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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Yoga Changes the Brain

One of my fellow Viniyoga teacher training classmates is a science writer and former bench neuroscientist. She recently told us about  52research published by C. Villemure and C. Bushnell of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Using MRI scans, these researchers found more brain cells in certain sections of the brains of those who regularly practice yoga.

Specifically, larger brain volume was found in the areas

  • containing a mental map of the body
  • involved in directing attention
  • involved in reducing stress, and
  • that are key to our concept of self

Furthermore, Sawn Achor, who is the author of The Happiness Advantage,spent years at Harvard researching the relationship and timing of happiness and success. He recommends daily meditation and breathing as powerful tools for inducing happiness. He notes that research shows that the brain can be permanently rewired to raise levels of happiness by practicing yoga.

These are just a few more examples of the benefits and joys of yoga.


Winding Down with Anuloma Ujjayi

Anuloma Ujjayi is a variation of the Ujjayi breath that I blogged about last week. While almost all pranayama (controlled breathing) is calming, Anuloma Ujjayi is particularly relaxing because it emphasizes a long, slow exhale through alternate nostrils. It’s a nice way to wind down in the evening and to prepare for sleep.


As part of my exam for Viniyoga certification, I was assigned this technique to teach. The participants got totally relaxed, which is normally a good thing. But, I taught at 8:00 am! Coffee was required afterwards!AnulomaUjjai


Anuloma Ujjayi Breathing

This technique uses the Ujjayi breath for inhalation and alternate nostrils for exhalation. Only use the Ujjayi breath on inhale – not exhale. Your throat stays open and not constricted on exhale.

This breath is best practiced sitting either on the floor or a chair.

  • Take several easy breaths through your nose to begin relaxing and to bring your focus to your breath
  • Eyes are closed or softly focused
  • Inhale through both nostrils using Ujjayi
  • Raise your right hand to your nose*
  • Fully seal the right nostril with your thumb, partially seal the left nostril with your ring finger, exhale through your left nostril
  • Lower your hand to your lap
  • Inhale  through both nostrils using Ujjayi
  • Raise your right hand to your nose
  • Fully seal the left nostril with your ring finer, partially seal the right nostril with your thumb, exhale through your right nostril
  • Lower your hand to your lap

This completes one round. In other words, two breaths equal one round. Complete several rounds.

*Following is the hand position for the exhale: You will use the thumb and ring finger to regulate the length of the exhale. The first two fingers of your hand can be folded down if that’s comfortable. One nostril is sealed completely – at the soft part of the nostril flap. The other nostril through which you exhale is partially sealed by pressing down slightly just below the cartilage. The partial seal allows the exhale to happen more slowly than if the nostril were completely open.

Safety Pointers

Here are a couple of safety considerations to keep in mind. These apply to all pranayama techniques, not just Anuloma Ujjayi.

  • Your breath should never feel forced. If it feels strained reduce the length or stop completely. A smooth, steady breath is what you want.
  • Be sure the length of your exhale is always equal to or longer than inhale.

Anuloma Ujjayi is one of the more popular of the breathing techniques and is a good place to start for those relatively new to pranayama.

Have a wonderful week and …

Breathe Easy,


Practice the Fundamentals

Athletes do it. Musicians and singers do it. Professionals of all types do it. They practice the fundamentals of their craft. Repeatedly. No matter how proficient they get, they go back to the fundamentals, the basics, continually honing their skills. There’s something comfortable about going back to the basics. It’s reassuring.

Breath is fundamental to the practice of yoga. We practice this fundamental by:

  • continually bringing attention to the breath while practicing asana and pranayama
  • observing the quality of the breath
  • noticing where the breath is in the body
  • using breath to bring our attention inward

Today we’ll explore two tools that help us practice these fundamentals.

 Ujjayi Breathing  

Ujjayi is a phenomenal technique. It’s used in both seated pranayama (breathing) and asana (posture) practice, and its purpose is to help us stay focused and attentive. Other benefits include:

  • deepening and lengthening the breath
  • relaxing the mind
  • invigorating yet calming the body
Here’s the process:

Although it’s possible to practice Ujjayi breath lying, sitting and standing, it’s better to try it initially either sitting or lying.

  • Take several easy breaths through your nose to begin to relax and bring attention to your breath
  • Eyes are closed or softly focused
  • Slightly constrict your throat muscles and visualize breathing through an imaginary hole in your throat
  • Continue inhaling and exhaling while keeping the throat muscles slightly constricted
  • Feel the sensation of the breath in your throat rather than nose
  • Your breath will make an ocean like sound as it moves in and out
  • Breathe slowly and deeply, listening to the sound of your breath until you are ready to release this technique and breath normally

Embrace the Pauses

There are four parts to a breath: inhale; pause after inhale; exhale; pause after exhale. Bring your attention to your breath and begin to notice these four parts, especially the pauses. The pauses can be very subtle and ever so slight. Play with it. Discover how each breath arises from the pause and use these pauses to breathe more consciously.

We’ll use these two tools next week as we practice Anuloma Ujjayi.

Happy Valentine’s Day and Breathe Easy!


Kapalbhati Breathing … How does that help?

Thousands of years ago the Ancients discovered the power of breath to heal mentally, physically and emotionally. Western medicine is beginning to embrace its powers as well, prescribing yogic breathing for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. And, it costs next to nothing.

Yogic breathing is a fascinating subject to me. I am intrigued by how one’s emotions, energy levels, attitude and sense of well-being can be changed simply by adjusting breathing patterns. And, as we discussed last month, it’s an effective tool for weight management.

There are many breathing techniques and patterns in yoga with a variety of benefits and effects. This month we’ll explore some of them, and I encourage you to give it a try. I promise that, done consistently, it will change your life for the better.

Kapalbhati Breathing

One of these techniques is called Kapalbhati. It’s relatively straight forward, making it a good place to start. When practiced over time, benefits can include:

  • Improvement in blood circulation
  • Increase in the metabolic rate
  • Improvement of digestion
  • Energizing the nervous system
  • Calming and uplifting of the mind
  • Strengthening the core and reducing belly fat
  • Assisting in weight management
  • Eliminating toxins

While Kapalbhati has many good benefits, it should not be practiced

  • by those suffering from gastric issues such as ulcers; high blood pressure; heart disease; epilepsy or hernia
  • by those who have had recent abdominal surgery
  • during or shortly after pregnancy and during menstruation

Here’s the process for practicing Kapalbhati:

  • Sit comfortably with an erect spine and hands resting on your legs or belly. You can sit in a chair if the floor is not comfortable.
  • Close your eyes or keep a soft gaze
  • Take several easy breaths to bring your attention to your breath and to your practice
  •  Relax your stomach muscles and begin Kapalbhati breathing by expelling the air through your nose as forcefully as you comfortably can. You will feel your belly muscles contract and move back toward your spine
  • Allow your inhale to occur automatically through your nose. Inhale is not forced. Rather it feels like a natural response after the strong exhale.
  • Repeat this process – strong exhale followed by a relaxed inhale – for 10 breaths
  • Rest for a moment and observe the sensations in your body. If you feel a little dizzy or lightheaded back off the intensity of the exhale
  • Repeat one or two more rounds of 10 breaths each. Again, if you feel dizzy lighten the force of the exhale or stop completely and return to normal breathing

Yoga makes us more observant and more aware whether we practice it through asana, pranayama, meditation or all three. With regular practice, over time, you will just naturally want to take better care of your health.



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