Posts Tagged ‘Breath’

Lotus Love Blog

Awareness Before Control by Josh Ehrenreich

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 No Comments
The practice of Pranayama allows us to become more skilled at controlling our breath, but before control comes awareness.
I had a wonderful opportunity to practice this recently. A couple weeks ago I participated in my first race. The day before I had some early pre-race jitters and thought it would be a great opportunity to observe the variety of breath I experienced throughout race day.
The first breath I observed was upon waking and not wanting to think about what was ahead—if I was prepared for the swim, if I could handle the hills. I just focused on breathing in, breathing out, and not getting worked up. This steadiness became more and more difficult to cultivate as start time got closer and closer, right up until I found myself standing at the edge of Lake Berryessa.
And suddenly the breath changed. I am a fairly new swimmer and it still amazes me how foreign breathing feels when swimming through water. I take for granted I can open my mouth and inhale air unobstructed; swimming in the chill of early morning, trying to avoid being kicked or kicking others, I was reminded of how satisfying a free and easy breath of air is.
On the bike, the breath served a different purpose—warming my hands. Cold from the swim, and chilling further from the air racing past I exhaled upon my near frozen fingers as I feebly tried to warm them up. When I could no longer afford to take hands off the handlebars, I imagined each breath penetrating my fingers, waking them from their numbed slumber.
Looping back down the mountain, the breath became more joyous. The gasp at those morning clouds rising off the lake—only an hour prior I had swam right through them. The sigh of relief as the merciful sun broke through and shone upon my fingers and the sensation of feeling returning. The first inhale upon finishing the run, fully stopped, heart galloping, and the satisfaction held within.
Later on, in the afternoon, observing my lungs expanding and contracting, with a napping loved one in my arms. Later still, now alone in my apartment, in front of my altar meditating—experiencing the lengthening of inhale and exhale, each working to further ground me deeper into my seat.
A race day may offer an extreme example but the lesson is universal—our breath changes with us and our encounters throughout the day. Maturity in practice comes with awareness. It is true for Asana, it is true for Pranayama, it is true for everything we undertake.

Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, breath, and attention. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking, swimming, and listening to hip-hop.

The Yoga of the Breath by Jasmine Tarkeshi

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 No Comments

This week’s blog post is an Excerpt from Lotus SF Founder, Jasmine Tarkeshi’s New Book: Yoga Mind and Body Handbook-Easy Poses, Guided Meditations: Perfect Peace Wherever You Are. Now available at the Lotus! Join Jasmine for a Class, reading, signing and celebration on Friday, April 14th at 5:30!

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.
Oprah Winfrey

Our breath plays an integral role in the functioning of our entire body and is also a reflection of our state of mind and emotions. Better breathing patterns make us more present and grounded, ready to take on whatever comes our way. When our breathing goes awry, we may find ourselves stressed, overwhelmed, and out of balance. The same is true in reverse: when were happy and healthy, we tend to breathe easier. With conscious breathing, we can impact our inner world.

What Is Good Breathing?

Learning to consciously regulate our breath is one of the most powerful tools we can cultivate. It helps us control our emotions and let go. As we covered earlier in the book, yogic breathing practices are called pranayama, which means to control or extend the breath. Prana is our life force and ayama means to extend. With slow, regulated breathing, the quality of our lives improves dramatically. 

When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallow. We breathe quickly and only fill up the top part of our lungs with oxygen. Our chest barely expands with each inhale, which triggers our flight or fight stress response.

In contrast, when were fully relaxed and present, our breath becomes slower and deeper. This triggers our restand-digest response, which lowers our heart rate. With each inhale, our entire chest and belly expand, flooding us with oxygen. With each exhale, we fully contract all of these parts of the body, releasing carbon dioxide. In this manner, each full inhale nourishes every part of our being, while each complete exhale cleanses and releases toxins from the mind and body.

Why does all of this matter? Well, the average human being takes over 20,000 breaths a day. Each breath brings us the opportunity to positively affect our state of mind and benefit our overall health. When we talk about good breathing, were talking about a conscious slow, even, and deep breath that satisfies our need for oxygen, and also helps us maintain a calm and present state of mind. With conscious breathing comes conscious living. This is what we strive for in yoga. 

