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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Breathe Your Way to Health

Last week we discussed how increasing muscle mass through practicing asanas (postures) will tone the body, improve metabolism and reduce stress. But maybe asana practice isn’t your thing – although I encourage you to try it. It is also possible to experience yoga’s benefits through pranayama which is mindful, controlled breathing.

Yoga, which includes asana, pranayama and meditation, reduces stress because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When we’re under stress our bodies are designed to secrete hormones that give us the energy to “escape”. Being chased by a tiger comes to mind. But, what worked well for our ancestors can cause serious harm to modern humans.

Research conducted at UCLA – San Francisco and the University of Virginia examined the impact of chronic stress on fat stores in the body and stress related weight gain. When we feel stress, our bodies release cortisol which gives us quick energy to react in an emergency. Chronic stress makes the body produce too much cortisol.

Physiologically, the body stores these extra hormones as fat primarily around our bellies. Furthermore, fat tissue, especially around the belly, decreases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. The body demands more and more insulin, which can ultimately result in insulin resistance and pre-diabetes. So finding ways to effectively deal with stress is very important to our health.

Catch Yourself BreathingTad_Seated

Many of us hold our breath and/or are chest (shallow) breathers. When we do breathe we don’t take a full breath engaging our bellies. Sometimes that’s due to stress or because our culture wants to see flat bellies. There are various reasons.

It’s interesting to play a game called “Catch Me Breathing”. It goes like this. At random times throughout the day bring your attention to your breath. Ask yourself, “Where is my breath?” Is it in the chest or belly or am I holding it? Try to move your breath to your belly if it’s not there already.

Then take several belly breaths, moving your belly away from your spine on inhale and toward your spine on exhale. Make your exhale a little longer than inhale. Be sure to place your undivided attention on each breath, especially exhale. How do you feel? Maybe you’re a little more relaxed and calm?

There are a variety of breathing techniques and patterns in yoga which have a range of benefits and outcomes. A consistent benefit across the board is that deep, mindful breathing helps support the central nervous system and counteracts stress by calming your mind and balancing your body.

Next week we’ll explore the how’s and why’s of Kapalbhati Pranayama (Breathing). Have a lovely week and Breathe Easy.

Muscle Burns More Calories

The rate at which our bodies use calories to meet energy demands, i.e. metabolism, affects our weight. Last week we explored how stress negatively impacts metabolism and weight. Yoga, with its proven ability to lower stress, helps.

Body composition (lean weight vs. fat weight) also impacts the metabolic rate. Every pound of muscles burns 6 calories a day to sustain itself while every pound of fat burns only 2. So, even while at rest, more muscular people are actually using more calories. It hardly seems fair! Again, yoga helps by changing body composition with postures that increase circulation, strength and flexibility.

Yogi Tad is standing in Warrior posture. It looks effortless but don’t be fooled. Done properly, it takes muscular strength and mental focus to hold in the posture for several breaths. Leg and arm muscles are actively engaged. Shoulders are relaxed. Weight is distributed over both Warriorfeet and the core is engaged to help maintain balance. Oh – and don’t forget to breathe … a full breath moving from chest to belly on inhale and belly to chest on exhale. There is a lot going on. Yoga postures that are held, like Warrior, build physical and mental strength.

Yoga postures that involve repetition – moving  into and out of the posture – increase circulation. Because repetition alternately stretches and contracts muscles, it increases strength and flexibility. It also warms up muscles in preparation for holding in postures. An example of repetition would be moving into and out of a forward bend.

To summarize, rate of metabolism affects how calories are burned and is impacted by stress levels and body composition. Because yoga reduces stress and tones muscles, it positively impacts metabolism. Another huge benefit is that it makes us more conscious and aware. Yoga not only helps one’s physical body but also mind and spirit.

Next week we’ll explore breathing techniques for weight management. Have a wonderful week.

Stress Can Cause Weight Gain


Tad in Seated Pranayama

Congratulations to our winner of last week’s contest! Our winner receives a complimentary yoga consultation and I’m looking forward to our meeting. Thank you to all the folks who responded. Here’s the answer: “Tad” is short for the yoga posture Tadasana, and he was standing in Tadasana in last weeks’ blog.

Tad was born in California, spent a few months in Georgia and moved to Colorado this past December. He’s very excited to be part of the Breathe Easy blog because he does love to show off his yoga prowess.

