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

Five minute simple Yoga practice at home

Flowing water / Agua fluyendo

In a previous post we talked about Yoga as a practice. The reason to practice is simple, to feel more at ease, energized, relaxed and in peace, or as Diane Cesa puts it, to become intimate with yourself.
One of the canonical texts of Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, states that reaching the state of Yoga requires both consistent practice and detachment from the results of the practice(I,12). Consistent practice gradually deepens our understanding of ourselves while detachment prevents us from reaching beyond our ability.

5 minutes
However, practicing regularly is challenging for many of us. I like the 3 recommendations that Eugene offers: setting aside Yoga time, taking baby steps and relaxing. A common excuse for not practicing is that we don’t have enough time. So, here is my suggestion, find 5 minutes a day to move mindfully and with breath awareness and see if it makes any difference to how you feel.
This is a 5 minute simple Yoga practice suitable for most people. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )
Keep in mind the 10 guidelines to start practicing.

Three Options
You can do this simple practice standing, sitting on a chair or sitting on the floor. Choose one of the three options and see how it works for you and remember to make sure that you do not feel any discomfort. You can also alternate between the three different options, paying attention to any differences in how the practice feels.

Starting Poses
Standing – Mountain pose
Stand straight, with your feet firmly planted on the floor, keeping the body weight equally balanced between the front of the feet and the heels. Also, balance the body weight between the left foot and the right foot and allow your pelvis to be level, that is, not tipping forward or back. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down.
You can read an excellent and thorough set of instructions on mountain pose written by Erich Schiffmann.

Sitting on a chair
Use a firm chair and sit on the forward part of the chair, resting your hands on your thighs. Rest your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, with the knees directly above the heels. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down.

Sittting on the floor – Easy pose
Feel the clear contact between the sitting bones and the floor, cross your legs and rest your hands on the thighs.Make the sitting bones heavy and reach up through the crown of the head to lengthen the spine. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down. If you are not used to sitting on the floor, use a folded blanket under the sitting bones to make the pose more comfortable.

The practice
Read the instructions below at least one time, then print the diagrams to use as a guide.

Centering – 1 min.
Always start your practice by centering. The time in centering is a time where you set the tone for the practice. In other words, let go of whatever is not in the present moment by focusing on the natural rhtyhm of the breath and noticing your level of energy, and paying attention to any sensations that emerge. After one minute, switch from natural breath to deep inhalation (IN) and deep exhalation (EX) without forcing.

Arch and Round – 4x
IN tilting your pelvis forward, rolling your shoulders back and down, arching your spine and expanding your chest. EX tilting the pelvis back, rounding your spine and allowing the shoulders to round forward.
Repeat 4 times.

Arms Up and down – 4x
IN lifting your arms forward and up. EX floating your arms forward and down.
Repeat 4 times. Change the crossing of the legs.

Side Stretch – 4x
IN lifting your arms to the sides and up. EX stretch to the right side, floating the right arm down while lifting the left arm up and over your head. IN return to center with both arms lifted, and EX stretch to the opposite side.
Repeat 4 times.

Gentle Twist – 4x
IN lift the arms up, on EX turn your upper body gently to the right bringing the arms down with the left hand moving towards the right sitting bone and the right hand moving to the right and back. IN lift the arms up and return to center and twist to the opposite side on EX.
Repeat 4 times.

Forward Fold – 4x
If you are sitting on a chair, IN make your spine long by pressing the sitting bones down. EX slide your hands down along the legs and fold forward moving the torso down towards your thighs. Stop when you find the first sign of resistance. IN return the spine to vertical sliding the hands on the thighs.
Repeat 4 times.
The last time you fold forward, melt your torso on the thighs and stay there in a passive and relaxed position for 4 rounds of IN and EX. This should feel very comfortable and restful.

If you are standing or sitting on the floor, come to your hands and knees (table pose) placing your hands directly under your shoulder joints and your knees directly under your hip joints so your thighs and arms are parallel. IN stretching your spine along a straight line that connects the crown of your head to your chin to your breastbone to your tailbone. EX bringing the sitting bones toward the heels, separating the knees if necessary, moving into child’s pose. IN pressing your hands and knees down on the floor returning to table pose.
Repeat 4 times.
The last time you are in child’s pose, stay there in a passive and relaxed position for 4 rounds of IN and EX. This should feel quite comfortable and restful.

Corpse pose – 1 min
Lie on your back with legs straight and heels 2-3 feet apart and your arms resting on the floor, each hand a foot away from the body and the palms facing up.
You can also lie on the floor with your knees bent and the arms to the sides and the palms facing up.
In corpse pose, you let go of any control over breath and body. You can enlist the help of your mind to witness the soft and smooth flow of your breath at a natural, effortless pace allowing yourself to loosen more and more. There is no need to think about anything, just observe your breath quietly.

