Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Yoga Breathing

Have you ever noticed that the quality of your breath, thoughts, and actions are directly related? In times of stress the breath and thoughts quicken and the breath becomes shallow. Actions tend to be rough, and in extreme stress, even shaky. The breath also follows an irregular pattern and feel rugged.

When you are feeling blissful, the body moves with steady grace; thoughts slow and calm. Inhales and exhales are deep and long.

This is one of the miracles of using the breath. Just as our thoughts can impact our breathing or motions, the reverse is also true. The trick is to guide the breath without strain. When there is strain, there is force. Forcing the breath can have negative results. So, check in every 6 or so breaths to see if your experience is one of more calm or increased agitation. If it's the latter, then return to a natural (non-guided) breath.

The Mohan's say in Yoga Therapy, "...there should be steadiness or uniformity (dirgha) and smoothness or fineness (sukshma).... Dirgha and sukshma are interrelated characteristics: Dirgha is long and sukshma is deep." [p132-133]

To reap the benefits of Yoga more fully, begin every hatha practice with checking in with your breath. Is it steady, subtle, long, and deep?

Maintain these qualities throughout your practice. Remember this is a practice! Over time it will be easier to find smooth, quiet, slow, and full breaths throughout the day. Even set aside a few minutes two or three times a day to check in with your breath.

When you guide the breath to flow in this manner, your thoughts and actions will follow suit.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yoga Diet Food - Olive Oil

Earlier this week, we got to taking about the benefits of fat in our diets. Ayurvedic science advocates ghee (organic clarified butter), and most western nutritionists promote olive oil for good health.

I was under the impression that sauteing with olive oil was harmful due to the low smoking point. So, years ago I began using canola oil (recommended by the Okinawan Program) for medium to high heat. Saving the extra virgin olive oil for no or low heat.

A wonderful student, M.C., questioned this and looked into it further. She forwarded an article: http://www.oliveoilsource.com/cooking_olive_oil.htm touting the ability to heat olive oil to almost 400 degrees.

This caused me to look into it a bit further, and if you're interested here are some additional links to consider when looking at the healthiest fat available:




Tasty-looking recipes!! -- http://mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/NU00203

In summary, Dr Weil is a HUGE proponent of cooking with only olive oil. On the other hand, the Okinawa Program sites canola oil as the healthiest (pg 30). Chopra is a fan of ghee and olive oil.

So, what's best? Consider the smoking point. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=56 describes the importance of not heating an oil to the point of smoke.

In the end, it sounds like the answer lies in what type of oil and how it was processed to determine if it's wise to use with heat. A good rule of thumb could be: If the oil smokes in the pan, it's too hot.

My sister used to save her extra virgin oil for salads and flavoring after cooking. The "regular" olive oil she used when it'd be heated. Her reasoning was cost and flavor. Perhaps, without knowing, it was healthiest too--http://whatscookingamerica.net/OliveOil.htm.

Now time for some fresh whole wheat bread dipped in some herbed extra-virgin olive oil!

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pure Essential Oils - Lavender Oil

There's nothing like an eye pillow scented with lavender after a yoga practice to bliss out. In the interest of easy washing, I use wash cloths scented with lavender for students, and today a question came in:

"What do you do to get the lavender scent in those towels? I wanted to do that with my pillow cases and wasn’t sure if you bought special detergent or just put lavender oil in the wash." J.D.

It's as simple as sprinkling a few drops just before bed.

The cool thing about this wondrous plant is that for most people it can be safely applied directly to the skin. A matter-of-fact lavender is a well-known burn remedy. If you have your own eye pillow for savasana (corpse, the final relaxation of most yoga classes), store it in a zip-locked bag and periodically add a few dashes of this essential oil. Avoid getting the oil in your eyes; once it's well soaked into the pillow (baring any skin sensitivity) you may use the pillow as usual.

The aroma produced is a natural relaxer. To take advantage of this when going to sleep at night, simply sprinkle a few drops on the pillow edges before laying down.

NOTE: Lavender perfume or a product that says "lavender" in its title does not mean there is any essential oil in it at all. This is just marketing and perhaps a nice smell. However, only the essential oil of lavender has the biological calming and healing benefits. You can find essential oils at just about any health food store.



