Pranayama. What is it? Why do we do it?

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Yoga.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning extension of the breath or more accurately, “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna meaning life force and āyāma, meaning to extend, draw out, restrain, or control

More simply, Pranayama is a series of breathing techniques or breathing exercises.

Breathing is a normal part of our life, and we often forget to pay attention to it. It is the body’s natural inclination to hold the breath whenever we feel physically or emotionally challenged. Pranayama teaches us the proper way to breathe: slowly and deeply. Breathing this way increases the capacity of the lungs, brings more oxygen into the body and stimulates the Vagus nerve. The Vagus Nerve stretches from your brain stem down to your abdomen. When the Vagus Nerve is stimulated it activates the parasympathetic nervous systems to slow your heart rate, relieve stress, and heal your body.

“When the breath is still, so is the mind.” this basic yoga concept tells us that, with breathing, we can help to either calm or excite the entire nervous system. When the breath becomes irregular and unsteady, so is our mental state. When the breath is steady so is the mind.

You might not always have time for a yoga class but you can always find a few minutes a day to practice Pranayama.

To practice Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing): Sit comfortably with an easy straight back and close the eyes. Fold in the pointer and middle fingers of the right hand. Use the thumb to block the right nostril and the ring finger to block the left nostril. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. exhale slowly through the right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle.

The ancient yogis measured a person’s lifespan not by years but by the number of his respirations. They believed that everyone is allocated a fixed number of respirations in his or her or her lifetime, which differs from person to person.

Breath is life and life is breath. Keep breathing…

Aparigraha. (or my computer crashed)

It happened. My computer crashed. Just a blue screen. On it were countless photos, music, folders, esaays, and a few pie charts and spirographs. It is one of those things that is probably inevitable in the age of fast moving technology. I should have been prepared for it. I wasn’t. Although I did have a nagging feeling a few weeks ago when everything seemed to be running a little slower than usual. I thought I should back everything up, I even said it out loud, but I didn’t. How much info will be able to be retrieved and what is lost I am not sure yet, I will have to wait and see.

While waiting for the result my mind immediately turns to thoughts of one of the Yamas of Yoga: Aparigraha.
There are many interpretations and applications for Aparigraha, this being one of the more literal translations; Non grasping. I may lose all my “stuff” and if so I have to let go of it. This idea of “non-attachment” can be applied to tangible objects as well as to our thoughts and ideas. If we practice Aparigraha we must carefully consider which objects and ideas we choose to hold onto. We must prioritize how our time and energy is spent. Maybe I was spending too much time on the computer, maybe there were too many thoughts tucked into too many folders. When we practice Aparigraha by letting go of something, someone, or some idea we create space for the things that are truly important. We create a space for possibility and begin to understand all that is truly important to us. The important things are those that cannot be lost. A generous heart, a kind spirit, a quiet mind.

It is not fun when a computer crashes, but really, in the overall scheme of things what is lost? Maybe it is time to simply let go of the old to make room for the new.

Welcome Summer. Happy 1st Anniversary to Ahum. Juicing Fruits and Sugar.


Happy Summer! July marks 2 important occasions: The official start of summer and the one year anniversary of AHUM.   After a brief hiatus, I am happy to to be sharing some thoughts on all things yoga.  If you are new to the blog, Welcome!   There is a great archive of past posting to read.   If you are a current  subscriber welcome back!   Here we will PRACTICE.  EAT. and  LIVE.

Thank you for joining me.

Namaste

(“The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra.  the gesture is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another.  “Nama” means bow, “as” means I and  “te” means you.  Therefore, Namaste literally means “bow me you” or I bow to you.”  Aadil Palkhivala)

I am a HUGE fan of juicing.  Especially during these hot and humid days, it is a great way to hydrate the body.  I was recently asked about the sugar content in fruits and the effect that the sugar may have on the body.  Great Question.  ( although I do find it kind of funny that someone could eat a lunch of a coke, a burger and fries and no one would blink an eye, but have a fruit juice and something must be awry  🙂

First and foremost when it comes to juice and food it has always been my firm belief that you have to listen to your body.
Everyone’s body is different and it is important to ask yourself the question “How do I feel” after you eat or drink something.

Juicing is and always has been an excellent way to get a concentrated source of nutrients, both vitamins and minerals, into the body in an absorbable form.

