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Claire Papell

​Relaxation in One Yoga Pose: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Yoga Poses, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

A few summers ago, I suffered from terrible anxiety. To cope, I’d often sit outside under the trees noticing the light pouring through the branches and listening to the sound of my breath mingling with the tune of fluttering leaves. It would bring me tranquility and it was time just for me. I had faith in this practice to restore me, if I gave the trees my full attention. Yoga requires a similar faith. If we practice with sincere effort, equanimity and trust, over time the process of yoga will bring us back to ourselves. And like the shelter of the trees, one pose can also be a place of refuge. The āsanas are not simply things we do. They are places we go.

The current global health crisis is a moment of emotional, physical, and spiritual depletion. We may not have the time or energy for lengthy āsana practices or extended meditations right now. But if we’re tired and anxious there are simple, time-efficient ways to restore with yoga.

Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Koṇāsana), accompanied by breath-work and focused awareness, can be a complete practice for deep relaxation. Do the best you can to find a quiet space to do this exercise. If it feels impossible to calm down, don’t be dissuaded. Regardless of how long you have available to rest in this posture, it will benefit your mind and body. Proceed without attachment to the outcomes, but with willingness and curiosity.

Step 1: Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Koṇāsana)

Start in Corpse Pose (Śavāsana) and take a few breaths there. With each exhale loosen the muscles of your back, melting into the support of the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together at a comfortable distance from your pelvis, opening your knees wide. Place a block, cushion or rolled up towel under each knee. Allow these supports to bear the full weight of your legs, facilitating a release in your hips. Draw your tailbone down the mat, rolling your pelvis up towards your navel, creating space in your lower back. Tuck the chin slightly to lengthen the back of your neck and adjust as needed to ensure your spine is not compressed. Lay your head on a pillow and drape a blanket over your body. Close your eyes or soften your gaze, relax the muscles of your face, and position the hands in any way that feels best to you. Breathe naturally for several minutes. Remain in this posture for the duration of the practice, or for as long as it feels comfortable.

Step 2: Three Part Breath (Dīrgha Pranāyāma)

Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your heart. Prop up your elbows with rolled towels if desired. Inhale from the space below your navel and send the breath seamlessly through your rib cage, extending the sides of your body, and then up into your chest until your lungs are full. Draw your shoulders towards the mat as your heart space opens. Exhale completely and with control. Allow your chest to fall, your ribs to reform and your navel to gently drop back towards the spine. With each breath cycle use the placement of your hands to feel the breath dance in your body.

Step 3: Withdraw the Senses (Pratyāhāra)

Disengage your senses from the world beyond your mat. Focus on your inward experience, rather than ambient noise, anxious thoughts, or unrelenting laundry lists. When your mind starts to wander, refocus on your breathing. If the thoughts persist, don’t be discouraged. Use your breath awareness as a shield from material distractions, as well as a guide for exploring the stillness and stability of your inner self. Pay attention to your breathing, but abandon all effort in your body. Be at ease in the unknown, the mystery of the self, an uncharted holy place.

May this practice bring you solace and peace, quell worry and fear, and serve as a place of refuge protected by the unassuming presence of your own breath. May it reveal the subtle complexities of your body, the transformative power of the āsanas, and the grace of praṇa. Above all, may it revitalize your spirit in times of great uncertainty.



Claire Papell is a writer and yoga teacher (RYT-500) committed to revealing and honoring the hard truths of being human. Her yoga education included extensive study of the rich tradition of bhakti-yoga – the yoga of devotional service. Through the reading of sacred texts, yogic philosophy and kirtan, she developed a deep and persistent wonderment about Spirit.






​A Home Yoga Practice for Respiratory Wellness

By Pranayama, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

A holistic health practitioner once told me: “The body is designed to heal.” I found her words very comforting. In yogic terms, the body’s dharma, or purpose, is to repair itself so it can remain a healthy vehicle for the soul. We may feel particularly vulnerable right now due to widespread illness, but we can support the body’s healing abilities with yoga. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, here is a home practice that promotes respiratory wellness by exercising the lungs, opening the chest, and improving posture.

1. Three Part Breath and Alternate Nostril Breathing

With repeated practice Three Part Breath (Dīrgha Prāṇāyāma) teaches us to use our full lung capacity. Sit in Easy Pose (Sukhāsana) with your hips elevated on a block or blanket. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your heart to feel the rhythm of your breath. Inhale deeply from your belly, send the breath up through your rib cage, and then into your chest until your lungs are full. Exhale from your chest, deflate your ribs, and draw your navel back towards your spine to completely empty your lungs.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nāḍī Śodhana Prāṇāyāma) purifies the nāḍīs, which are channels for energy flow in the body, and it’s very calming. Place the pointer and middle fingers of your dominant hand on the bridge of your nose or curled into your palm. Inhale fully through both nostrils. If you’re right handed, press your right nostril closed with your thumb and exhale through your left nostril. With your right nostril blocked, inhale fully through your left. Close your left nostril with your ring finger. Then release your thumb and exhale out your right nostril. With your left nostril blocked, inhale fully through your right. Close your right nostril and then exhale out your left. If breathing through the nose is difficult due to sinus congestion, practice Three Part Breath through the mouth and avoid Alternate Nostril Breathing until the airways clear. Take long, full breaths for the remainder of the practice.

