​Pranayama for Anxiety and Stress Relief

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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.

Holistic Health And Immunity In Times Of Uncertainty

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The majority of us are at home practicing social distancing, while others are still going to work to the essential jobs that support us during this global pandemic. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you are on, taking good care of yourself seems more vital now than ever. Most of the time our immune systems do a good job of fighting off illnesses, however sometimes it isn’t able to for various reasons, and we get sick. There are many factors that can determine immune health. Genetics, lifestyle, exercise, sleep, diet, mental health, etc. are all said to play a role in overall health and immunity. Looking at our body and mind as an overall whole can contribute to an immune system that elicits a healthy and strong response to attacks. Yoga and Holistic practices offer beneficial tips as well.


Good nutrition may perhaps be one of the most important factors in maintaining body health, as well as mental health. Our body needs proper macro and micronutrients, antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins, fat, and water to function, stay healthy, and provide defense for disease and environmental factors. Rather than letting this be a source of stress or overwhelm, it can be helpful to have guidelines, and simply start to notice the foods you are purchasing more closely. Organic meats processed without hormones or antibiotics if you are not vegan, minimally processed foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, switching from processed sugar to dates, honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar, micronutrient rich herbal foods such as spirulina, turmeric, and wheat grass, and lots of water are a few suggestions. All of which are beneficial aides in maintaining body health, but also mental health.

More research has been done the past decade regarding the connection between a healthy gut, or GI System, and healthy mind. In fact, studies have been done that link chronic anxiety to an unhealthy gut or imbalanced gut bacteria. Yogis have told us for thousands of years that every part of us is connected. It’s in the word itself, “yoga” means to yoke, or to bring together. Modern day science is confirming what the ancient yogis have known all along, that our body and its systems are interconnected.
In order to maintain a healthy gut, probiotics and fiber-rich foods can bring balance. Examples are yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, bone broth, and kimchi. If you are vegan you can usually find options in these categories. Just be mindful of sneaky extra ingredients such as processed sugars or preservatives.

Holistic Allies

In addition to healthy food nutrition, herbal remedies have the potential to assist in relieving certain ailments, boost immunity, and have a myriad of medicinal properties. For example, Lemon Balm has the potential to calm the nervous system, relieve occasional indigestion, and promote a sense of calm that relieves anxiety. Garlic and echinacea root are known as immune stimulants. A potent oil, oil of oregano, has been shown to have antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, in addition to other powerful properties. Also, mushroom powders such as reishi, astragalus, and turkey tail are thought to help regulate the immune system. Another ancient medicinal herb is ashwagandha, it is known as an adaptogenic herb that can help relieve stress or provide energy, depending on what your body needs. If you feel the early onset of something coming on, try making a tonic such as hot water, fresh lemon, fresh ginger, and 1-2 tablespoon(s) of apple cider vinegar with honey and 2-4 drops of oil of oregano. Be mindful as oil of oregano is very strong and can burn or cause upset stomach. Remember to speak to your health professional before ingesting herbs as they are often not regulated.

Therapeutic grade essential oils are said to have a myriad of healing properties as well. Lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, rosemary, and tea tree are potent oils and can aide in overall health and immunity. Be aware that not all essential oil brands are created equal. Some are meant only for diffusing, and some can be used topically with a carrier oil, or some even minimally ingested. Without proper knowledge these healing oils can quickly become detrimental. Do your research before purchasing an oil and speak with a health professional before use. The term therapeutic grade on the bottle isn’t enough to ensure quality, check for the company’s test results such as GC/MS, and verify there are no fillers or additives in the oil. That being said, with proper knowledge, essential oils can be a powerful tool to maintain health and wellness with antiviral and antibacterial properties, among others.


Yoga and holistic practices remind us to look at ourselves as one whole. To take into consideration our nutrition, herbal remedies, adequate exercise, good sleep, balancing practices such as breathing techniques, meditation, and mantras, in order to achieve overall health and wellness. It’s not just our body that keeps us healthy, it is our emotions, thoughts, mind and spirit. During this time of quarantine, it can be a great time to integrate more healthy and holistic practices into your daily routine if you are able to. I know not everyone is able to do this, and many are struggling greatly right now, but if you are able to, one of the best things we can do is take care of ourselves, so that we may better be able to take care of others in our community. Have patience with yourself along the way.

Note: The above information is simply to serve as alternative knowledge, and thus should not be taken as medical prescription or advise. Please consult with a physician before taking any herbs or changing diet as there can be adverse side effects with certain medications, and certain conditions should be taken into consideration.

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

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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.

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.

​What is Meditation and Why is it Beneficial Today?

