Free Yoga Classes in September at New Tampa Regional Library

I am glad to announce that thanks to the support of the New Tampa Regional Library and the The Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County I’ll be offering FREE classes at the New Tampa Regional Library in September. Starting tomorrow, every Thursday (8, 15, 22, 29), 6-7pm, a Yoga for Well Being class for students at all levels.
Bring your mat, comfortable clothing and let’s breathe and move together.

Location: New Tampa Regional Library 10001 Cross Creek Blvd, Tampa, FL 33647-2581. Telephone: 813.273.3652

January 2011: Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica!

Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

I hope your week is going very well.

Often I have been asked if I lead yoga retreats. I love teaching where I live so that I can offer students opportunities to practice consistently. However, for a while I have wanted to offer a Yoga retreat to help students deepen their practice in a beautiful location. Finally, everything has come together and I am really excited to share this opportunity with you. The idea is to set the tone for the new year with a week in a sustainable retreat in the Costa Rican rain forest, practicing yoga in the morning, enjoying the surrounding area during the day, and coming together again for a gentle yoga practice and deep relaxation yoga nidra session before dinner. In this way you can let go of the previous year and start the year balanced, truly refreshed and focused. I am attaching a flyer with more information.

Please notice that there is a reduced price if you pay in full by September 21st.

We are organizing the retreat through St Petersburg Yoga and there is lots more information about the trip on the website: www.StPeteYoga.com/retreats

I know this trip will be a joyful and fun experience.

Namaste,
rubén

Yoga video for beginners in English AND Spanish: Yoga Here + Now

Yoga Here + Now/ + Yoga Aquí + Ahora

Great news!

I am very happy to have time to write on the blog again. This time I would like to share the great news that my first Yoga video for beginners is finally ready! This video, one of the only videos for beginners produced in both English and Spanish, is the result of the generosity of my family, the continuous support and help of many friends, teachers and students. Thank you very much for all your help and support, special thank s to Camilla, Luz Vi & Adolf, Adri & Carlos, Natalia, Daniel Medina and Nicolás Ospina and everybody who made this dream come true. I really hope that the video will be useful to people who want to start practicing Yoga at home.

This DVD is a complete practice designed with beginners in mind. It includes:

  • 7 different sessions ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • 1 special session focused on relaxation, breathing and meditation, particularly useful to release stress.
  • Basic principles spelled out in easy-to-understand language.
  • Bilingual edition, in both Spanish and English.
  • Guided pranayama (breathing) and meditation practice in each session.

Video Samples

Pranayama

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Ujjayi Breath

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Asana Practice I

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Asana Practice II

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Asana Practice III

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More information

For more information and to order the DVD: www.yoga-here-now.com

Namaste.

 

 

5 minute yoga practice to ease into sleeping

bedroom / habitacion

The main objective of yoga is to integrate all aspects of our being in the present moment. Often we find that in spite of, and perhaps because of, our efforts to bring about this integration, at the end of the day we might find ourselves tense and unable to fall asleep. A common recommendation to help us fall asleep is to establish a relaxing routine before going to bed.
Here is a simple 7 minute relaxing Yoga practice to help you ease yourself towards a restful night. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )
Once you are ready to go to bed, wearing comfortable clothes in a quiet dimly-lit space in your bedroom follow these steps:

Restful Mountain

With your back gently resting on a wall, stand in mountain pose, feet hip-width apart, feet parallel.
Shift your body weight gradually from one foot to the other a few times. Find your point of balance, where your body weight is equally distributed on both feet and legs. Close your eyes and observe your breath for 5 rounds of natural, spontaneous breath.

Easy Forward Bend

Step away from the wall and inhale lifting your ribcage up without any strain. As you exhale, bend forward allowing your knees to bend as much as it feels right for you. Point the crown of your head towards the floor and reach with each hand for the opposite upper arm or forearm. Allow your eyes to close and your lower back to get long effortlessly. Let go of the experiences of the day as you continue breathing comfortably.