Breathing Techniques

Yoga uses a variety of breathing or pranayama techniques to help facilitate different outcomes. Ujjayi breathing, which we discussed earlier , is one of the most common types of yogic breathing. Most often used during asana, it allows us to create a steady,even rhythmic, breath and link our breath to movement. In this practice, every inhale is a movement that expands the chest, such as inhaling the arms up, and every exhale promotes a contraction, such as exhaling a forward bend. The inhale accompanies a movement (such as reaching the arms up), and the exhale accompanies another movement (such asmoving into a forward bend). There are also slight pauses between breaths to help us experience stillness.

Long, deep breathing is used to calm the mind during meditation or any time youre in a stressful situation. This breath focuses on expanding and contracting the belly to engage the diaphragm and create a slow, even breath with a slightly longer exhale. This allows for space to calm the nerves, quiet the mind, and let go. 

When youre feeling sluggish, a bellows breath can be just what you need. The exercise pumps the breath from the belly rapidly, stimulating the effects of aerobic exercise, including increased metabolism, increased heart rate, and release of serotonin to the brain. 

Alternate nose breathing, where you use your thumb and pointer finger to alternately cover each nostril, is thought to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and balance our emotional state.   

All of these techniques can help you breathe better to live better.

Complete instruction on all the breathing practices available in the book! 

Jasmine Tarkeshi is the Co-Founder of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers in NYC and SF. She is a devoted student of Yoga for over 25 years and grateful teacher for 20 years. Jasmine has dedicated her life to being of service to Yoga’s transformative teachings and holy teachers through her weekly lasses at Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers SF, Teacher Trainings, International workshops, online videos and now, published book! For more details:

How Pranayama Cured My Fear of Heights by Robin Wilner

Posted on: April 5th, 2017 No Comments

I’m standing on a platform thirty feet high, trying with every fiber of my being NOT to look down at the 1900 seats filled with people. It’s the climax of the second act of “Wicked” on Broadway, and I’m about to become a flying monkey over the excited audience. My face and chest are flushed hot with fear, the monkey mask hovering over my nose and mouth makes it difficult to breathe. For all I know I could be 100 feet high. What I do know is that the harness engulfing my torso pulls my shoulders to a hunch and pinches my groin, and the single wire suspended at my mid back is the only thing keeping me from plummeting down onto all those theatre goers. In a few seconds, I’ll be released forward in a surge of momentum, soaring like an acrobat over the strangers below. But I still can’t breathe, and an uncontrollable panic sets in.

Then I remember my yoga practice. Inhaling through my nose is virtually impossible, and the short breaths I’ve been gasping through my mouth are only aiding my anxiety. So I begin to constrict the back of my throat and practice deep, rhythmic Ujjayi (pronounced oo-ja-yee) breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Panic begins to subside, and my heart rate slows to an even pace. The tension in my back, shoulders and hips has released a bit, my fists have unclenched. And as I bend my knees there is a stability and readiness to my stance. Once squeezed shut, my eyes now open to receive my surroundings with clarity. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

The crew guy behind me yanks down hard on the cables and off I gooooooooo…..exhale! Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I’m actually floating through mid air to the rhythm of my breathing! By the time I land safely back on the platform, I’m filled with exhilaration and the anxiety has completely vanished.

Prana is life force, and yama means to expand. So when we practice forms of pranayama – yogic breathing – we quite literally expand our life force, liberating ourselves from that which may bind us physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. Translated as “victorious” or “oceanic” breath, the Ujjayi pranayama creates a synchronicity between body and breath and offers tremendous benefit to the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Helpful at releasing frustration or irritability, Ujjayi encourages a free flow of prana throughout the subtle body and a sense of calm and ease.

Other benefits of Ujjayi include:

  • Enhanced self-awareness
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Relief of muscle tension
  • Increased energy and internal heat
  • Helping the yogi keep a steady rhythm during asana (movement) practice

To practice, keep the mouth open and exhale on a “HAAAAH” sound, as if you were fogging up a mirror; then keeping the mouth open, inhale on an “AAAAH” sound like an elongated gasp. Do this a few times, then close the lips and see if you can maintain the same sound while gently constricting the back of the throat. The more comfortable you become with this practice, the more your breath will mimic the sounds of the ocean.

