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.

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:

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

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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

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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

Yoga for Everyday Movements

Following Our breath: Staying safe throughout the day

A few nights ago, I learned a valuable lesson while picking up after our dog Lucy. I had been eager to return to my desk to record a few thoughts tied to this post you’re now reading: staying safe as we move through our everyday routines. And wouldn’t you know it, as I bent over, plastic bag in hand, I felt that familiar twinge in my lower back…I shook my head in disbelief and quickly corrected my posture, bending the knees and straightening the back…It was almost comical. Here I was, preaching the importance of proper posture and alignment, and then committing one of the cardinal sins myself…But that is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Building awareness and then informing our movement and mindset with that awareness. It actually sounds a lot like yoga when we’re tuned into a sequence…but what about off the mat, when we’re hammering away at our keyboard or picking up after Lucy? Where can we find that awareness before our lower back joins the discussion? Well, that is where our breath enters the picture…

Research shows that when we pay closer attention to our breath, we can not only relieve stress, but also sharpen our focus in the present moment. Our breath is always there for us and provides the ideal cue for us to pull our heads out of the past or the future, even if it is just to focus on picking up after Lucy. What’s important is that we stay safe during these everyday movements that we normally handle on autopilot…climbing in and out of a deep sofa or easy chair…checking our blind spot when changing lanes on the highway…lifting that bag of groceries out of the cart. As strange as it sounds, our breath can help us pay closer attention to what we are doing in these everyday moments and stay safe, so we can continue doing everything it is that we love doing, or even not love doing so much…

This series of short video tutorials slowly walks you through several basic everyday movements, highlighting how the breath provides us valuable cues on safe posture and alignment. We firmly believe that with practice, you will find yourself paying closer attention to not only these different movements, but also how you are feeling in the moment. It all comes back to following the breath, our gateway into the present. Please let us know what specific movements you would like to see featured in this series, and until next time, stay safe and keep breathing!

1. Everyday Yoga: Getting in and out of our chair

We get in and out of chairs dozens of times every day…in living rooms, offices, kitchens and bathrooms…it only makes sense we take a closer look at this movement to make sure we’re doing it safely. We can all too easily lose our balance, even with chairs we’re familiar with, leading to serious outcomes…in fact, 50% of folks over the age of 65 don’t survive beyond one year after suffering a hip fracture. This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support safely getting in and out of just about any chair you can think of. And as we do so, we’ll also gently tone the core muscles in our back, hips and midsection.

2. Everyday Yoga: Picking Something Up Off the Ground

So, imagine you’ve dropped your keys trying to get into the house, or maybe the dog has left you something to scoop up on your nightly walk…your mind is somewhere else as you bend over and suddenly feel that pull or pinch in your lower back. We have all been there…in fact, 80% of Americans experience significant back pain in their lives. One third report that it impacts their everyday activities, including sleeping! This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support a healthy forward bend, which can also help us build strength and flexibility in our core muscles of the back, hips and midsection. 

3. Everyday Yoga: Looking Over the Shoulder

Imagine you’re checking your blind spot on the highway…or you hear Interstate 95 in the Philadelphia area is one of my most learned mindfulness teachers. I owe so much of my progress in deep focused breathing to the drivers and potholes of this notorious stretch of highway. As I pay closer attention to my breath, I get plenty of practice in managing my stress levels, anticipating the next unexpected move of another motorist, and also turning more safely to check my blind spots. Looking over our shoulder seems like such a simple everyday movement, we rarely pay much attention to it…that is until we pinch a nerve in our neck as I did myself several years ago. I was sitting in my office and quickly turned my head as a colleague walked in the door. I immediately felt a sharp shooting pain down the right side of my neck and shoulder. It was months before I could move my head freely in any direction…This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support a healthy twist, which can also help to relieve back pain and tension

So let’s stay safe doing what we love doing (or maybe not love so much…) by paying closer attention to how we move through our daily routines. Think of it as yoga for everyday living!

Written by Brian

Your limit is your teacher

I recently came across a social media post by a local hot yoga studio exclaiming that we should have “no limits” when it comes to yoga. To be fair, the quote was “all limits are self-imposed,” and then someone commented that “no limit is the limit,” to which the studio owner replied “yes!”

It got me thinking about this attitude I’ve come across before; one that encourages yoga students to push themselves beyond their limits. I respect your choice to challenge yourself, but when you are teaching others to potentially hurt themselves, it becomes bullying. It goes against the very first moral observance of non-violence, or Ahimsa.

Entitled to my own opinion and interpretation, I believe that the “no limits” attitude in the world of yoga creates an ego-driven and competitive environment where people are encouraged to hurt themselves in the name of self improvement.

My practice includes progressing safely towards a pose

I choose to think of limits as grounding. Setting a boundary can be a form of self-compassion. We are human, after all. My personal yoga practice changes from day to day based on what my body and mind tell me. I don’t come to the mat and push myself in a pose that requires a deep hamstring stretch if I tweaked my hamstring the day before. I can continue to progress in other ways instead, because guess what? I want to do yoga for the rest of my life!

Anyone who has ever had an injury and adapted their yoga practice or exercise routine around it, knows – this is where you learn so much about yourself, your ego. This is where you develop self-compassion and can strive to take better care of yourself to heal and then thrive again with a fresh perspective. The injury is a limitation that teaches you to do something different. You become internally stronger by listening, modifying, and taking the best care of yourself so that you can continue to progress another day.

The pandemic world we are living in right now, where we need masks to go grocery shopping, are distanced from friends and family, and our careers have been put on hold: this is a limit. It’s a container that holds us and teaches us to do something different, to pivot and redirect our progression as human beings – which might include resting for a bit if we need it. 

To the many people who are turning to yoga for the first time, or deepening their yoga practices during this unprecedented age: explore your inner landscape safely. Be grounded by, but not defined by, your limits. And work towards challenging your limits, safely.

Your limit is your teacher.

Cooling Breath

We can learn something from our dogs! We sometimes worry when Lucy practices her Cooling Puppy Pranayama, but she knows what she’s doing. Panting is the primary way for dogs to cool themselves off because they don’t sweat the way humans do. Instead, dogs cool themselves through their mouths using the evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, and by exchanging the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air.

For us humans, Cooling Breath, or Sitali Breath, can help in much the same way. We can “drink the air” through a curled tongue to cool down!

How to Practice Sitali / Sitkari Breath:

  1. Close your eyes, take a few normal breaths, then open the mouth and form the lips into an “O.”
  2. Curl the tongue lengthwise and project it out of the mouth.
  3. Inhale deeply across the tongue and into the mouth as if drinking through a straw.
  4. Focus your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath as the abdomen and lower ribs expand.
  5. Withdraw the tongue and close the mouth, exhaling completely through the nostrils. During each exhalation, you can also lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, inviting the tip of the tongue to send coolness toward the upper palate.
  6. Swallow now and then if the throat feels dry. 
  7. Continue this cycle until you feel refreshed.
  8. If you are unable to curl your tongue, try Sitkari breath. Gently press your lower and upper teeth together and separate your lips as much as you comfortably can, so your teeth are exposed to the air. Inhale through the teeth and exhale through the nose.

Besides building breath awareness, this practice is said to calm hunger and thirst! Sitali breath cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and may reduce fatigue, bad breath, fevers, and high blood pressure. Try it for yourself and let us know how it goes!

For more Pranayama or Breathing Exercises, visit the Breath Page.