The exercise we are going to introduce to you is a combination of the yogic efficiency with the simplicity of execution.
This technique is recommendable for both beginners and advanced practitioners. In order to understand this technique, we need to consider first the human being as a transformer of energy, of prana.
An uninterrupted flux of particles, molecules, and atoms traverse the body, not just as solid or liquid form, but also gas, and subtle.
Air that brings us oxygen is also charged with water vapours, and subtle smells, such as the smells of nature play an important role in preserving the health - aromatherapy.
The air contains also energy that is directly assimilated, one of its forms are the negative ions. Consequently, life means changes and transformations. The more active are our changes and interactions with the environment, the more we are alive, in the most dynamic sense of the word.
Our body is a whirl of energy in the universal prana-ic ocean. The yogis perceive distinctly these exchanges of energy with the environment. They even managed to differentiate between these types of energy, and they named them vayu - subtle energy.
The basic sense of the term vayu is sky, which would make someone think of the regular sky, with its chemical components - oxygen, azoth, rare gases.
However, the yogis understand by this word the energies that circulate through the air, in the process of breathing. One absorbs prana-ic energy from the surroundings through prana vayu.
Once the energies are absorbed in the microcircuit of our organism, they have to be personalized and assimilated - this is the function of samana vayu.
Once the body assimilated them, they need to circulate throughout the organism, which is the function of prana vayu. Udana vayu allows the direction and the expression of the energies. The final stage is the elimination, when these energies return to their previous environment. All the functions that concur in this process belong to apana vayu.
THE FUNCTIONS OF THE PRANA AND APANA VAYU
Consequently, the two main vayu-s are prana vayu, which regulates the "intake" of particles and energy, adjusting it to the particular necessities of our organism, and apana vayu, responsible for the elimination of the unabsorbed residues.
We live or we should live balancing these two functions. If apana fails to work properly, the organism is charged with toxins, and lacks vitality and suppleness. One of the main objectives of Hatha Yoga is that of stimulating all the vayu-s in a harmonious manner.
If we act on prana vayu we also need to stimulate apana vayu. Another important objective in Hatha Yoga is to obtain the control over these vayu-s.
This conscious control goes through the control of one function that is alternatively the expression of prana vayu and apana vayu, meaning the breath. While inhaling, the breath is the instrument of prana vayu because it brings us energy.
While exhaling, the breath is the expression of apana vayu, which eliminates the used gases (for instance CO2). The balance of the breath, of the inhalation and exhalation determines the balance of prana vayu and apana vayu.
The following exercise is one of the simplest and most effective in this respect.
Lie back on the floor, relaxed but with a slight contraction of the abdominal muscles so that the lumbar area is on the floor during this exercise. The legs are stretched and they touch each other. It is important to become interiorized and to focus to perceive distinctly the two halves of the body, the left and the right, not the superior and the inferior parts.
We will attempt to balance the sensations at the level of the two halves, without allowing one to predominate over the other, as the right-handed people tend to do with the right side, which they use more. We need to feel that our weight on the left side is the same as on the right side. The arms are also on the floor, along the trunk, palms facing down.
HOW TO DO IT
Each half of the body will work alternatively. First we will work on the left side. Focus on this side, contract the muscles of the shank, flexing the leg. Inhale slowly, lifting up the contracted shank. We need to lift the leg and bring it closer to the body, without lifting or bending the other leg.
At this point, the abdominal muscles are very tensed, especially on the left side. At the end of the inhalation, the leg will be in the up position.
It is very important to relax the muscles of the right side of the abdomen, pay close attention to the left side, and imagine that you breathe only with this side. It is obvious that the air will get in through both lungs but we need to use the left side to its maximum, as if we were unable to breathe with the right side.
When the inhalation is over, we stop for a few seconds, keeping the lungs filled with air. Before exhaling, stretch the toes and we will perceive other muscles that contract the left shank.
Then we exhale slowly, bringing the leg in the starting position. The heel must not touch the ground, before the lungs become empty.
