Some teachers will tell you that the breath is the most important part of your yoga practice. I agree with that. Our breath tells us a story. If our breath is smooth and steady, it is likely we are calm and relaxed and the breath can travel more easily to every nook and cranny (you are thinking of Thomas’ English Muffins right now, aren’t you?) in our body, opening up the energetic pathways. If our breath is erratic and labored, it is likely we are straining in our posture or stressed in our body and that is not beneficial whatsoever.
Therefore, it is easy to see that our breath can be our teacher in our practice. If we listen carefully, if we are aware, then our breath will tell us when to slow down the practice, when to back out of a pose. Or if our breath is slow it may tell us that we have further to explore. Since our practice is different from day to day, it is important to not take the breath for granted and to listen each and every time we arrive on the mat. At the beginning of a yoga class a teacher will typically begin with a centering exercise to bring us to the present moment and to help us release any thoughts from what happened before we arrived on the mat and to work toward refraining from thinking about anything that may be planned for later in the day or something else that is ‘on our mind’.
The breath keeps us in the NOW…. In the moment and when we are practicing yoga, that is what we are working toward – noticing if we can be aware of what is going on right now. Once we begin to really understand and benefit from that technique, then we can take that off the mat and begin to think about how awareness of our breath can help us off the mat, like examples Sharon shared in her postings.
Yoga is NOT about whether or not we can bring our foot behind our head or do a ‘fancy’ pose. It is about being in the moment, releasing from the one-hundred-and-one things that go through our mind at any moment so we can find stillness – it is in the moments of stillness that we become more familiar with our true Self and we can begin to integrate the body, mind and soul/spirit!
In an upcoming posting in our Self Examination series I will share more about Pranayama and specific techniques as well as information about Meditation.
In the meantime, next time you step on the mat, see if your breath has a story to tell you!
You can cry tears of joy
Zaffron is not a word
Saffron is a spice
A zafu is something you sit on
A blanket is a blanket
Poetry can have many meanings
You can not drive and do alternate nostril breathing
In India they eat with their right hand
There is an alligator within all of us
The term “Sage-asana” will travel the world next year
Bhagavad Gita is not a song by Iron Butterfly
Seriously….I spent the weekend with the Most Amazing Women. Thank you for letting me be a part of something so profound!
***Yoga is not dumb trademark Meghan 🙂
I have decided to take it that one step further and discuss a common ailment these days…ANXIETY!!! Do not tell me you have never had a moment when you felt anxious and wished you could remove yourself from a situation. How about that airplane ride???
Or that public speaking event??? Going to the doctors???? Or dentist????
It is really quite simple, when we get anxious we tend to breathe too fast and the oxygen/carbon dioxide levels are thrown off balance and can cause nausea, confusion and even light headedness. By slowing your breathing you can recreate balance and the parasympathetic system (there is that term again) calms us down. Of course yogic breathing is not meant to solve all our problems but it can help in many situations. Be sure to visit the website http://www.yogajournal.com search anxiety, there is a multitude of helpful articles.
In my last posting “Listen To Your Body” I mentioned the old phrases “count to ten” and “take a deep breath” as ways to calm yourself down during a stressful or upsetting situation.
It must make you wonder how that works. Funny thing, after submitting my post I received my March/April issue of Spirituality & Health magazine (I tried it as a free trial offer) it included a feature article on how to clear your brain with yogic breathing and it mentions “take a deep breath.” The article explains that we can feel sadness or depression from past events and anxiety or fear from future events. Being in the present is accomplished by taking that breath and thinking of nothing but that breath, slowing the mind and creating a sense of calm. That makes sense to me!!!
To take it a bit further would be to understand that the term pranayama means yogic breathing exercises, these breathing exercises increase prana…our energy/life force. For better understanding of pranayama & prana see the full article at http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/spirit/archives/case-yogic-breathing.
Please note that you can practice and benefit from yogic breathing by simply standing still, sitting in a chair or floor, and while driving a car (just ask Maureen). And when combined with the asanas (postures) you can actually activate the parasympathetic nervous system, telling the body to slow down. Now that is pretty cool!!!
There is a common phrase you might hear yoga instructors say during class -‘tuck your tailbone’. I asked one of my fellow teachers, who is a Rolfer/Massage Therapist, and in my opinion, an anatomy expert, to explain why it is not appropriate to use that cue. Here is her response – thank you Beth B!
