Train Your Downward Dog

Ask anyone to name a yoga pose and chances are they’ve heard of “Down Dog”. It’s a very common pose in many yoga traditions. And for good reason! Downward-facing dog posture (Adhomukha Svanasana) is a pose that mimics the shape of a dog stretching (although our pups are MUCH better at this pose than we will ever be). Adhomukha means to have your “face down”, svana means “dog”, and asana means “pose”.
Often taken to rest between flows, downward dog is a powerhouse of a pose:
  • Calms the brain and gently stimulates the nerves
  • Slows down the heartbeat
  • Reduces stiffness and arthritis in shoulders
  • Strengthens the ankles and legs
  • Stretches calves and ankles
  • Helps with heavy menstrual flow and may reduce hot flashes during menopause
Ready to try downward facing dog? Start on your hands and knees. Spread your fingers wide and put a bit more weight on your index fingers and thumbs to protect your wrists. Tuck toes under, inhale and lift your hips toward the ceiling making an inverted V shape. Push the floor away with your hands and “walk your dog” by bending and straightening your knees. Wag your tail slowly and let your neck soften. There’s a long, straight line from your wrists, through your shoulders, to your hips. Shoulders draw away from the ears. The pose should be 70% legs and only 30% arms. Breathe. If you’d like more thorough instructions, join us in a class or click here.
Play with the shape of your dog by moving your legs a bit wider (to relieve a tight low back) or your arms wider (for shoulder comfort). Keep your knees bent, if that keeps your spine long. If your wrists are uncomfortable, try placing something under the heels of the hands, like a foam wedge or a rolled blanket or towel.
Most importantly, FEEL the stretch. Feel long. Feel strong and centered. Just feel. Keep in mind that an asana (yoga posture) “is not a posture which you assume mechanically. It involves thought, at the end of which a balance is achieved between movement and resistance.” (BKS Iyengar)
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

The Language of Yoga

When was the last time you had a vocabulary lesson? Well get ready, because the language of Yoga is part of its power.
Sanskrit has been called the mother of all modern languages and has even been deemed the most “perfect” language by historians. It is the original source of 36 world languages, not including 21 in India alone! The German language can be traced directly to Sanskrit (famous German airlines “Lufthansa” can be broken down into ‘luft’ meaning lost and ‘hansa’ meaning swan and the word literally means the ‘lost swan’) and rules of French language can be traced back to Sanskrit, too.
Even in today’s world, Sanskrit is relevant.
  • “Computers require algorithmic programming and scientific research has found Sanskrit to be the perfect language for this purpose. Its preciseness and variety owe to this research.
  • Sanskrit is one language that can convey the biggest word meanings, quantitatively and qualitatively in the least amount of words. Owing to the abundance of words and preciseness of letters, it is most expressive. It is sometimes called the “poems of everyday life”.
  • Sanskrit has the largest library of words in comparison to any language. It is said to have 102 Arab, 87 Crore and 50 Lakh words (Hindi units have been used) that have been used via scriptures, books, speaking etc. In fact professors say that a similar amount of words can be generated from these words within the next 100-150 years.”
So let’s learn some Sanskrit terms that we use regularly in Yoga classes!
  • Pada = feet (padangusthasana = big toe pose)
  • Janu = knee (Janu Sirsasana = head-to-knee pose)
  • Hasta = hands (Hasta Bandha = hand energy)
  • Drsti = gazing (a focal point)
  • Adho = downward (Adho Mukha Svanasana = downward facing dog)
  • Anandha = happy, bliss (Ananda Balasana = happy baby)
  • Chandra = moon (Ardha Chandrasana = half moon)
  • Eka = one (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana = one leg pigeon)
  • Tada = mountain (Tadasana = mountain pose)
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

