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epidemic inhale


photo credit

In classes I’ve attended recently I’ve noticed an alarming breathing trend: a rapid, loud, high-in-the-chest inhale followed by the only thing it could be: a dear-God-I-just-popped-a-blood-vessel exhale of relief.

Friends, I don’t think such drama is what the sages had in mind when they touted the benefits of yogic breathing.

My guess is this over-efforted breath comes from a combination of several things:

The instruction to take a “giiiiant inhalation”
Our desire to do well
Our belief that more is better
The brief jolt of adrenaline we get as the fight-or-flight response kicks in

breathe with me

Try this — inhale deeply through your nose as though you are sucking nose spray up into your sinuses. Then exhale. And repeat 10 times. (But not really if you get lightheaded.)

Imagine doing that for a whole class.

Yikes.

prana and pranayama

The breath is equal parts delicate and powerful. In his book The Yoga of Breath, Richard Rosen offers:

Prana literally means “to breathe forth.” It comes from the prefix pra, “to bring forth,” and the verb an, “to breath” or simply “to live.” The entry for prana in my Sanskrit-English dictionary reads, “breath of life, breath, respiration, vitality, vigor, energy, power, and spirit.”

That’s serious business, let alone the emotional effects of breath.

This is a large part of why I don’t teach much pranayama (in the way of manipulating the breath), especially with beginners.

Pranayama in my classes consists of yawning and sighing, the body’s natural response when releasing and relaxing. We also focus on un-learning and un-layering patterns of breathing rather than adding effort on top of those patterns.

I know of teachers who can instruct specific breath techniques with finesse and subtlety. I know of students who can receive such instruction and not dramatize or overdo. The combination of the two is more uncommon.

pranayama-lite

If you (or your students) feel anxious, fidgety or stressed, spend a minute or so emphasizing a long, slow, steady exhale followed by a spontaneous and relaxed inhale. This will help trigger the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or the relaxation response, of the body.

      But that’s so boring.

Consider this: how often do you feel stressed?

Rushed?

Overwhelmed?

Exhausted?

Even though the opposite technique is true to balance lethargic or depressed energy — long, steady inhales followed by natural exhales (the difference is to do only a few of these breaths, versus a couple of minutes of the exhale emphasis — this will have an energizing effect without stressing the nervous system), many of us are simply overextended and what we really need is… sleep.

Using a dear-God-I-just-popped-a-blood-vessel (or even a more sophisticated energizing inhalation) is similar to reaching for a Coke or Snickers Bar… it’s a rush. An adrenaline cocktail. And sometimes we do it (the inhale or the Snickers) and because the body is brilliant it accommodates us and life goes on.

And other times that rush camouflages the fact that we are under-nourished and lacking vital sleep, or we’re entering a cycle or season that calls for more rest and down time.

coming soon to a mat near you

Have you seen signs of the epidemic inhale? I hope not.

But if so, exhale for that well-meaning, tender soul.

And for all of us, just wanting to do well, to do it right — take a smooth inhalation . . .

    and long

             deep

                  sigh.

Ahhh… how do you feel now?

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the house of belonging

This past winter I was at my dad’s place picking up tack (horse riding goods). He was tossing around halters and ropes and headstalls when he threw an old pair of spurs aside. I asked him where they were from and he said they were his dad’s.

My grandfather died when I was two. I know very little about him.

I picked up one of the spurs as my dad continued to rifle through boxes. Underneath layers of dirt and grime, it was beautiful. The metal was etched with a floral design and the leather had carved flowers, my grandfather’s initials, ranch brand and the town where he lived.

My dad picked up the other spur and threw it in the old oil bin he was using as a storage container and motioned for me to do the same.

As I walked away with my horse riding loot, I felt sad that such a beautiful piece of history was decaying in an old oil bin.

Later that night I snuck back out into the shop and stole the spurs.

After some TLC (and secret communication with my stepmom), the newly polished spurs, along with a photo of my grandfather and a badge from the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Posse he was in during the early 40s are displayed in a shadow box, which I gave to my dad for his birthday this past weekend.

