Dharma Series: Pranayama and Therapeutic Yoga.
By: Sarah Ingraham
Having completed 300-hours of Advanced Yoga Teacher Training in Bali and adventuring through Indonesia to practice what I learned, I feel renewed. Practicing and meditating every day has provided me with a new sense of calm and groundedness. The training has given me a fresh perspective on my practice and new healing techniques to share with others.
As for my goal this month, I set out to teach yoga. For the training, I co-taught one class and solo taught another up in the hills of a biodynamic coffee estate overlooking volcanoes and rice fields. While it was challenging, I felt prepared and received valuable feedback to improve my teaching.
During my travels through Indonesia, I have been able to share some of the techniques I learned. Here are three examples of when I was able to put my newly acquired knowledge to practical use.
First, my surf guide in Lombok was fasting for Ramadan and could not warm up in the cold water. I taught him Kapalabhati breathing to stimulate internal fire and he continued this practice daily. Next, I met a discouraged 20-something year old from England who shared that he suffered from PTSD causing anger outbreaks. He attributed this reaction to his stressful job as an ambulance paramedic.
I offered two techniques for him to try: The Kripalu Method of BRFWA (Breath, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow) and the Westwood Institute’s Four Step Method (Relabel, Reattribute, Refocus, Revalue).
Finally, at an eco-lodge in Southern Bali, I met a friendly and hardworking receptionist who noticed the yoga mat attached to my luggage and became curious. She told me she struggled with difficulty in concentration but could not find the time to practice yoga. I showed her some Pranayama techniques, including three-part Breath and Ujjayi, which she began to practice early in the morning.
Pranayama, the art of breathing, is directly linked to the control of our mind and to our health. Scientists even speculate (and debate) on the link between breath rate and longevity in mammals suggesting that the shorter the breath rate, the longer the life span. This pattern is found to be consistent when comparing mammals:
Rabbit : 30–60 breaths /min, 5–6 year life span
Humans: 15–18 breaths/min, 60–80 year life span
Whales: 4–6 breaths/min, more than 100 year life span
Giant Tortoise: 4 breaths/min, 150 year life span
In yoga, it is important to focus on bringing long, deep breaths into the belly to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calm the mind, and relax the body.
Here are two basic breathing techniques that are easy to learn:
1. Three-part breath
Directions: Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the belly. Exhale all the air out. Inhale the breath into the belly. The diaphragm contracts downwards and the belly expands. Continue to inhale into the lower, middle, and upper lungs. On the exhale, release all the air as the upper chest, rib cage, and then belly sink and soften. Continue 5-10 rounds.
Benefits: Three-part breath helps muscles receive a steady flow of oxygen so that there is not a build up of lactic acid causing fatigue and stiffness. This breathe improves circulation, maintains blood pressure, improves organ function, and stimulates relaxation.
Practice first by opening the mouth and exhale as if you are trying to fog up a mirror or your glasses. It should sound like the ocean or like Darth Vader. Once you are ready, close your mouth and engage your Bandhas. Exhale releasing all the air from your lungs. As you inhale, constrict the back of your throat making the ocean sound. Exhale through the nose and relax your jaw, making the same whispering sound in the back of throat.
Benefits: Ujjayi breath maintains and controls heat in the body, slows the heart rate, decreases blood pressure, stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid, removes phlegm from the throat, and calms the mind.
Therapeutic Yoga: The Kripalu Method of BRFWA (Breath, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow)
This technique can be used to increase mindfulness when pain or discomfort arises. The practice teaches us to stay in the present moment and to observe our emotions in a detached state rather than a reactive one.
Breathe: As soon as the pain or discomfort arises, begin to take deep belly breaths. This will integrate the emotional and physical body and increase conscious awareness.
Relax: As you continue the deep belly breathing, relax the body as you scan and assess for tightness. Consciously release any tension.
Feel: Bring awareness to the sensations without resistance. Explore with curiosity. Most emotions other than grief only last around 40 seconds.
Watch: Witness the experience without getting drawn into the drama. Be a spectator.
Allow: Let the process wash through you and let go of control.
Kula Collective Art of Practice Art of Teaching, 300 hr
Sarah (Skidmore College, B.A., Psychology, Columbia University, M.A., International Education Development) has practiced yoga for over 10 years and recently received her 300-hour yoga teacher certification with Kula Collective in Bali. While at Columbia University, Sarah studied International Education Development with a focus on Peace Education and permaculture. Sarah is passionate about experiential education and recently led youth on a community service trip through Costa Rica, as well as a gap semester in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.