Tutorial: 3-Part Breath

Dirga Pranayam, or three-part deep breathing, is the foundation of all the yogic breathing techniques. This breathing exercise mobilizing your life force energy (prana) to cleanse and balance.

The three-part breath is deep and full breathing and helps dispel anxiety and create a sense of calm (via vagal nerve). The purpose this three-part breath is unlearn patterns of taking in slow sips of breath (shallow breathing!) and mouth breathing, which can create tension in your body and anxiety in your mind. Three-part breath also brings smoothness to the breath & improves breath holding for singers, divers, etc.

dirga pranayama

dirga pranayama

A typical visual is to think of filling your lungs up like a glass of water from the bottom up. First you inhale expanding the belly, then let the air raise upwards expanding the ribs, and finally filling (puffing out) the chest. BUT, from an anatomical perspective, air never rises into the chest. Air only goes in and out from the lungs, moving from the bronchial tree. As you inhale, air enters from the top downward, branches left and right, then fans out from center to periphery. An exhale follows the exact opposite pattern.

the bronchial tree (academic.kellogg.edu)

So, anatomically, when we “inhale into our bellies“, the abdominal expansion is caused by the contracting/descending diaphragm which pushes forward on the abdomen and causes the forward displacement of the organs (really, the abdomen bulges forward).

The diaphragm is connected to the lower ribcage. When we “inhale into our ribs“, the contraction of the diaphragm creates the side-to-side expansion.

Finally, when we “inhale into the chest“, the contraction of the diaphragm creates a front-to-back expansion (and a slight upwards lift) in the sternum (where ribs meets chest).

…. So, thanks for letting me geek out a little with my anatomy…

Thing about lengthening out the inhales and exhales to counts of 6… and then try elongating the exhales to counts of 12 (with inhales still at 6).

As you practice dirgha pranayam, I encourage students to note sensations, emotions, and thoughts that come up … to help tap into the more subtle aspects of the practice.

So, what are you waiting for? Try deepening your breath first thing in the morning, or before bed and see how it feels! much love.

PS. Want more? Check out Breath through your Nose and A Pranayama a Day…

“A Pranayama a day…”

Prana is the breath of life of all beings in the universe.” B. K. S. Iyengar Light on Pranayama

Pranayama lies at the heart of yoga and is defined as the control of the breath, or life force.

According to the Bhagavad Gita,  prāṇāyām is made from 2 separate Sanskrit words,  prāṇ and āyām, and translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing”. Pranayama is the fourth ‘limb’ of Ashtanga Yoga (8 total limbs, including yoga Asana) and mentioned in the Yoga Sutras.

the basic mechanics of breathings (cartage.org.lb)

The combination of movement and breath in your yoga posture increases your awareness and the potential for healing and growth (Shobhan Richard Faulds, Kripalu). According to Swami Karunananda, a senior Integral Yoga teacher, “Asana is meditation on the body, pranayama is meditation on the breath and subtle energy currents within us, and then we work with the mind directly, with the ultimate aim of transcending body and mind and experiencing the higher Self.

Research has demonstrated the physiological benefits of pranayama to include stress relief (Brown & Gerbarg. Altern Compl Med 2005), improved autonomic function (Pal, Velkumary, Madanmohan. Ind J Med Res 2004), asthma (Vedanthan et al. Allergy Asth 1998), lowered systolic blood pressure and respiratory rate (Upadhyay Dhungel et al. Nepal Med Coll 2008).

Yogis report practicing pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, sound judgement, extended life and enhanced perception (Iyengar, Light on Pranayama).


As a teacher trained in the Kripalu tradition, I use yoga to develop sensitivity to the body to learn about what makes us tick (or our unconscious drives). Breathing is integral part of our unconscious because “we choose how much we’re going to feel by how much we breathe. When we breathe more deeply, we feel more”. So it’s a good opportunity to slow down and focus on what you are feeling. (Yoganand Michael Carrol)

“With encouraging scientific evidence and positive reports, the prescription for a “pranayama a day” might get just a little bit closer”

Hope you enjoyed this introduction… I want to present a few different pranayama techniques this week to help encourage curiosity into your breath! much love.