The Nose Knows

Swami Satchidananda said that we don’t eat through our nose, so we shouldn’t breathe through our mouth. But why? Why do we practice breathing through the nose in yoga?
According to ancient yogis, the five traditional elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space) are all present in localized spots on the inner lining of the nostrils. This means that you can affect the quality of those elements in your body simply by channeling your breath over the different sites.
We may not think about it very often, but we do hold tension in our noses and that tension does have an effect on how we breathe. Picture your nose. The little rounded bumps on the sides of your nostrils are called the wings. They should remain passive and soft while breathing, regardless of rapidity and strength of respiration.
Try to rest your wings, first becoming physically aware of them. Use your index finger to gently stroke down along the side and wing of the nose from the inner corner of your eye all the way to your upper lip and finally to the corner of your mouth. Do this several times. picturing the wings releasing downward. Keep moving the wings downward as you breathe, especially on the inhale. This softening will help the breath flow more easily in and out of the body.
Here’s another way to become very aware of your nose while breathing. On the inhale, direct the breath over the lining of the inner nostril (along the septum) and exhale over the lining of the outer nostril (under the wings). By doing so, you deepen the space of the inhale and smooth the texture of the exhale. You can also imagine that your nostrils are mirror images of your lungs (they are the same shape, after all). So when you breathe in along the inner nostril, you are breathing in along the inner lining of your lungs nearest the heart. As you exhale along the outer edges of the nostril, your breath is moving along the outer edges of your lungs. To learn more about your incredible nostrils, study Light on Pranayama.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Trataka Meditation

There are as many types of meditation as there are types of meditators. It is always useful and enlightening to explore different meditative practices with compassion and curiosity to find the one(s) that speak to you.
Trataka meditation is a powerful way to still the mind and develop strong concentration through steady gazing. Traditionally, practitioners gaze at something luminous like a candle flame or the moon. But, really, you can use almost any object to gaze at, as long as it is an object that brings you a sense of calm, like a leaf or even a dot on the wall. Please avoid using a candle if you have cataracts, glaucoma, myopia, astigmatism, or epilepsy.
To begin your trataka meditation, place a lit candle in front of you at eye level about 2 feet away. Be sure it is stable and away from drafts. Sit in a comfortable position and gently close your eyes. Take 3 deep yogic breaths in and out through your nose, allowing your body to become more relaxed and still with each exhale.
When you are ready and relaxed, gently open your eyes and let them rest at the top of the candle wick. Don’t concentrate on not blinking. Instead, gaze with the intention of allowing the eyes to be relaxed and still. Let your whole awareness be on the flame. Your mind and your eyes are connected with the flame, as if it were the only thing in the whole universe.
After about 3 minutes, close your eyes but keep staring in the same direction. You might see an after-image of the flame. If you do, just keep focusing on it. If it moves around, keep staring at the center of your vision. If the image disappears or if you don’t see an after-image, just keep watching the black screen of your mind and notice anything that appears. When your eyes feel rested and the after-image has disappeared, you can repeat the process again.
To close the practice, rub your hands together vigorously to build up heat and energy. Cup them over your closed eyes. Gently open your eyes and let them rest, just gazing forward without focus for a few moments.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

The Power of Pranayama

In yoga, we call our breathing practices pranayama. Prana means life energy and yamameans control in Sanskrit. Put them together and our breath is our means to control our life’s energy. Powerful stuff, isn’t it?
According to The Complete Book of Yoga, when practicing full yogic breaths, “you are conscious that you draw more air into the lungs and empty them more thoroughly”. Your inhale should be carried to the point of feeling full, but not strained. Likewise, the exhale should give the feeling that you have emptied the lungs completely (although that is physiologically impossible). A yogic breath is complete when you are conscious of all the respiratory muscles working, you have a feeling of fullness and then a feeling of emptiness in the lungs.
A favorite pranayama practice for yoga movements is that of dirgha pranayama. In this simple but powerful practice, you inhale from the bottom of the lungs (it’ll feel like the belly) to the top (near the collarbones) and exhale from the top to the bottom. Imagine it like this: your trunk is an old-fashioned thermometer. Your belly is the bulb of mercury and when you inhale, energy builds and the temperature rises from bottom to top. As you exhale, the temperature falls again, returning the mercury back to the bulb, from top to bottom. Practicing pranayama fifteen to twenty minutes a day is ideal and “increases vital capacity, energizes, exercises the lungs and respiratory muscles, oxygenates and purifies the bloodstream, removes phlegm, cleanses the sinuses and nerve channels, soothes and tones the nervous system, improves thoracic mobility and broadens the chest, improves digestion, massages the abdominal viscera, and calms and concentrates the mind.” WOW!
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Compassion and the Yoga Sutras

