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Yogic Breathing 101

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Proper breathing is what makes yoga, well, yoga. Attention to breath is what transforms mere exercises into a dynamic practice that helps us to understand our true nature. But before going too deep, let’s take a look at what it takes to breathe well during yoga practice.

 

It will be helpful to get acquainted with the diaphragm—the large muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity. It essentially bisects the torso into two parts. This muscle is quite mobile. It has the potential to be drawn down low into the abdomen upon inhalation and pulled up into the chest cavity upon exhalation. That is, if it is called upon to do so. Unfortunately, most of us do not utilize the diaphragm to breathe, and so we lose the ability to really fill our lungs with air.

 

The three-part breath is the best way to experience breathing with the diaphragm. Begin seated (or reclined on your back) with your hands on your belly.

 

Part 1. Sit up tall and relax the shoulders. Then relax the muscles of the belly. Next begin to inhale with the belly completely relaxed, and try to draw the breath down into the belly. (The breath doesn’t actually go into the belly, but the movement created by the breath does.) If you have trouble achieving this, push the belly out somewhat as you inhale to get the feeling of the movement. As you do this, take a moment to notice that you are able to fill your lower lungs with air. As you exhale, feel the belly sink back in (drawing it in if you need to in order to feel the movement).

 

Part 2. Next, place your hands on your lower rib cage. As you inhale, feel the belly expand (part 1) followed by the rib cage opening and expanding. As you exhale, feel it sink back in. Follow this movement for a few rounds of breath, noticing how the lungs fill with air from the bottom up.

 

Part 3.Finally, place your fingertips on your collar bone. Inhale and feel the belly expand (part 1) followed by the ribs (part 2) and finally, feel the chest rise and expand as your finish your inhale. Think about the top portion of the lungs filling with air at the end of the inhale, and think about how the exhalation empties this portion of the lungs first. Follow this movement for a few more rounds of breath.

 

Next release your hands and sit with this three-part breath for a while, noticing how your body moves in response to the breath without having to actually feel it. This deep awareness of breath linked to movement will help you find more awareness in your yoga practice. Connect to it as often as you can.

Karma Yoga: Paying it Forward by Sally Bartolotta

 

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In this day and age it’s easy to become jaded or disassociated with ourselves, with each other, and with the world around us. At first glance, it can sometimes feel as though each of us is alone and left to fend for ourselves as we fight our way through this crazy life. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. This feeling is one of the many reasons why coming to the mat, and getting the chance to reconnect with ourselves and the beautiful world around, us is so vital.

When I first decided to try yoga, my focus was solely on the physical aspects (asana). At the time, I had only superficial goals. I had no idea what was in store for me when I decided to give it a try. Over time I began to realize that there was so much more to yoga than I had ever imagined. At first I felt overwhelmed, and then excited to learn as much as I could.

The many complexities that have and continue to unfold throughout this journey, both on and off the mat, are fascinating. Each angle of the practice, whether physical, emotional, philosophical, or even medicinal, weaves together to create exactly what is promised—yoga: union, oneness.

One aspect, which is very dear to my heart, is Karma Yoga (the yoga of action, or selfless service)— paying it forward and helping to create a kinder and brighter environment. Ever since I can remember, I have been drawn to helping others and have always enjoyed volunteering, donating to worthy causes, and advocating for the voiceless. I didn’t contemplate why this was, because it simply was. I felt no attachment to an end result and wanted nothing out of it except for the satisfaction of doing it. Perhaps that was my first experience with yoga.

When I first enrolled in The Yoga Sanctuary’s Teacher Training program and we received our syllabus, I was excited and intrigued to find that we would be volunteering time to The Animal Welfare League as part of our training. From the outside looking in, one might ask “What does this have to do with yoga or teaching people to stand in Tree Pose?” The answer: “Everything.” We are all connected and our collective energies both on and off the mat help to unite us.

We all strive for a quieter mind, a healthier body, and a more positive outlook on life. There are certainly many ways to get there, but applying Karma Yoga—both on and off the mat—is an inspiring means.

