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.
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
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