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.
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!
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 we’re 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 we’re fully relaxed and present, our breath becomes slower and deeper. This triggers our rest–and-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, we’re 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.
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 you’re 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 you’re 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: http://sf.laughinglotus.com/jasminetarkeshi/
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:
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:
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. www.nutritiousyogini.com
Classes: Mondays 12pm, Fridays 12pm & 5:30pm or Sundays at 10am.
Autumn is my favorite season and time of year. The glorious colors of the leaves changing, the wild movements of the skies, and the crispness in the air all have me so inspired and energized! Unfortunately, it’s also a time of getting run down, stressed out, and prone to disease. It’s a time of movement and change, a time to nourish our ancestors, as well as ourselves.
In Vedic wisdom, it’s said that if we want to be healthy and happy, we must honor our ancestors in order to free ourselves from our karmic pasts. We must nourish our ancestors through daily offerings so they may serve and support us. As the Great Ayurvedic Sage Maya Tiwari says: “At this significant time of year (Autumn) when ancestors are energetically open to receiving nourishment, we have an incredible chance to remember them, and in so doing, to free ourselves from ancestral karmas of grief, despair and disease.”
Creating an ancestral altar is a beautiful practice to reconnect to our roots and the universe, which connects us all. To start, place pictures of your ancestors or the country of their origin, along with your teachers, or anyone who has supported your growth. Make daily offerings of fruit, candles, incense or anything you know your ancestors loved! Offer their favorite food, drink or music and speak to them and ask for their guidance and strength. Another way to honor the ancestors, especially if you don’t know much about them, is to do service in homeless shelters, or senior homes, or serve in any way you can.
Autumn is also a time of self-nourishment, where if we forget to acknowledge and remember ourselves, we are most prone to dis-ease. In Ayurvedic Medicine, Yoga’s sister science of healing and living in harmony with nature, Fall is Vata season, ruled by the elements of air and ether. Vata is translated as “wind” or “that which moves,” and is characterized by the qualities of dryness, lightness, coldness, mobility and erratic energy. As we see these qualities manifesting outside with the drying leaves, cooler and fluctuating temperatures. and wind, we can see these qualities in ourselves too: dry lips, dry skin, dry nasal passages. We might also experience constipation, gas, bloating, weight loss, insomnia, disrupted sleep, cold hands and feet, sensitivity to cold, feeling restless, depleted, weak, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, hyperactivity and excessive talking, nervousness, anxiety and fearfulness.
Here are a few Ayurvedic suggestions to balance the symptoms of Vata during fall, to enjoy the magic and richness the season has to offer, and to prepare for winter! Instead of thinking of them as a list of do’s and don’ts, think of them as making sacred offerings to honor and connect to yourself, just as you are also connecting to your ancestors.
1. Stress Less!
Ayurvedic medicine believes that stress can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to dis-ease. One of the best ways to balance Vata in the fall is to reduce stress through self-care. Create a daily routine, eat regular meals and make them nourishing, warming and grounding foods. Don’t take on too many projects at once. Prioritize what is most important, make lists, and give your self plenty of time to finish projects. Spend quality time with friends and family.
2. Sleep Deep!
Make sure to get plenty of sleep during Vata season, which strengthens the immune and nervous systems. Rise with the sun, but also set with the sun. You don’t need to go to sleep at 5 during the shorter days of fall, but try turning in and tuning in as the sun sets. Vata’s positive qualities are heightened during dawn and dusk. Spend time reading, writing, meditating. Find quiet time, while limiting internet and television, and try to sleep for eight hours.
3. Balancing Breath!
To reduce excess Vata and its symptoms, practice a deep, balancing, gentle breathing practice called Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breath. Place your right thumb loosely on your right nostril, and your right ringer on your left nostril. Inhale and exhale through both nostrils a few times slowly and the gently close off your left nostril and exhale through your right, inhale right, switch fingers and exhale left, inhale left switch and exhale right. This is one round, practice 9 -18 rounds in the morning or evening or both!
