We all know that yoga has the power to radically transform the physical body, soothe the mind, and uplift the spirit. But do we know WHY a yoga class differs from other forms of exercise such as talking a walk, running on the treadmill, or lifting weights?
Each posture, while sacred and meaningful, can actually promote rigidity if executed without the mindful breath. Simply put, the breath allows the pose (and the practitioner) to flow rather than force their way through the practice and ultimately through life.
The air we breathe, like the wind, is the vehicle that carries us up and away, allowing us to take flight and ultimately transcend the heavy circumstances that can weigh us down.
What Goes UP, Must Come DOWN
Vayu, the Hindu deity of AIR, controls the atmosphere and the ambiance of our surroundings. We channel Vayu through the breath.
Vayu energy moves in all directions (five to be exact), but for our purposes, let’s explore the first two: Prana Vayu (inhalation), which inspires and uplifts, and Apana Vayu (exhalation), which is the moving force of release and surrender.
You will find the crux of equanimity between Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu when you can breathe easy in any balancing asana, finding your "wings" and deepening your "roots" while maintaining sthira, or steadiness.
The following three yoga poses will help you walk (or fly!) that fine line. Practice observing the upward flow of Prana Vayu and the downward settling of Apana Vayu during each asana.
1. Bird of Paradise (Svarga Dvidasana)
Mantra: “I will keep steady focus.”
- Begin in Extended Side Angle Pose or Parsvakonasana with your right leg in front.
- Inhale to reach your left arm behind your back for a half bind.
- If you can breathe easy, then proceed into the full bind by reaching your right arm underneath your right leg and wrapping your right middle finger and thumb around your left wrist.
- Make sure you can maintain an open chest; otherwise, stick with the half bind, it will work just the same.
- Look towards the right foot and exhale as step your left foot to the top of the mat, keeping your feet hip width distance.
- Inhale and shift your weight into the left leg, gradually standing tall and extending the right leg with a full or half bind.
- Exhale and settle your gaze straight ahead enjoying your bird’s eye view of paradise!
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Release the bind and step into Mountain Pose or Tadasana before repeating on the second side.
2. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Mantra: “I will endure with ease.”
- Begin in Mountain Pose.
- Inhale and cross your right leg over your left thigh and if possible wrap your right foot behind your left calf.
- Exhale and hook your left elbow inside of your right arm reaching your hands into prayer position and keeping your elbows at shoulder height.
- Rest your gaze above your middle finger tips and allow your Eagle to take flight.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths before releasing into Mountain Pose and repeat on the second side.
3. Crane Pose
Mantra: “I will defy gravity.”
- Begin in a squatting position with the knees close together.
- Inhale and plant your hands flat into the floor and grip the fingertips into the mat to avoid settling too deep into the wrist.
- Exhale and lean forward guiding your knees as far towards the armpits as possible (modify by bending the elbows and/or keeping the feet on the floor) and wait until you can easily lift off.
- Do NOT leap into this pose as too much force can plunge you face first into the floor.
- Inhale patience and exhale patience for 5 to 10 breaths, remembering that the Crane has the capacity to reach amazing heights!
- Release back to your squat and find your way back to Mountain Pose.
Remember, asana alone will build strength and flexibility, but without pranayama, you can only receive a small fraction of the tremendous possibility yoga has to offer.
Uniting breath and movement can harness and direct the Vayu currents to arouse conscious awareness, stimulate the senses, and eventually brings us the contentment that ONLY exists when we ground into the NOW. When life gets you down, yoga will uplift you. Keep on soaring, Yogi!