What are the benefits of extension of breathing?

Pranayama is a very important aspect of Yoga and the goal of Pranayama is “Deerga and Shukshma” i.e. the breath has to be long and smooth. Breath extension is very important because it has consequent impact on our neurological system, on our emotional system and also on our physiological system.  When the breathing is long and smooth the body feels relaxed. Therefore the relaxation response is triggered in the body. So the body’s muscular structure feels relaxed, strong not tensed and on the edge the neurological system is relaxed and so it is not in the state of panic but rather when we are relaxed our sensory system in environment will perceive accurately so our responses will be accurate.  In the same way, our emotional system will also function in the appropriate manner when we are relaxed.  For these reasons the extension of breath is important.

What is very important is the extension of breath alongwith the smoothness or subtlety of breath. Patanjali does not say “Deerga Prana”.  He is talking about the “Deerga and Shukshma” the subtlety. The quality of breath is as important as the length of breath. We can’t just extend the breath where the quality of breath is dropping. Smoothness and the subtlety of breath is very important because the smoothness and the subtlety of breath has a direct impact on our energetic system. That’s why we must not think of Pranayama as a championship  with our source where everyday we are competing so that our breath becomes  longer each day.

We also have to focus on the smoothness of the breath because if the breath is not smooth it indicates that there are some psychological and physiological obstacles. We need to learn these obstacles and overcome these obstacles so that the smoothness can be ensured.

So, my friends, do not only focus on the extension of breathing, focus on the extension of breath with the smoothness of breath as well. The “Deerga and Shukshma” are both essential and important parameters to measure the quality of our breathing. In yoga the quantity is not always important but its the quality also equally or  perhaps even more significantly important.

Namaste my friends!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar

Viniyoga® Teacher @ Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

Why should I practice retention after Inhale and Exhale?

This is a very important and an interesting question in Yoga practice.  Basically, in Yoga practice a very important tool is Pranayama because we are working directly there with Prana, our energy system.  The way we work with our energy system is through regulation of breath, conscious regulation of breath. We have to extend the inhale, we have to extend the exhale etc.

A long inhale and a long exhalation is representative of a very calm and steady mind. When you are excited or when you are distracted or when you are disturbed the breathing will become shallow and short. Whereas, when we are focused and when we feel relaxed you will see that the breath will be much longer; much more quieter. You can see this in babies. When babies are in the comfortable arms of their mother they are relaxed and the breathing becomes very very smooth, very very long. compared to them of course.  Whereas when a stranger carry the baby, when he comes and takes the baby, the baby gets disturbed and you can see that the breath starts to get  short. So breath extention is not for extending the breath like the championship as to who has the longest breath. Breath extension has consequences into our mind structure so that the mind becomes more relaxed and therefore in turn then the has an impact in our physiological and emotional structures as well because we are a holistic entity.

But breath cannot be continuously extended. I can’t just extend my inhale and exhale as I want. So, at some point we need to educate our respiratory system to become able to extend the breath. One of the tools that allow us to extend the breath is retention after exhale and retention after inhale.  The retention after exhale vitalizes the exhalation and the retention after inhale vitalizes the inhalation.  At some point when we are not able to extend the breath further, say after inhale or after exhale, we use the retention after exhale and the retention after inhale to vitalise the breath for the current moment and over a period of time you will see that by extension of the  retentions after exhalation, the retention of the breath will become possible because the muscular capacity of the respiratory system will get trained in this manner. This is one of the main reasons why retention after inhalation and the retention after exhalation were suggested.

There are many other reasons as well. But the scope of this video prevents us from going into such kind of detailed explanation.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher

What is the meaning of Union of Body and Mind in Yoga?

Namaste Friends!

The very word Yoga is meaning a connection, a linking process. Very often, we are not in the state of connection. We are actually disconnected. What we feel we don’t do what we say and there is a disconnection between what we say, what we do and what we feel and this creates our energy to dissipate in different directions.

The same with our body senses and mind. E.g. I want to wake up early in  the morning and go for a walk in the nature. But my body is not co-operating. It is very Tamasic. It wants to sleep back and not allowing me to wake up or do what I intended to do. So there is a disconnection between body and mind.