4. Nasal Nourishment!
The neti wash and nasya are two therapies that are great for the Vata dosha. The neti wash flushes out dust, bacteria, viruses, and excess mucus. Mix ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt into one cup of filtered, distilled, or pre-boiled warm water into a neti pot. Bend over a sink and insert the tip into your top nostril to form a tight seal. Tilt your head slightly to one side and let the saline pass through your nasal passages and out the lower nostril. Repeat two to three times on each side, gently blowing your nose to release mucus from the nasal passages. Most sinus problems originate with dry and irritated sinuses, Nasya is a therapy aimed at lubricating the sinuses so they are less reactive to dryness and airborne irritants. To try it, lie down on a sofa or bed and tilt your head back as far as you can. Drop two to four drops of oil in each nostril and sniff the oil into the sinuses.
5. Slow Flow!
Make sure that your yoga practice is nourishing, instead of fast and depleting. This will reduce stress and strengthen immunity. Slow down the flow and include more Yin and Restorative Yoga, and spend more time Savasana.
6. More Massage!
An Ayurvedic practice called abhyanga is a full-body hot oil massage, which you can practice yourself to reduces anxiety, stiffness, stress, and excess Vata. Use warm organic sesame oil in the fall, as its warming qualities counteract the season’s cold, dry nature. Massage into your whole body, but especially your feet, and everything is nourished through the ROOTS!
Jasmine Tarkeshi is the Co-Founder of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers in NYC and SF and is a renowned teacher and devoted student of Yoga’s ancient and transformative teachings and practices. She has been teaching for 19 years worldwide with the deepest faith in every being’s innate ability to awaken to their truest Selves and become true agents for change and healing our world. She teaches open classes weekly.
The lovely melody of a flute
is found neither in the instrument
nor in the player’s fingers.
You might say it comes from the composer’s heart,
but if you opened his heart
you would find no melody.
Where, then, is the source?
It is beyond—in the supreme cosmic Energy
which the ego will never know.
Only if you act from your heart
will you know life’s divine power.
When we are born our heart is one of the first organs to develop along with the spinal cord, its beat setting the tone of our lives. We are then born into the world and given the constant rhythm of breath, synchronizing all the sounds and tones of life force. Nada yoga is the union through sound, inner transformation through sound and deeper listening. We honor them as the source and vibration of Om (also know as AUM, broken up into three letters) and anahata, the sound that is always in you, the vibration within the sound, the sound within the sound. It is the vibration within each cell of our being. Nada yoga is to feel the sound of God within us.
This past week I went to visit Amma, the “Hugging Saint” at her ashram in San Ramon. Being there was like being bathed in a celebration and party of blessed sounds and an intoxicating vibration of omnipresent love. Whenever first entering Amma’s ashram there is a restoring of harmony within my inner sounds as I receive all vibrations and sounds of the temple. It takes moments to synchronize myself with her loving presence and the sounds of chanting, repeating mantras, and the vibrations of all the people. There is a change in the atmosphere when a true Guru is present. The vibrating sound of the crown chakra and OM is everywhere. Communing with the Guru I am left feeling focused and relaxed. A feeling of hOMe.
As I was sitting in my seat waiting for my turn to receive a divine Amma hug I was mesmerized by her japa, or repetition in hugging one being after another. To me it was as if each hug was a mantra on a mala bead. And these aren’t just hugs, she snuggles you into arms with all her divine love and it’s as if a thunderbolt of love moves through your body. This alters your vibrational field and awareness. I could feel my heart’s capacity expand and my energy cleansed. Being in her energetic vibrational field I could feel all the cells in my body shift by the immense love she was radiating. Helping tune every one of us back into who we really are. Showering everyone in the purest vibrations of love. Restoring our hearts divine rhythm and tone. Shedding pain and suffering.
Patanjali states, “vibration is still there in the mind in an unmanifested condition. Scientifically, we can say that when manifested objects are reduced to their unmanifested condition, they go back to the atomic vibration. Nobody can stop that atomic vibration.” The omnipresent vibration of love is never changing – it’s always constant. Whether it’s through chanting mantras, thinking good thoughts, giving silent empathy, prayer, singing your heart out, dancing, being in nature, visiting a Guru, laughing with friends, we are given the opportunity to vibrate with our truest self, the sounds of divine love. The rhythm of our heart, the tide of our breath, the sound of divinity that vibrates inside and outside of us are reflections to the ever present Om and love in the universe. Nada yoga transforms our inner and outer sounds into love, vibrating our truest self. Sending waves and sounds of love from me to you through this blog. Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
“Your heart is the real temple. It is there you must install god, good thoughts are the flowers, good actions the worship, good words the hymns, love, the divine offering.”