Great times to practice Ujjayi:

  • When you feel irritated or stressed – since Ujjayi breath is especially good for settling and balancing the mind.
  • During your asana practice – as it helps you stay focused and centered while you flow between postures.
  • If you feel nervous or anxious – since the slow, rhythmic nature of this pranayama practice helps to calm the nervous system.
  • While exercising – because Ujjayi can improve respiratory efficiency during aerobic exercise like running and cycling (or aerial flying :))

Fear is merely a state of mind, and we can use pranayama to shift our state. With my newfound skill to breathe deeply, steadily and be present – free from the anxiety of being up high – I actually developed an unhindered, pure joy while performing this feat. You, too, can empower yourself with this ancient yogic practice…happy breathing!

Formerly a Broadway dancer/singer/actress in NYC, Robin mixes her love of movement, chanting, energetic healing and yoga philosophy into all her teachings. She believes that human potential is infinite and that the path to joy starts with mindfulness and self-transformation. She is also a Holistic Nutritionist.
Classes: Mondays 12pm, Fridays 12pm & 5:30pm or Sundays at 10am.

Road Map to the Soul by Alex Crow

Posted on: March 8th, 2017 No Comments

There’s no use looking for road signs.

The language of the soul is in waves

Pulsing and flowing, dancing through the body.

Channels of light and sound

Carving and curving 

Like the breath 

Through the lungs. 

To dance is to let the soul speak.

Poetry is where the abstract and the logical meet.

Inside, there are deep oceans, rivers, streaming back and forth from the source.

Spleen & stomach, a mountain range.

Brain, a far away galaxy.

Heart, a fire pit.

Intestines, undertows.

Womb,  a black whole.

Walking the edge of my spine, I rise through layers of Red Earth & Deep Water, until meeting the Sun in my belly.  Her fire gives life to the Green Forest of my heart and lungs. I rise through the blue of sky and sound until finally reaching the level of Eagle, his Vision seeing through all illusion.  Spirit reaches in, and I loose sense. 

All contained and yet uncontainable.

This invisible road map leaves subtle messages, visions, callings, colors, like bread crumbs to follow when the soul gets lost. Follow them home.  

…Waves crashing 

in(hale), and out 

Like the breath. 

Soothing us with that slow rhythm.

Guiding us home. 

Alex Crow teaches regularly at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco. She is also a Reiki Master and a co-founder of vîv, an all female Bay Area dance collective.

Restorative Healing for Vata Season

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 No Comments

by Genevieve McClendon


“Life (Ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond.”  -Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, I.42 -34

I was walking home from the Bart train station at 8:40pm, when I thought to myself: How did I do everything I did today, and I still have a 20 minute walk ahead of me? I started my day with my yoga practice, a morning appointment, taught three classes in the afternoon and evening, commuted on two trains, took two uber car rides and one bus. I also made time for breakfast and some small snacks along the way. I find a lot of us live the life of “checking off lists” and existing in “overdrive” or “overload.” So how can we make the time to be present with ourselves and others? How can we allow ourselves to be so “alive” that we seize the juiciness of every moment and live in wholeness with our mind, body, spirit? Doctors say chronic activation of stress response damages our system, causing high blood pressure and flows of stress hormones that continue throughout the day. Hence, why a lot of us don’t feel good, have a hard time sifting through emotions, or can’t find our zest for life. I believe if we help ourselves come into our own unique harmony, we can heal the world one person at a time. So, how can we learn to remove obstacles present in our daily lives, cultivate inner harmony, and harness healing power? One way is Ayurveda!

Ayurveda is the ancient science of self-healing, also known as “the Science of Life”. Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that came together to bring natural balance to the mind, body and spirit over 5,000+ years ago in India. It is considered one the most remarkable holistic practices in healthcare. Ayurveda allows the knowledge and skill to create a specific dosha balancing yoga practice. It enables us to use food with awareness, and create a basic lifestyle plan.

Through the practice of Ayurveda and yoga we can empower ourselves in self-realization and self-healing by learning how to apply daily care to our own constitution and dosha. In Ayurveda it is believed we are derived from energy, light and matter. These three powers make up the three elements of the dosha’s: Kapha (earth/water), Pitta (fire), Vata (air). We each have unique portions of each dosha within our constitution. It is how we each manifest our prakriti or nature in the living world. Working with our doshas, we help heal and harmonize ourselves. The doshas are also marked as part of our seasons and times of year in Vedic knowledge.