In other cases, for example, people when they are relating with family members or the people in the job or in their society, they feel something, but  they are not able to say htat to the people; they are not able to act in coherence with what they feel. All these causes disturbances in our system. Yoga defines truth as “Yan manasadhyayati tat vacha vadati tat karmana karothi”. A synergy between what you feel and what you say and what you act – there has to be a coherence. People don’t do that and that’s why we are exhausted because its like nourishing three different entities and our Prana is depleted because we are not focusing all the Prana into the same direction. If we could actually act how we feel and speak how we feel there will be an efficiency of Prana. But instead of that what we do is different things, so we divide our energy in different directions and that is why we suffer from lack of energy, lack of vitality, chronic fatigue, burn out, etc., and all these are common modern day problems.

In Yoga we are asked to reeducate our system so that the body, breath and mind can go together and there is efficiency and honesty in our  system.  So when we are doing Asanas we are not doing physical exercise, we are doing it with breathing, with intention so that  the body breath and mind can go together.

When we are doing it with Pranayama, we are combining it with visualization and mantras so that the breath can go together and our voice as well. There are different ways in which Yoga is teaching us to bring together different aspects of our system and once we do that in our Yoga sadhana it will become much more easier and to take that into our life. That is what is meant in Yoga as the union of the body, breath and mind.

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Therapy Teacher

Can Yoga be taught in groups?

Today most Yoga classes are taught in groups and there is a very big debate about whether this is appropriate or not because classically Yoga was taught one to one between a teacher and a student. Group classes certainly can be a very good introduction for the people who want to try Yoga. It is certainly much more safer for people who have anxiety for doing Yoga alone. It is certainly social because people can have friendly conversation and share mutual experiences and reassure each other.

Also, most importantly in today’s time most people feel very lonely. Therefore this could be a very good way for people where they feel may teach people each other in a group and can make connection with each other. So group classes provide a very good and important role in modern society.

However, when group classes become competitive and group classes become repetitive, then it really does not take the Yoga practitioner deeper in their own journey. That is when perhaps a good time for individual practitioner start to think about one to one teaching where they can approach the teacher who can teach them and guide them in an individual capacity and explore their Yoga much deeper into their other dimensions as well. But definitely it is a very good way to start Yoga in a group context especially in modern environment.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

What are the Yogic Tools for calming the Mind?

Yoga definitely is about influencing the mind to become more and more calm. Calm mind is able to achieve much more than a distracted or an agitated mind.  You can observe this in your daily life.  When you are actually calm you are able to do much more than when you are disturbed or agitated. This is for many reasons. First of all, a calm mind needs less energy than a distracted energy or an agitated mind. When we use the calm mind, we have much more energy at our disposal, whereas when the mind is agitated or distracted the energy is lost unnecessarily and therefore we cannot do much more.

There is also another reason. When we are having a calm mind, we are able to reflect much more peacefully and therefore come to a much more appropriate solution rather than when we are agitated or distracted. That is why Yoga is emphasizing on calming the mind.

There are many tools that are presented for calming the mind in Yoga practices. A key among them is the technique of Pranayama. Pranayama is considered one of the best tools and the simplest tools to calm the mind. The longer our breathing becomes the more calm the mind also becomes.  Pranayama is considered as one of the best tools because it directly influences the mind and it can be done everywhere. I remember when I used to travel with my teacher, my father, sometimes we would be on the flight, he will just put the blanket around his head and do Pranayama under it because he didn’t want the people to be disturbed or get distracted from what they are doing. That is the flexibility of Pranayama. You can do it anywhere you want including the plane – as a passenger not as a pilot hopefully, as a passenger in a car you can do it in your house or yoga studio, you could do in a park or wherever you want.  This is why it is one of the most efficient and effective tools because it’s very practical.

But there are also other tools like visualization, meditation, mantra practices which are also very effective in calming the mind. What would be ideal is to check with our teachers what would be the best practice to be ideal for each of us to calm the mind in a most efficient and effective manner. This is because each of us are very different, we have different responsibilities in our life, we are in different stages of our life, and therefore what may appeal to us at this moment will be different from what will appeal to another person in the same moment. Its also possible that what will appeal to us at one point in our own life may be different from what will appeal to us at a different point of time.

That is why Yoga is not giving us one method but it is giving us many methods to calm our mind.

Keep calm and carry on.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Why is Asana popularly known as Yoga all over the world?

Asana is indeed the most popular tool of Yoga in the world today. There are a couple of reasons, which I feel, I can attribute these to.

