Am reading this book by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati on pranayama and practicing pranayama after taking a yoga teacher training course in India and I feel so sad for knowing about pranayama so late in my life. I wish those who read this post get to know about it and teach their children Pranayama at an early age. Below I am sharing some excerpts from the book, sans the scientific jargon!
1. With sustained practice of pranayama, the structure, the skin and the smell of the body begin to change.
2. One is full of fresh energy and the senses are calmed and their outgoing tendency diminishes.
3. Impurities are removed not only from the physical and panic bodies, but also from the mental, psychic and causal bodies.
4. The intellectual capacity increases and the mind and thoughts become more powerful.
5. Negative tendencies begin to top off almost automatically. The small things that could earlier spin one out of control dissolve into nothing.
6.It creates static electricity in the body thus recharging the positive ions breathed in from the environment and converting them into negative ions. The effect is the same as that created by rain and thunderstorm.
7. Contrary to popular belief, the oxygen intake reduces by almost half in pranayama, does NOT increase. However, pranayama allows more time for oxygen to mix wth the blood, more time to eliminate waste through breath and blood. After pranayama, the strengthened respiratory apparatus is able to bring in more oxygen through the rest of the day.
8. All organs are massaged making the digestive and eliminatory system healthier.
9. Exercises whole cardiacsystem, especially Nadi Shodhana is excellent for Hipertensive people, as it brings the systolic-diastolic ratio to normal.
10. It harmonizes, purifies and neutralizes the secretions of the endocrine glands. During certain pranayama the circulation of the blood becomes very rapid and quality of the blood is also rendered very rich, the endocrine glands function in enhanced way.
11. Transition from childhood to adulthood becomes smooth if children start practicing pranayama at the age of 8. This is because pineal gland normally begins to decay with the onset of puberty. Pineal gland acts as a check for the pituitary gland. Pituatary gland is responsible for controlling the growth and functions of the other endocrine glands. If the pituitary gland is not regulated form an early age, an imbalance arises between the physical and mental development and the emotions mature before they can be handled. To prevent the decay of the pineal gland, children should start practicing pranayama at the age of 7 or 8.
12. The spine receives a pull during pranayama, thus toning the nerve roots and giving a strong stimulus to the whole nervous system.
13. Alphawaves are emitted and beta waves are reduced in the brain. Alpha waves bring harmony to the brain.
In both ancient Indian cultures (american-indians-of-feathers and asian-indians-of-forehead-dots :-)), women were kept in separate huts, not allowed to cook, not allowed to enter temples, not allowed to bathe. Seems to the so called modern feminist women a curse from patriarchal brahmanical culture and male chauvinism. But is that the truth? When a girl used to get her first menstruation it was celebrated by announcing it, dressing her up and inviting the village to a feast much like a big-bang-birthday. Nowadays the girls feel shame about it and so did I in my teenage.
“There is an additional season for women which happens once every month during menstruation. The beginning period of the full moon is the natural cycle for ovulation. Receiving the essence of the moon at this time, a woman’s sexual impulses heighten and her vitality is once more replenished. Then, during the time of the new moon she experiences the natural cycle of menstruation. Menstruation is caused by the sun absorbing energies from the earth, which in turn draws the menstrual waste from the body. When the cycle has not been tampered with by use of contraceptive pills and other birth control devices, harmful foods and activities, and disruptive sexual activities, the natural ebb and flow of a woman’s monthly cycle remains in harmony .
Regimen to be observed by women in their Menses:
During the period of menstruation, activities need to be reduced to the essential so that the body experiences the least degree of interference. Quick warm showers, or sponging (wiping down the body), is the appropriate means of bodily cleaning during menstruation. She should avoid crying nor take a head bath. A woman should refrain from all sexual foreplay & intercourse. Day sleep and collyrium during the first four days of her periods should be avoided. Considered a very fragile period for a woman, this time is to be used to rest and to allow the body to empty it self before it is renewed. She should also not indulge in loud and excessive laughter and talk, nor should she hear loud noises. Food should be easy to digest,
not too heavy, not too unctuous, nor too dry or cold. She should avoid fatiguing work and all exercise.
