In one of my posts a week ago, I introduced the relationship of yoga and breathing, via the 5 Vayus - life energy ‘currents’ that flow through and nourish areas of the body and their functions, maintained through our breath.
Just as it is where there are ups & downs in life, there are always moments where some vayus are weaker than others, and when this happens, we may notice the functions being affected.
To work on strengthening our vayus, one of the tools available in yoga therapy are hasta mudras - symbolic hand gestures that bring their own unique effects to the body and mind - and each vayu has a mudra that nurtures it.
Prana Mudra activates & enhances the flow of prana vayu, which supports the cardio-respiratory system. The mudra helps to increase breath capacity, especially with inhalation, cultivating vitality, energy & enthusiasm.
1. Come to a cross-legged seat; breath from the nose & take a moment to observe your natural breath.
2. Rest hands on knees with palms facing up.
3. Curl 4th & 5th fingers in & place thumb over their tips.
4. Extend the 2nd & 3rd finger into a V-shape
5. Notice any changes to your breath or sensations in the body with this mudra.
6. Does the inhalation feel smoother or bigger?
7. To increase the energy of this mudra - keep the gesture but take the hands out to the side of the body.
Story & recipe of masala chai
If you’ve visited India, you’d have come across Masala Chai teas. From fancy restaurants to the ‘chai wallahs’ aka tea vendors walking round with their flasks peddling to commuters... chai tea permeates all moments & all situations, & I love that something so delicious is equally available & accessible to the rich as well as the less privileged to enjoy.
The history of chai is debated & there’s several versions, one of which is that it’s an Ayurvedic drink that was developed by Indian royalty centuries ago to aid mild ailments.
Tea wasn’t even a part of the ingredient until the 1900s when the British owned Indian Tea Association promoted the drinking of tea to India. However, tea leaves were incredibly expensive so to keep costs down, vendors combined it with sugar, spices & milk to keep it flavourful.
Development of mass industry in the 60s brought along the Crush, Tear, Curl (CTC) production of tea leaves, which made tea a much more affordable ingredient, as a result, chai began to grow in popularity amongst them masses.
While there are certain staple ingredients, every family & food joint likely has their way of concocting their version of chai while staying faithful to the sweet, milky tea flavour with varying degree of heat & spice. I’ve tried to make quick versions of chai but I’ve found that it’s most delicious & flavoursome when boiled & simmered for a short period so the spices are infused with the milky tea.
2. Lower the heat & simmer for a few minutes until you start to catch a scent of the spices
3. Add the milk & sugar, bring the concoction to boil but once it starts boiling, take it down to simmer again
4. This time, let it simmer for longer (10-15 mins), stirring it occasionally to allow the flavours to infuse
You’d began to notice the scent of the spices becoming more pronounced
A skin will form - just stirred it away, otherwise it can be filtered out later
5. Taste - perhaps you want it sweeter/spicier/more milky/stronger tea - adjust to your liking
If you’ve added some ingredients, let it simmer a bit more
6. Strain the solids (if required) & serve the beverage hot
To put it quite simply, breathing keeps us alive, it’s a function that the body performs instinctively, yet in this discipline, we are encouraged to cultivate greater awareness for the system through breath-work. Why is that?
The practice of breath in yoga is known as Pranayama. Prana = life force & Yama = control, however Ayama can be translated as ‘to extend’, so some would consider it as the practice of breath control or the practice of extending the breath.
Yoga consolidates the practice of body, breath & mind through Asana, Pranayama & Meditation. Yet what I find oddest is the amount of yoga teachers who turn to a completely different method for their breath practice. Pranayama has not only existed for longer, the range of techniques is extensive & each one offers a different type of support; naturally there’s one that complement Asana practices.
In yoga therapy, we study a person’s breath to evaluate how it’s affecting his/her Prana Vayus, which would be the ‘currents’ of life force energy that run throughout our bodies.
There are 5 x Vayus, with each one governing an area of the body whilst maintaining a specific set of functions -
Salabhasana & The lower back
The lower back’s often forgotten when strengthening the core muscles, quite simply because, it’s seldom within our view & there aren’t obvious visual results to motivate a person to put effort in the area.
But many of us have probably experienced some form of lower back ache, perhaps for sitting too long or leaning over for a period... and these pains can be debilitating and frustrating.
At those moments, the body feels like it’s crying for a massage. Stretching may bring relief indeed but it’s often temporary. When we put ourselves in that position again, these aches return.
So what can we do to help?
1. Become more aware of our posture! How we hold ourselves & notice the positions that tend to aggravate & take preventive measures.
2. Strengthen the area!! This may seem obvious but it’s rarely the solution a person thinks of. Use muscular support to alleviate some of the load on the lower back. I come across so many people who have no lack of ideas on how to strengthen their frontal abdominals but when I ask them what they do for their lower backs, I get a blank stare. It’s telling if they even exercise the area.
Salabhasana is a relatively accessible pose for most as you’re only working against your body weight.
1. Start by lying on the front with legs extended
2. There are several options for the arms...
- arms by the side of body
- arms extended to the front
- arms by the side of head (as pictured)
3. There are several options for the legs too but the common ones are...
- feet together
- feet hip width apart
4. Different placements have different effects on the body
5. Inhale > engage core & lift knees, chest, shoulders, elbows & palms
6. Exhale > lower back down
*the tendency is to pull up from the neck to lift as it feels like we’re going higher; relax the neck & focus on lifting from the chest
**the higher you lift ≠ the stronger the pose. At some point, you’re impinging on the back; instead a slight lift & lengthening in opposite directions (refer to arrows in photo) will activate the muscles across the back sufficiently
Hongyi the yogi
Full-time yoga teacher & trainee yoga therapist in London. Eager to share, eager to learn!