Much has been said regarding pranayama over the millennia and it is taught now in a spectacularly diverse range of ways. So, before I begin to offer my take on the subject I should like to establish the caveat that what follows represents only one opinion among many and as with all yoga: vive la difference! That being said, what I do say is informed by what is now becoming an embarrassingly large number of decades that I have been practising and teaching pranayama.

The first question I believe one must ask in deciding on how to go about teaching pranayama is what is one really hoping primarily to achieve on behalf of the students by the inclusion of pranayama in a class? Is it included to gently awaken students to an awareness of how much more effectively they can breathe? Is it included to offer one’s students some simple accessible techniques that can be used in a first aid or allopathic sense? As an example, offering Bhramari Pranayama as an option for people challenged with getting to sleep or Agnisar Kriya, Swarna or Bhastrika to aid digestion or for diminished energy levels, or perhaps a cooling breath such as Sheetkari for overheating, say when peri-menopausal. Clearly these are all valid and beneficial applications of pranayama ceteris paribus.

Other approaches are informed by the tenets of various limbs of yoga, for example: Hatha Yoga with its purpose here being to balance the polarities in our body as represented by Ida and Pingala Nadi with the intention being purification at the energetic or pranic level. Kriya Yoga or Kundalini Yoga would further suggest that by balancing Ida and Pingala, Sushumna Nadi is activated and due to this occurring one is able to ultimately experience one’s full potential. Finally, from the Raja Yoga perspective Pranayama can be employed as the bridge between the bahirangas and the antarangas. (the outer and inner of the eight limbs) or in and of itself as a pathway to Dhyana.

One school of thought suggests that as teachers of pranayama we should be mostly guided by what our students want at any given point of time. While this approach has obvious merit and while as a general rule I usually embrace this teaching principle, when it comes to pranayama it is not my preference!

I believe that before students can make an informed decision on what to learn and what to skip they should be made aware of the scope and range of options from which they can choose. Furthermore I would suggest this is best achieved by systematically including pranayamas in our class plans in a way which safely and effectively introduces this wonderful domain of yoga to our students. And therefore when I teach pranayama I endeavour to encourage my students to learn such practices systematically and not in an ad hoc manner. That being said if I do have a student who has a particular issue for which a particular pranayama is potentially beneficial then I would most likely show them that practice even though I would have held back on its introduction otherwise.

Another determinant in selecting from the vast quiver of pranayama practices we have at our disposal today is whether not only am I aware of such and such a practice, but more importantly can I do it, and by that I don’t just mean technically or physically can I do it, but do I really know it? By “knowing” I am not referring to intellectually knowing it but do I have a direct personal cellular and extensive experience of this practice? Because it is my view that if not, then I should not be instructing others in that practice. When we bolt practices on to our repertoire I suggest we are doing yoga a disservice and more importantly regardless of our benevolent intent we are quite possibly doing our students a disservice. Technical mis-instruction can lead to poor foundations and incorrect practice which obviously needs to be avoided. An error of equal significance is where the depth, velocity and frequency of breath are inappropriate to the student’s skill, temperament and/or constitution. More often than not the error I have noticed is the recommendation of too many breaths, too many rounds, too much force, too fast or in some cases too slow a breath.

Perhaps the most telling example of this that I have seen is in the teaching of the category of practices that I know as the Vitalising Pranayamas: Agnisar Kriya, Swarna, Bhastrika and Kapalabhati. These are indeed marvellous practices of course but if taught without regard to the individual’s readiness and capacity I believe they can in fact be harmful. The most common mistake I see is where teachers demonstrate these practices at a rapid rate, with high force and for an extended number of repetitions and rounds; while this may be appropriate for the teacher’s level of skill it is quite unlikely, unless teaching a highly adept group of students, that they are adequately prepared for such a routine.

All practices in this category, while having the potential to be done rapidly and forcefully and for some duration, do not have to be done in such a manner, and particularly initially, for them to be beneficial. Before such a level is undertaken I would suggest that students first technically master the practice at a slower rate, for fewer breaths and rounds, and with considerably less force. So with particularly the well-known classical pranayamas of Bhastrika and Kapalabhati, rather than encouraging students to follow the teacher’s rate of breath I suggest they start with just one breath every two seconds rather than two breaths per second, then over time (weeks or even months) move up to one breath (given this is easily achieved) per second for somewhere between 3 and 5 rounds of 10 gentle and accurate breaths. By accurate I mean with this breath being nigh on purely abdominal with minimal thoracic activity.

Implicit in this recommendation is that the student should already be proficient in breathing essentially purely abdominally without aid of thoracic assistance and without effort. This in turn requires that adequate time is allocated to acquiring this skill in the preceding classes. In truth this can take several months of systematic practice, even if the student is practising outside class which is not always the case.

Equally important along with abdominal breath mastery is that the student has already a good level of proficiency with kumbhaka (retention of both the inhaled and the exhaled breath). The reason I regard this as important is that timely employment of kumbhaka in between rounds significantly reduces the potential for these practices to evoke both hypo- and particularly hyper-ventilation; which is commonly experienced particularly by over-zealous alpha-type students. Hyper-ventilation is more often than not a symptom of incorrect technique.

So, in summary with regard to the vitalising pranayamas I am suggesting that as a rule they are not taught to beginning students, and they are taught after good quality abdominal control has been established and with kumbhaka. That they are initially learnt with a gentle controlled and quite slow breath, and that rounds and repetitions are kept low. If students find the initial form accessible, it is far more likely they will persist and in a natural organic time the force and frequency will evolve in a safe and sustainable manner.

