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Pranayama

​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.

 

 

​Pranayama for Anxiety and Stress Relief

By Pranayama, WellnessNo Comments

We are indeed in a unique and transformational time as we witness our world’s response to the Coronavirus. There has been a complete upheaval to daily life, and it has left many of us without regular avenues of stability. This has caused stress and panic for many people, as abrupt uncertainty tends to do. So, it is vital now more than ever to maintain health and wellness on all levels, and to remember that everything in life, including the challenges, is an opportunity for us to develop deeper levels of strength, love, and compassion. Yoga, Reiki, breathing techniques, and other mindfulness practices teach us how to move calmly through the ups and downs of existence with more grace and awareness. Through these holistic practices we remember how to deactivate fear-based mindsets and activate calm and clarity of mind.

What’s the first thing a yoga or meditation instructor usually asks you to do at the beginning of a class? Usually, it’s to begin focusing on your breath. Breathing techniques, or Pranayama, are a powerful tool to regain control of anxious thought patterns. Pranayama has physiological benefits as well, by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system which science tells us can slow down heart rate and increase digestion as the body becomes more relaxed. Typically, when we are stressed, breathing becomes more shallow and rapid, and heart-rate increases. As you can imagine this causes a chain of events physiologically, that can lead to increased anxiety and even ailments such as dizziness or nausea. If we remember to pause, and take a slow breath, we can regain control over our system.

Regulated breathing is an unbelievably powerful tool and meditation technique that has been utilized by yoga practitioners for at least two-thousand years or more. Pranayama is a branch of the 8-Limbed yogic path, or yogic guidelines, and is a key process in the overall practice of yoga. The word “prana” translates roughly to life-force energy, and the word “yama” roughly translates to restraint. Therefore, Pranayama goes beyond the actual breathing techniques themselves, and truly describes the connection of life-force energy within the body. Breathing exercises are practiced to keep the body clear from physical, energetic, and emotional blockages, so that your life force energy becomes healthy and balanced. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite breathing techniques for stress relief, called Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

The word “nadi” generally translates to channel, and “shodhana” approximately translates to purifying. Therefore, Nadi Shodhana is a potent breathing technique for clearing the inner subtle channels of the body and has been known to have an overall balancing effect.

How To Practice

1. Press your pointer and middle finger between your eyebrows, take one deep cycle of breath.
2. Then press your thumb against your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril for a count of 4-8 seconds, hold at the top of your inhale plug both nostrils, press your left nostril with your ring and pinkie finger to exhale through your right nostril for the same count, pause at the bottom of your exhale.
3. Keep fingers as they are and breathe through the right nostril to repeat the cycle in the other direction.

Practice as many cycles as you’d like, I would recommend at least 9 cycles if you can. If you can increase the length of your cycles you are welcome to do so, you may find that your lung capacity and breath control increase with practice. Once you are finished with your cycles take a couple deep rounds of breath regularly. How do you feel?

Simply focusing on slowing down your breath is incredibly beneficial as well. Often referred to as Belly Breathing, as you inhale let your belly extend with a gentle hold at the top of your breath, and keep your shoulders relaxed. As you exhale draw your belly back in towards your spine, pause at the bottom of your breath. Go through as many cycles as you would like, and keep your jaw as relaxed as possible. It can be helpful to place your hands on your lower belly and chest, so you can feel where your breath is going first.

Remember, you have the power to shift your energy and mindset, it takes practice. Take 5 slow, deep breaths right now. Your mind is clear and calm, you are in control.

 

 

 

 

With 6+ years of yoga experience, Christine Fronterotta is passionate about sharing the gifts of mindfulness and wellness. Her ample teaching experiences include her years in yoga studio management, teaching abroad in Costa Rica, yoga for schools, company yoga, and much more. She is a certified Reiki Master, Sound Healer, and fuses these techniques in her teaching and healing sessions. Additionally she is a Yoga Educator with well over 1,000 hours of yoga instruction, and has certified many students to become instructors. Currently she teaches yoga for companies, privately, in studios, and for special events. Christine writes regularly for YogaRenew Teacher Training. She is passionate about offering a healing and teaching yoga to others.

 

​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.

 

3 Pranayama Breath Practices To Try Today

By PranayamaNo Comments



Breath work is an invaluable tool for yoga teachers. Pranayama techniques use breathing to fully maximize each cavity in our bodies. Retention of the breath, focused exhalations, and the pauses in between allow the body to flood fresh prana (life force) throughout our system.

