Visits from Eagle

Eagles have been showing up a lot this week. First, a private yoga student shared a story about having seen two bald eagles circling her parents’ grave while she and her siblings went to do some cleanup there. “Overhead was a pair of bald eagles just circling around each other!!!” she shared in an email. “I was mesmerized and definitely took it as a sign that my parents were right there with us.  The two of them with their white tails against the blue sky was amazing.  We watched as they circled again and again,” she wrote. She took the time to look up the symbolism of the eagle for her journal.

What does an eagle symbolize for us? It symbolizes rebirth and renewed life. It is the spirit’s message and our connection with divinity. It’s particularly characteristic of new beginnings, resilience, and stamina for those who have been experiencing difficult passages in life.

-worldbirds.org

This speaks to the inspiring history of the bald eagle’s comeback from near extinction in America. When America adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, the species was in danger of extinction. Loss of habitat, shooting, and DDT poisoning contributed to the near demise of our national symbol. Following enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Service listed the species in 1978 as endangered throughout the lower 48 states (except in MI, MN, OR, WA, and WI where it was designated as threatened.) In 2006, the Service estimated that there are at least 9,789 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. Bald eagles have staged a remarkable population rebound and have recovered to the point that they no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. (Bald Eagle Fact Sheet – US Fish and Wildlife Service.)

If you see a bald eagle in person – be grateful for the US Fish and Wildlife Service

I had already been flirting with the idea of ending our six-week series with the peak pose of Eagle, or Garudasana, and then the email from Deb sealed the deal. (Even though Garudasana refers to the mythical creature Garuda, and not the eagle in nature, it’s still inspiring!) Eagle Pose is a challenging balance pose where the legs and arms are wrapped around each other, and we use a lot of core strength and stamina to stay upright, to fly right. I’ve always loved Eagle Pose, but wanted to adapt this difficult balance pose for my Gentle Yoga class so that all my students could enjoy its complexity. So, rather than twisting the leg around the back of the calf, I offered students the option of crossing the knee over and stepping on a block outside the standing leg’s foot. And of course, instead of the full eagle arm, since many of us don’t have the range of motion in our shoulders, there was the option of a bear hug with the elbows stacked instead.

Remember when doing Eagle Pose: whichever leg is on top – the opposite arm is on top!

After our class featuring Eagle Pose, I went for a hike in our local “woods” at FDR Park in South Philly. Off the beaten track there is a marvelous space that was a golf course, that has been recently opened for public use; and this has become my daily sanctuary. On this particular day, it had just snowed, so everything was blanketed in a fresh clean white. With the snow comes stillness and quiet, and after the wonderful feeling of connectedness from our yoga class, I was feeling happy and joyful as I walked, and able to take in the surroundings with full gratitude. I felt a larger sense of connection to the universe, too, and I believe I may have even sent a little prayer up for some kind of sign that the universe could feel me back. I decided to follow some snowshoe, fox and bunny tracks into a tangle of woods near a creak where I don’t normally venture. As I stopped by the creek to take a few breaths, I looked up to see…yes, a bald eagle overhead! This was the sign I was looking for: You are on the right path. Keep trekking. Keep the faith. The divine spirit is in you, and around you. My heart felt so full, and I even cried some tears of gladness for the eagle’s visit. Kree!

Bald Eagle at FDR Park

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems of all time, by poet Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She believes that “Everything is a living being, even time, even words.”

Eagle Poem, by Joy Harjo

  • To pray you open your whole self
  • To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
  • To one whole voice that is you.
  • And know there is more
  • That you can’t see, can’t hear;
  • Can’t know except in moments
  • Steadily growing, and in languages
  • That aren’t always sound but other
  • Circles of motion.
  • Like eagle that Sunday morning
  • Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
  • In wind, swept our hearts clean
  • With sacred wings.
  • We see you, see ourselves and know
  • That we must take the utmost care
  • And kindness in all things.
  • Breathe in, knowing we are made of
  • All this, and breathe, knowing
  • We are truly blessed because we
  • Were born, and die soon within a
  • True circle of motion,
  • Like eagle rounding out the morning
  • Inside us.
  • We pray that it will be done
  • In beauty.
  • In beauty.

