Monthly Archives: January 2015

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    BREATH IS LIFE – 7 BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR BIKRAM-STYLE YOGA

BREATH IS LIFE – 7 BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR BIKRAM-STYLE YOGA

by Wendy Westmoreland

Seems pretty obvious; ‘breath is life’. I think it’s safe to assume that at some point, most adults learn that although you can go a while without food, a few days without water, you can’t go more than a few minutes without air. Stop breathing, stop living – pretty simple concept. What’s interesting is that most humans hold their breath when they are afraid. Ironic, as it seems that is when we need it the most. It’s also interesting that breath is automatic; it still happens when we’re not focusing on it. That’s good news. Considering the part about holding our breath, humans probably can’t be trusted with the responsibility to think about every inhale and exhale … heck, some of us forget to eat (pointing at myself here!)

Yoga inherently teaches about breath. In Sanskrit, ‘Prana’ literally means life force. It is defined as life-giving energy or force of the universe. If there is no breath, there is no yoga, there is no life. ‘Pranayama’ is the process of breath control. Every yoga practice, every yoga posture incorporates some form of pranayama. I am a certified Bikram instructor. Therefore, I am writing specifically about pranayama of the 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in that series.

To my current knowledge (and I reserve the right to add to it as I travel this yoga path) there are seven identifiable pranayama or breathing techniques used in the Bikram series. Most obviously, there are beginning and ending breathing exercises – bookends, alpha and omega for a complete experience. Continue with your practice, keep listening to the words, explore your breath and you will be able to identify the others.

Normal breathing: There are many ways to label this kind of breathing but put in simplest terms, it’s equal inhale and exhale. This is the base for most breathing in the 26 hatha yoga posture series. The breaths can be short and shallow or long and deep but ideally, they are equal to each other. Holding your breath for just a millisecond briefly interrupts the uniformity of the flow and is not considered ‘normal’ breathing.

Compressed breathing: Deep forward rounding, bringing your forehead to your knee(s), naturally compresses the front side of your body and the internal organs encased within. This includes your lungs. Exhaling all of the air out of your lungs as you round forward can help to find physical comfort. It alleviates pressure on the other organs. While compressed, there is room to take short and shallow breaths. Do the best that you can to make those breaths ‘normal’.

Savasana breathing: Dead body pose promotes relaxation. Breathing long, slow, deep breaths releases tension from the body, mind and spirit. It is very common for students to find difficulty with this breathing technique. We hold a tremendous amount of tension in our chest, shoulders, neck and face. Also, some of us habitually tense our abdominal wall. Watch how babies breathe and you’ll see that when they inhale, their bellies rise and when they exhale, their bellies fall. Learn to relax your abdominal wall, breath normal and follow the baby’s breath in savasana. Bonus! This breathing technique is an excellent remedy for insomnia.

80/20 breathing: This technique is helpful in postures executed belly side on the floor. When you are lying face down, it is difficult to take consistent, long inhales because your body weight is pressing down on your chest or abdomen. With 80/20, breathe in as you begin the posture, filling your lungs. Throughout the posture, keep most of the air in your lungs (80%) and exchange only small amounts (20%). Try to keep you breaths ‘normal’. Exhale all of your air out only as you release from the posture.

Sit-up breathing: There are many different sit-up techniques and corresponding pranayama. It’s agreed that sit-ups are front side compressions and that open mouth exhaling is beneficial. I find inhaling before and exhaling throughout execution to be effective for me. It supplies a quick spurt of energy while releasing a short blast of metabolic waste from my lungs – out with the old, in with the new.

What about breathing in backward bends and spine twists? Postures that include these kinds of spine manipulations are innately intense. In the beginning of your yoga life, you may find breathing deep intensifies discomfort in back bends and spine twists. In this case, try starting with short, normal breaths. With consistent practice, the body opens, becomes more strong and flexible. With time, the student achieves true relaxation and deep breathing may become more comfortable.

Breath is a tool and used correctly, it can bring release and relaxation to your practice, your body and your mind. To test this, think back on the effects whenever you yawn or sigh. Yoga is an intimate, individual engagement and pranayama is but one experience that demonstrates such. I encourage all yoga students to continue the exploration of breath throughout this life journey. Yoga teaches faith. Yoga also teaches how to be our own best teacher. Consistent practice builds a strong physical and mental foundation. Eventually, the yogi learns to trust that they will know what is needed and when.

MINDFUL LIVING – WEEK 3

I took the weekend off from continuing our conversation (i.e., reflecting, writing and re-intending) to make way for the much more eloquent and pertinent piece on MLK by Mary Margaret. We stopped and paused to remember the injustices of the past and present and our responsibility in treating our sisters and brothers with more love today and tomorrow and for generations to come. A little mindful living

My time away from writing has been no vacation at all. I have to admit I’ve felt a little lost, forgotten some of my intentions, and found it harder to keep my focus. I need you all! I need accountability so that I can form better habits one day at a time, which further confirms our initial hypothesis and reason for the blog/conversation – Mindfulness requires community. It takes a village to raise up mindfulness in each one of us.

