The elements of nature. Upon further study and contemplation, I found not only are all aspects of our life created from the basic material elements of the birth of our home, the earth but aspects of our own nature and mind are made up of the qualities of these natural elements. These are called the gunas (with a little "g") in Ayurvedic study. Gunas are the characteristics of the 5 elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth). For example, air is dry, cool, windy, mobile and rough. Water is mobile, steady, soft, dense, liquid.
Upon waking, it may be useful to check in with your physical body and notice how it feels. Does it feel dull, heavy today or is there a sharpness to it or maybe it feels completely light. And then as you set your intention for the day, you could include an intention to balance those qualities in your body. If you are feeling that dull, heaviness in your body possibly inertia, maybe you can add a brisk walk or energetic breath to move the sluggishness. Or what if your thoughts are racing and your body feels cold with air like qualities, add as your intention some grounding activities like restorative yoga or nuturing your body with oil massage (abhyanga in Ayurveda).
These gunas can assist in seeing where your imbalances are and provide a starting point for balancing practices.
Journaling Exercise: take 5 minutes to sit comfortably, close your eyes and observe your physical body. Open the eyes and write in your journal the qualities or characteristics that you feel in your body along the lines of those qualities found in the 5 elements. Are your daily activities increasing those qualities or supporting your balance? Try this for the mind. What qualities are present in your thoughts? What activities in your life are adding to these qualities (i.e. feeling stressed (spacey, air element), what is adding to this stress?
After journaling, take a few more moments to breath evenly and deeply to let any observations go. For more information on the gunas, please go to https://www.dharmainc.org/teachings/view-teaching/twenty-gunas-qualities.
Alternate Nostril Breath for Meditation (Nadi Shodhana)
This breath invites the calm in, balancing both sides of our nasal passages and our brain. We tend to breath predominately with either the left or right nasal passage and we become unbalanced. A few minutes at the start of a class or practice, can merge the two hemispheres of the brain and allow you to become more receptive.
Breathing through the right or left nostrils gives different effects.
increases heart rate, increases verbal performance, stimulates left brain, increases rate of blinking
Left Nostril decreases heart rate, increases spatial performance, stimulates right brain, reduces rate of blinking,
The Practice: Find a comfortable seat or laying down. Using the right hand, bring the middle and index fingers to rest toward the palm. Alternatively, they can be placed at your third eye (forehead area). Begin with even breaths through both nostrils, gently close off right nostril, then inhale through left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Gently close off left nostril, as you inhale through right and exhale through left. Keep the same count for both sides. That is one round. Repeat for 5 to 6 rounds or more. Tongue comes to rest on roof of mouth.
Other variations of this breath are:
Mental Nadi Shodhana. Mentally instruct the breath to come in and out through alternating nostrils. Can even visualize breathing in from one far away place and breathing out to another far away place (Mt. Everest (Inhale), African plains (Exhale)
- Retaining the breath after the inhale while keeping both nostrils gently closed.
- Extending the exhale longer than inhale
- Cessation of breath after the exhale, with only one nostril closed
Reclined Bound Angle (grounding)
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems.
Props: 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth and eye pillow
Supported Bridge (adding energy, vitalization)
This version is lower than a Reclined Bound Angle on a bolster which is perfect for a day that you need to open the chest but need a bit more grounding. Place 2 to 3 (based on back comfort) blankets folded long on top of each other. Unfold a blanket completely and from the longest end, make a roll. It may resemble a long snake. Sit at the end of the stacked blankets so that your low back is on the support and hips on the floor, smooth side and place the middle of your blanket roll over your feet. Tuck the end of the rolled up blanket under your legs and hips. Keep the hands on the blanket as you recline over the stacked blankets to pull the feet in closer to the pelvis. Ensure that you have enough support under the legs and hips so that you are not holding them up. Get comfortable with the stacked supports and add or take away any blankets. Add your eye pillow and relax your arms by your side. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.
Props: 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow, can also use bolster for more stretch
Extras: blanket for warmth
Benefits: Expands the chest muscles, opens the lungs, balances the glands, quiets the nerves and releases tension in the nervous system, increases oxygen intake to the brain, can stimulate the immune system (thyroid)
Revolved Abdominal Twist (grounding)
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift butt and slide the stack of 2 or 4 blankets under the base of your spine. Find a comfortable position, then let the upper back release on the floor. Arms are relaxed at sides or resting on belly. Feel chest and belly rise with each breath. Roll gently to one side when done and inhale up to seated.
Props: bolster, 3 blankets, 1 extra blanket for warmth and or laying on lower back to ground
Benefits: Gentle twist for the spine (quadratus lumborom) Releases stress on the back muscles and a stretch to the intercostal muscles. As muscles relax, breathing is enhanced.
Set one bolster lengthwise on your mat. Depending upon your comfort, height can be elevated with blocks under bolster. Lay one blanket on top double-fold and one double-fold at end of bolster where your right hip will go. Sit next to bolster with your right hip touching it, bend knees, left or top ankle can lay in arch of right foot or other comfortable position for feet. For added comfort, place blanket between legs. Lengthen body over bolster, laying bent legs in one directions and upper body facing down on bolster. Arms drape down sides of the bolster.
Labels: Alternate Nostril Breathing, Bridge Pose, Reclined Bound Angle, Revolved Abdominal Twist