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…

A Holiday Gift Guide for the Yogi To Live By.

Christmas-tree-boat

The holiday season is officially here!  For the next few weeks I will be sharing with you gifts that no yogi should have to LIVE without.  There are so many choices out there for all kinds of yoga gear it can be overwhelming.  Enclosed is  the first of 3 lists of must haves.

The LIVE list:

Books:

1.  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Yoga sutras

2. Mediatations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison

Meditations-from-the-mat-300

3. A Life Worth Breathing: A Yoga Master’s Handbook of Strength,  Grace, and Healing  by Max StromA life worth breathing

all books available at:  amazon.com

Pampering:

1.  Who doesn’t love a bath?  With all the holiday rushing about, there is something entirely indulgent and soothing about a good long soak.  EO Bath salts are a wonderful treat.

Eo bath salts
available at:  amazon.com

2.  In the blustery cold of winter taking care of our skin is a top priority.  The best way to retain the moisture is with an all natural sesame oil.  Used on its own or mixed in with some rejuvenation oil it will keep you soft and supple until spring.
Sesameoil16 Mo-men-women
available at:  http://www.mapi.com/maharishi_ayurveda/products/bath_and_body/massage_oils.html

3.  The Yogi in your life might be more inclined to start using a neti pot if you gifted them with a really pretty one; this one just might do the trick.

netipot
available at: http://store.chopra.com/productinfo.asp?item=484&deptcode1=

4.  Give the gift of Aromatherapy with a diffuser and a selection of essential oils

Diffuserelectric
Bottles

available at:  http://www.mapi.com/maharishi_ayurveda/products/vedaroma/index.html

5. Cozy and pretty  organic cotton loungewear  to slip into after a long day.

-organic-lace-trim-loungewear
Available at:  http://www.gaiam.com/category/apparel/loungewear.do?sortby=ourPicks&page=2

Happy Holiday Shopping!  More of the gift giving guide to come next week.

Developing a Consistent Yoga Practice.

consistent

prac·tice

(pr k t s).

1. To do or perform habitually or usually; make a habit of:.

2. To do or perform (something) repeatedly in order to acquire or polish a skill:

3. To give lessons or repeated instructions to; drill:

4. To work at, especially as a profession:.

5. To carry out in action; observe:

What is this thing that we call a Yoga PRACTICE?

The first sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali is ATHA YOGANUSASANAM which means now begins the instruction of Yoga.  This is where we all start.  The great thing about developing a practice, is that it doesn’t matter what you were doing before, there is always the opportunity to begin.  Yoga has that wonderful ability; it can meet us right where we are.  All we have to do is start the journey.  Once the decision has been made to begin, then we can develop our practice.  Like most things, it is not easy in the beginning.  Our bodies may seem tight and inflexible, it might seem challenging or uncomfortable.   We are carrying years of stress in these bodies of ours and it isn’t about to fall away easily.

Think about the moments in your life where you really didn’t want to do something because it seemed too overwhelming or because  it was challenging to just get started.  I remember looking out into the blank canvas of an unruly corner of our garden one day and dreaming of an asparagus patch.  The problem was that this little corner was riddled with poison ivy.  The other problem was in order to grow asparagus you have to dig deep 10 foot long trenches. Then you have to wait a few years before you can even eat one stalk.  Thinking about all the time and work involved quickly got me thinking that maybe an asparagus patch wasn’t such a great idea after all.

And then one day we just started digging.  It was hard work, just as I had anticipated, but soon after the first shovel hit the ground, I got lost in the task at hand.  I wasn’t worried about the poison ivy.  We were planting asparagus!  I was able to get lost in the joy of the moment. And so, every morning I would wake up and dig a little, rip out another root of that dreaded ivy.  Eventually all the hard work paid off.  Every spring is now filled with an abundant harvest.

Make a time commitment to your practice.  It might start out to be once a week, or twice a week, or every morning for 15 minutes.  Determine the time frame that will work for you and then, be consistent.  Being consistent in your practice is where real change can occur.

