Posts Tagged ‘pranayama’

Lotus Love Blog

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: http://sf.laughinglotus.com/jasminetarkeshi/


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. www.nutritiousyogini.com
Classes: Mondays 12pm, Fridays 12pm & 5:30pm or Sundays at 10am.


How to Befriend your Breath

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 No Comments

by Enrique Vallejo

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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.

Namaste

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

valerie

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

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“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


Mudras: Magic at Our Fingertips

Posted on: August 5th, 2015 No Comments

by Andrew Keeler

Andrew

Have you ever had the experience of being outside the Lotus temple and just needing yoga, yet the setting isn’t conducive to busting out into Trikonasana, or walking Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) out? It can be frustrating, right? Knowing that relief is just a pose away and it’s outside of your comfort zone, or more probably outside of others comfort zones. For instance, I had a friend who worked a high anxiety position with security. I showed him Childs Pose (Balasana) to ease anxiety and let him tap into his parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest side of the nerves. His experience was one of instant relief and his question was “Why aren’t people doing this more often?” Well, for many reasons, most of them nonsensical in my humble opinion BUT there’s good news!

Using simple hand gestures, known as Mudras (“seal” or “mark” in Sanskrit), we can tap into a vast world of healing. By use of our fingers we are able to effect our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. The shapes we create can help stabilize our weight, clear energy blockages at each chakra, and call on the powers of deities as in Ganesha Mudra. You may have experienced our Mudra mascot, the Lotus Mudra, once or twice in class. The Lotus Mudra is said to be the “symbol for purity,” says Gertrud Hirschi, author of “Mudras, Yoga in your Hands.” The Lotus roots itself in the muck, the mud, our more difficult and darker sides… and grows towards the light. Flowering so that it can share the love that it has gained through hardship, and adversity, offering beauty for all to experience. Other aspects, maybe more tangible, include doing “this mudra when you feel drained, exploited, misunderstood, or lonely.” Hirschi says to “open yourself to the divine force and receive whatever you need – and much more.”

She goes on to explain how our hands are mirrors for diverse dynamic systems, small and large. As yoginis and yogis we begin to recognize the interconnectedness of all things. Whether it’s how the energy of a class begins to build on itself through breath and motion, creating a largely transformative experience together which can never be the same practicing alone; or feeling how blockages in our physical bodies may be indications of energetic stagnation in our other mental, emotional or spiritual bodies. The hands house connections to the systems of Ayurveda, our chakras, meridians through acupressure, reflexology, planetary classification (thumb representing Mars, index as Jupiter and so on) and palmistry.

Mudras are used all over the place… to bring them into todays textual world, think of the hand symbols emulated as emojis. During ceremonies those performing pujas will used mudras to work with the essence of the deity that the puja is held for. Each of our fingers has a stigma itself, the thumbs up! The “ring” finger, peace fingers and of course sometimes the center-most finger.

Mudras are extremely helpful in situations where physical asana may be difficult or inaccessible. During a 5 week pancakarma cleanse in India they were my lifeline. The medicine and practices involved in this Ayurvedic cleanse were deep, thorough, and had strict rules to increase their effective nature. I wasn’t supposed to do much physically, some folks are actually bed-ridden from the effects. Regardless, I tried and found that practice… even Yin and Tai Chi… were crushingly intense for me. I started to meditate more often and visit the library. I found Gertruds book and started to use the mudras to help connect with some of the same effects I craved from practicing asana.

They can also be combined with most any practice:
Meditation
Kirtan
Japa
Yoga Nidra
Pranayama
Asana
sitting in Bay Bridge traffic… to name a few… oh..
and yes… at the DMV.

Andrew, aka Prancing Pine, leads the Lotus community into the Dark Side of yoga. The “Yin-timate” spaces, if you will. Otherwise he’s spreading the love and light of Reiki healing and exploring inner spaces or trying to get into the woods.


We’re off to see the Wizard…..

Posted on: April 29th, 2015 No Comments

by Ella Ben-Zvi
Ella

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.


