Health

Yoga and meditation: asana, mudra, pranayama and bandha – what is it?

Yoga is now a technique known all over the world, most of us have at least some basic knowledge of it, or have heard terms like asana, chakra or pranayama. Lesser known terms, however, remain mudra chibandha, and often pranayama is overlooked. This article focuses on a closer introduction to these techniques and their practical application in yoga practice.

Asana – Indian exercises with one’s own weight

Originally, the Sanskrit word asana referred only to a meditation sitting, but today it generally describes a body position that we adopt for a prolonged period of time and feel comfortable and relaxed in. Every single yoga posture should be stable and comfortable and should not be performed through pain.

Emphasis is placed on the technical correctness of the asanas (especially in the dynamic transitions in each posture). Attention should be paid to deep concentration, awareness of individual movements and breath.

Asanas are always performed in accordance with the breath.

Movements that expand the chest and abdominal cavity accompany the inhalation, and vice versa; movements that contract the chest and abdominal cavity accompany the exhalation. In the yoga practice, one progresses from simple exercises to more complex ones, and the endurance is gradually increased in each asana. Asanas should not exhaust the body, but charge it with vital energy and freshness. Regular practice of asanas positively affects not only the musculoskeletal system (muscles, joints) but also the internal organs and glands.

  • Increases spinal flexibility, improves joint mobility
  • Strengthens and stretches the skeletal and deep muscles
  • Stimulates and harmonizes the activity of organs and glands
  • Supports the lymphatic system
  • Improves resistance to illness and injury
  • Stabilizes blood pressure
  • Relieves tension and stress

Mudras – the 1st step to transcendental meditation

Individual asanas can be accompanied by mudras – gestures that go beyond the emotional and spiritual level. These are various hand and body positions that help direct the flow of vital energy (prana) from one part of the body to another. The starting positions for this advanced technique are lotus sit, Turkish sit, or heel sit.

  1. Nashikagra mudra – performed by looking at the tip of the nose, improves concentration
  2. Khechari mudra – bend the tongue so that the tip of the tongue touches the soft palate, feeling as if we want it to reach the nasal cavity. This technique stimulates the endocrine glands, especially the pituitary and hypothalamus.
  3. Akashi mudra – with the inhale, bow the head with the gaze fixed upwards, hold the breath for as long as is comfortable and with the exhale return the head to its natural position. This exercise stimulates the thyroid gland.
  4. Nasgar mudra (or Pranayama mudra) – Place the index and middle fingers of the right hand in the centre between the eyebrows. The thumb is placed on the right nostril and the ring finger and little finger on the left.
  5. Jnana mudra (Chin mudra) – Traditionally used in sitting meditation. It is a combination of the index finger and thumb, with the index finger under the thumb and the hands resting on the backs of the knees, palms facing up. This mudra calms and improves concentration.
  6. Adi mudra – performed by clenching the hands into a fist with the thumb placed in the palm and wrapped around the fingers, hands placed with the backs of the hands on the knees. It has a calming effect and helps to deepen the breath into the upper lobes of the lungs.

Bandha: Tibetan breathing techniques

Bandhav in Sanskrit means to lock, lock or block. When performing this technique, energy is held in a specific part of the body and then released, allowing it to flow more strongly throughout the body. As a rule, when performing this technique, the breath is held after inhaling or exhaling. This improves blood circulation, relieves stress and induces inner peace and harmony. All bandhas are based on the meditation sitting posture and are performed with the palms resting on the knees in a slight bend. Repeat the exercises 3-5 times with short breaks between each round, preferably on an empty stomach.

  1. Jalandharabandha – Take a deep breath and hold the breath then bend the head, press the chin firmly against the chest and bend slightly. Keep your hands resting on your knees and raise your shoulders slightly. Hold the breath for as long as you are comfortable, lift your head and with an exhale move to the starting position. The exercise supports and harmonises the thyroid gland, improves concentration and improves the ability to hold the breath for long periods of time
  2. Uddiyanabandha – After a full exhalation, hold the breath, rest your palms on your knees and bend slightly. Pull the abdominal muscles inwards into the abdominal cavity and upwards. Stay as long as comfortable and then relax again with a deep breath. This bandha stimulates the pancreas and adrenal glands, should be done on an empty stomach and should not be done when blood pressure is high.
  3. Mulabandha -Hold the breath after a deep inhalation and clench the muscles of the vaginal floor, rectum and perineum. Stay in muscle contraction and breath holding for as long as you are comfortable. With a long exhale, relax back into a sitting position. The exercise strengthens the pelvic floor, improves blood circulation in the pelvic area and counteracts hemorrhoids. Do not perform this bandha during menstruation.
  4. Mahabandha – This bandha combines all the previous bandhas. AFTER taking a deep breath, exhale completely and start with jalandharabandha, then add uddiyana bandha and finally mulabandha. Stay in the position as long as you are comfortable and with a deep breath return to the original position. The exercise stimulates the entire endocrine system, especially the pineal gland.
breathing
Photo: Freepik