Hum Your Way to Better Health

Even though most of us have been humming throughout our lives, there are several powerful health benefits to paying closer attention to it and consciously integrating it into our daily wellness routines. Dive right into a practice session with Brian, then explore the resources below to learn more.

Enjoy a short practice with Brian – first loosening the body, and then exploring breath-connected vocalization.

Slow and low for calm focus.

The benefits researchers associate with humming can be grouped into two general categories. First, we promote a sense of calm focus by slowing down our exhalation when we hum. This process is complex but can be understood as activating the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” side of our autonomic nervous system.1 When we exhale slowly and deeply, we lower the heart rate and light up areas in the brain associated with reflection and decision-making. That slow and low out-breath sends messages up through the vagus nerve to our brain’s alarm centers that “everything is OK” and there’s no need for the “fight or flight” response of our sympathetic nervous system.2 This helps explain why we are often encouraged to “take a deep breath” when presented with a potential stress trigger.

Noses are for breathing, mouths are for eating.

The second group of benefits we receive from humming relates to how we exhale. As we hum along to our favorite tune, we vibrate or oscillate the air in our sinuses and nasal cavity. This action naturally increases our production of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that opens our blood vessels, boosts our circulation and even supports our digestion and immune function.3 Humming was found in one study to contribute to a 15-fold increase in NO production in the airways.4 Now, it is important to note that in order to reap these benefits we need to breathe in through the nose to carry these NO molecules down into the lungs. As we like to remind our students, nasal breathing is usually preferred to mouth breathing for a number of reasons, but we’ll save those for a future post!

Listen to the bees and let them guide you. – Brother Adam

The benefits of humming were well-known to the earliest practitioners of yoga, who integrated a soft vocalization during prolonged exhalation in an exercise we know today as the Bee Breath, or Bhramari Pranayama. Resembling the soft droning of a bee, this pranayama (breath control) practice embodies some of the vibratory qualities of mantra meditation where words and phrases are repeated to help softly center the mind within the body.5 There is evidence that such vocalizations may trigger the release of “feel-good chemicals” including endorphins and oxytocin, into the blood stream7,8. This helps to explain the virtuous circle common to many mind-body activities, where the more frequent and focused our practice is, the more deeply and consistently we feel its benefits. Humming can become a powerful tool in all of our wellness toolkits. Just like the breath, it’s always right there waiting for us, a gateway into the present moment.

General breathwork references:

McKeown, P. (2016). The Oxygen Advantage. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Nestor, James, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. (2020). New York, NY: Riverhead.

Research references:

1 Gerritsen. R & Band, G.(2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12(397): 1-25.

doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397  (This review presents a wide range of studies that illustrate how slower respiration rates and longer exhalations phasically and tonically stimulate the vagus nerve.)

2 De Couck, M., Caers, R., Musch, L., Fliegauf, J., Giangreco, A. & Gidron, Y. (2019). How Breathing Can Help You Make Better Decisions: Two Studies on the Effects of Breathing Patterns on Heart Rate Variability and Decision-Making in Business Cases. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 139(2019):1-9. doi10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.02.011 (Reports that just two minutes of deep breathing with longer exhalation engages the vagus nerve, increases HRV, and improves decision-making. )

3 Wink, D, Hines, H., Cheng, R., Switzer, C., Flores-Santana, W., Vitek, M., Ridnour, L. & Colton, C. (2011). Nitric oxide and redox mechanisms in the immune response. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 89(6): 873-891. doi: 10.1189/jlb.1010550

4 Weitzberg, E. & Lundberg, J. (2002). Humming Greatly Increases Nasal Nitric Oxide. American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine, 166(2002): 144-145. doi:10.1164/rccm.200202-138BC

5 Kuppusamy, M., Kamaldeen., D, Pitani, R., Amaldas, J. & Shanmugam, P. (2018). Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on health – A systematic review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine,(8)1: 11-16.

6 MacMullan, A. (2020, September 25). Bee Breath: Hum Your Way to Health. Retrieved December 12, 2020, from https://www.premayogainstitute.com/pyi-blog/bee-breath-hum-your-way-to-health

7 Merrett, D., Peretz, I. & Wilson, S. (2014). Neurobiological, cognitive, and emotional mechanisms in melodic intonation therapy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8: 1-12.