Pranayama practices can invigorate or relax the body. Practicing pranayama outside of yoga classes or meditation may take some getting used to at first, yet incorporating breath practices at work and home make a huge impact.

In between meetings, a few minutes after lunch, or when you get home from a busy day. Just a few minutes of deep breathing techniques can quiet the autonomic nervous system and calm your mind. Try these three pranayama techniques, and teach it to your students!


1. Nadi Shodana

Alternate Nose Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is an ancient yoga practice that balances the nervous system. The left side associated with the parasympathetic (relaxation action), and the right side with the sympathetic (fight, flight or freeze response). By regulating the breath through the left nostril and right nostril, the body is well balanced and right and left brain synchronize.

Nadi in Sanskrit means “channel” and Shodhana means “purification”. By practicing Nadi Shodhana our channels are more open, unclogged and with less congestion. A range of benefits happen as a way to bring equilibrium, treat a headache, stress, or even bring a little more lightness to your day.

For beginners, sitting in a comfortable seated position like Sukhasana (Easy Pose) with your sit bones higher than your knees helps to make more space to sit comfortably. A general rule is to start on the left side, left-nostril breathing decreases your heart rate.

Use your right hand ring finger to close your left nostril, and your right thumb to block your right nostril. The index and middle finger can fold in your palm. Close your right nostril, inhale through your left nostril for five counts. Close the left nostril with ring finger, and exhale through your right nostril for five counts. Alternate between the two sides open and closing, and add retention. You can practice retaining the breath for five counts, and gradually increase.

Nadi Shodhana is a useful breathing technique to incorporate into your yoga classes. It can lift the mood and vibe of the class, and is great to do in preparation for meditation.

2. Bhramari

Bhramari translates to the sounds of the bees. Bhramari (Bee Breath), for beginners an audible practice, with the mouth closed uses vibration to create a soothing sound. The gentle buzzing sound can quiet the chitta (mind chatter) that tends too loop in our thoughts that leads to sufferring. A way to alleviate, or shift perspective happens with the Bee Breath practice.

Also calming to the autonomic nervous system, Bhramari is a therapeutic practice that especially helps those with throat issues, sinus congestion and maintaining peace of mind. For yoga teachers, having a strong awareness of the technique will make you more confidant to teach the pranayama practice to your yoga students.

To practice, sit comfortably on blankets, yoga blocks, a meditation cushion, or anything that suits you. A chair is too a good prop to use. To direct your senses inward, close the eyes and center with a few deep inhalations and exhalations. At you last exhalation, fully exhale all the air out and take a deep inhale. On the exhale, begin making a gentle buzzing sound as you exhale to four counts. The sound should be soothing, and originate from deep in the throat as possible. When you exhale all of your air, inhale slowly to four counts. Continue to repeat the breathing cycle. Exhale, buzzing until you release all your breath, and inhale slowly. Notice on the exhalations, the vibration originating low in your throat, reverberating at the roof of your mouth, and up to your brain.

With practice, your thoughts will become absorbed by the sound vibrating inside. Build up to practicing Bhramari for one to five minutes is ideal. As the practice progresses, using your fingers to block the ears and eyes deepens the benefits of Bhramari.

3. Ujjayi

Ujjayi in Sanskrit translates to victorious, and is compared with the sound of the ocean. As part of your asana practice or with retention for a seated breathing pratice, Ujjayi breathing assists with tuning your senses inward. The audible sound in the beginning, helps to focus on the breath. So much can be told from listening to your students breathing, and a reminder to keep the victorious breath during yoga class is something to encourage.

When Ujjayi is engaged, the pelvis is better supported because of its relationship with the diapham. On inhalation, the pelvic floor and diaphragm descend down toward the ground. On exhalation, the pelvic floor and diaphragm ascend up. This focused breathing leads to lower back and pelvis support.

Another pranayama practice that opens up the channels and releases blockages, Ujjayi breathing centralizes your focus during asana practice. The sound of the ocean breathing reduces your attention on other distracting sounds that may be in the room.

To practice first, sit in any comfortable position. Take a few grounding breaths. Begin by inhaling through your nose and exhale out of your mouth making the sound “ha” for 4 counts. After a few rounds, inhale through your nose, and on the exhale keep the mouth shut as you create that same audible exhale through your nostrils. Notice the action at the back of your throat. As your vocal cords narrow you can regulate the amount of breath moving in and out, similar to the mechanism of a hose nozzle. Practice Ujjayi for a minute or two, and become aware of its power.

Pranayama techniques are profound impacts on the overall health of your mind and body. Remember to take time to teach breathing exercises during your yoga class, often the asana is the only focus. For yoga to be of the most benefit, learning to use the power of the breath to shift stagnant energy better supports your healthiest version.