2. Bound Angle Pose

Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Koṇāsana) opens the abdomen for deep breathing. Sit upright and bring the soles of your feet together in front of you with your knees wide. Place a prop under each knee for support. Inhale from below your navel and fill your lungs completely. Take several rounds of deep breaths in this posture.

3. Locust Pose

Locust Pose (Śalabhāsana) improves our posture which promotes lung efficiency. Lay face down and interlace your hands behind your back, drawing them towards your feet. Bring your feet together, and on an inhale, lift your feet and chest off the mat. Press your hips down as you stretch from your waist, opening your chest from below your shoulder blades, rather than bending at your lumbar spine. Incorporate this pose into a few rounds of Classical Sun Salutations (Classical Sūrya Namaskar). Practice it in place of Cobra Pose (Bhujaṅgāsana). Classical Sun Salutations prepare the body for other āsanas by loosening the shoulders and hips.

4. Cow Face Pose

Cow Face Pose (Gomukhāsana) opens the chest and shoulders. Start on your hands and knees. Cross your left shin over your right calf behind you. Sit upright so your right knee stacks on top of your left and your feet land by your sides. Alternatively, practice the upper body portion of this pose in a comfortable seated position. Reach your right arm out to the side and bring your right hand to your low back, palm facing out. Extend your left hand to the ceiling, bend the elbow and reach your left hand down your back. Gently move your hands towards each other along your spine until your fingers clasp. If your hands don’t meet, don’t force it. Hold the ends of a towel or piece of clothing to bridge the gap between your hands. Repeat on the opposite side.

5. Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhāsana) opens the chest while strengthening the lower back and legs. In a reclined position, lift your hips off the mat, position your feet under your knees, and relax your arms by your sides. For support, position a block under your sacrum (triangular bone at the base of your spine). Send nourishing prāṇa into the heart-space with Three Part Breath.

6. Corpse Pose

Conclude in Corpse Pose (Śavāsana) or in another restful posture like supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Koṇāsana). Cease breath control and relax the body. Withdraw your senses from the external world and focus on the natural rhythm of your inhales and exhales. Meditate on an affirmation like The body is designed to heal or My body is the home of my spirit. Your own inner wisdom may surface during this relaxation period



Claire Papell is a writer and yoga teacher (RYT-500) committed to revealing and honoring the hard truths of being human. Her yoga education included extensive study of the rich tradition of bhakti-yoga – the yoga of devotional service. Through the reading of sacred texts, yogic philosophy and kirtan, she developed a deep and persistent wonderment about Spirit.Claire believes the yoga tradition offers powerful tools for healing. She draws from personal experiences and her spiritual contemplations to present unique perspectives on grief, loss, and trauma. Through vivid language and a poetic voice, she hopes to connect closely to her readers. When leading a yoga class, Claire relates to her students with similar intention. Her personal yoga practice and teaching style emphasize thoughtful sequencing, steady pacing and unwavering emphasis on the breath. She designs each class to reveal what she values most about yoga, which is its remarkable ability to stretch our hearts – wonder-drenched and mystical places – so pain and joy, gratitude and grief can all exist, side by side.



​3 Restful Practices to Support Immunity

By Wellness, Yoga LifestyleNo Comments

Fatigue and stress wreck havoc on the immune system. Whenever I get sick, it’s usually because work and worry have depleted my emotional, mental, and physical reserves. Rest is essential to our well-being. Taking breaks, slowing down, and sleeping well allow the body to do what it does best, which is defend and repair itself. Without the energy it needs to function, our immune system simply can’t keep up.

Incorporating rest into our busy lives can be quite challenging, but doing so trains our bodies and minds to relax when the world around us is moving very fast. I’m a big fan of personal practices that restore my sense of self. Carving out time for reflection, designing my space, and being creative, even for brief periods of time, nourish me physically and spiritually. Here are a few ideas for replenishing throughout the day, and I hope they inspire others.

1. Mindful Meals

I worked in food service for several years, and due to the demands of my job, I often ate standing up, while working, and at erratic times. My health suffered, particularly my digestion. If we eat on the go our digestive system doesn’t have the energy it needs to process our food and absorb nutrients because our body is busy doing something else. Without proper nourishment from our food our immune system doesn’t have the fuel it needs to fight illness.