All the above, although reasoning behind them is not totally understood without an ayurvedic foundation, during menses may lead to the vitiation of doshas, which may especially lead to gynaecological problems. One may observe these rules in order to eventually restore your natural cycle.
During ovulation, Pitta is most dominant, while Vata dominates the period of menstruation and Kapha the period following menstruation.”
Update : I started not taking a shower/tub bath during first 3 days of periods since around 2 years. Then I take a bath on 3rd and 5th day. I do take a sponge bath during first 3 days if I feel the need to. And am slowly noticing how it is helping my mood swings. I would say 90% of my mood swings during PMS and during periods are gone. I used to have painful breasts for 10 days before periods, not anymore.
Sharing my experiences with mudras(will keep adding as I keep experimenting):
1. My first encounter with mudras was with my father. He started doing prana-mudra after reading that it is good for the eyes. My mom and dad both had glasses for reading. My mom’s number kept increasing but my dad’s number stayed the same and he said it is because of prana-mudra. My dad was a chain smoker!
2.Decades ago while studying for my engineering I was told by someone to do Adi mudra to get rid of sleep. I just did one fist with my palms in the lap or on the table and continued studying for my exam and lo behold the sleepiness was gone. I was feeling heat in the head.
3. Last month I did a yoga teacher training course and we had our first class on Mudra Yoga. Next day was a Sunday and we went on a 12 hour city trip most part of which was done walking. I had bought new box heel sandals and I am used to only flat sandals. So after few hours I started having pain in the lower part of the spine. So I did the Merudanda mudra in downward direction while continuing walking. And again, in just 10 minutes my pain was gone!
4. Then after some weeks I developed dry cough and I used Surya+Jalashamak mudra and Linga mudra for 15 minutes each daily. But these I did along with ginger+tulsi+honey tea, warm water drinking. The cough lingered very long but I did get relief from the mudras, I could feel the heat in my chest with those mudras. Meanwhile a friend who was very skeptical about mudras also tried these mudras for her sinus and she said she was surprised to see them working!
5. Just today I woke up with a stiff neck. Whenever it used to happen before I could not move my head side ways for many hours and it pained. Today when it happened I started doing Merudanda mudra thinking I will have to sit at least for 15 minutes to make it work. But as soon as I did the mudra I felt a warmth in that spot and not even a minute passed that it healed! It is amazing.
Interestingly if you do this mudra right, with the thumb erect, 2 points start throbbing. And these are exactly the 2 points which are mentioned in acupressure to relieve asthma and breathing difficulties and for cough.
So what exactly are mudras???
Each finger in our hand represents an element as shown below. Our yoga teacher told us some interesting details :-).
In India we are used to showing the pinky to ask/tell that we want to go to the bathroom to urinate because pinky stands for water and we show thumb to indicate that we are thirsty because thumb stands for fire/heat. Think of the thumb as the king and the other fingers as slaves. When the tip of thumb touches the tip of any other fingers the other finger element gets balanced.
So if thumb tip touches the index finger tip, the air element in us gets balanced and so the functions of the body and mind controlled by the air element come into balance.
If the thumb tip touches the bottom of the index finger, then the slave is higher than the king and the air element increases.
If the index finger tip touches the thumb bottom, then the slave is enslaved to the king and the air element decreases. And so on for other fingers.
There are more complex theories behind it which I need to study first and then will share. But for now they work for me and my friends, so try it out and share your experiences!