Kitty sent a little extra love on the corner.

 

One thing I related to early on as a small business owner is people really want to belong. We want to belong to a cause, to a group, to ourselves.

That feeling of recognition, of being known, of acceptance and belonging starts in our families.

In this internet age of things we can’t touch, distance between each other and emoticons in place of face to face expression, this feeling of belonging has been redefined by time and geography (in many positive ways) but lacks pulse and texture.

I long for a sense of history, to know the stories the weave the roots of my ancestry together. The feeling of belonging.

To this end, I plan to do a family history, a modern “family tree” of sorts, for my dad for his next birthday. If you have ideas or tips on resources, let me know!

p.s. Even though my dad’s favorite birthday gift was probably the huge bag of taffy, I think he was really moved by the shadow box. :)

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In honor of belonging… one of my favorite poems from David Whyte. Take another moment of pause and read the poem slowly, as if enjoying your favorite beverage.

THE HOUSE OF BELONGING

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
day
like any other.

But
the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
and
I thought

it must have been the quiet
candlelight
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

And
I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

by accepting our brokenness, we are made whole

 

The Unbroken
Rashani Rea

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

ride

This weekend I went on my husband’s version of a horse ride.

We went down the Sacramento Delta — river-lined agricultural land south of the city. Feels like another world far away from traffic and stop lights.

We stopped at a roadside fruit stand, went to a biker bar and swung over to see Cowboy and his buddies.

 

 

Even though motorcycles aren’t my thing, I’m starting to understand why my hubby likes to ride.

 

 

 

Actually, what he enjoys about his time on the motorcycle is similar to what I enjoy about being with Cowboy: he must be present and mindful, at the same time he can slip into another realm of awareness, and it gets him out of the house and into the gorgeous world.

 

 

The last few times I’ve gone with him, I’ve found myself in an almost hypnotic state. I think it’s the fear factor and knowledge that 1) I’m not in control; and 2) I could die any second. Of course, those two things are always true, I’m just much more aware of that reality on the back of a motorcycle.

In this semi-hypnotic, hyper-aware place, I begin to wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life.

It could be over so quickly… Have I told the people in my life how much I love them? Have I given myself as fully as I can to causes and moments and making a difference? Why am I waiting for someday to do the things that matter — my dreams and life list items — and to let go of the piddly things?

I can almost imagine the moment one’s life might “flash before their eyes.” It reminds me that it’s good to do things that scare me. It’s good to check in with my priorities. It’s good to love, forgive… and go for a ride with my husband.

Now if I could just get him to take a ride with me and this sweet, beautiful beast.

 

be magpie’s guest

It’s easy to let people have ideas about who I am. As a yoga teacher, the assumptions about me are usually that I’m nice, kind, warm and generous. And, I am!

Of course, I can also be mean, petty, jealous and selfish. If you hang around Blogasana, you’ve read about the sassy tangos between these two sides.

Stepping more fully into this duality and exposing my darker side has been scary. And strangely freeing.

My guest post at Magpie Girl is no exception. When Rachelle asked me to write for her Relig-ish series about living a spiritual hybrid, the only answer that came was about my marriage.

This was the hardest and most honest post I’ve written and I thank Rachelle for the opportunity. Reflecting on my past, my beliefs and the path that has led me to this Right Now has been a lovely gesture of self-acceptance, integration and wholeness.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the Magpie post.

Happy weekend!

hanging out with the shoulder, part ii

The other day I checked in with the group in the shoulder series and asked how their shoulders were feeling. One student answered, They feel powerful!

What a great way to feel. Powerful.

Let’s consider the other options. Do these with me:

  • Completely slump — let the shoulders round forward and hang the head. How does this feel? To me it feels sad. Like I can’t take it anymore. There’s no hope. And after a minute or so I get really really tired.
  • Now pull your shoulders back and pop your chest out (just don’t let my anatomy friend see you). How does this feel? This one is tricky for me. It camouflages itself as powerful pretty well, but if I really tune in and listen, I can feel how it’s a false sense of power. It’s more like force or bullying, with undertones of desperation and insecurity.