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What comes to mind when you think of meditation? Probably something along the lines of a person sitting cross-legged on a pillow with their eyes closed, hands placed in an intentional position, and perhaps making the sound of OM. You wouldn’t be wrong, but meditation is a profound practice that goes beyond the common image we see on social media nowadays.

Meditation has roots that go way back. Some scholars believe it’s as old as humanity itself, while others document the practice back to the first set of meditation techniques originating in India over 4,000 years ago, as documented in the oldest Hindu texts. What can be concluded is that it’s an ancient practice that has made its way all the way in to 2020 and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon. Let’s take a look at some reasons why that might be.

What Is Meditation?

Most commonly today in modern Western society, meditation is the term used to describe the technique of training your mind to be calm, similar to how you go to the gym to train your body to be strong and flexible. Meditation refers to a practice that brings the practitioner into a state of consciousness, connectedness, and profound awareness. Usually attained by sitting still, focusing on breathing, and clearing of erroneous thoughts. It is often described as the journey into stillness, silence, and space. Meditation teaches us to look within ourselves, which ultimately deepens the connection we have to ourselves, and the entirety of life and existence.

Slightly varied to modern use and terminology, in traditional Yogic philosophy, meditation is the 7th limb of the 8-Limbed Yogic Path, known as Dhyana. The technique to attain Dhyana, is the 6th limb of the 8-Limbed Yogic Path called Dharana. This yogic path explains that a practitioner must first practice the previous limbs, to then master the technique of focus and concentration (Dharana), to then reach a state of meditation (Dhyana). The practice of concentration brings the practitioner into a state of awareness uninterrupted by thoughts, otherwise known as meditation.

In meditation, the mind is relaxed and still. One known example is to think of a mind that’s engaging in the outside world, processing stimuli, thoughts, and emotions, as similar to a turbulent ocean where it’s difficult to hear or see anything due to the commotion. Compare this to an inwardly focused, silent, and still mind, as similar to a crystal clear, calm sea. One in which you can peacefully see the ecosystems both beneath, above, and between the water and its surroundings. Here we can visualize the difference of a meditative mind versus one that’s actively engaging in thoughts and the external world.

Why is Meditation Relevant in our Modern World?

Political tension, changing natural environments, wars, debt, high rent, deadlines, office politics, fires, and deadly viruses. The majority of people have felt stress in some area of modern life, many of whom a significant amount. It’s no secret that modern life while wonderful and exciting, can also be extremely stressful. A lot has changed in the just the past 100 years, and it will continue to. The modern world is often fast-paced with screens full of information always available at our fingertips. Again, while this has its benefits, it can also become emotionally draining, sometimes to the point of mental or physical illness. While meditation isn’t meant to replace professional help, it has proven to be an incredibly powerful aide to remain balanced and clear in a world full of chaos and distractions. One could argue that perhaps it’s more vital today than it was over 3,000 years ago.

Time spent in silence and stillness, connecting to one’s own inner experience is often pushed further down on the To-Do list in the life of a busy, modern person. As the old Zen saying goes, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” While not everyone has a full hour to practice meditation, starting small with a realistic goal is beneficial. A three or five-minute meditation can increase a state of calm and peace amidst a world that never sleeps.

Try it out for yourself, set a timer every morning, or every night before bed for three to five minutes. Sit with a tall spine on a folded blanket, close your eyes, slow down your breath. Let your thoughts float by, become an observer of yourself. Have patience with yourself as this takes practice. You also might be surprised where you can fit in a longer meditation practice in your day with some strategic maneuvering. Such as only watching one episode of a show instead of three, meal prep to save time cooking dinner, or get your kids involved in the practice with you. Clarity, peace, and awareness are available to all of us with practice, and patience.

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 is passionate about offering a healing and light to others.

Yoga For Anxiety & Depression: 4 Yoga Poses To Uplift You

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It’s not unusual for someone who suffers from anxiety to also suffer from depression, and vice versa. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 to 44, affecting 6.7% of American adults 18 and older. On the other hand, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 3.1% of the US population and often co-occurs with major depression.

Yoga has been widely recognized as a way to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, reportedly helping some practitioners adopt a more positive attitude toward life. Practicing yoga and moving the body has many physical benefits and there are also various benefits that yoga can have when it comes to mental health.

According to a Harvard University publication, yoga has been proven helpful in reducing anxiety and depression by helping regulate a person’s stress response system. With the ability to lower blood pressure and improve the quality of the breath, certain yoga poses in particular may help provide you with the means to cope with and alleviate anxiety and depression.

Here are some fundamental poses that help regulate the stress response system:

1. Child Pose

This basic posture helps relieve tension in the hips and lower back. By resting the forehead down on the ground or on a prop, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, producing a relaxation response.