8 Wilson, S., Abbott, D, Lusher, D., Gentle, E. & Jackson, G. (2011). Finding your voice: A singing lesson from functional imaging. Human Brain Mapping, 32(12): 2115-2130.

Your Breath, Your BFF: Learn Ujjayi Breathing

Your breath, your best friend forever, is with you in every moment of every day. Why not pay a little more attention to your buddy, and try “victorious breath”?

Anchor yourself to the present moment with this fundamental breath practice:

  • Ujjayi breath is ‘breath with sound,’ or ‘victorious breath,’ and is created by lightly constricting the back of the throat, like you are drawing out the word “haaaa” or fogging up a window pane.
  • To get started, inhale through the nose, and then exhale with the mouth open, fogging up your imaginary window pane.
  • Gradually work towards closing the mouth while still creating the same throat shape and gentle sound, swirling the air around the back of the throat.
  • Ujjayi Breath might sound like waves gently breaking and receding, and shouldn’t be forced or cause a sore throat.
  • When practiced during your yoga postures, ujjayi breath connects the movement with breath, which is one way that the mind-body connection leaves us feeling whole after a practice.
  • In addition, it allows us to keep the breath at the foreground as a means of stilling the mind.
  • Ujjayi breath can be combined with other breath practices as a means of staying present.
Try Ujjayi Breath with Ann- Can you hear the sound of your fans cheering for you?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Art of Aromatherapy

One of the greatest pleasures of being human is enjoying a good smell. Can you close your eyes right now and bring to mind a favorite smell, filling up your imagination with that scent?

I’ll bet that along with your smell of choice, a specific memory or association was conjured. This happens because the thalamus sends smell information to the hippocampus and amygdala, key brain regions involved in learning and memory. To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of the perfume Fracas, I am fooled into thinking my old boss Martha Stewart is nearby! (Mixed feelings ensue…)

Get started with a few essential essences

Aromatherapy has many potential benefits. Certain scents can reduce stress, hasten a good night’s sleep, or give you more energy. Aromatherapy is already helping office workers stay alert, and hospitals are experimenting with using aromatherapy to help patients relax. Massaging aromatic oils into your skin is another way to benefit from aromatherapy (but please take care to dilute essential oils with carrier oils.)

Essential OilPotential EffectCategory/DetailNote Type
PatchouliGrounding, CalmingEarthy, WoodsyBottom
CedarwoodGrounding, CalmingWoodsyBottom
SandalwoodGrounding, ProtectingWoodsy (sweet, rich)Bottom
Ylang-YlangBalancingSweet, FloralBottom, Middle
LavenderRelaxing, CalmingFloral, HerbaceousTop, Middle
RosemaryInvigoratingMedicinal, herbaceousMiddle
CloveWarmingSpicyMiddle
Tea TreeCleansingMedicinal, Woodsy, herbaceousMiddle
EucalyptusStimulatingFresh, Medicinal, WoodsyMiddle, Top
NeroliStabilizingFloral, Rich, CitrusMiddle, Top
BergamotBalancing, UpliftingCitrus, FloralTop
Clary SageBalancing, CleansingHerbaceous, Fruity, FloralMiddle
Sweet OrangeBalancing, CalmingCitrus, SweetTop
LemonCleansing, UpliftingCitrusTop
PeppermintInvigoratingMintyTop

Just like wine, you don’t have to be an expert to know what you like when it comes to essential oils. Experiment with a few starter scents: one that might have some calming qualities, one that might have some cleansing or clarifying effects, and one that is uplifting or energizing. Then you’ll have a bouquet to help balance your moods at the ready. There are many ways to use essential oils – for the sake of this post, I am referring to inhalation and topical use only.

I’ve been using essential oils for decades as a way to bring balance into my present moment, and regularly enjoy the concentrated smells and therapeutic properties of plants. Although I’m no expert, along the way I’ve picked up some useful knowledge on the properties of essential oils, which are to be used thoughtfully and carefully, as they are highly concentrated plant essences.