In general there is a logical sequence for introducing categories of practices to one’s students: firstly the Prana Nigraha breath control practices (Abdominal, Thoracic, Clavicular, Yogic Breath, Viloma, using pausing, and Samavritti or equal breath) then the classical pranayamas which in turn fall into three categories: Balancing, Tranquilising and Vitalising. Please note there are within the Tranquilising category two subsets: warming and cooling. Cooling practices include Sheetali, Sheetkari and Kaki Pranayamas, the warming include Ujjayi and Bhramari. When to introduce these practices is typically season-dependent, although constitution may be a factor also. Tranquilising pranayamas are stress-reducing, immediately beneficial, and accessible, also they facilitate the introduction to kumbhaka and in turn further enhance the tranquilising practices. As such I prefer to introduce them first.

Finally what about Nadi Shodhana? Well that is another topic, to be explored next time!

Interested in our Pranayama and Meditation course – start now!

UNDERSTANDING Yoga as a Therapy

tingsha chimes on a mat


Yoga may be said to be as ancient as the universe itself, since it is said to have been originated by Hiranyagarba, the causal germ plasm itself. This timeless art and science of humanity sprouted from the fertile soil of Sanathana Dharma, the traditional pan-Indian culture that continues to flourish into modern times.

Today, Yoga has become popular as a therapy, and most people come to it seeking to alleviate their physical, mental and emotional imbalances. We must understand, however, that the use of Yoga as a therapy is a much more recent happening in the wonderful long history of Yoga – which has historically served to promote spiritual evolution. Yoga helps unify all aspects of our very being: the physical body, in which we live our daily life; the energy body, without which we will not have the capacity to do what we do; the mind body, which enables us to do our tasks with mindfulness; the higher intellect, which gives us clarity; and, finally, the universal body, which gives us limitless bliss.

All aspects of our life – physical, energetic, mental, intellectual and universal are unified through the practice of Yoga, which may also be described as the science of right-use-ness, that is, of using our body, emotions, and mind responsibly and in the most appropriate manner. One of the best definitions of Yoga given by Swami Gitananda Giri is that it is a “way of life.” It is not something you do for five minutes a day or twenty minutes a day. It is indeed a “24/7 x 365” lifestyle.

Illness, disease and disorders are so common in this world, and people everywhere are desperately seeking relief from their suffering. Yoga helps us to think better and to live better; indeed, it helps us improve ourselves in everything we do. Hence it holds out the promise of health, well-being and harmony. According to the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text which can be said to be a Yoga Shastra (seminal textual source of Yoga), Lord Krishna the Master of Yoga (Yogeshwar) defines Yoga as dukkhasamyogaviyogam yoga samjnitham, meaning that Yoga is the disassociation from the union with suffering. Pain, suffering, disease – Yoga offers a way out of all of these.

One of the foremost concepts of Yoga therapy is that the mind, which is called adhi, influences the body, thus creating vyadhi, the disease. This is known as the adhi vyadhi or adhija vyadhi, where the mind brings about the production of disease in the physical body. In modern language, this is called psychosomatic illness. Virtually every health problem that we face today either has its origin in psychosomatics or is worsened by the psychosomatic aspect of the disease. The mind and the body seem to be continuously fighting each other. What the mind wants, the body won’t do, and what the body wants, the mind won’t do. This creates a dichotomy, a disharmony, in other words, a disease. Yoga helps restore balance and equilibrium by virtue of the internal process of unifying mind, body and emotions. The psychosomatic stress disorders that are so prevalent in today’s world can be prevented, controlled and possibly even cured via the sincere and dedicated application of Yoga as a therapy.

Psychosomatic disorders go through four major phases. The first is the psychic phase, in which the stress is located essentially in the mind. There is jitteriness, a sense of unnatural tension, a sense of not being ‘at ease’. If the stress continues, the psychic stage then evolves into the psychosomatic stage. At this point, the mind and body are troubling each other and fluctuations, such as a dramatic rise in blood pressure, blood sugar or heart rate, begin to manifest intermittently. If this is allowed to continue, one reaches the somatic stage, where the disease settles down in the body and manifests permanently. At this stage, it has become a condition that requires treatment and therapy. In the fourth, organic stage, the disease settles permanently into the target organs. This represents the end stage of the disease.

Yoga as a therapy works very well at both the psychic and psychosomatic stages. Once the disease enters the somatic stage, Yoga therapy as an adjunct to other therapies may improve the condition. In the organic stage, Yoga therapy’s role is more of a palliative, pain relieving and rehabilitative nature. Of course, the major role of Yoga is as a preventive therapy, preventing that which is to come. Maharishi Patanjali tells us in his Yoga Darshan, heyamdukkhamanagatham— “prevent those miseries that are yet to come.”

If the practice of Yoga is taken up during childhood, we can prevent so many conditions from occurring later on in life. This is primary prevention. Once the condition occurs, once the disease has set in, we can use secondary prevention, which is more controlling the condition to whatever extent we can. Tertiary prevention is done once the condition has occurred, as we try to prevent the complications, those that affect the quality, and even the quantity, of a patient’s life.

I would like to conclude this perspective with a word of caution. Yoga therapy is not a magic therapy! It is not a ‘one pill for all ills.’ There should be no false claims or unsubstantiated tall claims made in this field. Yoga therapy is also a science and must therefore be approached in a scientific, step-by-step manner. It should be administered primarily as a one-on-one therapy that allows the therapist to modify the practices to meet the needs of the individual. It is not a “one size fits all” or “one therapy fits all” approach!