Since your body absorbs and digests the nutrients faster, it has more down time for repair.  When your body is not busy digesting food it is on the lookout for ways to heal itself.
When you juice,  you are feeding your body and repairing it at the same time.  Fruit juices in particular are known as “cleansers”.

Yes, when we juice sweet fruits, we are eliminating the key component in slowing down the absorption of the simple sugar fructose. This key component is the pulp, Pulp is an insoluble fiber that slows down the absorption of fructose in the gut by the body.  The rule of thumb for what is an allowable amount of sugar to take in on a daily basis varies tremendously.  The best answer I believe is the following:

“In petitioning for labeling changes regarding sugar, CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), joined by dozens of leading health experts, also wants the FDA to set a maximum recommended daily intake (Daily Value) for added sugars of 10 teaspoons (40 grams) and require labels to disclose the percentage of the Daily Value a food provides.”There are many naturally occurring sugars such as sucrose which is a combination of glucose and fructose (or fruit sugar), lactose (from milk), maltose and galactose. You don’t want too many of the simple sugar glucose, but you can have a few more of the complex ones. If you digest too many simple sugars, your body gets swamped and the excess that is not used by your body gets stored as fat. Also useful to know is that sugars enters your cells using the same pathway as Vitamin C – so, too much sugar and your body does not absorb Vitamin C as well.  However, you can eat or drink natural sugars in moderation – say up to 100 grams a day (like orange juice which contains quite a lot of fructose). ”

As a frame of reference, on average,  a glass of fresh orange juice has about 30 grams of natural sugar, keeping you well below the amounts discussed above.

In a nutshell, processed sugar is to be avoided, natural sugar is fine in moderation.

In yoga, with food, and in our lives it is always about finding the balance.

Spring Planting

Spring has officially sprung. The bulbs are peaking up through the cold ground, buds are visible on the apple trees, and the birds have started chirping. From the moment we spring forward into daylight savings time, my mind turns to thoughts of planting our vegetable garden.  There is nothing quite like walking out into the garden and eating something freshly picked.  I could not LIVE without it. At this time of year cold hardy seeds can start to be planted. Cold hardy seeds would be any kind of pea or lettuce, leafy greens like kale or spinach.  It is a great way to get out of winter hibernation and start thinking warm weather.  Bartlett’s Farm has a wonderful selection of all kinds of organic seeds to choose from.  With the garden center now officially open, browsing though the seed packets and chatting with some of the super knowledgeable garden staff is sure to inspire.  If you haven’t done so already think about designating a small corner of your garden to edible plants.   It is easy to build a raised bed from scrap wood or a pre made kit, then start planting your favorites.   Maybe you don’t have room for a raised bed and can’t bear to give up your flower bed?   A dear friend of mine plants his flower garden by intermingling his favorite herbs and vegetables throughout the patch.  It is a truly beautiful and unique way to plant.  It is easy to be overwhelmed at first when thinking of planting a vegetable garden, start small and branch out from there.  If seeds aren’t your thing, think about edible landscaping.  Why not plant a fruit tree, or a blueberry bush?  The time and effort spent digging will be well worth it when you can pick a fresh apple and taste the difference.  I was asked once to name my favorite vegetable.  I started by saying asparagus.   Of course anyone who knows me knows that it is impossible for me to choose just one.  My favorite is ususally the one that I have just finished planting or eating.  I probably picked that initially because when I think of asparagus I remember digging the trenches with my husband ( it took hours), I remember being covered in mud (it was cold and wet),  I remember seeing the first stalk emerge in the spring and I remember waiting 3 years to eat any (I forgot about that part).  The first stalk I ate was the most delicious stalk of asparagus I had ever tasted.  We planted it together, we waited, we were patient.  There is a real joy in growing your own food.  Great stories emerge, laughter ensues, and a delicious meal is sure to be had by all.   Happy Spring. Happy planting! A great resource for pre-made raised beds: http://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/Link-Product?sku=34-381RS

The Importance of Enzymes

enzymesThe food we choose to EAT is one of the most important decisions that we can make when it comes to maintaining our health.  The more fresh fruits and vegetables that we can incorporate into our diet the healthier we will be.  In fruits and vegetables there is a life giving element that exists: enzymes.

