* Breathe Well and Live Well

Breathe well and you will find your Middle Ground.

I love to breathe! Its what attracted me to yoga and keeps me passionate about how yoga and mindfulness can transform us.

Without breathing fully, our yoga practice becomes simply a workout. Rather than calming the mind and soothing the body it can have the opposite affect. Yoga is the practice of connecting movement to our breath and moving the prana, or life energy through the body. In this practice we release tension and blocks from our body – and our mind – and come to a natural state of balance and peace.

The content here is to help bring awareness to how you breathe. Its the foundation for mindful breathing to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety and to live a full and healthy life.

breath awarenessIt begins with becoming aware of your breath:

STEP ONE – OBSERVING

Take a few moments to prepare yourself. Sit comfortably. Relax.

Begin by simply observing your breath. Get your own natural baseline.

Place one hand on your belly and the other above your heart.

Notice the rise and fall as you breathe in and out.

Let the wave of breath flow down to below your navel.

Feel that long slow wave of breath.

Now placing both hands just below the navel. Breathe as if your breath can reach your palms.

Notice how this fills the whole body with breath.

Let your belly expand as your lungs fill with air.

Soften your body so it can open to receive the air

Let the sensation of the breath move like waves. Find your own natural rhythm and pace.

Bring attention to your belly. Imagine as you inhale, your belly is like a balloon. With each inhale it fills up with air. Use your diaphragm to expand the belly outwards creating space for the air coming in.

On the exhale allow your belly to come back towards the spine.

This is yoga breathing.

Notice – without any judgment – if this is easy for you or somewhat difficult. Breathing fully using the diaphragm takes practice.

 

STEP TWO – EQUAL LENGTH

Lightly bring equal length to your inhales and exhales. Silently count in your mind to ensure they are equal length.

Imagine waves coming to the shore ebbing and flowing.

Moving on to the next step in a natural smooth way

 

STEP THREE – SLOW IT DOWN

See if you can slow down and expand the length of both inhales and exhales. Making the waves longer let them flow more slowly.

Find the length that is expansive and opening. If you sense any struggle you have gone too far.

Don’t try, just step into this new space, accepting that what is good enough for your body is good enough for you.

In your mind count a number that feels long and strong for each exhale and inhale.

Let yourself be in the space at the end of the exhale without grasping on the intake.

man deep relaxed breathing

STEP FOUR – EXPAND THE EXHALE

When you are ready you might want to expand your exhale making it longer than your inhale. See if you can make it twice as long.

As you release the tension in your body, allow the tension of your mind to also release with each long exhale.

Let the waves of breath flow through you.

Let the prana and life force flow through your entire body.

Come back to your natural breath and notice how you feel after this experience of mindful expansive breathing.

 

You can always come back to your breath to bring you to this place of centeredness and peace… Find your Middle Ground through your own breath.

 

 

* Stressed? Quick Tips to Nourish and Restore

stressed

When you notice your body and brain are no longer cooperating and you are looking blankly at a blank screen … What do you do?

When you notice that your mind is full of thoughts that jump from re-visiting the past and becoming anxious about the future … What do you do?

When you find yourself getting triggered easily and lashing out at others … what do you do?

Most of us have coping strategies that have become habits over time. These become our “go to” behaviors to deal with stress.

I know a number of people who will keep going, and push through. Telling themselves this is what is needed and there is no choice. Until they start to become ill and chronically fatigued from stress.

The following tips are inspired by the restorative yoga classes I teach, and my own ways to unwind and de-stress. They work, whether you need a time out at work, or a break from conflicting emotions, or are just plain exhausted.

When we are drained and depleted we disconnect from our inner sense of being.  We are so much in our heads we have lost connection with our body and spirit. The key to bring this connection back is to use our breath to come back to our body and ourselves. 

Mini Mindful Moments like these are quick and simple. Pharmaceutical companies and purveyors of alcohol might deliver a different message at this point, but these tips are inspired by yoga. They are free and don’t take much time!

restore at workTry any one of the following strategies and see which work best for you. Make them a regular practice whenever you find yourself feeling stressed and tense.

1. Let out a big sigh! As soon as you notice you are stressed and tense, there is something ready to be released. Very often I don’t realize how tense I am until I sigh. Its has an immediate affect. Take a big breath in through the nose and let it out with a sigh. Take as many as feels good to you,  and let the weight fall off those shoulders.

2. Take several deep breaths, allowing yourself to feel fresh energy entering your body and stale energy being released. “I renew with each inhale. I release with each inhale.”  If you can, try adding some movement with your breath by moving your arms out and up on the inhale and then down on the exhale.

3. Close your eyes and focus on your body. Scan parts of your body in your mind. Notice where there is contraction and some tension. As you notice it, imagine sending your breath there and let the area soften. Breathe into each tense area and be mindful of the relaxation taking place.

