Modern research is finally catching up to what yogi’s have known all along: breath work can produce powerful benefits. Yoga tells us that the mind and the breath are closely related. We can learn a lot by watching our breath. When we are anxious, fearful, or angry, our breath becomes quick and irregular. On the other hand, when we are calm and relaxed, our breath is slow and steady. Just as our emotions can influence our breath, the reverse is also true, our breath can influence our emotions.
The yogic term Pranayama means breath control. Becoming mindful of the breath is an important part of the hatha yoga practice. The average person breathes 15-20 times a minute; this is more than double the rate that we should be breathing.
Deep breathing allows for better gas exchange and removes stagnant air from the lungs. Instead of using our diaphragm, we take quick and shallow breathes from the chest. Yoga teaches us to slow down and deepen the breath utilizing the diaphragm, our breathing muscle. Try a few of the practices below and see for yourself how pranayama can affect your energy and mood.
There are 3 main parts to the yogic breath. During our practice we will touch all three parts of the yogic breath:
2. Inhale deeply through the nostrils and feel the hand on your belly rise. As you exhale feel the hand on your belly fall. Continue for a few breaths.
3. Deepen you breath and as you inhale feel the belly rise and then the chest expand to the sides and the collarbones rise. Exhale and let everything go. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Nadi Shodhana- Part 1
1.) Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Place the left hand on your lap in chin mudra, thumb and index finger touching and last three fingers extended straight.
2.) Place your right hand in front of your face. Bend the index and middle fingers towards the palm. Place the right thumb on the right nostril closing it.
3.) With your eyes closed, fix your gaze in between the eyebrows. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril. Try to inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. Repeat for 10-15 breathes. (Figure 2)
4.) Close the left nostril with the ring finger and pinky and breath in and out of the right nostril. Again, try to inhale and exhale for a count of four deepening the breath. Repeat for 10-15 breaths. (Figure 3)
5.) Inhale through the right nostril; close the right nostril; exhale through the left nostril; inhale through the left nostril; close the left nostril; exhale through the right nostril. Repeat for a few moments.
6.) Release the right hand and place it in chin mudra on your lap. Try to breath equally through both nostrils for a few moments.
Figure 2 (left) : With right thumb over right nostril- breath in and out of left nostril
Figure 3 (right): With right ring finger over left nostril- breath in and out of right nostril
Important Points to Remember When Practicing Pranayama
Do not force the breath. If you feel any light headed or any stress stop the practice. This practice is not recommended for those pregnant or with serious health issues. Practice under the supervision of a certified yoga teacher is strongly recommended.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha
Have you ever noticed times in your life when you are fully present? You may be playing an exciting game, painting a still life, or playing a musical instrument. Time seems to fly by. You are in the moment and not thinking about the past or future. On the other hand, can you think of times in your life that you go through the motions of what you are doing without being truly present? For instance, you may be walking to work and accidently step in a puddle because you weren’t paying attention to what you were doing. Instead, you were replaying a fight in your head that you had with your spouse the night before. Or say you are visiting with a friend you haven’t seen in a while but the whole time you can’t help but think about a big job interview you have coming up that week. You become divided. Your mind is somewhere else. You are not present.
All stress results from not being satisfied with where you are or with what you have in the current moment. This resistance to the current moment creates a low level of stress and discontentment that lingers in the background of our everyday lives. Our thoughts are not the only things that distract us from the present. We often try to escape the current moment with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping, TV, or the Internet. Although these tactics may provide some comfort in the short term, they rarely work out for anyone in the long term. The only way out is to become present.
Staying present involves a great amount awareness. Here are a few simple steps from the hatha yoga practice that can help you become more present:
1. Become Aware to Your Body
2. Relax Your Face
3. Focus on the Breath
4. Become Witness
5. Yoga Please
Sciatica refers to a symptom of pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve branches from either side of the lower lumbar spine and goes through the hip, buttock, and down each leg. You can feel pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve, but usually you only feel pain on one side of the body. Yoga postures that focus on the hips, buttocks, and hamstrings can help alleviate the symptoms of sciatica. See the postures below for more information.
With any type of muscle pain or discomfort relaxation is key. Try some restorative yoga postures. Relax with an Eye Pillow . Sip soothing chamomile tea or try some Yogi Honey Lavender Stress Relief Tea with chamomile and spearmint. Relax your muscles with an epsom salt and lavender bath. Breathe in some relaxing essential oils such as lavender or peppermint ; Just make sure to do your homework while using essential oils. Not all oils are safe for topical use. Namaste.
Yesterday my husband and I packed a small cooler and took a day trip to Cold Spring, NY, a cute town a little over an hour from NYC. We hiked up part of Wilkinson Trail, a great hike for beginners who want a really good challenge. As I breathed in the fresh air, I felt my body working hard to climb up the steep trail. Even though I am not an experienced hiker, my yoga background helped me during my hike. I tried to keep my breath steady and my body relaxed as I strategically placed each foot in front of the other, climbing my way up the rocks. Practicing mindfulness and paying close attention to my breath, body, and thoughts were the keys to my success during the climb. I noticed when I was aware, mindful, and relaxed I could keep my footing as I walked up the rocks. When I lost my breath, I lost my stride, and slowed down a lot. During difficult parts of the climb I would catch myself clenching my jaw and tensing up areas of my body unnecessarily and this would eventually lead to negative thoughts. This is very similar to the reactions we have in our body during our yoga practice. We often clench our jaws, furrow our brows, and forget to breath during difficult postures and as result the practice becomes harder. No matter if we are hiking or practicing yoga, its important we watch out for signs of stress. Treating your hike or yoga practice as a mindfulness meditation gives you the skills needed to be present enough to notice the signs of stress that show up in the body and the mind.
Have you ever found yourself applying skills learned in yoga to other activities? If so share comments below.