Gentle Twist

Recline on a blanket on the floor with your back and back of your pelvis resting with ease on the floor. Bend your knees and separate your feet a little bit wider than your shoulders. Allow your arms to rest a comfortable distance away from your torso. Inhale expanding your chest and, on exhalation drop your knees gradually to the right without any strain or effort. The next time you inhale return to center and on the following exhalation drop the knees to the opposite side. Repeat a couple of times. The last time, stay with your knees to each side for 3 or 4 breaths, focusing your attention to this process. When you are done return to center.

For the last two parts, move to your bed.

Connect to your Breath

Lie down on your back with your knees slightly bent. Close your eyes. Observe your breath and gradually start to soften and lengthen each exhalation. Do these for 5 to 10 rounds of breathing and then let go of any control over your breath.

Gratitude

Lying on your back, stretch your legs out and make your self as comfortable as possible.
Close your eyes and from your heart appreciate and give thanks for all the love, goodness and abundance in your life. Allow your face to soften and bring a gentle smile to your face reflecting the gratitude in your heart. Immerse in this sensation and relax completely.

Diagram of 5 minute Yoga practice for sleeping

5 min yoga for sleeping

I hope this practice will help you sleep better and more easily.

Namaste.

 

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Special Classes: Total Yoga Experience and Pranayama, Mantra, Chanting & Meditation

Total Yoga Experience: A journey to deep inner peace – April 18

This is a unique class that guides you progressively inward. The class includes Asana (movement), Yoga Nidra (guided relaxation), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Japa (chanting) and Dhyana (Meditation – focused and sustained attention). The goal of this class is to integrate the actions of breath, body, mind and spirit to find deeper clarity, relaxation and awareness.

The Total Yoga Experience is a 3.0 hour long class that helps you immerse yourself in a complete Yoga practice without physical exhaustion. This class is appropriate to students of ALL levels. This practice is an integrative exploration of diverse traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques . For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

The Complete Yoga Experience consists of:

* Asana- physical postures that synchronize movement & breath
* Nidra- guided relaxation for deep release and clarity
* Pranayama- breathing exercises for focus & concentration
* Japa – chanting for breath awareness & concentration
* Dhyana – meditation, sustained focus & concentration for stillness

Date: Saturday, April 18/2009
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 hours
Cost: $35
Contact: TheSoulMirror@aol.com
Phone: (813) 964.1156
Location: The Soul Mirror – www.thesoulmirror.com
Address: 2025 West Bearss Avenue – Tampa, FL 33618 – map

For comfort and individualized attention there is a limited number of students, register today!

Pranayama, Mantra/Chanting & Meditation – April 25

Discover how you can use these tools to move towards greater self-awareness!

In this workshop we will explore:

* How better breath awareness assists you in life
* 5-6 traditional yoga breath practices
* Synchronizing breath & Chanting with movement
* 3-4 yogic chants
* 3- 4 Meditation Practices
* This workshop will end with a practice that integrates all three disciplines

This workshop helps you practice a variety of traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques. For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

Date: Saturday, April 25/2009
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 hours
Cost: $35 Advanced registration/$40 at the door
Contact: info@stpetersburgyoga.com
Phone: (727) 894.YOGA
Studio: St Petersburg Yoga – www.stpetersburgyoga.com
Address: 275 16th St. N. – St. Petersburg, FL 33705 – map

For comfort and individualized attention there is a limited number of students, register today!

2 simple techniques to deepen your Yoga practice

Temple Portal in Ubud, Bali/Portal de un templo en Ubud, Bali

Consistent Yoga practice produces a significant change in the quality of our breathing. We start noticing that our breath becomes more smooth, unobstructed and deeper when we practice Yoga mindfully and with regularity. Although this is generally true when we practice various of the traditional limbs of Yoga, this change is most easily observed in our asana practice. The 2 techniques I would like to suggest are related to observing closely how we breathe. These techniques build on the foundation of breath awareness and on the benefits of using ujjayi breathing. The objective of these techniques is to guide our attention inward and to focus our awareness to our present actions. As a result, the quality of our participation increases, leading us to immerse more fully in our Yoga practice. In turn, this facilitates our more present participation in our daily activities.

