I wrote this in March of 2009 after reading Indra Devi’s book “Yoga for Americans” which she wrote in 1959 and it amazed me how she nailed the true heart of yoga back then, these days we seem to be too wrapped up in asana and we miss a lot of the most beneficial reasons we practice yoga; calmness in our nervous system and clarity in our mind.
Re-post from BeFit Body & Mind Yoga March 2009 topic of the month:
There are many ways we can incorporate our yoga into our moment to moment daily lives. By doing so we will keep our stress levels minimized and make the conscious effort of how we want to live our lives. A big part of our yoga is in our attitudes and how we deal with those around us, the physical aspect is only one small part of yoga.
The Waking Routine
It is best not to be woken up by an alarm clock—this is very jarring to the nervous system and begins your day with an unhealthy jolt! Not all of us are lucky enough to awaken when we want, so if you need to use an alarm clock try to find one that awakens you gently. I have heard of “light” alarm clocks; the clock is attached to a light that gradually gets brighter to awaken you. I use my iPhone, it has an alarm mode in it and I can program a soft song to wake up to, I chose the song “Sattva” by The Rascals, it starts off with a soft sitar and sings “this is love this is love this is love I feel . . . ” A nice reminder to feel love when I wake up.
Below is an excerpt from Indra Devi’s book “Yoga for Americans”. Indra Devi is a student of Krishnamacharya, she was his first female student. She wrote this book in 1959—and it is amazing how accurate it still is today!
After waking up, lie there for a moment to bring yourself back to this realm slowly from the threshold of another, make this transition slowly and gradually giving yourself time to shift gears. Do some stretching and yawning and gentle moving while still lying in bed. Then do the following stretch while still in bed: Keeping your feet together, toe to toe, start to push out the right leg, without raising it off the mattress, as if wanting to lengthen it. The stretch will be felt from your hip down and your leg will momentarily be lengthened by an inch or more. Breathe and hold this position for up to one minute. Then relax allowing the right foot to become even again with the left one and repeat on your left leg.
This exercise stretches the spinal column and tones the sympathetic nervous system. It has a rejuvenating effect on the entire body. As it is a very potent nerve exercise be careful not to over do it, 60 seconds on each side is adequate. You may however repeat the exercise again in the evening if you wish.
Neck and Eye Exercises (this section is taken from Indra Devi’s book)
These yoga movements are especially important for those of you who sit at a desk or on a computer throughout the day. Also these movements will benefit anyone who feels strain in their neck, upper back, or eyes, or anyone who notices a grinding in their neck as they roll their head from side to side.
Our breath is part of this nice neck stretch, synchronize your head and neck movements to your breath. Maintaining a long spine, keeping the chest lifted and ribs tucked in is important in this exercise. Only your head and neck move, the rest of your body holds a “seated samastitihi” with relaxed shoulders posture.
Close your eyes and relax, maintaining good posture but not rigidly:
- Inhale deeply, and as you exhale let your head drop forward (keep your chest lifted and push the back of your neck up and back as your head gently comes forward), inhale lift your head, slowly turning your face to the sky stretching the front of your neck.
Exhale head forward, inhale head back—repeat 4-5x
When your head drops back make sure you keep your facial muscles relaxed and lips slightly parted. Come back to center and relax.
- Now take a deep inhale and exhaling turn your head all the way to the right, inhaling turn your head center and exhale to the left. Repeat 4-5x. This alternatively contracts and stretches the muscles on the side of our neck.
- Still maintaining posture, inhale deeply and exhaling drop your right ear toward your right shoulder (make sure you keep your shoulders relaxed), inhale lift your head to center, and exhale drop your left ear toward your left shoulder. Repeat 4-5x.
- This next movement resembles the neck movements of a turtle; inhaling stick your neck out a little, exhaling pull your head back as far as you can (head retraction) lengthening the back of your neck upward. You should feel a gliding movement of the neck, repeat 4-5x. This stretches the neck muscles on the back of the neck below the ears.