A good video on mudras in general not just from yoga perspective:
4. I hit my spine with something really hard, like a rod, some weeks ago. It pained when it hit but then I was fine and I ignored it. After some days I started using a new chair, learning a new violin technique and I started getting numb fingers, dizziness and vomiting like feeling frequently. I had forgotten about the hit on the spine and thinking the chair and the violin are the culprits kept practicing light stretches and yoga. It was getting better, then coming back. So one day, when my back and neck were feeling stiff and I was feeling dizzy, I asked my husband to massage my back and when he touched the spine he noticed a big bump in my spine and I screamed in pain. It was then I understood that it was because of that hit I was feeling so all these weeks. Next morning we went out of town and I started feeling dizzy in the car. It was a 35 minute ride so I did UrdhvaMerudanda for upper spine. And to my astonishment the lump vanished, the pain vanished, and so did the dizziness and vomiting sensation. I was not really sure and I thought it would come back. But it has not yet and 4 days have passed since then.
Merudanda – 3 positions
Merudanda for entire spine
Adho Merudanda for lower spine
Urdva Merudanda for upper spine
3. Some days ago I had menstrual cramps and I would usually take bach flower rescue remedy and sleep over it. And all my day would have been dull and in slight pain. But today I did Apana-Vayu mudra. I sat with a 15 minute timer but just in 10 minutes the pain was gone!
Surprising thing is that I have menstrual cramps only outside India, in India never and the flow is also less in India and exactly 5 days long whereas outside India it is 7-10 days longer. Am hoping with regular practice of yoga, pranayama and mudras it will be normal.
2. Today I was heavily bloated looking 9 months pregnant and feeling heavy. So I tried vayu mudra and I felt lighter. Then I tried apana vayu mudra and I started burping uncontrollably for next 15 minutes. Phew! 🙂
1. Today I had continuous lower back pain, which I ignored yesterday thinking it will heal on its own. I had carried heavy tanks of saw dust uphill on my shoulders day before yesterday. So today I did resting crocodile pose with a heat pad on the lower back, along with merudanda for lower-back and it healed in 10 minutes.
I have had this strange question since long. First time I had this question was when I saw a woman with a shaved armpit and shaved arms and legs. To me it felt like looking at a piece of chicken :-). Back then I wondered why did she do that? I had no idea about beauty parlours and the things they do there.
Is the armpit hair and body hair useless? Then why did God give it in the first place?
Then my menstrual cycle started and I discovered having a lump in my armpit before start of periods every once in a while. I wondered what that was?
As I grew up and decades passed one day I googled for it and learnt that it could be symptom of breast cancer. Oh my god, I thought. Then I wondered why does the lump come and go just before periods and that too not every period?
One day my husband said his mom used to check his groin when he was little to see if he really was ill (When he wanted to bunk the school and told her that he was ill), by checking if there are any lumps in the groin!
Last month I attended a yoga course and the ayurvedic doctor and the yoga teacher told that the lymph glands at the armpit are like sensors for the immune system. They swell in the armpit when a disease is about to manifest, when a virus has entered but has not yet shown its real nature. This informs the immune system to act!
Hmmm…interesting. Then I thought may be armpit hair has a role in this too! And what about people who apply deodorant in the arm pits? Does it block the lymph gland sensors in any way?
A friend shared this link telling about the importance of a wooden comb. He said his dandruff has reduced since he started a wooden comb!
And in the same link this is said about armpit hair: “The hair under the armpits protects the very sensitive area where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems come together; this affects the brain and your energy level.”
In a book related to yoga it is mentioned that if you have right nostril blocked, place your right palm into the left armpit with thumb resting on armpit chest and that the ancient danda was used by sages for this purpose.
From my experience this is easier to do lying down. If your right nostril is blocked, lie on your left side and place your right hand into your left armpit and sleep or relax. Place it such a way that the armpit is pressed a bit.
Things are still not clear to me about armpit hair, except intuitively I feel we should not tamper with what was given to us since the body is such a complicated mechanism and our knowledge of it so bare!
If you find any more information by experience or second hand, please share here. I have never shaved my body hair so I do not know a comparison of how it feels with and without hair and how the body functions differently with and without hair. If you are one of those who have this experience and had the sensitivity to notice the difference please share!