When we use Yoga as a therapy, we need to consider both the nature of the person—his or her age, gender and physical condition, and the nature and stage of the disorder. A step-by-step approach must include a detailed look at all aspects of diet, necessary lifestyle modifications, attitude reconditioning through Yogic counseling, as well as the appropriate practices. All of these are integral components of holistic, or rather, wholesome Yoga therapy. When such an approach is adopted, tremendous changes will manifest in the lives of the patients and their families. The quality of life improves drastically and, in many cases, so does the quantity.

As human beings, we fulfill ourselves best when we help others. Yoga is the best way for us to consciously evolve out of our lower, sub-human nature, into our elevated human and humane nature. Ultimately, this life-giving, life-enhancing and life-sustaining science of humanity allows us to achieve in full measure the divinity that resides within each of us.

I wish you a happy, healthy and fruitful Sadhana in Yoga. May your potential manifest in a wholesome, harmonious manner.

Yogacharya Dr. ANANDA BALAYOGI BHAVANANI MBBS, ADY, DPC, DSM, PGDFH, PGDY, MD (AM), FIAY, C-IAYT Deputy Director CYTER, MGMCRI, SBVU ( Chairman, ICYER at Ananda Ashram, Pondicherry (

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2. Bhavanani, A.B. (2011) Understanding the Yoga Darshan, Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations

3. Bhavanani, A.B. (2013) Yoga Chikitsa: Application of Yoga as a therapy, Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations

4. Bhavanani, A.B. (2014) A Primer of Yoga Theory (4th ed.) Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations

5. Bhavanani, M.D. (2010) The History of Yoga from Ancient to Modern Times, Pondicherry, India: Satya Press

6. Feuerstein, G. (2001) The Yoga Tradition: Its history, literature, philosophy, and practice, Prescott, Ariz: Hohm Press

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8. Giri, G. S. (1999) Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali, Pondicherry, India: Satya Press

9. Giri, G.S. (1976) Yoga: Step-by-step, Pondicherry, India: Satya Press

10. Ramanathan, M. (2007) Applied Yoga: Application of Yoga in Various Fields of Human Activity. Pondicherry: Aarogya Yogalayam

11. Sovik, R., & Bhavanani, A.B. (2016)‘History, Philosophy, and Practice of Yoga’ in Khalsa, S.B.; Cohen, L.; McCall, T, and Telles, S (ed.), The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care (pp.17-29). East Lothian, UK: Handspring


Guna Dosha and Elements

Just how do the doshas connect with gunas and elements? We asked yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner Robyn Lynch to give us her insight.

These three factors are often brought together when we are trying to understand the nature of being and the nature of balance.

I have found with Ayurveda that the more you know, the more doorways open to different levels of understanding and certainly these three, four if you include Prakruti, are part of this expansive thinking.

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas Quote

Sattva, rajas and tamas are the three gunas that create nature or Prakruti. The three are intertwined, constantly in a state of flux and flow, creating, transforming and completing or destroying. For equilibrium, the three gunas need to be balanced. There needs to be creation, action and completion. There also needs to be not too much or too little of any of these or imbalances occur.

Gunas create our nature and affect the balance of the elements within us and therein our Doshic balance. When I was studying Ayurveda, we learnt about the gunas prima

rily as affecting our mind state.

It is this mind state that then affects the choices we make and that affects our doshic balance or imbalance.

So for example when we spend too much time watching movies, drinking hot chocolate and eating cake, these are all tamasic attributes. Through these tamasic choices, the level of tamas rises within us and we increase the earth and water elements. These earth and water elements constitute Kapha so then we see t

he Kapha quality of heaviness, cloudiness and denseness being increased in our body and mind.

When we are looking to get out of this tamasic state, we need to bring in transformation – the rajasic guna characteristic. This will help to “fire us up” to make choices that are more beneficial for us. These choices, which could be more activity, foods with heating and digesting herbs, even boot camp, could take us out of the tamasic state and create transformation.

If we maintained this rajasic state, we would burn out, however it is necessary to draw us out of the tamasic state. Too much rajas, heated and spicy food, too much activity, too much competition will increase the elements of heat and water in our cons

titution. This is our Pitta element and we might find we become inflamed,

physically with a rash or reflux or emotionally with anger or judgments.

Then once we are out of the tamasic state and have moved into rajas, then weneed to cool that down a little and maintain a sattvic way of being, where we feel balanced. Although sattva is often the one that we are seeking, we still need some rajas and some tamas to keep us on an even keel.

The other two elements, ether and air make up the doshic quality of Vata. Vata is light and responsible for movement within the body as well as the nervous system and enthusiasm. When there is too much of these elements, Vata becomes aggravated and our mind lacks stability, we can become fearful and anxious, our body’s movements can be too fast or too slow or go in the wrong direction, we can feel unstable, physically cold and ungrounded. In this case, we may need to bring in some heavier foods, some slower activities, such as rest – which actually has a tamasic quality.

Imbalance in the three gunas may cause imbalance in the five elements and the three doshic humours, which creates poor health. When we understand the interplay of these three aspects, the elements, the gunas and the doshas , we are better able to obtain and maintain equilibrium and through that create harmony, develop longevity and good health.

Check out Robyn’s website:

Robyn Lynch has been a long time lecturer on the IYTA Yoga Teacher Training course and is a member of IYTA.