My someday dream: wandering the lavender fields in Provence, France

I’ve always loved earthy scents like sandalwood and patchouli, cleansing notes of citrus, stimulating hits of rosemary…and don’t even get me started on the transportive qualities of lavender. One of my lifelong dreams is to take a nap in a field of lavender in full bloom! These fragrances literally infuse my daily routine, enveloping me with a sense of empowered protection from the hectic stimulus all around.

Morning Nasal Steam: a few drops of eucalyptus and rosemary oils into a steamy pot of water.

Some of my favorite daily ways to use essential oils include:

  • Morning Nasal Steam for Respiratory Health
  • Grounding or Refreshing Roller Ball Blend (for quick massage, perfume, or to accompany yoga practice)
  • Balancing Room Diffuser Blend (or pet-free rooms only)
  • Dreamy Foot Massage (oil + lavender rubbed into feet before bedtime)

Making your own blends

This is where things get really fun and witchy. I’ve done a lot of experimenting, bearing in mind the effect I’m hoping to achieve, as well as finding scents that mix well together. Sometimes I’ve made some really terrible blends that I had to throw out (less is more!) and I learned the hard way not to make all my holiday gift scent blends on the same day, or you will probably get light-headed and possibly hallucinate due to olfactory overload.

Custom blend room sprays as holiday gifts, diluted with water+fixed with witch hazel

Use the chart below to get started on combining scent types, and be advised that they are just guidelines to be explored. Here’s a really helpful formula: your blend should contain 20% bottom note, 50% middle note, and 30% top note (a total of 10 drops for a small rollerball, maybe 10-20 drops for a room spray.) The bottom note is usually the heaviest, deepest scent. The middle note is even and balanced and will stay with you the longest. The top note is often bright and light and will fizzle away after the first sniff. After combining your plant essences, fill up the rest of your bottle with distilled water and some witch hazel for room sprays, or your favorite carrier oil for massage and protective perfume. Shake and enjoy.

COMBINING SCENT TYPES
Same categories combine well with each other
Floral blends with floral, woodsy, spicy, and citrus
Woodsy blends with woodsy, floral, earthy, herby, minty, medicinal, spicy, and citrus
Earthy blends with earthy, woodsy, and minty
Herbaceous blends with herby, woodsy, and minty
Minty blends with minty, woodsy, earthy, herby, and citrus
Medicinal blends with medicinal and woodsy
Spicy blends with spicy, floral, woodsy, and citrus
Citrus blends with citrus, floral, woodsy, minty, and spicy

Because essential oils are concentrated, they should be diluted with either water or oil depending on their use. For massage and perfume, I use oil; for inhalation or room spray, I use water. Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be used undiluted on small areas of the skin. Organic and cold-pressed carrier oils are preferred, and examples include sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, or avocado oil. These oils do not have a strong smell of their own. I will even sometimes use refined sesame oil: although it’s heavy, my skin is quite dry and it gets absorbed right away.

Calming, Uplifting Rollerball Blend

Cedarwood: Woodsy, Bottom Note2 drops
Clary Sage: Herby, Floral, Middle Note1 drop
Indian Rose Blend: Floral, Middle Note4 drops
Lemon: Citrus, Top Note3 drops

Carefully pour or use a pipette to add the essential oils into a clean dry rollerball vessel (can be purchased on Amazon.) Swirl around and take a little whiff, making any adjustments your nose tells you to. Add your carrier oil (I used jojoba for this one), shake, and plunge the rollerball down to seal it, capping it off and shaking it well. Do a little test, rolling the scent on your hand, your inner wrist, or even behind your ears. Enjoy for yourself, or give as a gift!

Reference books from my library

Another note of caution: some essential oils can be toxic to pets (this linked list is NOT comprehensive.) You can search ASPCA’s site of toxic plants, and use that as a guide since the oil is a concentrated form of the plant. Plants are powerful, use them wisely. Please reach out if you’d like me to create custom aromatherapy blends just for you!

Resources:

Building Precious Immunity

Hug a tree to build your Ojas, they said.

Photo taken at South Philly Meadows at dusk (A. MacMullan)

My teachers in ‘Ayurveda and Immunity’ at Prema Yoga Institute are sharing ways to retain and build your vigor and resiliency that is the root of our immunity.