Once in class, we have to remind ourselves that we are not in a competition.  There is no race to be won here.  And if there were it would certainly be the tortoise winning it.  It is not about how fast we move or how fast we learn.  Let go of comparing yourself with other students.  You are exactly where you should be for you. As my husband would say: “Do your best and forget the rest.”  Find the joy in your own progress.  There will be days when you are sore and that is okay.  The best way to alleviate soreness is to keep practicing.  It is like waking up on a chilly morning and feeling a little creaky.  Once you start moving about, the creakiness dissipates.  It is important to keep moving.  However, soreness and pain are two very different things.  There should never be pain and you should never push through pain. That is where serious injury occurs.  By developing a practice you will develop a greater awareness of the body and be able to tell the difference.

Begin.  Make a commitment.  Be consistent. Find the joy in the moment.   This is your yoga practice.

Practicing Tapas: Fierce Determination.

tapas

Tapas

As the chilly days of autumn and winter fall upon us, take the opportunity to PRACTICE one of the Niyamas of Yoga; Tapas.   The definition of Tapas is ‘heat’ or ‘ fiery discipline’ or ‘a constant and intense commitment’  I call it fierce determination.

Tapas is a phenomenon of the body as well as the mind. This fire is what can keep you going even if you don’t feel like it.  Getting to class sometimes can be the hardest part. Our mind will always come up with an excuse not to do something.  I am too tired, I don’t have time, it’s too cold outside. If we can summon our tapas we almost always feel better and wonder why it was so challenging to get there in the first place.

When you are holding a pose and give up, feeling that you couldn’t possibly hold it one second longer, think about what might happen if you were offered one hundred dollars to hold the pose for one more breath.  It is amazing how you can summon the strength when you really have to.  We have all heard the stories of men and women exhibiting super human strength.  Lifting automobiles, heavy machinery, even buses to rescue their trapped and injured loved ones.   That is tapas.

Just as it is when you are starting a fire, it takes time.  Collecting the wood, stacking the logs, fanning the flames, it is a process. Yet once the embers are lit, they generate more and more heat. When a new log is set on the existing fire, it takes very little effort to ignite.  Tapas will grow over time and will be extended to other aspects of your life.   That is the good news, we have the ability to redirect our energy.  We can listen to all of our minds objections and then decide to do what’s good for us anyway.  That tapas, that fierce determination exists within us at all times, we just have to tap into it.

Dharma Mittra: Maha Sadhana. The Great Practice On DVD.

Maha sadhana 1

Maha sadhana 2

When you can’t get to the guru, the guru has to come to you.  We are fortunate that we  can practice at home with Dharma Mittra with Maha Sadhana  (The Great Practice) levels 1 and 2.  These DVD’s are comprehensive. They include many options for Asana practice in both length and difficulty.  There are wonderful lectures by Dharma, guided pranayama and meditation and a special asana workshop.  There is no one quite like Dharma, his humility and deep love for the practice of yoga shine through the screen.  I am not usually a fan of practicing yoga with a DVD but in this case, it is almost essential.   It is as good as it gets without being in his presence.

To preview or purchase the dvd go to:

Pranamaya

http://www.pranamaya.com/products/dvds/mittra-ms1.html

Or purchase from:

Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Dharma-Mittra-Maha-Sadhana-Level/dp/B001GXMU7Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1283702927&sr=1-1

Dharma Mittra and the Dharma Yoga Center.

headstand

There really aren’t words sufficient to describe Dharma Mittra.  He is more than a teacher, he is an example.  He is the real deal.  He is “yoga”.  In an era where yoga has become a business, Dharma quietly teaches and practices with the humility of the new kid on the block.  The only difference is that he has been teaching in New York since 1967.  One of the first classical yoga teachers in New York City, Dharma has been inspiring students for more than 40 years.  He can still be found Monday through Thursday at noon teaching his Master Class. There is nothing quite like being in the presence of Dharma, with the look of an eye or the touch of a finger he has the ability to bring you into a pose you never thought possible.  His kindness and love for all beings is what yoga is all about.   Expand your practice.  Expand your heart.  Expand your consciousness.  “Be receptive.”

To learn more about Dharma Mittra and The Dharma Yoga Center go to:  http://www.dharmayogacenter.com/welcome.php