Focused Breathing

The first technique is to concentrate our attention on the sound of the breath. An easy way to direct our attention to the sound of our breath is by using ear plugs during our practice. Using ear plugs makes the sound of our breath more noticeable which also helps us focus our attention inward. For most of us, noticing more the sound of our breath may not prevent our mind from wandering. However, it will be easier to notice when the mind gets distracted and therefore we can choose to return our attention gently to the breath. In many cases, just feeling the ear plugs in will serve as a reminder to listen attentively to the breath. Eventually, consistent practice strengthens our capacity to focus, and then the ear plugs will have achieved its function and will no longer be needed.
This technique is an integration of pranayama and sense withdrawal (pratyahara).

Increased Sensitivity to Breath Movements

Once it becomes easier to observe the breath consistently, we can try to develop a greater sensitivity to the movement of the breath. The second technique further deepens our attention by focusing on the subtle aspects of breathing, specifically by observing the transitions between inhalations and exhalations. As we observe with clear attention the continuous movement of breath, we focus on the brief pause between inhalations and exhalations and vice versa. Noticing and focusing on this brief pauses often increases our breathing capacity. Most importantly, it also increases our awareness, thus bringing a meditative quality to our practice.
It is important to remember that the breath at all times continues to be smooth and unrestricted. As we practice this technique we can explore the effects of slightly lengthening these pauses.
Focused attention on the pauses between inhalation and exhalation integrates aspects of pranayama, pratyahara, concentration (dharana) and sustained attention (dhyana)

Like with any other techniques, we observe our practice before and after using these techniques and we notice how each technique works and if it has any beneficial effects.
I hope these techniques are useful to deepen your practice.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén
 

Inspired Practice

Arboles/Trees

Ujjayi breath

One type of breathing that is especially helpful in focusing our attention is called ujjayi. Ujjayi, meaning victorious, is a type of breath in which we constrict gently the back of the throat. Ujjayi breathing produces a sound in the throat similar to the sound of the ocean. Using ujjayi breath during asana practice helps to anchor our attention on the continuous and smooth movement of our breath.

Learning

The easiest way to learn ujjayi breath is to:

  • Open the mouth and breath through the mouth as if trying to fog a mirror in front of us, the sound is clearly audible in the back of the throat
  • Relax the neck, soften the jawbone and mouth and breathe like this a few times until it feels that the breath is flowing smoothly
  • Gently bring the lips together
  • Keep breathing smoothly through the nose while listening to the sound of your breath
  • Check that no tension is emerging in the face or neck

Movement and sound

When learning ujjayi breath, there may be a tendency to make the sound of the breath louder than it needs to be. Keep in mind that we are using the sound for focus and feedback, so just make sure that you can hear it. As we become familiar with this way of breathing, we can allow ujjayi breath to become the main axis of our asana practice. In other words, we anchor the practice on the integrity of the breath, always paying attention to the quality of each inhalation and each exhalation. When the flow of breath is firmly established, we can choose to let the breath initiate the movement for optimal synchronization between physical movements and the movements of the breath. In essence, if we cannot hear the movement of our breath there should be no physical movement.

Ujjayi advantages

Using ujjayi breath in asana practice has numerous advantages:

  • Focuses our attention on the present moment
  • Helps us verify that our breath is smooth and continuous
  • By constricting the passage of air, it helps to strengthen our lungs
  • Gradually increases lung capacity
  • Strengthens our abdominal muscles
  • Helps to improve concentration
  • Brings a meditative quality to our practice

As in any other aspect of Yoga practice, there is no need for forcing our breath when performing ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath should always have integrity, i.e. the breath is not forced, or strained, and it does not collapse either. On the contrary, our ujjayi breath should feel comfortable and smooth throughout the practice. Using ujjayi breathing helps us develop awareness of and sensitivity to the qualities of our breath, thereby fostering awareness and sensitivity in our Yoga practice. Moreover, bringing our attention to the breath gives us insight on our own physical, mental and emotional states. As a result, we become better able to adjust our breath to suit our needs and circumstances in our Yoga practice and in every day life.

Enjoy the sound of the ocean in your throat the next time you practice Yoga.
Namaste.