Find a child’s pose by starting in a table top position, on all fours. Bring your big toes together and your knees apart. Sit the hips back on the heels and rest the torso in between the knees and thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you and take 5-10 deep breaths. With each breath, try to expand the ribcage in every direction, sending the breath to your sides and to your back as well as the belly and the chest.

2. Downward Facing Dog

This is another foundational pose that lengthens the spine, strengthens the arms and shoulders and stretches the hamstrings. This pose is considered an inversion, helping blood circulate to the brain. This inversion of your blood flow is instantly energizing, and counters symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Start on the hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and lift the hips back and up, so your body is making an upside down ‘V’ shape. The feet should be hips-width distance apart but don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the floor. You can even bend your knees if you have tight hamstrings. Suck the belly in, firly press the floor away and relax the neck and shoulders away from the ears. To warm up, peddle out the feet and bend one knee at a time. Then hold steady for 5 deep breaths.

3. Bridge Pose

This backbend and chest opener help open the front line of the body. In bridge pose, the back of the neck, where we naturally hold a lot of tension, is stretched. Holding this pose can relieve that tension and ease symptoms of depression.

Start laying on your back. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the ground hips-width apart. Reach your hands toward your heels. On an inhale, press into your feet and lift the hips up off the ground. Strengthen the thighs and tuck your shoulders underneath to help you press up higher. The hands can interlace behind your back, reach for the heels, or press into the ground. Hold for five breaths.

4. Standing Forward Fold

Dropping the head below the heart has a calming effect on the mind and body. In a standing forward fold, the body can quickly relax and get a stretch of the entire back line: from the hamstrings all the way up to the back of the neck. The pose may also help ease headaches and chronic fatigue.

Start standing with your feet hips-width apart and your hands on your hips. Bend your knees, hinge at the hips, and fold forward. Drop your hands onto the floor or grab opposite elbows and let your head and neck hang heavy. You can sway the torso from side to side, and try to stay inverted for about one minute.

In summary…

Research suggests that the practice of yoga modulates the body’s stress response and can be helpful for both anxiety and depression. The scientific study of yoga indicates that mental and physical health are not only closely related, but are essentially two sides of the same coin. In addition, the holistic approach and low-risk involved in practicing yoga makes it an appealing option to manage anxiety and depression.

Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. She is also a content contributor for YogaRenew

Cozy At Home Yoga Sequence

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While staying at home, it can be easy to feel lazy, unmotivated to exercise, eager to eat more than usual or even overwhelmed and stressed about current events. In addition to stress, the weather is cold which lures you into your warm bed, often unwilling to physically challenge yourself in your practice. What if I told you that you can incorporate a slow-paced, restorative yoga sequence into your daily routine which will leave you relaxed and refreshed instead of sore and tired? Restorative yoga sequences usually consist of only a few asanas that are held for a minimum of 5 minutes in order to supply the full benefits of each asana. The following sequence provides a wonderful way to wind down during stressful times and treat your body without feeling exhausted.

1. Child’s Pose

Begin in Child’s Pose, sitting back on your heels with your knees spread apart. Extend your arms in front of you and allow your forehead to rest on the mat. Take a deep inhale and with every exhale, stretch your fingertips even further and let your hips sink down toward the mat. This asana is ideal to practice at the beginning and end of a restorative sequence as it provides a gentle stretch in the lower body while relaxing the upper body and releasing tension. After a few minutes of holding this asana, feel free to try variations. For instance, you can stretch your arms to either side or thread one arm under your torso toward the other side with the other arm extended forward for a deep shoulder stretch.

2. Happy Baby Pose

After you’ve relaxed in Child’s Pose for several minutes, slowly transition to Happy Baby Pose. To do this, walk your fingers toward your torso as you lift your upper body from the mat. Then, untuck your feet from beneath your sit bones and lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Bring your knees into your chest and grip the outsides of your feet or your big tones with your hands. Gently pull your feet outwards so that your knees open wide and you feel a deep stretch in your hips. You can choose to rock side to side for an even deeper release in the groin area or simply find stillness in this asana for a few minutes. With every exhale, allow your knees to drop closer towards the mat and focus on letting go of stress and tensions as you continue to breathe through this deep stretch.

3. Reclining Bound Angle Pose

From the previous asana, release your legs onto the mat with your knees still bent and opened outwards to each side. Make sure to position your feet close to your pelvis Bring the soles of your feet to touch. Remain lying down and allow your arms to rest by your side or on your abdomen. Close your eyes and focus on taking deep breaths for up to 5 minutes in this classic, restorative asana. The benefits include stimulation of the abdominal organs, circulation, and heart as well as a gentle stretch of the thighs and knees.

4. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Transitioning from Reclining Bound Angle Pose, position yourself close to a wall and facing the wall, extend your legs up against it. Your back should remain straight and horizontal with your arms resting wherever they are comfortable. In this asana, your sit bones should be either touching the wall or close to it while supporting your legs and your body should be creating a 90 degree angle. Remain in this position for at least 5 minutes as you continue to breathe deeply and steadily. The benefits of this asana include increased circulation, a deep stretch in the lower back and hamstrings, stress relief, and relaxation of the pelvic floor. To exit this pose, slowly bend your knees and shift them to one side as you come to a seated position.

Step 5. Seated Forward Fold

Begin by sitting on the mat with a straight back and your legs extended in front of you. Feel free to sit on a folded blanket or a bolster for additional support. As you inhale, reach your arms up towards the sky and with a deep exhale, fold your body from your hips as you attempt to reach your knees, feet, or even toes. A key thing to remember is that the goal is not to force your fingertips to your toes; instead, focus on bringing your chest to your thighs, nose to your knees, and forehead to your legs during this stretch. With every exhale, allow tension to be released from your body and surrender even further in this asana. Some benefits of Seated Forward Fold include stress relief, a deep stretch in the shoulders and spine, and improve digestion.

Step 6. Corpse or Savasana Pose

Let’s end this sequence with a mindful asana to eliminate any meaningless thoughts and ground yourself. Keep your legs extended in front of you on the mat with your arms resting by your sides with your palms facing up. Make sure that your back is straight and there is no arch in your lower back as you lie flat on the mat. Close your eyes and feel your body sink as it becomes heavier with every breath. Corpse Pose is a favorite asana for many people due to its restorative nature. Corpse Pose is a pose of total relaxation which requires remaining in a neutral position, often a challenging task. The purpose of corpse pose is to consciously calm the mind which in turn, calms the nervous system and lowers blood pressure resulting in a state of ultimate serenity. The duration of this asana depends on your preference, however 10-20 minutes are recommended.

Don’t let the stress or being at home hinder your yoga practice and instead, let it nourish it! There’s nothing wrong with leaving hatha and ashtanga yoga aside during this time and focusing on restorative poses to feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and at peace.

Stella Versteeg was exposed to yoga early in life from her father – traveling to India to practice yoga with her family. Living in ashrams and being surrounded by the beautiful and intricate Indian culture, from a young age, Stella was able appreciate and learn about the origin of yoga as well as meditation. Stella received her 200 HR yoga training from YogaRenew in 2018. She currently runs a blog, Ride Your Wave Yoga, which shares yoga tips, poses, nutrition, travel and mindfulness. Her goal is to spread honesty, love and awareness about a yogic lifestyle through her blog posts as well as create a supportive, inspired community. She aspires to share as much information as possible about yoga to others.

How To Stay Centered During Stressful Times

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It can be easy to become uncentered due to things that occur in our daily lives. When we feel uncentered, we feel as though we’re being spread too thin in many different directions. Our minds can become crowded with thoughts and we can feel anxious or stressed in our bodies.

When left unchecked, prolonged stress can lead to diseases, lowered immunity, tiredness, fatigue, and burnout. Long term stress can also lead to depression, anxiety, and social or communication issues. Another important point to keep in mind is that how we react to stress determines how stressed we actually feel, as well as our outlook on life. For example, two people could be in the exact same stressful situation, but if one has learned to reframe that situation in a positive light—or learned how to react less to it—that person will have a completely different experience than the other.

Regular yoga, pranayama, and meditation practice can help us to combat stress and help us with how we respond to stressful situations. By quieting the mind and allowing ourselves to be more deeply aware of the present moment, we can start to become more mindful of our emotions, our thoughts, and how we react to stressful situations. It’s important to take time each day to sit in stillness for a few moments to rediscover the place of centeredness in ourselves. As we practice sitting with this place of centering, we often find that we can access our centeredness more easily in times of chaos or stress. By strengthening our connection to it, we can allow this space of being centered to guide us in every moment. Some other ways we can return to our centers are taking walks daily, being in nature, eating healthy, journaling, yoga, breathwork, or meditation

By practicing calming the mind and building awareness of ourselves and the world around us, we gain dominion over our thoughts and our emotions.

Here are a few simple practices you can do today to help you feel more grounded in times of stress.

5 Simple Centering Practices

1. Centering Breath Practice

The simplest way to center in any moment of our lives is through our breath. The best part of this practice is that is easy and we can do it anytime we begin to feel stressed. To practice this centering breath practice, find a pace of breathing that feels good to you. Then, as you inhale, say the words I’m breathing in either out loud or internally. As you exhale, say the words I’m breathing out either out loud or internally. Repeat this up to a minute or longer. If you find that your mind wanders away, just gently bring your awareness back to this centering breath practice.

