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Pranayama, Yoga

Three-Part Breath: Dirgha Pranayama

July 21, 2015
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Welcome to the practice of pranayama! You may remember pranayama from my post on the Eight-Fold Path a few months ago. If not, here is a review. In his book Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar breaks the work down, explaining that “Prana means breath, respiration, vitality, wing, energy or strength. Ayama means length, expansion, stretching or restraint.” So put together, pranayama is the expansion or restraint of the breath or life force; in essence, breath control. There are numerous different methods of pranayama, each with varying effects on the mind and body. Some are suitable for everyone, while others require dedicated practice.

This audio will lead you through a 6-minute introduction into  three-part breathing, or Dirgha pranayama. This style of breath is fairly easy to access, and can be practiced anytime during your day (even while sitting at your desk at work). It involves inhaling from the pit of the belly all the way up into the top of the chest, then exhaling from the top of the chest down into the bottom of the torso. This complete breath helps you to draw in more air with each inhale, allowing more oxygen to enter the lungs and travel to your cells. It can lead to a calmer, more relaxed  mind and body, and breaks the cycle of shallow breathing that often occurs during the day.

To start, you can either find a comfortable seat or lie down on the floor. If you are seated in a chair, allow your spine to grow longer by rooting sit-bones into the seat and extending the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Your hands can rest on your lap as your shoulders soften away from your ears. If you are lying down, take up space. Your feet can fall open to the sides, completely relaxed, and the palms of your hands can turn to face the ceiling. This will help your shoulders to roll open, and create more space for the breath in your chest. I will go over these cues in the audio as well, so let’s get started!

 

Life, Yoga

San Diego: Yoga and Family Fun

July 10, 2015

What happened to the last two weeks?!?! I can’t believe I’ve been back from San Diego for a week and a half. It seems like just yesterday that I was floating on a paddle board and walking along the shore. The trip started out as the annual yoga conference my mom and I take together, and slowly morphed into a full-on family vacation (minus my busy husband). In the end, my mom, dad, sister, sister’s boyfriend and I all converged on San Diego from Colorado, Texas, Cabo, and Virginia. After a bit of discussion, we realized this was our first family trip in almost 10 years! Here are some highlights of the trip:

Yoga with my Mama

Much of my time was spent on Coronado Island at the Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego Conference.The conference was located in the beautiful Coronado Hotel. We waited too long to take advantage of the discounted rates, so stayed about a block away because that place is expensive! We got to spend plenty of time wandering the halls between classes, and wandering through the entire hallway of upscale shopping in the basement. The weekend of yoga started off with a bang. I spent a full day at a workshop with the amazing Tiffany Cruikshank delving deeply into the anatomy of the hip joint (fodder for a future post!). My mom and I took a blissed-out class with Eoin Finn, and shared our very first paddle board yoga experience together the next day! I rounded out the weekend with a fun and light-hearted hamstring-focused class with Kathryn Budig (MC’d by DJ Drez), a heart-pounding immersion into backbends with Annie Carpenter, and a slow and steady hip-opening flow from Jason Crandell. It was a nice balance between the physical and intellectual sides of yoga. Next conference? Maybe San Francisco in January 2016?

La Jolla Kayak Experience

Monday was the only full day with no yoga plans, so my mom found a kayaking expedition out of nearby La Jolla. We walked over to the beach where our kayaks were waiting. There, we got a short tutorial on how to row together and tips for getting beyond the waves to the calmer ocean water.  I was in a double kayak with my sister, and all started out well. We thought we were home free until…a huge wave started forming up ahead!! We were paddling ferociously, but the wave rose way above our heads and came crashing down upon us! We still kept paddling, but eventually it took us down and almost all the way back to shore. Unfortunately for my parents in a kayak behind us, we took them out too. Thankfully we all recovered (and the water wasn’t too frigid) with only one bruise between the four of us. The second attempt was a success, and I’m glad we kept on going. We kayaked over towards some cliffs, pausing occasionally for the tour guides to give tidbits of history on the surroundings. At the cliffs, we were greeted by the barking of sea lions and spent some time watching them spiral through the water together. A bit further down, a flock of Brandt’s Cormorants rested on the cliff slope. Apparently they are an aquatic bird that can dive over 100 feet below water to find food! One by one, our tour guide led us into a cave under the cliffs to view the incredible geology of the place. The journey back to land was a lot of fun! We caught a few waves and skirted the shore back to safety and solid land.