Am reading this book and surprised at the science behind breathing. Will be adding interesting notes below as I read it:
Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, a region known as the primitive brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex.
Conscious breathing has a calming effect on the mind. Even simple breath awareness, without exerting any control over the natural pattern of the breath, will induce a regular and relaxing rhythm of breathing. This is an effective method of quietening a tense mind. The more complex breathing techniques ofpranayama influence the brain even more deeply. Pranayama has an immediate influence on the nervous system, brain and mind.
Slow exhalation is performed when one moans or groans in pain, for this removes pain from the pain centre in the brain. The conscious effort required for slow release of the breath needs the help of the cerebral cortex of the brain. The cerebral cortex sends inhibitory impulses to the respiratory centre in the midbrain. These inhibitory impulses from the cortex overflow into the adjoining area of the hypothalamus, concerned with emotions, and quieten this area. Hence the soothing effect of slow expiration.
One who practises pranayama in a sustained manner will find that every aspect of the being, at every level, is gradually being impacted. As one advances in the practices, the structure, the skin and the smell of the body begin to change. One is always full of fresh energy, and the senses are calmed and their outgoing tendency diminishes. Impurities are removed not only from the physical and pranic bodies but also from the mental, psychic and causal bodies. As a result, the intellectual capacity increases, and the mind and thoughts become more powerful. As prana flows freely though all the levels of being, the negative tendencies begin to drop off almost automatically. The small things that could earlier spin one out of control dissolve into nothing and the connection with and experience of cosmic prana becomes stronger and steadier.
Pranayama creates static electricity in the body which helps to recharge the positive ions breathed in from the environment and convert them into negative ions. The effect is the same as that created by rain and thunderstorm. Hot and sultry weather makes one feel lethargic but the air becomes fresh and clean with rain and one feels energised and dynamic. Rain and thunderstorm charge the positive ions in the environment and convert them into negative ions. Similarly pranayama generates static electricity in the body in very minute quantities and there is a feeling of improved energy and dynamism.
Respiratorysystem: Pranayama exercise the muscles of respiration and the lungs through the processes of deep, rapid or slow breathing. During pranayama one does NOT absorb a larger quantity of oxygen, instead one absorbs almost half of that absorbed during normal breathing per minute. However, the practices allow more time for oxygen to mix with the blood flow and for the system to eliminate waste through the breath and blood. Since pranayama trains respiratory apparatus, a larger quantity of oxygen is absorbed throughout the day than it normally would be.
Digestiveandeliminatorysystem: The stomach, pancreas, liver, bowels and kidneys are all exercised in pranayama through the accentuated massage given to them by the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles. Constipation is removed. Absorption of nutrition into blood is enhanced.
Cardiacsystem: Nadi shodhana pranayama in particular exercises the whole cardiac system. In this practice the ratio of 1:2 maintained between inhalation and exhalation has a direct relationship with the systolic and diastolic periods of the cardio rhythm.(Note from my yoga teacher: one should practice natural breathing during pranayama for atlas 6 months and only then take up changed breathing ratios). Breathing with the ratio of 1:2 relaxes the coronary muscles without reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain and body tissues. 1:2 is the key and it should not increased more than 2 because the brains then accelerates the heart rate in reaction to a decreases supply of oxygen in the blood.
Endocrinesystem: Endocrine glands influence the behaviour, reactions, interpretations and even the so-called natural responses. Pranayama harmonises, purifies and neutralises the secretions of these glands and these influences thought and behaviour. During pranayama, richer and more liberal blood supply is brought to the endocrine glands enhancing their functionality.
Pinealgland: This gland normally begins to decay with the onset of puberty. It acts as a check for the pituitary gland which is responsible for controlling the growth and functions of the other endocrine glands. If the pituitary gland is not regulated from an early age, an imbalance arises between the physical and mental development and the emotions mature before they can be handled. Therefore if children start pranayama at the age of 7 or 8, it maintains the activity of the pineal gland for a longer period, so that the transition from childhood to adulthood is smooth.