Healthy Hips and Shoulders with Karen Nicoll

Most people have tight shoulders or hips – and yet nearly all asanas involve one or both of these joints. Karen Nicoll explains why these areas of the body can be problematic – and how yoga can help.

karen nicoll portrait picture
Karen Nicoll – Yoga Teacher

It’s not surprising many of us complain of tight shoulders and hips when you look at our lifestyle patterns – hours spent sitting in chairs or driving and poor postural habits, such as hunching shoulders or exaggerated spinal curves. This means when we do sit down on our yoga mat our postural and movement habits could exacerbate joint problems. But done correctly well executed and appropriate asanas support the joints. Karen Nicoll has been teaching yoga for 35 years and runs workshops and regular yoga classes.

Five essentials for healthy hip and shoulder joints:

1: Strong muscles to support the joints: Muscles need to be strengthened. With awareness and appropriate alignment, the deeper postural muscles around the joints are strengthened – this supports the joints. When the postural muscles are weak there is extra load on the joints contributing to joint problems. It has been proposed that muscles start to lose their strength after about 48 hours of not being activated. With our lifestyles and habitual postural patterns there are many muscles that aren’t regularly strengthened. Suitable yoga asanas build strength in the weak underused muscles and deeper postural muscles.

2: Appropriate mobility: Ideally joints will have an appropriate range of movement – too much or too little mobility may contribute to joint problems. Ligaments give the joint stability and if overstretched contribute to joint instability and injury. Importantly, overstretching may result in hypermobility, instability and strains. Yoga asanas support the full range of movement of joints.

3: Body alignment: Apt alignment reduces uneven load on the joints and prevents unnecessary wear and tear on the joints.

4: Movement: Moving the joints ensures that the synovial fluid swishes around the joint nourishing the cartilage at the ends of the bones. Yoga movements improve circulation to and inside the joints.

5: S-t-r-e-t-c-h: Healthy muscles are strong and also have the ability to lengthen. Yoga is a terrific way to strengthen and lengthen muscles – when stretching it is the muscle belly that needs to lengthen. To do this, ideally feel the stretch in the muscle fibres – avoid pulling on the tendons and also avoid overstretching the ligaments.

Avoid Shoulder Imbalances

The main shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) is a ball and socket joint. It is where the humerus (upper arm) meets the scapula (shoulderblade).

Being a shallow joint, the shoulder joint has the ability to perform a wide range of movement enabling us to reach into myriad positions. Interestingly, in our daily movements we often don’t give the shoulder joint a healthy range of movement. Plus, much emotional tension is held in the shoulders. Yoga asanas and movements support freedom in the shoulder area (eg Gomukhasana), although over stretching may destabilise this joint.

The internal and external muscle rotators of the shoulder joint are part of the rotator cuff ie: muscles and tendons that help to keep the humerus in its socket.

Many of our daily shoulder movements involve an internal rotation of the shoulder joint eg computer work, driving and even eating. With these constant movements, the pectoral muscles shorten and the external rotators weaken creating an imbalance in the shoulder area. The shoulder joint then becomes more vulnerable to problems and injuries.

Fortunately there are some yoga movements that utilise and strengthen the external rotator muscles (infraspinatous and teres minor muscles).

Save your Shoulders SOS #1:

Stand in Tadasana with the arms by your side and palms facing your body.

Turn the arms and the palms to face forward.

This is the action of the top arm in Gomukhasana – the external rotators are working and shortening.

To experience internal rotation of the shoulders:

Stand in Tadasana with palms facing the body.

Spiral the arms inward so the palms face behind you.

This is the action of the back arm in Gomukhasana – the external rotators are lengthening.

• Most people need to strengthen the external rotator muscles.

SOS #2: Little Cobra to strengthen the shoulder external rotators.

Lie on your tummy with hands under the shoulders.

Have the elbows off the floor and close to the trunk.

Karen Nicoll Small Cobra Pose
Karen Nicoll Small Cobra Pose

Focus on gently dropping shoulders away from the ears and keeping the elbows in by your sides.

Start to lift the chest and head a little way as you come into a wee backbend (with a comfortable back and neck).

You may notice the elbows moving away from your sides – if so the internal rotators are taking over!

To strengthen the external rotators keep the elbows close to your trunk.

And remember to drop the shoulders away from the ears.

Perhaps come up a little higher – though usually you don’t need to come up very far to strengthen the external rotators.

Either hold up for up to 10 breaths or come up and down 10 times.

Notice how this also opens the chest and heart.

Practice every 2-3 days to maintain strength and to support the rotator cuff.

This movement is usually ok for people with a rotator cuff injury but do not do it if it causes pain.

For more ways to explore asanas to stretch, strengthen and relax with yoga,  Karen’s yoga classes are available.

Keep an eye out for our workshops and events throughout each calendar year to learn more about these beautiful yoga movements to keep your body strong and healthy. 

Cultivating Balance with Nadi Shodhana

David Burgess explores how to cultivate balance with Nadi Shodhana….

david burgess pranayama teacher
David Burgess Pranayama Teacher

In these uncertain times it is more important than ever to bring a sense of balance and equilibrium into our lives. One of the simplest ways to do this is with a daily practice of alternate nostril breathing.

The word Nadi means ‘energy channel’ and Shodhana means ‘to cleanse or purify’. So through this practice, we are cleansing the energy channels in the body and aiding the natural flow of prana. Nadi Shodhana is practiced by alternating the inhalation and exhalation between the left and right nostrils, thus balancing, and purifying the flow of prana through the two major Nadis of ida and pingala and harmonising the two brain hemispheres.

The practice of Nadi Shodhana, restores balance in both the physical and mental body, and is a method of reducing anxiety and increasing mindfulness and concentration. When we bring our focus to the breath and allow it to flow slowly and deeply with awareness, it calms us by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems therefore lessening the stress response.