Relaxing on the Water

While most of my days were filled with yoga, we traveled around a fair bit during the evenings and final day (with the help of our tour guide, my sister’s boyfriend). We walked along Mission Beach and Mission Bay, strolled the pier at Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach, and spent some time relaxing at Sunset Cliffs. After dropping my parents at the airport at the end of the trip, I had a few extra hours to kill. My delightful sister and her boyfriend took me to another marina (can’t remember where now) that was supremely peaceful and still. Standing on dock at the water’s edge, we spotted a baby and adult dolphin approaching us. At one point, the adult dolphin’s fin stopped popping above the surface, and the tiny baby fin was the only one rhythmically appearing. It was so quiet out that we could hear each breath when the baby rose out of the water, and it swam by just a few feet in front of where we were standing. We walked along the dock, keeping pace until the dock ended. The adult had swum ahead and was waiting a bit beyond the edge of the dock, and the two swam off into the sunset together. It was a beautiful final memory to add to the trip.

In review: First time in San Diego, not too shabby. I look forward to our next family vacation now :)

 

Asana, Yoga

Root to Extend, Find Steadiness and Ease

May 25, 2015
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It has been a beautiful weekend so far, and there is still another whole day to dive into. I am hoping to have a short yoga sequence ready to post up next week, with the help of my wonderful videographer/husband/tech guru. If you are interested in dabbling in some yoga (or if you already have an established practice, and want a review), here are some basics tips and tools for starting a physical asana practice.

  • Roots and extension: Try to approach any posture in a yoga sequence from the ground up, no matter the difficulty. Creating stability in the base of a pose will keep you safe and strong through the rest of the body. In a standing pose, root firmly and evenly through the corners of the feet. I typically teach the foot as having three corners: the center of the heel, behind the ball of the big toe, and behind the ball of the pinky toe. By pressing down through these three points evenly, you can learn to activate the three arches on the bottom of the foot. This will help to create a stable dome architecture at the bottom of the foot, and will start to activate the muscles of the lower legs. At the same time you are rooting down through the lower body, extend up through the upper body. This may mean extending the crown of the head or the hands towards the ceiling, depending on the pose. The opposition of rooting and extending will help to create more space in the body, including the spine, helping to reverse some of the compressive effects of sitting or standing unevenly during the day. The same idea can be applied to arm balances and seated postures. An added benefit of rooting and reaching is it will decrease the weight being poured into the wrists in poses like arm balances or planks, Rooting evenly through the three corners of the feet in standing poses will help you find proper alignment, avoiding pain in the knee and ankles.
  • Sthira/Sukha: In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (an important text on the practice of yoga originating about 2000 years ago), the practice of asana is only mentioned directly once, in line 46 of the second book. The sutra says “sthira, sukham, asanam”. Translated from sanskrit, this sutra speaks of finding both steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha) in one’s posture. Patanjali is mostly speaking of finding this balance between relaxation and strength in a seated posture for meditation, but yoga has evolved to include many more postures, as we all know! T.K.V. Desikachar, author of The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, explains this sutra by saying, “It is attention without tension, loosening up without slackness.” Finding a balance between these two opposing characteristics in an asana will keep the pose strong without creating needless stress.

Check in next week for some introductory videos! I hope you are having a fantastic Memorial Day weekend.

Yoga

Eight Limbs of Yoga

April 28, 2015
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I first started practicing yoga with my mom in 2007. We would pop in a Wai Lana DVD and move through the class together. It has turned into a wonderful source of bonding now that we live 1,600 miles apart. We discuss classes we have taken recently and attend yoga festivals together every year. Yoga has become a huge part of my life since I first started practicing. It helps to reduce my anxiety and helps me find peace in an often stressful world. I think a great way to get introduced to all that yoga encompasses is to take a look at the Eight Limbs of Yoga mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.  This text is considered to be one of the earliest cornerstones discussing the practice of Yoga, and was first put down in writing almost 2000 years ago. The path lists eight steps to personal improvement along the way towards ultimate union of the Self with the Universe.