At this time, we are living in the season of Fall which in Ayurveda is also known as Vata season. Vata dosha and season is predominately an energetic, active, creative frame of mind, always on the go energy. When Vata is out of balance we experience anxiety, fear of the future or what’s going to happen and we tend hold our breath. Not letting the Prana (breath/spirit) flow easily we jeopardize our life force. I believe because we all live in such a fast paced culture, we all experience Vata disorder, even year round. Because it is Fall, and most of us are experiencing fast movement and anxious minds with the election and holiday’s arriving, I want to offer you some Vata calming support. Creating grounded spaciousness allows us to breathe and touch our own inner self. With a few easy to do Restorative yoga poses you can rest the anxious Vata and feel lighter, more stable and peaceful. These two simple versions of Savasana definitely help me in my journey to stabilize my Vata dosha.

“Yoga and knowledge are the two methods for dissolving the disturbances of the mind. Yoga is control of the movements of the mind. Knowledge is clear observation of the them.” -Laghu Yoga Vasishta V.9.72


For this basic form of Savasana, all you need is a quite, warm, comfortable space. You will need a pillow to support your head, a pillow or rolled up blanket to support the back of your knees, a small towel or washcloth to place over your eyes and an extra blanket to make sure your hands and feet are warm. Set your timer for 15-20 minutes and lay down. Feel your breath gently move in and out, relaxing your mind into the back of your skull, releasing all your weight into the ground. To come out of pose, bend your knees slowly into your belly, roll onto your side, using your arms to set yourself up to sit gently.


This is an elevated Savasana with the support of a chair or couch. This is great for if you sit a lot at work or on an airplane or if you’re feeling anxious. This pose helps bring energy into your root chakra and feet, supporting and relaxing the lower back. Find a space that is quite, warm and comfortable with a soft chair or couch, a small towel or washcloth to place over your eyes and extra blankets to cover up your feet and hands. Lie on the ground with your back on a soft surface with your legs elevated and resting on the seat of a chair or couch. Make sure your shins are parallel to the ground. Set your timer. Allow your breath to softly move in and out, creating a longer exhale for a few breaths and then come back to your normal breath. To come out of pose, bend your knees slowly into your belly, roll onto your side, using your arms, sit yourself up slowly.

Genevieve is committed to serving and helping others come into their wholeness. She is a compassionate teacher that invites all her students to live their truth and celebrate who they are as they are. She is a passionate Reiki Master/Teacher. Genevieve teaches Restorative Yoga with Reiki at Laughing Lotus on Friday from 6:45-8:00pm and Sunday from 6:15-7:30. Her website is

In between all these sounds I hear….

Posted on: June 1st, 2016 No Comments

by Brima Jah

Brima Jah

I sit down to write this blog.

A fly with big, loud wings collides into my left hear. People yelling and Muni buses jetting down the street downstairs from my apartment echo into my bedroom. A wall in my bedroom shakes to the beat of the latest Drake album that my neighbor blasts on repeat.

In between all of these sounds I hear my breath and quick glimpses of silence.

Listening to all of these different sounds and the accompanying silence in between them are part of the experience of nada yoga. The Sanskrit word “nada” means sound and is related to another Sanskrit term “nadi,” which means stream or flow. “Nada yoga” is therefore a union through sound or the flow of sound. Sounds of all different forms including music and our voices are part of nada yoga.

These sounds can be placed in two categories:

there are “ahata” sounds that are created by striking objects together such as drums, clapping hands, or maybe less obvious, wind blowing through trees and air colliding with our vocal chords when we speak or sing; and,

there are “anahata,” or inner sounds that are created without striking objects together and are heard from within.

It’s been said that our mind can become entrained or during meditation become absorbed in inner sounds, to the extent that we no longer listen to it but rather become one with it. However, the idea getting “absorbed” in inner sounds can take years and may seem inaccessible.

Still, research studies done at the Bihar School of Yoga have demonstrated that we do have access to connecting, or perhaps to RE-CONNECTING, with our inner sounds. This reconnection can happen through chanting mantra and participating in kirtan that can unite our breath, body and mind.