maitri-karuna-mudita-upekshanam such-dukkha-punya-apunya-visharyanam bhavanatash-citta-prasadanam
The projection of friendliness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity towards objects – be they joyful, sorrowful, meritorious, or demeritorious – bring about the pacification of consciousness.
–Yoga Sutra 1:33
Yoga is, traditionally, a solitary practice. Our time on a mat provides great potential for transformation, for awakening, and for growth. Sure, we know how to breathe and center while in a balance pose. Holding chair pose for several breaths is tough, but we know how to soften around the challenge. And we learn to settle our racing minds during meditation. But, often, it is our time between yoga sessions that test the strength of our practice. It is when we are interacting with the world, from strangers on TV to our most intimate relationships, that we can truly examine ourselves as yogis.
According to Patanjali, cultivating compassion is part of the journey toward the “pacification of consciousness”. It’s hard to find calm if you don’t also seek compassion – for yourself, for others, and for all beings in the universe. And Patanjali is hardly alone in his direction to live with compassion. According to 1 John 3:23, Jesus says, “Love one another”. The Dalai Lama is regarded as a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion. In Japan, this Buddha is named Kannon, translated to “she who hears the cries of the world”.
Shouldn’t we all be hearing “the cries of the world” right now? The word compassion is from the Latin prefix com- and the Latin word pati. Put them together and compassion means “to suffer with”. We have been mandated to express compassion to, and share in the suffering of, everyone, all the time. And, according to Patanjali, in doing so we will be purified and rest in the “pacification of consciousness”.
We invite you to take some time this week and practice cultivating compassion.
  • Strengthen your compassion “muscles” by writing down all the ways you behaved compassionately each evening before bed.
  • Notice how often during the day you judge yourself. When a judgmental thought pops up, purposefully replace it with a compassionate thought (like “I’m doing my best right now”).
  • Show compassion to your colleagues, family, and fellow students by keeping their health, safety, and mental well-being in mind.
Actively practicing compassion isn’t easy. You may feel like you are giving up some comfort or happiness. It may feel like what you are doing is an unfair burden. Do it anyway. Share in the suffering of others so we can all grow together. Love one another by keeping each other safe. Hear the cries and respond with compassion.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Make Mindfulness a Habit

Mindfulness has been in the news A LOT in the last few years – and with good reason! Science has shown that a mindfulness practice can:
  • promote empathy
  • enhance self-compassion
  • decrease stress and anxiety
  • improve general quality of life
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And the best part is you can start a mindfulness practice right now! It’s simple, powerful, requires no equipment, and is quite portable. Mindfulness simply means being aware of what is happening inside and outside without trying to change it.
Here’s an easy mindfulness practice: Name Three. Sitting right where you are, name 3 sounds you can hear. Name 3 sensations you are physically feeling. Name 3 things that are blue (or brown, or green, etc.). Just by stopping your endless loop of thoughts for a brief moment to observe what is happening right now gives your mind a chance to reset so you can go back to your normal routine, but hopefully with a bit of added peace. The more you practice mindfulness, the stronger those “muscles” become. Click HERE for some one minute mindfulness activities (sometimes called Brain Breaks).
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.  See you in the studio!

Your Inner Smile

An Ayurvedic teacher once said, “An illness is a function of the loss of the inner smile.” What is the inner smile? Where is it, exactly? And, if it is so important to health, how do we do it? How do we maintain our inner smile, even when our outside world may not be such a nice place?

According to the yoga master, Aadil Palkhivala, the inner smile lies deep in your Heart Center and only emerges when you truly feel connected with all things. Your inner smile is your bliss; your calm inner state, formed by your knowledge of connectedness. It is the feeling of true love, but not in the passionate or sentimental sense. No one and no event can bring you bliss, just as no one and no event can take away your inner smile. Your inner smile is a choice – do you choose to connect to your heart and soul, or do you choose to let your circumstances push you around?

One way to choose bliss is to practice Smiling Breath. Your breath is physically the closest you can get to your inner world. To develop Smiling Breath, smile from within on your inhales. In other words, smile with your eyes and heart (and lips) as you breathe in all that is good. Feel light and full. Then, on the exhale, calm your mind, focusing only on the feeling of breath on your upper lip. Repeat several times, smiling on the inhale and focusing on the exhale. In this way, you program your subconscious to link the sensation of breath with bliss. So even in the busy-ness of daily life, each of your breaths will remind you of your inner smile. With each breath, you choose bliss.

