Learning to Breathe efficiently

SeagullsBeach

 

 

Recently, at a social function i was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised. My wife and i were talking to somebody we had just met and eventually this person mentioned that she liked yoga. I asked her about her practice and could not believe my ears when she said that her favorite aspect of yoga was Pranayama, the breathing awareness practice, and that she practiced her pranayama exercises 6 days a week for an hour each day. I found her response truly inspiring because it is quite unusual for me to meet people with a consistent pranayama practice.

It seems rather obvious that our breath is essential to our life. Some of the benefits from breathing consciously include:

  • Breathing keeps us alive
  • Breathing can help us focus
  • Breathing can help us release stress
  • Breathing can be energizing
  • Breathing can be relaxing
  • Breathing can help relieve pain
  • Breathing can help us be present
  • Breathing massages your organs
  • Breathing can enhance your mood
  • Breathing can strengthen the heart and lungs

With so many benefits, i would think that more and more people would be interested in tapping into this FREE resource for improving our quality of life, well-being and overall health.
In yoga, in my opinion, the two single most important elements in the practice are awareness and breathing. Yoga without one or the other is robbed of the tools that make yoga powerful and transformational.

Unfortunately, very often i hear from students:&lquot;i really don’t know how to breathe&rquot;. Also, often during class i notice that not everybody is clearly attuned to their own breathing process, and ability. I know that making the breath the keystone of my yoga practice, has had a powerful effect on the quality of my practice and on the quality of my life, attention and energy level.

If you are reading this right now, you are breathing well enough to stay alive. The question is, are you breathing efficiently and to your full capacity?

You can test your breathing awareness pretty easily:
Observe your breath without changing the way you are breathing at this moment notice:

  • Is your breath continuous?
  • Is your breath steady?
  • Do your exhalations empty your lungs fully?
  • Is your breath smooth?

If you answered yes to all the questions, it is likely that you have a good level of what i call Breathing Intelligence.

If you answered no to any or all of the questions, i would submit that you can benefit from simple and easy breathing exercises.

For instance, you can try these simple ideas for a few minutes each:

In a comfortable position, relax your belly and allow your belly to move freely in response to each inhalation and each exhalation. It is important to remain relaxed and to breathe without forcing or agitation.

Keeping your breath relaxed, try to minimize the interruptions or pauses between the inhalation and the exhalation.

After a few minutes of trying the exercises above, notice if your mind got a little bit more relaxed and if you feel calmer and with less tension. I you found these simple ideas helpful, i would like to invite you to give yourself the treat of conscious breathing for a few minutes every day and notice the effect these simple, free exercises have on you, your mood and attitude.

There are other easy breathing exercises you might enjoy:

To increase your breathing intelligence, you may also be interested in attending the upcoming workshops:
BREATH FOR HEALTH & VITALITY: Introduction to Pranayama 1 & 2

For more information and to sign up:
http://www.yogaetcstudio.com/schedule-classes/workshops/
Yoga Etc, 727-644-4554, 3338 Tyrone Blvd. St Petersburg, FL 33710

Namaste,

rubén

 

 

Increasing Shoulder Flexibility with Yoga

 

 

Unfortunately shoulder tension is very common nowadays. It seems like there is at least one student in each class asking for yoga sequences to help remove shoulder tension. The shoulder joint is the joint that has the widest range of movement in the human body. However, overusing the shoulders through movement in one direction tends to generate restriction, often characterized by tightness at the front of the shoulder. It makes sense to try to counteract the typical pattern of movement with movements that help us restore the natural range of movement of the shoulder.

Yoga is a path to self discovery that leads us to greater balance at all levels. It is important to remember that yoga is a practice of integration, where we try to bring together all aspects of our being. In other words, we are trying to get body, breath, mind and heart to work in unison, in harmony. Sometimes, when we think about the shoulders we think about the responsibilities we carry with us, such as in the expression “to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.” Or we may think about working hard and making an effort, like when we say “put your shoulder to the wheel.”

In general, i see many people who are working very hard and who carry many responsibilities with them all of the time. I agree that it is important to give our best effort and that we need to be responsible. However, carrying a burden on our shoulders all the time without rest, tends to generate tension and stress.

