Ujjayi Pranayama and Hatha Yoga Practice: From Overheating to Effortless Effort

yoga-chakras

(Continued from last week’s post)

THE PRACTICE OF UJJAYI PRANAYAMA

In order to practice ujjayi, a subtle shift takes place in the movement of air-flow, which creates a flowing ocean-like sound. However, too often I have seen an attachment to using this breath create deeper tension in both the physical and energy systems of the practitioner, rather than burning up the ego’s sense of separate self-importance. Aspiring yogis may tend to “manufacture” ujjayi, which creates tension and defeats the purpose of its energetic flow. I have spent a lot of time with students and teachers in yoga sessions undoing a block that is created in the physical and energy body from this type of effortful practice.

Effort of any kind requires a certain willpower. But where does this willpower come from? Does it arise from our effortless interconnection with nature? Does is come from our idea of what yoga is? Where are we trying to get to in applying it? If this moment contains all we need to fully realize the oneness of all that is, then any use of wanting to get somewhere else arises from a disconnected state that will only perpetuate more of the same. When practicing Hatha yoga of any kind, we need to cultivate witness consciousness, that is, witnessing the arising of effortless action – the very force of life itself – as it moves through our body/being.

From my experience, ujjayi occurs naturally as energy begins to effortlessly move through a Hatha yoga practice. After all, the physical poses in Hatha yoga known as “asana” are meant to do just that – move energy. So ujjayi will begin to occur as the practice evolves. When we “try” to get to something “out there”, we come from a place of disconnection, create wanting, which only creates further disconnection, which is neither the foundation of happiness nor of a healthy yoga practice.

While ujjayi may be commonly described by teachers as a constriction applied at the back of the throat, I have found conversely that the ujjayi breath is not an expression of any tension or constriction whatsoever, but is an effortless arising. It is expressed as a yawn-like opening through the soft palate and throat, rather than the application of tension to create a glottal closing. When ujjayi breathing is naturally flowing, the back of the throat and neck are broad and neutral, making the breath both spacious and focused. With a broad soft palate, the breath moves effortlessly in and out of the nose.

Ujjayi breath encourages the movement of energy spontaneously and naturally from the yogi’s root center to the crown. The ujjayi breath is a full body energetic experience that passes through the sushumna, that is, the central channel of energy that runs through the spine. If the energy of the sushsuma is not yet cleared, flowing and awakened, the heat of an effortful or applied ujjayi breath centers around the neck and base of the brain, overheating the reptilian centers of the brain, creating more wanting, ego-driven willpower and physical attachment. From my experience, it defeats the purpose of the practice.

I discourage teaching ujjayi in classes for a few reasons:

–      Most people are not yet experiencing a fluid energy through the sushumna

–      It is a practice that requires effortless effort, which in itself is a meditation that is easily misunderstood

–      If done incorrectly, it overheats the practitioner’s physical and energetic systems, creating energetic disturbances, which in turn, generate greater attachments

–      It will arise naturally, through proper practice and instruction, when the body/being is ready

 

Just like one simply witnesses a flower blooming, so too I do not “apply” ujjayi, but allow for it to arise, should it do so. I also do not willfully maintain it once a spontaneous expression of it shifts. I allow my body/being to show me in the next breath what IS, rather than what “I want” it to be. To me, this is central to the practice of yoga.

I find the best way towards a deeper yoga practice is to encourage the release of tension in the jaw, neck, throat and soft palate at first through yawning, so that eventually the ujjayi may naturally arise. Like opening up a bottleneck, I encourage the broadening of the throat through various awareness exercises aiding the sushumna to eventually clear and rise.

I find that focusing on releasing and opening alone encourages a deeper energetic experience. Simply helping people get into their bodies through mindful breathing, broadening and releasing is so powerful, as so many of us, in our technological, virtual world, seem to float above our innate and super potent connection with Nature. Let’s arrive into the present and let Nature show us the way. Is this not the directive of Hatha yoga?

May we learn to practice asana through a witness state, without imposing any agenda on that natural unfolding of the body/being. In so doing, may we learn to unveil our extraordinary interconnection with nature, which supports and nurtures us unconditionally.

