Pranayama and Relaxation - A Brief Explanation

The study and practice of pranayama is an essential and important factor in developing a sustained hatha yoga practice. (Prana means the life force, and yama means discipline.) If you are interested in pursuing the full and dynamic investigation into pranayama, then it is suggested that you read Light on Pranayama by B. K. S Iyengar. For pranayama to be utilized by those of us with multiple sclerosis,Mr. Iyengar recommends that only four of the pranayama disciplines be used.
Some cautions and suggestions that should be mentioned: Bowels and bladder should be empty. It is best if the stomach is empty, but a cup of milk tea or cocoa may be ingested. Allow at least 6 hours after a meal; a light meal can be taken after the practice.

The practice should be done in a clean and airy place that is as quiet as possible.

The best results from pranayama will be achieved when a steady and regular practice is performed at the same time of day, if possible. The best time is early in the morning or late afternoon.

If a class session is the only time to practice, then the instructor will create the best possible atmosphere. The classic posture is sitting with folded legs in various positions. If you have a limited ability to maintain an erect posture, Mr. Iyengar suggests that the prone position be used.

It is also suggested that if a wheelchair or chair is necessary, that a rolled sticky mat or blanket be placed parallel to the seat of the chair, behind the shoulder blades, to help open the chest.

There should be no strain in the face, eyes, ears, neck, shoulders, arms, thighs, or feet. Please note that a strap is used around the thighs to release tension. Rolled sticky mats can also be used, by placing them parallel and tightly against the legs to help maintain relaxed legs and feet.

The nervous system of MS students has a tendency to become overheated due to the stress of everyday life. Pranayama is an effective tool to reduce this overheating. Trembling and perspiration will occur when beginning this practice. It will disappear after a short period of time.

The head normally hangs down, with the chin near the raised chest. Some of us with MS have a condition known as L’hermitte’s syndrome. In order to avoid any possibility of it occurring, permit the head to drop only a short distance. Draw up the mastoid bone behind the ears, and concentrate on bringing the eyes down into the cheek bones. This will create the same effect as pressing the chin toward the chest.

Allow the tongue to rest away from the top and bottom palates and the throat and neck to be relaxed and soft. Keeping the breath even will lead to healthy nerves and an evenness of mind and temper. Do not force the breath or harden the body. If the practice is harsh and aggressive, the respiration process and the nervous system will be adversely affected.

Allow the hands to rest on the thighs if sitting, and on the fl oor with the palms up and the fingers completely relaxed if in a prone position. (The hand position known as Janu Mudra, which is the tip of the thumb touching the tip of the index finger, and the description of the chakras, is not dealt with in this article. That material is best investigated under the personal guidance of an experienced certified instructor.)

When it is no longer possible to concentrate on the breath and keep the pace of the breathing smooth, then stop. It is not recommended that you continue the practice of the breath when it is no longer positive and comfortable. In the beginning, your practice may only last 5 minutes. That’s all right. The next day start again. You may then be able to practice only a few minutes more. Do not be discouraged. It will take time and practice to develop the ability to maintain and accomplish the full practice.

Regardless of the apparent lack of progress, you are moving forward. Mr. Iyengar has often said that the practice of yoga is like a fine meal. If you eat quickly and gorge on the food, you miss out on the subtleties and nuances of the experience.

If instead you take small bites and savor the different flavors and textures, the experience becomes memorable. Yoga is absorbed into the consciousness in tiny increments, penetrating into the infinite structures of the body, becoming part and parcel of the whole being.

After performing your pranayama practice, lie or sit in Savasana. Spend at least 5 minutes allowing the mind to become very quiet and the body to be completely relaxed.

As a result of the Savasana, the body and the mind are refreshed. With these suggestions it is hoped that you will experience the wonder and enjoyment of this part of your hatha yoga practice.

Remember, for best results the one-on-one instruction and guidance of a qualified teacher is invaluable.

Marichyasana Variation Grandfather of the Sun Pose - Floor Series

1. Start by sitting in Dandasana, with 1 or 2 folded blankets, depending on height,under the buttocks.
2. Lift the chest and side ribs, and press the heels away from the hips. Place blocks under the left knee and under the left heel and a folded blanket or block behind the right buttock against the wall.

3. With an exhalation, flex the right knee. Use the right hand on the inside of the right knee to draw the leg back, resting the heel against the blankets and under the knee. Inhale and raise the left hand in the air parallel to the left ear.

4. On an exhalation, begin to turn the navel to the right, moving the left elbow toward the right knee.

5. Hook the inside of the elbow around the right knee. Extend the palms and fingers parallel to the chest.

6. Keep the nose in line with the heart and the back of the head in line with the left hip.

7. Place your right hand on the block to bring both shoulders away from the ears.

8. The right ribs move back, coordinating with the left ribs moving forward.
This movement strengthens and tones the mid back and abdominal muscles. If possible stand into the right foot and press the right hip forward to avoid any strain on the sacrum.

9. Breathe evenly, directing the breath into the right lung.

10. Please note that the height and placement of the blocks under the left leg may vary according to the length of the legs.

11. It is also recommended not to turn the head or neck in this asana because there is always the possibility that plaques could be present in the cervical spine. Any unwarranted pressure in this area could be detrimental to the student.

This picture illustrates the asana to the left, with the right leg supported. It is important that the back waist be lifted. The area between the lower ribs and the top of the pelvis should be even on both sides. The right arm extends from the center of the right shoulder blade to the elbow. The shoulder blades are parallel to the chest.

BENEFITS

This asana is recommended after Sarvangasana and before any forward bending postures. It reduces backache and discomfort in the hips. Lumbar mobility is increased. This stimulation of the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and digestive and elimination systems is dynamic and essential.
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