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Foundation Friday || Ujjayi Breath

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Our Foundation Friday series delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice.  

Find the balance of fierce grace with this essential yogic breath.

 


Foundation Friday || Ujjayi Breath


Ujjayi Breath Pranayama

"Ud" = moving upward, "Jaya" = conquest, victory fire breath, victorious breath, ocean breath

 

“Remember the connection between breath and movement: every movement comes out of breath. Rather than moving with and following the breath, the breath should initiate the movement. Practicing this way, we will be moved by the breath like the autumn wind picking up leaves.”

- Gregor Maehle

 

Ujjayi breath is a pranayama technique that allows you to focus and calm the mind.  Often coupled with asana, this breath will guide you deeper into poses, steady your intention and allow you to experience your yoga more fully.  In your practice, breath is regarded as the teacher; how you move and where you go is paralleled with the rhythm of your breath.  Ujjayi breath is strong, fierce, warming - your pranayamic partner to bring you out of fear, anxiety, or judgement.  Just as the intensity of your practice fluctuates, so does your breath.  You may choose to use this fiery breath throughout your practice, or switch it up with a more gentle nostril breath like sama vritti to adjust the tone of the moment.

* note that Ujjayi pranayama involves breath retention and Ujjayi breath is the steady rhythm, sans retention

 

Benefits of Ujjayi Breath

 

  • increases focus
  • calms the mind
  • builds concentration
  • creates internal heat
  • increases oxygenation
  • tones the lungs
  • facilitates the flow of prana
  • builds energy throughout practice
  • clears toxins
  • creates awareness, especially within transitions of asanas
How do you get there?

 

Ujjayi breath is done through the nose, travelling down deep into the belly and filling up the rib cage.  A hissing or "wave-like" sound is created upon exhale through the constriction of the back of the throat.  Breath is slowed by the diaphragm and by this constriction, resulting in an audible exhale.  The length of inhale and exhale is even and smooth, and intensity of this breath may increase in conjunction with the intensity of asana.  You may liken Ujjayi breathing to fogging up a mirror with your breath with the mouth closed.  Again, intensity can fluctuate but the principle of restricting the back of the throat is key.

 

 

 

 

Foundation Friday: Uttanasana

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Our Foundation Friday series delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice.  Today we are highlighting Uttanasana, or standing forward fold.  


Foundation Friday: Uttanasana


Uttanasana || Standing Forward Fold OOH-tah-NAH-sah-nah

Ud (उद्; ud) = prefix for verbs or nouns, indicating superiority in location, rank, power, intensity Tana (तान; tāna) = "stretched" Uttana (उत्तान; uttāna) = "intense stretch" or "straight" or "stretched" Asana (आसन; āsana) meaning "posture" or "seat"

 

Uttanasana is an active time-out; your legs release, your feet root and ground you, your head is below your heart, and your spine releases. Taking time here allows your other postures to integrate and connects you to the present moment.  With a variety of ways to execute uttanasana, you can tailor your experience in this asana to suit your intention.  You may choose to dangle and sway, releasing tension from your entire back body, or you may choose a variation including a grip on the toes or hands under the feet with a more active core, spine and legs. Regardless, uttanasana allows you to hang your heart close to your body, a shape that offers inner reflection and the opportunity to create self-love.  As our postures are medicine, this one bows you into your Self, creating a reverent pause to fall deeper in love.

 

Benefits of Uttanasana

 

  • stretches your hips, hamstrings and calves
  • strengthens your knees and thighs
  • keeps your spine strong and flexible
  • calms your mind, soothes your nerves
  • reduces stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression
  • releases neck, spine and back tension
  • activates your core
  • stimulates your kidneys, liver and spleen
  • addresses symptoms of menopause, asthma, headaches and insomnia
  • improves digestion
  • can lower high blood pressure
How do I get there?