I am going to suggest that we can give ourselves a break, for a few minutes and that we can let go of worries and expectations so that we can breathe and explore the range of movement in our shoulders through the sequence in the video below. As usual, follow the guidelines in the video, do what you can without struggling and without forcing.

Try this video a few times, keeping a positive attitude and synchronizing your movements with a serene and satisfying breathing rhythm. Notice the effects. If one side is tighter or more restricted than the other consider balancing the sides by performing the movements for a longer period of time on the side that is more limited.

If you notice soreness that lasts longer than 48 hours, you may have tried to hard. Take a couple of days to rest and resume when you feel ready. I hope that you find the sequence enjoyable and that you start noticing that your shoulder flexibility is increasing at a gradual and manageable pace. By restoring our natural range of movement and flexibility in the shoulders we may be better able to participate in our lives with enthusiasm and energy and without unnecessary tension. Thank you for embarking on the journey of yoga.

Namaste,

rubén

 

 

What is power yoga?

Power Yoga / Power Yoga

 

 
As yoga has grown in popularity in the last decade, there are more yoga classes offered in a variety of venues from yoga studios, to fitness clubs, to gyms, parks and beaches. Increased popularity means that, hopefully, there are many options for people who need and will benefit from practicing yoga.

A somewhat common label for yoga classes, at least in the US is “power yoga”. In general, classes labeled as power yoga offer a flowing style of yoga postures organized in a variety of sequences that move at a faster pace than other classes and that are also physically demanding and intense. It can be argued that these classes are generally targeted towards people who are already in good shape, and who enjoy exercising. Because these classes can put the system under intense stress, practitioners may feel a runner’s high, a release of endorphins that creates a sense of euphoria or exhilaration.

It seems reasonable to think that getting a ‘blissful workout’ is the essence of what yogis are searching for. However, when that pursuit does not involve a mindful practice, some practitioners often end up with injuries in addition to feelings of inadequacy for not being able to do the ‘complete’ versions of the postures that tend to be practiced in power yoga. Unfortunately, over the years I have seen students for whom the power yoga practice has become a way to exacerbate an imbalance that drains their energy and vitality. Since yoga is a continuous process of meeting ourselves where we are, these classes can offer benefits for people who need to develop greater strength, speed up their pace and metabolism. The key is that each person grows in their capacity to discern what is too much and what is enough, so that they can choose intelligent ways to create greater balance where it is needed.

I would like to suggest that a more adequate definition of power yoga is: a yoga practice that empowers students to become more mindful, self-reliant, vibrant and alive. In other words, power yoga consists of practices that help practitioners integrate their physical, mental and emotional aspects to participate more fully and joyfully in their lives. This style of power yoga enhances clarity, reduces suffering and generates more love.

How can we practice power yoga?

By engaging our bodies, minds, hearts and breathing at their full capacity, not going beyond what we can do and not doing less than we can. The practice is even more potent when the contribution of each one of these systems, physical, mental, emotional and respiratory is integrated and balanced. This is easier said than done. Thus the practice presents a challenge that is appropriate and changes over time according to our condition and situation. This is a powerful path that will truly empower us to move mindfully beyond our limitations. Perhaps a helpful way to clarify if we are practicing authentic power yoga is by asking: Does my yoga practice replenish or deplete my energy? How can we answer this simple question? By taking a few moments to feel the effects of the practice, immediately after finishing and also during the rest of the day. By observing you will also grow in your ability to notice sublter and subtler changes and to direct the practice to create greater balance and aliveness.

I hope these ideas help you fine tune your yoga practice.

Namaste.

 

 

Relaxing Yoga Posture for Back, Chest and Shoulders

At the beginning of my classes I usually ask students to share what they need from their practice. The 3 most frequent requests are de-stressing/relaxation, releasing tension from shoulders and low back pain relief. I tailor each class to address what is needed so that yoga helps students feel better and more balanced.

Hearing these requests on a daily basis motivated me to upload videos to YouTube so that my students and other people could benefit from living with less pain, less stress and more clarity.

I am humbled to see the wonderfully positive reception that the videos for low back pain relief have had in YouTube. It makes my day to know that many people are using them to feel better. Thank you!