PS. Want more on the breath? Check out Breathe through your nose AND Breath of Joy! for depression in Parkinson’s



B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama

Get ready for the World Parkinson Congress

In September 2010, I got on a plane and went to Scotland for the 2nd World Parkinson Congress!

First, I saw a few castles…

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Then had a wee dram of whisky…

Glengoyne Distillery, Dumgoyne, Killearn  Glasgow

Glengoyne Distillery, Dumgoyne, Killearn Glasgow

And presented some electromyographic data on how the muscles of males and females with Parkinson’s were more active during functional tasks (i.e. grip strength, walking, balance), indicating their muscles have to work harder and they may be more prone to fatigue than age-matched persons without Parkinson’s.

Presenting my poster, WPC Glasgow

Presenting my poster, WPC Glasgow

… and I can’t wait to do it again in October 2013 at the 3rd World Parkinson Congress in MONTREAL, CANADA!

... from Victoria BC's inner harbour!

… from Victoria BC’s inner harbour!

... from West Bay Marina in Victoria!

… from West Bay Marina in Victoria!


I’m bringing my passion for Parkinson’s research and my yoga and will SEE YOU in Montreal!

Countdown is on … much love.

Research to real-life: The voice of Parkinson’s

Today I wanted to introduce an idea… that YOUR VOICE can help detect Parkinson’s. There are a few projects underway…
1. The Parkinson’s Voice Initiative was started by Max Little. He and his team developed a cheap and simple tool that uses precise voice analysis software to detect Parkinson’s with 99 percent accuracy. That means a simple phone call can help detect if there are subtle tremors in your voice, indicating Parkinson’s.
The idea behind Max’s study is to collect recordings from people in all different circumstances and test the ability to detect if they accurately have Parkinson’s or not…
Participants call in and tell the answering machine whether they can been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or not… then you proceed to open up and say “AHHHHH“. The vocal tremor is picked up with an algorithm.
2. Also, Shrivastav and MSU’s Department of Communicative Science and Disorders monitor patients speech patterns – specifically, movement patterns of the tongue and jaw – to track the progression of Parkinson’s. “In Parkinson’s disease, a common limitation is that the movements become slow and have a reduced range. We believe we see this pattern in speech too – the tongue doesn’t move as far as it should, doesn’t move as quickly as it should and produces subtle changes in speech patterns.” www.sciencecodex.com/new_method_helps_target_parkinsons_disease-102475 ; psychcentral.com/news/2012/11/24/can-parkinsons-be-diagnosed-in-2-seconds/48099.html
… Early detection of Parkinson’s with only a telephone? Even Michael J Fox thinks it’s a good idea! much love.

Gait, Balance and Falls – PDF expert briefing

On Tuesday I took part in Parkinson’s Disease Foundation expert briefing on Gait, Balance and Falls in Parkinson’s disease.

1. Gait (walking) problems in Parkinson’s:

  • Slow walking, difficult to keep up with people in the community
  • Short, shuffling steps (step length gets smaller)
  • Foot drags or catch (uneven surface i.e. sidewalk, rug)
  • Arms swing less (one side more than other)
  • Initiating walking
  • Difficulty changing directions
  • “hypokinesia” in parkinson’s – SMALL movements (handwriting, steps, armswing) … translates to small, shuffling steps in PD
  • freezing (i.e., difficulty initiating walking (getting going), and turning “feet glued to floor”)
  • weakness due to lack of message from brain to muscles (driving muscles, especially extensors) … contributes to small movements, slowness
  • rigidity causes reduced mobility in joints (stiffness) *spine, hips … limits your ability to stand up straight (read more about posture HERE)

What does this mean?

Well, greater trouble with walking means emerging disability (Shulman Movement Disorders 2010; 25(1) S131-135)

Thus, we want to ID walking problems as soon as possible to prevent onset of disability over time.

