Class Recordings, March 20 and 22, 2018

This week I taught students the chant "oṃ śāntīḥ" for our meditation. The yoga practice emphasized forward bending postures and exhale technique for a lightening, relaxing effect. The classes were similar, with the evening option being a little more relaxing to prepare students for winding down at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 10:30 am, 3/20/2018

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 3/22/2018

These recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many free class recordings, as well as full video routines and tutorials. I hope you find them useful!

Yoga Breathing: Exhale Technique

For yoga breathing, we use a technique of drawing the lower belly in throughout the exhalation.

The movement should feel natural and smooth, without force.

As a student progresses with this technique, they can gradually draw the belly in from the lowest point, just above the pubic bone, up to the middle/upper abdomen, and this method of breathing leads into uddhiyana and mūla bandha practice.

For most new students I see, this technique is unnatural and difficult. The level of control it requires for the breath and deep musculature of the abdomen requires a lot of focus.

Especially for students with anxiety, gradual movement of the belly seems entirely out reach. In fact, for many stressed or anxious students, the natural movement of the breath is reversed, with the belly expanding on exhale and drawing in on inhale.

How to Begin Exhale Technique

This technique can't be forced. Forcing the breath to move a way that is uncomfortable creates even more strain and stress, and can provoke symptoms of anxiety, including breathlessness, racing heart, and even feeling faint. Modifying the breath needs to be approached gradually.

Here are the steps I usually guide students through to find this technique:

  1. Begin lying down on your back, with your knees bend and feet on the floor. Support your head with a folded blanket or small pillow if you like for comfort.
  2. Place one or both hands on the lowest part of the belly, below the navel and just above the pubic bone. What do you feel in this space? Can you feel the warmth of your hand? Can you feel the weight of your hand? Just see what this space feels as you breathe naturally.
  3. Add a soft sound to each exhale, either saying "aaaah" or "mmmm" in a low, soft voice. Try to keep the volume and tone the same through the entire breath.
  4. Can you feel your belly gently sinking toward your spine when you make this sound? If so, continue making the sound as you exhale, feeling the sensation of your belly being drawn down toward the spine. If not, just concentrate on making the sound in the breath very smooth, and feel the warmth/weight of your hand on the lower belly as you breath.

As the movement becomes easier to feel, and the sound in the breath is easy to sustain, I will teach students ujjayi breath. I also teach postures like apānāsana or uttānāsana to get the abdomen involved a bit more on the exhale so that the movement of the breath becomes linked with the movement of forward bending of the spine.

Especially in private lessons, I try not to bring students' attention to the movement of the belly until I can see that it's happening, or the exercise creates more stress!

Try it for yourself:

I have several yoga videos and class recordings for beginners that focus on developing and exploring this pattern of breathing, and most are very gentle and relaxing. Here are few lessons to give it a try:

Beginner Yoga Practice Video

Short Evening Yoga Practice Video

Recordings from Beginning Yoga Class - March 2018

Why do we prefer this breathing pattern?

There are a few reasons we use the exhale technique in yoga, as it improves breath capacity, improves lengthening in the lower back for forward bending poses and moves the apāna vayu region to help eliminate waste.

For me, one of the biggest benefits is the feeling of stability and groundedness that comes from the technique, since it gives students a feeling of being strong and calm. As the deepest muscles of the core become firmly engaged by the end of the breath cycle, students have greater stability and a foundation they can lift or extend from safely.

Drawing the lower abdomen also aids movement of lower digestive organs, promotes health and function of reproductive tissues in the abdomen and pelvis, and it stabilizes pelvic floor muscles and soft tissue.

In yogic anatomy (also called subtle anatomy), there is an idea that undigested food and experience sits like dirt (mala) in the lower abdomen, and that the action of drawing the abdomen up brings the dirt up to the digestive fire (agni) of the stomach. This stoking of our fire, improves our vitality and enables us to process and eliminate the stuff that's been around too long.

There is some science, too, that attempts to validate the experience.

Bottom line is, being able to engage and utilize the abdomen during the exhale opens a lot of doors for an effective practice. It's such a valuable tool, that I designed the entire Beginning Yoga class around practicing and experiencing it.