So this week in review. It’s not that I’ve been so bad about any particular thing. It’s that maybe I haven’t felt as inspired. My determination is waning. I’ve had extra time on my hands, and this is not always a good thing. Especially to someone who is not accustomed to having a day off with a To Do list numbering only 4 items instead of 40. This extra time and freedom is like an old friend that I haven’t seen in 3 years. And it’s nice to see them but I don’t know what to talk to them about at first. Do I ask them about every day and happening over the last 1,095 days or do I just ask them about their day today? Looking at free time in the face, I wonder if I should do everything I’ve ever wanted to do in one day or just do nothing?

I usually start my day with coffee and my laptop. After an hour or so, I finish my mouse-work (i.e. chores on the computer). Then I prepare to leave my laptop on the table and go do something. But I check it again – every email, every facebook account, every instagram…. Just in case I missed something in the last 45 seconds. I get ready to shut it down again but wonder if I’m going to miss something in the next 45 seconds. I remind myself that I have a smart phone for such reasons as this. Having spent a minimum of 8 hours a day on a laptop for the last 11 years up until August, I struggle with leaving things unchecked. Emails have to be answered within seconds of receiving them and ideas that come to mind have to be set in motion immediately – orders placed, schedules updated, group emails sent. I just love to get things done!

So here I was with several hours of free time, and I haven’t known what to do with it. I felt guilty about potentially not being productive, or rather, not knowing how to be my very most productive at that very moment (usually this is not a difficult question for me). I have a gift for instinctively knowing what I should do at all times. A brief aside, it’s not like I never relax or have fun. If I am visiting with friends or out socializing, then I am perfectly OK with time spent recreationally. However, that is probably because it fits into a different category of productive – because it is maintaining good relationships, maybe time networking, or time I deserve to relax because I am in the company of others. But this week, I had WEEKDAYS off. I had a solid 8 hours one day with nothing to do and nobody to do it with. And I’m telling you, it bothered me. There was no project to work on, no problem to fix, no business to start, and no person/relationship present to give my attention to. All week, I was just wanting something, looking everywhere I could, finding nothing to satisfy. And just today, I realized where I’m at and what is causing this constant nagging, uncomfortable feeling. I have a restless heart.

I’m sure you’ve all been there. One of the worst human conditions – discontentment. Maybe it is just this week and will be gone the next. Or maybe it has been there longer than I realized and was masked by my lifestyle of constant motion.

So how am I going to fix this one? Well, that’s kind of the root of the problem – trying to find something, someone, some relief, some distraction from the present. If I was content, then I wouldn’t be restless. If I try to fix it, I’ll be chasing after the wind even more. It seems to me that it is a problem that doesn’t need “fixing.” It needs to be acknowledged and accepted as part of the journey. I am now mindful of the fact that it exists. Using that knowledge, I can avoid useless distractions and concentrate my focus and energy on whatever my task is at hand – whether it be writing emails or taking a walk – I can give it all I’ve got and find fulfillment in doing my best and being present. I can rest in the fact that I know it is a season that will pass, and I can be ready for the lessons I will learn as I walk through it. Hmmm, these last few sentences are definitely reminiscent of a 90-minute Hot 26 class. The best way to master my postures is to focus on the present moment, and the best way to work through the discomfort is to stop. The worrying, the wiping away of sweat, the looking for relief and comfort outside of yourself. To just breathe and be still. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll dive into some ways to practice Mindfulness in our day-to-day activities. I’m looking forward to it! And hey, speak up! Let us know how your mindfulness journey is going!

MINDFUL LIVING – WEEK 2

Big thanks to all of you who have subscribed to this blog over the last week! I am encouraged and slightly nervous. I realize more tangibly now that I owe you all my very best at mindful living, as well as writing down my thoughts and experiences, and gathering those of others. I feel humbly privileged.

Well, let’s start with Week 1 in review. I intended to practice my banjo, eat raw/clean food two-thirds of the time, run and do yoga, not eat superfluously at night, smile at strangers, and a handful of other items that will take much more than a week to accomplish. So in the first week, I did, in fact, practice my banjo every day but one. I learned a new song, and my banjo teacher offered his first words of praise, “you are living up to your tattoo!” (I have a banjo tattoo but am still a beginner, undeserving of said tattoo, of which the plan has always been to be reminded to practice and one day live up to the permanent ink). Win! I now need to start playing with other folks. I am considering the bluegrass jam class at The Station Inn (one of my favorite of places in Nashville). I think the time has come. All in all, I am proud of my banjo practice this week and motivated for more! Next, yes, I did eat raw foods two-thirds of the time, I ran twice (in spite of the cold snap) and did plenty of yoga (about 6 classes with one double day). Feeling good about all of those things. However, there was one late night in which I ate the better part of a bag of popcorn and some chocolate chips that I had scavenged out of trail mix in an attempt to soothe my troubled heart. The trouble with the heart was temporary but I let it result in a nice round of emotional eating. A lonely night that would have been remedied by simply going to bed and waking up to a fresh new day. But instead, I became fully convinced that I had good reason to cheer myself up by means of popcorn and chocolate, which inevitably did not help at all. I may have been “entitled to a treat” in my rebellious mind but my body and heart felt none the better from it. Lesson learned. I will do my best to remember next time that my well-deserved, “F-it I’m going to eat ALL the popcorn” attitude is not showing anyone anything and is only setting me back on my quest for mindfulness. Not to worry, I showed myself grace and resolved to utilize my wisdom the next time.