There is a sense of inner peace and harmony that comes with acts of selflessness. Suddenly, the mind feels quiet, the body feels content, and the true Self has a chance to just be. It is something that cannot be described in words. It needs to be experienced firsthand.

I look forward to continuing this path alongside many of you, perhaps by exuding kindness into the world; maybe feeling inspired to volunteer time and effort to help others; or even by turning inward and sharing some of that love and support with ourselves. After all, energy is contagious. Sometimes a friendly smile is all it takes to lift someone up.

Imagine if each of us were to share this experience. Think of how much positive energy would be circulating through us, our community, and throughout the entire world. The thought alone fills me with peace. And that is a beautiful thing.

Hatha Yoga

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Hatha Yoga is the branch of physical yoga. The practice of Hatha Yoga brings about steady posture, health, and lightness of the body, dealing with the physical aspects of the body. Hatha Yoga is the most familiar yoga practice in the West. It is described in the classical text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Svatmarama in the 15th century CE. The text describes asanas (postures), purifying practices, mudras (finger and hand positions), bandhas (energetic locks), and pranayama (breathing practices). Today, Hatha Yoga is considered a combination of four things: asana, pranayama, meditation, and relaxation.

The practice of yoga often begins with Hatha Yoga because the body can be a great obstacle on the path to attaining peace of mind and ultimate realization of our true nature (samadhi)—that we are all one. Hatha Yoga heals and opens the body and cleanses the nervous system so that the higher limbs of yoga—withdrawal of senses, concentration, and meditation—occur without effort. For many, Hatha Yoga is the foundation upon which the yoga practice is built.

The word hatha means, literally, sun (ha) and moon (tha). It is the balance of opposing energies—positive and negative, soft and hard, cold and hot, receiving and giving, female and male. Asana and the accompanying pranayama make up the Hatha Yoga practice, helping to balance and unite these opposite energies within us. Hatha Yoga practice is not about attaining a perfect posture but, rather, is about finding steadiness and ease (sthira and sukha) while in the posture. This is achieved using correct breath, bandhas, and gaze (dristhi).

Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term under which all the different styles of yoga as we know them (hot yoga, ashtanga yoga, hatha yoga, restorative yoga, etc.) are found. All of these styles of yoga incorporate asana and pranayama into the practice in different ways, hence the different styles.

Yogi of the Month—Mary Harder

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The Yoga Sanctuary—this is the place that I can just be. This is the place I can find silence. This is the place I make intentions. This is the place I’m learning to meditate. This is the place I’m allowed to have “spicy” spots. (Thanks Ms. Jennifer.) This is the place I am known. This is the place I am grateful for.

I’ve followed Bonnie since her early morning classes at the Punta Gorda Club. I had started jogging and was having some back issues. Yoga was recommended. I still jog, injury free, after all these years. I’m just finishing the Yogi Runners series and highly recommend it to anyone who walks or runs and hopes yoga will help.

I practice yoga more now that I’ve retired from a 20-year career at Edison State College. Yoga has become a part of my daily life. I use yoga breathing when I train hard, when I’m nervous, and even when I can’t sleep. I’ve gained mental clarity and a strong sense of calm as a result of a regular yoga practice.

Outside of the Sanctuary, this month I am celebrating 65 years on this earth. Major celebration! I am so grateful to be healthy and feel fabulous. I am also celebrating my completion of the Master Gardeners certification last month. I find much happiness when I have my hands in the dirt.

I love restorative poses as well as challenging poses, depending on my mood. Aren’t we lucky that the Yoga Sanctuary offers classes to meet all our needs? The most difficult pose for me is the cross-legged sit. One day my hips will open, my back will become unstuck, and voilà—full lotus!

I hope to attend the Yoga Journal Conference being held in Florida in November. I love asanas, but I’m also interested in all limbs of yoga. And I’ve forgotten to mention how great the Yoga Sanctuary workshops are. I always learn something new.

I love the Nike slogan: Just do it! But Fred Devito wrote another quote I love: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

Thank you Yoga Sanctuary for being a part of my life.