2. Sitting Grounding Practice

Grounding and feeling rooted helps us get in touch with feelings of stability and support. To practice, begin in a comfortable seated pose, with eyes either closed or open. Begin to center your mind with your breath; breathing deeply. Bring awareness to your sit bones and your connection with the earth beneath you. Observe how firm and supportive it is as you connect to it. Take several breaths in and out as you feel this connection deepening and begin to feel support and stability.

3. Counting Breath Practice

Focusing on our breath and breath practices can be a powerful way in which we can turn away from fear and move towards peace. To do this practice, begin in a comfortable seated position. Start off easily with a slow three-count inhale in and a slow three-count exhale out. Then, take a deep breath in for a count of three and hold for a second. After the hold, exhale slowly for a count of three. You can do this for up to a minute, and even extend the count for up to five seconds (five seconds inhaling and five seconds exhaling out, slowly).

4. Standing Grounding Meditation

In times of stress, this simple grounding meditation can allow us to come back to the present moment. To practice, begin standing tall in Mountain (Tadasana) with your legs hip distance apart. Bring awareness to your feet rooting down into the Earth and feel supportive energy rising up from the Earth into your bodies. Engage your core and your leg muscles and feel this energy rising up all the way to the crown of your head. Bring your hands to prayer position at your chest, take several deep breaths, and take a quiet moment to express gratitude and respect to our home, Earth.

5. Calming Peace Prayer Practice

Compassion has a powerful effect on our minds and how we feel. Practicing compassion can take us from feelings of fear to feelings of love and understanding. To practice, begin in Easy pose or a comfortable seated position with your spine upright. Bring your hands to Namaste or Anjali mudra at your heart center. Allow your heart center to open and fill with love and light. Repeat the following peace prayer mantra, either out loud or internally. Imagine that you are directing this mantra to the entire world:

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

This ancient Sanskrit mantra translates to, “may all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Repeat this up to ten times and feel your heart radiating with love and peace for all beings in the world.

Nadia Goudy is yoga teacher, yogi, and owner of Recharg Corporate Yoga – dedicated to bringing yoga and mindfulness to the workplace and YogaRenew Teacher Training. Nadia’s background in yoga began when she was younger. Being raised in a traditional Indian and Pakistani home, both yoga and Ayurveda have been a rich part of her cultural upbringing and traditions. She is dedicated to her yoga training and continuing yoga education and has studied through various schools including YogaFit and also a traditional Indian yoga school located in Rishikesh, India; the birthplace of yoga. She has also more recently trained through Yoga International. She is dedicated to teaching the sacred cultural traditions of yoga from her Southeast Asian heritage and making these ancient teachings more accessible to all who wish to study and deepen their knowledge of yoga. She currently resides in the Washington D.C. area with her husband Nick and dog Winston.

​Savasana: The Crown Jewel of Yoga Asana

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Though we follow different traditions of yoga asana, most all lead us to the final destination of relaxation, savasana. The practice of asana prepares our students’ minds and bodies for deeper awareness, by which savasana is the gateway. Savasana is subtle, a practice that builds the foundation for meditation and pratyahara. As yoga teachers, we can prepare our students for a deep savasana practice once we comprehend why we do it, and how.

Savasana integrates asana and ujjayi breathing on a deep level. It also serves as a transition from the formal practice of yoga into the outside world. Many students fall asleep during savasana, which is normal, but not the intent of the practice. The body becomes fatigued from the work of a balanced asana practice, while the mind becomes focused and calm through concentrated breathing. In savasana, the needs of the body and mind are transcended, and true relaxation and release can take place.

In savasana, some yogis may experience a dreamlike state, not quite like sleep, but unconscious nonetheless. Others may simply lose themselves, remembering nothing but the lingering stillness after the practice is complete. And some may have experiences beyond the mind and body that defy explanation. Because of the subtle nature of savasana, it is best to let whatever comes come, and to speak little of the inward nature of the practice. To articulate into words what cannot be perceived by the intellect bypasses the mysterious nature of our connection to the unknown. Just like yoga asana, some sessions are difficult, and some come with gentle ease, but in the end, savasana is a practice– a process to apply again and again.