These are two extremes, and perhaps I’m dramatizing the feelings behind them, but we communicate with our bodies. We send messages about who we are in the world by the way we carry ourselves. So now…

  • Find the center point between those two. Imagine you’re rising equally from your front and back torso, growing tall from the inside right out the top of your head. Let your shoulders widen, as though you’re effortlessly pressing your outer arms into an imaginary hug. Let your eyes find a point straight forward from eye level. I feel present, like I’m greeting the world from an embodied and alive place.

Do you feel the difference?

How do your shoulders feel right now?

Is your load too heavy? Are your shoulders tired? You may need to delegate and take a nap; you could also try changing your posture and see if it changes your feeling. ‘Cause it works both ways.

Isn’t this body amazing?!

++++

Did you download your free class on the hips? Let me know what you think!

 

hanging out with the shoulder, part i

The four-week shoulder series at the studio is so much fun (and I feel just terrible for those of you who can’t be there), I thought I’d post highlights throughout the next three weeks on what we’re covering.

______________________________________________________________________

Last week, in preparation for the series, I called an anatomy-geek friend to ask her what thing she would most definitely cover if she was teaching this series.

Without hesitation, her impassioned response was:

I would tell people to stop pinching their shoulder blades together and sticking their front ribs out!

Ah yes, the overcompensation for the equally misaligned opposite, The Slouch.

Friends, we are going to talk about shoulder blade stabilization.

______________________________________________________________________

Why is this important?

Any misalignment in the shoulder girdle (your two collarbones and two scapulae) affects and is affected by the posture of the pelvis, spine and head. The entire system called shoulder is a tricky riddle. Like in Jenga, you can’t move one thing without changing the whole system.

++

Where are the shoulder blades supposed to be?

Flat on the back.

Not sloping out to the sides.
Not squeezing together.
Not winging at the inside edges.

++

Why does this matter in yoga asana?

Take, for example, the position of my shoulder blades in Warrior II (the Squeeze and the Spread):

Now, it might not cause any great damage for you to do Warrior II with squeezed or misaligned shoulder blades, but consider that these are the same arms you’ll want for Vasisthasana, Side Plank (a super scapular stabilization strengthener (SSSS)). And you don’t want to bear weight on a misaligned joint. At best, you’d be reinforcing a less than ideal pattern; at worst, you’d compromise the joint and be more susceptible to injury.

++

Here are two SSSSs to consider adding to your practice.

All 4s/plank on knees or feet
Yes, likely you do this often in your yoga practice, but are you getting the full benefit from the pose? Are you pressing the hands down through the floor, rebounding back up to fill out the space between the shoulder blades? If the answer is No (i.e. your back sinks between the shoulder blades), then you are not using your serratus muscle, a very important scapular stabilizer.

Scapular push ups
From the same position (all 4s or plank for more challenge), bring the thumb tips and index fingertips together making a diamond shape (hands turned in slightly) underneath your face (rather than under your shoulders). Keep the elbows straight and let the chest sink all the way down between the arms until the shoulder blades touch. Then ground into the hands and lift the chest back up between the blades. You might even exaggerate the lift so that you feel slightly rounded at the upper back. Repeat 10+ times.

In both poses, keep the head “on” — not looking forward, not letting the head hang. Grow your neck from the core of your body forward and out the crown. Maintain a low belly tone, as though you are lifting the spot halfway between your navel and your pubic bone away from the floor.

++

Whew! I’m feeling that. Are you? It seems easy enough, but can be deceptively potent.

I think that’s the thing with the shoulders. They can be deceptive.

++

By the by, you can purchase the audio version of all four classes (be the detective of this deceptive area!).

If you purchased (and liked) the hips series, you’ll definitely like the shoulders. Very practical, great for teachers, and between the two you would have quite a toolkit for a balanced, informed body.

Wow, come to think of it, we also offer a video class on the shoulders through It’s All Yoga.

++

Enjoy!


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