In essence, chanting mantra and kirtan helps us use of our voice to become a medium for communicating both with others and with our selves. There is rarely any instance in which we use our voice without feeling it vibrate in our body, repeat in our mind, or move us in some way emotionally.

As newborns, we create the same sounds. Within the first few months of life, the sounds we create are universal across all races, ethnicities, culture or nationality. Acquiring language and speech as children, unfortunately, starts to create demands on us that sacrifice our vocal freedom and spontaneity.

Exploring our voices, whether in chanting mantra, kirtan or by speaking, invites us to return to a sense of freedom and spontaneity that is more universal. This exploration is grounded in our body. As our voice resonates, we learn what we sound like alone and in community as one.

While we may chant mantra or sing when we are happy, singing can also support our coping with sadness, pain, and suffering. Chanting mantra and kirtan, as practices of nada yoga, give us each a means for freedom of expression when we feel happy, sad, or a mix of both. As in the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, “the shortest way to attain to spiritual heights is by singing.”

How to Befriend your Breath

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 No Comments

by Enrique Vallejo


I once had an asthma attack as a kid. I was at my grandparents’ house after finishing a day at kindergarten class and my grandma noticed me breathing strangely, gasping for breath as I sat in her living room watching television. Alarmed, she called my mom and off I went to the hospital where I stayed for a few nights. I never had another attack after that, but my lung capacity henceforth has always left a lot to be desired. After every cross country meet in high school, I would cross the finish line doubled over, short of breath. This was far beyond what my teammates experienced. In my mid twenties, I had to receive medication for a serious illness that restricted my lung capacity even further. For these reasons, my breath was always something I struggled against as a child and young adult, and my nervous, fearful temperament reflected this fact.

All of this began to change when I began practicing yoga. I discovered, to my amazement, that I could actually befriend and work with my breath. The life force coursing through me didn’t have to be my enemy. I could slow down, take up space, and not have to go through life as if I was being chased by a giant grizzly bear! I noticed my behavior change as well. I became more extroverted, calm, assertive and adventurous as my practice grew.

The benefits of mindful breathing are manifold. Here are just a few:

Reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body

Shifts body from autonomic nervous system agitated “fight or flight” reactions and activates the parasympathetic nervous system of “rest and digest” response, returning the body to homeostasis

Positively shifts emotional states

Lowers/stabilizes blood pressure

Relaxes the muscles

As many in the community know, the past month has been rather tumultuous to say the least. The only thing any of us can do is take life one day at a time and keep breathing through it all. No matter what happens, just keep breathing. What other option is there, really? We can try with all our might to influence the world around us, but we can not control most externalities. All we can even attempt to control is ourselves. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term defined by many as “control of the breath.” By starting at the most gross, visceral level and guiding the breath, we can begin to direct the mind as well. There is no more valuable resource than this. I often tell my students that I don’t care what the pose looks like, I’m far more concerned with the quality of their breathing.

The most common breath practice in yoga is something called ujjayi pranayama – victorious breath. It is aptly named because it is a powerful tool for helping the yogi work towards self-mastery while releasing misplaced desires to manage what is beyond one’s reach. This is, of course, the most meaningful victory of all.

Try this simple exercise to experience ujjayi pranayama for yourself:

Find a comfortable seat in which you feel both relaxed and alert. Sit up tall and let your shoulders release away from your ears. Bring both hands to your stomach and feel your hands move outwards on an inhale and inwards on an exhale. Keep your mouth open for now. The idea is to replace our normal shallow breathing that occurs mostly in the chest with slow, even deep belly breathing. Place one of your palms directly in front of your face and on your next exhale breath as though you’re trying to fog up a pair of glasses. This will produce an audible, rather strange sound not unlike Darth Vader from Star Wars. (When Madonna tried teaching this to Rosie O’Donnell back in the nineties, the comedienne exclaimed “Ohhhhh my God, that sounds like Satan making capuccino!!!!!”) Keep that sound and position of your throat going for the inhale. Breath in and out like that a few more times.

Final step: keep everything the same but close your mouth and breathe only through your nose. You’ll still be making a strange, audible sound, but it won’t be quite as loud. Once that feels comfortable, you can begin to slow down your breath and intentionally equalize the length of the inhale, the exhale, and even the spaces in between. It might feel laborious at first, but you’ll get it n no time if you keep practicing.