Here is a simple yoga posture to relax the back, shouders and chest. This posture is an excellent complement for the sequence for low back pain and for the sequence to release shoulder tension.

When you need to relax your back and rest you can try this simple and easy posture to help you release tension along your back as well as to help relieve tension from your shoulders and chest. What I like the most about this posture is that it is easy and simple and can be done by most people.

You will need one or two towels.

  • Roll up the towel(s) along the long side into a smooth roll with no folds.
  • Place the roll on a padded surface on the floor.
  • Sit on the roll aligning the center of your back pelvis (sacrum) on the roll. Start with your knees bent.
  • Recline your spine along the roll until your head rests comfortably on the roll.
  • Let your arms slide to the sides at a comfortable angle with the palms of the hands facing up.
  • You may keep your knees bent or you can rest the legs on the floor at an angle that helps you feel balanced. Try both options and choose the one that feels better to you.
  • Close your eyes and maybe point your chin towards your chest.
  • Focus on expanding your breath in a satisfying way.
  • Relax.
  • Stay for a few minutes and then remove the roll and lying down on your back noticing the effects in your body and mind.

It may be a good idea to practice this posture at the end of your day, after exercising, or after doing one of the sequences to relief back pain or to relax the shoulders and neck.

As usual, there is never forcing or pain in yoga. The idea is just to do what we can do at this moment. Remember that yoga benefits result from practicing with patient persistence.

I hope you enjoy this posture and its effects.

Namaste.

 

 

Where to Start?

Hello! New to the blog?

Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.

Useful articles to learn yoga

 

 

The easiest way to start practicing yoga at home.

Movement / Movimiento

It seems that maintaining consistency is a challenge for most, if not all, of us. I would like to suggest a simple and VERY EASY and quite enjoyable way to start practicing yoga at home with more regularity.

Unfortunately many people think that yoga is only a set of postures to make our bodies capable of complex contortions. Authentic yoga is a complete system of practices to help us feel harmoniously integrated and to help us live a more conscious, deliberate, wholehearted life that is aligned with our true purpose.

Every day when as I ask students in my classes to tell me what they need from the practice, without fault the most frequent answers are: relaxation, quieting the mind, serenity. This is not at all surprising. Just look around and it seems that most of us are in a constant process of training our bodies and minds to do more things, to get more things accomplished and to process more and more stimuli. There is a lot of doing and processing, but it doesn’t seem like we are balancing all of our doing with not doing, with surrendering and allowing. No wonder we end up feeling exhausted by the end of the day (and sometimes even after we wake up in the morning)!

In yoga we want to meet ourselves where we are. In other words, we choose the technique or practice that will bring us into a feeling of completeness and clarity. To balance too much doing, it is good to practice not doing. Remember that a yoga posture (asana) is defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (ca. 3100 B.C.E.) as steadiness (sthira= firm, stable, strong) and ease (sukha=pleasant, delight, joy). From this perspective, I want to invite you to try this simple, effective and enjoyable practice.

Cultivating the Skills of Observation and Surrender

Give yourself 1 to 10 minutes to do this — whatever amount of time you can afford.

In the morning, while still in bed, once you notice that you are awake but before opening your eyes and getting up, give yourself permission to not do or process. Allow your to-do list to drift away just for the next few minutes. Focus your attention fully on noticing the sensations in your body starting at the tips of your toes and gradually moving up throughout your whole body. It helps when you are interested in really feeling what is happening in your body. You don’t even need to try to describe or explain, just feel. Give yourself time to scan the whole body and notice what happens, notice just how you feel. When you finish scanning you body, think of something that brings peace, inspiration, love or compassion to your heart and mind, immersing fuly in this experience. (Notice that we are integrating body, mind and heart through awareness )

That’s it. Pretty simple.

Try this exercise once a day, if possible, for 1 or 2 weeks and notice what effect it has in the way you feel during your day and on your general outlook.

One more suggestion, try this exercise also at the end of the day, once you are in bed as a gentle transition out of “doing mode” and into “complete relaxation” mode.

You might be asking: How is that going to help me when I have some many things to do? I cannot afford to do nothing!

