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Bhramari, also known as buzzing or humming breath is a wonderful, soothing pranayama practice. Bhramari is a Sanskrit word derived from bhramar, which means “humming black bee.”
By generating a soft buzz or hum we elongate the exhalation. By now you will know that elongating the exhalation puts our bodies into parasympathetic nervous system dominance; meaning we are able to rest and digest and feel calm.
How to practice
Sit comfortably with your spine elongated. When first practicing bhramari, making an actual buzzing sound helps; 'bzzz'. You might then try softening the buzz into a hum by gently closing the lips half way along the buzzing breath so that they are softly resting together but with a space between the teeth. This gives you the impression of how the hum can be created in your final practice by keeping a space between the teeth, the jaw relaxed and the lips lightly touching. Try to control the exhalation; maintaining a steady, smooth, even and continuous sound and energy. Each inhalation should be taken slowly and steadily between rounds rather than being sucked in.
You can play with the pitch and volume. My preference is for a deep sound in which I find the vibrational quality is enhanced, whilst a higher pitch takes the vibration into the skull but for some reason offends my ear! We are all different, so have a play and see what you prefer. You can even practice silently by imagining that you are creating the hum.
This beautiful practice can be done using hand mudras or gestures. The bhramara mudra requires one to fold the index finger into the base of the thumb and to rest the tip of the thumb onto the edge of the middle finger nail. In this mudra, that hands can be rested on the belly and the base of the throat or chest which can enable one to feel the vibrational quality of the breath.
A second mudra suggests placing the index fingers in the ears; lightly closing the cartilaginous flap at the base of the ear, rather than inserting them into the actual ear canal. The thumbs can rest against the lower jaw and the elbows rest downwards for comfort. This shuts out sounds from outside of ourselves. It deepens the sound within and really enhances the vibration in the head. This mudra can cultivate a deeply relaxing and comforting practice.
A third position is called Shanmukhi mudra and is used to reduce sensory input. This can be challenging and less comfortable, particularly if you feel vulnerable in any way. The thumbs are pressing the cartilaginous flap in the ears this time, the eyes are closed with the index finger resting on the upper orbit of the eye and the middle finger on the lower orbit (the orbit referring to the orbital bone surrounding the eye). The ring fingers rest between the nose and the top lip and the little fingers under the lower lip.
As practicing bhramari shifts the autonomic nervous system into parasympathetic dominance, the practice reduces stress, anxiety and anxious depression in particular. The sound helps to shut out mental stimulation, switching off the ruminating mind. A lower pitch can be more calming or a silent practice that can be done at any time; even on your commute to work or in the office when you are feeling stressed!
When the sinuses are blocked, the vibrations from bhramari help to clear the head. It can help to create a higher pitched sound for this.
If suffering from insomnia, practicing at night using shanmukhi mudra and a lower pitch can be useful.
Whilst there is no scientific evidence, bhramari is thought to help stimulate the thyroid especially if practiced in conjunction with jalandhara bhanda (throat lock) as this directs the vibrations to the throat. Try a medium pitched sound.
During pregnancy, Bhramari can be a wonderfully soothing breath. One client I had practiced often during her pregnancy so that when her baby was born, she could use it to sooth the baby; no doubt because the baby had also benefited from the vibrations within the womb.
When practicing a particularly challenging stretch, bhramari can help to relax the body and therefore soften the stretch. I find it particularly beneficial during king pigeon but it is not advisable to practice bhramari when lying on your back.
If this is your first exploration of Bhramari, I recommed 5 to 10 rounds initially, building this up to 10 to 15 minutes per day; particularly if you wish to use it to good effect. Have a play and enjoy!
NATURA APIS by J.R.R. Tolkein
The night is still young and our drinks are yet long,
The fire's burning bright and here brave is the throng,
So now I will sing you a sooth little song
Of the busy brown bee - with a ding and a dong.
I am amazed at the number of people who come from other yoga classes and have never even heard the word Ujjayi let alone practiced this ultimate yoga pranayama.
Ujjayi means Victorious Breath and here's why you should use it throughout your yoga class:
1) Slow the breath down. By tightening the larynx in the throat we restrict airflow. This has the effect of slowing the rate at which we breathe and gives us greater control over our breath. By changing the way we breathe, we can potentially change the way we feel. Slowing down the exhalation makes us feel calmer and more relaxed.
2) Breathe into the belly. You may recall that when we are stressed, we tend to pull the breath into the chest and breathe rapidly. This gives the brain the message that we are under threat, that we need to escape the stressor and therefore the body enters the stress response. Slow the breath down and we can enable the breath to move downwards into the belly, suggesting to the brain that we are at rest and can relax. Belly breathing utilises the diaphragm rather than the chest, the main respiratory muscle.
