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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30-Minute Express Classes

Many of us have had to be even more flexible and creative over these past few months as we schedule for our own self-care. To help you stay focused on your overall well-being, we have created a series of 30-minute express classes, which can be accessed through our video uploads page:

Reconnect with your foundation in Brian’s 30-minute express class!

This week’s featured session is our Men’s Yoga: Foundations Express Class. In this 30-minute sequence, Brian focuses on building strength and flexibility in the deep core muscles of the abdomen, back and hips…those parts of us that help us to move safely and efficiently through our daily routines. No experience necessary, just an open mind and desire to improve your everyday posture and movement patterns. And better yet, if you like it, you can check out Brian’s hour-long Foundations class every Sunday at 11:00AM!

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

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.

Bee’s Breath

Why we love Bhramari Pranayama: As we’re exhaling and creating the droning sound, like that of a bee, we’re also lengthening our exhalations – which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the side in charge of resting and digesting. Calming, centering, grounding…bee’s breath is just what we need these days!

🐝Bhramari is the Sanskrit word for “bee,” and this pranayama or breath exercise is so named for the humming sound produced – like the gentle low buzz or droning of a bee. We like it best for its ability to drown out an anxious mental loop, and find it incredibly grounding and centering. 

Bhramari Pranayama (Bee’s Breath):

  • Calms and quiets the mind
  • Releases cerebral tension
  • Stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands, supporting their proper functioning
  • Soothes the nerves
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Dissipates anger
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • May have a positive effect on tinnitus
  • Bolsters the health of the throat
  • Strengthens and improves the voice
  • Supports the healing of bodily tissues
  • Induces sound sleep

“The busy bee has no time for sorrow.”

– William Blake

How to Practice Bee’s Breath:

  1. Sit comfortably but upright, with a stable foundation to support you.
  2. Gently close the lips, keeping the teeth slightly apart, and bring the tip of your tongue to the space behind the upper front teeth. (Keep the jaw relaxed throughout your practice.)
  3. This part is optional: You can actually use your thumbs to “close” your ears (for me, not all the way feels better) and then gently cover your eyes with cupped palms. There are other ways to practice with the fingers fanned out, but this is most comfortable for me. It does take the experience a little deeper inward.
  4. To begin, take a deep breath in through the nostrils.
  5. Begin to exhale slowly, making a steady, low-pitched ‘hmmm’ sound at the back of the throat—like the humming of a bee. Focus on making the sound soft, smooth, and steady. The positioning of the tongue allows the vibration to better resonate throughout the head.
  6. Continue for as many repetitions as you like. After the final exhalation, allow your breath to return to normal and observe any changes that have occurred.
  7. Maybe you can even feel the vibration continue throughout your head and body after you’ve stopped humming!

Practice it in our chair yoga class:

🐝How do you feel after your bee’s breath practice?🐝

Belly Breathing

Belly breathing – Learning to use the belly

  • Sit or lie flat with with one hand on your belly right under your ribs and the other on your chest.
  • From this position, take one deep breath through your nose while letting your belly nudge your hand outward. Ensure your chest isn’t moving as this happens.
  • Next, with pursed lips, breathe out like you’re whistling.
  • As you feel the hand you’ve placed on your belly go in, use it to push out all the air.
  • Repeat this several more times.

Why Belly Breathing?

  • The lower half of your lungs is the thickest and most closely compacted, which means more oxygen can enter the bloodstream. 
  • Consciously breathing into the lower half of your lungs by engaging the diaphragm, literally allows you to ‘breath more life into’… you. 
  • Oxygenated blood travels to the heart, where it’s pumped to the rest of the body via blood vessels that move into surrounding tissues. 
  • Ultimately, oxygen reaches every cell that makes up the body.
  • If your upper chest is moving when you breathe then you’re not using the lower part of your lungs, which means you’re not breathing optimally.
  • Chest breathing engages only the top part of your lungs, and remember that the lower half of your lungs is the most oxygen-rich.
  • If you’re breathing with your chest and not your diaphragm/ belly you’ll likely overuse your neck and shoulder muscles, which are not meant to be breathing muscles.
Learn Belly Breathing, stretch and strengthen to aid respiratory health! – Live at 11am

What are the benefits of belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing has proven to: 