Breath is God(dess)

Posted on: April 21st, 2015 No Comments
by Andrew Keeler Andrew Keeler

Put simply, breath is God(dess). It’s a power greater than ourselves. It breathes us. Sure, we can “control” the breath using our will to stop it, and if we do so long enough we pass out… and begin being breathed again. In this way we can see that breathing is another path toward the beloved, recognizing that power lies within ourselves in our most natural of actions.

It’s the first thing we do when we come out of the womb, and the last before we enter the tomb. Some say that our lives can be counted in breaths, that when we choose this lifetime we have a predestined amount. In this way it makes sense that pranayama is sometimes translated as “prana,” life force/energy, “ayama,” extension; meaning we hold the power to extend our own life force through the act of breath control. Etymology is always so helpful in experiencing the fullness of words, and it’s especially fruitful in Sanskrit. For instance,“Hatha yogic prāṇāyāma involves manipulation of pranic currents through breath regulation for bringing about the control of chitt-vritti and changes in consciousness” (Wikipedia) These methods of breath control are often what we’re teaching in class, familiarity with breath and practices like bhastrika or kapalabhati.

When I’m teaching Yin I emphasize the breath often because it very much becomes our savior. In Yin we take our shapes/poses for minutes at a time during which difficulty can arise in each of our koshas (bodies). From physical to mental, emotional to energetic, each one holds messages and mysteries for the practitioner to uncover. The breath is there as a constant witness, supportive tool, and vehicle for discovery. Thich Nhat Hanh says it best, “The breath is a kind of vehicle that brings us back to our body in the present moment.” We’re able to find our way home by way of our never ending current. That enlivening blossoming that occurs on our inhale, inspiration; and the relieving release on our exhale, finding rest.

Practicing yoga can be as easy as breathing. It’s how I first came to the practice, for 20 plus years I’d been anxious, never feeling settled. One day I came upon a breath series alternating between the stomach and chest. I’d never been aware of my prana intake before, no less try to focus it into certain bodily spaces. At first it was difficult to imagine the breath heading into low stomach, and then up toward the collar bones. The exercise took ten minutes and afterward I experienced life in a TOTALLY different way. I was still, I could look out the window and really gaze rather than be off to my next series of to-dos. Sound was different, and sight seemed more precise, yet softer. The feeling lasted for maybe 30 seconds, enough to begin shifting my life inch by inch over the past 8 years.

This incredible tool is available anywhere you’re able to breathe. Some of my favorite and most useful experiences have been waiting in line at the DMV, riding to and fro on Bart, talking with loved ones on the phone, and definitely while getting tattoos. If you’re first able to be aware your breath may need some help then you’re at the doorway, use these pranayama practices as the key to an ecstatic life. We can contact layers of energy far beyond our physical body with our breath, and in so doing we can find the depths of experience also grow beyond what our notions of reality once were.

We’re all searching for something in this life time, and expansion of prana/life force also expands our perception; once widened, new answers are then available.

Andrew, aka Prancing Pine, loves teaching and practicing at Laughing Lotus. He has felt it as a home and place of deep healing since first stepping through the doors and seeing Amma’s smiling face. He loves working with his animal spirit guides, rocking out in the woods, and creating healing vibrations through his music and work as a Reiki Master Teacher Catch a Lotus Yin class with Andrew on Tuesday or Thursday from 4-5:15pm.

Extend Your Life

Posted on: April 8th, 2015 No Comments

by Sena Shellenberger

Sena

“Breathe into your armpits.” He said. “Now breathe into my hand” as he placed his hand between my shoulder blades. Did you know that we don’t use 60% of our lung capacity on a regular basis? Yoga and my body worker have taught me how to send breath I didn’t know I had, into places I didn’t know existed.

Pranayama is often translated as controlling the breath, but I prefer to explain it as the extension of breath. Through practicing these acts of controlling our Prana, our life force, we actually can extend the amount of breath our lungs can hold. No wonder hardcore yogis can live to be over 100!