Ojas is an Ayurvedic concept and refers to that shield that helps us ward off stress and sickness. When our Ojas is good we have a glowing complexion, a sense of well-being, the ability to endure, and a feeling of lightness in body and mind.

A person with high Ojas

On the other hand, when we have low Ojas, we feel depleted. Signs of low Ojas include:

  • Dry skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Heaviness in body and mind
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Tendency to get sick frequently
  • Lack of focus
  • Anxiety
  • Constant negative attitude

“We must guard our Ojas like a savings account,” Ayurvedic practitioner Julia Abramova says, taking care not to withdraw too much and potentially experience depletion and eventually disease. 

So how to you build up your Ojas if it’s depleted?

Recipe by Julia Abramova, Jyoti Yoga and Healing
  • Strengthen your digestive fire (get on a good eating routine, don’t overeat, etc)
  • Eat Ojas-building foods that are sweet, heavy, smooth, cool, stable (avocados, bananas, soaked dates, soaked raisins, fresh figs, sweet potatoes, mung beans, ghee, milk, almonds)
  • Do restorative yoga
  • Rest! All healing begins in rest.
  • Practice Abhyanga or Self-massage with Oils
  • Practice Pratyahara – disconnect from sensory overload
  • Walk in the moonlight
  • Forest bathing

So here’s a suggestion: go stand in nature and put yourself on “receive” mode, taking in the soothing sounds, gentle air, and life force of the beings around you. Drink in the beauty that surrounds you. Build your Ojas!

Sunsets are a marvelous way to drink in Ojas

Resources:

  • Ayurveda and Immunity, Prema Yoga Institute
  • Julia Abramova, E-RYT500, Founder and Program Director of Jyoti Yoga & Healing, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT)

The Skinny on Ghee

Over the summer, I took an Ayurveda course as part of my Yoga Therapy certification with Prema Yoga Institute, and was introduced to the concept of ghee, or clarified butter. We needed it to make one of our recipes, so I bought a jar for some astronomical amount, like $13. That first jar was a good investment!

My first batch of homemade ghee, July 2020

Ghee is a staple of the Ayurvedic diet. Some dishes call for one tablespoon of ghee per person! So what is it, and why is it good for you? Is it good for you? Ghee is just butter (use organic, unsalted, grass-fed butter) that is slowly cooked down and strained to remove milk solids and other impurities. After it cools, the result is a beautiful, rich golden color.

Some facts about ghee:

  • It has been used in Indian and Pakistani cultures for thousands of years. 
  • Ghṛta (घृत) is a Sanskrit technical term translating to “ghee” (clarified butter), and is used throughout Ayurvedic literature. The term comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “sprinkled or illumined.”
  • Ghee was created to prevent butter from spoiling during warm weather. Given that its milk solids have been removed, it does not require refrigeration and can be kept at room temperature for several weeks.
  • Ghee and butter are comprised of nearly 100% fat, but ghee may be the better choice for people with lactose or casein sensitivities, since it is free of both.
  • Eating fat-rich foods like ghee can increase the “bioavailability” and absorption of some healthy vitamins and minerals.
  • Ghee is rich in butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid that promotes a positive immune response within the body, to support healing of inflammation and optimal digestion.
  • Its smoke point is 485°F (250°C), which is substantially higher than butter’s smoke point of 350°F (175°C). Therefore, when cooking at very high temperatures, ghee has a distinct advantage over butter.
  • If you’re healthy and looking to add more fat to your diet, ghee may be a fine option; no evidence suggests that it’s healthier than butter overall.
Ghee solidifies when it cools, and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

What Ayurveda says about Ghee:

  • Ghee is a digestive. It helps to improve absorption and assimilation. 
  • It nourishes ojas, tejas and prana
  • It is good for improving memory and lubricates the connective tissue. 
  • Ghee makes the body flexible and, in small doses, is tridoshic
  • Ghee is a yogavahi—a catalytic agent that carries the medicinal properties of herbs into the seven dhatus or tissues of the body. 
  • Ghee pacifies pitta and vata and is acceptable, in moderation, for kapha
  • Persons who already have high cholesterol or suffer from obesity should be cautious in using ghee. 
  • Ghee is not to be used when there are high ama (toxic) conditions.
  • If you’re not sure what your dosha is, you can take a Dosha Quiz.
You can’t see it, but ghee is holding this meal together, just like it does your insides.