P.S. For an excellent article on breathing:
http://www.movingintostillness.com/book/yoga_breathing.html

 

Breathing Awareness

Ocean/ Mar

Two oceans

We can think of the earth as being surrounded by two oceans, an ocean of water and an ocean of air. The perpetual movement of these two oceans is the result of the interaction between the energy of the sun and the energy of the earth’s gravitational pull. The movement of these two oceans is essential to life as we know it. Similarly, the movement of air in and out of our body is the most evident manifestation of the circulation of energy that keeps us alive. It is not surprising that there is a whole set of practices in Yoga, known as Pranayama, dedicated to bringing our awareness to the breath. Developing awareness of the connections between our breathing patterns, our body, our mind and our emotions can help us develop a better understanding of who we are and of how we act.

Breathing as the focal point

If we understand Yoga as a journey of self discovery that integrates the actions of our breath, body, mind and spirit in order to be fully present, then it seems appropriate to find a central element to anchor and guide our Yoga practice. One of my favorite Yoga teachers, Erich Schiffmann, says in the beautiful video Ali Mac Graw Yoga Mind & Body, that the breath is the single most important element in Yoga practice. Given our mind’s inclination to focus on past or future and our body’s proclivity to develop habits, it makes a lot of sense to anchor our practice on the breath because the breath can only exist in the present moment. In addition, focusing on the breath as the main element in Yoga practice helps us remember that the quality of our life experience is closely connected to the quality of our breath.

Observing the breath

The easiest place to start is to observe our natural, spontaneous breath. An easy way to do this is to lie on a folded blanket on the floor with our back resting comfortably against the floor, our head aligned with the rest of the body, our knees bent and our feet flat on the floor. Closing our eyes we rest our attention gently on the movements of our abdomen as it rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation. We do not need to change anything in the way we are breathing; we just lie there witnessing the breath, noticing any sensations, emotions, thoughts and feelings that emerge in the process. We can try this for 8 to 10 rounds (each round consisting of one inhalation and one exhalation). This can be quite relaxing.

We can continue the process of exploring our breath by gently, without forcing, deepening our inhalation and exhalation. As we observe our breath we might notice that sometimes the inhalation/exhalation is not smooth but irregular and uneven. In such cases, it is helpful to breathe more slowly and softly until the whole breathing process is as smooth as possible. Again, we can take this opportunity to notice any sensations associated with different ways of breathing. As we deepen our breath some questions may start emerging, such as am I breathing correctly? Should my inhalation start in the chest or in the abdomen?

Breath integrity

When those questions emerge, one viable way to finding answers (besides asking our Yoga instructor) is to explore the options that we have. For instance, we can breathe normally for a few rounds of breath, and then we can initiate the inhalation in the lower abdomen for some rounds of breath, noticing the differences in the sensations that result. Then we return to spontaneous breathing. We can try different ways of breathing, always paying close attention to how we feel as a result. As we explore our breath we start noticing patterns and how breathing in specific ways helps to create different sensations.

A useful guiding criterion for choosing how to breathe is integrity. In other words, when our breath has integrity, it feels energizing and nourishing. Furthermore, when the breath has integrity it feels whole, unimpaired and unobstructed with neither inhalation nor exhalation collapsing. Obviously, it is important that we adjust our breath to the requirements of what we are doing. Consequently, in some cases, the breath may need to be more energizing while in other cases we may need for the breath to be calming and relaxing. However, even though the characteristics of the breath may change, breathing with integrity will ensure that the breath is supporting our actions.

Developing more awareness of the connections between the breath and how we feel can be useful in choosing the best way of breathing in particular situations. I hope this is helpful to start exploring your breath and to become more aware of the connections between your breath, your state of mind and your emotions.
Namaste.

 

 

Trying too hard and finding flow

Flowing on bikes/Fluyendo en bicicleta

Earlier this week I read a brief interview with Shiva Rea , a well known Yogini, teacher and activist. In the interview, Shiva Rea talks about the most common mistake that beginning Yoga practitioners make and gives advice for beginning students.