Desirée McKenzie is a yoga teacher and writer. She trained 500+ hours as a Vinyasa Yoga Teacher in 2007, and is a certified Thai Yoga Bodywork Specialist since 2014. Her blended training in the wellness realm create classes that soothe, nourish and strengthen the body. Desirée continues to deepen her yoga studies, focusing on anatomy. She is grateful to have learned the ancient healing practices that maintain equanimity and grace.

Yoga Breath, Flexibility, and Balance.. On and Off the Mat

By Pranayama, Yoga LifestyleNo Comments



When I started going to Yoga classes, I thought it was only about flexibility.
I also thought you could be
good at
Yoga. Group meditation and breathing exercises were the part of class where I peaked through closed eyelids, sizing people up to see who my “competition” would be.

I’ve always been involved in athletics. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call
myself an athlete – the competitive nature of sports has carried over into my fitness regime. I’ve always wanted to be the strongest, fastest, or comparing the number of reps I get in before taking a rest break to the gal next to me. Through my yoga practice,
I’ve learned three important things that allows me to maximize workouts so that when that competitive edge creeps up on me, I know I can crush my goals! Through finding my breath, improving my flexibility, and gaining more balance I can bring enjoyment, ease,
and productive to all activities – whether it’s running, lifting weights, or going for a 90 minute Bikram session.

Breath

I remember playing soccer in highschool, making a sprint all the way down the
field when a play changes only to feel like I was going to blackout. I always held my breath during those really intense pushes and took this practice into my workout sessions. You can listen to your personal trainer or group instructor when they say “inhale
on the way down, exhale on the way up” – but actually making it a natural part of your workout routine takes practice. The lengthening and contracting of your muscles move in time with your breath.

In
Yoga, the movements are the same: inhale, upward dog, exhale, downward dog. When you find yourself on the mat at the beginning of practice, the first thing
you do is to clear your mind, and draw yourself into your practice by regulating your breathing. By keeping a regular breath; it focuses your mind, creates
discipline in your practice, and helps you crush your fitness goals at the same time.

Breath = Discipline.


Flexibility

Gaining flexibility
allows for a deeper range of motion, so you get more out of your practice, and exercise. It also gives you access to your muscles that you may have lost over time. Flexibility strengthens and protects your muscles so you are less apt to injure
yourself in daily life – for example during a game of tag with your children
or grandchildren – or jumping over that bigger puddle in the parking lot if you need to. If you
think about flexibility in terms of range of motion, it opens up a lot more possibilities during your workouts. Increased flexibility will allow you to jump higher and step further for a deeper lunge. It’ll also keep you from getting stiff a few days later
after an intense workout.


Balance

When you think of balance on the mat, you may think of the “I can stand on one
foot with my eyes closed for 30 seconds” kind of balance. Balance in yoga helps us to bring balance into our lifestyles. As you
go through your asanas, it forces you to use several muscle groups; moving from a stretch in Downward Facing Dog to tightening the core – to hopping in between the hands – to flexing the triceps to hover just above the mat in Chaturanga. In Tree Pose, you also
encounter the need for flexibility
and
strength to find the balance you need when you tuck your foot, lift the chest, move your hands to heart center and dare to close your eyes.

But balance
can be much more deeper than that. Balance can also give you the confidence to go through your day-to-day life and not think about your physical limitations. During a particular sweaty and difficult Bikram Yoga session, I always remember my instructor reminding
the class, “you practice Yoga so your body doesn’t keep you from living your life.”

You need
balance to hop over that puddle in the parking lot. You need balance to pick up something up with your toes while cradling your sleeping child in your arms. You need balance to bound up the stairs to the front porch to wrap your loved ones in your arms.

You need balance to crush those squats while crushing your New Year’s resolution
to get in shape. You also get balance when other things align like finding your breath, staying with your breath and perhaps pushing through that 13th mile in a marathon.

One could say that practicing Yoga is an essential part of a fitness routine.
The mat is a space to find the discipline you need to stick to your goals in life and crush them. It also gives you the headspace to prepare you for the journey off the mat.


My name is Emily. I started practicing Yoga during undergrad and, after find the meaning of Yoga, made it a part of my lifestyle and fitness routine. I lead classes at work and attend classes around town whenever I can. I completed my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga renew after the Yoga instructor at work moved on. I was given the opportunity to pursue one of my dreams and spread my passion for Yoga to others. I hope to continue using Yoga in the corporate world to bring balance and health to friends and colleagues.