3) Greater control over how and where we breathe. By slowing the breath down, we can direct the breath to specific areas of the body where there may be tension for instance. We can literally learn to breathe the tension away!
4) Heightening self awareness. Slowing the rate of breathing slows the rate at which we move. Because we use Ujjayi throughout our asana practice and move with the breath, we move more slowly than usual. This heightens our self awareness. It teaches us more about how we move so that we can make changes and improve our posture.
5) Relax. Using Ujjayi, the body enters the relaxation response more quickly. This is because restricting the airflow is thought to 'tone' the Vagus nerve that acts as a brake on the heart, increasing parasympathetic activity such as digestion.
Ujjayi breathing is particularly beneficial for High Blood Pressure, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other digestive complaints and in dealing with stress, anxiety or depression depending on the ratio of inhalation to exhalation. Please seek professional help if you suffer from any of these conditions before practicing Ujjayi on your own.
Put your hand in front of your mouth. With your mouth open, make a Haa sound as if huffing up a piece of glass to clean it. The more slowly you can let the sound leave your mouth, the easier this will be. Now try closing your mouth half way along the breath so that you continue to make the Haa sound from your throat. Finally try making the Haa sound with your mouth closed. It is almost as though your are breathing directly out of your throat; pushing the air through a small space as gently as if you were blowing onto a baby's face.
It is usually easier to begin with the exhalation alone and to only try Ujjayi on the inhalation when you understand the practice.
Recently I achieved Level 1 in Mindulness with the Clear Mind Institute (CMI). This gives me the title of a Mindfulness Yoga Teacher which enables me to integrate some of the practices into my yoga classes. In January 2017 I will be offering a Therapeutic Yoga class which will do just that. We will include mindful movement, breathing practices and formal mindfulness practices.
What's mindful movement I hear you ask? Well it's yoga but with really focused attention on the sensations of movement. We slow things down to notice. Mindful movement included in the Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR) course is based on research; the movements practiced are considered safe for all. However in the therapeutic yoga class we will include other movements as this is not a short course but an ongoing lesson.
I personally have been practicing mindfulness now for three years. I began with a Mindful Living course based on the MBSR course. I then practiced during the Yoga Therapy for the Mind training after which I found an online course through www.soundstrue.com. This amazing course with the fabulous Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield took me to a new level of practice. It was the first time this course had been run. We had online mentoring in groups which opened my mind to ways of communicating with my yoga therapy clients.
I found the formal sitting practices immensely challenging. When I first began yoga I was unable to sit for pranayama without feeling threatened and panicky. So the steady movement of yoga helped me immensely. In my yoga practice it is possible to slow things down so much that one develops such self awareness moment by moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn's famous definition of mindfulness is “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Well yoga certainly offered the opportunity to do just that. However looking back, I didn't experience the same sense of calm and serenity, the change in my being or my behaviour that formal practice did.
I wanted to continue along the mindfulness path and delve deeper, so this year I undertook the first British Wheel of Yoga Mindfulness Module with Cathy-Mae Karelse of CMI followed by a conversion course to Level 1. I now practice nearly every day and feel enormous benefits from it. My mind has slowed down. I am able to pause before reacting (well most of the time; there are always some people who know how to press my buttons but I am getting better at pausing even with them). I am so much better at taking care of my needs. And I have many more moments in my day when I just notice.
The hardest thing for me along this journey has been finding a regular time to practice. I initially practiced straight after lunch but found it too easy to say 'Nah, I'm too busy'. At the moment I practice as soon as I wake up. I sleep in a pretty cold room so I don't feel like getting out of bed. Sometimes I fall back to sleep, I probably needed to and I will try to fit a shorter practice in during the day. But often I don't and I get up feeling better prepared for the day ahead.
I plan to continue training with CMI.
Research on mindfulness-based interventions is growing and now includes neuroimaging studies and more sophisticated research designs.
- Reductions in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, stress and pain.
- Increased immunological response, reduced blood pressure and cortisol.
- Increased psychological well-being and enhanced cognitive functioning.
(Halzel, Lazar et al, 2011)
I don't know about you, but I always feel better after a walk in the countryside, both physically and mentally; particularly when surrounded by such stunning colours as we have been blessed with this autumn. This was one of the reasons why I chose to situate my studio amongst nature.
Birchwood Yoga studio is nestled into a copse from where it has a beautiful view of trees and flowers changing with the seasons and a multitude of wildlife that comes and goes. During the day the birdsong is delightful and at night we are often serenaded by tawny owls. I was interested to read in this article that much research has been carried out to discover whether there is any scientific basis for the sense of wellbeing that nature offers us and was delighted to discover that there is! Practicing yoga at Birchwood Yoga studio may be better for your mental health than you realised!