Princeton Center for Yoga & Health Blog
“Life is not measured by the numbers of breath that we take, but by thI saw the first crocus of the season recently: a startling purple clump arising out of the over wintered brown leaves. The shock of the color woke me up and in that moment I took a deep breath and looked around to find dozens of green shoots coming up around my front yard. I drank in the earthy smell of the moist earth and leaves, felt the warmth of the spring sun on my face and remembered that there can be joyful moments even in the midst of the pain of the recent loss of my father.
I often repeat that I teach what I need to hear – and in this time of my grieving the lessons that I teach in our workshops “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” and “Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression” serve me as well.
In those workshops* we employ the breakthrough methodologies developed at UMass Medical School by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Our participants learn to draw on their inner resources and natural capacity to actively engage in caring for themselves and finding greater balance, ease, and peace of mind.
Yes, a simple, mindful breath can wake us up to the moments of our lives, give us the pause needed to remember and experience our life in its fullness. It does not mean we do not feel the pain in our lives - I feel the pain of my loss every day – yet it does allow for moment-to-moment experience, the actual truth of each moment when we are mindful of its gift.
So, these purple symbols of new life arisen amongst the dead and decaying leaves bring a moment of delight and a reminder of what has been developing and simply waiting under the surface until the right action arises of itself.
I invite you to take notice of something beautiful today. It could be a scent, perhaps of freshly baked bread wafting from someone's kitchen, or the sound of the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, or the way the light catches appears at dusk, or the smile of someone behind a cash register. Please look for these things, and be mindful of how your experience of the moment can change. There’s no time like NOW.
“Life is not measured by the numbers of breath that we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
*PCYH is now accepting new participants for our 8-week MBSR and MBCT workshops. People participate for reasons as diverse as: stress — job, family or financial; chronic pain and illness; anxiety and panic; GI distress; sleep disturbances; fatigue; high blood pressure; headaches. For complete details, call Deborah Metzger at PCYH: 609-924-7294.
Posted on: 2009-03-26 08:27:31. Comments
Posted on: 2008-10-26 16:51:42. Comments
Are You Breathing? The Yogic Science of BreathAre You Really Breathing?
Am I really – what? Breathing?
Ok, so you’re thinking,” She’s got to be kidding!” Well, I’m not, but go ahead and have a good laugh – it’s good for you. Laughter is a form of breathing that revitalizes you and helps you to get rid of sad feelings.
“But, isn’t breathing one of those automatic things that I never have to think about, like my heartbeat or digestion?"
Sure. Many of us go through our lives never giving breath a second thought. It’s only when breathing us made extremely difficult that we really appreciate air.
Breath is Life
Breathing is the most basic function of human life. The body can live without solid food for 3 to 4 weeks, 2 days without water, but only 3 to 5 minutes without air. What we call life begins with tour first breath in and ends with our last breath out and is the process of all the breaths in between.
AND, most of us don’t realize that we are not getting the most out of the breath of life.
Next time you see a baby sleeping, notice how its round little belly naturally rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation. It doesn’t fight movement. The whole process is soothing, healthful.
This is the same abdominal breathing we adults should be using – but, we have learned to pull in our stomachs and puff out our chests in the name of good posture. Or, perhaps our sedentary lives and/or our accumulated tensions and worries have caused the abdomen to become tight, our shoulders rounded, and chest caved in, preventing us from inhaling deeply. This shallow and superficial breathing deprives the body of both oxygen and “prana” (the yogic term for the vital life force) – which, in turn, brings about deterioration in health and premature aging. We breathe in just enough to stay alive, but not nearly enough to reduce stress or fully feel our feelings.
How many of us are aware of our breathing at any given moment? I invite you to take a moment, now, to close your eyes and observe your breathing – no need to change it, just observe. Is it shallow or deep? Slow or fast? Regular or irregular? How are you sitting? How does that affect your breathing? How do you feel right now? Sleepy and lazy? Alert and vigorous? Notice the air around you. Is it warm or cool? Fresh or stuffy? Dry or moist? Remain in stillness for these few moments and get clear answers to these questions before reading on.
The Miracle of Breath
It may help to visualize for a moment what is actually happening when we breathe. Since we usually take it for granted, we don’t realize what a miracle each breath is.
