Just Sit

A regular yoga practice has been the most personally healing practice I’ve done in my life. Nothing so consistently gives me mental clarity, an able body and the ability to learn to just sit.

Consumer culture teaches us to chase the newest best thing and eternal youth. Neither has anything to do with reality. Yoga as a practice teaches you to focus your body to harness your mind and learn to let go. The breath is no longer held and you surrender. Learning to let go and not cling or grasp has been one of the greatest benefits of my practice.

In a tough situation, when I’m floundering on what to do I can just breathe and admit that I’ve no clue. Life can sort itself out. I go back to basics and remind myself that I’m not in control of anything other than my own actions. Sitting, breathing and observing first, I make better choices when I go into action.

Just sit. Be.

On the Breath pt.3

In yoga classes I regularly remind the students to breathe. I can never remind them enough and yoga is just exercise without the focus on respiration. The breathing will expand your body, open your tissues and allow more space for your self to reside in physical form.

In this video we talk more about the muscles of respiration and particularly what happens in inversions. Being upside down means that your breath changes in some key ways that you can take advantage of to strengthen breathing for when you’re right side up. Typically the breath is 50% inhale and 50% exhale. Use ujjayi to slow the breath down and enjoy the nuances and feeling of air going in and out of your body. Trace the breath from the nose to the lungs and back out again. Get lost in the breath. This feels good.

On the Breath pt.2

The most common breathing done in hatha yoga is called ujjayi. It’s said to build internal heat, cleanse the body and it aids in slowing down the heart rate. When people breathe this way there is a slight, small sounding rasp in the throat. It’s the sound of the ocean hitting the beach at low volume. If I have students exhale through their mouth and make a haaahahahahahahhhahahahah sound it’s the same muscular contraction taking place.

This is the epiglottis. This covers the trachea during eating so that food doesn’t go down into your lungs. This covering, if lightly contracted, closes the windpipe (trachea) slightly and makes for a smaller pipe to pull air down into the lungs. This has several functions. The sound occurs due to air rushing over the epiglottis much like the whistle that happens when you blow over a glass bottle.

The lungs are like balloons. There is one on either side of the heart. Those ballons are only so large and if you take a big in breath you can fill them in 3 seconds or so. By gently working with the contraction of the glottis you’re able to decrease the size of the pipe that air goes down. This allows someone to prolong the in breath or out breath substantially to say 12 seconds on the in breath and 12 on the out breath. Then comes the benefit of increasing the strength of the muscles of respiration.

The diaphragm and intercostal muscles that work to pull air in and push it out are strengthened through this kind of breathing because they’re working harder, pulling air through a smaller pipe. Long term this means that the muscles are stronger and your breathing improves and is more full even when you’re not in yoga class and not focusing on it. Better breathing, leads to better health.

So this slowed down, focused, oceanic breath allows you to get air, focus yourself internally and aids in the postures in yoga. It’s something people work on and gets easier with practice.

The easiest way to learn it is to breath through your mouth initially. As you exhale open your mouth and make a hhhhaaaahahahahaha sound. This isn’t with your vocal chords. You’re not singing or speaking you’re contracting the musculature of the epiglottis that allows you to close down the windpipe slightly. Once you’ve done this on the exhale try exhaling through the nose but hold that same throat contraction. With practice you should be able to make the hahahahahaahaha sound while breathing through your nose. Then the final step is to only breathe through the nose and make the sound on the inhale and exhale. This is ujjayi.

This breathing makes some difficult postures easier. I find my ujjayi kicks in even more when I find myself struggling in a pose and needing to settle in and focus. Over time the breath will slow your heart rate and calm you down while still providing ample oxygen to continue your practice.

On the Breath pt.1

I remind my yoga students to breathe. I’m always working on alignment, working on furthering their stretch and focusing on certain muscles to grow stronger but I return again and again to the breath. In hatha yoga, it’s the foundation everything else is built on.

In any pose at any time you should be able to breathe as fully as the pose will allow. If the pose is compressing your ribs so can’t take a full 100% breath then you breathe as well as you can with the space you do have. Poise and grace in position is what we’re working towards. If you can breathe steadily and calmly through a full class you’re well on your way to being able to sit and meditate.

The breath has profound effects on mood and outlook. Its ability to change one’s state of mind is well known in yoga. Older texts on pranayama usually start with a warning, “Danger! The exercises in this book can lead to arrythmia, anxiety, depression and eventually death…” not exactly something you want to play around with. Certainly at its edges there can be danger but for most the beginning of working with breathing is safe. I’ve been teaching it to seniors at a nursing home for a year.

The full range of changes chemically and biologically escape me. Let’s know that breathing in helps you take in more oxygen and exhaling allows you to rid the body of carbon dioxide. If we strengthen the muscles that help you breathe, you do so more efficiently even when at rest. Same as your bicep and a curl. The stronger it is the more it allows you to lift something with less exertion.

Breathe! You’ll live longer and with sharper focus.