- Lastly still maintaining good posture, let your head drop forward keeping your head and face relaxed roll your head clockwise several times, then repeat counter clockwise. Inhaling as you roll your face upward and exhaling as you roll your head forward (face downward). (If you hear grinding in this stretch you especially need these neck exercises!)
At the end of the last exercise, pat your neck and throat area and give it a little massage. Then do “palming”, briskly rub your palms together charging them with electricity, place your palms over your eyes, fingers of your right and left hands crossing over your forehead, elbows relaxed by your sides. You can place your elbows on your knees or on a table to support your arms, do deep breathing while you hold your palms over your eyes.
This daily practice will loosen up the tension in your neck muscles and keep them relaxed and elastic, and help keep tension out of our neck and shoulders—a common tension area on many people. Also the palming increases blood flow to the eyes; the vision gets better or clearer as the ophthalmic or eye nerves receive more blood. (Note Indra also recommends several eye exercises prior to the palming.)
You can do this anytime, anywhere; while at your desk, sitting in the car (if you are not driving!), before/after meditation or yoga practice, and whenever you feel stress.
Walking and Breathing (from Indra Devi’s book)
This is a nice walking and breathing exercise you can do anytime you have to walk somewhere; whether it be on the seashore, in the woods, or just walking to your car in a parking lot somewhere.
Tune into your breathing, take four steps while inhaling, hold the breath for two steps, take four steps while exhaling, hold your breath out for two steps. And repeat. Keep the walking and breathing rhythmical. If you feel that four steps is too long for you, count three steps and hold one, or on the contrary if you want a longer breath take six or eight steps and hold your breath a count of three or four respectively. You should take an even number of steps while breathing in and out, and the retention is done in half the time taken for your inhalation or exhalation.
I took her idea a step further, try this: When you find yourself rushing around quickly doing something—check your breath, if you are not holding it, it is probably pretty shallow! To deepen and connect with your breath make little vinyasas out of your chores, for example when I am cooking I catch myself sometimes rushed, I stop connect with my breath and cook in “vinyasas”; inhale reach for the plate, exhale the plate to the counter, inhale pick up the spoon, exhale stir, etc . . . This is especially beneficial when you find yourself stressed or worrying over a situation, it will help you relax and do what you need to do effectively without being stressed.
So many ways to stay connected to the parts of yoga that have not much to do with asana!
Ok, so this is almost too personal . . . but I do have several yogic disciplines I practice throughout the day to help keep me calm and centered, and aware of my breathing patterns. Mula bandha is one of them.
The bandhas are really the “master key” to yoga. In the “old” days the bandhas were not taught to an aspirant until after they had been practicing asana and pranayama for many years. Now we are fortunate enough to have this ancient knowledge available to us prior to years of practice. Mula bandha is simply gently contracting your anus (without squeezing your glueals), this puts pressure on a nerve (pelvic splanchnic nerve) that stimulates our parasympathetic (or calming side) of our nervous system.
On a physical level mula bandha harmonizes the functioning of the endocrine system; the pressure of practicing the bandha actually stimulates the nerves which connect to the pituitary and pineal glands, which regulate the hormones in our bodies.
The physical effect of mula bandha is also good for all the organs and systems in the lower pelvis, keeping them toned.
The bandhas also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.
Through the practice of mula bandha combined with breathing and mindfulness we learn to channel nervous energy at will so we can act in a more graceful, flowing way.
So the bandhas are an important key in our yoga practice, however it may take a year or two of practice to actually remember this little practice. In the mean time find a certain time each day to practice mula bandha, a long time ago I started this practice of doing mula bandha whenever I am in my car . . . and I do. It is a habit now, it started that I would just practice at every red light . . . and over the years it developed into something I do whenever I am in my car (as well as on my yoga mat), as well as when I am teaching, and while cooking and sitting in front of my computer. It is a habit that is worth establishing … except as my saying goes … not after 9pm—just relax! (And for ladies not during menstruation — just rest and breathe on those days.)