The practice of Nadi Shodhana can be adjusted to suit the ability level of the practitioner, depending on the level of your practice and life circumstances. For some, the basic practice of Nadi shodhana will be enough as a long-term practice. It is a great practice to use in preparation for meditation, however through the inclusion of kumbhakas and bandhas over time, can be a complete practice in itself.


Sit in a comfortable seated position and place your right hand in a position called Nasikagra mudra. The index and middle fingers of the right hand gently rest at the eyebrow centre, and the thumb just above the right nostril and the ring finger just above the left, use these fingers to control the flow of breath in the nostrils by alternately closing one nostril then releasing and closing the other. The breath should be silent and not restricted in any way.

BASIC NADI SHODHANA (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

To begin, close your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril using a count of 1 om 2 om 3 om, then close the left nostril and exhale through the right for the same count. This is then repeated in the opposite direction, inhaling through the right, then closing the right nostril and inhaling through the left. This is one round and considered a ratio of 1:1. Over time you can slowly increase the breath count until the breath ratio is 10:10, so an inhale for a count of 10 and exhale for the same count through the opposite nostril.

This technique balances the breath and the brain hemispheres. It improves concentration, is calming and relieves anxiety. The equal ratio of 1:1 is a soothing rhythm for the brain and heart.

Once the breath ratio of 10:10 is comfortably reached, the ratio can be increased to 1:2, starting with a breath count of 5 for the inhale, and 10 for the exhale. The breath ratio can be built up over time to be 10:20, this high count should only be practiced if it can be done so with ease and without strain.

The ratio of 1:2 is beneficial in that the exhale is extended; it is a very calming practice that moves your body into a state of deep relaxation, switching over to the parasympathetic nervous system.

Throughout the practice, awareness should be focussed on the breath and the counting. Retentions (kumbhakas) are contraindicated for people with high blood pressure or heart problems.

After practising the basic method for a while, you might start to notice a natural pause between the inhale and the exhale and vice versa. Allow these pauses to occur naturally without counting them and let your breath flow naturally and with ease.


In this version an internal breath retention (Antar Kumbhaka) is introduced where you consciously hold the breath in for a count that is equal to the inhale and exhale.

Begin with a ratio of 1:1:1 ensuring the count is equal for inhalation, inner retention, and exhalation. The breath count should be quite low to start with. A count of 5:5:5 is recommended, even if you have reached a much higher breath count in basic Nadi Shodhana. Over time the breath ratio can slowly be increased to a count of 10:10:10 ensuring there is no tension or effort in doing so.

Once that is achieved without strain, the ratio can then be adjusted to 1:1:2. Each time you change the ratio, you should lower the breath count to help you adjust. It is advisable to have at least several months of regular practice using a particular ratio and gradually increasing it, before changing it. So for the ratio of 1:1:2, the breath count should reduce to 5:5:10 and then over time, slowly and without strain, can be increased.

It is important to ensure you are not speeding up the count due to shortness of breath. The breath should flow naturally and with ease. While some might increase their breath ratio easily, for others a lower count may be the more natural option.

Over time, the ratio of 1:1:2 can be changed to 1:2:2 which should be commenced with a breath ratio of 5:10:10, and then 1:3:2 which builds on the internal retention and starts as a breath count of 5:15:10. Ultimately settling on the ratio of 1:4:2 which starts with a breath count of 5:20:10. The ratio of 1:4:2 is the most widely recommended in yogic texts.

These ratios should be built up to gradually and without strain and only once a comfortable practice is achieved with each ratio. The length of breath should increase spontaneously without the use of force.

The inner retention of the breath activates various brain centres and harmonises the pranas.

It is important to remember at any stage or variation of the practice, that the breath should be silent and not forced or straining in any way. More advanced versions of this practice include both antar and Bahir kumbhakas and bandhas.

However, if you are looking for a simple practice that helps you to handle life’s situations in a more balanced and calm manner, then a basic Nadi Shodhana would be a beneficial pranayama practice to make time for in your day.

Explore the beauty and benefits of Pranayama with David Burgess on the IYTA’s popular comprehensive course: Meditation and Pranayama – visit the website to find out more:

YOGA Intelligence – Exploring the Spine

Exploring the spine

Tracy Hewson explores the spine and its relationship to yoga and the breath…  

Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”– Lao Tzu

This opening quote speaks to me in volumes about the relationship between the body and the mind. Without a positive and well-watered mind, the body starts to cease functioning to its best ability. As we water the mind with optimism and solutions, success is in reach. This then filters into the body and allows us to be strong and healthy. Yoga and the breath, I believe, is the bridge to get there. The spine is our support structure and without it we would not be able to stand, sit or kneel. There are many intricacies to each of our vertebrae: One of support for the next layer, the discs in between to support that structure and the spinal processes at the posterior of each for the vertebrae all have their own function. The lateral wings of each vertebrae have holes or foramina to support the entire central nervous system. When we start to look at the connection to the central nervous system and what that feeds to in the body, this is where it gets interesting….

Tracy Hewson Yoga Teacher

The interconnectedness of the entire body is the best machine I have ever come across and because of this interconnection with bones, central nervous system and the chakras, this, I feel, has a deep connection to the teaching of yoga and the breath. As the emotional body plays an integral role in breath work, so too the spine and each of the spinal vertebrae play an integral role in supporting the body. The link is that each of the cells in our body has a memory and this memory carries energy and so when the spine is in misalignment, the feeling or emotional body comes into play.