The lungs are made up of millions of tiny air sacs which handle the exchange of gases in our bodies on a cellular level, cleansing and oxygenating the body. The lungs take up a considerable amount of space in the body, actually extending from the collarbones down almost to the bottom of the rib cage. The trachea, or windpipe, splits into two large tubes, the bronchi, which branch off into progressively smaller passages and terminate in the alveoli – 300 million microscopic air sacs which make up the bulk of lung tissue.
Entwined with clusters of alveoli is a network of capillaries – microscopic blood vessels. Air sac and blood vessel lie side by side. Through incredibly thin, transparent membranes, red blood cells snatch up oxygen and surrender waste – carbon dioxide – to be exhaled.
Here’s what happens when you breathe: Inside, we work something like a bellows. With each breath, the diaphragm - a strong sheet like muscle attached to the bottom ribs – pulls down, the chest wall expands and air rushes in to fill the partial vacuum. On exhalation, the diaphragm lifts, the rib cage contracts and the upper chest drops. Air is expelled from the lungs. We take in about a pint of air with each relaxed breath, about 14 each minute.
In general, we breathe shallowly with only the top portion of our lungs. Nature has provided us with the ability to take in seven times the amount of oxygen we normally inhale. So, take advantage of this capacity! Why not do it right now?
Take a Breath!
Take in a deep, full breath. Now, exhale it slowly. Slowly. Do it again. Take another deep, full breath. Let it out slowly. And, again. Establish a nice, quiet rhythm. Visualize with each inhalation how the air nourishes each part of your body and, with each exhalation, imagine that all negative thoughts and tired feelings are leaving the body. Always exhale more slowly than you inhale.
Already, you may notice that you feel calmer, more relaxed. The practice of this simple exercise every time you become tense will begin to change your sense of well being for the better.
Experiment for yourself with one of your favorite tense moments – perhaps the next time you are waiting in a slow moving line at the supermarket or in a traffic jam.
Pranayama – Yogic Breathing Techniques for Mastering the Breath
For thousands of years, the philosophy or yoga has held that control of “vital breath” was the key to good physical health and to calm, clear thinking. Ancient yogis understood the powerful connection between body and mind and made it into a science. This branch of yoga is known as "pranayama” (“prana” = the vital life force; “ayama” = mastery or control of).
There are many benefits to including these breathing techniques as a part of your daily life. Yoga breathing exercises are most effective in helping people cope with stress, increase their energy level and recover from fatigue. Pranayama strengthens the abdominal muscles, diaphragm, heart and lungs and improves digestion and elimination. (You are effectively giving yourself an internal massage!) Since breathing corresponds very closely to our emotions, these techniques also have a profound effect on our emotions (notice how you breathe when you are very angry or fearful). Thus, controlled breathing will invariably have the spillover effect of relaxing mental turmoil. Pranayama can also be helpful in reducing smoking or overeating.
These breathing techniques are easy to master, can be practiced any time, anywhere, to rapidly reduce tension and anxiety.
The Abdominal Breath, or natural breath, is the basic breathing technique.
(For maximum effect, do this exercise in a relaxed setting where you can be alone for at least a few minutes)
Lie on your back or sit comfortable with your spine elongated and place your hands on your abdomen, fingertips just touching over your naval. Allow the muscles of your face and shoulders to relax. Soften the belly.
Inhale slowly and deeply, letting your abdomen expand like a balloon (No one is looking; let that belly of yours expand into its full and rounded glory!). Your fingertips will slightly separate and you’ll feel your abdomen expanding if you’ve got it.
Let your abdomen fall as you exhale slowly, like the balloon deflating. Your fingertips will touch again as your abdomen contracts. You can even press gently to squeeze our more of that old stale air.
Inhale easily. Feel your belly expand again.
Press the air out as you contract, as you pull in your abdomen while exhaling (you can even imagine drawing your naval towards your spine).
You have now become reacquainted with the abdominal component of your breath with which you were born. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come easily right away or if you find yourself forgetting most of the time – you’re working with an old, established habit. Simply create an intention to breathe more deeply more often.
So, whenever you remember, take a deep breath!
L’chaim – to life!
Please send me your questions, comments, share your experiences with the practice, any changes you've noticed.
p.s. Recommended reading: (There are many good books on yoga and breathing, here are a couple of good books which contain other yogic concepts and basic understandings of yoga practice).