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WHY YOGA IN THE NIGHTCLUB

I am often asked what inspired me to bring yogic expression into the club scene. I answer easily. Yoga In the Nightclub is a natural expression of who I am as a musical artist and dedicated yogini. Yoga is not a physical practice but a way of life. It is about learning to be present in all one does, to see the divine here, now, in this moment. As such, yoga is everywhere. It is about feeling connected to something much greater than our limited ego or will. It is about being in service to life, feeling interconnected to that very life force. Yoga In The Nightclub is a celebration of life and a reminder that we can find awakened presence everywhere.

Yoga in the West is mostly known as a series of bendy physical exercises. Yet there is much more to it than fitness. Yoga’s systematic breath and body exercises, designed to clear the subtle channels in our energy system, prepare us for meditation, through which we may experience a life inspired by our interconnected, multidimensional true nature. Our body, that once was seen as “mine”, is no longer our identity, but a gift on loan from the divine. We care for it, but we are not attached to it. The practice of yoga offers us the opportunity to experience the transmutation of matter into pure light, embody the multidimensional and rest in the eternal.

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WE ARE ALL CONNECTED

Hatha yoga, the physical practice of yoga, is just one of many aspects of yoga, which range from selfless service to astrology and prayer. The Sanskrit word “yoga” most simply translates to “union”, implying that the practice of any yoga will bring together our perceived sense of separateness. As a whole, yoga is an ancient science of life. It is a practical method of shedding excess and bringing us back from the self-delusion of separation from the divine so that we may realize our inherent interconnection to and ultimate oneness with it.

As we begin to understand that yoga is everywhere, we come to see how we are all connected in vast ways far beyond the limitations of our personal will and ego. What I do affects you, and vice versa. We are one earth family. At the heart of it all, we share the same heartbeat. Breathe to be. We are one.

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AWAKENED LIVING

When we are open, life blossoms, just as a flower opens to welcome the morning sun.  We see that the sun, though it is millions of light years away, has a tender yet powerful relationship with the flower, as do the rain and the clouds. From this perspective we see that we are part of the whole. Life is a symphonic masterpiece with which, when we are open, we are completely resonant.

As we come to understand our oneness, we can revel in it with wonder and joy. We can consider in awe how immense it all is. We can let go of the idea that an illusory, isolated sense of self could possibly be in control, and open to an exquisite unfolding of life in absolute perfection. Our actions become not about “me” but about the whole. Each moment is integrated within the whole. No one decision is separate.

When we begin to see that each decision we make affects not just ourselves but everyone and everything on the planet, we act with more compassion. When we have more compassion, we realize the impact of our actions and we naturally want less and practice more kindness. As stewards of the Earth, we each are called to learn to live in harmony with ourselves, each other and our planet. We all breathe the same air and live on the same living organism, our planet. Varied in race and creed, we are all one family, children of the same mother, the planet Earth.

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THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GRACE

In each moment, there is infinite grace. By becoming more conscious as we practice yoga on the mat, at work, at play or in the nightclub, we let go of the unnecessary and develop greater internal spaciousness which blooms throughout our lives. In this space new life and possibilities arise.

As we rest our awareness on the simple purity and grace of the breath, we realize - we are alive! We let go of wanting things from the future and the past and open to what is here and now. We feel as vast as the sky and rooted in the richness of this moment.

When we “breathe to be”, we understand our interconnection. We see that we are not the doers but a part of the whole, the same energy that is in the flowers and in the stars. We know that our essence is divine - from which we have come, to which we return.

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Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha
Gone, gone beyond. Oh what awakening!
Gone, gone beyond. Swaha!

I am light, dancing in delight!
I am light, dancing through the night!
I am light, in delight!
I am light, dancing through the night!

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha
I am the light, liquid gold light
I am in delight! Swaha!

I am light, dancing in delight!
I am light, dancing through the night!
I am light, in delight!
I am light, dancing through the night!

I am the light (gate gate), liquid gold light (paragate)
I am in delight (gate gate) transforming the night (paragate)

Gone, gone beyond (gate gate)! Oh what awakening! (paragate) (I am)
Gone, gone beyond (gate gate)! Swaha!

I am light, dancing in delight
I am light, dancing through the night
I am light, in delight
I am light, dancing through the night

I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light (gate gate)
I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light (paragate)
I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light
I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light, I am light

I am light!

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