I was privileged to witness one human’s first breath and another’s last. God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7 It is that breath that not only sustains us but has the power to bring calm and peace to our body and mind.
There are many types of breathing techniques that are taught in yoga. The easiest to practice is equal breath through the nose. Breathing through the nose is the most efficient way to bring oxygen into the body. The nose also cleans and warms the air before it reaches our lungs. Mouth breathing has been known to cause trigger points in the digastric muscles which causes pain in the teeth and when swallowing. Nostril breathing also makes it impossible to hyperventilate so you are less likely to push your body past your present physical ability.
Use the breath as a tool to breathe out negative thoughts and breathe in positive ones. We have 66,000 thoughts each day and 80% are negative, 98% of those negative thoughts were the same ones we had yesterday and last week. Do not allow negative words spoken over you to be your truth. Let them go and repeat the positive truths until the negative thoughts come up less and less.
Another great breathing technique is 4-7-8 breath.
Excerpt from Dr. Weil:
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
Note that with this breathing technique, you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension or stress. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
Check out Hanan's upcoming Self-Myofascial Workshop - Saturday, April 28th, 11:30am-1:30pm
What is yoga? Where & how do we begin the journey to end self-created suffering, to increase our intelligence, and to reach that joy which is ever new & always ready to receive us?
I always enjoyed listening to Guruji, my yoga teacher, the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois say, “Yoga means controlling your mind (YS 1.02).” Such a simple succinct definition - precisely the definition as expressed by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras. For many of us however, the mind tends to be restless & easily distracted; it is seemingly impossible to control for longer than a moment or two at a time. Arjuna expressed this to Śrī Kṛṣṇa in response to his need to control his mind in order to skillfully accomplish the task put forth to him - “The mind is more difficult to control than the wind!” (Bhagavad Gītā 6.34).
As yoga practitioners we are very fortunate to know the body-centered tools of breathing, gazing & posture. The usefulness of these tools, though, goes beyond just the yoga postures in which we use them. They can be used anytime to bring us back to the here & the now (YS 1.01 - atha), to bring us from imbalance to balance. The key thing here is developing the ability to recognize when the mind has gone rogue and taken control of us. When the mind takes over, efficiency lost, our efforts to do the task at hand becomes impaired. Drama wastes precious intelligence directing it down an unproductive track. It also brings tension into the body and perpetuates our chronic physical issues. A balanced & focused mind harnesses creative thought, maximizes efficiency of effort & sustains our energy.
Let’s look at the different things that happen to us when the mind becomes imbalanced (YS 1.31):
Tightness in the face or chest (or tension anywhere in the body) arises from stressful responses to thoughts or situations - such as worry, grief or a hurt sense of pride - and our sense of joy is lost. This suffering is called Duḥkha.
Cursing others, thinking how little they deserve their good fortune, and the like fills us with negativity and does nothing to help resolve any issues. Rather it generally inflames situations. This negative thinking is called Daurmanasya.
Restless energy or nervousness wastes our precious vitality. This ungrounded energy should be calmed & settled to preserve our life-force, our nerve-energy; this will improve our focus, increase endurance and extend our longevity. Restless nervous fidgeting is called Aṅgamejayatva.
Clam even breathing is a beautiful sign of a clear focused mind. Breath always reflects the quality of our actions & emotions. The breath and the mind work together in perfect tandem. The breath is the link between the internal & external - literally! Energetically too it connects the subconscious functions of the body with our conscious motor functions. So, when the mind & emotions become imbalanced the breath reveals this by becoming uneven and / or rough. Interestingly, with intense emotions, the inhale becomes stronger than the exhale. Because of this, the strength of exhale needs to be developed first; it forms the foundation for mental emotional balance as well as stability in the central nervous system. Rough, uneven breathing is called Śvāsa-praśvāsa.
DEW: Ideally what we want is a healthy Distant Early Warning system in place so that we can restore our equilibrium before an imbalanced mind makes too many decision that we will regret later - ugh!
Yoga Sūtra 1.31: duḥkha-daurmanasya-aṅgamejatva-śvāsa-praśvāsāḥ citta-vikṣepa-sahabhuvaḥ
Happy practicing 24 / 7 / 365!
-- Based on the Yoga Sūtras of Mahā Ṛṣi Śrī Patañjali --
We are honored to have David Andrew at Ignite April 13-15. He will be offering workshops on Yoga Poses, Sanskrit & Philosophy.
Click here for more details and to sign-up
Grandpa always said when you stop learning, it is time to move on. I started my yoga teacher training at the age of a grandpa - at 65. I had practiced Yoga off and on for 15 years. I chose to take a chance on signing up for teaching training not knowing if I wanted to be a teacher or exactly sure why I was training. A teacher at a gym I was a member of had recently became a Yoga instructor. One could see the changes in her in the two plus years she taught. She came out of her shell and more alive over the time she started instructing the classes.
