grasp the extent of these patterns in ourselves and others: tight bodies, tight belts, tight schedules and the like are leaving us ‘breathless’.

This need not be the case. Bad breathing does not have to exist on the endemic level that it now does. Although we may be breathing poorly and inadequately 24 hours a day, 365 day a year, respiratory actions are completely malleable. Breathing is involuntary which is part and parcel of why many of us breathe badly. Breathing is also voluntary. Respiratory action and the associated musculatures are controlled by somatic motor neurons. As we give more awareness to posture and breath, we can bring more life-sustaining energy into our bodies and thereby circumvent many of the complications that can result from breathing poorly.

The most direct physical manifestation of the presence of and connection to GOD that all humans can experience is the fullness of the breath (Read Gen. 2:7). We need not stumble around wondering if GOD is present in our lives. We have a daily reminder with us, at all times . . . all we need to do is breath.