Personally, I have noticed that I enjoy the preparation and the eating of my food more with ghee in the mix, used in place of vegetable oils to make eggs, stir fry, or spread on bread or crackers – I have even put ghee in hot beverages. I used to ‘say no’ to butter altogether, but why? A little fat is good for you, if you’re healthy! The taste is wonderful, and I feel more oleanated from the inside. I even use ghee on my skin sometimes.

Recipe from Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, Usha Lad and Dr. Vasant Lad

I made my first homemade batch in July, and now it’s a regular part of my routine and diet. If you want to make your own ghee it’s really easy! Check out Dr. Vasant Lad’s Ghee Recipe. In case you’re wondering, I have not put on any unwanted pounds – in fact, the opposite has occurred, but probably because I have mostly eliminated processed food from my diet, and am consuming more vegetables and fruit.

Bring-Me-Back Kichadi recipe, featuring plenty of ghee, pardon the turmeric-stained page!

If you want yummy recipes and easy-to-understand information on an Ayurvedic diet and perspective, I highly recommend Ali Cramer’s book, Modern Ayurveda: Rituals, Recipes, & Remedies for Balance. I have enjoyed her recipe for hearty, nourishing kichadi/kitchari that uses ghee a few times already!

Final fact: I have to HIDE THE GHEE JAR from my husband.

Sources:

Proning to Increase Oxygenation

Increasing oxygen saturation levels in the blood may be as simple as doing this pose!

Self-proning or Swimmer’s Pose

In last night’s Breath Coaching Course to support COVID-19 prevention and recovery, we learned about Resting Prone and Self-Proning in Swimmer’s Pose; directly from RN and yoga teacher Elizabeth Gottshalk, who worked in an ICU unit in NYU.

This simple technique – resting on your belly to bring the breath deeper into the back lungs, was shown to increase oxygen saturation in the blood by 10%.

During a pilot study done in March in a hospital in Brooklyn, 50 patients were treated. First, O2 levels were measured at an average of 80% – not high enough to sustain life. Our normal O2 level is 98%. They were given supplemental oxygen through cannula, and the level went up to 84% – still not high enough to sustain life.

When flipped onto their bellies, and given the support of pillows, patients oxygen saturation levels went up to 94%.

Elizabeth Gottshalk, RN and Yoga teacher

Self-proning can be used as home care for the flu and viral infections in order to increase oxygenation. Be sure that your head is higher than your feet – and switch sides every 2 hours. Get up and walk around after 8 hours to move ex cess fluid from the lungs.

Why does this work?

Proning, as it’s called, opens up the areas of the lungs that are normally compressed by the weight of the heart when lying on one’s back. And there is some thought that the back area of the lungs is more alveoli-rich, stimulating a faster gas exchange.

Proning is currently being studied as an alternative to intubation.

Thank you to Elizabeth Gottshalk for her dedication to helping others and for her teaching last night. Thank you to Prema Yoga Institute for putting together this amazing course.

Read more: Breath Coaching to Support COVID-19 Prevention and Recovery

Get Your Flow On to Relax

Most of us don’t know how to relax naturally, and it’s something we have to actually practice. In other words, down-regulating the stress response is an acquired capacity. It’s like a muscle: you have to build it over time in order for it to be strong.

During Ann’s Gentle Flow and Slow Flow yoga classes, we practice safe and flowing breath-connected movement, repeating patterns so you can shut your mind off and calm your nervous system down. 

Once we’ve moved the spine in all directions, worked all the major muscle groups, and hopefully lubricated all or most of the joints in the body, we practice “actively relaxing” to stimulate the PNS or parasympathetic nervous system; also known as the “Rest, Digest and Heal” response. 

Why do it? Because great things happen when we are para-sympathetically dominant. Our breath is full, slow, and deep. The digestive system works well. The body can focus on repair, including reduction of inflammation, tissue repair, and hormone production. Subjectively, people feel fully present and alive. Many report feeling a pleasant softness and warmth, perhaps even throughout their bodies. 