  1. Improve respiratory function, by relaxing tight chest muscles and by increasing lung capacity. Research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing can be especially helpful to those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  2. Lower heart rate and blood pressure, and is even recognized by the FDA in the treatment and regulation of hypertension. It also improves circulatory system function by maximizing the delivery of oxygen to the bloodstream and to each of the trillions of cells in your body.   
  3. Maintain blood pH levels (the scale of alkalinity to acidity.) Blood acidity is neutralized with the release of carbon dioxide from the lungs. Deep, slow breathing helps the brain and lungs continuously optimize pH levels.
  4. Engage your diaphragm internally which in turn massages your abdominal organs and glands, stimulating them and promoting their healthy and optimal function.
  5. Boost the immune system because as the diaphragm massages the internal organs and glands it helps move lymph (fluid containing the immune system’s white blood cells) throughout the body to their targeted locations.
  6. Detoxify the body. Controlled breathing stimulates lymphatic movement. One of the key functions of your lymphatic system is to flush toxins out of your body. Your lungs are also a major excretory organ. With every maximized exhale, you expel waste, toxins, and excess carbon dioxide from your system.
  7. Maintain healthy digestive function and help ease upset tummies. The same diaphragmatic massaging motion that helps flush toxins also helps stimulate blood flow of your intestinal tract, ensuring your gut muscles keep on moving as they’re intended to.
    • Breathing deeply can help prevent acid reflux, bloating, hiatal hernia, and intestinal spasms.
    • Deep breathing also helps quell the stress response, which compromises digestion. It’s worthy to note here that multiple studies and research confirm a high correlation between digestive/ gastrointestinal issues (i.e.: IBS) and mental health imbalances such as anxiety and depression.
  8. Increase theta brain waves. Theta brainwaves are associated with the state of deep relaxation and dreaming sleep, as well as increased creativity, super-learning, integrative experiences, and increased memory.
  9. Be an effective relaxation technique. This is because your breath acts as a switching station for your nervous system, specifically between the two branches of your autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system (stress response), and the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response.) Deep, slow breathing relieves stress and relaxes you, and also engages your sympathetic in ways that work for you, not against you. In this way, deep breathing helps send your body signals of safety so that you can enter into a higher state of functioning – one that is healing, regenerating, and conducive to sustained fulfillment and thriving.
  10. Be an effective option for treating emotional and mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Source: Benefits of Deep Breathing, A Step by Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

Finding Stillness in our Stories

Practicing the Foundation Breath

Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.  Jorge Luis Borges

I have practiced hot yoga on the same mat in the same studio for nearly ten years. It’s a little frayed around its edges and is starting to lose some of its no-slip grip. I should have replaced it six months ago but I have to admit I am attached to this mat. We have been through a lot together. Attachments like these seem innocent enough, but there’s something else going on here and I feel I am finally getting to the bottom of it. Every time I roll out this mat and look down on its signs of wear, I tell myself a little story. It’s a story that celebrates my hard work and dedication to my practice through the years. It feels good to keep repeating this story, which is why the mat keeps living to see another day.  The problem is this story has very little to do with my yoga and a lot to do with keeping my ego happy. Without diving too far into the weeds, approval has always been important for me, even when I generate it on my own. This deeper stuff is great to shine some light upon, but will have to wait until a future post for closer examination. What is important here is my attachment and its happy little story 1) take my focus off what I am actually doing on the mat and 2) obscure the fact that I’d be safer on a new one.

When we loosen our hold on something or someone, we stop feeding the stories they inspire and bring greater awareness to whatever we’re doing in the present.

This is how our attachments work…under the radar, but still in plain sight. The new car, the coveted job title, the approval of those close to us (…or not so close). Our attachments play starring roles in all our favorite stories. Of course, the attachments themselves are not the problem…it’s how we cling to them and spin our stories around them that can get us into trouble. After all, I should have replaced my mat six months ago…I have just been getting in my own way. In many Yoga and Buddhist traditions, attachment is viewed as a major source of suffering in our lives. Non-attachment or non-possessiveness (aparigraha) is considered so important, it is held up as one of the five yamas, or ethical principles of yoga that help guide us through our daily interactions and activities. The logic here is straightforward: when we loosen our hold on something or someone, we stop feeding the stories they inspire and bring greater awareness to whatever we’re doing in the present.

And this is where our breath comes in. We hold on to our breath just like anything else we are afraid of losing. When we let go of our breath, we reset our nervous system and loosen the hold of even our strongest attachments and most compelling stories. The Foundation Breathing exercise presented below focuses on the exhalation and that sublime stillness before we take our next breath. Approach it with an open mind. With some practice you will likely find it, as I have, to be a powerful addition to your self-care toolkit.

Foundation Breath Basics

What

  • Our attachments (people-possessions-beliefs-expectations) can be a major source of pain and suffering
  • The Foundation Breath can pull us from repeating story loops and loosen the hold of our attachments
  • Research suggests that diaphragmatic (belly) breathing moderates clinging and controlling behavior by increasing our attention, improving our mood and reducing our stress levels (see references below).

How

  • Breathe in through the nose – Release the breath through the mouth – Pause – Repeat
  • Start with a 2-3 sec. inhalation-exhalation and 1 sec. pause and move up from there.
  • Breathing in through the nose conditions the air for absorption in the lungs.
  • Breathing out through the mouth (vocalization optional) focuses attention on the exhalation.