Each of our vertebrae has an intelligence – for example, Thoracic vertebrae number 9 aligns with the heart chakra and the intelligence for this vertebrae is ‘Know that your love is your energy force. When you know you are love, you understand that love is your power.’ A new thought pattern we can bring to mind that aligns with this area of the spine is ‘I claim my own power. I lovingly create my own reality.’

The mind, body and breath are intimately aligned in a mysterious connection that influences every part of our lives. Learning to move through your yoga practice with mindfulness and breath awareness are valuable tools in helping you restore and enhance your life. The invitation is to understand the core belief at any area of the spine where tightness or tension presents and then bring a new thought pattern into the mind’s awareness, through the breath. This may be helpful as a positive affirmation to carry forward into life and open up to changing old thought patterns or beliefs.

‘Thought is creative’, simply means, what you think about expands, and what you think about you get more of. When you change your mind to a positive choice, you change your life. As I have delved more into the power of using the breath, it has added another layer to my awareness as to how powerful the mind is and without a positive change in mind, the body has less chance to heal. So what’s the thought behind it? Why not simply catch the thought that may be keeping you limited. Choose to change the thought to something positive and then the body becomes free. The body is not weighed down with that limiting thought any longer. This makes space in the body for the new to enter. A new thought pattern, a new belief, a new and positive affirmation is now able to be absorbed into the cellular level.

Through my exploration of the spine I have learnt that every vertebrae has a positive concept to keep it healthy and every organ in our body has its own positive concept. Each chakra has a different learning experience and governs different areas of the body. By using the breath to breathe out the energy behind the emotions that keep us limited, we can empty out the negative and create space for positive ways, healing limitations, fears and thoughts of guilt and suffering so we can enjoy life. I am drawn to continue to explore the spinal column and all its intricacies as it is the core of the skeletal system and everything stems from there. Just like the breath, it is like the string that links all the pearls together.

Tracy Hewson is an IYTA member, Yoga teacher, Breathwork Practitioner and group facilitator. She has also worked as a radiographer.  She says: “I absolutely love teaching yoga with a therapeutic approach and I am enjoying interweaving the metaphysics of breathwork through all of my practices.” To find out about Tracy’s Yoga Intelligence Masterclass – The Spine visit

Go Ayurvedic this Autumn!

How can Ayurveda and Yoga help us optimise our health in autumn? Our writer and yogi, Tessa Hoffman chatted with Sydney-based yoga therapist and Ayurveda expert Patricia Wigley… 

Health is a dynamic state of wellbeing, not just an absence of disease. Ayurveda (sometimes translated as the Science of Longevity) is the sister science to Yoga and is all about how to maintain homeostasis or regain balance in our individual constitution (dosha) for optimum health and a long, healthy life. We are then supported in our practice of yoga to fulfil our potential.

The doshas are biological principles in nature which govern all life. In Ayurveda there are three doshas: Vata (air/ether) Pitta (fire/water) and Kapha (earth/water). Each person has a unique balance of these elements, though typically one or two will dominate. Our doshas are constantly in flux and influenced by diet, lifestyle, the weather, our state of mind and emotions. A basic understanding of which dosha or doshas are dominant can help us determine the food, drinks and activities most likely to help keep us balanced.

The principle (guna) of sattva brings balance, so aim to bring sattvic qualities to your lifestyle and diet practices. Sattvic food is fresh and unprocessed and sattvic activities bring clarity and calm to the mind. This means letting go of inappropriate or excessive activities and foods which overstimulate (rajas) or create dullness or lethargy (tamas).

The Ayurvedic text the Charaka Samhita states that being in relationship with Nature, the universe and our own divine inner nature is integral to true health. From this teaching we can see the importance of aligning ourselves and responding appropriately to the rhythms of nature. The cycles of the seasons are reflected in our own internal rhythms.

What are the nature and characteristics of the season of autumn according to Ayurveda?

After the expansive heat of summer, the Vata qualities of dry and cool begin to be predominant.  In early autumn as days get colder and often windy, a Vata person may say they can feel the cool change ‘in their bones’. As autumn moves towards winter the Kapha qualities of heaviness, cold and wet often become more predominant.

Because like qualities increase like, dry, cool and windy conditions can aggravate the Vata dosha especially in early autumn. The cold and wet qualities affect both Kapha and Vata (somewhat) in winter. Those with Pitta predominance may enjoy the approach of cooler days, however this is a good time for them to address any imbalances the heat of summer may have created (fire is dominant in Pitta dosha).

How do these characteristics influence the body and mind?

The change in temperature can bring imbalances including allergies, hayfever, and colds as the body throws off effects of excess heat and toxins (ama) which accumulated in summer. It is important to encourage regular daily elimination to help the body rid itself of these wastes. Triphala is a traditional Ayurveda mix of three herbs which can support digestion and aid elimination suitable for all doshic types.

Perhaps you may observe a reluctance to let go of the warmth and expansiveness of summer, that unwillingness to accept change? Check out the Meditation on Autumn below to see how the energy of this period can affect us on many subtle levels.

What foods and beverages should we consume (and avoid) in autumn, and why?

Look around and see what is available in this season. Nature provides us with an abundance of foods that our bodies need at this time of the year to stay balanced.