Genevieve is committed to serving and helping others come into their best self. 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 also teaches Restorative yoga with Reiki at Laughing Lotus on Friday from 6:45-8:00pm and Sunday from 6:15-7:30. To learn more, please visit her website at www.InLightandSoul.com
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.
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
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
Autumn is my favorite season and time of year. The glorious colors of the leaves changing, the wild movements of the skies and crispness in the air have me so inspired and energized! Unfortunately, it is also a time of getting run down, stressed out and prone to disease. It is a time of movement and change, a time to nourish our ancestors as well as ourselves. In Vedic wisdom, it is said if we want to be healthy and happy we must honor our ancestors to free ourselves from our karmic pasts and nourish our ancestors through daily offerings so they may serve us and support us. As the Great Ayurvedic Sage Maya Tiwari says: “At this significant time of year (Autumn) when ancestors are energetically open to receiving nourishment, we have an incredible chance to remember them, and in so doing, to free ourselves from ancestral karma’s of grief, despair and disease.” Creating an ancestral altar is a beautiful practice to reconnect to our roots and in turn the universe through which we are all connected. To start, place pictures of your ancestors or of the country of their origin, along with your teachers or anyone who has supported your growth and make daily offerings of fruit, candles, incense or anything you know your ancestors loved! Offer their favorite food, drink or music and speak to them and ask for their guidance and strength. Another way to honor the ancestors especially if you don’t know much about them is to do service in homeless shelters, or senior homes or serve in any way you can.
Autumn is also a time of self-nourishment, where if we forget to acknowledge and remember ourselves, we are most prone to dis-ease. In Ayurvedic Medicine, Yoga’s sister science of healing and living in harmony with nature, Fall is vata season, ruled by the elements of air and ether. Vata is translated as “wind” or “that which moves,” and is characterized by the qualities of dryness, lightness, coldness, mobility and erratic energy. As we see these qualities manifesting outside with the drying leaves, cooler and fluctuating temperatures and wind moving everything around we can see these qualities in ourselves such as: dry lips, dry skin, dry nasal passages. Constipation, gas, bloating, weight loss, insomnia, disrupted sleep, cold hands and feet, sensitivity to cold, feeling restless, depleted, weak, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, hyperactivity and excessive talking, nervousness, anxiety and fearfulness.
Here are a few Ayurvedic suggestions to balance the symptoms of Vata during Fall to enjoy the magic and richness the season has to offer and to prepare for winter! But instead of thinking of them as a list of do’s and don’ts, think of them as making sacred offerings to honor and connect to your self just as you are beginning to connect to your ancestors.
1. Stress Less!
Ayurvedic medicine believes that stress can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to dis-ease. One of the best ways to balance vata in the fall is to reduce stress through self-care. Create a daily routine, eat regular meals and make them nourishing, warming and grounding foods, don’t take on too many projects at once. Prioritize what is most important, make lists and give your self plenty of time to finish projects. Spend quality time with friends and family instead of quantity.
2. Sleep Deep!
Make sure to get plenty of sleep during Vata season, which strengthens the immune and nervous systems. Rise with the sun but also set with the sun. Maybe not going to sleep at 5 during the shorter days of Fall, but turning in and tuning in as the sun sets as Vata’s positive qualities are heightened during dawn and dusk. Spend time reading, writing, meditating and quiet time while limiting internet and television and try to sleep for eight hours.
3. Balancing Breath!
To reduce excess vata and its symptoms, practice a deep, balancing, gentle breathing practice called Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breath. Place your right thumb loosely on your right nostril, and your right ringer on your left nostril. Inhale and exhale through both nostrils a few times slowly and the gently close off your left nostril and exhale through your right, inhale right switch fingers and exhale left, inhale left switch and exhale right. This is one round, practice 9 -18 rounds in the morning or evening or both!
