yoga practice

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.

Working with Energy: The Prana Vayus

IMG_3986.JPG

One of the many tools yoga philosophy provides for understanding the human system is the prāṇa vayu model, which describes how energy flows to keep our system working.

Prāṇa is life energy. It's presence is the difference between something being alive or inanimate. And the unobstructed movement of prāṇa throughout our system makes us vibrant and healthy.

Each of the vayus is a description of how and where prāṇa moves to accomplish energetic tasks in our system.

Prāṇa

The prāṇa vayu is located in the chest and head area and is responsible for intake (such as in eating, breathing in and seeing the world around you).

Samāna

The samāna vayu is located in the midsection, around the stomach and upper digestive organs responsible for absorption and integration.

Apāna

The apāna vayu is located in the lower abdomen and pelvic region. It is associated with elimination, the menstrual cycle, childbirth and general letting go.

Udāna

The udāna vayu is responsible for communication and self-expression. It is located in the throat, and is accessed in the area that stretches from the chest to the face.

Vyāna

The vyāna vayu is diffused throughout the body. It is responsible for circulation, sensation and connection.

How to apply the prāṇa vayu system in yoga practice

We can have some influence over the flow of prāṇa in one of the vayus by moving the area (āsana), modifying breathing and bringing attention to a space. We can also use meditation and connection with various objects, gestures (as in mudra and nyāsam) and sound (chanting) to effect different aspects of the human system.

In time, I will share some ideas for using yoga tools like poses, breathing and meditation to influence the various areas of prāṇa flow.

But to begin with, it's helpful to consider how we can observe a disturbance in prāṇa (prāṇa prakopa)

Since the flow of prāṇa is what makes a body work well, noticing what's not working so well in the body/mind/emotions is a good start for choosing a vayu to work with.

For example, painful menstrual cramps, diarrhea, constipation or IBS would be a strong indication that the apāna region needs some attention. If a person doesn't make eye contact or speaks very softly, or on the other hand, speaks without consideration, working with the udāna region would be useful.

Once you can see a connection between an area of pain or difficulty and one of the vayus, you have some direction for choosing appropriate yoga techniques for bringing balance to that space.

Please remember that yoga practice we should never seek to control the system. Yoga practice is an opportunity to build or repair a relationship with the system, and the techniques you choose will work best if supportive and nourishing, not demanding or harsh. Especially where there is agitation in the system, go slow, be kind and choose a gentle approach.

Moving Inward: Meditation and Breathing for Balance in Winter

One of the things that surprised me most when I started a daily yoga practice was how effectively breathing, meditation, and chanting balance my mood and energy level, and how much more deeply the effect went than a sequence of yoga poses. An added bonus is that the inner practices are often more accessible practices for students, since there are no bendy or strenuous poses to do, and the practices themselves ask very little time to have a powerful effect.

Since they do have a powerful effect, though, it's very helpful to work with a teacher first hand to receive practices that will be appropriate. Different bodies, constitutions and minds have different responses to some of these practices. The practices I've outlined below are generally well-received, but pay attention to how you feel just after practicing and for the next day or so to know if they work for you.

These "inner" practices usually work best if they are preceded by some asana, as linking movement with breath will prepare you for the mental work of prāṇayāma and meditation. See my post on āsana in the winter for ideas on how to build a supportive physical practice.

Here are the breathing, meditation and chanting exercises I most often use in class during the cold months of the year.  In fact, I have two sets of practices, so that the practices respond to and support students when the seasons change. I encourage you to give each of these a try for a few days and see what happens.

Early Winter

I often teach and practice this general type of breathing and meditation from around Thanksgiving or the first hard frost to early January, after the holidays. Early winter season is dry and windy and cold, with a lot of holiday busy-ness and stress, and these practices are intended to be stabilizing and nourishing.

1. Prāṇayāma

Breathing practices in this time of year are almost always long exhale practices to bring some relief and calm into the system. For some students, a pause after inhale and exhale could also be steadying without causing agitation.

2. Meditation

I like to lead meditations on objects that are soft and steady this time of year. Like peaceful water, or warm light, and sometimes a dawn sun for morning classes. The goal of many meditation practices this time of year is to help students feel less frazzled by holiday stress.