From the outset, savasana appears to be simple and defined. Lie down, close your eyes, do nothing. However, for yoga teachers to hold space for our students to enter this deep state of relaxation, we require technical know-how, practice, and attentiveness. If your students are restless in savasana– fidgeting, coughing, or are lying with their eyes open, implementing the following techniques will help you to prepare them for deeper restoration. First, a balanced asana practice, with both rigor and cool down, is essential. The body must be worked in order to access the mind, and that work must be released in order to fully relax. Offering a cooling sequence about 10 minutes long is effective, especially if the final poses are done on the back, such as jathara parivattanasana, Revolved Belly Pose. Next, allow for 5 minutes of deep ujjayi breathing, either lying down or sitting up. Smoothly transitioning your students from the dynamic practice of asana into meditative breathing will prepare them to relax and will support the integrative process of savasana.
Creating a calming environment during the cool down portion of your class will subconsciously prepare your students for savasana. Dim the lights if possible, or turn them off completely. Slowly lower the volume of your regular music until it is mute prior to beginning your breath exercises. Similarly, begin to soften your instructional voice and slow your cadence as you bring your students into their final postures. I find that using the same words to guide my students to the floor, class after class, signals a state of relaxation, with each instruction slower and quieter than the last. Encourage your students to lie down quietly with minimal movement. Instruct them, practice after practice, to relax, to be still, and to let go. Finally, play a rhythmic selection of music especially reserved for savasana, ideally, without words that the mind can grab ahold of.

While your students are journeying inward, it is important for you, as the teacher, to reinforce the subtle work of their practice. Savasana is not a time for a teacher to check their phone, to leave the room and socialize in the reception area of the studio, or any number of things that might pull attention away from the students. Savasana is a time for you to go inward, as well. During savasana, you can sit in silent introspection, chant mantra in your mind, or lie down quietly. Be present in the subtly of the practice, for this space is our forum of learning, as much as it is for our teaching.
Allow your students to remain in savasana for at least 5 minutes, and then slowly, softly, and quietly draw them out of their inner space by bringing awareness back to the breath. Take several breaths yourself and give ample silence between your cueing in allowance for the deep state your students are coming out of. Encourage gentle movements before the greater motion of turning to a side. Patiently guide them to a seated position, and end your class as appropriate. In this way, the effects of the entire practice of asana, ujjayi, and savasana will stay with your students long after they leave the studio space. In the end, savasana is the crowning jewel of an asana practice, one that can touch the heart and souls of all who practice it.

Holly Beck is an experienced, advanced yoga instructor with nearly twenty years of teaching and mentoring experience. Classically trained in the tradition of the Sri Vidya lineage, Holly’s class promises an authentic yoga experience for practitioners of all levels with steady pacing, a continuous meditation on breath, and masterful sequencing. While she enjoys all levels of yoga, Holly’s true gift is working with pregnant women. Holly’s specialized prenatal yoga practice, The Yoga Of Birth, has prepared hundreds of women for empowered birthing experiences. Holly holds degrees in English and the Science of Health and Wellness from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been featured in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, and she is recognized by the Doula Association of Southern California as a leader in prenatal education. Holly is currently developing a sustainable, rural retreat center for conscientious living in Costa Rica. For more information, please visit Holly also regularly writes content for YogaRenew Teacher Training.

​5 Common Yoga Injuries And How To Avoid Them

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5 Common Injuries and How To Avoid Them

Over 30 million people worldwide practice yoga regularly. According to estimates, 14 million of those people include Americans who have been prescribed by a physician or other therapist because of yoga. Although the practice of yoga has earned a good reputation for promoting well-being, practitioners should be aware that a number of commonly taught yoga poses (or asanas, as they are referred to in class) can also be risky if done incorrectly. This calls to attention the importance of an experienced teacher, who is educated in the contraindications of each pose and the ability to communicate that information clearly to the practitioners. At the end of the day, that is as far as a yoga teacher can go to protect their students from injury. So are the therapeutic benefits of yoga worth the risk? (Yes, of course they are!)

1. Wrists

Often already aggravated by overuse of computer work and texting, the wrists are vulnerable small joints. Especially if arm balances and inversions are within your scope of practice, the wrists can be at risk for strain or injury if they are not properly prepared or overused.

A proper warm up and the gradual increment of pressure on the wrists before putting your full body weight on them is important to prevent muscular or structural damage. More specifically, you can help prevent injury by avoiding cupping the palms and turning the fingers inward. Yoga wedges, or a rolled up mat/towel, can help take extra pressure off the wrists and are great props. In addition, placing the knees on the ground to modify poses can help alleviate excessive pressure, as you work toward building strength in the wrists and shoulders.

2. Lower Back

Lower back pain is the most common complaint in the yoga community, due to rounding through the spine in poses like downward dog, forward folds, or keeping the legs too straight when getting into a pose. Rounding causes the spine to do the opposite of what it’s supposed to. Overstretching the major muscle groups in your back can lead to an unstable vertebra and poor intra abdominal pressure, a recipe for lower back discomfort.

In addition, the sacroiliac joint (SIJ), which contributes to spinal stability and connects the sacrum to the bones of the pelvis, may be aggravated by improper alignment.

The key to preventing lower back strain is slightly bending the knees in forward folds to allow the lower back to decompress. Keeping a micro-bend in the knees throughout the practice as needed is key. Make sure to slow down during twists and go in and out of them mindfully. Engaging the lower abdominals is also important because core strength and stability protect the spine.