Be grateful for every breath, it means you’re still alive.


Enrique draws from a background in dance and theatre and seeks to challenge and inspire his students with enthusiasm, humor and kindness. He believes that yoga is a fantastic tool for dissolving limitations and uncovering the brave, wise, compassionate warrior within.

First breath

Posted on: April 20th, 2016 1 Comment
by Valerie Starr


The initial thing that we do as individuals is to take our first breath. We are brought into this world dependent upon the person who birthed us. Taking in oxygen through the miraculous placenta and umbilical cord is something we do from the support of the body we are housed in utero; our lungs are collapsed and don’t take in air at this point. The first action we carry out on our own is to fill our lungs with air and breathe… this may come as a scream or cry but it is still our first breath.

Before I became pregnant I was unaware of this.

After witnessing the miracle of birth and the first breath of my son Everett, I know now without a doubt that there is even more fascination with the breath that I have yet to discover.

During the first month with my baby it was interesting to watch his little body become accustomed to breathing on his own. There were moments when he would breathe more rapidly; others that were more sporadic, and often lengthy stretches of time would go by without a breath. As a new parent it was very unnerving and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear his next breath. My husband Jeff and I were constantly checking him during his sleep to hear his breath.

When Everett turned two months old I would watch him take long sweet deep breaths into his belly. It is the breath of trust, love, and simplicity. The weight of the world wasn’t weighing down on him and he doesn’t even know what the word stress means. He was in a constant state of rest and digest of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Now that he is six months old, the world is starting to open up to him and I can see that his emotions are beginning to take charge. The perceived stress from not being able to grab a toy just out of his reach, when he wants a sip of my tea, or wants to play with something that isn’t for six months old to play with gets him worked up. When this is happening I pick him up, hold him to my chest and breathe deeply. Often I’ll add a sigh so that he can hear it and feel my breath on his chest. Almost instantly his body responds and he calms down. This is all the proof I need to know that these pranayama practices work. 

Prana is vitality, life force energy, and respiration. Yama means to extend, regulate, and control. The two words coming together to form Pranayama meaning to extend our vitality and respiration, as well as move energy throughout our body with different breath exercises. Pranayama can help regulate our mood, digest our food and emotions, and bring us into the present moment. What always amazes me is that this is what our body is built and naturally equipped to do.

As life starts to get more complicated, our natural inclination of taking those deep belly breaths starts to decline and it can become a habit to keep the breath at a shallow place in our chest. Stress and anxiety can cause us to take more shallow breaths as a response to fight or flight, operating from the sympathetic nervous system. We become wired for stress and anxiety, and this becomes a normal way of going about life. When this happens it can be very easy to find a quick fix that will mask the stress in the form of something that can be damaging like alcohol or drugs.

What if we could just trust in this built in pranic system that we already have inside of us that the yogis discovered hundreds of years ago. It only takes a few seconds to close your eyes take a deep inhale and a deeper exhale.

Now if only as adults we had someone around us at all times to pick us up, hold us against their chest and remind us to breathe.

Being a mother is my biggest daily reminder that life is so precious and that each breath is amazing and each breath counts.

“There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then, there’s another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity.” – Rumi










Grab a Hold to the Breath

Posted on: April 13th, 2016 No Comments

by Erica Martin


“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
― Amit Ray

I remember my first panic attack vividly: the narrowing tunnel of vision, my heartbeat a frantic pattering in my chest, my breath fast and shallow. And there were 50 fourth graders in front of me, watching this all go down, watching me go down more specifically. I felt so helpless, I was the captain of this ship and I was drowning.

What followed was another downward emotional spiral; I felt embarrassed for “losing it,” a sense of helplessness, and isolation. Admitting this happened felt like a failure on my end, a failure that I couldn’t control (the worst kind). At a loss, I turned to research, and the research was clear: the answer lies in our breath.

Scientifically, magic happens when you take a deep breath, specifically when you lengthen the exhale to twice the count of the inhale. When we are stressed (perceived threats or actual) we begin to breath rapidly. This action is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response — the part activated by stress.

In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down.

Of course, the yogis have been on to this powerful practice for years through the practice of pranayama, control or extension of life force. Through pranayama, we learn to use the breath to cultivate an internal sense of well being.