Preparing and enjoying wholesome food is a method of self-healing. Mindfulness is practicing full awareness in the present moment, without reaction or judgement. Sitting at a table, enjoying the taste of our food, noticing the colors on our plates, chewing slowly, and pausing in between bites is a mindful practice that supports the body’s life-giving functions. Start the day with a slow breakfast. Set the table, remove clutter and light a candle. Whatever foods you have available, prepare them with care. Eat slowly and patiently, and sit for a while after you’ve finished. Doing so signals your body to focus on processing nutrients into energy.

2. Observing Nature

Walking is wonderful exercise and can be quite meditative if practiced with full awareness. Due to the coronavirus threat, walking outside may not feel safe right now, especially if you live in a crowded place. If that’s the case, there are other ways to slow down and notice your surroundings.

Observing our environment focuses the mind on the present moment, rather than our thoughts, which often exist in the past or future. When the mind slows down the body can rest. Spend a few minutes by an open window, on your front stoop, or in your backyard. Walk barefoot through the grass or sit with your eyes closed to soak up the sun. Notice the various sights and sounds, whether it’s lawn mowers or children playing, traffic noise or bird songs. If you see something beautiful, take time to delight in that experience. Slow down your movements or sit still, and disregard thoughts that pull you from the present moment.

3. Evening Rituals

To me sleep is a sacred time of renewal in order to greet the new day ahead with fresh eyes and a vibrant spirit. It’s the body’s optimal time to repair. A quick internet search will yield numerous articles linking the blue light emitted from digital screens to poor sleep. News and other information absorbed prior to bed can be over-stimulating and agitating. Establish a cut-off for screen time. Make yourself a calming cup of tea or soothing golden milk, and sit for a few moments to enjoy it. If you have time, silently meditate in a comfortable position. While lying in bed place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Take long, full breaths, feeling your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Meditation and mindful breathing activate our parasympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for rest and renewal.

Rest is a form of nourishment. It’s essential to our health and will benefit us in even small doses. Deep sleep and mindful moments replenish our energy reserves so we don’t run out of what the body needs to stay well. Times of relaxation and quiet awareness are opportunities to learn about ourselves and relate to our bodies, which can foster trust in their resiliency, wholeness, and innate capacity to heal.


​3 Tips For Improving Verbal Cues For Yoga Teachers

By Yoga TeachersNo Comments

Yoga teachers are essentially communicators. Improving our verbal cues is key to teaching supportive, well-rounded and impactful yoga classes. More often than not, we’re leading a varied group of students with a range of learning styles, knowledge, expectations and emotional states. It’s important that every student feels accepted, guided and safe. Determining the most effective way to deliver our cues so everyone understands is tough, meaningful and essential work.

Think of verbal cueing as a practice of connecting with people through language. Our words will likely fall flat from time to time, but we’ll always have the opportunity to try again. If a cue results in confusion or students move in a way we didn’t intend, that’s helpful information. In that situation, try a different approach instead of moving on. Self-correcting in the moment reveals our leadership and care. Our students’ responses to our cues are feedback on the cue itself and are not judgements on our value as yoga teachers. Here are some tips for improving our communication skills in class:

1. Take A Breath Before Speaking

People take class to be led through an experience. They expect us to tell them what to do and when to do it. Improving the delivery of our cues through breathing keeps our classes running smoothly and with everyone on the same page.

Breathing mindfully calms our nerves so we can focus on what we’re saying. Even more, inhaling before we speak enables us to annunciate clearly and project our words so our students can hear and understand us. The physical mechanics of this make sense if we consider our own vocal experiences. Full lungs allow us to vocalize from our cores as opposed to speaking while taking shallow breaths, which results in timid or superficial sounds. With control of our breath, we can vary our tone to motivate our students, show excitement and express joy, which makes our cues even more effective.

2. Use Clear And Concise Language 

Simple directions are easy to follow and that’s exactly what we need our students to do – follow our cues. Naming the body part and how or where it should move next is a solid formula for giving clear directions. Hands on the mat, hips back and relax shoulders away from the ears are good examples of this. Imagery, poetic language and a thought-provoking dharma talk are essential to serving our students well. However, think of these other elements as decorations, adorning the base cues to illuminate all the depth and wonder yoga has to offer.

When it comes to verbal instruction, less is more. We don’t want to muddy our key message with a lot of words and it’s important to give our students time in the poses without us talking so they can turn inward and listen to whatever surfaces. Keep it clear and concise, and allow the combination of breath and asana to work its magic.

