The Yoga of Yawning

By Michelle Fajkus & Charles MacInerney

{Read the full, original post on Elephant Journal}


Only we humans, conditioned to be polite, suppress our urge to yawn. Our suppression of a natural, healthy, physical urge is actually detrimental to our health.

Yawning is an ancient and vitally important reflex. Human fetuses begin to yawn and pandiculate (stretching and yawning at the same time) during the 12th week of pregnancy. All vertebrates yawn—humans, primates, mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles.

There is a misconception that yawning implies boredom, disinterest, or tiredness. Yawning helps us transition from wakefulness to sleeping at night, and it also helps us transition from sleeping to wakefulness in the morning. Yawning increases circulation of cerebrospinal fluid and plays a role in arousal. Yawning also helps us relax and reduce our stress levels, which is why Olympic athletes are often seen yawning prior to competition.

I (Charles) began taking yoga classes in Oxford when I was 11. At the end of the practice, during savasana (corpse pose), I went into a state of deep relaxation. When my teacher closed the class with an Aum chant, I started to yawn. Not wanting to be disrespectful, I tried to suppress the urge and when it got away from me, I covered my mouth.

After class, my teacher advised, “Don’t suppress the urge to yawn. Let it out,” and yawned herself. After that, I indulged in yawn after yawn, until my eyes watered, and I felt alert, calm, and happy.

In a workshop he taught at the Texas Yoga Retreat last fall in Austin, I (Michelle) witnessed the humorous way in which Charles can yawn with his entire body—mouth, arms, legs, fingers, and toes! He encouraged all of us in the class to practice yawning and considers it the perfect yogic “complete breath” and an underutilized form of pranayama. (Charles is one of the main organizers of the annual weekend retreat and always offers a few fun, fascinating workshops.)

The scientific community is just beginning to realize how important yawning is to our overall health and well-being. Repetitive yawning increases the beneficial effects.

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The Key to a Centered, Compassionate Life

The most important thing, in yoga and life, is breath.

Breathing is a basic function of existence on this planet. Breath awareness is the foundation of all meditation and mindfulness practices.

Conscious breathing is both powerful and subtle–at once a personal, sacred, secret, silent practice that can be performed anywhere, anytime and a shared experience of all sentient beings.

As you breathe in this moment, recall that this life-giving flow of air has been with you since the moment of your birth and will remain your loyal companion for every minute until your final exhale and release of this one wild and precious life. Best of all, this breath helps us connect with our calm, compassionate, kind, centered selves anytime we tune in and breathe mindfully.

Read the rest on Elephant Journal

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Yoga is a deep spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. The practice of yoga aims to unify the body, mind and soul with an awareness of the divinity that surrounds us.

Yoga translates to union in Sanskrit and reunion in Tibetan.

This ancient science guides us closer to our higher selves.

Yoga is more than flexibility. While practice does lead to greater bendiness, it also improves strength, balance, and focus. The yogic lifestyle greatly reduces the tension which manifests as pain and stress by incorporating  mindfulness, deep and conscious breathing, selfless service, vegetarianism, hatha yoga practice, devotion and wisdom through experience.

True yoga is taking the mindfulness and compassion cultivated on the mat into our every interaction and relationship.

In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, yoga is defined as having 8 limbs:

* Yama (The five abstentions): non-violence, non-lying, non-covetousness, non-sensuality, and non-possessiveness

* Niyama (The five observances): purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender

* Asana: poses; asanas improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation. Asanas can cure or prevent many physical and mental ailments.

* Pranayama: control of the life force, prana, through breathing exercises. Deep, conscious breathing reduces stress and alleviates anxiety.

* Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.

* Dharana (Concentration): Fixing the attention on a single object.

* Dhyana (Meditation): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.

* Samadhi: Liberation; merging consciousness with the object of meditation; also known as enlightenment.

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