Breathing and being breathed

I have been breathing since shortly after I was born, but I never really gave much thought to it until I started doing yoga a few decades ago, and there wasn’t much instruction. In fact, I was a mindless smoker for part of my younger, ignorant, addicted life.

Pranayama (breath work) is the 4th limb of yoga, right after asana (postures). A few of my yoga teachers have included pranayama techniques at the end of asana class. Awareness of where I feel my breath, feeling it down to my pubic bone, feeling it on the sides and back of my rib cage and in my lumbar area and between my shoulder blades, keeping my shoulders down, letting my diaphragm really expand downwards, moving the heart/lungs and liver/gallbladder/pancreas/stomach/spleen on either side of the diaphragm, increasing the movement of detoxifying lymph with each breath, being present with the energizing inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, noticing the pauses, noticing what happens in my chakras and in my whole being…

Some of the yogic breathing techniques that have stuck with me through the years are kapalabhati (breath of fire), a rapid bellows breathing that floods the body with cleansing, nourishing oxygen as well as increases motivation — and also prevents discomfort from my hiatal hernia, and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), calming and believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain.

Were you aware that throughout the day, one of your nostrils is more open than the other, and that they periodically switch sides?


I practice these two techniques every day along with a more modern technique, 4-7-8 breathing, that was taught to Dr. Andrew Weil by his mentor, Dr. Robert Fulford, an American cranial osteopath/shaman (Wikipedia describes him as a pioneer in alternative and energetic medicine) who obviously had studied pranayam.

Dr. Weil recommends doing no more than four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing daily for a couple of months to train the nervous system to quickly move into a relaxed state. I notice that the main times I need to use it are when I’m driving and I narrowly avoid hitting something or being hit.

Another practice that’s not a technique (at least that I’ve ever heard of) is something that occurs in meditation. I call it “being breathed”. It occurs after settling the body and calming the mind, paradoxically by using the breath to relax by lengthening exhalations.

As relaxation/parasympathetic dominance increases, a gradual detachment from controlling the breath allows it to shift to operate on its own, automatically — as it does naturally when we’re not paying attention.

When you notice that your breath has become automatic — you aren’t doing anything to it or with it — you’re simply allowing it to do its thing — breathing becomes completely passive, occurring on its own, and observing it doesn’t change it — that’s what I call being breathed.

There’s a kind of awesomeness to this experience. I wonder if this is what Shri Krishnamacharya, founder of modern yoga, may have been referring to when he said pranayama could result in samadhi.

Am I experiencing samadhi? I don’t know. There’s a sense of oneness and a subtle sense of bliss that permeates. Namaste, my friends.

So that’s my current practice, doing three techniques daily that take 5 minutes, plus meditating (10 minutes with Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and usually a few more in silence, breathing equally through nose and mouth with my tongue on my palate behind my upper teeth, a Kum Nye technique).

Now yoga creates sex scandals!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!

Ha ha, now the same New York Times writer so focused on how yoga is injuring and killing people has written a new article in which he says that yoga fans the sexual flames, with its roots in Tantric sex cults!!!

William J. Broad writes:

Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

How does he get away with saying that yoga produces “so many” philanderers? I don’t see any data. It’s certainly not as if the majority of philanderers are yogis. A handful of anecdotal examples does not prove his case.

Um, I believe fundamental and evangelical churches have produced way more philanderers per capita than yoga has. Not to mention the U.S. government — from the presidency on down! But I guess those are old headlines. And I don’t have any data either. Does anyone have data on philandering?

And…doesn’t philandering usually end up creating uproars that leave people shocked and distraught no matter what field they occur in?

William J. Broad is riding the Anusara/John Friend scandal to capitalize on the popularity of yoga and sell more of his books. If the New York Times called him “practitioner of make-a-buck sensational journalism whose claim to scientific credibility is undermined every time he confuses causation with correlation” instead of “senior science writer,” well, that would seem to be more accurate.

I cannot wait to read what the awesome Leslie Kaminoff has to say about this article! I will post it here when he puts up another video. Leslie has been a great counterpoint to William J. Broad, with way more credibility in the yoga world, and a voice of reason, common sense, and insight among the recent uproars about yoga. Leslie, write a book! See my recent post of his video about his yoga teacher Desikachar, son of the founder of modern yoga.