Kripalu Yoga: A Guide for Practice On and Off the Mat, Richard Faulds
The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi
If you’d like to study more of the yogic breathing and meditation practices, join us at PCYH for Pranayama and Meditation with Rama Ramanathan on Mondays at 5:45 pm. No experience is necessary. Many of our classes include emphasis on the breathing practices and focus on the breath during the yoga poses themselves. Details of all our classes here: http://clients.mindbodyonline.com/ws.asp?studio=PrincetonCenterYogaHealth&stype=1
Posted on: 2007-08-29 10:06:40. Comments
Yoga: A 6,000 Year Old Science of Self Discovery and HealingSome people call it the oldest exercise fad around! A time tested science of self discovery and healing…
Now, this is a huge topic – far beyond the scope of a blog!
Here, I’d like to give a rudimentary outline of the types of yoga, to demystify and inform - and can add more in later posts.
Mainly, I’d like to hear about your experiences with yoga and begin a dialogue of questions, comments, impressions from all of you, dear readers. What you’ve most wanted to know about yoga and were afraid to ask…I’ll make every attempt to answer or get some answers for you!
There are many forms of ‘yoga’. For example: Hatha Yoga- the yoga of physical postures, Karma Yoga - the yoga of selfless service, Nada Yoga – yoga of sound, Bhakti Yoga – yoga of devotion, Gnana Yoga – the yoga of scientific self inquiry.
(I won’t go into many details here, there’s a wealth of information on the internet just a Google click away!)
The practice of Hatha Yoga, or the yoga of physical postures is what most of us know in the West. Within Hatha Yoga, there are many styles and traditions, most named after teachers who originated specific ways of presenting these poses, like Iyengar Yoga (named after B.K.S. Iyenger), Kripalu Yoga ( Swami Kripalvananji), Bikram Yoga (Bikram Choudrey). Some names are descriptive (Power Yoga, Hot Yoga – yes, you sweat!-, Restorative Yoga). Each style or tradition has a particular way the poses are taught and presented – the precision of Iyengar Yoga, the heart felt yoga “on and off the mat: of Kripalu Yoga. Some practices have been synthesized for special populations – Yoga for Kids, Pre-Natal Yoga, Yoga for Cancer Survivors, Partner Yoga, Gentle Yoga for Seniors, Back Care Yoga.
All these styles aim to balance the mind, the body, and the spirit through the Asanas or poses; however, the emphasis varies. Some puts emphasis on the strict alignment of the body while some focus on the coordination of breath and movement. Some are more vigorous, some more gentle. They all increase flexibility, enhance strength, boost stamina, and increase awareness of our bodies and ourselves as we release muscle tension, create a sense of calm and peace, and feel rejuvenated.
No style is better than the other. For some people, it’s convenience – the time and day of the week or location a class is offered, for some, it’s the personality of the teacher which attracts, some folks really find one style more suitable to their personality or needs. Some folks mix several different approaches to find a practice most suitable. I liken it to flavors of ice cream – some folks like chocolate, some vanilla, some like a swirl!
The main thing is to find a teacher or style that you will do! (And, you don’t have to go to a class – there are many good books, videos, audios, TV shows, etc out there where you can learn the practices. It is good to have a teacher to check in with basic alignment principles and safety) It’s worth experimenting until you find a practice which attracts you. And, you should always feel good at the end of a yoga class – not stressed, strained, wrung out, on edge…
And, if you’re just getting started, one thing to keep in mind – it’s always called the “PRACTICE” of Yoga – we’re never perfecting anything! So, let go of doing it “right”. Learn to listen to and trust your body as your greatest yoga teacher. One of my first yoga teachers announced, “I only want you to be “C” students – what a concept!
On a cautionary note, it is important to find both a teacher and a style which suits your specific needs – and to look into the qualifications of the instructor – as in most fields. There are schools which certify yoga teachers in 2 days, there are some teachers who have studied for years. The current standard in the US are teachers who have been certified by schools of yoga recognized by the Yoga Alliance as having completed a minimum of 200 hours of training covering specified subjects like anatomy and physiology, philosophy, ethics, teaching methods, etc. There is also a 500 hour certification recognized, as well.
For those of you interested in studying yoga in depth or becoming a certified yoga teacher, PCYH offers a new 200 hour yoga teacher training program beginning September 15, 2007 with a free intro class on September 9. Info at http://www.princetonyoga.com/soma-training.htm
Later, Yoga: It's not just a gym sport!
Posted on: 2007-08-29 09:51:51. Comments