Settle Your Mind Mud

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“Your mind can be compared to a glass of muddy water. If you let the glass stand for a long time, the mud will settle at the bottom of the glass and the water will become fairly clear. So when you sit down for a while to concentrate, your mind is muddy with restless thoughts. But if you sit long enough, repeatedly bringing the wandering mind back to the practice of meditation, you will see that all thoughts settle down; and in that stillness you will feel superconsciousness.” — Paramahansa Yogananda

Our minds are filled with muddy impressions of who we think we should be. We absorb distorted beliefs, like detritus, and allow them to influence us. A lot of times we even define ourselves by this garbage without thinking clearly.

Why do we do this? Continue reading “Settle Your Mind Mud”

Turn Off & Tune In

pratyahara“See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.”

This phrase is often associated with the image of three monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouth. Confucius, who is credited as the message’s originator, defined it as a warning to avoid all things evil or distracting that can hinder a person’s development.

Similarly, The Yoga Sutras, as organized by Patanjali, describe the fifth limb of its eight-limb system that is yoga. Through the sutras, we learn that pratyahara means to withdraw your senses. Like a turtle that retracts inside of its shell, pratyahara will teach you to go inside yourself and retreat from the external “noises” that exist around you: the opinions, the interruptions, the distractions, the associations, the influences. Once you detach from this commotion, you can be free to choose the sensations that you wish to introduce into your field of awareness.

Your challenge this week is to practice these techniques of pratyahara or sense withdrawal: Continue reading “Turn Off & Tune In”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Elongate the Breath with Four Simple Techniques

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The great sea
Has sent me adrift,
It moves me as the weed in a great river,
Earth and the great weather
Move me,
Have carried me away
And move my inward parts with joy.  – An Eskimo Song

Now that we have created breath awareness and discovered some new ways to expand our breathing vessel, let us address the quality of the breath. This week, I will introduce some simple techniques of pranayama or breath control.

Here are four methods for elongating the breath:

#1 Ujjayi Breathing

This approach can be described as a slight deepening of the normal breath.  It is best done from a supine or seated position in which your body is nicely aligned.   Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Elongate the Breath with Four Simple Techniques”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Expand Your Vessel & Truly Breathe

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“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

As students of yoga, we eventually learn how to connect with our breathing. We come to understand that the simple act of inhalation and exhalation can be enhanced when our posture is aligned. As we physically straighten, we open ourselves up to experience a fuller range of movement in the upper chest/back, ribcage and abdominal areas.

In an attempt to expand our vessels for the breath, here are three key strategies:

#1 Counteract “Techno – Hump” 

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Using computers and cell phones can adversely affect our breathing function. The head forward position can lead to a spinal curvature disorder called kyphosis which compresses the movement of air by collapsing the chest.

Here is a short posture sequence for reducing upper back tension and straightening the body:

Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Expand Your Vessel & Truly Breathe”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Discover Your Breath

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As we continue to explore the poses and our breathing practices, we are expanding our level of awareness. We are learning to pay attention. We are discovering what it is to be in the present moment. And, it is in the present moment that we experience our true “state of yoga.” It is where we see our connection and remember who we are. 

The fourth limb of the yogic system is pranayama or breath control. It is made up of a range of techniques that begin with simple awareness and continue on with more intensive control approaches.

Although pranayama is an integral part of yoga, the practice is not generally taught until a student is comfortable resting with their breath in either a supine or seated position. In this way, a student learns to relax completely in order to receive the breath.

Breathing practices give your mind focus – you virtually tune in when you pay attention to your breath.  This can occur whether you are in a resting pose or actively performing the asanas. As many teachers will tell you, “if it is not with the breath, it is not yoga.”

A good way to begin the practice of pranayama is to focus on your belly breath: Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Discover Your Breath”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Breathe

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“Pranayama has slowly pried open some of the tighter places in my body and so provided me with new openings in my asana practice. This, in turn, affects my breathing and, so on and so on, asana and pranayama oscillating back and forth to each other’s advantage.” – Richard Rosen

Pranayama or breath control is defined by B.K.S Iyengar as: “… techniques to make the respiratory organs move and expand intentionally, rhythmically and intensively. It consist of long, sustained subtle flow of inhalation, exhalation and retention of breath.”

With the guidance of some of the world’s wisest yoga teachers, I have made it my quest to incorporate pranayama into my practice. Breaking down the art of breathing into separate stages has helped me to gradually meld it into my daily yoga routine. Over the next few weeks, I will share my personal journey towards pranayama with you. Here are the four main categories we will explore: Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Breathe”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Combine Effort & Ease

“Focus your attention on your breath. When your mind wanders, simply return your awareness to the inhalation and exhalation. You don’t need to empty your mind or have perfect attention. It is the act of noticing mental distractions and bringing the attention back to the breath that lends the mind steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha).”

How do we keep ourselves physically challenged yet safe? Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Combine Effort & Ease”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Seek Integration

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“As you bring your hands together at your center, you literally connect the right and left hemispheres of your brain. This is the yogic process of unification, the yoking of our active and receptive natures.” 

The definition of yoga is to yoke, or join together. This week, we start to explore the ways that we can develop a more integrated yoga practice. We will begin with three easy techniques for uniting the main components of yoga: Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Seek Integration”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Lead With Your Heart

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“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” – Rumi

A set of heart-opening poses may be the very most important piece of the yoga asana puzzle. Here are three reasons to lead with your heart:

#1: Emotional and Physical Revival – Psychologically, backbends can teach you receptivity, acceptance, compassion, and determination. Physically, backbends correct our tendency to hunch. Especially in this era of increased computer and cell phone usage, our “tech necks” and upper backs are in dire need of lengthening.

#2: Beat Bone Loss – The act of spinal extension or back bending can help to prevent or slow down the effects of osteoporosis or bone loss. Gentle back bends such as Salabasana (locust pose) or supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) were included in a long-term study of osteoporosis reversal (click here for details).

#3: Energizing – Back bends bring energy into our subtle heart centers. The heart or anahata chakra stimulates our love for self and others and permits our brilliance to shine. Often times in class following a back bend, I can feel my students’ positive energy level come alive.

Here are some heart-warming poses to ignite your flame. Try to incorporate one of these essential back bending postures into your yoga practice each day:
Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Lead With Your Heart”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Stoke Your Inner Fire

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“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

To stoke our inner fire this week, we are connecting with our Manipura or Solar Plexus Chakra and the asanas that relate to this energy source. The solar plexus is the region that covers the mid-body and can be associated with the stomach or gut yet is literally a ganglia of nerves located behind the abdominal region at the level of the first lumbar vertebra.

The third chakra is related to our power, our intention and desires. The balanced movement of prana through this area gives us self-confidence, motivation and direction.

Find your intention by balancing your Manipura (solar plexus) Chakra with these powerful, energetic postures: Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Stoke Your Inner Fire”