REPEATING THE EXERCISE
Begin again, with the same leg, after a few free breaths.
Five executions on the left side will be followed by five executions on the right side. You may even alternate the legs you are working with: one exercise on the left side will be followed by an exercise on the right side, and so on. The way you practice it is up to each of you.
In order to give the exercise the maximum of yogic significance and effectiveness you need to pay close attention to the breath and to make the inhalation and exhalation last an equal interval. You need to synchronize the time and the space. The part of the body that does not work needs to stay inactive.
WHICH PART TO BEGIN WITH?
If you decide to work alternatively, start with the left side. If you decide to work series of five, start with the right side.
There are no special contraindications for this exercise. Moreover, this exercise has the advantage of the possibility of practicing it even when you are not dressed properly for a yoga session.
THE PLACE IN THE SERIES OF ASANAS
This exercise may be included in a yoga session before the yogic relaxation, but it may also be performed outside of it, for its own advantages.
We will make the difference between physical effects and the subtle effects, which are characteristic to the yogic path.
Muscles This exercise practiced with maximum of interiorization grants a great muscular control and activated each half of the body.
The abdominal musculature is gradually fortified, and so is the musculature of the legs. The legs work hard and therefore they will be toned and we will get a better control over them.
Also the toes will be tensed, then relaxed and stimulated. The effectiveness of this exercise can sometimes be translated through cramps. If this should happen, act immediately and after the cramp has passed, massage the place slowly.
On the first sight, it is not at all obvious that the exercise we described has any effect on the skeleton. However, if the exercise is correctly performed, if we keep the spine on the floor during the execution we may bring the spine, especially the lumbar area in its correct position.
The coxo-femural articulation preserves its mobility and this is an important thing, considering that after the age of 40 the mobility tends to vanish. If this mobility is lost, the mobility of the whole body will have to suffer.
In severe cases, if one loses the mobility of this articulation, he may suffer from premature impotence. The great thing about this exercise is that although at first sight it seems simple, it develops complex physical actions.
The blood circulation
The blood circulation is better when you lie down than when you stand because it is easier to circulate a liquid (the blood) without the interference of gravity. In this position the rising of the leg and the extended breath make the blood act as in the case of Pascal’s law: the pressure of an incompressible liquid is transmitted into all the senses and is proportional to the column of liquid.
This principle of hydrostatics is highly important for the body. The blood is an incompressible liquid like the water and thus it will transmit the pressure into the entire body and the blood will return faster to the heart.
The cardiac muscle does not need to work as hard and the blood receives more oxygen. This exercise is very effective in preventing cardiac arrests. After a heart attack you may perform this exercise progressively during convalescence.
The abdominal organs need, for a proper function the rhythmical contraction of the abdominal muscles during walking or during the other daily activities. In your daily routine, this stimulation is refused most of the day, which results in a decrease of the vitality.
Lifting the leg, we act on the abdominal muscles and thus they stimulate the whole area of the abdomen, the inner organs included. This is why we perform series of five movements. The exercise massages the organs deeply and also superficially.
Balance and symmetry are two main purposes of yoga. The bodily and prana-ic balance is obtained equalizing the inhalation with the exhalation, and to keep a permanent focus on what is going on in the inner universe.
Some regions of our body are controlled by one or other of these vayu-s. Apana vayu, particularly stimulated by our exercise responds of the area from waist down. Apana vayu is responsible for the elimination of the urine, salts, sperm, menstrual blood, and for the birth process.
In our exercise, the entire action is based on the area governed by apana vayu, with a special effect on the legs and toes. If we make equal the time for an inhalation with that of an exhalation, the prana vayu and the apana vayu will become balanced.
In our exercise, when we try to make one part of the body active and the other passive, prana vayu and apana vayu are energically stimulated by each halves.
If we practice this exercise daily, it will help our spiritual practice, in the sense that asanas such as Halasana, Sarvangasana or Sirshasana will be easier to approach. The perseverant practice of this apparently simple exercise will bring special benefits to the practitioner.