3. Chanting

I usually find myself chanting Srisuktam this time of year, as the sounds and meaning are soothing and fill me with a sense of reassurance and contentment. I haven't written a blog post on Srisuktam yet, but here's a snippet you can hear.

Late Winter

Mid to late winter (mid January to mid March) is wet and dark and cold, and feels slow and heavy. To balance this, most physical practices I give have a mobilizing, warming effect, and the breathing and meditation practices are more energizing and focusing.

1. Prāṇayāma

Depending on student needs on the day of practice, I like to teach breathing with an even inhale or exhale and teach a ratio with a long exhale and short pause after inhale. However, most students attending yoga classes are there because they are looking for relief from stress, and challenging breathing practices will only be agitating, so I play it by ear with breathing.

2. Meditation

Light is a favorite object for me this time of year. Sunlight, moonlight, candlelight--it's all warming and uplifting. I also like to use a vibrant tree or other green living plants to help students feel a sense of vitality and energy. Especially around mid-February when students are so ready for winter to be over, connecting with the idea of newly-emerging buds and leaves can be very powerful.

3. Chanting

The Medha Mantra is my favorite chant when I'm feeling lethargic or lifeless, as can happen when the skies are gray for days on end. You can read about the Medha Mantra and listen to it here.

I hope you find these practice ideas helpful and supportive during the winter! You are welcome to listen to my classes to see how these sorts of practices work out in real life.

Class Recordings: January 18, 2018

These recordings are taken during my regular weekly yoga classes. This week we are working on twisting postures and preparing for some poses that require a little more flexibility in the legs, hips and spine (like janu sirsasana) and strength in the upper back and core.

Both classes include a pranayama for a lengthened exhale and a meditation on snow.

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

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

The recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can access many free class recordings, tutorials, and yoga videos. Enjoy!

Class Recordings: Beginning Yoga, January 2018

Here are recordings from the 6-week Beginning Yoga class I taught in January and February 2018.

If you were a student in the class, I hope you find these recordings helpful to remember and practice techniques between classes. If you weren't able to come to class this time around, you are welcome to use these recordings for your own practice at home. I hope you find these recordings supportive and informative.

Class 1 - Focus on smooth breathing and poses that stretch the back of the body

Class 2 - Focus on breathing and backward-bending poses that lengthen the front of the body and strengthen the back

Class 3 - Introduction of Side-bending postures and furthering exhale lengthening and meditation practice

Class 4 - Twisting Postures and introducing a pause after exhale and sitting meditation

Class 5 - Downward Facing Dog pose*

Class 6 - Some balance challenges and a quieting, focusing breath and meditation practice to close our series

The links will take to the files on my Patreon page, where you'll find many more class recordings, videos and other resources. Enjoy!

I hope you find these recordings useful. You can learn more about the next Beginning Yoga series here, or email me if you'd like to inquire about the class.

*I forgot to record the Beginner class on February 8, so I taught similar content to next week's 5pm Thursday class to share here

Yoga Nidra Relaxation Exercise

Yoga Nidra is a style of yoga which emphasizes reaching a deeply meditative state through gentle breathing and visualization exercises. The word nidra in fact means sleep, and state of meditation is described as a waking sleep, in which you are conscious but completely resting in body and mind. The result for most students is attaining a level of relaxation and ease they've never felt.

Here is a simple 10-minute Yoga Nidra exercise in which you move your attention to different spaces of the body in a repeating pattern. You'll begin lying down in a comfortable position, with your head and limbs supported in a way that there is as little strain on your body as possible. (You can find ideas for a comfortable savasana pose here.)

Class Recordings: January 4, 2017

Today was all about connecting with the breath to create space and to bring more freedom and focus to our movements. We are still working on twisting poses in class, as well as some asymmetrical forward bending postures to lengthen the sides of the body (especially the spine and hips). Both classes include pause-after-exhale breathing and a meditation on water.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 1/4/2017

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 1/4/2017

The links above take you to the audio files hosted on my Patreon page where you can listen completely free. Enjoy!

Medha Mantra

The Medha Mantra is a powerful chant that builds drive, determination and vigor in the chanter. It was given to me by my teacher to practice during a period when I was feeling unmotivated and directionless, and needed a little oomph to get me moving. And it certainly works! Whenever I notice myself getting lethargic and unproductive, I add this chant to my daily routine, and it perks me up within a day or two.