How to neti pt.2

In a previous post we discussed the neti and how it creates a softness and texture to the breath through cleaning, hydrating and adding nuance to respiration. The nose is the preferred place to breath from, not the mouth. Mouth breathing stimulates the fight of flight response and most breathing in yoga is through the nose. “Mouth breather” is a derrogatory term for a reason, even if people don’t realize why, they sense it’s poor health function. If you can’t breathe through your nose, allergies come to mind, then breathe through your mouth. It’s not wrong, just not preferred. Always breathe.

Inside the nose and sinus passages are structures called turbinates. These structures aid in the cleaning and hydrating of air before it enters the lungs. Using a neti facilitates this process and the turbinates structure is of importance. When you breathe in through the nose the air circulates or spirals due to the turbinates. That soft, moist mucus membrane then picks up any particulate matter like dust, mold or pollen before it enters the lungs. As the air spirals and flows against the mucus membrane the increased moist surface area allows that particulate to stick, it’s part of your bodies filtering mechanism. See why the neti is important? It cleans this off regularly so you can start anew.


How to neti pt.1

A neti pot is something all people should have and use regularly. No other cleaning and hygiene regimen within yoga is as important to daily health in my opinion. As yoga practitioners know your breathing helps control many of the other functions in your body, having poor breathing leads to poor health in the long term.

In Austin people are extremely susceptible to allergies and this is a way to fight them off. It’s not a cure but with regular use I suspect allergies aren’t as severe and it gives your body less to fight.

Clean your nose, it’s as simple as that. In a future video we’ll discuss the internal anatomy of the nose as it relates to breathing. Share this around, if you’ve not used a neti…start.

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You take it with you

Most days I do a little yoga. I may not make it to a class or teach a class but there are usually back bends over the couch while playing poker online. Getting up I lean against the wall and do 1/2 downward dog and work on my bad left shoulder. My alignment continues to improve and my body seems almost miraculous. I practice yoga, practice Thai massage on clients and keep going.

I get little aches, irritations, mental disturbances and even touches of you should do more but I keep at it. Slow and steady wins the race but over time at 34 I see myself getting better, not worse. My body changes, my responses more sharp and my nervous system quickens. I can process information more clearly, make decisions founded in logic while allowing my intuition to flow. Trying to work on marketing for Thai massage in Austin and Round Rock I find the space that feels there is integrity, ethics and financial stability. Logic and emotions in balance.

When there is no time for a yoga pose, I’m still breathing. Working with my breath I’ve just gotten used to the ebb and flow. You increase the inhale, relax the exhale, reverse…repeat ad infinitum. Like the ocean waves crashing against the beach the breath goes on forever, unceasing. In a yoga class I remind students to breathe, alignment instructions are given and I encourage the students to continue exploring their breath. How does an inhale make the pose feel different than an exhale?

Over time the rhythm is changed. The musculature is strengthened and full breaths are taken with less effort and strain. What you work on on the mat goes with you. Slowly over time and with practice your rhythm evolves. Your breathing takes you where you need to go, a place with better posture, better alignment and the ability to calm yourself consciously. Yoga doesn’t just happen on a mat. When you practice long enough you take it with you.


Neti pot

A neti pot is a small teapot like tool you use to clean out your nose and lower sinuses. I was introduced to it years ago after reading about their use in yoga for breathing exercises. You fill the neti with a mix of water, sea salt and a little baking soda to soften the mixture. After turning your head to the side you pour the water through one nostril, it glides out the other and then you reverse.

The first time I did this then blew my nose I inhaled through nostrils that felt clean for the first time in years. I doubt I produce more mucus than the next person but mucus membrane, if left uncleaned, feels a bit like you’ve not brushed your teeth in a few days. When people tell me they’ve never used a neti it now feels like they’re telling me they’ve never brushed their teeth.

It’s difficult to explain a sensation if no one else has experienced it but lets just say I could really Breathe. All of the small nuances of air flowing through my nose could be felt all the way down into my lungs instead of having that light sensation muffled by dried, well..snot.

The neti is important for anyone who practices yoga and works with their breathing but in addition I recommend them to people with allergies. It won’t get rid of the allergies but it does give your body less to fight. It doesn’t counteract any medications and if used multiple times a day when you have a flare at least you’re able to clean part of your sinuses out.

Most don’t consider their breathing at all but there are other reasons to have a neti around. Anytime you’re feeling congested it can be used and lo and behold after a heavy night of nausea I found I could use the neti to rinse out, well, you get the picture.

I prefer using a plastic neti and I make my own mix of 50% uniodized sea salt and 50% baking soda. The plastic seems to last longer as most people I know eventually drop the ceramic ones and they break on the bathroom floor. I can even run it through the dishwaser to clean it semiregularly.

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If you practice yoga and pranayama or the breathing exercises associated with yoga I can’t recommend this highly enough. It helps fine tune the mouthpiece of your instrument so to speak and no one plays Coltrane on a unclean instrument.

There are more advanced uses of the neti which include taking water through the nose then spitting it out through the mouth and vice versa but the basic use is the first one to tackle. I recommend just letting the water pour through one nostril while breathing through the mouth then doing the same on the opposite side. Blow your nose as usual and this expels any excess water. Quick, simple and no matter how many times I say it an amazing difference in the feeling in your head.

The neti is a small addition to your overall life and health regimen that I can’t recommend highly enough. Here’s a link to the one I use and they can be purchased at Walgreens pharmacy.

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