The following regime is recommended for all doshic types:

  • Include root vegetables and greens according to local availability. Fruits such as apples and pears, stewed with dates, sultanas and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are ideal.
  • Eat warm, nourishing cooked meals made from fresh unprocessed foods. This is not the time for salads. In the evening, try khichari or just three or four vegies steamed together and sprinkled with spices specific for your dosha.
  • All-in-one dishes like soup or khichari – a dish comprised of rice, moong dhal, warming spices and sometimes vegetables – are ideal for autumn days.
  • Avoid eating dry, hard, porous, rough (Vata qualities) or leftover foods (tamas). Like qualities increase like, so balance the dry and cool qualities of Vata by eating warm soupy foods.
  • Include ghee and good quality oil to balance Vata. Garlic and onions are an option to boost the immune system however use in moderation because they are rajasic, promoting a tendency to activity and a busy mind.
  • Include calming and warming herbal teas using chamomile, lemon balm and slices of fresh ginger.
  • Cook with spices like ginger, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, hing, black pepper and turmeric to aid digestion.


What yoga poses and sequences are most beneficial in autumn, and which if any should we minimise or avoid?

In autumn Vata pacifying sequences are good.

  • Always practice with breath-centred focus, moving into and out of the postures with awareness using the breath. Work with the ujjayi breath – if you lose it you are working too hard.
  • All sequences which work into the joints (pawanmuktasan series)
  • In the morning include Salute to the Sun done slowly and mindfully with the breath to support peristaltic movement and agni (digestive fire) considered the basis of good health in Ayurveda.
  • Standing poses are grounding, try flowing sequences moving from Warrior I, II, Reverse Warrior and Warrior III.
  • Forward bends like parsvottanasana, prasarita padottanasana, janu sirsasana and paschimottanasana create pressure on the abdominal area and promote warmth in the body. Always modify as necessary to suit the individual.
  • Balancing poses eg tree pose (vrksasana) and variations done with drishti and soft focus can promote calm and are grounding and centering.
  • Cobra (bhujangasana), locust (salabhasana) and bow pose (dhanurasana) are warming and stimulating. Always practice gently with care.
  • Twists will help the body get rid of toxins while massaging the abdominal organs.
  • Finish in savasana to rest before sitting to savour the effects of the practice and prepare for the rest of your day.
  • A short practice to wind down in the evening before the evening meal is also recommended for releasing any built up tension from the day and ensuring a better quality of sleep – one of the three pillars of good health, along with diet and exercise.

Which pranayama and meditation practices are most suitable?

  • In the morning get your breath moving for 20 minutes before you eat anything. This can be done with a breath-centred asana practice or by walking in nature. You can count your steps to the breath. Start by observing how many steps you comfortably fit to the in and out breath, then try four steps to the in breath and four steps to the out breath.
  • Include the ujjayyi breath in your practice. Use the mantra So Ham as you sweep your awareness from navel to throat with the inhale and throat to navel as you exhale. This cleanses the centre energy passageway from navel to throat. This can be done seated in sukhasana or in savasana.
  • If you have time for nothing else include alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana) for several minutes before meditation.
  • Practice a relaxing form of meditation that brings stillness and silence to the mind and senses.
  • Seated meditation after asana and pranayama in the morning will prepare you for your day. You will be alert and clear.
  • Practice yoga nidra before lunch or mid-afternoon (not too close to lunch). Savasana is grounding and centering. Keep warm covered with a blanket and have a support under the head, knees and hands.

What other Ayurvedic self-care practices are helpful?

  • Start your morning with a regular half hour walk after glass of warm water with few drops of lemon. Walk briskly or use this time for a walking meditation or pranayama. But be out in nature.
  • Abhyanga (oil massage). Practice daily, if possible in the early morning or late afternoon. Follow with a hot bath or shower. Feel the resulting sense of being nurtured and nourished.
  • Apply a little ghee or oil to the nostrils a few times a day to maintain health mucous lining and prevent drying out.
  • Follow a relaxed and regular daily routine. Eat at regular times, exercise before breakfast (half hour walk in nature ideal).
  • After a meal lie on your left side in the pose of the Buddha (pictured).
  • Avoid stress and strain as much as possible and do not over exercise (rajas).
  • Avoid constipation – regular elimination is vital to health.
  • Autumn is a good time to declutter your house and car. Enter winter with a simple clean living space.
  • Early to bed (by 10 pm) and rise early.
  • Gentle cleansing or fasting is recommended for all doshas in this season. This can be done in many ways so consult an ayurvedic practitioner for a program to suit your needs. Fasting for more than two days should not be undertaken without professional advice.
  • For two weeks try fasting between 6.00pm and 8am.


Patricia shares one of her favourite practices for autumn

Read this passage and contemplate your own inner connection to the seasons – how each season makes you feel. In which season were you born, or have you married, had children or lived through other major events? Then focus on autumn and your connection with this season. Ask yourself what autumn has to teach you.

‘In Autumn the world starts to shed what it no longer needs and silence is released from the flowers and flows out of the earth into the world of humankind.

Autumn has come to teach us that all things in the world and within us have a beginning and an end. Yet this season can entrap us in attachment to the past while denying the future.

Autumn is about the start of decay and how this belongs in the natural order of things.

Autumn encourages you not to be trapped by your own fears but to understand them so that they may set you free from fear and small-mindedness.

Autumn brings the message that nothing is isolated or separate, all things are connected.

Autumn is the season that teaches self-reliance and offers the serenity of experiencing the connection of all life as a conscious but natural experience.’


Source: The Tibetan Art of Serenity: How to Heal Fear and Gain Contentment by Christopher Hansard

Patricia’s recommendations for further reading

Cate Stillman – Body Thrive

Laura Plumb – Ayurveda Cooking for Beginners

Shaun Matthews – The Art of Balanced Living


Patricia Wigley is has been teaching yoga since 1991 and holds qualifications in yoga therapy Ayurveda, counselling, nutrition and Anatomy and Physiology. She is Vice President of the Australian Association of Yoga Therapists (AAYT) and a past president of the International Yoga Teachers Association IYTA.

