The final day of Aadil's workshop
The final day in Aadil’s weekend workshop had two sessions. The first was a pranayama class and the second focused on maintaining a healthy back.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of Patanjali’s system of yoga and is all about the breath. The word “pranayama” is composed of two other Sanskrit words: prana, which means breath of life or energy flow and yama, which means control or to hold. Thus pranayama is the control of the breath of life. Aadil said there is another way to interpret the word. It could also be seen as “pran” and “ayama.” Pran is “to breathe”, while ayama means “to free.” So pranayama could also be seen as “freedom of the breath force.”
Pranayama requires the use of focused, unswerving intelligence. By doing this it also cultivates a focused mind. Aadil said that by requiring focus, pranayama cultivates focus.
The first step in learning pranayama is to learn ujaiyi breathing. To breathe in this way, you breathe in through your nose, mouth closed and make an “s” sound deep in the throat. You breathe out by making a “ch” sound in the back of the throat. It’s almost a vocal way to breathe. In ujaiyi breathing the movement is all in the diaphragm, beginning just below the ribs and up to the collarbone, and not in the belly. The belly should be kept soft and not held rigidly, but it is not where the breathing action takes place. The center of the breath is behind the sternum.
Our first exercise was to do ujaiyi breathing for 5 minutes. Aadil said that we should inhale life and exhale death. The life should spread to every area of our body. The dead things in our bodies should be released and allowed to leave. Dead things include anything from the past that is no longer of use to us. It’s heavy stuff – past anger and frustrations. By breathing in life, we can replace all that old, dead stuff and come out feeling lighter.
After 5 minutes, we went back to normal breathing.
The next exercise was to do ujaiyi breathing while visualizing the inhalation of light. The white light we were inhaling should fill the heart center and spread out to the lungs and other areas of the body. As it spreads, the light will expel the darkness, which we release through the exhalation. We continued this for another 5 minutes.
The final exercise we did was 15 or 20 minutes of bhramari breathing. We did this in a seated position. Aadil instructed us to find any comfortable position and close our eyes. On the inhalation, we should inhale light. On the exhalation, we were to hum. The hum needs to be comfortable. It need not be loud. The hum should resonate in the body and felt in the head, chest, belly, back, and kidneys. The humming clears the energy pathways in the body. I did indeed feel lighter and certainly more centered after the bhramari breathing.
Aadil began the second session by saying that 80 percent of the workforce suffers from lower back pain. He had talked to an executive at United airlines who said that the number 1 health issue with employees was lower back pain. (#2 was lack of sleep.) Aadil related a story about his experience with lower back pain. When he was 22, he blew out 2 discs. He rejected conventional medical treatment and sought out help from Mr. Iyengar, who worked with him over the course of several months to heal his back. While he was physically healed, it kept coming back. A couple times a year, his back would go out. Eventually the attacks became less frequent but more intense. Now, Aadil looks at healing back pain as having 4 parts:
Lower back pain is almost never in only one category. It is usually a combination of several factors.
To solve the physical problem, it is necessary to know which muscles are involved. Then asana can be used to release the muscles and relax them.
Mentally, the breath can be used to breathe life and light into the affected areas of the back.
The emotional component cannot be overestimated. It is vital to know which emotions trigger the physical symptoms.
Often lower back pain is a reaction of the contraction of the smooth muscles in the front of the pelvic region. When these muscles contract and pull forward, the back muscles react by pulling back and the back feels sore.
Aadil gave much additional information about the anatomy and physiology of the lower back and how back pain can arise. One of the last things he said is that the sacrail iliac joint was created so that yoga teachers would have a job. It’s one of the most important joints in the body and also prone to misalignment, causing lower back pain.
We did several exercises, none of which are standard asana postures.
The first was to lay on a mat with toes of both feet on the wall and knees bent at close to a 90 degree angle. Bring up the right leg and hold it close to the chest. Straighten the down leg, hold for a couple of breaths then drop the up leg. Repeat for a total of 7 times and switch legs.
The next exercise was to bring up the right leg and grab the foot with both hands. Lift the leg but keep the knee bent. Straighten the down leg, hold for a couple breaths, bend the down knee and drop the up leg. Repeat for a total of 7 times and switch legs.
The final one in this series was to bring up the right leg and hold the outside of the foot. Keep the knee inside the armpit and bring the leg off to the right side. Straighten the down leg and hold for a couple breaths. Bend the down leg and drop the up leg. Repeat for a total of 7 times and switch legs.
The final exercise I did was with two straps and a block. We wrapped one strap around our waist just below the belly. The second strap was looped around the first in the back and tied around the block. We put our feet on the block and pushed the block away. Then we bent our legs and tightened the belt. Then we pushed against the block again. We did this several times until we could barely straighten our legs. The work in this pose was intense. But the effect was wonderful.
After this I had to leave because of another Sunday afternoon commitment.
It was a great weekend. The combination of asana, pranayama, and philosophy is a powerful way to teach yoga and Aadil is a gifted teacher. This is the fifth or sixth workshop I've had with Aadil and he always leaves me with an insight or something that alters my life in a little way. This time it was the necessity of living life with more joy. By bringing joy and a sense of discovery into my practice, I will find that I can transfer that feeling to the rest of my life and soon I will be living my yoga.