Breathing exercises or pranayama

Pranayama is the art of breath control, in Sanskrit the word prana

means breath or cosmic energy and the word ayama means to control or regulate. The technique involves breathing through one or both nostrils and consists of inhalations, exhalations and breath pauses after inhalations and exhalations. It should be noted here that breath-holding is unsuitable for people suffering from cardiovascular and psychological diseases. Pranayama can be divided into three groups: activating, calming and harmonizing. Rhythmic, deep and slow breathing calms and stabilizes the mind. At the same time, pranayama deepens the breath, which frees us from the habit of today’s population of breathing very shallowly.

  • Full yoga breath

Starting position: lying on the back, arms relaxed along the body, palms facing upwards. The lumbar spine should touch the ground, so you can bend your legs or place a rolled-up mattress or pillow under your knees.

Relax the whole body, in this exercise we will focus on 3 parts of the breathing cycle: the abdominal breath, the chest breath and the subclavian breath.

  1. Place your palms on your abdomen and follow the movement of the abdominal wall
  2. Place your palms on the ribs (fingers pointing towards the sternum and thumbs towards the spine) and watch the rib cage expand with each inhalation and contract with each exhalation.
  3. Place your palms under the collarbones and observe the movements of the chest in this area.
  4. Finally, perform a full yoga breath by connecting all the previous points. The arms are along the body with the palms facing upwards. The breath should create a smooth wave from bottom to top on the inhale and from top to bottom on the exhale.

Effect: This technique has deep relaxing effects, promotes health and proper breathing habits, and helps to increase maximum lung capacity.

  • Bhastrikapranayama (blacksmith’s bellows)

Starting position: sit up straight in a Turkish or lotus position, palms of hands resting loosely on knees

Execution: The inhalation and exhalation phases should be of equal length, concentrate on the abdominal breath.

  1. Place the palm of one hand on the lower abdomen and relax the abdominal muscles
  2. After a relaxed exhalation, inhale actively (fully tense the abdominal walls against and press on the palm, followed by a calm exhalation)
  3. Exhale actively (forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles towards the spine and centre of the body, followed by a calm inhalation)
  4. It is advisable to repeat the exercise 10X (i.e. 10 active inhalations and 10 active exhalations). During the execution of this technique, spontaneous breaks may occur and it may happen that the inhalations and exhalations vary in length.

Effect: This is an activating breathing technique and may initially cause nausea or dizziness. It increases blood pressure, stimulates metabolism and thermoregulation, massages internal organs and glands, and regulates the digestive system. The exercise is not suitable for people with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcers, hernia, epilepsy, progressive myopathy, people with eye diseases, asthma, chronic inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, after a stroke and during pregnancy

  • Ujjayipranayama

Starting position: meditation sitting with hands on knees

Execution: be aware of your breathing, first breathe calmly, in and out breaths should be equally deep and slow.

  1. Concentrate on the area around your throat and become aware of your throat.
  2. Very gently clench your vocal cord muscles during inhalation and exhalation, you will begin to make a sound similar to deep sleep (not snoring)
  3. The air passes through the throat with greater difficulty and the breath is more labored, forcing the breathing muscles to work harder. Concentrate on the airflow in the throat, not the nose.
  4. You can say a mantra to yourself as you breathe in Soo and when you breathe out a mantra Ham. In Sanskrit, this mantra means “Iam that” and with constant repetition of this mantra it merges with “I am that“. The exhalation can be done through the mouth, this technique is called bhujanginipranayama – “snake breath”.
  5. The palms can be placed sideways around the rib cage, with the fingers facing the sternum, the thumbs facing the opposite side.
  6. May be supplemented with Khechari mudra to help moisten the air in the throat.

Effect: This is a breathing technique that activates and warms the throat and thyroid gland, while having a calming effect. It helps against insomnia, relieves stress and mental tension, and slows the heart rate, helping to lower blood pressure. It helps with digestive problems, bloating, or nausea.

  • Nadishodhanapranayama

Starting position: meditation sitting, palms on knees

Execution:

  1. The right hand takes the pranayama mudra and the left hand the Chin mudra
  2. After exhaling through both nostrils, cover the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand
  3. inhale deeply 20 times and exhale through the left nostril
  4. Release the right nostril and close the left nostril with the middle finger
  5. inhale deeply 20 times and exhale through the right nostril
  6. Place your hand back on your knee in the mudra position and observe your breath

Effect: Breathing through the right nostril stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and mobilizes the whole body, it is called SuryaBhedanaPranayama. Breathing through the left nostril is called ChandraBhedanaPranayama and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn calms the body. This technique relaxes the airways, helps against nervousness and headaches.

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