 

1. Start in Tadasana (mountain pose), creating a clear connection with the earth through your feet (pada bandha)
2. With your hands on your hips, exhale and fold forward, drawing your navel to your spine slightly to create more space from which to bend.
3. Continue to root down through the 4 corners of your feet and draw energy up the inner seam of your legs into your pelvic floor and core.  Allow a slight bend in your knee if needed to release any hyper-extension.  Lift your sit bones to stretch your hamstrings and take your inner thighs up and back to release your sacrum.
4.  Release any tension from your neck and allow the weight of your crown to draw you deeper into the stretch.
5.  You may choose to grab for opposite elbows, wrap a mudra around your big toes, walk your palms under your feet or place your hands to the sides or backs of your legs.  Follow the pattern of inhale to lengthen and exhale to deepen to continue to surrender in this pose.
6.  You may hold uttanasana for 30 seconds to over a minute, or perhaps as long as you need.  To come out of the pose, bring your hands back to your hips and rotate up from the joint until you are standing strong and tall.  Let the information of the pose land in you as you breathe and observe.

The Only 10 Guidelines You Need to Practice Yoga

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Adapted from Hilary Phelps, MindBodyGreen

 

Whether you're just starting into your yoga practice or a seasoned veteran, it's nice to check in with a simple set of guidelines to remind yourself why you're practicing.  Personally, I always like to remind my students that we call it just that: a PRACTICE!  It is truly meant to be fun and simple and by no means perfect or stressful.  Here's a list of guidelines to ensure the most enjoyable experience your mat can provide.

 

1. Arrive a few minutes before the start of class.

Give yourself enough time to select your space and get settled on your mat.  If you're feeling rushed or stressed as you come into the studio just bring awareness to that and take some extra deep breaths.

 

2. Listen to your body.

Each and every yoga class is yours. The person on the next mat has a different life story, so make sure you do your class and not theirs.  Beware of judgement and comparison, your practice will go exactly the way it was intended to!

 

3. Remember that every class is different & you're different in every class.

Every practice will be different and each time you arrive on your mat there will be new opportunities and challenges!  That practice you had yesterday or last week is not the practice you may have today.  I often find my mat is an indication of where I am in my day. If I'm scattered and distracted, it will show up in my practice.

 

4. Be present.

No phone, no computer, no mental grocery list making. This is your time. Enjoy it.

 

5. If you're new or have an injury, let the teacher know.

This awareness helps them teach as much as it helps you practice.  Know your limits and stay within them.  NEVER practice from a place of physical pain.

 

6. Have fun. It's just yoga!

Who cares if you fall? It makes no difference if you choose child's pose over downward dog. (Also, see #2 above.)  Many poses share similar benefits so you don't need to force yourself into anything.  By engaging in mindful breathing you are practicing yoga!

 

7. Smile.

This is your time.  That's a really good feeling.

 

8. Focus on calming breaths.

There are some days where I lay down for the final relaxation and my mind is still racing. When this happens, I don’t get up and leave. Instead, I count my breaths in and my breaths out, each to a count of six. My mind isn’t completely still, but it’s better to focus on calming breaths than remind myself, over and over, of a task I have to complete later in the day.

 

9. Find a yoga style that you enjoy.

There are different types of yoga: heated, traditional, vigorous, and restorative. One class will hold a pose longer, building strength, while others flow through a sequence quickly, elevating your heart rate. Find one that you enjoy or that perfect weekly mix.  It's about consistency, not style.

 

10. If you don't like one style of yoga or you don't click with a certain teacher, find another one.

There truly is a practice for everyone. Each teacher is unique, with a distinct teaching style, voice and practice.  For me, yoga channels my busy mind and allows me to tap in under my skin.  I leave feeling renewed, inspired and connected.  When I practice with my regular teachers these outcomes are the most apparent because they guide me so effortlessly.

 


From contentment unsurpassed happiness is obtained.

Patanjali's Sutra 2.42


Keep practicing, keep smiling, keep ON!

