Unless they’re rushing off, most teachers are happy to hang around after class and chat with their students, but people don’t always take advantage of this. For most of us, yoga is our special ‘me’ time. That time when we put our lives on hold and do something restful that is exclusively for us. On the other hand, when class is over we tend to get up and race back to our lives, guilty of having stopped. What would happen if we took that little bit of extra time and asked that question that has been weighing on our minds?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’d probably get an answer. In the meantime, we’ve compiled five really common questions that come up for people on their mats, but tend to disappear once the practice is done…
1. Why Do We Breathe Through Our Nose?
As you begin your yoga practice and start working on your breath most instructors will tell you to breathe in and out of your nose. As the oxygen passes through your nostrils and to the bottom of the lungs, the air becomes warm and makes contact with a rich network of blood vessels. The first āsanas of the class and the focus on your breathing is meant to increase your blood flow. Breathing through your nose stimulates your sinuses to produce a gas called nitric oxide, and that’s when things really start to happen.
The nitric oxide your body produces gets to work at relaxing the walls of your arteries so that the blood starts to move more freely. The more efficiently you breathe through your nose, such as when you practice ujjāyī prānāyāma — also know as the victorious breath — the more nitric oxide is produced. This leads to more space for your veins and arteries so that your blood can flow more easily and carry more oxygen and other nutrients through your body. It also expels toxins and compounds such as carbon dioxide out of your body through your nose. As a result, your brain gets more nourishing oxygen, your blood pressure goes down, and you can flow through the poses more easily.
2. Why Do I Sweat So Much?
As you continue your class, moving from warm-up āsanas to a series of sun salutations, your breath should now have a constant and efficient rhythm. The heart pumps blood faster and with each contraction it reaches further into your limbs, providing you with stability in the Warrior Poses and helps your move through Tadāsana (Mountain Pose), to Chaturanga Dandāsana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) and into Adho Mukha Śvānāsana (Downward Facing Dog Pose). The blood’s flow keeps gradually increasing, your body temperature heightens warming your muscles and your body continues exchanging stale CO2 for fresh, clean oxygen.
If you pay close attention you can feel your body refreshing your oxygen through your nose, and when you put your palms together you can feel the pulse of your whole body feeling and being alive and present. At this point, micro-droplets of sweat should start to appear on your skin — especially if you’re in a heated room. Sweating is an important part of any workout, since it allows your body to reabsorb minerals if necessary and also regulating your body’s temperature. Therefore in class we should keep focussing on our practice, and leave dealing with the external world and all its distractions, like wiping away sweat, for after.
3. Why Do I Always Feel So Zen After Yoga?
When practicing yoga, your brain detects the increase of blood flow and starts producing serotonin, a chemical that sends signals between nerves, and helps with cardiovascular regulation, pain sensitivity and mood. Good serotonin levels, which can be achieved through yoga, often provide people with a sense of tranquility. Happiness. Mindfulness. A simple sense of being present in the present and nothing else.
In class you’ve moved to the deepening twists, and your blood flow is temporarily slowed down. When twisting, you are constricting the pathways your blood naturally flows through. Your blood, including all the nutrients, white blood cells and good stuff it carries, accumulate and await. Then, as you move out of the twisted posture, the built-up blood is suddenly released back into your body. Cells, gases and compounds swim symbiotically through your circulatory system to be captured and absorbed by your muscles and organs regaining energy, balance and strength in perfect harmony.
4. What Happens If I Skip Śavāsana?
Reaching Śavāsana, Corpse Pose, is one of the most important parts of any yoga practice. It’s when the body’s temperature starts to cool down and your body processes all the āsanas you’ve held in the past hour (or so). Within your nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system is deactivated and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated leaving the mind with a sense of calmness. This stage provides you with a smooth transition from yoga back to a steady state of rest. Skipping Śavāsana increases your chances of injury and you would be interrupting an important and natural process of rest needed to heal and to reconnect with yourself. So do yourself a favour and always make time for it, even if it means skipping twists or inversions at the end of a class!
5. What Do Mantras Do?
When you pronounce a mantra out loud, either at the beginning or near the end of your practice, many positive effects over your body can be achieved. As you focus on the pronunciation of your mantra, such as the OM, the mind is being centered on that specific activity in that specific time, providing physical and emotional awareness. Secondly, many of the mantras generate gentle vibrations in your skull, such as the nasal sound of M in Om or A in Aum, which can be felt as a more broad physical vibration throughout your body. This action, which focuses the attention of your mind over the mantra once again, activates the sympathetic nervous system and creates a focused and calm state of mind, which has been shown to improve stress relief and concentration.
In your next yoga practice, or any activity in which you engage, try observing your body from within, rediscovering new sensations and engaging on a more profound sense of connection to your inner self. You might just find a new perspective and enjoyment.
Over To You
Those are five things I’ve often heard people ask after being on their mat. Were any of them familiar to you? Hopefully you took away something new today that will help inspire your next practice! Are there any other burning questions you’d like to have answered? If so, just message us on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll be sure to answer it next time!