My take on it? Yoga improves health, and being healthy means being alive, vibrant, and responsive. That can certainly translate to sexy! Who isn’t attracted to people with those qualities?

And, a lot of activities improve health and libido, not just yoga. Running, biking, swimming, playing basketball, dancing zumba, and many, many more.

I also believe that yoga does more than just improve health — the asanas unblock meridians, allowing life-force energy (chiprana) to flow more freely throughout the body.

Ask anyone who’s had regular acupuncture for years if it’s improved their health, energy levels, and life force/vibrancy/libido, and they will tell you it has made a big difference. Same deal, no yoga.

And, over time and without needles, yoga does the same thing. And not just yoga. Gymnastics, acrobatics, acro-yoga, Pilates, martial arts, tai chi, chi gong, and several types of dance place the body in unusual postures or movements that increase flexibility, build strength and endurance, and require focused awareness. They train the bodymind to be healthier, to function better. Of course that affects sexuality. Health and sexuality are intimate partners.

This has been known for a long time.

Broad totally did not mention that one of the yamas (ethical guidelines) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is brahmacharya, or nonexcess.

In the commentaries on the sutras, brahmacharya is applied specifically to sexual behavior and refers to chastity or even celibacy among advanced spiritual aspirants. Brahmacharya means refraining from sex except in committed relationships, and in that context, engaging in sex in moderation to develop a true spiritual partnership.

The yamas are required reading and discussion in yoga teacher training. And to put that in context, we live in America, which is a hypersexual culture. The porn industry is huge, and sex sells.

I imagine that the majority of people with a serious yoga practice do not misbehave sexually. Those who do, well, it’s more about power or addiction or lack of healthy role models than it is about the yoga.

Broad does share information about science’s interest in yoga and sex. I am not surprised by any of it. He’s fixated on yoga and sex; I’d like to see similar studies on martial arts and sex, and on yoga and the bonding hormone oxytocin.

And by the way, meditation (aka doing nothing) can promote sexual arousal. So can simply relaxing.

In Russia and India, scientists have measured sharp rises in testosterone — a main hormone of sexual arousal in both men and women. Czech scientists working with electroencephalographs have shown how poses can result in bursts of brainwaves indistinguishable from those of lovers. More recently, scientists at the University of British Columbia have documented how fast breathing — done in many yoga classes — can increase blood flow through the genitals. The effect was found to be strong enough to promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos.

In India, recent clinical studies have shown that men and women who take up yoga report wide improvements in their sex lives, including enhanced feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as well as emotional closeness with partners.

So yoga enhances sex. No surprise there, and what’s wrong with that, as long as people are conscious about behaving responsibly with it? Yoga also enhances health, fitness, longevity, equanimity, awareness, and compassion. No data, just my experience.

See Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here to read the full article.

New York Yoga: How Yoga Can Lead to Pure Happiness

New York Yoga: How Yoga Can Lead to Pure Happiness.

Here’s another really great response to the recent, rather fear-mongering New York Times article about yoga that I blogged about in The dark side of yoga.

I liked this clarity:

…let’s not forget why we all practice in the first place: to attain yoga.  What is yoga?

Yoga is one of the six orthodox philosophical systems of the ancient Indus civilization that was codified by Sage Patanjali some time around 2500 BC. The entire yoga philosophy is summed up in 196 short statements, the Yoga Sutras, that describe techniques as to how to attain the state of yoga, a state of being when the mind is still and silent by arresting its modifications.  This leads to freedom from unhappiness. Using specific, technical terms, Sage Patanjali describes the transcendental experience that is yoga.

And this:

But, the most important thing about practicing yoga is that, just like any other activity, … it requires practice and familiarity with the fundamentals of that activity.  Therefore, it is the job of the yoga student to become a teacher. That does not mean everybody has to go to a teacher’s training. It means that every student needs to find the teacher within, the teacher who is determined, who is clear about what they are doing, who is organized, who listens, who pays attention to what is going on around and inside them. 