There are 2 groups of enzymes: exogenous; those found in raw food and endogenous; those produced within our bodies.

Enzymes are one of the most essential elements in our body.   Life itself depends on them.  We need enzymes for every bodily function.  Every breath you take, every move you make, every thought you think and every action you take requires enzymes. Enzymes are an absolute necessity to life.  They are your body’s workers. They assist in keeping our body in top form by lowering cholesterol, cleaning the colon, breaking down fats, strengthening the immune system, detoxifying the body, cleaning our lungs, and building muscle.

When we feed our bodies with enzyme-deficient food, our body systems start to slow down and deteriorate.  Cooking food destroys 100 percent of the enzymes in that food. When you eat cooked or processed foods your body must produce ALL the enzymes required to digest that food.  When we are born we are given a limited amount of enzymes.  This is like an enzyme bank account.  If you don’t make regular deposits into your account by eating foods rich in natural enzymes, you start to deplete your account and use up your enzyme supply.

After a prolonged period of depleting the enzymes in our body it starts to work overtime to produce more enzymes, causing extra stress which affects our immune system. This lowers our ability to protect from and fight diseases. Our digestive system eventually slows down causing food to be undigested. This undigested food stays in our system creating a toxic environment that saps your energy, clouds your thinking and is a breeding ground for illness.

The good news is that with the simple addition of fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet we can prevent the depletion of these enzymes.  All fresh and raw foods have naturally-occurring enzymes. Start by adding a fresh fruit or vegetable juice into your daily routine.  Carry bananas, apples, or avocados with you for a snack.  Start dinner with a salad instead of bread.

Start slowly, changing old habits with new fruit and vegetable inspired choices, and welcome the feeling of newfound energy with the addition of these life giving enzymes.

Practicing the king of all poses. Salamba Sirsana or Headstand.

salambraSalamba Sirsasana or Headstand is known as the King of all Yoga Poses.  The reasons are many.   It affects every system of the body: the cardiovascular, lymph, endocrine, and digestive systems. It reverses aging, increases blood flow to the brain, regulates pituitary and pineal glands, enhances circulation and creates mental clarity and calm.  It allows you to literally turn your world upside down to gain new insight by changing your perspective.

Even with all of these benefits there are times not to practice headstand: You should not practice headstand if you have high or low blood pressure, any serious eye diseases, compressed cervical disks or neck injury.

When practicing headstand take as much time as you need.   The rewards of sirsasana are so great that even if you are not ready to do the full pose, you can benefit by preparing for it.  Whether you are just starting out in hare pose or working on a full headstand, patience is the key with this posture.   Just because you floated up with ease yesterday does not mean you will today.  Honestly assess where you are physically and mentally. The strength and concentration that is required may not always be there at first.  Breathe.   Pay particular attention to the neck, there should never be any pain; pain is very different from feeling challenged.

Becoming aware of the body and knowing when you are ready to move on to the next step is very important.   Headstand requires strength in the core, neck, and upper back, open shoulders and a flexible spine. To safely and properly prepare for headstand always make sure that you are warmed up.  It is not a posture to jump right into.  A recommended length of time for staying in headstand is 10 seconds for a beginner while gradually adding 5-10 seconds and working up to 3 minutes.  Always rest in child’s pose after coming down from headstand to give your body and the nervous system time to adjust to sitting right side up again.

It took me a long time to learn to do a headstand.   We all have “our thing” as I like to call it; our challenge.  Headstand was mine.  I suffered a head injury when I was 6 years old, when a lawn dart landed squarely inside the top of my head.  I had real fear of injuring myself while practicing headstand, a fear of placing any weight at all on the top of my head.   Slowly and consistently I worked.  It was a struggle initially; I found it difficult to breathe and I could only stay put for a few seconds.  All the talk of core strength seemed to go out the window.  When I made the move to try to lift my feet off the ground for the first time it seemed that I had none at all.  Every day I found time in my practice to devote to letting go of the fear.  And then one day it happened, I just floated up.  It wasn’t magic by any means, but a combination of consistent practice and determination.  Now, it is a joy to see the same thing happen with students who thought that standing on their head would never be possible.

