Breathing is great. It is something we can all do.
Breathing is a simple and accessible way we can handle our stress responses better.
The inhale is in control of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of our “fight-or-flight” response. When we make our inhale longer than our exhale, you can notice an increase in heart rate.
The parasympathetic nervous system is in sync with our exhale. The parasympathetic nervous system has the calming effect that counter acts the stress responses in our body. The heart rate slows down when we lengthen our exhale. Cortisol and blood pressure levels can be lowered by continuing a breathing practice.
When we learn to sit and observe our breath, that action alone can calm our mind and body.
The fact that stress can be harmful to one’s health is now common knowledge. Pranayama (yogic breathing) is a beautiful threshold into the realm of meditation. The world is ready for meditation; for the lightness and well being it brings.
Bhramari breath (bee breath) naturally lengthens the exhales by the act of humming out the breath. When we hum the exhale grows and lengthens. The breath may begin to feel tangible like lengthening or stretching out rubber. We can internally see/feel the breath through observing the subtleties of our experience.
-Sit comfortably (laying down works too).
-Allow yourself to breath and observe the breath.
-Deeply inhale. Then deeply exhale.
-Cover your ears with your thumbs, and the rest of the four fingers (think mitten hands) cover your closed eyes. This step can be optional if holding the hands in this position becomes distracting.
-Hum a long continuous hum till all the breath is gone.
-Stop when you want to stop.
-Appreciate the feeling in your body.
Come explore your happy breath with me!
The Happy Breath, De-Stress series will be on Wednesdays, September 21st– October 26th from 10:30-11:45am.
I started doing yoga in 2009, 7 years ago. My first class was a Kundalini Yoga class by Harijiwan, it was magnificent! I knew I had to keep doing yoga after that day.
Why did you decide to start teaching?
I took the teacher training out of my love of yoga rather than thinking that I would teach. I wanted to learn more about yoga and about myself. I realized towards the end of the training that I had learned a lot and it was too good to keep to myself: that made me want to teach yoga.
What has been your largest challenge practicing yoga?
When I first started it took me a long time to build up my stamina to do more energetic practices. Even though I was a runner at the time, many of my muscles were not involved and I could really feel it when I began a yoga asana practice.
How are a few ways yoga has helped you?
Wow! It has helped me in every aspect of my life. The breathing is big and is the basis of everything that has changed for the better. One example is that I would sometimes get sleep paralysis. After starting doing yoga I became able to breath through that time. Being able to breathe through that has changed my whole experience of sleep paralysis and I have had some amazing experiences in the sleep paralyses state after I was able to relax my body and breathe.
What can people expect to find in your classes?
I like to really focus on the breath. To me it carries so much magic. I hope that others can feel that intangible happiness too.
What is it about Yoga Flow that makes it your choice of practice/teaching?
I like letting my breathing guide me in and out of poses. I really like the fluid feeling of it.
Jennifer is a certified yogic numerologist. She studied numerology with Nam Hari for 3 years. For more about her yogic numerology see her Facebook Page Numinous Numerology.
Jennifer is married to her best friend and is a mother of two. When she has free time she loves to sew children’s clothes, read and relax at Pyramid Lake.
Jennifer offers her Yoga Flow for Beginners FREE, one morning only, on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. Come let her introduce you to the joy of moving with your breath.
Yoga has been broadly divided into four principal paths for seeking more from life than the mundane outer existence:
Bhakti Yoga…………The way of devotional love for the Divine.
Karma Yoga………..The way of right action, or selfless service.
Jnana Yoga…………The way of knowledge and discrimination.
Raja Yoga……………The way of unification of body and mind through the development of conscious control.
Raja Yoga, often called “Royal Yoga” or the “Royal Road” includes the teachings of all these paths of yoga. It is the path of self-discipline and practice, using many techniques which help to control body, energy, senses and mind. Central to the path of Raja Yoga are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which codified Ashtanga (eight branched) Yoga as:
Yamas…………………Outer behaviors and inner attitudes to avoid: violence, lying, stealing, sensuality and greed.
Niyamas………………Practices and observances to cultivate: cleanliness, contentment, austerity, introspection, devotion.
Asana………………….Practice of postures to gain control of the body, stillness.
Pranayama………….Energy control, often breathing techniques.
Pratyahara…………..Interiorization of the mind, withdrawing the senses from external objects.
Samadhi………………Enlightenment, the experience of Union.