My yoga practice has made me realize learning to teach yoga is not about teaching others as much as it is about teaching myself. Learning to deal with the challenges of moving my body into and out of poses, and onto the next pose, is at first the challenging part of the practice. I now find practicing, challenges me mentally to be still in my mind. To turn off that analytical part of my brain. To stop judging myself. Am I far enough in my pose? How can I get a little more out of the pose? What do I have to do after practice? Is anyone else in the class looking at my shirt, is it sliding up my back? I think you get the picture. To still one’s mind is to be in the present, is the practice.
I have always told my friends if you are not doing yoga, you are crazy. The benefits of yoga outweigh the cost in time, money, or humiliation. The people of like minds you meet in yoga truly do make it seem like family without the crazy aunt or uncle. I hope to see you on the mat soon.
Do not take care, instead I suggest you take a chance. I believe that is where some of our greatest life experiences start, in taking a chance.
Stephen is an Ignite YTT graduate and a mentee of Donna Schnoor.
We call it a yoga “practice,”… but what are we practicing for? We practice an instrument to perform in a concert. We practice swinging a bat to hit a home run in the next game. But in yoga, what am I practicing for? I’m not training for a yoga competition. No one is going to judge my pose and compare my best effort to the person next to me. There’s no trophy or accolades to earn.
I’ve learned that my practice isn’t to prepare me for some big event in the future. Rather, my yoga practice prepares me for…now. Yoga teaches me how to be my best self each day. The lessons and skills I develop on my yoga mat help guide my life off of the mat.
Lesson One: Showing up
They say the hardest pose is rolling out your mat. Just showing up for anything in life is half the battle. Showing up consistently well, then, the battle is almost won. In yoga, this lesson is quickly learned. After just a couple weeks of consistent practice, not only do I feel stronger and more flexible, I can physically see and measure a change in my body. I can stretch farther and hold longer.
Showing up consistently is just as important in other areas of life. Unfortunately in real life, we can’t always physically see our progress and we don’t always reap the benefits as quickly, so it’s easier to give up. But I know that what is true in my yoga practice is true in life. I try to recognize and act upon all the ways that just showing up consistently for something can help me. Showing up for work consistently has obvious benefits. But how else can I apply this lesson? Am I showing up for the people I value in my life? How can doing this enhance my relationships? Am I consistently showing up for new opportunities when they present themselves? What could I create for myself if I do? Yoga is teaching me the importance of investing time and energy into the things and the people I love.
Lesson Two: Patience & Non-attachment
One of the yamas (a moral guideline) in yoga is Aparigraha, which is the practice of non-greediness or non-attachment. Every yogi probably has a pose that they are working on…but the real goal is not to be attached to the attainment of that pose. If your end goal is solely putting your body into a physical position, then you’ve missed the point of yoga entirely. Nothing happens on a prescribed time table…or at least not on the time table we would prescribe for ourselves. I know that showing up consistently to yoga gets me closer to (fill in the blank): <doing a handstand> / <binding in ardha baddha podmottansasna> / <coming into full splits while levitating and reciting the yoga sutras (in Sanskrit)> …but WHEN these things will happen, I can’t know. I can only breathe and practice patience. Trying to push or pull myself into a position that my body isn’t ready for only results in negative self-talk and an injury. Yoga challenges me to focus on my own actions (my consistent practice) and let go of any attachment I have to the end results of my actions.
I know what is true in my yoga practice is true in real life. In the same way that forcing a pose leads to injury, trying to force someone else to think or act a certain way will only injure the relationship. Learning to practice patience with myself and with others, and learning to not be attached to outcomes easier said than done. I had a friend who used to get very upset if someone didn’t thank her for holding open a door. She would grumble and complain about how rude the other person was. I agreed with her, that it was rude, but I would also ask her, “Are you holding the door open for them because you want to do something kind, or are you holding the door open because you want them to say thank you?” It’s difficult not to be attached to the outcomes of our actions. We tell ourselves, “if I am nice to this person, they will be nice to me” or “if I work hard, I will get a raise”…and when things don’t work out that way we think they should, we are naturally upset, angry, and disappointed. Instead I try to focus doing things because I want to do them instead of doing things solely for some hoped-for outcome that may or may not happen. Yoga is teaching me to let things happen in due time and to not be overly attached to outcomes out of my control.
Lesson Three: Bouncing-back from failure
Everyone has fallen out of a pose – whether it’s just putting a foot or hand down to catch yourself, or actually falling over onto the floor – no one is immune to being caught off balance at some point in time. You fall and you come back. Sometimes multiple times in a class. Sometimes multiple times in one pose. It’s normal and is acceptable as part of the learning process. Most of us fall out of a pose, brush it off in a second, and try the pose again without any negative thoughts about our innate abilities and without any long-term bruise to our egos. We quickly realize that the class didn’t come to a screeching halt when we fell, no one laughed, and in fact, everyone else in the room is just working on overcoming their own challenges.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could treat our failures in life off the mat the same way? No big deal. The world didn’t end. No harsh judgements about our ability to be loved, happy, or successful. I don’t think anyone ever did a handstand without failing at it first. So, whatever it is you want in life, you can’t get it if you don’t go after it and you can’t get it if you’re not willing to fail and try again and again. Yoga is teaching me that it’s okay to try new things and to fail, as long as I get back up and try again.