When you engage in this practice you can receive the following benefits:

  • Most likely this practice will enable you to lower your levels of stress which might be helping your immune system. Sttress has been found to contribute to “digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system.
  • You are developing skills to improve your ‘other’ way of practicing yoga because you are learning to discern more clearly what ease feels like, thus making it easier for you to balance your steadiness with ease the next time you get into a yoga posture.
  • You are cultivating the foundational skills for more advanced yoga practices: pranayama (life energy expansion), pratyahara (inward gaze), concentration and meditation.
  • You are expanding your modes of operation so that you can access the mode that is needed when it is needed.
  • Deeper relaxation allows your body to recover, repair and heal.
  • You will enjoy this practice and its results. Hence, you are more likely to incorporate it into your daily routine.

I hope that this practice contributes to your well-being.
Namaste,
rubén

 

Savor your breath: easy breathing exercise

Fall in love with your breath or at least befriend your breath.
Allow your breath be your guide to the present moment. Let your breath be the vehicle for awareness; guiding your movements and focusing your mind while at the same time refreshing and nourishing you.

Often pranayama is translated as breath control, however, ayama in Sanskrit means to stretch, expand, extend. From that perspective it make sense that pranayama is about expanding our breath so that our breath and the vital energy it carries reach every part of our body. Thus, make your pranayama practice an exercise in becoming well acquainted with your breath, with how your breath flows for each inhalation and each exhalation. Allow this exploration to be guided by respectful curiosity instead of ambition.

If we recognize that each breath is unique and that we have no chance to repeat it we maybe more likely to appreciate and savor each and every breath. I would even suggest to make the breath joyful and to incorporate this joyful awareness of your breath into your day, whenever you can. Certainly, incorporate this awareness during your yoga practice and just observe what unfolds…

Below is a simple breathing exercise to increase our breath awareness:

As I suggest in the video, practicing just this posture can be the perfect way to start practicing yoga at home. Do not hesitate to contact me with questions or to post comments to the video.

Savor your breath.
Namaste,

rubén

 

Easy Chair Yoga Stretches for Beginners

No matter how comfortable a position our body was not really made to stay in the same position for many hours on end almost every day of the week. However, it seems like a very large number of people spend most of their time sitting on a chair. Here is an easy, short, simple and effective sequence with Missy Feathers to help release tension in the torso. These stretches move the spine in six directions to counteract the tightness and pain that result from sitting for a long time. This is an excellent practice for everybody, including people working at an office as well as for people with restricted mobility. As usual keep in mind that in yoga our intention is to be present and to meet ourselves where we are so we are attentive to any pain, strain, tingling and numbness as signs of trying too hard.

I hope you enjoy this video and that you use it regularly.

Namaste,
rubén

 

Yoga Video: How to Improve Your Standing Posture

For several years I have been working on improving my observation skills in order to better help students who come to my classes. Whenever I have a chance I try to observe people as they stand or walk in order to notice individual as well as general tendencies. During class and when I am working with individual students I make suggestions based on what I observe to try and help students continue life-affirming and clarifying patterns. Other times my suggestions try to facilitate a process of awareness that will help students explore different options towards feeling vibrant and free from pain.

Since our standing posture is the foundation for the way we walk and stand, it makes a lot of sense to pay attention to our standing posture. This posture, because we practice it often, is a key posture to get right. In addition, it is an excellent point of departure for anybody interested in starting a yoga practice as well as for people who want to fine-tune their yoga practice. Moreover, becoming aware of our posture is instrumental in counteracting spinal compression and imbalance that often contribute to create discomfort and pain in the lower back and the neck. In preparing for the upcoming Freedom from Neck and Back Pain workshop I thought it would be helpful to share this simple and effective standing posture that can have many benefits.

In this video you will find an easy-to-follow approach to improving your standing posture. Since yoga is not only about the physical body, the video offers a complete and integrated approach to the practice that will make the posture meaningful and enjoyable. This integrated approach to practicing a simple yet fundamental posture can contribute to:

  • releasing pain
  • improving breathing capacity
  • creating balance
  • cultivating mindfulness

I really hope you find this video useful.

As I suggest in the video, practicing just this posture can be the perfect way to start practicing yoga at home. Do not hesitate to contact me with questions or to post comments to the video.

Peace, Health & Joy for you.
Namaste,