Hatha Yoga focuses on two steps of the eight-fold path, asana (postures) and pranayama (breath practices) preparing the body for the journey toward enlightenment. Through asana the body is quieted and the mind becomes calm, providing the control essential for bodily stillness and a heightened awareness of the subtle nature of the breath. In pranayama, the observation and experiencing of the breath convert it from an autonomic function to a conscious one, combining the physical and spiritual qualities of the breath. Pranayama serves as a bridge between our states of being: conscious and unconscious, voluntary and involuntary, internal and external and provides a gateway to the higher levels of development. Hatha Yoga brings the body and breath into balance, in order to calm the disturbances of the mind in preparation for the deeper practice of meditation.
A Raja Yoga practice includes techniques to practice all eight aspects of yoga:
Netra Vyayamam (eye exercises)
Surya Namaskar (sun salutation)
Asana (yoga postures)
Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation)
Pranayama (breathing exercises)
Swami Satchidananda tells us “A body of perfect health and strength, mind with all clarity and calmness, intellect as sharp as a razor, will as pliable as steel, heart full of love and compassion, life full of dedication and Realization of the True Self is the Goal of Integral Yoga. Attain this through asanas, pranayama, chanting of Holy Names, self-discipline, selfless action, mantra japa, meditation, study and reflection.”
1) Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali/translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications, 2012.
2)Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Hatha, Integral Yoga Publications, 1995,
3) Sri Swami Sivananda, The Science of Pranayama, The Divine Life Society, 1935.
4) Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Breath of Life:Integral Yoga Pranayama: Integral Yoga Publications, 1993,
I am grateful to my teachers Lisa Dalberg and Sonia Sumar for their wisdom, grace and generosity. After decades of hatha yoga practice I began my study of Integral Yoga, a Raja Yoga tradition, with Lisa in 1990. In 1999 with Lisa’s encouragement I expanded my Integral Yoga study with Sonia Sumar, the creator of Yoga for the Special Child. I completed my Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program at Sonia’s Satchidananda Yoga Center in 2004. I continue to train with both of these inspiring women whose teaching and example take me ever deeper into my practice.
I hope you will join me at my “Raja Yoga” class on Mondays, 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. beginning May 9 through June 13, 2016. On Monday, May 9 The Yoga Center presents “Welcome to Raja Yoga” a FREE class so you can try it and see if it takes you deeper into your practice. Beginning on June 20, 2016 my “Raja Yoga” class is now weekly, 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. on Mondays, $48 for a six week series, all proceeds provide sponsorships for Yoga for the Special Child group class students. I hope you will join me to deepen your yoga practice and enjoy the Karma Yoga of providing yoga classes for children with special needs.
“It’s not about what your body can do, it’s about what you can do in your body.” – Lyndsay Slocumb
Lyndsay Slocumb, instructor of The Yoga Center’s Adaptive Yoga class, found her way to teaching, and to this class, through a life changing personal experience. Always a competitive athlete, Lyndsay was in a severe ski accident at age 14, one that left her learning to adapt to a new way of moving through the world. Lyndsay continues to compete and teaches others how to adapt and thrive as athletes themselves. Each month we will be highlighting a different teacher and their unique class, allowing you to find the class that fits needs you didn’t know could be met with yoga.
This month we feature Lyndsay’s Adaptive Yoga class. Adaptive Yoga is a class that allows each student to begin wherever they are at and move forward from there. “My class does not have a lot of up and down movement as I like to do the majority of the seated poses and then move up for all the standing poses. If there is any nerve/muscle discomfort, any or all poses can be done in a chair and we place another chair in front of the student to place their feet on, the chairs become the new floor. I offer many options in each stretch/pose so students can try one and if they don’t like it that day they can do a different pose to give them the same benefits as the pose the rest of the class is doing.” Lyndsay says “To adapt a yoga pose you start with whatever you can do. We break down a pose into different parts, work on the parts and once you become good at the parts we put the parts back together to do the pose.” Her class is heavy on the use of props, including straps, blocks, blankets, walls or chairs, all provided at The Yoga Center. “If you need to use the wall to help you balance during standing poses, then use the wall. If you are having trouble using the floor for arm balances, you can place a stack of blankets under your arms, or use a chair to bring your body to a more appropriate position to do the pose.”
March 11th marked the 9 year anniversary of Lyndsay’s skiing accident. At age 14 she crashed on a ski jump and was left with life threatening and life altering injuries including spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury with so much swelling the doctors were unsure of viable brain use, collapsed lungs, massive internal bleeding, three broken ribs and vertebrae, and kidney damage. “I was in a coma for four weeks, ICU for two months, rehab for two months. I returned home in a wheelchair. Two months later I said goodbye to the wheelchair and was walking, not beautiful at all. I have been doing yoga ever since I was able to walk on my own. I was not able to get to the floor by myself when I started but slowly improved control of my body to where I walk almost normally (you might say it is normal) and gained confidence in myself off the mat in new situations that use to make me an unsettled mess.”
We asked Lyndsay a few questions –
Why did you decide to start teaching? I wanted to give back to the community that had given me so much during my time of figuring out what I was capable of doing. Teaching yoga allowed me to continue doing what I enjoyed (yoga) and a way for me to help others recover from whatever they are going through.
What has been the largest challenge practicing and teaching yoga? It is always a challenge to set time aside to have a yoga practice and consistently do your practice, we get so busy with everything else we try to do in one day. Being able to adapt the yoga practice to each student can be a challenge, for they all get different benefits from different poses. I enjoy hearing from my students what they would like to focus on and having open dialogue about different things as that helps me as the instructor guide them through their practice.
Lyndsay says “I have had quite the journey from where I started as not much more than a lifeless body on the hospital bed to where I am now as a certified yoga instructor (almost for 5 years now), a successful college student, competing in a new sport of wheelchair rugby, and still love to hit the slopes skiing. Much work was put in on my part to be where I am. It is the motivation we give ourselves to try new things and have fun along the way that take us through life. Without the dark tough times, the good sun shining times don’t mean as much. The little things in life should make you smile and be grateful for everything you have. Cherish every day!”
Lyndsay is a business major at University of Nevada, Reno, carrying a full schedule. She is a yoga instructor, teaching at The Yoga Center, at High Sierra Industries and in group homes. She is a champion of her own life.
Stress, Breath and Yoga: Lizard Brain and Open Hearts
By Bob Fulkerson
Scientific studies and centuries of experience have demonstrated a regular Yoga practice can result in profound improvements in our lives.
In my Yoga teacher training at The Expanding Light Meditation and Yoga Retreat in 2002, I was taught to connect with my breath at the beginning of each practice session. The teachers said this helps one to quietly go inward, preparing body, mind and spirit to the Asana (yoga poses) that follows. As I studied, I learned much about the relationship between breath and spirit.
In Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world, the word “prana” means life force, energy, and breath. The ancient Greek word “Psychein”, where we get the word “psyche”, means soul or “to breathe”. In Latin, the word for wind, “anemos”, is closely related to the words for soul— “anima”—and spirit: “animus”. In Hebrew, the word for breath “ruauch” also means “spirit”.
The Yoga I learned to teach at Ananda is rooted in traditional Hatha Yoga. The Sanskrit word “Hatha” relates to the breath. The “Ha” is for inhalation and the “tha” represents exhalation. In Sanskrit, “hatha” means “now”, as in the first Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: “Hatha Yoga Anusashanum.” Scholars have translated this in several different variations in English, but it essentially boils down to: “Now we come to the study of Yoga.” This reminds us to pay attention to the eternal moment of our current breath, to stay mindful of each Asana or each activity we are currently focusing on.
The “Ha” aspiration in the first syllable of “Hawaii” also relates breath or spirit in that native language. The people of Hawaii used the term “Howlie” to describe Captain Cook and the first white people they encountered. It means “the people without breath or spirit.”
I heard the Newe (Shoshone) word “Shun-da-hai” for the first time at my first sweat, led by Western Shoshone Spiritual leader Corbin Harney, in Ruby Valley in 1988. He said the word means peace, blessings, or prayer. Corbin’s prayers always began with an aspirated, audible “Ha”. At sunrise circles, I noticed the Shoshone people blowing (breathing) outward at the end of the prayer. A Numa (Paiute) speaker told me their traditional blessing is “Na-nish-na-heit” (which I’ve spelled phonetically). The “heit” is an exhaled, aspirated sound.
“What is God? God is the breath inside the breath.” –Rumi
Stress is the number one killer of Black men in the United States, and leads to disease and premature mortality in every racial group. Stress contributes to most major health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer. Even people like me, born to more privilege than 95% of the world’s population, live with varying degrees of stress generated by a seemingly endless list of anxieties from finances to relationships to the demise of our planet.