When

  • Slow down persistent worry over pending medical test results or financial strains.
  • Lessen chronic stress due to workload, a challenging boss or an upcoming performance review.  
  • Let go of the expectations related to your balance in tree pose or your strength in triangle. As one of my teachers puts it: “One percent of the pose done correctly provides 100% benefit.”

Learn More

  • Hafenbrack, A. 2017. Mindfulness Meditation as an On-The-Spot Workplace Intervention. Journal of Business Research. 75, 118-129.
  • Landau, M. (2018). This Breathing Exercise Can Calm You Down in a Few Minutes, Vice Media, Retrieved Feb25, 2020.
  • Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z, Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y. Wei, G. & Li, Y. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(72): 1-12.
  • Pattee, E.(2020). The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety, The New York Times, Retrieved Feb 29, 2020. 
  • Schmalzl, L., Powers, C., and Henje Blom, E. (2015). Neurophysiological and neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the effects of yoga-based practices: towards a comprehensive theoretical framework. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9:235.
  • Sullivan, M., Erb, M., Schmalzl, L., Moonz, S., Taylor, J. & Porges, S., 2018. Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12(67), 1-15.

Not all monkeys bite

Santosha, or contentment, is one of the five niyamas or personal observances that we vow to explore in yoga. I think the idea is to practice being content with whatever you’re experiencing in any given moment.

Practicing contentment doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with being unhappy; instead we are invited to train in being content with our unhappiness. That might go something like this:

  1. Acknowledge sadness (or whatever emotion we’re experiencing.)
  2. Recognize that it’s a turbulence that will eventually pass.
  3. Perhaps even develop some gratitude towards our ability to feel so much.
  4. Look at that emotion like it’s an old friend who’s stopped by for lunch.

You already have everything you need.

It’s said that our basic nature as human beings is joyful; that we are happy without even trying to be. I recently learned that as babies, we are born breathing naturally into our bellies; taking deep breaths that utilize our full lung capacity. As adults, we get so disconnected from our bodies, so stuck in our minds, that we develop a tendency towards chest breathing, and must relearn full belly breathing, which can help reset the nervous system and manage stress. (But that’s a blog post for another time.) How do we get so far away from our natural state of being, from being able to take a deep breath?

Get off the rollercoaster of liking and disliking everything.

As we grow up and have our vast and quotidian experiences, we learn to ascribe value to everything. We categorize everything, and naturally move towards the things we like and away from the things we don’t. We make split second judgments based on our layers of experience, our culture, our upbringing. Everything we come into contact with throughout our entire day might get put into some kind of category!

  • Like / Dislike
  • Friend / Enemy
  • Feels Good / Hurts
  • Pretty / Ugly

How can we possibly be content in this digital age? While it is worthwhile on many levels, I believe social media breeds so much discontent and snap judgment. Is it a thumbs up, or a thumbs down? From our brave digital distance it’s also easier to express the flames of hatred…and even our own president does it!

We get caught in a loop of holding on to what we think is good, and we only tell the stories that sing our perfections. We avoid what we think is bad, choose to omit narratives that might bring shame. In all that grasping for the good and rejecting of the bad, we lose our clarity. We lose equanimity. We lose contentment. We forget how to breathe.

Not all monkeys bite.

Weird story: I got bitten by a monkey when I was little, and not only was it physically painful but I got into some trouble for wandering into the yard of the stranger who owned the monkey. (I was raised with a parenting style known as benign neglect, popular in the 1970s.) Now I’m kind of afraid of monkeys, and in particular, sharp little monkey teeth. When I go to the zoo or see monkeys on tv, I have a bit of a reaction. Not a big fan. I’m looking through the lens of my painful memory and putting monkeys into the category of “dislike” or “avoid at all costs.” Which makes sense, like it’s rational to avoid putting your hand into a fire because you will get burned. The process of distilling everything into categories gets dangerous, though, because it leads to the rollercoaster of needing to satisfy our likes and dislikes all the time. We might miss out on the possibility that not all monkeys are going to bite, and maybe some are actually cute. There are other more painful stories I can’t really share here, so the monkey story will have to do.

It is what it is.

When I worked in television, I must have heard that sentence a million times, “It is what it is.” It used to drive me crazy! It seemed to me a copout for not trying harder to make things right. But maybe, in fact, it was the ultimate santosha.

Acceptance of our present moment is one way to get off of the rollercoaster of liking and disliking. In our search for happiness, we ignore the possibility that happiness is already happening right here and right now. We also presuppose it will come from outside of ourselves. If we aim to practice santosha, we must stop seeking it and rest in the moment, whatever it brings. Even if it’s monkeys.

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

― Lao Tzu