3. Shoulders

One of the main reasons why shoulder injuries are common in yoga is because of the chaturanga- the transition from high to low push up that is often added to classes to make the experience more of a workout. Many students should be should be modifying or skipping chaturangas, but many of those people are looking to get the workout factor from the class.

As a rule of thumb, before the transition you should always keep the four Immaculate Dissection cues in tact: neck long, chin tucked, chest wide, ribs down. Then, shift your weight forward on the toes, bringing the shoulders right over the wrists, and transition to the low push up to a comfortable proximity to the ground, which will vary from person to person.

4. Knees

Tight hips or preexisting injuries can cause knee pain or discomfort around the knee. The common instructions to maintain proper alignment in poses that involve bending the knees are to track the kneecaps over the second middle toe, but that is something that can vary from person to person, depending on their circumstances and goals of their practice.

In many poses you can protect the knees by flexing the foot (like in pigeon pose or figure 4). You can also strengthen the quads and engage them throughout standing postures to avoid hyperextension of the knees. Prolonged hyperextension can lead to injury or chronic pain.

5. Neck

Neck issues often occur as a result of compression, which can lead to issues in the cervical vertebrae. This type of injury is highly intimidating because of the lengthy healing time necessary if they are to happen. Advanced postures like headstand and shoulder stand put a lot of pressure on the neck, especially if done misaligned.

It’s important to only attempt these postures after building the necessary strength to hold them for a few breaths and to go at your own pace, especially if you’re a beginner. It’s also important to warm up and always do a counterpose after advanced postures. A child’s pose after headstand is relieving and fish pose after shoulder stand is important.

A 2012 study conducted in Australia found that 20% of all yoga practitioners claim to have experienced a yoga-related injury at some point throughout their time practicing. Additionally, a 2016 study discussed how yoga-related injuries have nearly doubled from 2001 to 2014. When practicing yoga, it’s important to find a knowledgeable teacher but more importantly, a mindful approach of your own can protect you from injury and pain. Modify your practice as needed, go at your own pace, and take calculated risks when attempting new postures. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. She is also a content contributor for YogaRenew Teacher Training.Her goal is to continue to learn as much as possible to be able to help others.

Teaching Yoga Through Difficult Situations

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Generally, yoga classes are predictable and constant. As a teacher, I find yoga students are mostly amiable and open to instruction, whether they are new to the practice, or I am the new instructor to an established class. Occasionally, however, situations arise in class that are challenging to us as teachers, and we must gracefully navigate the interference to insure a quality practice for the whole. Here, I offer you some common disruptions to a yoga practice, and techniques for keeping your sequence, students, and focus undisturbed.

1. Students Who Come Late or Leave Early

Sh!t happens: traffic, family issues, deadlines at work, a missed morning alarm clock… While the reasons may vary, tardiness is an occurrence that you can prepare for. Studio protocol varies. Some studios lock the door 15 minutes after class has begun. Some, like group exercise classes at a health club, have an open door policy. Once a late student has entered the asana room, it is the responsibility of the teacher to include them into the practice as smoothly as possible.

Lets run a few scenarios: You are guiding your opening mediation. All eyes are closed, and the room is quiet and still. A late student arrives with a rolled mat, a large bag, and a frazzled demeanor. Oftentimes, the late student is unaware of their disruptive effect on the class, and will noisily drop their bag, loudly walk to an open spot, and thwack down their mat. Before this can happen, silently go to them and indicate for the bag to be set down by the door, which eliminates the unnecessary sounds. Guide them to an open spot in the room, and gently take their rolled up mat into your hands, and set it down on the floor. Ask the student to quietly sit down, and wait to unroll the mat until movement begins. To anticipate late comers of this sort alleviates unnecessary disruption, and sets a standard for entering the asana space with awareness.

Another instance: It is twenty minutes into class and the studio door is locked. You are demonstrating Sun Salutes, and all of your students watching your instruction. A latecomer arrives, tries the door to no avail, and begins knocking loudly. Despite the interruption, you are beholden to class in progress. You are building their heart rate and establishing your pacing and flow. To stop your instruction, open the door, and guide the student into the asana room at this point is to prioritize the latecomer over the practice already in session. In this situation, it is best to leave the door locked, and continue teaching. If your studio has a policy of locking the door, avoid logistical issues with a notice stating the door is locked so many minutes after class has begun. Honoring the class schedule and the sanctity of the practice space by consistently locking the door at the specified time will teach your students timeliness and responsibility. In an alternate situation, with an unlocked door, the late student can enter and jump into the practice with little guidance. In this case, carry on with instruction, bringing as little attention to latecomer as possible.

