As I mentioned last week, direct access of the heart center can be intimidating and scary. After heartbreak and loss in our lives we build protective barriers and shields energetically (and sometimes even physically through tight muscles in the chest) and blowing right through these can actually create more protective layers rather then letting them gently fall away. This week, we again explore a “side door” to the heart through the 4th chakra’s element of air. The quality of air is lightness, movement and openness. As we explore air in the body we look for these elements and move stagnancy and heaviness out of the body through the breath. Below are some practices for accessing air and the 4th chakra in your own body.
Vayus: Five Vital Forces
In the body we have what are known as the five Vayus (literally the “winds”). These vayus govern the movement of prana in the body in specific regions. When they are in harmony and functioning well, the body is able to find a true state of health and ease. In our practice this week we brought our focus specifically to the prana vayu which governs the zone of the heart, propulsion and forward movement and its opposing vayu, the apana vayu which governs elimination and digestion. These two vayus facilitate the action of the inhale and the exhale. The prana vayu with its movement up and the apana vayu with its movement down. I invite you to bring your awareness to these movements of prana through the following exercise adapted from a shadow yoga practice by Dr. Scott Blossom:
Find a standing squat, ensure the shoulders are aligned over the hips and the spine is erect. Bring the hands down in front of the belly button and imagine you are holding a large beach ball there with the palms facing each other. Hold the hands here on inhale and on exhale draw the palms toward one another until they almost touch. On inhale turn the palms up toward the ceiling and lift them up the center line, in front of the body, toward the crown (prana vayu). On exhale turn the palms toward the floor and lower them back down the front of the body, until they reach the front of the belly (apana vayu). Begin again by inhaling and expanding the palms away from each other imagining the ball in front of the belly. Know that if it gets to be too much in the squat you can straighten the legs. Practice at least 8 rounds. At the end of the last round, circle the arms out and up as you straighten the legs, keep the legs straight and exhale the hands to the heart.
Sama Vritti: Balance in the Breath
What air practice would be complete without pranayama? For the practice of sama vritti you can find a comfortable seat or take a restorative reclining position of your choice. Because of its capacity to slow down the nervous system, I find this pranayama is particularly lovely at the end of practice as the body and breath are slowing down (see picture to the left for one of my favorite ways to practice sama vritti).
The practice of sama vritti is the art of matching the inhale to the exhale. Find a breath count that works for you where there is no strain or struggle in the breath and the breath is as long and extended as is comfortable. Begin with a cleansing breath, an inhale through the nose and an exhale through the mouth. Then begin with an inhale to the count of 8, without pausing at the top, proceed with an exhale to the count of 8. Both inhale and exhale should happen through the nose and should be long and even. If the 8 count doesn’t work for you, find a count that does. Complete at least 8 cycles before returning to normal breath.
Asana for Opening to Air
There are lots of asanas to work with the air element in the body, below you will find a selection of poses to add to your practice to embrace air!
Warrior II: work this warrior first finding the extension of the arms out from the lungs. Take the breath into the fingertips and allow the breath to move. Now take flowing variations, finding the mobility of air through variations such as eagle arms that are lifted and lowered as the bent knee is straightened and bent.
Upward Dog/Cobra/Sphinx: work any and all of these three poses. Feel the breath moving into the front of the chest. Feel the expansiveness of the lungs. Work with movement–flow from downward dog to upward dog, raise and lower in cobra or take gentle head movements in sphinx. Remember, air is about movement.