Pranayama is the practice of observing, lengthening and controlling the breath or life-force in the body and mind. The mind and the breath are intimately connected. You can observe irregular breathing the next time you are scared or feeling depressed. In yoga there many forms of pranayama but the easiest and most effective is alternate nostril breathing.
Pranayama has been shown to lower heart rate variability, lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and stimulate brain growth (2005 Harvard study). It is an essential practice for best results after Hatha Yoga asana practices and before meditation. Students in our yoga teacher training program are taught various styles of pranayama and how and when to use them to maintain health and to improved focus and attention.
Meditation is the practice of observing the mind without judgement or reactivity. It is the traditional method for realizing the higher Self or core-consciousness. A byproduct of meditation practice is better mental health, reduced stress and increased productivity. When you practice meditation, you realize that that you are not your thoughts. This creates space inside so that you become less reactive and mechanical in your actions.
Researchers have shown than yoga and meditation increase the activity of stress-blocking neurotransmitters. Meditators showed a significant increase in gray matter in the hippocampus which is associated with learning and memory. They also found a decrease in gray matter in the amygdala which is associated with anxiety and stress. Through meditation one can become liberated from the bondage of the egoic mind and maintain a calm mental state.
Mantra meditation is the practice of repeating a sound or phrase either audibly or internally (in the mind). Usually Sanskrit phrases or words are used in the Yoga tradition because they have been known to create specific effects in the mind, but any phrase which is repeated will create a stillness and calming which is the desired effect. In our yoga teacher training course, we introduce one or two longer traditional mantras like Sahana Vavatu and the Gayatri Mantra which are aphorism for learning and enlightenment.
When a mantra is repeated continuously it can replace other thoughts in the mind that are not as useful. In this way mantra practice heals the deeper subconscious mind and brings it to a one-pointed state where it becomes still or filled with uplifting “yogic” thoughts. This is why mantra yoga is a great practice before meditation and can be used any time to reset the mind.
Ayurveda is the traditional natural medicine of India. It takes into account each person’s individual mind/body characteristics when giving advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle changes to help restore balance. Yoga teachers who learn about Ayurveda can be more effective by applying a holistic and individualized approach for each student.
Ayurveda addresses all of the issues that may lead to disease in the body and mind including viral causes, aspects of diet, seasonal patterns, natural constitution (body types or Doshas) and lifestyle choices. For example, there is not just one type of yoga that is suitable for every student. Our teacher training course and workshops explain how to apply Ayurvedic wisdom in our lives and then how to help others reconnect to natural healing through the resources of this ancient healing science.
Sometimes the best balance to our modern lifestyle is to do exactly the opposite of our usual routine. Restorative yoga is like opposite therapy for those who are always moving or always making effort. This practice helps the body and mind become still and therefore allows deep changes to occur through the cultivation of surrender and compassion.
In restorative yoga, props are used to help place the body in specific postures and then no more effort or movement is required. This type of yoga is ideal for people who are: injured, recovering from illness, seeking enhanced flexibility, needing emotional relief, seeking a balance in the nervous system or seeking an effortless path towards meditation.