Your Home Yoga Practice

Think of your home yoga practice as basic self-care.

Self-care is taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally.

As well as attending to the body, mind, and emotions, regular yoga practice creates a container for developing interoception – your ability to hear your body’s signals, messages and intuitions.

Remember that yoga means the union of the body, mind and spirt.

A daily practice can take as little as 10 minutes!

In general, a daily yoga practice can consist of three elements:

  1. Physical movement – it can be a simple as decompressing the spine and moving the major joints through their range of motion
  2. A breathing practice – think of the breath as the link between body and mind
  3. Meditation – this helps cultivate healthy mind states and minimizes negative thought habits

Below are a few suggestions for each category.

Physical Movement

Decompress your Spine:

Add range-of-motion movement to the major joints:

  • Shoulder rolls, elbow circles and rolling wrists
  • Standing hip circles and ankle circles
  • Side bending (either sitting or standing)

From here, you can add any favorite poses you feel comfortable with.

Breathing Practices

Below are two relatively simple yogic breathing techniques. Choose one and do it for 1-2 minutes. Never strain when working with your breath. Always keep it easy and comfortable.

Meditation

Developing awareness is key to cultivating a steady mind and overriding the stress response. Meditation is the main tool for developing that awareness. Below are 3 simple meditation techniques.

  • Breath counting
  • Mantra: use any two words, like Peace and Joy. Silently say one word on the inhalation and the other on the exhalation. Don’t change the rhythm of your breath.
  • Breath-centered meditation (focus on the sensations of breathing)

Let me know how it goes! Ask me questions. Share your wins!

Photo by Scott Broome on Unsplash

Guess What’s in Your Saliva!

Guess what’s in your saliva! A lot of good stuff, that’s what. And it turns out that when we do our breathing techniques in yoga class, we are stimulating saliva production.

We know this thanks to the research of Dr. Sundar Balasubramian.

Dr. Balasubramanian is a pioneer in the area of research combining Pranayama (yogic breathing) with salivary biomarkers. He discovered that Yogic breathing promotes salivary secretion and it contains factors that are important to our healthy living. The components stimulated in the saliva include:

  • nerve growth factor that helps our nerve cells (good for Alzheimer patients)
  • immunoglobulins that are important for keeping immune system strong
  • tumor suppressors that have the capacity to prevent cells from becoming cancerous
  • and factors that reduce stress and inflammation

These findings are first of its kind, and provide novel insights into bridging ancient wisdom of Yoga and modern biology.

Dr. Balasubramanian is a Cell Biology researcher and founder of PranaScience Institute. He is currently studying mechanisms involved in resistance to cancer therapy at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). He is also a Yoga Biology researcher.

Dr. Balasubramania’s research work is mentioned in this New York Times article. You can also listen to him explain his work in this TED talk or go to his website.

And of course, with all this inspiration (Latin for breathing in!), we’ll be focusing on our breathing techniques in class this week!

(This post is adapted from Dr. Balasubramania’s website).

 

For Those with Breathing Challenges

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If your lungs have been compromised by treatment or other conditions, here are a few ways I can work with you to improve your ability to breathe.

First, work with your diaphragm.
Your diaphragm is your main breathing muscle and the first area I check. What you want to notice is whether your belly expands when you inhale. If so, how far down does it expand? Is it easy to do that? If it doesn’t expand easily that tells you that there is tension in the diaphragm and you’ll want to work on releasing that. Take a minute or two to focus on your belly expanding downward and outward on your inhalations. Just relax on your exhalations. Take your time. Don’t rush to your next inhalation. Let your exhalations really complete themselves, allowing the next inhalation to happen when it its ready. The breath cycles will begin to elongate. It’s important to never strain with the breath. This is called belly breathing.

Notice if you have belly tension – if you are used to holding your belly in, you will probably have a challenging time with belly breathing. Let the abdominals soften and expand. If you are accustomed to engaging your core for support, that is great! But see if you can just do that on your exhales, or only as needed, and allow the belly to be soft for your inhalations.

Should you breath this way all the time? No. But you want to practice the belly breath often enough to allow you to unlock your diaphragm from any patterns of tension.

Next, work on lung capacity.
To look at how well your lungs fill up, you’ll use a three-part breath technique. It goes like this: as you inhale, expand the belly, then the middle ribs then the upper ribs, all in one big breath. As you exhale, reverse that order, releasing the upper ribs, middle ribs, then soften the belly. So you’re inhaling from the bottom up and exhaling from the top down. Perhaps you can use the image of a balloon inflating and deflating. You’re gently testing your lung capacity on the inhalation – remember not to strain – and again, let your exhalation fully complete itself. Give it all the time it wants. Note: your belly probably won’t expand as much as it did in the belly breathing technique. That is fine.

Many people have postural habits that prevent them from achieving their full lung capacity. For example, if your upper body has a tendency to round forward (stooped), you might find it challenging to move the breath into the upper lungs because the muscles around the shoulders and upper rib cage are not accustomed to holding the torso upright. The muscles have likely become short in the front and weak in the back. Thus the upper lobes of the lungs are compressed with diminished function. Here’s where practicing the postures and movements in yoga can really help. If you’re not sure what to do, just try squeezing your shoulder blades together and lifting your breastbone. Notice the width across the front of your chest.

If part of your lungs have been removed or damaged . . .
You’ll probably need to work with a yoga therapist, like me, to increase your breathing capacity. I have two main strategies for working with resected or damaged lungs. 1.) we work together to get the healthy parts of your lungs, including the back-side, operating at full efficiency. This means unlocking patterns of tension in the various breathing muscles and working toward the fullest range of expansion possible. 2.) For areas of damage, I coach you to gently explore the sensations at the edge of this area. In other words, don’t ignore it, but notice what that area of the lungs feels like when breathing. And yes, you CAN direct your breath into different areas of your lungs including one side more than the other. Once again, remember to never strain or push the breath. To re-pattern these muscles, it will need to feel comfortable and manageable.

Working with the breath is not a one-size-fits all program, but becoming familiar with your breathing patterns can be a great source of peace and grounding.

The Diaphragmatic Breath

Of all the breathing techniques I teach the diaphragmatic breath is the most foundational and useful. I especially recommend it in times of anxiety or crisis since it slows down your breath and helps to relieve tension.

Here’s how it goes: place a hand on your belly. As you inhale, gently expand your belly outward and downward. Your hand will feel the belly expand. As you exhale you can either just soften the belly or, more actively, pull the belly in towards your spine. Minimize the movement of the rib cage with the breath and maximize the movement of the belly. Do this for about a minute then breathe normally.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that lives just behind the low ribs. When you breathe in, the diaphragm moves downward and outward, pushing the abdominal organs out. This action is actually what causes the inhalation – the downward action creates a vacuum, causing air to rush into the lungs. As you exhale the diaphragm softens upward, back to its resting state.

For some people the diaphragm holds tension and they find it difficult to expand the belly on the inhalation. Their rib cage wants to expand on the inhalation and the belly pulls in. Know that this is okay; that you’ve gotten along just fine all these years breathing like this and you’ll probably make it a good deal longer. But it’s that tension in the diaphragm that we’d like to address. Releasing that tension has a domino effect on tension in the rest of the body. This deep, relaxing breath will encourage any unnecessary tension to release and dissipate.