After class, you can connect with your students and give them instruction on how they can gracefully enter the class late. Advise them to turn their phone off, put their keys away, take off their shoes, and open their mat all prior to entering the asana room. Encourage them to walk softly and find the nearest open space to practice. With guidance, even chronically late students can enter the asana space with little disruption, and receive the benefits of the practice.

On the flip side, students can abruptly pack up their belongings and leave the class before it’s done. Though the reasons vary, generally a student will let you know if they have to leave early. Usually this student will sit by the door, in anticipation of their departure. Encourage your student to sit and take five slow meditative breathes before they leave to properly conclude their practice. The best time to leave the practice early is just after asana, but prior to pranayama and mediation. Avoid situations where students leave during shavasana. Any disturbance in at this point in the practice is unsettling. If you have had this experience before, it is acceptable to let your entire class know that if they need to leave, do so before the lights are dimmed. This sets a standard for early departures in the future.

2. Attention Seeking Behaviors

Some students need more of your attention in class than others. New students may require additional instruction, injuries may need extra modifications, and misalignments need to be corrected. These conditions are normal to any class, and highlight your versatility as an instructor. However, there are students who regularly draw attention to themselves. Identifying attention seeking behaviors, or high needs students, will help you to conserve your energy and maintain the focus of your class. Though attention seeking behaviors vary, certain attributes can be addressed in order to maintain harmony and flow in your practice.

Some attention seeking behaviors present themselves easily. There is the student who talks during class, either to you, or to other students. To respond to this student encourages on-going dialogue. To allow for conversation among your students during class is a distraction to others. In response, you can offer the direction of “just breathe,” to the class as a whole, or discreetly remind the talkative student(s) to focus on their ujjayi. There is the student who exaggerates and dramatizes their poses and transitions, adding extra movement or flair that draws the attention of other students. As a teacher, pay no mind to their personal space. What draws your focus will also draw your students’ focus. In time, you can build your relationship with this student, and refine their transitions and postures as their trust in you deepens. There is the student who displays their discomfort as a call for attention. This may take the form of groans, moans, sighs, and vocal releases in postures they have aversion to. Again, direct the class as a whole to breathe in and out through their nose. In the case of excessive sounds, remind everyone that asana gets easier with practice and to “stay with it” for however many breaths remain in that pose. Finally, for the student who is restless or excessively coughing during shavasana, you can show them how to use blankets or bolsters to prop themselves up, elevating their chest for additional comfort. Sometimes, a small, individualized technique is enough for a student to feel special, which alleviates their need to seek out further attention.

My policy as a teacher is to treat all students equally, without focusing attention on one student more than another. Recognize the variance of one student receiving more assistance than others in terms of adjustments, instruction, or interaction. From there, assess if you are prompting the additional attention, or if the student is. For example, adjusting the same student several times during class, whereas others are not adjusted at all, creates imbalance among your students. The student receiving the adjustments may feel singled out, while the other students may feel ignored. Conversely, a high-needs student may feel entitled to personalized attention, and may even keep you after class with questions if you did not focus on them personally during class. If this happens regularly, take advantage of the opportunity to suggest private lessons. In this way, you can assert professional boundaries and your attention seeking student will benefit from the one-on-one instruction.

Ultimately, you, as the teacher, set the tone and focus for your class. If an occurrence distracts you, it will distract your class. If you are prepared for the unexpected, unperturbed, your students will be as well. If you giggle when a student passes gas, your class will giggle with you. If you carry on like nothing happened, no one will be the wiser. The truth is, yoga classes are not a stage for us as teachers, nor should they be focused on any one student. The essence of teaching is to share practice of yoga, regardless of the individual players. Each student is on his or her unique developmental path, and we, as teachers, are there to simply guide them through an unadulterated and consistent practice. As teachers, we maintain the sanctity of the asana space and our sequences so that the yoga can impress itself upon our students with as little interference as possible. Challenging situations will arise in your classes, and each will offer you the opportunity for introspection, growth, and refinement of your teaching skills.

Holly Beck is an experienced, advanced yoga instructor with nearly twenty years of teaching and mentoring experience. Classically trained in the tradition of the Sri Vidya lineage, Holly’s class promises an authentic yoga experience for practitioners of all levels with steady pacing, a continuous meditation on breath, and masterful sequencing. While she enjoys all levels of yoga, Holly’s true gift is working with pregnant women. Holly’s specialized prenatal yoga practice, The Yoga Of Birth, has prepared hundreds of women for empowered birthing experiences. Holly holds degrees in English and the Science of Health and Wellness from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been featured in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, and she is recognized by the Doula Association of Southern California as a leader in prenatal education. Holly is currently developing a sustainable, rural retreat center for conscientious living in Costa Rica. For more information, please visit