Nervoussystem: The brain, spinal cord, cranial and spinal nerves benefit from a richer and more liberal blood supply received through pranayama. If pranayama is combined with all the three bandhas, the high intra-thoracic, intra-pulmonary and intra-abdominal pressures gives peripheral stimulus to the different nerve plexuses situated in the abdomen and thorax. The pulling up of the vertebral column as a whole tones the roots of the spinal nerves and gives a strong peripheral stimulus to the whole nervous system.
Mood: Respiration also controls fluctuating moods, which are subtle behaviours of the mind. The wild fluctuations of the brain waves are streamlined and there is a balance between the two hemispheres of the brain. High blood pressure patients are benefited by the alpha wave behaviour of the brain. Pranayama is started with left nostril to control the mental energy.
Meditation: By practising pranayama systematically for a few years, a gradual transformation is brought about in the structure of the nervous system. Ultimately there comes a moment when one closes the eyes, goes in and achieves mediation. The velocity of the mind is slowly decreased, but its power is increased. The advantage of stepping into mediation though pranayama is that the mind remains dynamic and does not slip into a state of hypnosis. Usually during meditation the mind wanders and ponders upon daily interactions and passions. One may bring it back to the mediation, but again and again it dissipates.s When pranayama is combined with the practice of mediation, this wandering tendency of the mind is overcome, because the process of pranayama stills the mind and makes it one-pointed.
Practice: It has been observed that the experience of enhanced energy, mental and physical balance, calmness and mental clarity associated with the pranayama practices increases greatly after several years of practice. The beginners following the same techniques do not show such strong physiological changes.
My elder sister told me that she is feeling very good health wise since she started drinking warm water and always drinking water in sitting posture. So I am going to try it for few months and see how I feel. It is anyways slightly cold and rainy season where I live.
Excerpt from easyayurveda.com:
Warm water health benefits –
It helps to improve digestion and to relieve indigestion.
Warm water drinking at night before bed time is an excellent remedy to clear white coated tongue.
Warm water drinking is one of the major dietary advice in the treatment of cold, cough, respiratory tract infections, Asthma, allergic disorders etc.
Warm water drinking will reduce the frequency of repeated cold attacks especially in children.
Warm water drinking is a very good soar throat remedy.
Drinking a spoon of honey with a glass of water is recommended in obesity treatment.
Whenever you eat oily food stuff, junk food, or consume ghee, drinking warm water will make your tummy feel lighter. And also, it avoids fat absorption to an extent.
Warm water cleanses bladder. So, it is the natural most and easily available bladder cleanse medicine.
Warm water drinking at night is much recommended in the treatment of fever.
Warm water drinking is highly recommended in cases of rheumatoid arthritis.
It calms vata and kapha. It is not for pitta type.
Having attended a yoga course recently, we bought this book to go deeper in yoga. First lesson in this book covers some very basic asanas for beginners and an explanation on Shavasana. Am still learning to do Shavasana right and had some doubts about it like whether it should be done with mantra chanting as taught in our class or not, how it is different from regular sleeping and so on. This book has cleared many of my doubts and wanted to share the same with you. Below is the excerpt:
“Relaxation is essential in everyone’s life. By relaxation we mean a release of tension in both the mind and body for a period of time to allow complete rest and revitalisation. This is the whole reason for sleep, but because of the tension-filled lives that most people now lead in the daytime, sleep no longer performs its functions properly.
Normally the body’s muscles are supplied with a continuous weak influx of nerve impulses from the brain. This is known as muscular tone and maintains the muscles in a healthy and prepared condition for instant action if required.