To understand stress, we must understand the body’s central nervous system. From moment to moment, we’re either winding up or winding down. When we’re winding up, the sympathetic nervous system takes over, which is why we survived on the savannah 50,000 years ago and could outrun, outfight or otherwise survive predators and kill for our food. The other part of our central nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system, which kicks in as the perceived threat diminishes and the body gears down.
When we perceive danger, the sympathetic nervous system generates commands to the body to prepare it for a critical situation (“fight or flight”). The heart beats faster, blood pressure increases, breathing increases, pupils dilate, adrenaline and cortisol increases. Basically, we get hella fierce. The digestive system shuts down to save food and energy. The limbic section of the brain takes over, which has not evolved since we were reptiles. When we’re triggered in this lizard-brained state, we’re highly susceptible to unskillful behaviors like road rage and pointless arguments.
One of the most pernicious side effects of stress is the elevation of cortisol, known as the “death or stress hormone” for good reason. Elevated cortisol can eat brain and muscle tissue. Elevated cortisol levels also add to unwanted weight gain by stimulating the appetite and ensures efficient conversion of calories to fat, which then tends to get stored in the abdomen.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the other half of our central nervous system. It allows us to rest between stressful “battles.” Because there’s no reason to run or fight, blood flow to the muscles decreases. Digestive juices flow again. Adrenaline and cortisol secretions are greatly reduced. Blood flow increases to the reasoning centers of the brain. This is why simply stopping to take deep breaths in times of stress can allow us to think more clearly in a critical situation—and why acting when triggered leads to bad outcomes.
The good news is that research on the physiological effects of Yoga shows that we can correct the chronic imbalance in our central nervous system that results from living with too much stress. Scientific studies have demonstrated that by practicing yoga, we generate “feel good” neuropeptides such as serotonin. A yoga practice also helps improve circulation of lymph and tone the spleen, leading to more efficient removal of toxins and strengthening the body’s immune system.
Yoga is not about flat abs or looking good. It’s more than mere asana (postures) on the mat. The Eight-Fold Path (“Ashtanga”, meaning “eight”) of Yoga laid down in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a 5,000-year old remedy to modern ailments in line with every religious and spiritual tradition I’ve come across, from the Buddhism to the 12 Steps to western religion.
Yoga is not meant to supplant medical science or medical treatment for physical ailments. Be sure to tell your doctor about your yoga practice. At its root, Yoga (from “yoke”, or “union” in Sanskrit) is about self transformation.
The ancient connections between breath and spirit, common to most languages and continents, can be summed up by BKS Iyengar in “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”:
The wise yogis studied this connection between breath and consciousness and advocated the practice of pranayama to stabilize energy and consciousness…Prana is energy, when the self-energizing force embraces the body. Ayama means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint and control. (P.153.)
With gratitude to: Patanjali; Dyksha and Gyandev McCord at The Expanding Light Yoga School at Ananda; Dr. Timothy McCall, MD, of the Yoga Journal; William Broad (The Science of Yoga); my teachers Robert and Judith Gass, Corbin Harney, Norm DeLorme; and the long line of yoga teachers and students I’ve been blessed to know.
“By your stumbling, the world is perfected.” Sri Aurobindo
The Yoga Experience for People with Developmental Disabilities…By Mary Bryant, WARC
Yoga has many well-known benefits for all of us. Increased flexibility and stamina, decreased stress and anxiety and improved mental health are just a few. Imagine how useful these benefits are for people with developmental disabilities.
The people at WARC have seen first hand the benefits of Yoga. WARC works with people with developmental disabilities in a variety of work settings. In early 2000, WARC received a healthy Communities Grant from the Nevada Public Health Foundation to provide Yoga Classes to interested people at WARC.
The problem that the grant money was to address was that adults with mental retardation usually lead sedentary lifestyles and have a high stress factor, both of which put them at risk for heart disease.
Our goal was to create a more physically active lifestyle and decrease stress by:
Creativing an interest in physical/emotional well being
Providing a physical activity that is enjoyable and is tailored to each individual’s needs and abilites
Providing a means to handle stress in daily life
Providing training that can easily be integrated into daily life.
Now one year later, we are thrilled with the results of the program. At the beginning of the program, we had 2-5 people attending the weekly class. Through word of mouth, the interest has expanded and we currently se 12-15 people attending each class.. Because of the size and special needs of our group we now have two certified Yoga Instructors, Kathy Randolph and Holly Laughton, co-teaching each class.
Yoga has taught the students to stretch and lengthen the muscles and helped to rebalance both body and mind. The breathing techniques taught in yoga have produced a calming effect on the mind and body and can be practiced anywhere and any time. We have completed surveys with the participants, their work supervisors and the Yoga instructors. Without exception , the people who routinely participated in the yoga class reported improved flexibility and balance, reduced stress, and increased calmness. In addition, there were some startling improvements:
John, who has a traumatic brain injury and uses a wheelchair, no longer uses his wheelchair for yoga class and is now doing the standing poses by himself. He now also participates in a martial arts class.
Amanda, whose mother feared she would not understand the concepts or be able to participate, is now doing all the poses unassisted.
Ramin takes the bus to The Yoga Center for additional classes.
Wayne, who has always been thought to be quite uncommunicative, is making jokes (at the expense of the yoga instructors) that everyone enjoys and participates fully in the class.
Sharon has become more flexible and active as she gets some relief from her arthritis.
Another significant benefit has been the improvement in the self-esteem of the yoga students. For many of them, yoga is an activity at which they are successful. Each person works at his/her own rate. This creates tremendous pride and sense of accomplishment to people who others have not seen as particularly capable in the past.
On a personal note, yoga has been a “ticket” for my daughter, Kailin, to friendship and respect. Kailin is six years old and has Down Syndrome. She has been taking yoga classes from Kathy Randolph at The Yoga Center since she was four years old. She was able to be very successful at yoga poses from the beginning, thanks in part to the low joint tone that is part of Down Syndrome. Because of her success, she practices yoga often, which has improved her muscle and joint tone and increased her stamina. Another benefit has been the increase in her attention span, especially when doing yoga. She often does yoga poses for 30-40 minutes without losing concentration and has even participated in 30 minute meditation sessions after yoga.
Because of her interest and ability, Kailin’s teacher believes that Kailin could have a career as a yoga teacher if she keeps up her practice. Of coarse, it’s a bit embarrassing when my yoga stance is critiqued and corrected by my six-year old!
Most important to me has been how Kailin’s involvement in yoga has made her part of the community. At her kindergarten and pre-school, Kailin is fully included with typical children. To them she is not the “kid with the disability”, she is the “Yoga Kid”. I’ve been told that during free time, she sometimes has up to 10 kids sitting in a circle for impromptu yoga classes that last about 20 minutes. The children gather around her and follow her instruction. And now she is an official “teaching assistant” for Kathy Randolph, who teaches a weekly class to all of the children at Kailin’s pre-school.
So, besides the health benefits, yoga has opened the doors for Kailin and other people with developmental disabilities to be successful, gain respect, make friends and even expose them to not-traditional career options!
Recent research on the benefits of meditation in reducing stress-related illness has convinced many corporations nationwide – including Adolf Coors, Marriott, Poloroid, Hughes Aircraft, Pacific Bell, and NASA – to use meditation training as an integral part of their stress management programs. Meditation has been the subject of hundreds of clinical studies in recent years. Below is a summary of key studies:
1) Meditation significantly controls high blood pressure at levels comparable to widely used prescription drugs, and without the side effects of drugs. Hypertension, AMA Medical Journal
2) Meditators are able to reduce chronic pain by more than 50% while increasing daily function and markedly improving their moods, even 4 years after the completion of an 8-week training course. Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD Stress Reduction Clinic
3) 75% of long-term insomniacs who have been trained in relaxation and meditation can fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. Dr. Gregg Jacobs, Psychologist, Harvard
4) Meditation decreases oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and increases the intensity of alpha, theta, and delta brain waves – the opposite of the physiological changes that occur during the stress response. Herbert Benson, MD Harvard Medical School
5) Relaxation therapies are effective in treating chronic pain, and can markedly ease the pain of low back problems, arthritis, and headaches. National Institutes of Health, 1996
6)Reducing stress can dramatically reduce heart disease. In a five year study of heart disease patients, those who learned to manage stress reduced their risk of having another heart attack by 74%, compared with patients receiving medication only. Reducing mental stress also proved more beneficial than getting exercise. Dr. James Blumenthal, Duke University
7) Twenty eight people with high levels of blocked arteries and high risk of heart attack were placed on a program with regular practice of meditation, yoga, a low fat vegetarian diet, and exercise. Twenty people in the control group received conventional medical care endorsed by the AMA. At the end of a year, most of the experimental group reported that their chest pains had virtually disappeared; for 82% of the patients, arterial clogging had reversed. Those who were sickest at the start showed the most improvement. The control group had an increase in chest pain and arterial blockage worsened. Dr. Dean Ornish, San Francisco Medical School
8) Two groups were compared: meditators and non-meditators The meditators were less anxious and neurotic, more spontaneous, independent, self confident, empathetic, and less fearful of death.Atlantic Monthly, 1991
9) Twenty out of twenty two anxiety prone people showed a 60% improvement in anxiety levels following an eight week course in meditation. University of Massachusetts
10) A study of women with severe PMS showed a 58% improvement in their symptoms after five months of daily meditation. Health, 1995
11) High school students who study relaxation techniques stay in school more often and have fewer incidents of suspension. The Education Initiative, Mind/Body Medical Institute, Harvard
12) In a recent study, 77% of individuals with high levels of stress were able to cool down, lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, simply by training themselves to stay calm. Health, 1994
by Kathy Randolph, Certified Practitioner of Yoga for the Special Child™
Yoga is an ancient discipline to bring body, breath and mind into balance. The eight-fold path of yoga includes avoiding unhealthy behaviors and attitudes, cultivating healthy practices, practicing yoga postures to gain control and stillness in the body, breathing exercises to control energy and stress, mental exercises to focus within, concentration, meditation, and a connection with the universe.
The two physical branches of yoga, the postures and the breathing, make up Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is founded on the truth that the state of the mind is inextricably combined with the condition of the body. Using the postures and breathing together provides a powerful method for reducing muscle spasms and tightness in the neck and shoulders, relaxing the body and mind, and relieving stress.
First, the full diaphragmatic breath, to provide maximum oxygenation of the muscles. Place one hand on your abdomen, with your thumb on your navel and the rest of your hand below. Breathe deep into your lungs, trying to fill the lowest section first. Your lungs extend to two inches below your navel on the right and four inches below your navel on the left. As you inhale, your lungs will expand, moving your hand away from your spine. As you exhale your lungs will empty and your hand will move toward your spine. Continue breathing fully into your low lungs until the motion is smooth. Then add your ribcage. First, fill your low lungs, then try to expand your ribcage and fill your lungs in your middle chest. Continue this breath, low lungs and then middle lungs until it feels smooth. Then add the upper chest. Fill your low lungs, then middle lungs, and then try to top it off, filling your lungs to maximum capacity. Continue breathing in this wave, low…middle…top, until it feels smooth.
The deep breathing of yoga brings oxygen into the muscles, and allows the old chemicals such as lactic acid and adrenaline to be released back into the blood stream and exhaled, speeding the release of tension from the muscles. In addition, since you are moving more oxygen with each breath, using your full lung capacity allows you to breathe slower, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure. When we are calm, we breathe slowly and deeply. Our minds and bodies are so connected that when we breathe slowly and deeply, our minds think we are calm. This allows us to use our ability to control our breath to choose to deliberately alter our mental state.
Building on this base of oxygenation, muscle relaxation and stress relief, let’s add the physical stretches for the neck and shoulders. Refer to the illustrations for a general idea of the pose.
Slow Motion Dive: Sit erect in a chair with your hands on your knees and inhale fully. As you exhale, slowly lower yourself with your hands to knee level and let your head hang freely. If you can go further, place your hands on the floor and continue to lower yourself. Pause there up to one minute, breathing fully, letting the weight of your head stretch out your neck and spine. Then, inhaling, lift yourself up with your arms, head still hanging until last. This pose stretches the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Seated Neck Stretch: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, breathing fully. Place your right hand behind your left ear, grasping the base of your skull. As you exhale, gently pull your skull to the right, stretching your neck, then turn and look at your right knee. Pause, gently pulling and breathing fully, then release. Repeat on the other side. This pose stretches the neck muscles.
Seated Half Moon: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, breathing fully. Place your right hand on the seat of the chair or the floor. With your left palm up, inhale and lift your left hand up, then exhale, curving to the right. Be sure to move sideways, rather than forward. Repeat on the other side. This pose release the ribcage.
Seated Twist: Sit comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Inhale and straighten your spine. As you exhale, bring your right hand across to your left knee and turn in your low spine to the left. Hold the position as you inhale, then as you exhale try to turn further, using your ribcage. Hold the position as you inhale, then exhale turning your head if possible. Repeat on the other side. This releases the neck and ribcage.
Circle of Joy: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Interlace your fingers. Exhale and press your arms forward, palms away from you. Inhale and lift your arms overhead, palms up. Exhale, releasing your arms to the side and around behind you. Interlace your fingers, palms away from you and inhale, straightening your elbows as much as possible. Exhale, bending forward. Inhale, release your arms and sit up. Repeat as desired. This stretches the neck, shoulders, arms and back, releasing all the muscles used in breathing.
Bent Knee Dive: Sit comfortably in a chair. Place your left ankle on your right knee. As you exhale, lower yourself forward, head hanging. Pause and breathe, then raise yourself with your arms, head hanging until last. This pose stretches the neck shoulders, back and hips.
Now, having done the stretches that appeal to you, return to the full diaphragmatic breath. Does it feel freer? smoother? deeper? The breath enhances the benefits of the poses, and the poses make the breath fuller and more beneficial.
Remember, you control your breath, and with that control, you can alter your physical and mental state at will.
Notes On Yoga – Breath and Stress by Bob Fulkerson
Yoga is more than stretching or muscle building; it is in fact a spiritual practice. Scientific studies and centuries of experience have demonstrated profound physiological improvements of a regular Yoga practice. These notes are just a very brief attempt to look at two major aspects of the power of Yoga in our lives: Breathing and Stress Reduction.
“What is God? God is the breath inside the breath.” Rumi
Getting in touch with the breath at the beginning of each session prepares one to quietly and heartfully go inward, awakening body, mind and spirit to the asana practice that will follow. Following are some notes about the relationship between breath and spirit:
• In Sanskrit, the word “prana” means life force, energy, and breath.
• The Greek word for “psyche”, or soul, is related to “Psychein”, meaning “to breathe”. From the Latin word for wind (“anemos” ) are derived the words for soul (“anima”) and spirit (“animus”). In Hebrew, the word for breath (“ruauch”) also means “spirit”.
• The word “Hatha” itself is loaded with connotations related to the breath. The “Ha” is for inhalation and the “tha” for exhalation. In Sanskrit, “hatha” means “now”. Reminds us to pay attention to the eternal moment of our current breath. (The type of yoga I teach is “Hatha Yoga”.)
• The “Ha” of Hawaii also means breath or spirit. The native people there first used the term “Howlie” to describe Captain Cook and the first white people they encountered. It means “the people without breath or spirit.”
• The Paiute word for prayer, blessings, or peace, is” Na-nish-na-heit” (spelled phonetically). The “heit” is an aspirated sound to simulate the breath. Similarly, the word “Shun-da-hai”, in Western Shoshone, means peace, blessings, or prayer. The “hai” is also aspirated to motivate outward breath. At the end of a prayer, you will see and hear Shoshone blowing (breathing) outward.
BKS Iyengar, likely the foremost teacher of Yoga today, in his commentaries on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, states:
“The wise yogis studied this connection between breath and consciousness and advocated the practice of pranayama to stabilize energy and consciousness…Prana is energy, when the self-energizing force embraces the body. Ayama means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint and control.” (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. P.153.)
Yoga and Stress Reduction
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the “auto-pilot” of the body’s central nervous system. From moment to moment, the ANS is either winding up or winding down. When we’re winding up, the sympathetic nervous system takes over; the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in as the body gears down. (Note: There is not consensus in medical science that we can influence the ANS, in spite of several studies to the contrary and centuries of experience of yogis through the ages.)
In the former, when experiencing perceived danger, excitement or fear (“fight or flight”), the messages go out to the body to prepare it for a critical situation. The heart beats faster, blood pressure increases, breathing increases, pupils dilate, adrenaline flows, the digestive system shuts down. The parasympathetic nervous system is the other half of the ANS that allows us to rest between stressful “battles.” Digestive juices flow again, adrenaline secretion stops, blood flow to the muscles decreases (no reason to run) and blood flow increases to the reasoning centers of the brain. This is why simply stopping to take a deep breath in times of stress sometimes allows us to think more clearly in a critical situation.
We all live under varying degrees of stress or anxiety. Most of our lives are full of stress from modern life’s seemingly endless list of stressors including bills, traffic (road rage), relationships, threats or anxiety over war and terrorism. Stress contributes to most major health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer. The good news is that research on the physiological effects of Yoga shows we can correct the chronic imbalance in the ANS that results from stress and alleviate many health problems.