Go with the Flow! with Ann this week:

Gentle Flow Yoga – Wednesday at 9:30am YouTube Live

Outdoor Slow Flow Yoga – Thursday at 6pm – Swarthmore

Outdoor Slow Flow Yoga – Saturday at 9:30am – Swarthmore

If you’re practicing at home, please bring pillows, blankets, whatever you have for the best experience during our final relaxation pose. If you’re practicing outdoors, don’t worry, we’ll still make it work!

“The posture of yoga is steady and easy. It is realized by relaxing one’s effort and resting like the cosmic serpent on the waters of infinity.” -Patanjali, Yoga Sutras

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Breath Coaching to Support COVID-19 Prevention and Recovery

“Whether we like it or not, we are all either in a stage of prevention or in a stage of recovery from COVID-19.” These are words that will get you thinking – am I doing everything I can to support my own health during this time?

Prema Yoga Institute, the NYC-based school where I am studying for my 850hr I-AYT certification (now all online), has gathered an incredible faculty of doctors, nurses, psychologists, and yoga therapists to create this course, and I am so grateful and proud to be enrolled!

Over the next five weeks I’ll be learning and re-learning clinically-informed techniques that can potentially bring more oxygen into the lungs, calm the nervous system, help clients clear excess fluid from their lungs, and more. I will even have my own mentor to help guide me on my way to better breath coaching.

While not a substitute for medical care, the Breath Coach Course is intended to teach supportive wellness activities that complement traditional health care; and some of these techniques are already being instituted in COVID-19 ICU units and other hospitals in New York with success! This makes me so hopeful that as a yoga professional I can make some small difference.

In the beginning of our training manual, there is a call-to-arms for us yoga professionals that I wanted to share because it is so inspiring to me:

  • “Healthcare professionals are the first responders, and the first part of our duty as laypersons is to control the spread – following all advised precautions including mask use and social distancing.
  • As yoga professionals, we can also provide a second means of support: We can teach the breath.
  • We can support prevention with down-regulating techniques for a healthy immune system.
  • We can support our clients in managing anxiety and depression through breath techniques.
  • We can teach how to increase the concentration anti-viral gas within the respiratory tract, and how to best oxygenate the blood using breath, stretch, and restorative postures.
  • We can encourage coherence among the systems of the body, and give our clients mindfulness techniques to support their recovery should they get ill.
  • We, as yoga professionals, cannot stop this disease. We cannot treat it or cure it, but we can do our part. We are arguably the largest profession in North America that addresses the breath everyday.
  • We can do our part. We can teach the breath.” (copyright Prema Yoga Institute, LLC 2020)

I’m all in! I hope with this training I can do my part to help. I am downright so excited to be enrolled. And of course, part of my homework is to teach these techniques, so help me do my homework…come to class or set up a private session with me.

Read more: Proning to Increase Blood Oxygenation

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Going with the Flow

One of my very best traits as a human is the ability to harmonize with others (vocally and otherwise!) However, recently I’ve begun to realize that inner harmony is an even greater skill, and definitely one needing honing in me. Balancing my own inner energies requires the skill of awareness on a deep, deep level. Learning to heed the need for rest, and recognize when something is not good for me are two biggies. 

Letting go of the need to do everything, be everywhere at once, and get it all done requires constant effort (or ease, actually.) And then there is cultivating the ability to ask for what I need from others, clearly and compassionately. Setting boundaries has never been easy for me, but now that I realize their importance I’m getting better at it.

When I’m harmonizing on the inside, not pushing myself through pain or low energy to try and “get it all done,” my emotions are calmer and my mind is also more tranquil. It’s then that the harmony of being with others and really listening (without interrupting) – and connecting with that divine flow of life energy that surrounds us every single minute becomes an absolute joy. 

Achieving this state of inner and outer harmony is only possible for me through a very regimented self-care routine. If I stick with my routine, I can really GO WITH THE FLOW so much better. And the type of yoga that is best for me is actually NOT the vigorous vinyasa that I used to do, but a more gentle type that helps me cultivate this constant awareness both on and off the mat. And that’s what I like to teach, too.

I think that’s the great journey of our lives: getting to know and heal ourselves, learning to listen, and striving for balance every single day – both within ourselves and with others around us.

Written by Ann