Archive for Yoga for Depression

The Possibility of Beginning. Maybe.

Well friends,

It’s a New Year.  We huffed our way through the holidays (in a spirited, good-natured way, one hopes), and we’ve crossed the threshold into 2009.  

I’ve often felt that this (somewhat arbitrary) point in one’s calendar should elicit some kind of significant transformation, some sacred renewal, some refreshing sense of purpose, meaning, intention, whatever. 

Yes, I went there.  The Caterpillar representing Transformation.

But I’ve rarely actually experienced anything of the sort — At least on or around January 1st.

However, many people regularly do.  And if you’re one of the regulars – It may be worth giving a quick thanks for such a palpable sense of Beginning.  

And I’d like to request membership into your club, perhaps just this time around, as I’m feeling a small bit of transformative Good happening beneath the surface.  

The purpose of Yoga, to whatever extent you practice it, and during whatever time of year, is actually… transformation.  Which makes the New Year a great time to let it shed some light in your corner…

Tree Pose

I describe Yoga as a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that leads you to your next and better place — Regardless of where you start.  

I started Yoga in a very isolated and frightened place.  At the time, I was dealing with undiagnosed depression and a hefty bit of self-doubt and self-hatred.  I was accustomed to working out in order to reach specific physical goals, and Yoga, at first, was another work-out option for me.  

The jarring thing was that the practice was so hushed.  Even when I felt like I was sweating through it, the idea of counting breaths made me… breathe.  And it made me listen to the breaths.  

I slowed down.  I felt calm.  (Unintentionally I assure you!   Calm was scary!)  It was utterly different than anything I’d done before.

Not to mention that in some of the poses, as I breathed, I would feel my body loosening and letting go.  I saw how physically uptight I was, how closed in… And how, with a bit of time and attention, it was possible to open up.  I saw distinct parallels with my emotional life, although I didn’t want anyone drawing them at the time.Gavel.  (Sentenced; get it?)

From the beginning, I think Yoga gave me a vague sense that nothing was sentenced.

Everything was changeable, even my own self-perception.  A lovely new idea.  

I still grapple with my will: With wanting to overtake a posture rather than allowing it to show me something about myself or my body.  I’m Type A, so it’s likely that this will continue to be my greatest Yogic challenge for some time.  But I also credit Yoga with teaching me a couple key Type-A-Take-Notice things:

1. You can always breathe – No matter how stressful or difficult the situation is…

2. and you can always let go just a little bit more.

Letting Go.

The practice of Yoga, even when seen only as a physical “workout,” will bring about some amazing transformations.  In addition to a more toned physique, increased strength & flexibility, lower blood pressure, improved respiration, reduced stress, supple joints, and better sleep…

…you may notice some sweet bonuses along the lines of greater ease with your body, a more objective view of anxieties, a practiced kindness toward yourself, more mindful consumption, a sense of having done something healthy… Etc.

This comes as a result of Yoga’s peculiar approach (at least in the world of physical training): In which you enter each posture not only to reach a physical goal but to truly take notice of where you are, right now, here on this mat.  

What is your body truly capable of?  Does it need rest?  Where do you feel the most sensation?  Are you clenching your jaw?  Can you take one more deep breath?  Can you relax anywhere?

The noticing is the beginning of the Change.  

Right now, my personal practice of Yoga is teaching me about vulnerability.  I often hide from my emotions, using physical or mental challenges to busy myself away from issues of the heart.  So you could say that it’s my practice of Yoga that’s given me a sense of Beginning this year…  

Here’s why:  As I mentioned, I’ve often gone about my practice by attempting to overtake each posture by sheer will and strength. (“I will get into headstand without a wall, I will not arch my back, and I will stay up there so help me until someone else falls down first!”)

I'm Fiercely Ambitious and Unaware!

Such focused ambition can be helpful in some arenas, but mostly what it does for me is block out anything unsavory.   By making my goals the only things that truly capture my attention, I give myself  a way out — A way to ignore the process, the moment, my actual life — with all its difficulties, questions, doubts, disappointments, and depression.  (I should note that I also wind up missing its joys, loves, inspirations, celebrations, etc…)

Choosing Not to Look.So as the year begins, I’m contemplating the idea of process.  In Yoga, I’ve seen that it’s possible to be fully aware of each moment, and to be truly kind to myself  — Even if I’m still on my way toward my “goal.”  

I’ve also seen that when it comes down to it, that very kindness is the whole point.  

And that it takes a lot more mastery than headstand.

Headstand.

Tuesday, December 9.

The Tuesday review for the Interested…  

Our theme was Surrender: Being at peace with the body you brought to the mat.  Exploring the body, and allowing it, peacefully, to have whatever strength it has.  To see where your edges are, but once you’ve found those edges, to surrender to them: To not wish it was otherwise, to not become discouraged or irritated by your body or its perceived limits.