4. Nasal Nourishment!
The neti wash and nasya are two therapies that are great for the vata dosha. The neti wash flushes out dust, bacteria, viruses, and excess mucus. Mix ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt into one cup of filtered, distilled, or pre-boiled warm water into a neti pot. Bend over a sink and insert the tip into your top nostril to form a tight seal. Tilt your head slightly to one side and let the saline pass through your nasal passages and out the lower nostril. Repeat two to three times on each side, gently blowing your nose to release mucus from the nasal passages. Most sinus problems originate with dry and irritated sinuses, Nasya is a therapy aimed at lubricating the sinuses so they are less reactive to dryness and airborne irritants. To try it, lie down on a sofa or bed and tilt your head back as far as you can. Drop two to four drops of oil in each nostril and sniff the oil into the sinuses.
5. Slow Flow!
Make sure that your yoga practice is nourishing instead of fast and depleting to reduce stress and strengthen immunity. Slow down the flow and include more Yin and Restorative Yoga, as well as spending more time Savasana.
An Ayurvedic practice called abhyanga is a full-body hot oil massage, which you can practice yourself to reduces anxiety, stiffness, stress, and excess vata. Use warm organic sesame oil in the fall, as its warming qualities counteract the season’s cold, dry nature and massage into your whole body but especially your feet and everything is nourished through the ROOTS!
Jasmine Tarkeshi is the Co-Founder of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers in NYC and SF and is a renowned teacher and devoted student of Yogas ancient and transformative teachings and practices. She has been teaching for 18 years worldwide with the deepest faith in every being’s innate ability to awaken to their truest Selves and become true agents for change and healing our world. She teaches open classes weekly and will be teaching a 50-hour Yoga Philosophy and History Intensive at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in SF. You can also catch her at Yoga Journal Live SF January 2016! #YJEvents #laughinglotussf #ayurveda #yoga #vata #honoringourancestors
by Ella Ben-Zvi
I will never forget the time I almost missed my first Pranayama class. Yellow dust from the dirt road went up and into my nostrils, blocking the little air I was able to breathe. I started to choke. “You are not going to make it!” that familiar voice was repeating in my head. My side began to hurt and my hair was in my eyes. I opened the door of the studio, panting like a dog, “Am I late?” The girl behind the desk raised her gaze and looked at me baffled, “Late for what?” I tried to calm myself down, “For class!” She scratched her head. I couldn’t believe it, the class was canceled and I ran there for nothing, so frustrating! She looked at her screen, “Oh that’s right,” she said, “And it’s so weird! No one is here, you are the only student who came.” My mat dropped to the floor, along with my morale. “Wait here, I’ll go ask her.” “Her” was The Wizard, a world renowned Yoga and Pranayama teacher, who came to teach one class in Dominical, Costa Rica, before continuing south to Panama.
“You can go upstairs. She is waiting for you.” Step by step I went up and opened the door, awkwardly peeked inside. “Namaste,” she said. “Namaste,” I bowed. It was only the two of us in the huge yoga room. “What do you want?” she asked me straight forward. “I want to breathe.”
Silence filled the air. “Well,” The Wizard took a big breath in, “I will teach you how to breathe. Did you bring any air with you?” She asked. I was puzzled and didn’t know what to say. She gave me a serious look and waited for my answer. Then a smile came up on her face, “I am kidding with you! Relax a little…” She started to laugh and then we both laughed, now I was a little less embarrassed. “What is your name?” she reached out with her right hand. “My name is Ella.” “Well Ella, that was your first Pranayama lesson! Laughing is the best way to practice the alchemy of the breath, it turns air into happiness”. She smiled at me, and I felt joyful energy spreading through my body. The stress from being late, worry about missing out, fear of looking ridiculous had left my shoulders, and a new fresh ease took its place.
Pranayama, the yogic practice of breathing, was always a magical mystery to me. Much like how the alchemist turns rocks into gold, the Pranayama exercise turns air into powerful energies. For example it can create warm energy with BHASTRIKA (Bellows Breath), a belly breath practice of equalizing the inhalation and the exhalation. Or it can create cool energy with SHITALI, using the tongue to sip in fresh air.
