yoga breathing 101

“…something that is really very poorly recognized in the medical or the yoga literature: that moving your joints is one of the strongest stimuli to breathing properly and deeply. There are little movement receptors inside all of our joints, and they send signals that go directly and indirectly to the apneustic center, one of the centers in the brain that regulate breathing.” (Dr. Fishman)

pranayama-breath

Proprioceptors, nerve receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints, affect breathing. Proprioceptors tell the brain where your body is in space (movement of joints, tendons, muscles), speed and direction and  stimulate part of the brainstem that regulates breath, “apneustic center“.

The “apneustic center“, located in the pons (brainstem), stimulates our “in breath.” Physical movement stimulates an increased depth of breathing, “hyperpnea”.

This connection between bodily movement and improved depth of breathing is important for people who have been previously inactive and notice that their breathing does not respond well to physical stresses (i.e. work load on their body). Systematic movements of joints and limbs in beginner yoga classes, stimulate greater freedom and depth of breath… illustrating body-to-brain connection of the proprioceptors and the brainstem.

Just one more reason to keep moving your body! much love.

Other resources:

Tutorial 3-pt breath

Tutorial alternate nostril breathing

Nina Zolotov (Jan 14/14) Yoga for Healthy Aging

Loren Fishmen Can Yoga Preserve Freedom of Movement?

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Tutorial: meditation 101

Being in the present moment is a meditation practice.

There is a challenge in sitting still in meditation and watching the activity of the brain/mind. Anytime you sit with the intention and willingness to be mindful, transformation will happen. At first, you want to bring stability to the mind, perhaps by focusing on one thing, such as the breath (note: you can count your breaths in groups of 10; restart once you reach 10 or lose count). Eventually expand your focus/awareness to encompass bodily sensations and thoughts. Typically the first insight meditators have is, ‘Holy crap! I think all the time!’ By practicing meditation, you start to observe the way your thoughts move and change, and you can develop a more subtle awareness of your experience.*

kaitlyn-roland-yoga-meditation

Health benefits of meditation primarily focus on increasing the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and allows us to  “rest and digest.” … and this leads to boosting the immune system, improving digestion, improving sleep, and increasing cognitive function. This helps your relax more throughout the day. Meditation decreases the likelihood of reacting negatively to stress… for example, you might stop overeating/drinking.

More Reasons to meditate:

  1. Dull the Pain! Meditation training cuts pain perception in half (J Neurosci 2011) and makes pain less unpleasant because brains are busy focusing on the present moment, and anticipating the pain less, blunting its emotional impact (J Pain, 2010).
  2. Improve your sex life! Meditation helps bring thoughts into the present moment, and can enhance a woman’s sexual experience (less self-judgemental chatter!) (J Psychosomatic Medicine, 2011)
  3. Problem-solving! Meditations helps apply switching strategies for problem-solving and getting out of habitual patterns… it breaks the cycle and enables you to look at things with a fresh perspective (PLoS One, 2012).
  4. Boosts mental toughness! Regular meditation improves mood and working memory, which allows for short-term retrieval and storage of information. Meditation helps individuals stay alert and in the moment without becoming emotional (J Emotion, 2010).
  5. Emotional regulation! Meditation improves feelings of empathy and benevolance (PLoS One, 2008).
  6. Improve your attention span! Meditation practitioners are better able to make fine visual distinctions and sustain visual attention during a demanding tasks (Psychological Science, 2010).
  7. Get a bigger brain! Long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (i.e., folds) of the brain’s cortex than people who don’t meditate. The extra folds may allow faster processing of information (Neuroimage, 2011; Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012).

How do you find ways to bring meditative moments into your day? Share some of your meditation experiences in the comments below. much love.

*Adapted info from: Kripalu Thrive Blog

Tutorial: Nah-dee-show-DAH-nah

Nadi (=”channel”) Shodhana (= “cleaning” “purifying”) Pranayama is an alternate-nostril breathing exercise.

mudra-pranayama

The right hand is placed in Mrigi Mudra (a Sanskrit word meaning “to seal, close, or lock up” or “gesture”) by pressing your hand into a fist with your index and middle fingers firmly into the base of your thumb. Stretch out the ring and pinky fingers. Keep your pinky relatively straight, but curl your ring finger slightly; the idea is to “blend” the two fingertips into one.

nadi-shodhana-pranayama-breath

  1. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb
  2. Inhale through your left nostril
  3. Close left nostril with your ring-little fingers
  4. Open right nostril and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
  5. Inhale right nostril
  6. Repeat step 1. This is one cycle.
  7. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then release the hand mudra and go back to normal breathing.

Benefits include lowered heart rate, reduction in stress and anxiety. This breath is also said to synchronize the two hemispheres of the brain (oh so beneficial for Parkinson’s disease!) and encourage prana (life force energy) flow.

This breathing exercise is great for quieting your mind before beginning a meditation session, and it is also a soothing practice for calming racing thoughts and anxiety if you are having trouble falling asleep.

 

Try it to feel more balanced and calm. much love.

PS. Want more yoga tips for a better sleep? Check out Yoga for Sleep I and Yoga for Sleep II

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…

feel JOY

Tomorrow I start my next Parkinson’s yoga series, and I can’t wait to get back to Moksha Yoga Kelowna with the returning students and new faces that have signed up. I’m feeling the love!

And what better way to celebrate than with breath of joy!

This deep breathing exercise (pranayama) brings energy (and joy!) to your practice, as well as works on coordination, allowing the breath and movement to work together in one fluid motion. Amy Weintraub author of Yoga for Depression says: “(this) breathing exercise can sweep away cobwebs of lethargy and bring more energy into your life.”

Benefits

  • first inhalation (arms forward) encourages diaphragmatic breathing
  • second inhalation (arms to the side) encourages thoracic breathing
  • third inhalation (arms up) encourages clavicular breathing
  • allows deep and complete exhalation at the end
  • energizes the entire body
  • strengthens arms and shoulders
  • will make you smile 🙂

Contraindications

  • Because the head is below the heart at some points, you may feel lightheaded. Take your time and relax in between
  • If you have low blood pressure, practice slowly and go less deeply into the bend on the final exhalation
  • Avoid if you suffer from untreated high blood pressure, migraines, or glaucoma
  • Flex the knees to protect the low back

How

I’m going to leave this up to Amy, who demonstrates it so “joyfully”!

enJOY, much love.