    1. Yamas: Ethical restraints, or actions to limit in your life.
      • Ahimsa: Non-violence. This can also be translated as compassion for all things, including yourself. This means working to eliminate the detrimental thoughts, judgements, and actions we make against ourselves and others. Ahimsa is considered to be the most important goal to strive for.
      • Satya: Truthfulness. Yogis are encouraged to be honest and truthful in all things. If being totally honest will end up causing deep suffering, sometimes ahimsa will trump the importance of satya.
      • Asteya: Non-stealing. This includes the stealing of material items from another, but more importantly encompasses the stealing of nonmaterial things. If someone does something impressive, we should not try to steal their joy or feel jealous of their success.
      • Brahmacharya: Virtue. Find moderation in all parts of your life, trying not to over-indulge in any arena.
      • Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness. Embrace simplicity in life and do not grasp for physical possessions. Notice what is driving you to possess more and more.
    2. Niyamas: Qualities to encourage and nurture in life.
      • Saucha: Cleanliness or purity. Keep both body and mind clean. This includes personal hygiene, eating foods that keep the body clean, and practicing mindfulness to keep the mind clean. Asana and pranayama (discussed below) can help to cleanse the body internally as well.
      • Santosha: Contentment. Accept life as it comes and try to find happiness within yourself.
      • Tapas: Heat or discipline. It is important to have goals and to work hard to achieve them (without grasping or becoming attached to exact outcomes). Tapas means to have the self-discipline or internal fire to keep striving for the bettering of one’s own life and that of others.
      • Svadhyaya: Self Study. Study to learn more about yourself and the world around you.
      • Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender to God. Yoga does not tell you what religion to follow, or even that you need to follow any religion at all. It encourages developing a form of spirituality in order to find a sense of purpose, serenity, and understanding of your role in the world. By appreciating something outside of yourself, you can avoid the pitfalls of excessive pride and find compassion for others.
    3. Asana: This is the physical practice of yoga, the postures we think of when we hear someone say they do yoga. The main goal of an asana practice is to encourage flexibility and strength in the body, in order to create flexibility and strength in the mind. By moving the body through various positions, muscles, bones, connective tissues, internal organs, and lymph tissues will be massaged and invigorated. Developing stronger body-awareness over time can be a powerful method of increasing mind-awareness as well.
    4. Pranayama: Breath Control. Prana is defined as breath, energy or life. The breath is the only vital function of the body that we can consciously control. Controlling the breath can lead to the slowing down of the thoughts and the release of tension in the body. There are countless different methods of pranayama, designed to bring about different results in the body and mind.
    5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses. This can be as simple as closing the eyes or wearing earplugs. By eliminating one of the senses, the others can become enhanced. The body can more deeply feel sensations, the mind can more fully focus.
    6. Dharana: Concentration. Once the body is calmed with asana, the breath deepened with pranayama, and the senses withdrawn via pratyahara, the mind can come to a focus on a single point, thought, or idea.
    7. Dhyana: Meditation. Dhyana goes a step deeper than simple concentration. It arises when one concentrates fully and “body, breath, senses, mind, reason, and ego are all integrated in the object of [one’s] contemplation”1.
    8. Samadhi: Ecstasy. This is the ultimate goal, the holy grail, of a yoga practice. It is a state beyond consciousness, where body and senses are at rest while the mind remains awake. This results in a deep connection with the universe and an awareness of one’s role within it. This leads to a liberation from fear and eliminates the duality of self and non-self.

If we can even embrace the very first aspect of the eight-fold path – nonviolence – imagine how much improvement could come to our world! If you first come to yoga simply as a form of exercise, you might be surprised by changes you see in other parts of your life.

1. B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (New York, Schocken Books, 1979). pp. 51.

 

Life, Yoga

Who turned out the light?

February 17, 2015
Colorado

I’ve spent much of my life living in fear; fear of judgement, of failing, and even deeper down a fear of even trying. I can attest to the fact that it is so easy to allow fear to hold you back, to use it as an excuse to hide from yourself and from life.

I was painfully shy for much of high school and college (and, to be honest, even now). Social situations would find me standing in a corner trying to blend into the wall. When I went off to college and left the comfort of the friends I had made as a child, I completely fell apart. My freshman year, I exclusively spent my time with two friends I had from high school. If they were busy, I stayed alone. My friends and family would say I just needed to “get out there”, say hello to whoever I met. I would get so upset, thinking they didn’t understand, that it simply wasn’t possible.

It’s a spiraling path that is hard to escape. The more you avoid life, the harder it is to get back out there. Starting this blog, the hardest part by far is putting my life out there, sharing myself and opening up to the ‘judgement’ I so fear from my peers. A fear of being measured and found to be inadequate.

I absolutely love this quote as a source of inspiration. It helps drive me to power through the fear when it starts to overwhelm.:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.  -Marianne Williamson

Even during my weakest moments, I have always felt that I have this inner light. I have just struggled with the shade that hovers on top of it. Struggled with why I worry so much about the parts of life I can not control (like the thoughts of other people, the events of day to day life). This is a big reason why I am so enamored with the notion of the Atman.

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