Essay from Yoga Teacher Training

My essay from my teacher training hours. I believe very strongly in breath work. Without it, there is no life, and no yoga. Enjoy!

Life begins with a breath, an inhale; life ends with a breath, an exhale. The body naturally breathes. It takes no thought from the person to fill the lungs and release. And most people don’t even notice their own breathing, unless they are straining, exercising, or excited. Then they may notice what their body is doing. But, like a snowflake, each breath is different; there will never be two of the same in a lifetime. What we need to do is notice our breath, thereby noticing the present moment. Yet for all the time that this system works alone to keep us alive, noticing our breath and using it constructively can help to change our lives. One definition of yoga states, “acting in such a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in what we are currently engaged” (Desikachar, 1995, p. 6). Asana, or postures, can help us to focus on one activity, body movements. Yet focusing on pranayama, or breath, can also help to clear the mind to focus on just one activity in the present moment.

Pranayama can be defined in two parts, from the Sanskrit “ayama means to ‘stretch’ or ‘extend’, and describes the action. Prana refers to ‘that which is infinitely everywhere'” (Desikachar, 1995, p. 54). While these meanings can seem vague, one can also take these two words to mean prana as the life energy or vitality that, ayama, extends or expands, that fills us, and ultimately keeps us alive. Understanding pranayama can also help us have greater understand of our own purusa, consciousness. The breath can be seen as the link between the body, mind, hear, and soul. Watching and understanding the breath can help us to understand ourselves. It can also help us to change our thoughts. Plus, consciously breathing for even only eleven minutes a day can help to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that works for the body in highly stressful situations, but can be harmful when it is not released. High cortisol levels can lead to tiredness, sadness, excessive belly fat, and other health factors that can adversely affect the body.

As Patanjali described in the Yoga Sutra, 1.31, interruptions can produce many symptoms i the body, “mental discomfort, negative thinking, the inability to be at ease in different body postures, and difficulty in controlling one’s breath” (Desikachar, 1995, p. 158). However, one can help to control these symptoms and stay present by noticing and controlling their breath. Have you ever noticed that by taking a deep breath you fell more centered and alert? Or exhaling a deep sigh can relax the body? By practicing a new way of breathing, focusing on and controlling the breath, one can work to change the thoughts in the mind.

Traditional practice of breathing believes that the most important part of the pranayama is the exhalation: “if the inhalation is rough we do not have to worry, but if the exhalation is uneven it is a sign of illness, either present or impending” (Desikachar, 1995, p. 59). This is because the practice of yoga believes in removing impurities from the body as well as reducing avidya, or misapprehension, incorrect knowledge, false perceptions. There are many types of breathing techniques. However, most believe in a comfortably seated position,on a blanket, spine straight, but no straining in any parts of the body. Reclined positions can also be used. The eyes can be closed, relaxing them from light and distraction. During “pranayama the brain is kept passive but alert” (Ivengar, 1979, p. 433). The mind is alert, but calm; the body is focused on breath and relaxation. Without using any special type of breathing technique, but by just noticing and breathing, one can begin to feel a calm. This calm, when practiced regularly, can then lead to a more relaxed and centered mind over time. The brain will actually begin to change.

Breathing is one of the most important functions the body performs on its ow to keep the body alive. Yet is is not often noticed. A teacher often said, “You can’t change your mind with your mind. But you can change your mind, and your consciousness, with your breath”. Following this wise advice and practicing noticing and focusing on breath can be the first step towards mental clarity, relaxation, and healthfulness.

Essay from Yoga Teacher Training Final Test

Patanjali’s Sutra 3.9 reads:

The mind is capable of having two states based on two distinct tendencies. These are distraction and attention. At any one moment, however, only one state prevails, and this state influences the individual’s behavior, attitudes, and expressions. 

Share what this means to you and how you can present this concept in your classes.

If one believes that yoga is about calming the restless mind, then one can understand how the mind has two states- the distracted, restless, “monkey mind” and the focused, calm and attentive mind. The Sanskrit “chitta vritta niroda” explains this as the restraint of the modifications of the mind ‘stuff’. In a yoga practice, pranayama can help to calm the restless mind. Using the Yamas and Niyamas as a means to keep ones’ outward practices to others as well as ones’ personal disciplines, niyamas, using service and gratitude as a foundation for ones’ life as well as ones’ practice. The pranayama, or breath, can help keep one centered and calm.

A pranayama practice is an important part of any yoga practice. Besides being one of the eight limbs, it is also the means to calm the mind, center the attention, as well as regulate bodily functions. Pranayama, along with asanas in a yoga practice, are connected in that the activity of one will affect the activity of another. If one uses their asana practice, noticing their breathing in each pose, feeling sthira, steady and alert, as well as sukha, comfortable, then the mind will follow the cues of the body and remain steady, alert and comfortable.

In a pranayama practice, using abdominal/diaphragmatic breath as a means to relax the mind and body, one will also feel less distracted. Also, an alternate nostril breath, nadi shodhana, can help balance both hemispheres of the brain and create a relaxed calm mind.

Distractions happen all the time. It is just a part of life. But, by understanding the eight limbs and practicing asana and pranayama as a regular part of ones day, the person can find stillness and centeredness in the mind, thus creating a space where decisions can be made more easily and reactions can be calmed to just responses.