By improving walking ability in Parkinson’s we can :

  • slow progression of disability
  • keep people active, improve speed
  • increase size of movements (steps, armswing), turning ability

But, how do we do this?

  • Practicing walking can improve walking
  • Cueing replaces internal cueing mechanism (loss of automatic abilities due to dopamine decline) with external cues (metronome, music/beat/tempo, flashing light, vibration) to initiate gait  (Nieuwboer, 2007)

Examples of cueing training include:

  • Metronome/music improves coordination, timing, speed and efficiency
  • Pedometer to monitor steps (give you feedback on your progress and helps with goal setting)

2. Fall in Parkinson’s

  • 80% of falls in Parkinson’s occur at home during walking, standing and/or transferring (i.e., from sitting to standing)

What to do about falls?

  • Be active & stay active … reduce disability and optimize independence and quality of life!
  • Go to physical rehabilitation EARLY and throughout the disease  progression (it’s also never too late to start a walking/balance program!)
  • Seek of a Parkinson’s-specific physical therapist …  like Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR!) clinician training with Dr. Becky Farley PhD MS PT
  • Walk more! Do this by setting goals (use a pedometer to keep track) and use music/tempo
  • Start a balance & strengthening program *try chair pose (see HERE), which targets strength, balance and transfers!
  • Reduce your fall-risk by :widening base of support (especially when picking things up), stop multi-tasking, reduce the clutter in your home,  and keep journal to identify fall patterns

try CHAIR POSE for balance, strength and transfers! (www.satyaliveyoga.com.au)

If you are interested, the full presentation slides are available HERE: PDF Expert Briefing Slides. Go get moving and bring some balance into your life. much love.

PS. Want more expert briefings? Check out Coping skills for Parkinson’s care partners !

Favourite Things – Yoga Props

After all the sitting and visiting I did over the holidays, my hamstrings ache at the sight of a forward fold! … this is why I LOVE yoga props! With a little extra love & support, I can safely start stretching those pesky hamstrings back out!



1. Bolster … this is my go-to! It’s useful underneath your pelvis to tip it forward when seated on the floor (helps with tight hips/hamstrings!) and I especially love laying on my back length-wise along the bolster to open my chest (see image #1)!

2. Strap … there are like “arm-extenders”! I use this especially when lying on my back to stretching out my hamstrings; I just have to lasso my foot and it relieves any strain on my lower back (see image #3).

3. Block … the floor is instantly closer! It can also be used to support your knees in reclining cobblers pose (see image #1).

4. Meditation cushion … it has a bean-bag like fill and is oh-so-comfortable for seated meditation or just regular-floor sitting (we even sit on these instead of chairs and eat dinner at our coffee table!). Elevates my hips and helps me to settle in to a comfortable meditation practice.

Props are a great way for beginners to safely get into a pose, or for those more experienced yogis to deepen their practice.

Happy Yoga-ing! much love.

p.s. all props shown here are from Halfmoon, a Canadian company passionate about yoga that I personally support.

3 things to know about frailty and parkinson’s: III. Disease management

Parkinson’s disease can exaggerate the frailty constitution.

This past week, I’ve presented some of my PhD research specifically focusing on frailty and Parkinson’s disease… I’ve talked about the importance of quality of life and physical activity, especially in females. Now I want to talk about Parkinson’s disease management.


(Link to full article here: Roland, Cornett, Theou, Jakobi & Jones. J Frailty Aging 2012; 1(3):123-127)

As we know, there currently is no cure for Parkinson’s (… but fingers crossed!); therefore the disease is managed by a multidisciplinary healthcare team through a combination of medications and therapies (including, physical, speech language, occupational, etc.). The findings of this paper demonstrated that the daily dosage of dopaminergic medication best indicated your level of frailtymore levodopa = more frail.


Now, what this REALLY means is: Parkinson’s is progressive, so as the disease progresses medication dosage is adjusted to manage the increasing symptom severity. For example, as the disease progresses FATIGUE becomes a major concern and can be most disabling.