In fact he’s a little too “attached” to how he looks in the poses, which is very un-yoga-like. I’m working with him on releasing this attachment and bringing his attention inward. Yoga is about observing ourselves without judgment and without attachment to the end result. Very easy to say; very challenging to do.

A fundamental principle of Viniyoga is that people are structured differently and these differences are observed without judgment. In Viniyoga, postures are modified to each person’s individual ability and needs. We’ll explore how this principle also applies to weight management.

Enjoy and Breathe Easy,


Some Technical Info

Have you ever wondered why two people can eat the same amounts of food and how one will maintain their weight and the other will gain weight? Or, why they can practice yoga for the same length of time yet burn different amounts of calories?

Several factors affect the way calories are burned and, therefore, weight:

  • Rate of metabolism
  • Body composition (percentage lean vs. fat weight)
  • Stress levels
  • Sleep patterns
  • Hormones
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Heredity

Some of these factors are controllable and some are not. Today, we’ll focus on the metabolic rate, which is partially controllable.

There are multitudes of articles being written about how increasing one’s metabolism will result in weight loss and, in theory, that’s true. But, again, how fast you burn calories depends on many factors, including metabolic rate.

Metabolism refers to all the chemical reactions in your body that convert food into the fuel/energy that powers everything we do. It establishes the rate at which we burn calories and how quickly we gain or lose weight.

Metabolism is made up of three parts: basal (resting); thermic effect of food; physical activity. About 75% to 80% of our caloric intake goes to energizing the first two. These are the calories that go to running our body’s systems and digesting our food. We can’t really impact these. But, we can impact the third because it includes calories needed for daily activities such as yoga and pranayama (controlled breathing).

Stress Affects Metabolism

It’s well known that yoga reduces stress, builds muscle strength and enhances flexibility.

It’s also known that stressed and sleep deprived people have lower metabolic rates, meaning they burn fewer calories. Interestingly, this is true even when they exercise for the same duration as their rested, less stressed friends because the intensity isn’t the same.

Yoga, with its emphasis on bringing one’s attention inward and mindful focus on breath and movement, is being recommended more and more frequently by the medical profession as a way to reduce stress. Over time, a change in metabolism can reduce the weight gain caused by stress.

Mindful focus also makes us more aware of our habits, the good and the bad. We learn to recognize how and why we’re not taking care of ourselves.






Abolish New Year’s Resolutions

Happy 2014! The holidays are history and it’s time to get reacquainted with our routines. It’s also the time of year when there is a lot of pressure to make resolutions to change “bad” habits.

The experts tell us that resolutions almost always fail. My personal experience certainly bears that out. We start off with the best of intentions but eventually go off the track, which leads to feeling like a failure. It’s far better to set ourselves up for success when changing behaviors.

A regular yoga and pranayama (breathing) practice will help. But please be warned, it’s not a quick fix. As with any permanent change, it’s important to understand the real reason driving the behavior. Yoga teaches us to observe ourselves mindfully and without judgment. In this way, we can get to the root cause of the behavior and make permanent change possible.

Since so many people “resolve” to lose weight at the beginning of every year, January’s blog will focus on how yoga can help. And – even if losing weight isn’t of interest – the principles of observation and mindfulness can be applied to any behavior or situation you want to examine more deeply.

 “Yoga and meditation have tremendous potential to help with weight loss. The mindfulness that yoga brings, you keep that mindfulness, not only during the time you’re doing yoga, but you carry it through the day.” Amit Sood, M.D., Internist, the Mayo Clinic

The Yoga Approach to Weight Loss

Yoga philosophy is against setting specific weight loss goals. For example, I will lose “x” pounds by “x” date. Doing so creates attachment to the outcome, which may or may not happen.

Instead, yoga suggests setting an intention for a controllable action. For example, you may decide to walk 10 minutes every other day or eliminate bread at lunch.  It is possible to control the action but not how our weight responds. Yoga is not a quick fix, but it does assure that if we do the work, the future will take care of itself.

Next week, we’ll examine metabolism and the role a yoga practice can play in impacting it. In the meantime, set an intention of observing your mental, physical and emotional states once a day while your are eating. Jot down some notes if possible. And, remember to notice without judgment. That’s critical to success.




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