It takes regular practice at an appropriate level over time to develop this pattern so that it is subtle and done without force. One of my teachers, Dolphi Wertebecker, describes the breath as wild and skittish, like a feral kitten. You need to move gently and help it to trust you as you work with it.

How does it work for you? Have you tried it? How do you feel when you use it?

Jānuśīrṣāsana

Jānuśīrṣāsana is a seated forward bending pose that gives a deep stretch to the back and legs. The name comes from the words jānu, "head," and śīrṣa, "knee," and is often translated as "head to knee pose."

Primary Functions

Stretch the back, hips and legs

The combination of sitting and bringing one leg into external rotation places more emphasis on the stretch in the lower to mid back. The asymmetrical nature of the pose allows students to work with one side of the back/legs/hip at a time.

Move the apāna vayu region

This deep forward fold moves the lower abdominal area (associated with removal of waste and impurities).

How to do jānuśīrṣāna:

  1. Begin seated in daņḍāsana, with both legs extended straight in front and arms by your side. Maintain jālaṁdhara bandha throughout the entire sequence.
  2. Bend the right knee and turn knee out to the side, placing the foot on the inner left thigh. Turn slightly toward the left leg.
  3. As you inhale, raise both arms up from the front until they are alongside the head.
  4. Exhale as you bend forward, extending the spine over the left leg. At the end of the forward fold, lower the hands toward the floor beyond the left foot and clasp the left wrist with your right hand.
  5. Sthiti going in to the pose: Inhale, keeping hands clasped around foot, extend spine fully. Exhale, and bend more closely to the left leg.
  6. Sthiti moving out of the pose: Inhale, keeping hand clasp and spine extension, allow breath to lift torso away from the leg a bit. Exhale, fold toward leg, but not as completely.
  7. Inhale and raise arms alongside head, extend upper back and return to upright position.
  8. Exhale and lower arms.
  9. When one side is complete, bring right knee back up and straighten next to other leg. Then repeat on other side.

Posture can be done dynamically or with a stay.

Tips and Modifications

 Classical version of posture. Note extension of spine, placement of head and foot grasp.

Classical version of posture. Note extension of spine, placement of head and foot grasp.

The trick of this posture is to keep the extension of the spine and maintain jālaṁdhara bandha for the entire forward fold; these elements are fundamental to the posture. Concentrating on exhale technique (drawing the lower abdomen toward the spine on exhale) as you fold forward will help keep the spine and head in position.

 Using a folded blanket under the hips and/or rolled blanket under the knee reduces demand for flexibility in low back and makes posture more useful for most students.

Using a folded blanket under the hips and/or rolled blanket under the knee reduces demand for flexibility in low back and makes posture more useful for most students.

Since jānuśīrṣāsana requires so much back, hip and leg flexibility, most students will need to modify the pose by bending the knee of the straight leg and/or raising the hips. Use a folded or rolled blanket under the knee or hips accordingly.

Students can place their hands alongside the extended leg instead of the handclasp.

 Two alternatives to  jānuśīrṣāsana  which require less hip and knee flexibility but still stretch one side of the back and leg at a time. (Please ignore the floating head at the end of option #2!)

Two alternatives to jānuśīrṣāsana which require less hip and knee flexibility but still stretch one side of the back and leg at a time. (Please ignore the floating head at the end of option #2!)

For some students, bending the knee and bringing the hip into external rotation is impossible or strains the hip, knee or ankle. For those students, I offer the modification of just bending the knee and keeping the foot on the floor (but walking the foot out a bit so there is space to fold forward)--this modification ends up looking like maricyāsana.

Another version I like is to sit with both legs straight, but with feet about hip width apart. Then the student folds forward over one leg at a time. The wide-legged forward bend, upavistha konasana, might be another good option for stretching the back, hips and legs, without requiring the external hip rotation and knee bend.

However, if a student is unable to comfortably sit in the starting position for this pose, I am concerned that a seated forward bend may not be appropriate, and I would prefer to give the student a more useful forward bending posture, like vajrāsana forward bend (child's pose) or apānāsana.