The most common mistake
Trying too hard, according to Rea is the most common mistake that beginning Yoga practitioners make. I would add that this is a challenge for other Yoga practitioners as well. Many of us live in highly competitive societies. As a result, we may bring the same competitive drive into many areas of our lives, including our Yoga practice. In my opinion, that competitiveness leads us to assume that we should be able to do more today than yesterday or last week. The competitive mindset takes us out of the present by pushing us to emulate or surpass our previous ‘accomplishments’.
Rea suggests to keep the feeling of centeredness on your own experience to overcome this common mistake.

The advice
In the interview, Rea points out that, as beginner students of Yoga, we may already be familiar with the experience of Yoga, particularly when we are fully relaxed and present in our current experience. As Rea also notes, “Yoga is just a matter of tapping into something that’s already a part of you”. I guess the underlying advice is to be open to the experience of Yoga by allowing it unfold from a state of relaxation instead of trying too hard to make something happen –which immediately takes us away from the now experience by drawing our attention to some abstract goal. In my opinion, this is related to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life refers to as Flow, in other words, being fully immersed in the activity you are performing. From Csikszentmihalyi’s perspective the experience of Flow seems to be enabled by having clear objectives, listening to feedback and finding the balance between level of challenge and level of ability. In my opinion, these elements of the experience of ‘Flow’ are encompassed by the Vinyasa Krama approach.

Advice into practice
In a previous post I mentioned that the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali say that the state of Yoga is reached through the combination of persistence and detachment. Since trying too hard can be a sign of our attachment to the expected results of our actions, we can find a practical approach to combine persistence and detachment in our Yoga practice, and perhaps in our everyday experiences. First, since the breath happens only in the present moment, paying attention to the breath focuses our awareness on the present moment and circumstances. Second, in the Yoga Sutras persistence requires practicing sincerely. Thus, still with our awareness on the breath, we use our inhalation to clarify our motivation and intention. Third, we can use our exhalation to relax and let go of any attachment to the results of our actions. Instead, we can focus on being curious about the outcome of our actions, which serves also as feedback for the subsequent action.

To immerse ourselves in the experience of Yoga, we simply let go of our expectations, giving ourselves permission to discover, by observing attentively the feedback we receive in our body, breath, mind and spirit. Paying attention to the breath can really help us focus and participate fully into our here and now experience. Applying these ideas into something simple, like performing a Yoga position, may help us prepare for participating more fully both in the Yoga practice on mat and in any other activity.

Namaste

Reduce stress in one minute

Jardin japones/Japanese garden

Even though many people start practicing Yoga to stay fit or to treat physical ailments, many people new to Yoga say that their main objective is to relax and reduce stress. For years stress used to be a problem that affected mostly (I think almost exclusively) people in industrialized countries. Now stress affects an increasing number of people around the world. For instance, this year the World Health Organization released a publication aimed at raising awareness of stress at work in developing countries (PDF). It is clear that stress has physiological, emotional, cognitive and behavioral effects. How can Yoga help?
In The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar talks about the great significance of the connection between mind and breath. This connection is evident in the changes of our breath according to our state of mind, for instance, our breath becomes faster and shorter when we feel anxious, and conversely the breath is slower when we are relaxed.
During asana practice, paying attention to the breath helps us tune into the rhythms of the body so we can learn how to change them to feel better. In order to connect our Yoga practice and our everyday lives, I often suggest to students to try a simple homework to notice the relationship between the breath and how we feel. The homework takes just 4 minutes a day. Why four minutes? Because we generally tend to feel that we are too busy already to find time to add more activities to our days. However, finding 1 minute four times a day seems more than reasonable.
Here is the homework: Four times a day, take one minute to pause whatever you are doing, observe how you feel, close your eyes, breathe deeply, either lengthening the inhalation or the exhalation (without forcing the breath), finally observe how you feel and see if you find any noticeable differences between how you feel before and after the pause.
The effect of taking a one-minute pause is incredibly powerful because it shows us that we can relax just through breathing. After observing the effects of this simple practice is very easy to take as many of these pauses as many times as necessary.

Would you like to try the homework this week? Does it work for you?

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén