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

Breath-Centered Meditation

Using Your Breath as the Focus of Your Meditation

Breath-centered meditation is one of the most common forms of meditation. In this sequence below, I point out aspects of the breath to pay attention to. Focusing on these subtle sensations will pull your attention inward and help to keep you from wandering off.

Notice the sensations of breathing.

  • Notice all the places where you feel the breath moving in your body (belly, chest, throat, nose). Try not to change the natural rhythm of your breath.
  • Choose one of those places and hold your awareness there.

Pay attention to duration.

  • Pay attention to the duration of just the exhalations. Without changing the rhythm of your breath, notice how long your exhalations are.
  • Then notice the duration of your inhalations (without changing anything).

Notice the turn-around points.

  • Now focus on the turnaround point between the exhalations and inhalations. Perhaps there’s a pause here. Perhaps not. Just notice when the exhalation turns into the inhalation.
  • Then notice the turnaround point between the inhalations and exhalations. Again, maybe there’s a pause, maybe there’s not.

Focus on the entire breath cycle.

  • Then pay attention to the full breath cycle and stay with that for as long as you like.
  • When the mind wanders into thinking, just label it “thinking” and come back to the breath (no judgement, it’s normal).

Meditation is the most tried and true tool for steadying your mind, developing awareness, and cultivating equanimity.

Deep peace is waiting for you.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

What to do with this Anxiety – Part I

I’ve been thinking about anxiety a lot lately and about how to deal with it – it can be so overpowering at times! The following are my thoughts and suggestions on how to get control of this troubling mental state.

Sometimes anxiety is just a big hairy beast that sits on your chest. Nothing will make it go away – it is too big and ominous. What to do? In this situation, the best you can do is to just accept it. It just is what it is. Get present in THIS moment and just acknowledge it. Okay, I’m anxious. This is anxiety. Fine, I’m anxious. Then breathe. Notice exactly what anxiety feels like in the body. Observe it like a scientist, without judgment. From there continue to investigate the present moment. Tune into your senses: look at your environment, notice the sounds, smell the smells, notices textures and temperatures. This is the present moment. Does your anxiety have to do with this exact moment? Acknowledge that you are doing the best you can. Try some diaphragmatic breathing which is good for these anxiety beasts. Know that before long, the situation will change. Everything changes.

Apps to support your practice

Here are some apps to to support your home practice.

This list of meditation apps is from an article by Courtney Boyd Myers published in the Daily Beast (thanks JS, for sending it along!)

1) Calm.com
The cleverly named Calm.com, a startup out of San Francisco and London, is one of the top meditation apps to launch in the last year. The app lets you begin immediately with its free “7 steps of Calm”. Each step focuses on a different part of the guided meditation practice such as “breath”, “posture” and “mindset”. After you’ve completed the beginner’s program, you can unlock yearly pro-access for $9.99 which includes dozens of guided meditations ranging from 2-20 mins with relaxing nature scenes like forest rain and an ocean beach. (Free iOS)

2) Buddhify 2
Can’t sleep? Just waking up? Taking a break from work? The UK-based Buddhify has dozens of options for nearly every life scenario. Built for busy city-dwellers with less than 10 minutes to spare at a time, Buddhify is a carefully-designed app that offers both guided meditations and solo practice. While terrific for beginners, more serious meditators might find the 10-minute meditation maximum limiting. To track your progress, the app neatly saves your weekly stats, record streaks and percentage of app content consumed. ($1.99 iOS)

3) Headspace
Once you get past the introductory animations, the popular Headspace app’s free “Take 10” offering includes a new guided meditation each day for 10 days. Once you’ve finished the intro offer, Headspace’s most popular package costs $7.99 per month for a year. While more expensive than other apps, Headspace’s co-founder Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk and claims to have one of the most comprehensive packages on the market. Hot tip: You can also catch Puddicombe’s lessons for free on any Virgin Atlantic flight! (Free iOS)

4) Omvana
Founded by global wellness company MindValley, Omvana is oft-referred to as the “Spotify of meditation apps.” To get started, simply login with Facebook and browse through the eight available free tracks—some “new” and some “hot”—or check out the Omvana store and choose from thousands of tracks to add to your meditation mix. Tracks cost $1.99 and up. While this is a great app to see what’s out there in the world of meditation, the app lacks focus (pun intended) and any sort of measurement of personal progress. And with such a large library of offerings, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. (Free iOS)

5) Simply Being
A woman’s slow, calming voice eases you into relaxation with 5, 10 or 15 minute guided meditations. You can choose from voice-only or add music and nature sounds like ocean, rain and stream. Simply Being is as simple as it gets and a great free app to download if you’re just wanting to test the water. ($.99 iOS)

This one below is for the physical practice. Please stay mindful of your own limitations if you choose to explore this one.
Yoga Studio

May you care for yourself with joy and ease~

Chill Out – Deep Relaxation

All yoga classes end in a pose that is designed to take you into a state of deep relaxation. The pose is called savasana and, in my class, I also weave in elements of Yoga Nidra. During this deep relaxation, the body enters a hypometabolic state. Here it restores and regenerates tissue and this is what happens every night when you sleep. However you can also experience this kind of ‘reset’ from even a short restorative session. 

In class I offer several poses for entering this state: savasanalegs up the wallconstructive rest and legs on a chair. Choose one of these poses and move into it slowly and mindfully. Close the eyes and tune into the movement of your breath. If the mind is very chattery you can use one of the concentration practices we’ve worked with like breath counting. If you fall asleep, that’s okay, but ideally you will just move into a calm, meditative state. Ten to fifteen minutes is a good amount of time for this. Come out of the pose slowly, taking the time to gently come back into the present moment. What is the feeling-tone in the body? Do you feel refreshed?

We live in a world that prizes the go-go-go behavior, that goal-oriented striving that gets so many things done, but may leave us feeling anxious and depleted. Perhaps we’re evenaddicted to busyness. This incessant striving triggers the stress response. The next time you feel stressed, note how that feels in the body. This stress, especially chronic stress, suppresses the immune system. Yikes!

Know that you have the tools to counteract this stress. You have the power to change your inner chemistry with these yogic practices. Use them to help you move toward more vibrant health.

Meditation and the Relaxation Response

Meditation is garnering impressive scientific backing as well as much media attention in recent years. I enjoy teaching meditation in my yoga classes and feel that it’s equally important to understand what is happening in the body when one meditates – the changes are so beneficial! Below is a synopsis of what I teach.

Meditation elicits the “relaxation response,” a term coined by researcher Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School in the early 70s, to describe a phenomenon in which the following physiological changes take place:

Heart rate lowers
Muscles tension is reduced
Brain waves slow down
Blood pressure decreases
Metabolism decreases
Chemicals associated with stress, cortisol and adrenalin, are reduced

Meditation calms the sympathetic nervous system and engages the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” process of the limbic brain. It sends adrenalin and cortisol through the body, which in turn sends blood to the extremities – arms and legs – leaving the organs at the core of the body functioning with less blood and interfering with their efficient functioning. In this situation the digestive and reproductive systems are suppressed and the immune system altered.

The parasympathetic nervous system tells the body that everything is okay, that it can relax. It returns the blood to the core organs so they can operate efficiently. If stress is prolonged and the body is continuously exposed to the stress hormones, one becomes at risk for heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression and memory impairment.

A simple meditation technique is to watch the breath. Settle into a comfortable position (not lying down – you might fall asleep!). Notice how the breath is moving in the body. Hold your attention on the most prominent sensation of the breath. If you like, you can use your inner voice to label the breath “in” and “out.” If the mind wanders, don’t worry, it’s natural. Just bring it back to the breath. Try doing this for 3-5 minutes. You can build up to a longer practice over time.

Know that the mind is a powerful tool. Use it to bring yourself into full, vibrant health.