The Magical Use of Alternative Breathing in Asana Practice

Aug 13th, 2017
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Different schools of yoga may introduce different alignment instructions in asana practice. Hence sometimes, it may not be so easy for the body to follow. Could we then possibly convert some of the practice into an “internal alignment”? Applying alternative breathing techniques to guide the prana flow in the asana practice is one of the key differences with gymnastics. In an asana practice, the linkage with breaths helps to keep the heart and open the body.

Begin with Ujjayi Breathing

 

 

 

 

 

1. Sit in easy pose either on a mat or a chair. Ground the sitting bones firmly, keeping the sacrum perpendicular to the floor; or sit on a yoga block to make it happen.
2. Relax the shoulders; place either both hands on the knees or in jnana mudra (tips of thumbs and index fingers together).
3. Slightly engage the mulabandha.
4. Lengthen the whole spine and the back of neck then slightly tuck the chin towards the chest to engage the jalandhara bandha. Relax the tongue and place the tip of the tongue towards the palate.
5. Close the eyes. Use the inner eye to gaze through the nose towards the chest.
6. Take several ujjayi breaths.
7. Observe the rising and descending current, ie the prana and apana. Breathe in, raise the prana from the pelvic floor towards either the throat or the crown. Breathe out, descend the apana towards the pelvic floor. Focus on lengthening in each inhalation and ensure there is not any collapse in each exhalation. It is only the prana that moves along the sushumna up and down and gradually makes the torso longer and longer. Navel is drawn up and long while shoulder blades are pulled down towards the hips.

Alternative Ujjayi Breathing

Once the above qualities happen in your body, practise alternative breathing in the same manner.
1. Lift up the right hand, use the thumb and the ring finger on the bridge of the nose to close the right and left nostrils.
2. Open the right to breathe in, then close. Open the left to breathe out. After a short pause, breathe in then close the left and open the right to breathe out. This is one set.
3. Repeat 20 sets or more until everything is smooth.

 

Alternative Ujjayi Breathing without the Help of the Right Hand:

 

 

 

 

 

1. Now put the right hand down. Do the same thing as if the thumb and ring finger are still there closing the right and left nostrils.
2. Inhale on one side, the prana goes up from the pelvic floor and stretches the side.
3. Exhale on the other side, the prana goes down towards the pelvic floor.
4. Observe the rising and descending current – the inhalation brings one side up and the exhalation brings the other side down. It is only prana movement inside, however, but not the physical movement of the body. Observe the route. The movement is quite subtle. Take your own time to develop the awareness.

Application in Asanas

Extended Triangle Pose
Set Up
1. Begin with parallel feet about 3 to 4 feet apart. Turn the left foot out 90 degrees and the right foot in slightly.
2. Distribute even weight on all corners of the feet and stand firm on the both legs. Do not hyperextend the left knee. Instead, draw the left hamstring up towards the left hip.
3. Inhale, lengthen the spine and stretch both arms out. Exhale, bend sideways at the right hips to reach the left arm down and the right arm up towards the sky.
4. Imagine standing against a wall at the back. Place the left hand as low as possible but keep touching both shoulders and the right hip against the wall.
5. Either gaze forward or turn the left chest to the sky to gaze through the nose to the right thumb.

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative Ujjayi Breaths in Triangle Pose
The most challenging part in the triangle pose is the lengthening of the torso, ie pulling the crown of the head to the left side. Now adopt alternative ujjayi breathing.
1. Inhale on the left side, pull the prana up from the pelvic floor through the left rib towards the left crown.
2. Exhale on the right side, push the prana down through the right ribs towards the edge of the right hip. As such, the right shoulder blade is pushed down and the right hip is pushed open.
3. Gradually breathe deeper and move deeper as if being adjusted by a teacher.
4. Quiet the mind and focus on this inner alignment, ie the apana and prana moving along the torso.
5. Try 10 long and deep breaths.
6. Inhale to come up.
7. Pivot the feet to work on the other side. Alignment internally is very subtle. Once you understand the way, you can apply the same technique to other standing postures.

Half Butterfly Pose
Set Up
1. Sit on the mat (use paddings like yoga blocks or cushions if necessary) with both sitting bones grounded firmly and stretch both legs forward.
2. Pull the sacrum down and keep the spine long.
3. Fold the right knee and place the right foot next to the left thigh.
4. Inhale, lengthen the torso; exhale, bend forward. Lift the left knee up for the beginner.
5. Either hold the left foot with the hands or place them on the floor. Relax the shoulders.

Alternative Ujjayi Breaths in Half Butterfly Pose
The greatest challenge of the half butterfly pose is the opposite movement of moving the trunk forward and the shoulder blades down towards the hip. Let us see how alternative ujjayi breathing helps.

 

 

 

1. Inhale to the left side. The prana moves up from the pelvic floor to lengthen the whole spine, vertebra by vertebra.
2. Exhale to the right side while going down. The prana pushes the shoulder blades down, then to the right hip to open the right groin, pushes it back and down.
3. Quiet the mind and focus on the inner alignment.
4. Try 10 long and deep breaths. Sink deeper from the space provided by the prana.
5. Inhale to release.
6. Repeat on the other side.

You can incorporate the same technique in other asymmetric asanas to deepen the poses. Invite the prana to be your private teacher. The adjustment by this teacher is precise and best suits the energy of the day. Recall this teacher in the yoga practice at all times. The breathing technique increases concentration and focus. It helps to tranquil the mind and provides a meditative state during the asana practice so as to make possible the higher state of yoga – pratyahara, the state of sense withdrawal. Enjoy your practice!

JuvaneWoo@asanajournal.com'

Juvane

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