We know: Dopamine deficiency –> Fatigue. So, in Parkinson’s: Dopamine decline –> Fatigue –> (*Frail* –>) Increase levodopa dose.


Understanding how frailty relates to Parkinson’s can improve early identification and targeted management strategies… which can ultimately preserve functional independence!

Thanks for letting me share some of my work! much love.

3 things to know about frailty and Parkinson’s: II. Physical activity

Following up my previous post on quality of life and mobility related to frailty and Parkinson’s disease, I want to talk about physical activity. This article tells us that females with Parkinson’s are 10x more likely to be frail than males, so it’s important to focus (for a moment!) on females.

And since we know physical activity declines with Parkinson’s, so it could be assumed that physical activity levels would also indicate frailty… but you know what happens when you assume…

instead, what I found is that females with Parkinson’s are active! They are listening to exercise recommendations and are moving! YAY!


So it’s not a lack of activity that is making females with Parkinson’s frail…

managing the other disease symptoms is what contributes to frailty (i.e. how fatigued someone is after the day, how difficult it is to stay on task, how mobile someone is during chores), not the ability to complete exercise and be active!


Find article here: Roland, Cornett, Theou, Jakobi & Jones (2012). J Aging Res. 2012; 2012: 468156.

So, the moral of the story? first of all, don’t underestimate people with Parkinson’s… they are moving! And secondly, pay attention to the other symptoms, like how exhausted someone is at the end of the day as an indication of frailty. much love.

3 things to know about frailty and Parkinson’s: I. Quality of Life

This week I’m going to share some information from my PhD work on frailty and Parkinson’s disease.

Frailty is considered highly prevalent in older adults and increases vulnerability to adverse outcomes (falls, disability, hospitalization, and mortality). Popular scientific definitions operationalized frailty as a phenotype or an accumulation of deficits. However, the concurrence of frailty and Parkinson’s is interesting because they overlap… begging the question: does PD make someone frail? does frailty worsen PD symptoms?

presenting my research at the Movement Disorders Society Conference (Toronto, June 2011)

presenting my research at the Movement Disorders Society Conference (Toronto, June 2011)

Find article here: Roland, Jakobi & Powell (2012). J Amer Geriatr Soc; 60(3), 590-592.


When looking at quality of life (QoL) indicators, we see that QoL score predicts frailty in persons with PD, especially mobility-related QoL and in females. What does this mean? … how well you move around in your day-to-day life (mobility) is the biggest indicator of frailty risk in persons with PD and that females with PD are more likely to be frail than males.



So, keeping active and mobile will lessen your risk for frailty, and keep you happier as you age with Parkinson’s ! much love.

what i’ve been up to…


After successfully defending my PhD (read about it HERE!) and submitting my final version (check out the full version HERE!) I started my new adventures in post-doc (my humble beginnings HERE)!

Now, life after the PhD has been different. Beyong the constraints of the dissertation, you realize there is a world of opportunity waiting for you… then you snap back to it and realize that there are only 24-hours in a day (just like everyone else!), so you need to be realistic.

So, I took 2 steps back, and prioritized… here’s what I’m up to…

  • writing my LAST paper from my PhD data (there’s always more!) and publishing my last chapters.
  • running workshops on caregiving and anxiety/energy for the Parkinson Society BC and Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson Centre – … stay informed HERE !
  • creating a synthesis on caregiver’s needs throughout different dementia progressions, for example how can we support AD caregivers in the early stages? how does this differ from the needs of a caregiver for someone with fronto-temporal dementia? How do caregiver needs change as the disease progresses? … and especially, How can we support caregivers of someone with PD + dementia (motor + cognitive impairments)?
  • helping to meet the online support needs of persons living with PD in Victoria
  • developing and teaching a course on “Healthy Ageing” in the School of Health and Social Policy (B.A. Health & Community Services)!
  • and, bringing YOGA to the Parkinson community in Victoria… stay tuned for details!

Wishing you all a wonderful start to the new year… Happy 2013! Exciting possibilities await! much love.