This review exercise really highlights and brings us back to our theme – Mindful Living. During my successes this week, I was being mindful of my actions and choices as they were happening in order to do the thing I intended to do. When I wanted to be lazy at night, I had to first notice my lethargic mental state, then remember my intention to practice my banjo, and finally, change my momentum in order to do something productive and rewarding. I used mindfulness to accomplish my intention! When I was blinded by my emotions and attitude of entitlement to popcorn and chocolate, I was not being mindful and completely forgot my intention to not eat snacks late at night. It’s so obvious and simple! Even a child could learn this mindfulness thing, and actually, they do! They probably learn it better than us adults because they do not have our ingrained habits and patterns of thinking and reacting. And therefore, our task at hand is to set new patterns and establish new habits. Be present so that we can be mindful of our intentions.

I haven’t studied Mindfulness as a theory (yet) but it seems intuitive that the fruit of mindfulness is remembering. Remembering to live the way we want to live. Noticing that we have the opportunity – to live authentically. And this is exciting. Encouraging, hopeful and even freeing. So week 2, here we come. With more knowledge, more experience and more mindfulness to receive the rewards of our good intentions.

MINDFUL LIVING IN 2015

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OK, here it is. Mindful Living in 2015. Are we just trying to be trendy and yogic, or do we mean something by this? Why Mindful Living? It is basically just a name that we’ve given to an idea. A thing that we want to do. An inspiration and a conversation that began on a hike one cold, fall-colored day in November. In 2015, we want to reflect, remember, communicate and encourage each other in living our healthiest and happiest lives. Although, it’s an easy and agreeable concept, intentional/mindful living doesn’t just happen on it’s own. It is a discipline just like our yoga. It’s about habits. It’s about feeling good in our own skin. It’s about being our authentic selves, having full hearts, and giving back to others. It’s about community. Helping each other grow. One day at a time. One minute at a time.  One breath at a time.

Mindfulness and Yoga go together pretty intrinsically.  The two have a similar focus on the mind-body connection. Noticing our feelings, sensations and alignments while they are happening. Being in the present moment. Practicing with integrity to avoid injury in yoga is the same as living with integrity to avoid negative consequences in life.  Being mindful about what is happening in our bodies, minds and lives can come with yoga, as we take time away from work, family, technology, busy-ness to take care of ourselves. To focus. To find peace and calm. To let go of attachments that do us more harm than good. To truly rest. Yoga can help but it’s not the only thing we want to do in Mindful Living for 2015.

We want to practice yoga. That’s a given. It is our joy and our lifestyle. But we also want to challenge and nourish our bodies in other ways. We will talk about these ideas in upcoming posts so stay tuned! Not only are we setting intentions for healthy physical bodies but we are also setting intentions for our mental and spiritual bodies. We want to check in and make sure that we are feeding our minds, hearts and souls, so that we are more capable of being authentic and kind to those around us. We will touch on all of this more throughout the year. For now, we will start with some more specific ideas for intentions in 2015. We want you to add yours to the list.

  • Sing with friends
  • Practice banjo 5 times/week
  • Smile at a stranger each day
  • Stop eating after dinner or after 7 pm
  • Eat only 2 squares of chocolate instead of the whole bar
  • Try a new sport, exercise or class
  • Walk instead of drive to work at least once a week
  • Practice yoga 5 times/week
  • Run with friends 3 times/week
  • Eat raw, whole foods 2 out of 3 meals per day
  • Eat French fries once/week
  • Read a book about yoga
  • Pray every day
  • Do the splits
  • Do a headstand
  • Start a community group
  • Write this blog at least once/week for all of 2015

All of these intentions, and yours added, might seem overwhelming but here’s the good news. We don’t have to do it all at once. Changes that are drastic often times don’t stick. We will take it little by little and arrive at our destination gradually, and if we fall off the path, we will simply get back on it. For the first week of January, maybe pick 3 to 5 intentions and try it out. See how it affects your life after one week and the lives of those around you. Then let us know!

This is, most basically, a conversation. A continuing discussion. We imagine there will be many vehicles to communicate our intentions and encourage each other in 2015, including but not limited to: blog posts, special classes, workshops, challenges, guest writers, book clubs, events, and Instagram photos (#mindfulliving). We welcome your ideas and involvement! After all, our inspiration is you, this community and seeing what happens in Nashville when we help each other live fully.