The real challenge to finding your inner smile comes during times of grief. Being connected to your Heart Center and knowing that bliss is a choice is a good start, but sometimes it takes more physical effort to smile (on the inside or the outside). One way to lift yourself out of anger or sadness is to actually lift your arms overhead. When you are upset, what does your body do? Clench up and pull inward – chest collapsing, fists squeezing, shallow breathing. Your body physically holds grief in your upper torso. So throw your arms up, open your armpits and chest. Do you notice that this posture looks a lot like someone celebrating? It’s not a coincidence! Lifting your arms has always been a joyous gesture. Back bends and twists also open the chest, giving your lungs more room to practice your Smiling Breath.

Your inner smile is always in there. Begin to notice it and practice finding it so you can enjoy your bliss, regardless of the circumstances and people surrounding you.

Tap. Tap. Tapping.

Healthy food?
Check.
Plenty of rest?
Check.
Exercise?
Check.
Drinking water?
Check.
You’re trying to do all the right things to stay healthy and happy (including joining Y4A for yoga classes and workshops). But if you are looking for a little something extra to boost your emotional health, maybe you could try tapping? No – not like Shirley Temple or Gregory Hines, though that would be fun! This kind of tapping combines psychology and ancient Chinese medicine as a simple and portable tool for mental health. It’s like psychological acupressure!
“Basically, you touch or “tap” acupressure points to release energy. Simple tapping can stimulate the nervous system, relax muscles, move lymph, and promote healthy blood flow. Plus tapping is a healthy self-soothing behavior. It deactivates the fight-or-flight response and calms the body and mind. Tapping while experiencing negative or stressful events can reprogram our mind’s response to it. The tapping basically stops the panic message before it hits the amygdala in the brain. In one study, an hour-long tapping session reduced the cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) by 25%-50%!
Sometimes referred to as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), the tapping is most effective when used in the proper spots on the body and in conjunction with positive affirmations. In other words, while tapping you should be repeating a positive mantra. Several websites are available for quick demonstrations, and many videos are also available to educate yourself about the technique.” (Link to article here)
Shaking your body works in a similar way – and chances are you’ve used this calming technique without even realizing it! Think about a time when you were all wound up with extra energy. You might have taken a moment to “shake it off” to settle down. Three quick shaking practices to get out of a stress response are:
1) Ping Shuai Gong – Swing Hands Exercise: This simple swinging-hands exercise improves Chi (qi) and blood circulation through the theory of “Ten fingers connecting the heart” opening all our body meridians and stimulating bone marrow to rid toxins from the human body.
2) Kim Eng – Shaking Practice: This simple shaking can be done anywhere, just shake out the part which feels tense. Jump, kick and throw your hand up. Surrender to the shaking. Let out any sounds that want to come out. You will feel the release of tension.
3) Crawling – The Best Mind Body-Exercise: Just get on fours with the kids and crawl and shake away your tension.
There are so many paths to health and we are so proud to offer instruction in yoga, meditation, and breathing to our students across the country (and continent via Zoom)! Keep working on your mental and physical health however feels best to you. You are important!
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Sweet Dreams

A bout of occasional insomnia isn’t unusual – we’ve all been there. And in these anxious times, falling asleep and staying asleep are often even more elusive than usual for many of us.
There are many traditional treatments for insomnia including turning off screens before bedtime, sipping chamomile tea, and avoiding caffeine. Been there. Done that.
Have you ever tried yoga and Ayurveda practices to help you slip into sound slumber? In clinical studies, yoga has shown to improve:
  • Sleep efficiency
  • Total sleep time
  • Total wake time
  • Sleep onset latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep)
  • Wake time after sleep onset
Some poses that improve sleep are legs-up-the-wall, supported bridge pose, reclined cobbler, child’s pose, happy baby, seated forward fold, corpse pose (savasana). These poses in particular cool the mind, relieve stress, activate the body’s natural resting response, reduce heart rate, and refresh the heart and lungs.
You might also try a special (and tasty) treat before bed based on Ayurvedic practices and have a cup of warm Golden Milk. The spices and milk proteins help settle the nervous system and build the Ojas (Deepak Chopra defines ojas as “the pure and subtle substance that’s extracted from food…the vital nectar of life”). Here’s the recipe (adapted from Balance & Bliss Ayurveda:
  • 1 cup organic milk (cow, soy, almond, rice, cashew, oat, etc.)
  • 1 spoonful Ghee (clarified butter) – you can make this yourself or buy it at some grocery stores
  • Maple syrup, to taste
  • A pinch or two of each spice, to taste:
  • Turmeric
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cloves
Warm ghee until it is melted. Add the milk and spices and heat. When warm, sip slowly.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.