First of all, when Yoga spread outside India, it spread through certain great teachers like Sri. BKS Iyengar and Sri. Pattabhi Jois on the one hand, and certain disciples of Swami Shivananda on the other hand. Disciple of Swami Shivananda took more religious and a monk like approach. That is why you will see many of them engaged in Bhajans, Mantras and all these kind of practices. But students of Sri. Pattabhi Jois and Sri. BKS Iyengar took on a very physical approach because Sri. Pattabhi Jois and Sri. BKS Iyengar concentrated mostly on Asana practice. This is also because when Sri. Pattabhi Jois and Sri. BKS Iyengar studied Yoga with their Yoga Teacher Acarya T. Krishnamacharya when they were teenage boys in the 1930s and Arcarya T. Krishnamacharya taught them only Asana practices. He was of course teaching the king and the ministers in the Mysore palace the other techniques, but these students being young boys were part of the group that practiced mostly the Asanas practices.

Historically Sri BKS Iyengar moved away from Mysore when he was very young and Acarya T. Krishnamacharya also moved away from Mysore in the late 40s, so these students did not continue to have time with their masters to learn other practices of Yoga in detail. So, when their influence in the west increased, Yoga got established very much in the minds of people as Asana practices.

This is also because you could see that people like Sri BKS Iyengarji would give demonstrations to thousands of people showing amazingly and extraordinarily difficult Asanas which would “wowaha” the people and the audiences which got established very strongly in the minds of people as Yoga.

There is another reason I attribute to the popularity of Asanas. In modern society, the physical body is given intense focus. People want to develop the physical body, they want to look good, they want to look good in their profile pictures, Instagram pictures as well as in videos therefore the physical body gets a lot of attention.  Asanas are very physical in nature in the eyes of many Yoga practitioners, eventhough classically Asana is not just a physical practice. This is another reason why the Asanas have become very popular in the minds of public as Yoga practices. That is also why you will see many people who retire from Gymnastics or dance like Bale and other things. they all get attracted to Yoga because it is very easy for them to do the physical postures.

These two are in my opinion the strongest reasons the why Asanas are the most popular tools of Yoga today. However, I sincerely urge every Yoga practitioner to look beyond Asana practice, which means necessarily to give up Asanas, but to transcend the Asanas and embrace the other wonderful, deep practices of Yoga. There are many wonderful benefits to be achieved. This will be a very good motivation for people to engage in the holistic practices of Yoga.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Do we need more backbends in Asana Classes today to address the Bad posture many have today?

Do we need more backbends in Asana Classes today to address the Bad posture many have today?

Yes. It is true that in today’s world people have developed a very bad posture because of the sedentary lifestyle, the work that we do in front of a computer or an electronic device, even when we are looking at the telephone we are bending forward and looking at it. So the back does take a lot of stress much more than in the past. This is also combined with the fact that we are not really moving a lot. We are mostly seated in today’s times, either in front of our computer or in front of our clients, we are sitting in a car, we are sitting in a table when eating at home.

There is also another problem which is that the pelvic and the sacrum region we are not getting enough movement. So the stress on the lower back is quite intense. It is very simplistic to say that if we do some back arches, the slouching positions will be corrected. It is not so simple. When we are slouching, it is not only the upper back that is getting tensed along the neck and the shoulder but also the lower back which has to carry the lower of the body so that the weight is transferred through the earth. When our posture is erect the weight of the body goes right along through the spine, through the feet and to the earth and there is not too much stress for the lower back. Whereas, when the posture is bit slouched the lower back take lot of tension and this is another reason why we cannot be simplistic in our approach that only back arches will have.

We also have to do certain asanas to extend our lower back as well. That is why certain times, the forward bending asanas are also helpful, squats are also helpful as well as some twists because sometime we are tend to shift the weight of the body more on one side than the other.

Another important thing that we can also reflect about is breathing. Many people think that the breathing is only concerning the respiratory system and not the muscular system. But if you look at it very carefully breath has a very strong influence on the muscular system of the body. The muscles relax when we are extending the exhale. Sometime in some lying positions when we are extending the exhale the lower back is also getting quite a bit of relief as well.

What is important is to look at every individual and see how their lifestyle has caused stress in their backs and to find a solution that is relevant to them and offer it to them in timely and safe manner. This is the approach of the Yoga Therapy to deal with the back posture very common in modern day society.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher

Can one cure Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons disease with Yoga?

It is very important for us to remember that Yoga Therapy is more about healing than about curing. Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons are names given to certain set of symptoms that may or may not be understood in Yoga as a Therapy. In Yoga Therapy we are looking at the symptoms of the person’s disease and more importantly we are looking at the experience that the person is having with these symptoms.

