Daily Archives: January 18, 2011

Settling In

Yoga can energize and yoga can calm. Whatever yoga’s impact though, it is often in concert with the environment, time of day, and mood of the person practicing. And regardless of its impact, before anything can happen, it is necessary to settle in and become centered. 

There are a number of approaches to settling in. You can listen to chimes and count the number of rings you hear. You can listen to calming music. You can regulate your breathing. And you can chant. Each of these can be done with eyes open, but I have found them far more effective with my eyes closed, taking me inside and away from any potentially stimulating visuals in the room.

I have come to enjoy the chanting done in my classes at The Yoga Sanctuary. With Ellen, we often chant at the start of class, and we focus on a chant over a period of weeks. With Deb, we only chant occasionally, yet from her I’ve learned two chants by heart, probably because I find them soothing, melodic and effective at calming my mind.


The practice of chanting begins with the teacher chanting the words all the way through and then repeating using call and response. The teacher calls each individual portion of the chant and the class responds by repeating. This could happen once or twice or as many times as the chant requires, and is then followed by everyone chanting together the entire piece.

Loka Samasta Sukino Bevantu

May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

Using call and response, the chant would be:

Lo-ka   Sa-mas-ta   Su-ki-no   Be-van-tu

That was the first chant shared by Deb, and this is the second one.

Ohm namo bhagavatay ~ Vasue dayvaiya

To see the light of God within everyone and everything.

Using call and response, the chant would be:

Ohm   namo-o   bhag-a-va-tay   ~   Va-sue-day-vai-ya

You certainly do not need to have a belief in God in order to utter this chant. I do not interpret it as a religious set of words, but rather as a statement of optimism for seeing the good in everyone and everything.

The Yoga Sutras

In Ellen’s classes we chant the Yoga Sutras, which she likens to “the 10 Commandments of Yoga”. She kindly provided a copy of the Sutras, which are the eight limbs of yoga, and here they are:

  1. yama – five principles of social and personal behaviors for peaceful living (nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, moderation, non-attachment)
  2. niyama – five principles for self-healing and self-development (purity, contentment, discipline, self-study, surrender to a higher power)
  3. asana – the physical practice of yoga postures
  4. pranayama – practice of breath control (which can calm or energize, warm you up or cool you down)
  5. pratyahara – mastery of the senses
  6. dharana – concentration/focus
  7. dhyana – meditation
  8. samadhaya – complete absorption/bliss

yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani

Using call and response, the chant would be:

ya-ma   ni-ya-ma   as-a-na   pran-a-ya-ma   prat-ya-har-a   d-har-na
   sa-mad-ha-ya-ha   aush-tau   an-gan-i

All of these chants have a melody, but at the moment I do not have a way to share the melodies.

Ujjayi Breathing

Ujjayi breathing takes me through yoga and envelops my movements. It is the breath I mostly use and the one that has come to feel most natural while doing yoga.

Move with your breath ~ Be with your breath

While guiding yoga class, Franklin has often advised us with those words, and indeed, I move with my breath because Ujjayi meshes with my movements.

If you’re listening to your breath, you’re not listening to your mind.

When taking class with Caroline either in her home or at The Yoga Sanctuary, she notes the benefit of being mindful of your breath. I love Ujjayi because it “talks” to me as it guides my pace, flow, and focus.

Okay, so what IS Ujjayi, this breath that “talks”. I have heard it described as the sound of an ocean rushing to shore and the sound of Darth Vader breathing. Quite different images, to say the least, but the intensity of sound is the same. Have you ever taken in a deep breath and then let it out to fog up a mirror…


How to do Ujjayi

Settle into a comfortable position, either seated or lying down on your back. Either way, begin to breathe in and out through your nose, taking breaths that are slow, long and deep.

As you breathe, you want to begin to hear your breath. The sound of Ujjayi comes from constricting the back of your throat as you breathe out, much the way you would do for fogging up that mirror. While you aren’t intending to serenade your neighbor, your breathing should be audible. 

Benefits of Ujjayi

Absolutely the biggest benefit of Ujjayi breathing is to assist with concentration and focus. As Caroline says, if you’re listening to your breath, you’re not listening to your mind. And as Ellen says, you can

Quiet the chitavriti – the noise of the mind.

“I Remember Better When I Paint”

The creative arts bypass the limitations and they simply go to the strengths. People still have imaginations intact all the way to the very end of their progressive disease.

Thanks to Julia, who left a comment on my previous post, I found out about the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint. (The quote above comes from the trailer.) Rather than translate to my words, here is the description of the film from the About section of the film’s site:

“I Remember Better When I Paint”, narrated by Olivia de Havilland, is the first international documentary about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on people with Alzheimer’s and how these approaches can change the way we look at the disease. A film by Eric Ellena and Berna Huebner, presented by French Connection Films and the Hilgos Foundation. Among those who are featured are noted doctors and Yasmin Aga Khan, president of ALzheimer’s Disease International and daughter of Rita Hayworth, who had Alzheimer’s.

I am eager to see this film, and suspect it will add to the eye- and mind-opening ideas that I’ve been exposed to in the past few years regarding care of those with Alzheimer’s. Indeed, if you live in the New York metropolitan area, there is a screening of the film planned for March 10, 2011, on Melville, Long Island. You can read more about the film, and see a trailer at the film’s site, which is a wordpress blog (just like Neurons Firing 🙂

If any of you knows anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia who is participating in an arts program, and if you feel comfortable sharing the experiences, I would greatly appreciate your adding a comment to this post. Thanks!