Finish
After you are done relaxing, roll to one side and take one deep breath, slowly moving towards sitting. Sit comfortably for a couple of breaths and notice the effects of your practice on your breath, body and mind.

Pay attention to the effects
If you do a 5 minute practice every day or several times a week, you might find that each day the practice is different. Some days you might feel more energetic so you may move faster or you might make your muscles more active. Other days you might feel like moving very slowly. Or, perhaps there are days when you feel like staying in the relaxation pose for a long while. The idea is for you to adapt your practice to your needs by adding, substituting and/or modifying the movements suggested here. This is how your practice evolves, by doing it, observing the effects and making it work for you, so it is perfect for what you need.

Diagrams
Chair Yoga – 5 minute Yoga practice

Chair Yoga 5 min. practice

Standing – Mountain pose – 5 minute Yoga practice

5 min. Yoga practice Mountain pose - Practica de Yoga en 5 min. en posicion de la montana

Sitting – Easy pose – 5 minute Yoga practice

Yoga 5 min. Easy Pose - Posicion fácil

Enjoy your practice!
Namaste.

10 guidelines to start practicing Yoga

Incense sticks drying in the sun/Incienso secandose al sol

People often people ask me how to start practicing Yoga. Here are 10 ideas to keep in mind after you decide to start doing Yoga:

1. Find a Yoga class at a convenient time and location.
It is perfectly fine to try different studios and teachers. Sometimes it may take a couple of classes to find a class that is right for you. If the class is out of the way or at an inconvenient time, it might be difficult to find the time to go to class.

2. Take beginning level classes.
The beginning level classes allow you to build a strong foundation. Many studios offer introductory yoga workshops and classes. This is essential, even if you are in good shape, because the beginning classes give you the opportunity to learn the basic vocabulary of Yoga and to become acquainted with sound guiding principles for your practice.

3. Be patient.
Allow your learning to unfold at its own pace. Sometimes we want to see quick results for our efforts. Bringing this mindset to Yoga may prompt you to go beyond your level of ability. Instead, remember that you have the rest of your life to practice Yoga. Work at a pace that is perfect for you.

4. Do not compete with yourself or with others in the class.
In the U.S., we live in a very competitive and achievement-oriented society. To please our ego, sometimes we try to compete with ourselves or with others in class. This competitiveness can result in injuries as we try to do more than we can. Yoga is about self knowledge, so there is no room for competition. Actually, competing with ourselves, or with others, interferes with our capacity to be fully present in the practice.

5. Enjoy being a beginner
People who have practiced yoga before may assume that they know the pose, which can result in a mechanical practice. Being new to Yoga gives you great advantages: First, you have no preconceived notions about the practice, which makes it easy to be open and pay attention to what is happening. Second, you have not developed bad habits. Moreover, in the book Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, David Coulter argues that the quality of our attention within the body determines if our practice is advanced Yoga or beginning Yoga. Thus, focus your attention on the practice and let the practice grow with your ability to focus.

6. Do not go into pain
Yoga is not about pain. As we said before Yoga is about integrating breath, body and mind. Always pay attention to how you feel before performing a pose, as you move into the pose and after the pose. At the first sign of resistance (mental, physical, respiratory), stop, back off a bit, normalize your breath and observe what is happening. As you become more comfortable in the pose you might be able to explore the source of resistance. Whatever you do, do not go into pain.

7. Breathe continuously.
The breath is the main axis for Yoga practice. Because the breath exists only in the present moment, attention to the breath brings your awareness to the practice. Use the breath as a focusing device by checking that you are breathing through your nose with smooth and even breath throughout the whole practice. This might be more challenging that you expect!

8. Take a break whenever you need to.
It is perfectly fine to stop when we need to stop. Remember that being present includes resting when we need to. A good pose to take a break is child’s pose. Besides, we have the rest of our life to practice Yoga!

9. Be responsible.
Awareness is a key component of Yoga practice. Remember that you are responsible for your actions. So, it is up to you to determine if the activities offered by the teacher are appropriate for you. By doing this, you are preparing for developing your personal practice.

10. Notice the effects.
Throughout the day, notice the effects of your Yoga practice, enjoy how you feel. If you feel better after practicing Yoga, use this feeling as a strong motivation to practice again.

I hpe these ideas are helpful to you as you decide to start practicing Yoga.
Next time, we’ll have an example of a simple 5 minute practice.

Namaste.