Every psycho-physiological disturbance, every negative and destructive emotion cases conflict in the brain. This interferes with the normal tonic rhythm of the muscles and keep them in an abnormally high state of tension. This over-activation of the muscles without the corresponding muscular activity results in a continual drain of energy from the body.
Why does this drainage of energy through muscular contraction occur? When you think something, the body automatically prepares itself to transfer the thought into action. For example a man returns home from work, exhausted and feeling angry and looking for a way to relieve his frustrations. He sees his neighbour’s dog and becomes angry for no apparent reason, but just as he beings to walk towards the dog to kick it, an inner oder from the brain centres warns him that the dog will bite. This causes indecision and the muscles remain in a state of tension, ready for action. If the thought or emotion is not translated into physical action, it results in dissipation and wastage of energy. The result is chronic fatigue.
People are continually feeling anger, fear, jealousy, self-pity, hatred, impatience, lust, greed, pride, gluttony etc., which makes them perpetually tense in mind and body and ultimately leads to disease either physically or mentally or both.
Relaxation techniques start by taking your consciousness away from emotionally charged thoughts and directing it to activities that are emotionally neutral such as the awareness of the your breath or different parts of your body. This way the ceaseless and futile cycle of brooding on problems stops.
When you immobilise your whole body in relaxation practices, the muscles are relaxed. Since the muscles are not in use, the sensory nerves, which send messages from the muscles to the brain, and the motor nerves, which send messages of the action from the brain to the muscles, cease to function. This cuts off your consciousness of the body. In deeper states of relaxation you will find that your mind seems to be completely detached from your body. This disconnection produces wonderful effects. The muscle cells, nerve cells, organ cells, blood vessels, et become totally relaxed and in this way are revitalised. And the regions of the brain are given much needed rest form the continual influx of sensory data from the body and the outside world. Further, awareness of different parts of the body or the breath coaxes the mind away form normal patterns of worry or discontent. This has a wonderful calming influence on the mind.
The amount of benefit gained from relaxation techniques is in direct proportion to the degree of mental awareness during the practice. If you are not aware of the mechanics of the practice or go into sleep, then you will gain little or no results. But if you remain aware throughout the practice, then a few minutes relaxation in this way can be worth more, and be more refreshing than many hours of sleep.
Many ailments are caused by inhibitions imposed not he body functions by the higher brain centres. by disconnecting your awareness from your body, the lower brain centres are allowed to carry out their duties without hindrance from the higher brain centres. The lower brain centres then start to restore equilibrium in the muscle body tone and endocrine system. Further, your awareness on different parts of the body removes stress and fear. As such the adrenal glands stop injecting adrenalin into the blood system. This brings the body down to a lower level of activity. The whole body is allowed to rest from its continual stimulation.”
I had a very bad body odour since childhood. One day in my late 30s I visited a dentist second time in my life and she told me that I need to get rid of my wisdom tooth or will result in root canal. I came back home, googled and decided to start oil pulling. After 3 days of oil pulling I had a pleasant surprise. My body odour was gone!
My tooth healed in 6 months but for me the biggest surprise of body odour disappearing.
Recently I did a yoga course for a month and in the ayurveda class I shared about this experience and asked the doctor about how it is related. She said oil pulling works on the nerves (cranial) and the nerves are connected to the brain and then to all the organs via the spinal cord and when the nerves function well detoxification works well.
Another yoga student messaged me after 5 days thanking me for sharing about body odour and she also lost her body odour just in 5 days of oil pulling!
Best oil is said to be sesame oil, but I do not get it here so I use coconut oil, olive oil.
Make sure the oil you use is UNREFINED and preferably organic and cold pressed.
Watch some youtube videos on how to do it but in short it is taking 1 teaspoon of oil and squishing it around in your mouth on empty stomach for 20 minutes and then throwing out the oil and squishing and gargling with lukewarm salt water. In the beginning you will be able to squish it only for 2-5 minutes as your jaw will pain being unused to such movements. In 3-5 days you will come to 20 minutes time.