Tessa Hoffman completed her Diploma of Yoga teaching in 2016 with the IYTA.  and now lectures on the topics of yoga, philosophy and anatomy/physiology. Tessa as a background in journalism and is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) at the University of Sydney. 

* This article first appeared in the IYTA magazine, International Light.




From yoga student to lecturer! 

Rik Dawson

From yoga student to lecturer! 

Two years ago Physiotherapist Rik Dawson enrolled on the IYTA’s Diploma of Yoga Teaching – a year after graduating he is returning – as a lecturer!    

Sydney-based Physiotherapist Rik Dawson has always been a keen advocate for yoga, but it wasn’t until he sold his physiotherapy business that he decided to enrol in a Yoga Teaching Course.

He says: “I’d been practicing yoga personally for about twenty years and always introduced yoga to my patients and encouraged them to join classes when it was appropriate for them. And taking the course was my reward for selling my business!’

Two of Rik’s yoga teachers had recommended the International Yoga Teachers’ Association (IYTA), so he went along to an Open Day to find out more and was instantly impressed.

He says: “I really liked the spirit of the teachers and it felt like the kind of environment I would want to be in for 12 months!”

He signed up and the course quickly exceeded his expectations. He says: “I didn’t appreciate the meditation would be so well structured and paced and I really appreciated the safety and pace of the asana practice.”

He liked having a range of different teachers delivering the lectures. He says: “They all had a similar philosophy about safety and careful instruction, but slightly different approaches and class structure. It didn’t feel as if there was just one way to deliver a class – there were lots of ideas and different modifications for poses.”

He was also impressed with the support from the teachers and course managers. “I liked how they demanded us to be courageous in our teaching early – to get over our ‘imposter syndrome!’ At first, we began to deliver a five minute flow, before moving into a 15-20 minute sequence so when we needed to teach our final assessment class, I felt ready.”

Importantly Rik had the confidence to teach immediately after graduating – even when a pregnant student arrived in his class, he was able to draw on the knowledge learnt on the course and teach the class confidently and safely.

He also found the course helped his personal practice. “I had become quite passive in my own practice but since the course I’m now far more active. I am more mindful and move in a conscious way with intention. And my body has changed for the better with this approach.”

Since graduating a year ago, Rik – who is also the Vice President of the Australian Physiotherapy Association – has taught two online classes a week for staff at Sydney University where he is also doing a PHD – on developing an online yoga program for seniors.

Rik is now excited to return to the Diploma of Yoga teaching next year – as a lecturer!

He says: “I’m glad I’ve had a year to teach since graduating. As a physiotherapist I obviously have a good working knowledge of anatomy, I can give insight to how the year will unfold and as a former health business owner offer some advice about setting  up a yoga business.

To anyone who is considering signing up for a yoga teaching course, Rik thoroughly recommends the IYTA. He says: “The IYTA embraces a nurturing spirit and everyone wants you to succeed and find your own way forward as a teacher.”

To find out more about the IYTA’s Diploma of Yoga Teaching CLICK HERE

Why I love my IYTA by Mugs McConnell

Author and yoga teacher, Marion (Mugs) McConnell has been a member and supporter of IYTA since she first came to Australia in the mid-70s. Here she talks about her love of the association….

“In 1975-76 when I was travelling in Australia I met Val Diakos and she told me about the Yoga Teacher Training and high standards of the organisation. Although I was unable to take the training back then as I lived in Canada, I was able to make a life-long connection and learn from many of the great IYTA influences, like Swami Gitananda and Venkatesananda. My main teachers here in North American were Swami Vishnudevananda and dear great teacher Dr. Hari Dickman, who IYTA led me to and whom my book (Letters from the Yoga Masters) is about.

IYTA “mentored” me every step of the way, with encouragement and in the 1980s letting me challenge their exam so I could have equivalency as a Full Teaching Member. I was made the Canadian Representative for IYTA and held that honorable job up until around 2016, when one of my fellow Canadian members of IYTA, Dorothy Fizzell, took over the role.

I have enjoyed being a supporter of IYTA and the high standards. Our Yoga Teacher Training here in Canada is based on meeting not only the Yoga Alliance Standards but also the IYTA Standards, making it possible for our 500-hour graduates to become Full Teaching members. IYTA has supported us for many years in this when Moina Bower helped us meet this goal.

As a board member with Yoga Alliance and part of the Standards Committee, I have stood up for IYTA continually, playing a small role in the IYTA training becoming a Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance. Why? because I believe IYTA has extraordinary standards and deserves to be recognized for this. After all, IYTA was here long before YA.

I don’t get to attend all of the IYTA conferences, but when I can I really love reconnecting with long time friends. I find these conferences outstanding and worth the journey every time! I have been to the conferences in Barcelona twice (1984 and 2005), Puerto Rico (1981, where I met USA rep Prue Kestner), Uluru, in 1997 and Sydney in 2020. Your current Canadian rep, Dorothy, came to Uluru, Barcelona and Sydney too, so we were your Canadian team of devotees!

IYTA has been a steady foundation for me from almost all of my yoga life, and certainly influential in helping me to become a teacher. You have been my yoga family. Even though I have joined other yoga associations and taken numerous other trainings, IYTA will always be my number one yoga family. Thank you for all that you give, and may my life be blessed enough to give back even a small degree of what I have received!”

Mugs is the founder or the South Okanagan Yoga Academy    and author of Letters From the Yoga Masters