It is difficult to say that Yoga Therapy can cure something like Alzheimer’s disease. It is difficult to say that Yoga Therapy can cure something like Parkinsons illness. But at the same time, in my experience I and my students have seen that my father helped lot of people with diseases like Parkinsons disease because, Parkinsons disease may not be actually Parkinsons disease, it may be the imbalance of what we all as the “Vata” system. If Vata is in imbalance our body starts to tremour. If the Müladhärä cakra is highly unstable, the body start to tremour, because the Müladhärä also rules the bones in the body, the solid parts in the body. If such is the case, definitely there are practices that can help to reduce the symptoms the person will be diagnosed as cure from Parkinsons illness. For us, as a Yoga Therapist we are not looking at it as Parkinsons disease.

Alzheimer’s is more complicated. When there is actually brain damage, it is not possible for Yoga practices to reverse it. It is not easy to say that it will reverse it. But Alzheimer’s or memory loss can be, because of Vata imbalance. It may be a technical term given to somebody who has got loss of memory and is mis-diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. In such cases, when we balance the Vata the memory improves. But if there is brain damage and the nervous system it is not actually easy to say that Yoga will actually cure this situation.

But Yoga can definitely reduce the effect of these illnesses and improve the quality of the life of the persons and also the family members. Yoga as a Therapy can play a complementary role as supplementary system not only for the patient and but also for the families those who are going through these Parkisons or Alzheimer’s disease because they are something that they are affecting not only for the patients but also for the family.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

Can I practice Yoga without giving up my religion?

Yoga is Universal. This is one of the reasons why Yoga is embraced by people around the world, because Yoga does not actually emphasize on the religious belief. Yoga certainly emphasizes on a spiritual attitude where we are concerned with how we relate with each other and how we relate with oneself and most importantly how we relate with the Universe. But Yoga does not ever insist on a religious faith and say that only those who are religious must practice Yoga.

In Patanjali’s Yogasutra, patanjali gracefully says, “Iswarapranidanat vah” He gives us choice. For those who believe in the divine, those who have a chosen faith, that can be used as one of the means or tools of Yoga. For those who do not have a religious faith or religious orientation, it is still okay to practice Yoga. This means Yoga is non-dogmatic, not insisting on a religious belief or religious path. So, whoever wants to practice Yoga can embrace Yoga irrespective of their religious faith or religious orientation. In this way Yoga is very non-discriminatory.

What is important is that we practice Yoga with an open heart with faith in our hearts and an all-embracing attitude so that we don’t bring the tenates of our religion into Yoga practice. We don’t become fundamentalistic Yogis, but rather embrace the message of Patanjali that Yoga is universal and therefore we must become universal in our orientation as well. We must be non-discriminatory towards the genuine system that are guiding humanity in their path in their own methods as long as they are not harming the people.

In a nutshell, Yoga is for everyone as long as they are open to receive the benefits of Yoga. That is the most important thing.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga® Teacher
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation

Can I practice Yoga during Pregnancy?

The short answer is Yes.

Yoga during pregnancy is one of the most important topics discussed in the text “Yoga Rahasya” of Nathamuni. Nathamuni talks about different trimesters and what kind of practices are appropriate and which kind of practices should be avoided in which trimester, all these are very greatly discussed in this beautiful text. Yoga during pregnancy is very significant not only for the health of the mother and ease of delivery at the time of delivery but also for the health of the child in creation.  Yoga strongly believes that when the an mother is healthy not only at a physical level but also at energetic, at an emotional and at spiritual level. The child will also be healthy over all. The potentials of the child will be very positive. This is one of the reasons why the Yoga Rahasya of Nathamuni advocates very strongly the practice of Yoga during Pregnancy. Women must definitely consider this during pregnancy not only for their own sake but also for the sake of their child.

Guidance on what should be done and guidance on what should be avoided should also be presented so that it can be safe during the entire nine months which a very important time during her life.

During this time not only there are bodily changes, but there are also hormonal changes, there are psychological changes and relationship with her and her husband or her partner will change, relationship with the family will change and most importantly a new relationship between her and her child is going to get started.

In all of these areas a healthy person is important because the more healthy the person is the more healthy relationship will also manifest. So this is another reason that Yoga has a strong role in the time during pregnancy. So I would suggest myself, from my own experience of having my partner practicing Yoga during my child’s delivery as well as guiding so many of my students who have benefited through Yoga during their pregnancies and had very wonderful child births and wonderful children that Yoga during pregnancy is a very good thing to consider.

Namaste!

Dr.Kausthub Desikachar, Viniyoga Teacher