By practicing yoga and reducing stress, we also
• Increase “feel good” neuropeptides such as serotonin.
• Improve circulation of lymph and tone the spleen, leading to more efficient removal of toxins and strengthening the body’s immune system.
• Decrease harmful levels of cortisol hormones.
The body also produces cortisol in response to stress. People who are wound up contain elevated levels of cortisol, also known as the “death or stress hormone”. Elevated cortisol levels:
• Add to unwanted weight gain by stimulating the appetite.
• Ensure efficient conversion of these calories to fat.
• Ensure that fat tends to get stored in the abdomen.
Yoga reduces the body’s production of cortisol. Yoga also helps with unwanted weight gain by increasing your sense of body awareness–from whether your cervical spine is ready for halasana (shoulder stand) to whether you want to eat even though your stomach is already full–which may of us with weight problems do.
In closing, Yoga is not simply about flat abs, looking good, or asana (postures) on the mat. The Eight-Fold Path (“Ashtanga”, meaning “eight”) of Yoga laid down in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (See BKY Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) is a 5,000-year old remedy to modern ailments that is in line with every religious and spiritual tradition I’ve come across, from the Buddhism to the 12 Steps to Christianity (“Be still, and know that I am God”; A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine.”) It is not meant to supplant medical science or treatment for physical ailments—be sure to tell your doctor about your yoga practice. At the root, Yoga (from “yoke”, or “union”) is about self transformation. We intuitively understand that we are united with the divine presence in our lives.
With gratitude to Patanjali, Gyandev McCord at The Expanding Light Yoga School at Ananda, Dr. Timothy McCall, MD, of the Yoga Journal, and the long line of yoga teachers and students I’ve been blessed to know. Bob Fulkerson
March 5, 2005
“By your stumbling, the world is perfected.” Sri Aurobindo
1. Regularity: Set aside the same time or times each day for your meditation. Recommended are dawn (just after awakening), twilight, high noon, and midnight. Another time is in the evening, just before bedtime. It’s also easier to meditate on an empty stomach (2-3 hours after meals).
2. Exercise: If you have time, exercise a little before you meditate. Yoga postures are an excellent way to relax the body and mind before meditation. Paramhansa Yogananda’s Energization Exercises are also highly recommended.
3. Location: Set aside a room, or small part of a room, just for meditation. Try to find as quiet a spot as possible; if this is difficult, try using foam earplugs or headphones to block out the noise. Be sure the room is not stuffy and a little on the cool side; a blanket or shawl to wrap up in is nice
4. Sitting: Protect yourself from the downward pull of earth currents by sitting on some natural fiber, like a wool or silk blanket or piece of cloth placed on your meditation chair, bench, or cushion. Sit Erect! Whether you sit on a meditation bench, pillow or on a chair, keep your back straight, chest raised, head erect, eyes closed, and hands resting palms upturned in your lap, preferably at the juncture of the thighs and abdomen.
5. How long? Do not set unrealistic goals for yourself. It is better to meditate 5-15 minutes and be very consistent with your practice, and then increase your time as you can. One longer meditation each week can be very helpful. It also helps to meditate with other people, especially with those who have been meditating longer than you. You’ll find that group meditations will often help you to meditate longer than you normally would on your own.
6. Begin your meditation by saying a prayer either out loud or inwardly to God and the Masters, asking them to guide and help you. Do some chanting if you can, using a cassette tape of chants can be helpful. Then practice the breathing exercises to relax: Inhale, tense the whole body, then throw the breath out and relax (do this 2 or 3 times). Then do some measured breathing: inhale, hold, and exhale, then begin again. Do this 6-12 times. Choose a count that is comfortable for you; anywhere from 6-6-6-6 to 12-12-12, or higher. Afterwards, relax and breathe normally, and become aware of your breath.
7. You should feel more relaxed now. Remember to hold the body still. You can mentally check it from time to time to see that no part becomes tense again. Physical tension is a great deterrent to calm and deep meditations. Be very silent and relaxed, yet aware.
8. Meditate with joy, with devotion. Don’t wait for God’s joy to make you joyful, be joyful first yourself! Meditation will help you to remember, on ever deepening levels, of who and what you truly are. You are a child of God, and one with the Infinite Light.