I practice yoga as often as I can...not to attain something great in the future, but because it greatly benefits my life in the now. Above all else, yoga is teaching me to let the journey itself be the destination.
Many of us manage to live with minor discomforts in the body by taking analgesics until the discomfort becomes pain and can no longer be ignored. What we don’t realize is that pain is simply a message that our bodies sends that something needs attention.
Fascia is the continuous system of connective tissue which wraps around and provides support for bones, joints, muscles and organs of the body. This system is now considered your 6th sense. Fascia is 10x more sensitive than muscle and it uses enteroception (the ability to recognize internal messages and responds to stress in the body). Fascia becomes tighter with repetitive use, injury, inflammation, dehydration and through the normal aging process.
We can also develop trigger points as a reaction to pain or injury. Our body reacts to pain by creating a protection response, that initially is a good thing to protect us, but over time can lead to reduced blood flow and oxygen to the area. Signals are sent to the spinal cord which then trigger the muscles around the injury to contract in order to provide support and protection for the surrounding tissues.
This response, left unchecked, creates a vicious cycle of pain as more blood flow is restricted to the contracted area. More signals are sent, and more muscles tighten to protect the growing epicenter of pain.
Sometimes we get so busy in our lives that we do not take the opportunity to connect with nature. Practicing yoga outside and being able to breathe fresh air, feel a cool breeze and/or the warmth of the sun on your skin, and see the natural beauty that surrounds us adds a new dimension to the practice.
Many people never get the opportunity to practice yoga; maybe they have some preconceived ideas about what it is; so having a yoga practice outside takes the mystery out of the practice. Many of the “regulars” that I have in my park classes started out as people who were passing by and had previously thought they could never do yoga.
Here are a few more benefits:
*Standing on different surfaces helps to develop your balance
*There isn’t a space issue
*It’s a good way to develop your focus and “Zen”
*You get to be part of the larger community
*Connecting with nature helps to rekindle that sense of gratefulness
So the next time you have the opportunity, grab your mat, bring a friend and plan on having fun practicing yoga outdoors!
“Nicole, did you go hiking this weekend?”
Actually, I had done a 5 mile trail run, but close enough. My yoga teacher could see the difference in my practice because of my tight hamstrings.
Runners, can I get an AMEN!? Our hamstrings are always tight. Leg pain is par for the (race) course. But what if there was a way to convince those pesky hamstrings, quads, calves, etc. to loosen up?
Enter, yoga for runners!
My experience over the past 10 years as a long-distance runner and 5 years as a dedicated yogi has produced this list of the top 5 reasons why runners need yoga.
It was love at first pose. From my very first class, I found Yin to be a deeply satisfying practice.
If you are unfamiliar with the practice of Yin, allow me to share a bit about this bountiful and beautiful style of yoga. Yin Yoga has a myriad of benefits. It restores our natural ability to move with fluidity. It builds strength and resiliency, helping us achieve optimal health. Yin helps regulate the flow of energy, and is calming and balancing to the mind and body. It lowers stress levels, increases stamina, and leads to a greater ability to sit quietly in meditation.
Often students new to Yin yoga expect it to be an easy, perhaps even boring practice, far removed from the more familiar and dynamic Yang practice. But Yin is so much more than simple floor stretches.
The idea of achieving Work-Life balance is at the heart of both our yoga practice on our mats, and of taking our yoga into our lives as a whole. Instead of searching for 'work-life balance' yoga teaches us to explore the balance between being present and getting through the day quickly so we can rest and start over the next day. Slow down, concentrate on your work and be mindful so it gets done right the first time. By doing this, you’ll soon realize how much extra time you have for your body to move off the mat.
If practiced often, using yoga and meditation as an outlet to the stress of daily life will become robotic. Meaning, if you do it often enough, you will begin to notice that a day without it just doesn’t seem right. This is my reality, and I crave the daily practice so much that I notice I am productive at work so that maybe…just maybe…I give myself an extra 30 minutes to hit the mat. My dedication to work is prevalent because of my dedication to my yoga practice. I succeed at work because I make it a point to slow down, breathe, let go of expectations, consciously listen, receive, and be engaged. These are all things we learn and cultivate in yoga. Our teachers talk about all of these attributes every time we walk into the studio. This is how I take my yoga practice into my work-life and I use these attributes as a guide every step of the way.
While there is no one-size-fits-all for achieving a work-life balance, there are things we can do throughout our day to keep things real.
I am so excited to announce the Ignite Yoga Foundation. This is a non-profit organization that provides yoga scholarships and programs to demographics in need. We believe yoga should be accessible to all individuals.
Our I.AM.YOU campaign kicking off in April 2018 is in support of all those who believe in a healthier lifestyle and seek to gain it. Our organization fights to ensure those in need can gain resources to teach, take classes, and give back to ensure our community continually has the opportunity to promote total body wellness!
Ignite Foundation will be able to provide these much needed services by facilitating various community fundraising events throughout the year. Our goal is to impact our community in West Valley and the Western region of Phoenix.
This year we will drive to provide programs in title one schools.
At Ignite Yoga, we believe that yoga is for everyone–For people of all ages and all walks of life.