Every day we experience hundreds of small and big moments of stress. Some of these stressors can be avoided, but must are environmental aspects that we have very little control over and will always be there. Practice of pranayama gives us a tool, the breath, to help us ride these waves. In the words of Jon Kabbot-Zinn, “[We] can’t stop the waves from coming, but [we] can learn to surf.”

Through conscious breathing I’ve learned how to ride the wave, rather than getting trapped inside the whitewash of a scary stress response. There are a variety of breathing techniques that have helped me in this process. Here are just a few to get you started!

1. Nadhi Sodhana
Nadhi sodhana, also known as alternative nostril breathing, is a very relaxed, balancing breath that is used to help calm the nervous system and aid in a restful night’s sleep. By increasing the amount of oxygen taken into the body, it’s believed that this breath can also purify the blood, calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote concentration.

How to do it: Nadhi sodhana can be done seated or lying down. To start, empty all the air from your lungs. Using the thumb of your dominant hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril only. Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your chest. Once you are full of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril only. Be sure to exhale all the breath out of the right side and pause before inhaling again through the same side. Seal both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side. A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. If you’re just starting out, you can do a four-count inhale, holding your breath for four to eight counts, then exhale for four counts. Perform up to ten cycles and notice how your body responds. You may feel more relaxed and calm in both your mind and body.

When to do it: Nadhi sodhana is a calm, soothing breath that can be done any time of day. Try practicing this technique when you are anxious, nervous, or having trouble falling asleep.

2. Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi means victorious breath and often has an oceanic like quality to it. Ujjayi encourages full expansion of the lungs and can assist in calming the mind.

How to do it: Find a place where you can sit comfortably with a straight spine. Take a steady breath in through both nostrils. Inhale until you reach your lung capacity; maintain a tall spine. Hold your breath for a second, then constrict some of the breath at the back of your throat, as if you were about to whisper a secret, and exhale slowly through both nostrils. This exhalation will sound like an ocean wave or gentle rush of air. You should feel the air on the roof of your mouth as you exhale. Repeat up to 20 times.

When to do it: This breath can be practiced for up to 10 minutes at any time of day. Try it with an asana practice as well.

3. Sitali Pranayama
Sitali also means cooling, which explains the effect it can have on your mind and body. This breath encourages clearing heat with coolness.

How to do it: Roll your tongue until the outer edges touch, forming a tube. If you can’t curl your tongue, make an oval shape with your mouth, keeping your tongue flat. Inhale through your mouth, taking in all the air that you can. It may make a hissing sound. After inhaling, bring the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and seal your lips. Feel the coolness of the inhalation in your month then exhale through your nose. Repeat five to ten times or as needed.

When to do it: If you’re feeling overheated, irritable, or find yourself waiting impatiently in hot weather, sitali is a great tool to try to cool off and relax.

4. Mindful Breathing
In times of stress, start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Other times, this can be practiced by simply observing the breath without trying to adjust it.

How to do it: Find a relaxed, comfortable position. Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe. Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins. If your mind wanders, take note and say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing. Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.

When to do it: This is a favorite of mine because it can be done at any point and in public (without too many funny stares). Riding on Muni, waiting in line for groceries, stuck in traffic, you always have access to mindful breathing.

Erica is passionate about bringing the power of yoga to youth and their teachers. She teaches Tuesday and Friday mornings at 7:00 AM and Lotus Flow on Sundays at 11:45 AM

The Day My Heart Chakra Blew Wide Open

Posted on: March 9th, 2016 No Comments
by Robin Wilner


I have a great friend and yoga teacher who can, with one intense Jedi-like stare of his giant, piercing eyes, bring me immediately to tears. He has a way of looking through me rather than at me…I’m talking about seeing into the depths of my soul with a gaze that speaks a thousand words. It’s equally both creepy and amazing!