4. Stretch. Standing tall reach for the sky and come on to your toes. Breath fully all the way into your belly. Release your heels back down on an exhale and repeat as often as it feels good.

5. Place both hands just above your heart. This stimulates a mammalian parent response, and brings comfort. Soften the tops of your shoulders and let your belly become soft. Breathe into the warmth around your heart. Feel the soothing nature of this compassionate touch.

6. Put your feet up – literally. Try moving to a wall and then raising your legs and resting them on the wall.  Make yourself comfortable with a pillow under your neck. You can also lie on the floor and bring your legs over a chair and rest there.

7. Smell a favorite smell. It can be useful to carry an essential oil or scent with you. Experiment with a citrus scent, lavender, or mint to see what feels most refreshing.

8. Dim the lights and light a candle. Gives your eyes a rest from the screen or wherever you’ve been focusing. Let the soft light and flicker soothe you.

9. Lie down in a gentle back bend, with a pillow under your back and a blanket or pillow supporting your head. Allow your shoulders to relax. Feel your ribs and the space around your heart gently opening as you inhale and relax as you exhale. Rest here for several breaths.

10. Feel the ground. Take your shoes off. Notice the four corners of each foot and then wiggle your toes for a moment. Notice how your feet are making contact with the ground and imagine sending down roots through the soles of your feet and deep into the earth. As you inhale, imagine drawing up strength and nourishment through these roots and into your whole body.

I hope you enjoy these mindful moments to nourish and replenish.

* Breathe from your Middle Ground

I am recovering from a lingering cold which has zapped the energy for several days. Today I’m finally breathing better and feeling more like my self again. It makes me appreciate my ability to breathe even more!

I’ve written before about how our breath is connected with our wellbeing and emotional state. Noticing how we are breathing is a tool that we can use to monitor how we are doing.

There is an other pause that comes with our breath which is also revealing. The pause at the end of the exhale before we take in more air. When we are distracted, stressed or in an anxious state, there is no pause. We don’t trust we have enough air  and we don’t allow ourself to relax and let go.

Just take a moment to tune into how you are breathing right now. Just notice without judgment.

Breathe and relax

Pausing at the end of an exhale can only happen when we are relaxed and in tune with our mind and body. When our body and mind are aligned in the present moment.

This is what I do to check in with myself. Its a great yardstick on my level of relaxation to life in that moment.

Are you rushing in the air and holding on before letting go? Gasping in!

Are you afraid to let go on the exhale? Holding on!

Or are you aware of a special silent space. This is when you realize that there is no rush… Where you can rest in this pause that takes you past the fear of not enough to the realization that there is more than enough. This is often a place of struggle … which can be transformed to a place of peace and inner expansion.

Its impossible to try to do it. It requires being relaxed and open to let it happen.

To become relaxed, take several full diaphragmatic breaths. Breath in through your nose and let yourself release with a sigh on the exhale.

Keep breathing deeply.

Allow your shoulders to relax. Allow your belly to soften.

Release effort and allow your body to absorb the energy and nourishment.

Notice any tension and imagine sending your breath there to let it release and flow.

Imagine you are softening your whole body and mind … almost like melting.

Now see if you can allow yourself to pause and rest at the end of the exhale… without any effort whatsoever.

Just for a moment, be with this stillness and spaciousness. Trust that it is always within you.

Namaste

 

Breathe Well and Be Well

There is something so well known in the yoga world that we often take it for granted. To the world outside of yoga, it can be a revelation.

deep breathingThe ancient yogis knew the power of our breath and the energy behind it for calming us, energizing us, opening up spaciousness in us and healing ourselves physically and emotionally. They also believed that if we slowed down our breath we would live longer….

There is now research being done in Europe as to the power of our breath for healing and reducing anxiety and depression. The hope is to prove that breathing therapy is a cheaper and healthier alternative to drugs. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? For us yes! For the Pharmaceutical companies, not so good!

pranayama breathingYoga breathing is called Pranayama.

Prana means life force. We bring Prana into our body through our breathing, as well as our senses. Ayama means expansion, while yama means control.
So Pranayama is the expansion of the life force in our body through regulating our breath.

As we deepen and harmonize our breathing we also slow it down, which in turn calms down the autonomic nervous system and our stress response.

There are different Pranayama practices that can bring about altered physical, mental, and emotional states. Some of them are quite energetic and transformational and take years of practice. Caution is advised when trying to do the advanced practices.

I think because of this risk, many of the calming and soothing practices, which are completely safe, may have been overlooked.

breathe

I’m happy to share some simple breathing awareness exercises on the main pages. Please click here to begin your exploration of your breath.

My hope is that it will begin to transform how you breath, and how you feel.

It starts with tuning into your own breath. Getting a base line of how you breathe, and then gradually deepening it and slowing it down.

Aahh…. now that feels so good…. and does a body good!