Primary Muscle Actions

  • Erector spinae, gluteal/external hip rotators, groin and leg muscles are stretched.
  • Upper back, lower back and shoulders/arms are strengthened to some extent.

Benefits

  • Stretches back, hip, legs and groin.
  • Strengthens upper back.
  • Compresses abdominal area (apana region) and has a "cleansing" effect, especially when paired with exhale technique of drawing lower abdomen up and in toward spine.

Precautions

Take care of hips and knees in this pose. Do not use any sort of force to place the foot on the inner thigh.

Yoga Sutra Chat

I am leading an informal online Yogasūtra Chat on Friday mornings. Each week, I post a short video introducing the yoga sutras by chanting them and giving a brief translation and explanation. Here are links to the videos--you will also find links to the handouts in the video description. (The first two videos were created on Facebook. I am looking into downloading or re-recording them to post on Youtube).

Samādhipādaḥ (Chapter One)

The first chapter of Patanjali's Yogasūtra introduces the topic of yoga, defining elements of practice, the activities of the mind, and the result of practice.

Sutra 1 - 4: What is yoga? And what is the result of practice?

Sutra 5 - 11: What are the activities of the mind?

Sutra 12 - 16: What does yoga practice consist of?

Sutra 17 - 22: How does yoga practice lead to self-realization?

Videos and handouts will be added here each week right after class. You can comment on the video itself, or join us on Patreon for discussion (I post these videos to the Patron-only feed). I hope you enjoy this resource and find it useful in your studies!

If you find these videos useful, check out my free Monday Meditations and Wednesday Ask a Yoga Teacher videos on Patreon.

Class Recordings: March 13 and 15, 2018

The following recordings are from classes for intermediate students, with a focus on pausing after exhale to prepare for bandha work. We did some nice cleansing breathwork and meditation as well. 

Tuesday, 10:30 am, 3/13/18

Thursday, 10:30 am, 3/15/18

Thursday, 5:30 pm, 3/15/18 - similar to Tuesday morning's class

These recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many free class recordings, as well as full video routines and tutorials. I hope you find them useful!

Class Recordings: Beginning Yoga, March 2018

Here are the recordings for the six-week Beginning Yoga course I am teaching March through April 2018.

I hope these recordings support your developing yoga practice. This sequence of classes is a wonderful start for complete beginners, and they also offer a gentle option for more advanced students to deepen their practice in the basics.

Class 1 - Feeling the breath, forward bending poses to relax the back and hips

Class 2 - More forward bending poses, with a focus on strengthening legs and back

Class 3 - Backward bending poses, focusing on strengthening the upper back and arms

Class 4 - Twisting poses, with a strengthening, stretching and cleansing effect

Class 5 - Balance practice and side-lengthening postures for stability, space and focus.

Class 6 - More balance practice, and emphasis on personal experience in the practice

 

You can find these recordings and many other video and audio practices and tutorials on my Patreon page. I hope you find them useful!

I am planning to offer Beginning Yoga again soon--please contact me for the next start dates.

Class Recordings: February 15, 2018

This week we focused on preparing upper body strength for adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), as well as a breathing ratio with pause after inhale and exhale to build capacity to work with bandhas later in the spring. The meditation object was the moon and light--with the intention of helping students recognize their inner knowing, even when it seems covered and hazy. My hope was that a meditation on moonlight would also have a cooling, soothing affect after the work of so many back-bending and core strengthening postures.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 2/15/18

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 2/15/18

These recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many more audio and video recordings to support your yoga practice. Please enjoy the resources!

Class Recordings: February 1, 2018

This week marks the middle of winter!

To coordinate with the season's shift toward longer days and spring, classes continued to work on cleansing twists and added some uplifting backward bending postures. The morning class used a pause after inhale and meditation on spring growth to help warm and wake the system, while the evening class includes pause after exhale and a meditation on moonlight for soothing, relaxing effect.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 2/1/18

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 2/1/18

The recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many more recordings, videos and tutorials, all for free! I hope you find them useful for your practice.