I find this chant especially helpful when the weather gets cold outside during the winter, or if something happens in my life to upset my usual can-do attitude. If I notice myself feeling stuck or powerless, I know it's time to get back to Medha Mantra, so I can remember the feeling of having a fire and power within.

Here is the introduction given in the Mantravalli (rev. 2012): "This chant is addressed to Agni (the fire deity), Indra (the lord of heaven), and Surya (the sun deity) seeking clarity, abundance, radiance and good progeny. Deference to these powers will free one of dullness and despair and bring refinement to the intellect."

Listen to the Medha Mantra

Word List

  • mayi - me; (the good) in me
  • medha - mental vigour or power, intelligence, prudence, wisdom (pl. products of intelligence, thoughts, opinions); Intelligence personified
  • prajā- bringing forth, bearing
  • agni - fire; the god of fire
  • tejas - fiery energy, ardour, vital power, spirit, efficacy, essence
  • dadhatu- put, set, lay; put upon, bring to, direct towards, fix (the mind) upon, think of; resolve, determine to
  • indra - king of the gods, the god of the atmosphere and sky ("he fights against and conquers with his thunder-bolt the demons of darkness, and is in general a symbol of generous heroism; indra was not originally lord of the gods of the sky, but his deeds were most useful to mankind, and he was therefore addressed in prayers and hymns more than any other deity")
  • indriya - power, force, the quality which belongs especially to the mighty; bodily power, the power of the senses; faculty of sense, sense, organ of sense
  • suryo - sun
  • bhrajo cloudless; fire

Easy, Relaxing Yoga Practice

I have a lovely, short, easy yoga practice for you.

It's perfect for beginning, never-done-yoga-before newbies.

It's even good for I-can-do-everything yoga pros.

One of the things that surprised me when I started doing a home practice that was designed for me by another teacher (when I began studying in the viniyoga tradition) was that doing "easy" stuff actually worked.

I thought that the quickest way to get to my goals was to do the most challenging stuff possible.

But regularly stressing my body wasn't working very well. It definitely wasn't helping me feel more comfortable or strong or physically balanced. It was wearing me down.

My teacher gave me a practice that I thought was way too easy to actually do anything. But after doing it for a few days, I noticed I felt better. I was less stressed, my neck felt better and my breathing was so much smoother. I also had more energy and felt more patient and easygoing.

Things don't have to be hard to work. And it turns out, if you work well within your capacity (think 80%) you actually progress faster.

But don't just take my word for it. Do this simple practice once a day for a few days. If you like it, come to class or get a private lesson so you can have something designed just for you.

Six Free Yoga Videos

Students often ask where they can find video recordings online so they can practice at home or when traveling.

I keep a Patreon page where you can access free videos and audio recordings of yoga classes. Patreon allows creators (like me!) to share the videos and other things I create with an online audience, and it gives fans of my work the opportunity to support what I do so I can do more of it.

 
 

The Yoga Videos will always be free, so please share with friends and family. I hope you find them useful! If you choose to support my work, you'll get extra rewards, like access to download audio versions of the practice, tutorials, chanting recordings, and whatever else I think you'll enjoy.

In addition to my Patreon page, here is a collection of free yoga videos that I recommend to beginning students. They are safe for most levels of fitness, although I strongly encourage you to work with an experienced yoga teacher in person first. Especially if you are wanting your yoga practice to help, or at least not exacerbate, a previous injury, it is important to work with somebody who can see you and interact with you. Please don't assume that just because it's yoga, it can't hurt!

Low Back and Sacrum Therapy Yoga Practice (Gary Kraftsow)

Train Your Balance Yoga Practice (Olga Kabel)

Yoga for Beginners (Esther Eckhart)

Gentle Yoga for Beginners and Seniors (The Mat Project)

Morning Yoga - Gentle Morning Sequence (Yoga with Adriene)

Meditation to Detach from Over-Thinking (Michael Seeley)

 

I hope these resources help you access yoga wherever you are!

Of course, I always recommend working with a teacher to develop your practice when you can. I work with a mentor who guides me in a personal practice, and I have found that yoga is so much more fruitful when it's designed for me by somebody with experience.

I encourage you to attend a yoga class or consider private lessons to get more personalized feedback.

The most important thing is that your yoga practice supports you and creates space for connecting with the inner, essential you.

Best wishes to you on your yoga journey!