He was leading an intensive training on the study of energy and the subtle body. On a break, he caught me asking a series of profound questions about our homework assignment in my passionate, fast-paced speech pattern. How could I bring more life into my blocked chakras? What postures did he suggest I practice to fix the imbalance in my left-side body? Should I even be practicing postures or just doing breathing exercises? Blah blah blah… And then the EYES – that long, deep stare into my being, burning a soft hole through my energetic armor, and he simply said, “Robin…”


I wasn’t breathing, apparently. I was speed talking with an anxious desire to fix myself, like I was a car and he was the mechanic. He said my name slowly, deliberately, and waited. I used to fear silence in conversations, but I knew at that moment what he was trying to tell me. Stop. Breathe. Listen to your Self. You know what to do. Allow the vulnerability to surface, and see what happens. And you know what happened? I burst into tears.

I absolutely despise crying in public. I always thought that crying showed a sign of weakness in me that I would refuse to let others witness. As a woman, I have been conditioned to think that shedding tears makes me less capable of handling pressure, of performing well in the workplace, or of communicating without letting my girlie emotions get in the way. So for years, I had shut off the part of me that desperately needed to express vulnerability…my heart chakra.

A chakra, or “wheel of light” in Sanskrit, can also be described as a vortex of spinning energy that emanates from the spine. Chakras are said to serve as the place where subtle (metaphysical) energy and concrete (biophysical) energy come together and then disperse throughout the body. According to the Hindu Chakra model, there are seven chakras found along the spine, from the base to the crown of the head, all of which are interconnected with 72,000 nadis or meridian-like channels that spread energy in all directions.

Each chakra is affiliated with a color, an element in nature, a vibration or sound, a major bodily organ, and relates to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of being human. In the case of the heart chakra, called Anahata, the respective color is green, the element is air, and the seed sound is “Yam” (which reminds me of yum or delicious, appropriate words to describe how it feels when your heart is full); the organs include the lungs and heart, and the Anahata chakra relates to love and compassion and a feeling of great joy for life.

When I burst into tears, it was as if the floodgates of my heart chakra had sprung open. I suddenly had permission to connect to my truest self, to allow emotions (read as vulnerability) to cleanse my innermost being and leak out through my eye sockets. Tears that result from strong feelings like stress, pain, anger, and sadness are even classified by scientists – they are called psychic tears and are known to carry leucine enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller. That would explain why I felt a million times better after I actually released whatever was pent up inside of me!

As peers and fellow yogis rallied to my side during my sobfest, I realized that my wide-eyed friend (the subtle energy yoga-guru-Jedi-master) had been guiding our group so deeply into our subtle bodies that there was bound to be an explosive opening. Through the power of asana (movement), meditation, pranayama (breathing), and mantra (sound healing) the smallest shifts were bringing about profound transformations. And I made some great discoveries in regards to my personal yoga practice:

Breathe into the back of your heart. I’d been missing out on the finer elements of heart opening. For years, I had just been overworking my already flexible spine, pinching my shoulders together to lean further into a backbend, and letting the front of my heart do all the work. In other words, how I project myself into the world (by way of the front of my heart) as a loving and kind being was being reinforced, but how I felt about my Self and my connection to the Divine (via the back of my heart) was disconnected. The real work was in standing still with my arms elevated and breathing into the space between my shoulders…the BACK of my heart…the depth of my soul…and I need to continue to work with that simple action every day.

Touch and be touched. Let your arms and hands be conduits of your beautiful heart, so that that spark of Divinity within you is caressing everything and everyone that you touch. This loving kindness and compassion will come your way too if you let others do the same for you.

Cry in front of others. Yes, there it is. Allow those around you to see your vulnerability and let them in on the big secret…that you’re HUMAN! It will feel incredible to shed some tears (remember that natural painkiller?) and connect to compassionate beings that understand whatever you are experiencing. I promise they will have felt it at some point as well.

The beauty of the yoga practice is that it contains so many layers. You may come to your mat at first excited by nothing more than the physical practice…then you come back hungry for that natural high that accompanies each class…and then you start to tap into the subtle realms of the deeper practice, the realization that the high you seek is simply you discovering the real you…that your subtle energy body is igniting and slowly creating profound shifts in your life. And one day, your heart will burst wide open, too!

Robin Wilner is a former Broadway dancer/singer/actress who took a leap of faith, moved to the west coast, and is devoted to teaching and practicing yoga. Mixing her dance background with a love of chanting, meditative healing, and philosophy, she strives to lead her students to a state of being that reflects their own inner radiance. Flow with Robin on Mondays & Fridays at 12pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 9am, or Sundays at 10am