āsana lab: hot yoga’s prāṇayāma

You may notice that triyoga’s Āsana Labs are using diacritical markings, or the glyphs that you see added above or below letters that determine pronunciation. This isn’t normally triyoga’s style but we feel that the Āsana Lab is an important place to hew closely to the traditions of yoga, which include the full and proper use of Sanskrit, a fascinating language that is around 6,000 years old. 

Attention to the breath is a foundation of most yoga classes. Prāṇayāma, or working with the breath, along with meditation is equally as important as āsana, the physical poses, in the yogi’s path to enlightenment or, if that sounds a bit lofty, to feeling more calm and grounded.  In triyoga’s Tapasya hot classes the six rounds of the dynamic opening prāṇayāma is an integral part of this fixed sequence and sets the tone physically, energetically and spiritually for this popular class.

The mechanics of the pose are simple enough. Standing at the top of the mat in tāḍāsana (mountain pose), feet planted firmly on the ground hip width apart or closer, arms down by ones sides, spine straight and shoulders relaxed, there is a sense of arriving, settling and surrendering.

For a count of six, inhale through the nose and slowly yet steadily spread your arms out like wings and sweep them up above our head, reaching for the sky, palms touching at the top of the in-breath. Exhaling for six counts with the mouth open, draw the palms down the central line of the body past the face, the heart and at the diaphragm. Separate the palms and release the hands and arms to the sides of the body where we began.

Though this prāṇayāma sounds simple, the effects are profound. I like to instruct the first of the six rounds establishing the breath count. By linking movement to breath, our attention diverts away from the thinking, planning, calculating brain to the calm that exists at our core.

Our heart rate slows. We relax. A backdrop for healing and growth is created.  Mindfulness is all the rage these days and there is no more efficient way of becoming present than by paying attention to the breath.

In the second round I like to add the layer of body mechanics to the prāṇayāma , specifically the principle of rooting down in order to rise up.  Using the action of pressing the feet down on to the mat, we can initiate a rebounding action that elongates the sides of the body and the spine, creating more physical space for the muscular and skeletal systems as well as the internal organs, especially the lungs.

The third round continues to experiment with moving through space by bringing attention to the arms expanding outwards and upwards, tapping into our subtle body, our aura that transcends the perceived limits of our physical body. We sweep space and energy up and expand on the inhale. We ground, centre and draw the energy back in on the exhale.

The remaining three rounds are an invitation to integrate and reinforce all components of this powerful opening practice with fluidity and grace.

A teacher of mine once said, “A flock of birds flies more powerfully than a single one.”  A class full of students inhaling, moving and exhaling together is a unifying force that allows us to practice putting our higher selves into action. The Tapasya hot practice thrives on community moving together and the opening prāṇayāma is its linchpin.

Prāṇa in Sanskrit means life force. Our yoga practice is about giving vitality into our life. The opening prāṇayāma in the hot class calms us down, detoxifies and brings about a sustained energy.  With one’s life force re-energized and re-centred, we are more ready than ever to take on the world or at the very least the rest of the class with determination, connectedness and ease.

Join Alex for hot yoga classes in Shoreditch on Mondays and Fridays at 7:15am. Click here to book now and find out more.

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