Hello Sun!

Today was finally the second session of the yoga course. I was full of expectations, as I needed to rest my mind after a terrible night.

We started the lesson by reminding the road to a quiet mindful state in Hatha yoga.

All starts from some physical activity, as our bodies are the most easily and directly accessible. Then comes the breathing, to start setting the pace of the mind. In the end, relaxation is real and we are ready for meditation.

We were introduced to the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit), a series of 12 steps to give thanks to the yellow star and to get energy from it. It is the most basic of the many adaptation of this sequence of movements, that might have been introduced more than 2500 years ago, during Vedic times as a ritual prostration to the dawn, replete with mantras, offerings of flowers and rice, and libations of water.

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Diagram of the 12 steps of Sun Salutation

A great way to start your day, empowered by the energy of the universe, is to do 3-12 sun salutations, at your own peace!

We then reviewed the stomach breathing (Adham Pranayama in Sanskrit), the base for an efficient breathing as the stomach has a much wider capacity to store the oxygen air. The stomach breathing is indeed a form of conscious diaphragmatic breathing that strongly activates the autonomic nervous system. The breath moves the diaphragm down and up as you inhale and exhale, pushing the abdominal organs forward, and then back inward. The air is encouraged into the lower lobes of the lungs and the organs in the lower torso are massaged, stimulated and relaxed.

After we learned how to do the single nostril breathing (Surya Bhedana Pranayama in Sanskrit). When you breathe with the right side, the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, known or its “Fight or flight” response is activated, accelerating your metabolism and thus making you more energetic. The opposite nostril, the left, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the “Rest or digest” response, helping you to relax and rest. This could help in moments of depression, extreme anxiety or when you have a strong headache. In any case, you shouldn’t try both at the same time, as the brain would get contradictory messages, being stimulated in the two senses!

Our bodies naturally would alternate between both sides along the day, changing about 8 times. However, when we go through difficult periods, when we feel down or stressed, only the right side is used. That is why I felt so good after practising 5 minutes of left breathing!

When closing the right nostril, use your right thumb; close the left nostril with the right ring finger. The right hand is as in the picture below.

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Bend the second and third fingers of your right hand

Finally came the alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit). The benefits of alternate nostril breathing are numerous and include:

  • Revitalization (activates the sympathetic nervous system)
  • Reduction of blood pressure (activates the parasympathetic nervous system)
  • Enhanced Lung Function
  • Lung Cleansing
  • Calmness
  • Soothed Nervous System
  • Temperature Regulation
  • Enhanced Sleep Quality

It is a conscious act, improving attention and fine motor coordination/performance. Here is a description of how to practice it, followed by an animation that makes everything much clearer!

  1. Close off the right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly through the left.
  2. Pause at the top of the inhale.
  3. Close off the left nostril with your ring finger and release thumb off right.
  4. Exhale through right nostril, inhale through right nostril.
  5. Pause at the top of the inhale.
  6. Use your thumb to close off the right nostril.
  7. Breathe out through the left nostril.

This is one round. You can repeat it at least for 3-4 rounds first!

The homework for next class is to repeat stomach breathing, single nostril and alternate nostril breathing, 3-4 times per day, before breakfast, lunch, diner and sleeping. Each phase should last for about 9 to 27 breathings, and we should be careful not to go beyond it for the single nostril one, as the effect in the nervous system is very efficient and activates in less than 5 minutes the side used.

As usual, we closed the class with a short time for meditation. To calm down the mind the teacher encouraged us to repeat a short positive message like “I am healthy” or “I am beautiful”. None of this applied to me but I found mine:

“I can do it”

I felt relaxed. I could feel my mind entering state of suspension, I could feel peace within me.

However, intrusive thoughts came after a while, about how I am failing in my PhD, how I have failed to get out of my Eating Disorder until now.

I thought of Vero. I was proud to have notices my wandering mind and I tried to focus again on the present moment. I kept repeating my message, I smiled, and brought me back to the present, almost taming those negative voices.

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.

-B.K.S. Iyengar

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