“Air is what PRANA is made of, but it is so much more than just air”. She said, “The full translation of the word in Sanskrit is Life force, like the Chinese word CHI or the Japanese word Ki, it is the energy of life that flows in our body and all around us.” She opened her arms and spun around, it looked like she was dancing with the air. “We all have it, it is everywhere and it is free! But this is exactly the reason why we never notice it, why we take it for granted.” She stopped dancing and looked at me with her piercing gaze, “This is the second lesson of Pranayama – the practice of paying attention, of seeing what is there on the tip of our nose!” She sat down and guided me to sit with her. “Close your eyes and open your nostrils.” Following her lead, I tried to focus all my attention on my breath, on the tip of my nose. “What are you thinking about?” She asked but I had no thoughts.
One of the greatest benefits of Pranayama is its power to clear our thoughts. When we bring our awareness to the breath, the fresh air moves from our lungs to our head. In the exercise of KAPALABHATI, we use sharp and fast exhalation to create a cleansing energy. In English it translates to skull shining breath, as the rapid breathing is heating up the fire in our belly, the air turns into a bright warm energy, cleansing the body as well as the mind.
She took a big breath in and I followed her lead as the air turned into an OM, a long and vibrant OM. “Did you hear it?” she asked without waiting for an answer, “This was your third lesson. What you heard was the magic of turning air into sound. And now it is time to move!” We practiced ASANA for an hour, keeping the UJJAI breath throughout the whole practice, with a constriction in the back of the throat. “Listen to your breath!” The Wizard said again and again. “Close your eyes and listen”. I opened my ears, listening to the air moving in and out, synching with the sound of the waves of the great Pacific Ocean that was breathing with us outside the window.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” said The Wizard, as if she really wanted my permission. “What is the name of your PRANA, your PRANA doesn’t have a name??” What is she talking about, I thought to myself? “Your PRANA is your companion, and you should give it a name. And if you’ll be good to your PRANA, and you’ll get to know it on a personal level, you’ll be able to call it and ask it to go wherever you want inside your body. You see, this is how you turn the air into your best friend”. When we learn how the PRANA flows, we can learn how to direct it towards different areas in our body. Place your hand on your belly (try it!) do you feel the belly expanding with air under your palms? In the same way, you can direct the PRANA to other body parts; not only to your belly and chest, but also to your shoulders, jaw and knees. Do you feel how it relaxes and calms the area you are focusing on?
“Breathe in, breathe out, rising and falling. Focus on the air as it comes in and out of your body. Now stop breathing!” Her command caught me by surprise, leaving me breathless. “Exactly!” she said with her deep voice, “You see, the retentions between the breaths aren’t less powerful than the breath itself.” In the practice of Pranayama there is a great importance of the KUMBHAKA, the holding of the breath, feeling the abundance of the air after the inhalation and the emptiness of the body after the exhalation. One of the exercises of KUMBHAKA is to do 4 counts while breathing in, 4 counts holding in, 4 while breathing out and 4 counts for emptying out. With the “4 / 4” practice, the breath is shaped like a square of four equal sides. The counting helps to keep the mind focused and grounded. The use of counts is very effective in many of the Pranayama exercises. Another example is to count to 3 when breathing in, and count to 6 when breathing out, elongating the exhale twice as long as the inhale.
“Now my dear, there is just one more thing you need to know about your breath. Close your eyes and I will teach you how to turn PRANA back into air, listen carefully.” I tried to listen, but she stopped talking. I opened my eyes the wizard wasn’t there. I stood up and looked around, I walked around the yoga studio but couldn’t find her anywhere. Where is she? I went downstairs; the girl at the front desk was still staring at her screen. “Hey, did you see The Wizard?” I asked. She looked at me, baffled again, “who?” “The Wizard! The Wizard! She was here and then she just disappeared! Where did she go? We have to find her! She promised she would teach me how to breathe!” The girl tilted her head to the side and asked me perplexed “Aren’t you already breathing?”
Ella believes the most adventurous journeys begin on the Yoga mat. After 3 years of traveling the world, Ella is grateful to have a found a spiritual home at the Laughing Lotus in San Francisco. In her classes, she creates space for self exploration and self healing through movement, relaxation and breath.