Greetings from magical Kapsali bay on the island of Aphrodite. We’re practicing yoga under Kythera skies, with the warming sun of the morning to encourage our Asthanga and the sea breeze of the afternoon to cheer on our Pranayama. Of all the wonderful questions I got this week, here’s the one I always enjoy. It came after our first Pranayama practice: “Why do we do Ujjayi breathing... or any breathing exercises”. Hundreds of responses polka about in my brain but the question was about the panic of holding the breath. Breath is called ‘Prana’ in yoga. This translates as ‘life force’. Without it, we die, and breath retention is a petite threat to our lives. Good reason to panic!
Yoga gives us the rare opportunity to increase the capacity of the lungs and give the respiratory muscles a good workout. Did you know that in normal life we only use around a 1/3rd of the capacity of our lungs – top-of-the-lungs-breathing? The average human lung capacity is about 6 litres of air but the majority of the breathing we do is shallow breathing. That’s ok, we can’t Ujjayi all day, but it’s like sitting on the sofa for the lungs! They need exercise. Shallow breathing may also be caused by poor posture, stiff muscles or inactivity and those things, in turn, lead to shallow breathing and general sluggishness. Deep breathing exercises also clean out the stagnant air in the parts of the lungs we don’t use.
The explanation I like best, though, is in the Hindu belief that we are born with a set amount of breaths. We can increase our longevity by using those breaths wisely. It makes sense! If we are always in stressful situations with panicky breathing, stress stays in the body, infects the brain and welcomes in illness. Stress kills! I found a lovely article about this where the writer points out: “The restless monkey breathes at the rate of 32 times per minute, in contrast to man’s average, 18 times. The elephant, tortoise, snake and other animals noted for their longevity have a respiratory rate which is less than man’s. The tortoise, for instance, who may attain the age of 300 years, breathes only 4 times per minute... The ever excitable dog breathes 40–50 times per minute and dies at 25.”
The ancient yogis observed these things and came to the conclusion that we need to be more tortoise-like! Can there be a better example of not panicking! If fear comes up for you in Pranayama practice, don’t follow the teacher’s instructions too closely. Give yourself room. Like everything in yoga practice, it will get better.
The next retreat I’m teaching is the Happiness and Wellbeing retreat in Devon run by Deborah Smith of Grow Your Own Happiness. Come along! After that, if you fancy coming to Kythera in the summer half term in May, let me know. I’m itching to come back!
Yoga in Ealing
Take a look at last week’s blog for some of teachers and classes in Ealing. Or perhaps you could try something else… a treatment for example. Nancy Crawford is an Ealing-based reflexologist who will come to your home to give a treatment. (I’ve written about reflexology here.) And there is a special discounted rate for Good Times Yoga Friday Email readers if booked this month: £30 instead of £40 which includes a free 20min consultation for the first treatment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info or to book an appointment.
Have you looked at the Om Yoga Show, 19th- 21st October 2018? I’m addicted to going every year and spending as much time there as possible. David Sye will be there. A class with him is the most positive, life-affirming thing you can do. See this description from last year.
Yoga in the news
It’s always good to see sportspeople make use of yoga to improve their performance. Watford’s football coach is leaving nothing to chance, the Telegraph tells us, and fining players if they don’t turn up for yoga: “If you don’t do yoga you get fined – which some of the lads aren’t happy about – but these are things to help us,” said one player. The Guardian this week writes that yoga in prisons cuts reoffending. The Mail Online will probably have some hapless celebrity heading to yoga or in a yoga position.