It’s about practice, dedication, and awareness. Best injury-prevention methods in the world.

Yoga + politics: a good match?

It’s All Yoga, Baby has named “The Protester” 2011 yogi of the year.

So how do you feel about yogis being involved in politics? Yoga has been part of the Occupy movement from the start, mostly in the form of yoga classes for the Occupiers.

Some prominent yogis have gotten involved, while many have stayed out of it completely.

Is yoga political? I say clearly, yes, if you understand that yoga is a philosophy and not just exercise. Patanjali’s yamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga, asanas being another. Yes, yoga is actually so much more than asanas.

The yamas are the first of the eight limbs, guidelines for ethical social conduct, or moral principles that initiate the practice of yoga. They are: nonviolence, nonlying, nonstealing, non-sexual excess, and nonpossessiveness. In other words, kindness, honesty, trustworthiness, responsible relating, and nonattachment.

It’s hard to understand how any yogi following the yamas could fail to  clearly see their connection to the issues of the Occupy movement.

Some of you know me personally, and some of you only know me through this blog. I write about wellness, not about politics so much, although I did visit Occupy Austin earlier this year and blogged about it.

I am a yogi. I’ve been one for a long time. I practice yoga because it helps me be whole in body, mind, heart, and spirit. I teach yoga because I want to share its goodness. I study yoga because it is good, and it pleases me to grow. I am more awake because of yoga.

Another way of saying I am awake is to say I occupy myself. I live in the world. I am an activist. I sign petitions. I send letters. I vote. I donate. I want to make a difference for the better, and for sure, I can’t if I do nothing, so I do something.

I’m not that public about it. If you’re my Facebook friend or Twitter follower, you probably see a little more of my activism. There is more to me than being an activist, for sure, but heck, I like peace. I like justice. I like freedom. I like goodness. And I will work for them.

I understand the power of the 99% slogan in protesting corruption, heartlessness, inequity, greed. I also believe we are all part of the 100%. Yoga is about union, yoking, bringing together. Attacking people creates hardness and resistance, just like forcing the body into a pose it’s not ready for is a recipe for injury. Instead, think of the prep work and the softening and melting that allow changes to occur on the mat.

This can happen in the world.

I’m so proud of Occupy for adhering to nonviolence, showing and telling the truths about the occupiers’ lives, and confronting behaviors of stealing, irresponsibility, and greed, both within the movement and in the larger society. This is yoga!

I like respectful dissent, thoughtful protest, free speech, freedom of assembly, clarity. I’d love it if the Occupy movement could get the voters of this country focused on getting money out of politics, i.e., campaign finance reform would be one really meaningful, revolutionary change to focus on. In my opinion, accomplishing that would be taking the people’s power back from those who would subvert democracy out of greed. They know not what they do, and they can change.

I wonder if they ever wonder what their grandchildren will think of them, when today is history.

This activist yogi advocates occupying your body, your mind, your heart, and your spirit. Occupy yourself, live in the world, follow the yamas, and change it for the better.

Graphic: Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga

The marvelous yogini-cum-graphic-artist Alison Hinks, who created the yoga lineages flow chart I linked to earlier, has done it again.

This beautiful graphic shows the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

What’s extra nice is that she’s identified the actions you do and the experiences that happen to you because you have practiced the actions effectively.

Thank you, Alison Hinks, for adding beauty and inspiration to the world.

Why yogis don’t meditate

Came across something else I wanted to repost tonight, this article from Elephant Journal on why yogis don’t meditate by Philip Goldberg.

Yep, asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga, which is about quieting and calming the mind, or as some would say distancing from the mind. Patanjali had much to say about the mind, and little about asana.

After all, yoga is a philosophy with beliefs. It’s not just physical fitness.

My formerly daily meditation practice is in a slump right now. I miss it. Having the flu and then moving disrupted my life, although witness awareness has been keen through the many transitions.

I discovered Sunday that my meditation timer, which I was using to time long restorative yoga poses, seems to be broken.

However, I downloaded a timer app for my new iPhone that should serve well.

Now all I need to do is move the yoga blankets off my zafu and zabuton, and I’ll be meditating again.