Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation

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Riding The Wave of Breath

During our third weekend of teacher training, our knowledgeable teacher, Stacey, introduced us to Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga. Stacey is very passionate about Pranayama, and was excited to share her knowledge with the class.

Many people do not realize that Yoga is composed of eight “limbs,” each a practice unto itself. Asana (the physical poses) is the third limb. Pranayama, the formal art of controlling the breath, is known as the fourth limb, and that which connects the physical body with the more unseen and mystical realms. Therefore, Pranayama may also be known as the breath of life. If practiced correctly, Pranayama is an art to control the mind by learning to control the breath, and to control the breath by controlling the mind.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Stacey characterized this complex breathing practice as akin to “playing with magic”. It certainly sounded like magic when it was explained that Pranayama techniques can both relieve stress and improve one’s overall physical health, while forging a deeper connection with one’s higher self or soul.

One of the books we are reading as part of our training is called Yoga and The Quest for the True Self, by Stephen Cope. In the book, Cope discusses the benefits and magic of Pranayama:

“Inhibition of full abdominal-diaphragmatic breath immediately cuts us off from feelings. But it also cuts us off from prana and deeply depletes the life force in the body. An increased reliance on chest breathing to supply the body’s oxygen requirements produces chronic muscle tension in the chest and abdomen, but that’s only the beginning. It also increases cardio-pulmonary stress, increases blood sugar and lactate levels, increases our perception of pain, decreases oxygen to the heart and brain, inhibits transfer of oxygen from hemoglobin to tissues, and increases our sense of fatigue.”

By learning how to breathe properly, we would further tune into our bodies, look at feeling through the breath, and cultivate powerful breathing techniques that we could use throughout our lives.

In the chapter called Riding the Wave of Breath, Cope explains a technique to help manage feelings that may arise through Pranayama (and, trust me, they can be vast). His technique called “riding the wave” has five parts: “Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow.” This is Cope’s way to help others become witness to the wisdom of Pranayama.

Ali and I have both begun a daily Pranayama practice, and, as part of our homework for the next two weeks, will be recording a few observations after each practice.

With the technique of “riding the wave” and our lessons from class over the weekend, I feel prepared to begin my own exploration. Can I surrender to the freedom that comes with being present and to simply allow the process to happen without understanding every aspect of it? I am excited to find out.

“This kind of surrender requires a willingness to be changed. It involves, too, a willingness to trust life, to keep the focus of our awareness on energy in motion instead of on trying to understand what is happening. Prana is intelligent, after all.” – Stephen Cope on “riding the wave of breath”

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The Beginning – 1.25.13

In a yoga class, there are many ways to get started. At our studio, the teacher usually relays some thoughts that give the students a theme or purpose to come back to throughout class. While I am only one weekend into the 200-hour teacher training, I thought it was appropriate to give my own thoughts about this beginning.

It started on Friday with Orientation. With the nerves and excitement clearly bubbling in the air, we were told to flip open our new binders to find our yoga travel companion and…it was ALI. It was ALI? IT WAS ALI! With confirmation that Ali and I were officially on this journey together, and once we had joined with our group and mentor (Jen Grims, who is awesome!), we were off and running.

As the weekend progressed, I felt humbled and reminded why I challenge myself and why I do not shirk away from a difficult situation. So far, we are being challenged by and immersed in massive amounts of information and physical poses. We are being asked to feel the poses, to remember the words, to rise above the fear, to sing loudly and even to speak the directions to the class. We are being asked to focus and listen and then do it again. It has been exhilarating, scary, bountiful in beauty, and it has only just begun.

The part about the beginning of class that makes me open my ears and listen more closely, is that I like to look for an idea to hold onto and ponder throughout my practice. I like to be aware of whether the meaning of the beginning words change throughout the class, or remain the same for me. One thing is for sure: I always feel different, mentally and physically, after laying in savasana (corpse pose), closing the practice with the sound of Om, and speaking the word, “Namaste.”

On Sunday, we began our session by learning the Gayatri Mantra. I had heard this mantra before, and felt a comfort wash over my body as we sang the Sanskrit words together. The Gayatri Mantra has many meanings, but the one we discussed and that has stuck with me was related to the sun rising. We were reminded that the sun will rise each morning; that is a given. This mantra was a reminder that the beginning will keep coming. The night may fall and the sun may set, but the sun will rise again tomorrow, allowing the start of a new beginning.

Gayatri Mantra

At this point, I can only imagine what the end of this illuminated journey will fee like; I can only imagine that perhaps it will feel less like an ending, but another beginning.

Sun Rising at Grand Canyon - April 2012

Sun Rising at Grand Canyon – April 2012