3. Avoid Abstract Phrases And Anatomical Terms 

Cueing effectively means speaking the language of our students. We, the teachers, might be accustomed to certain terms or figures of speech, but these words may sound foreign to our students since everyone arrives with a different degree of familiarity with yoga.

We may have heard cues such as shine the heart forward or connect to the earth, and then use them in our classes. While these phrases may serve a purpose at times, they’re also abstract concepts that do not explicitly tell our students what to do. Saying open the chest or press the soles of your feet into the mat convey how we want our students to move or engage their muscles.

Using anatomical terms as opposed to common names when referencing body parts may throw students off as well. Most of us are unfamiliar with scientific terminology, nor do we think about our bodies in these terms. For example, using shoulder blade instead of scapula in a cue will be clearer for the majority of the people in the room.

It’s worth improving our communication skills since language is a bridge for connecting with our students. The more effectively we communicate, the more successful we’ll be at creating opportunities for people to develop body awareness, physical strength and calm, steady minds.

​Inspiring Students to Breathe Deeply with Ujjāyi Prāṇāyāma

By Pranayama, Yoga Practice, Yoga TeachersNo Comments

Several years ago, I spent a summer in Ireland. For part of that time I lived alone in a cottage on the west coast of Connemara, right off the Atlantic ocean. Rolling peaks draped over the countryside behind me while the expansive, bare coastline made those rough waters feel even closer than they already were. The small house endured whatever weather the ocean delivered since there were no trees or hillsides to block the elements from rushing inland. I would often lay quietly, listening to the sound of the wind whipping around the house. It was rhythmic and calming. It had a tempo of filling up and letting go.

The late poet Mary Oliver offered this, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” In terms of yoga, learning to focus on our breathing is foundational to nurturing a much deeper relationship with ourselves. When I started practicing yoga the most noteworthy change I experienced was my ability to pay attention to my breathing and to breathe deeply through a prāṇāyāma technique called Ujjāyi. When I returned home from Ireland and heard my breath sounds in the quiet yoga studio, my inhales and exhales sounded familiar in a new way. I realized that the pulse of those Atlantic gusts on the walls of the cottage sounded just like my Ujjāyi breath. Even more, I began to understand that the magnificent power of the wind off the ocean was the same elemental energy that existed within me.

The word prāṇa means vital breath, wind, energy and strength, and prāṇāyāma is the work of expanding and controlling the breath in order to sync our individual prāṇa with a universal one. One of the most impactful gifts we can offer our yoga students is the invitation to breathe deeply through Ujjāyi prāṇāyāma. The word Ujjāyi contains many meanings including expansion, victory and triumph. This powerful technique involves slightly constricting the muscles at the back of the throat while inhaling and exhaling through the nose. The air travels across the roof of the mouth creating audible, whisper-like breath sounds, similar to wind or waves. The idea is to create smooth, rhythmic cycles of breath by steadily transitioning between full inhales and exhales while pausing briefly in between each. It’s movement in the body, and you can hear it and feel it. Here are some tips and considerations for teaching Ujjāyi breath:

1. Breathe with your students.

Taking the breaths we prompt our students to take not only helps us remain calm and focused while teaching, but also supports a well-paced class so our students have time to practice linking their breath with their movements. Breathing audibly can feel vulnerable to students regardless of how long they’ve been practicing yoga. By joining them in the breath-work we’re modeling what we’re teaching and offering them companionship at the same time, which fosters fellowship and trust.

2. Teach Ujjāyi with exhalation through the mouth.

If our students have never practiced Ujjāyi prāṇāyāma, understanding the sounds they’re striving for may take time. A helpful way to introduce students to Ujjāyi breath sounds is by leading them through a few rounds with exhalation through the mouth. After instructing them to inhale deeply through the nose, cue them to exhale through a wide, open mouth as if they were trying to see their breath or warm their hands on a cold day, which creates a “ha” sound. Then direct them to continue breathing deeply and audibly but now inhaling and exhaling only through the nose.

3. Reminding students to breathe is enough.

In some cases it may take time for your students to become comfortable engaging Ujjāyi breath in class. If so, don’t worry. Keep teaching it and exploring different language to support them. A breath-focused dharma talk is very powerful. I often remind my students that the most important thing they’ll do in class is breathe. The act of focusing on our inhales and exhales is the essential first step to breathing deeply and still offers enormous benefit.

By learning to quiet my thoughts through focused breathing, I fostered a connection to something greater than myself. Whether it’s the wind at my doorstep or the breath in my body, these experiences of prāṇa nurture in me a state of unparalleled quiet that is deeply reverent, full of wonder and even prayerful. Inspiring our students to take full, deep breaths invites them to move beyond attention and towards relationship. It can encourage thoughtful self-reflection and, quite possibly, a sincere curiosity about the nature of Spirit.