If you are working on headstand go easy on yourself.  It may take months or even years to accomplish. It is the journey not the destination that is important here.  Be consistent with your practice and patient with your self and soon you will be embracing The King of all poses.

Yama of Yoga: Satya.

When I was in high school my mother gave me two wonderful little books of philosophy called Notes to Myself and How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather.  I read them over and over again throughout my life, his simple words always seemed to make sense, to calm and reassure me.  I carried the books with me until they were so dog eared and highlighted that they literally fell apart.  Even now, so many years later, his words are ingrained in my memory.   One of my favorite Hugh Prather quotes is:  “LIVE your life as if everything you do will eventually be known.”  Now that is a tall order.

Living a life based in truth is one of the Yamas of Yoga: Satya.  Literally translated it means truthfulness.  Practicing satya means being truthful in our feelings, thoughts, and words. It means being honest with ourselves and with others.

When we are honest we can be fearless, living life as an open book.  Honesty is at the heart of all healthy relationships. Practicing Satya in your words is a good place to start.  You might need to deliver the truth to a friend who desperately needs your input.  It may not be what she wants to hear at the moment but you can deliver those words in a supportive, honest and loving way.   Gossip and hearsay are a large part of this lack of truth in our daily lives.  If we were to think for a moment before recounting events in our day, being sure that the words we were sharing were absolutely truthful, we would probably have a lot less to say.  Sometimes, the truth hurts, so it is just as important to know when not to speak if it will cause someone else damage. This idea is stated simply and eloquently in the Mahabharata:  “Speak the truth which is pleasant.  Do not speak unpleasant truths.  Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear.  This is the eternal law, the dharma.”  Being truthful means that we must choose our words wisely.

Being truthful with ourselves is another aspect of Satya.  Becoming clear with who we are and what makes us happy.  This means we can let go of trying to achieve perfection and stop being so hard on ourselves.  We can let go of the desire to always please.  When you do things that are not a reflection of the real you, you cannot be happy with yourself.  You will become confused because you won’t know who to please or how.  Find the courage to say this is who I am and be okay with it.  Embrace your truth.  Don’t compromise yourself.  Many friends and relatives with the best of intentions might offer us advice.  Listen to them and then listen to your own heart, it will never steer you wrong.

Once you begin to act in accordance with your fundamental nature; the true you, you will find your intuition growing stronger, decision making becoming easier, and a sense of peace in your daily life. Making a commitment to truth is not always easy, but living without lies is ultimately very freeing.

Live in your truth and live a life of respect, honor and integrity.

Chia Seeds: An Ancient Super Food.

chiaChia seed is an ancient superfood.   It is a member of the mint family: Salvia Hispanica. The little seeds were once a staple of the Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures, along with the Native Americans of the southwest.  Chia is actually the Mayan word for strength. The seeds were used by these ancient cultures as energy food, especially for their running messengers.  In the southwest United States chia seeds became known as “Indian running food.”

Chia seeds are an excellent source of dense nutrition with their healthy omega oils, easily digestible protein, and antioxidants. In fact, chia is so high in essential fatty acids that it contains eight times more omega-3s than salmon.  They are also full of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Research has linked this valuable food as being beneficial for many health issues, including diabetes, hypoglycemia, celiac disease, and lowering cholesterol.

  • Chia Seeds are a complete protein with all 9 amino-acids.
  • Chia is the richest non-marine whole food source of Omega-3 and dietary fiber currently known to man.
  • They have six times more calcium than milk, plus boron which is a trace mineral that helps transfer calcium into your bones.
  • They contain greater amounts of high-quality protein than found in soy.
  • Chia seeds work like an incredible digestive broom, sweeping through your intestinal tract, helping to remove toxins and eliminating old accumulated waste in the intestines.
  • They have 2 times the amount of potassium as bananas
  • They have 3 times more antioxidant activity than blueberries.
  • They have 3 times more iron than spinach, which is needed to carry oxygen from the lungs into the muscles and organs
  • Chia´s high fiber content and its ability to reduce blood sugar levels after meals inhibits the appetite making it a perfect food for effective weight loss.
  • They improve endurance by keeping the body hydrated and the electrolytes balanced, making them a perfect food for athletes.