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prana - Prana Breathing

Odds are you've heard the word Chi or Prana. From China there is Tai Chi and Qi Gong ('qi' is another spelling for 'chi'). India brings us Yoga which involves removing blocks in order to allow Prana to flow.

Both of these terms, Chi and Prana, translate loosely to life force or energy. There isn't an exact translation into English, but life force or energy are very close.

Prana is necessary for the body to function. Yogi Ramacharaka describes the importance of this energy in Science of Breath, "One who has mastered the science of storing away prana, either consciously or unconsciously, often radiates vitality and strength which is felt by those coming in contact with him, and such a person may impart this strength to others, and give them increased vitality and health.... prana [is] carried to all parts of the nervous system, adding strength and vitality.... the supply of prana taken up by the nervous system is exhausted by our thinking, willing, acting, etc., and in consequence constant replenishing is necessary."

How do we replenish our storage of prana? The easiest and most common method is through the simple act of inhaling.

To expand your capacity to bring in air, and thus prana, and thus health and vitality, use lateral stretches to open the small muscles between the ribs. These muscles are called the intercostals.

As an experiment, you may take a tape measure around the rib cage and exhale naturally. Note the measurement. Now inhale comfortably an see how much the rib cage grew. Do this before and after a practice involving side bends--remember to first warm up. Using poses, such as gate (parighasana), held for several breaths is particularly beneficial for increasing your inhales. After your practice, re-measure and see if the inhale can expand further than before the practice. Depending on how intense the asanas and how open you were to begin with will determine the difference you may find.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dealing with Depression - Backbends

Remember the great Beatles' tune, All You Need Is Love? Not knowing Paul or John personally, I don't know for sure, but wouldn't be surprised if they really meant it.

The notion that all we truly need is love is popping up all over. Joe Vitale writes about the importance of love in his book, Zero Secrets, based on a Hawaiian system for health and peace.

Dr. Larry Dossey wrote in his book Prayer is Good Medicine, "In the scores of scientific experiments dealing with prayer and a prayer-like state of consciousness, one of the most crucial qualities appears to be love—compassion, empathy, deep caring. Love implies letting go….” (pg 142).

Psychology Today says, “Love is the best anti-depressant.” Perhaps this why volunteer work is such a wonderful means to pull oneself out of sadness. PT goes on to describe love, “Love is as critical for your mind and body as oxygen. It's not negotiable. The more connected you are, the healthier you will be both physically and emotionally. The less connected you are, the more you are at risk.

I believe love to be a state of consciousness, not to be confused with affection or lust. When we are in a state of love, we are naturally giving, compassionate, peaceful, and well.... loving.

In Hatha Yoga backbends are a wondrous physical motion that opens the fourth chakra and thus our hearts--literally and figuratively. In many ways a backbend puts you in a vulnerable position, the heart is an organ you simply cannot live without. Not only does this put your physical body out in the open, but your emotional self as well. There is a reason we use the term "heart ache." To let go and experience love, we must be willing to go through a state of vulnerability. When you reach your chest high and open the fronts of the shoulders, it's difficult to not release some pent up grudges. Add to that the mental intention of forgiveness and connection with others and you just might feel your heart grow a bit bigger.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What is Yoga

“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.”

~ Lao Tzu

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with an asana or feel frustrated with your body or life? Heeding the wisdom of Lao Tzu, remember to start with a single step, a single breath. All great feats were accomplished breath-by-breath. One at a time. If a task seems daunting, stop and breathe: three deep abdominal breaths. And then begin, one step at a time.

Our Yoga practice is a wonderful time to practice staying with the journey breath-by-breath. As the second sutra of Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras states,

"Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions." ~trans. TKV Desikachar

How do we do this? With the breath. When each movement flows with a mental and physical tying of motion and breath, it is easier to slip into a Yogic state of being. This state is one of being centered, balanced, accepting, and at peace.

Unless you are fully enlightened, it is a practice!!! So, when the mind drifts or we forget to breath, just get back on the horse -- so-to-speak. No judgement, no analyzing. Just return to the steady rhythm of breath and movement as one. This is Yoga.



Today is the first day of the rest of your life!