Pranayama affects my life in many more ways than I realized. Here’s a list of what Pranayama, and more generally, my breath, means to me and how it’s impacting my life every second of every day:

Breath as a measure of health and wellness.
When I’m not in my routine, when I’m not getting enough sleep or not taking care of myself or eating healthy food, it shows up in the quality of my breath. That first OM when I finally get on my mat feels a bit stuck, a bit shorter than it normally does. I can feel the toxins, and spiritual/emotional/mental/physical gunk that needs to be released. Moving through a yoga class helps. Have you ever noticed your OM feels more powerful at the end of a yoga class compared to the beginning? This is yoga healing through your breath; moving things through your body and helping to increase your lung capacity.

A healthy mind has an easy breath. ~Author Unknown

Breath gives us the ability to concentrate, and focus
We are told to concentrate on our breath in countless practices. From meditation to running and many activities in between, we are guided to listen to and feel our breath as a means of staying in the present moment. As long as we are alive our breath is moving us, which means we always have the ability to tune in to ourselves. One can always come back to the breath.

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. ~Thích Nhất Hạnh

Pranayama gives us the ability to uplift or relax ourselves in any situation
Can you remember a time when you felt something akin to stage fright? Our shortness of breath is a very visible physical manifestation of feeling fear. From a young age many of us are taught certain breathing practices to help us regulate our breath in moments of intense emotions (e.g. counting to 10 when angry, curling into a ball to shorten the breath if one is feeling anxious, etc).
Practices like Nadi Shodhana and Sitali can help soothe and cool us while practices like Kapalabhati and Bhastrika can help detox and energize us and make us feel empowered.

When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace. ~Author Unknown

Practicing Pranayama gives us the ability to speak up, and sing out, and helps us move through fear.
Singing is breathing with added vibrations to create sound. Many people, including myself, are quite self conscious about others hearing them sing. We are all given these beautiful lungs, mouths and tongues that allow us to project our voices, to speak UP and sing OUT. Learning to use the full expression of our voice through song allows us to find our full expression in life. I’ve found that as I sing more and become more comfortable with projecting my voice through song, I’m also more comfortable speaking up in meetings and in large groups of people. I feel more confident expressing myself in all areas of my life.

Fear is excitement without the breath. ~Fritz Perls

The ability to create and participate in community
Being able to communicate with each other is critical to our survival and fulfillment as social creatures in this life. Feeling the power of our voices joined together in song, or in protest is something of awe. Having a voice allows us to connect with our oneness with everything. Having a voice allows us to enact real change. To support one another and be there for ourselves and our community. Our breath, and thus our voice, is a very powerful tool.

Breath is Spirit. The act of breathing is Living. ~Author Unknown

Breath is our fuel, our life force, our power and strength.
We often talk about food as our fuel, but breath, this life force, is much more vital (how long can we live without breath?) Every cycle of breath feeds our cells on the inhale and removes impurities on the exhale. Pranayama enables us to bring ease to these cycles for breath that many of us take for granted. Bringing ease to our intake of life fuel and excretion of toxins is surely a required ingredient to the extension of our lives.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am. ~Sylvia Plath

And finally…

To breathe is to love. By focusing on our breath we are focusing on our life. We’re taking responsibility for our highest Selves. Breathing is not always easy. We often find we have to breathe through things, breathe into things. By being courageous and doing our work, we will find an ease in our breath, and thus in our life, that will carry us through.

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

Sena teaches from a deep desire to make yoga accessible to everyone, and strives to infuse each class with a sense of playfulness. She believes that yoga can help us heal and that we all have the capacity to heal ourselves. She works at Google by day, and is gradually accomplishing her goal of getting techies into yoga, one engineer at a time.

Check out the schedule to see when she’s subbing next!


How To Befriend Your Breath

Posted on: April 2nd, 2015 1 Comment
by Enrique Vallejo

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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.

Namaste

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. Join Enrique for Candlelight Flow on Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30-9:30pm!