Tucking the tailbone, a well intentioned but misguided cue…. You can’t tuck your tail and have your bandhas engaged, they are mutually exclusive. The cue tucking the tailbone results in engaging the most superficial of the abdominal muscles rather than the deepest. There is a neuro-muscular relationship between these muscles (core and sleeve) so that when the superficial muscle is doing the work, the deeper muscle will be insufficient. This tail tucking recruitment of the lower portion of the rectus abdominal muscle, curls the pubic bone towards the belly button and shifts the center of gravity back to the heels preventing full movement of the respiratory diaphragm and full extension of the spine.
I am visual so I thought I would include a picture of the spine so you could see when you tuck the tailbone (sacrum/coccyx), you would change the structure of the body, be out of neutral spine and therefore would not have the foundation needed to have a strong, safe posture. (The picture on the left is person in Samashiti -equal standing- with neutral spine.)
If a student is overarching the lower back, the teacher might give a more specific cue to bring them to neutral spine or Samasthiti because when you tuck the tailbone you would then come beyond neutral spine in the opposite direction. As a teacher it is important to say WHY you are giving a particular cue so if it is not a cue that is appropriate for all students, then each student can assess if the cue is for them and make the alignment correction, when necessary. Another example – when students are in forward bend, teachers may mistakenly give a general cue to the entire class — ‘bring your weight to your toes’. In this example, the teacher could say, IF your weight is not evenly distributed and you have more weight in your heels, shift your weight toward your toes. It is important to consider that no matter what the class ‘level’ is, there will be students of all levels in all classes and it is helpful to give as much detail as possible, while allowing some silence for students to ‘be’ in the posture.
photo from: http://adam.about.com/encyclopedia/Skeletal-spine.htm
This week we visited Karma Yoga Center located at 83 Hanover Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. One we located the studio, which lacked any signage on the exterior of the building, (so look closely if you visit, it is there)….we climbed up three flights of stairs and down a narrow hallway to locate the studio. We filled out the release forms and waited for the class ahead of us to end. Once the door opened I thought maybe we were in the wrong place because there were no sign of anything that resembled a yoga studio. We were greeted by owner KC, I commented on all the mirrors; she was proud to tell us she shared the location with a dance studio, which helps to keep her overhead down. Unfortunately this probably contributed to the overall feel of the studio and thinking back- I seem to recall that the props were stored in cardboard boxes.
I will just note here that it is entirely a personal preference, I just happen to prefer the ambiance of the typical yoga studio.
We introduced ourselves being sure to make KC aware of the fact that I was a beginner and Maureen was an advanced student, this would help her to modify her class especially since we were the only two students in the class. And because of this I was excited thinking the class could be taught on more of an individual level, almost like a private class. No luck…KC clearly was focused on her normal routine and as we went though the class I was a bit disappointed that I did not get much individual attention, and no modifications were given for my beginner level. I am lucky that Maureen taught me to listen to my body and not to do anything that I did not feel was comfortable. There have also been other classes I have taken where the teacher offered verbal cues for modifications to the different levels (such as Emily at Exhale in Boston).
KC was most likely exhausted due to the fact that this was her third class in a row that Saturday. Having just opened in November she is clearly still trying to work out the quirks and I am sure she will. KC is a lovely person and I wish her nothing but the best for her future!!!
When class ended we walked across the street for a delightful outdoor lunch on a beautiful sunny Saturday and enjoyed each others company, because that is what this journey is all about!!!
I am currently in a Health Coaching program that integrates my yoga knowledge/experience with what I know about Integrative Medicine. I am learning so much and thought I would share an example in our segment about ‘Listening to your Body’. In Health Coaching we assist folks to PROCESS at the feeling level. When we really listen to our body by noticing where we FEEL something, we can, with the help of a Health Coach, process by considering when there was another time we may have felt this in the body and perhaps get at the ROOT of the feeling, increase awareness about it so when an emotion arises, we understand where it is coming from and we can make the choice to react differently or not at all. Being aware in this way and understanding more about how and why we react to certain situations, we can work toward healing the body.
I have so much to learn – I am a little over half way through the 6 month program. In addition to the Health Coaching program, I am in the Professional Coaching program at UNH and have one more class to complete that certification. So, come June – you may hear more from me about this. It is my intention to take on 3 clients at no-cost, for 3 months each to practice coaching prior to taking on paying clients. I currently have one client and another that expressed interest, so if you, too, are interested, let me know and if I do not have a slot open, I can check with other graduates to see if they might have an opening.
I will be posting more about what I am learning as well as including some of the information in the Yoga NH Teacher Training/Develop Your Practice Program that I lead at Living Yoga. And if you did not know – we recently brought the B1 Community folks (the group leading the Health Coaching Program) to Living Yoga and it is likely we will bring them back for a return visit for Level 1 as well as a Level 2 weekend for folks who completed Level 1.