How Yoga Broke Me Open - And Revealed a Beautiful Mess

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Adapted from Anne Clendening

 


They say there’s beauty in chaos.


When some people look at a Jackson Pollock work, they see pandemonium. It might seem like a turbulent, splattered mess of paint. It might even throw off your equilibrium.

Just think what a great ad it would make for a yoga studio:

“Two Weeks Of Unlimited Yoga! Come Untangle Your Hideous Guts For Only $40! It's unlimited!”

 


I find it weirdly comforting, this abstract expression of mental instability, overwhelming fear, sadness and alcoholism. All of which many have experienced (remember, that you are NOT alone). It’s a dance with the devil, a sexy mess of paint and emotions run amok and pain. It’s mass hysteria.


There’s honesty there. And the truth can break your heart, more so than a photo of a hot yoga chick posing on a desert rock while the warm wind is giving lift to layers of bedazzled chiffon. Those photos are gorgeous, but I just can’t relate… I’m pretty much never in Virabhadrasana III in a pasture, with a majestic sky behind me. At sunrise. Hair flowing, like a river.

It just ain’t that pretty sometimes.

We all have a dark side. We all wear masks.


The power of yoga can be just as intense and earth shaking, like a nervous breakdown. It comes in like a lion, roaring it’s head off, resistant, over-caffeinated and on the war path toward some Advil and an epsom salt bath after too many Chaturangas.


It’s more than being able to bend down and touch your toes. It’s better than a boatful of chocolate, and it rules the school, like a Pink Lady. It’s cunning, in a good way. It’ll break your neuroses down, kick ‘em around like a hacky sack and it’ll build you back up. And in that vulnerable space in between, that’s when things really start to get interesting.

At first, you’re thinking: why am I so oversensitive lately? What is going on here? I thought yoga was supposed to be funner…can’t I just get high?

Before long: This sucks! Where did I go wrong in life? And right before the breakthrough: F*?$! I hate doing stuff that’s good for me! How late is that hot dog truck outside open?  But there’s a method to the madness. Yoga will incessantly nag you and nag you and nag you, until you realize you’re happier, more connected to others and less of a maniacal, self-centered freak.

 


After a lifetime of always being on the outside looking in, I can tell you that before long, if you stick with your practice, something starts to shift.


It can be subtle. Picture yourself on your mat, breathing and sweating for at least an hour. By the time you’re in your hip opener, you’re bowing your head down toward something you really don’t understand, but you know it’s there, inside and all around. Somewhere, in a place between heaven and earth, there’s a sweet ocean of liquid light moving with you and through you. Beckoned by the moon, that ocean tide rises and falls and tangos with the watery gods. And yoga goes out like a lamb.

 


The pose is never just a pose, just like it’s not just paint drippings, now is it? There’s always a bigger picture.


Ask anyone who’s taken a Rorschach Test or has been in a deep conversation with someone with a Psychology Degree.

There are those awful parts inside all of us that are probably much better off buried in an unmarked grave, where they belong. Sometimes it’s just too scary and confrontational to deal with. Cry over it, shake your fist in the air, have a good old-fashioned temper tantrum. And in the end, embrace it. There’s nothing to be afraid of, really. Look up. There’s a spectacular view from that precarious perch where you can let yourself fall apart, and ultimately find yourself.

 


I remember the words of my teacher: practice no matter what.


For those of you who have experienced this, I imagine you remember exactly where you were in that moment. The moment, between the gap, when you felt the shift.

In 2006, Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 sold for $140,000,000. Count the zeros. That makes it the most expensive painting in the world. Damn, it pays to let it all bleed.

We are almost into February. New Years and those brand new resolutions are gone. Let go of regret and all those bad decisions. Be vulnerable, get down and get dirty. Don’t worry, the practice will pick you up and put you back together. There’s real, unshakable love out there.

 


Tell the people in your life how much you love them. Go crazy, run through the sprinklers, laugh like a maniac and be willing to make mistakes, tons of them. That’s what makes the masterpiece.