In fact, Chia seeds are a perfect food for everyone.  But how do you begin to incorporate these magical little seeds into our diet?  The easiest way would be to start sprinkling them on your next salad.  They have no flavor on their own and take on the flavor of whatever they are added to.  Another great way to enjoy chia seeds is in your next morning smoothie.  Get in the habit of having some prepared chia gel in the fridge.  Prepared chia gel lasts about 1 week in the fridge.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons into the blender with your favorite recipe.

Get creative!  Think chia jams and jellies, chia pops and puddings.  And then get consistent. Get in the habit of incorporating this super food into your diet, and embrace the strength of the ancient seed.

Basic Chia Gel

2 tablespoons of chia seeds
1 cup of water

Add water to chia seeds and mix well.  Let stand for 15 minutes then stir again,  then let stand for 15 minutes more.

That’s it.  You now have chia gel.  Enjoy!

Practice Gratitude

gratitudeHappy February.  Happy Valentines Day.

January is always a great time to take on new projects.  2011 began with the development of turning our current web page into a full fledged website.  The last several weeks have been filled with writing, organizing, and photo taking.   It has been very time consuming yet very exciting.  With the bulk of the work complete, I am now back on my weekly blog posting schedule.  We are looking forward to unveiling the Dharma Yoga Nantucket website in April.

Going through this process has filled me with gratitude.

You can PRACTICE living in a state of gratitude everyday.  At every turn we have that choice.  It is easy to focus on what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do have.  The next time the thoughts in your head start to take a turn, take a deep breath and ask yourself:  What am I grateful for?  By refocusing your energy and taking a moment to make a mental list, you will be amazed at how those thoughts of gratitude can change your mood and your outlook.  Take a moment to write down three things that you are grateful for and carry it with you in your pocket.  Having a tough day?  Take it out and read it.  This idea is hardly anything new, Oprah has been talking about the importance of gratitude for the last 25 years.  And well before Oprah, this concept is discussed in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali as pratipaksha bhavana.  Translated it means: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of.”  The next time you feel overwhelmed remember that your thoughts have great influence on your outlook, think good thoughts.

Valentines Day is a perfect opportunity to take stock of all there is to be grateful for.  Some may call it a Hallmark Holiday, but who could argue with a holiday that is all about the celebration of love?  I was scanning the latest Valentine cards last week when I realized all the forms of love that were being celebrated.  To Sweethearts, Moms and Dads, Grandparents, nieces and nephews, sisters, friends, even dogs and cats!  Celebrate this holiday by letting those you love know how grateful you are to have them in your life.

Thank You, Husband. Thanks Mom. Thank You, sisters. Thank You, friends.

Thank You students, you inspire me.

Click on the link below for my Valentine to you.

You can watch it here:
http://vimeo.com/9820752

Yama of Yoga: Aparigraha.

Give Love.

giveLove
I love the holiday season.  The festive decorations, the celebrations, the coming together of the community.  It brings to mind one of the Yamas of Yoga: Aparigraha.  This Yama has many translations and interpretations.  One of these is “not hoarding”.  Meaning that life should not be about all for me and none for you, life should be lived by keeping what we need and sharing the rest.  This spirit of giving is particularly apparent during the holidays and it is always a joy to see the generosity that emerges.  We somehow find the time to give in ways that would seem almost impossible during the rest of the year.  We do it because it is Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanza.  We do it in the spirit of the holiday that we celebrate and the traditions we have come to embrace.  It is a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of.  My wish is that we continue to carry this spirit of generosity with us throughout the year.  Finding those moments to give when it would be so much easier not to.  Giving financially is not always possible, but a giving of your time and spirit is always accessible.  We all have so little time anymore.  Our plates are full and we are seemingly always rushing on to the next thing.  Giving of your time is one of the most generous ways to share the holiday spirit throughout the year.   It might just be 5 minutes as you pass someone on the bike path who is obviously lost and offering directions.  It might be volunteering for one hour a month delivering meals to the elderly.  It might be watching your friends children so that she can have some much needed time for herself.  Maybe one night a month you do the cooking for a group of friends.   We can also give of the spirit.   Maybe it is speaking a kind word instead of a harsh one.  Maybe it is letting go of your next silly argument and being the first to say you are sorry.   Maybe it is just taking the time to truly listen.

Find your way, and create a new tradition of giving year round.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday and a Blissful New Year!