We began with some gentle stretches: the neck, twisting, cat/cow.  We added some hip circles, which help to loosen to the pelvic area and bring awareness to any tightness in the hip joints.  We did the Table Balance again, working not only on balance but abdominal strength, followed by Child’s Pose.

We explored rolling up onto the back of the head, very gently stretching the back of the neck.  After Warrior 1 finding Downward-Facing Dog a couple times (with Child’s in between for a lovely rest), we found the Full Warrior 1: Pulsing in and out of it in order to safely explore our edges and the amount of strength and balance we could bring to it that day. 

We also found 5-Pointed Star for the first time, followed by the Goddess Pose–

5-Pointed Star  

Goddess Pose…Which took us into Warrior 1 on the other side.  These are all ideal postures for building strength and confidence, which means they’re also great for learning Surrender.  Your body as it is has its limits, and this is not a bad thing.  It’s simply The Way It Is.  It’s a beautiful thing to feel strong and confident in your body, not because you’ve achieved a certain look to your pose, but because you’re truly feeling yourself IN that pose — Embracing the reaching, stretching, dipping, flexing, and breathing that’s happening.  Embracing it, enjoying it, appreciating it — However it looks for you at the moment.

We moved through a more full version of the Sun Salutation for the first time, which is lovely for raising the heartrate and warming the body.  And warmth throughout the body not only brings awareness to the muscles, circulation, etc, but it also allows those muscles to release a bit more easily.  Warmth also inspires the body into a deeper rest once Relaxation rolls around.  

sun-salute-sequence

We found the Tree Pose again, a great opportunity to Surrender.  In this posture, it can be easy to become irritated at yourself for being unable to stay balanced.  It’s a beautiful teacher — A beautiful opportunity to sense that ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  Your body is where it is today, and your ability to balance is not something to judge, but rather something to notice.  To appreciate.  To breathe through.  

Tree PoseWe finished the sequence with some belly-down postures, including Cobra and Half- and Full-Locust.  In these postures, rather than using our upper-body strength to thrust the body up, we focus on grounding through the pelvic bone and using our lower-back muscles to gently lift up.  Gently, so that we notice where our edges are.  So that the neck doesn’t crane back. (At least not yet!  Perhaps later on in the full version.)  And gently, so that the spine stays long and spacious, even as it enters into a mild backbend.  

Cobra PoseWe finished off with the Bridge Pose and a few leg stretches using a Yoga strap.  Bridge is another beautiful opportunity to Surrender: to see where the body can go, and then surrender to its limits, to its edges, with gratitude and compassion.  

Bridge Pose 1  Bridge Pose 2

In a beginning Bridge pose, the arms stay extended down the sides with the palms against the mat.  As in the second picture above, a straight line is created from the shoulders and chest through the knees.  As you advance in the posture, with increased strength and flexibility, the hands may clasp beneath the torso (as in the first picture above), and the body makes a bit more of an upside-down “U” shape from the shoulders to the knees.  The Bridge posture ultimately prepares the practitioner for Chakrasana, or Wheel Pose:

Wheel Pose

Thank you all so much for practicing, for finding compassion for your body, for taking time to be gentle with yourselves and for exploring your edges with me!  December 14th’s practice will post very soon. Meanwhile, take your five minutes today…

Rest.

Sleep ToesHello friends,

It’s been a wholly beautiful week… My last few days have been deliciously consumed with Ellery’s holiday show with Ric Hordinski, which was as magical as we could have expected (and perhaps more.)  Justin and I are feeling particularly Grateful today… And it’s a great season for it.  

I’ll post Tuesday’s sequence for you very soon — (Our ‘theme’ was Strength vs. Surrender, and I think it may have been timely for all of us… More to come on that.)

But meanwhile… Rest.

This morning, I was listening to Buddhist teacher Ajahn Brahm via podcast, and he said, 

Five minutes’ investment in Rest will save you hours of time later on. 

He was applying this to the idea that in our culture, most of us work inefficiently.  We think that in order to meet our goals, to be successful, to become who we want to be, we need to work work work.  Because of this,  the ideas of rest and of taking time are nearly enemies.  With this mentality, we rarely show up for the present moment — The only one that ever really matters.

Sadly, the way that life truly works makes this harried lifestyle ineffective.  Which we tend to find counter-intuitive…

Ajahn Brahm mentioned a large company in London that recently tripled its clientele, doubled its profits, and retained all of its staff… Leading to its reception of a Best Business Practices Award that year.  When asked how the company achieved all of this, they said that they simply banned Overtime: No one was allowed to work more than 8 hours a day and no more than 5 days a week.  

Because of this, the employees were rested.  Their home lives were healthier, with improved family relationships.  And with more time to devote to family and to other interests, their time at work was devoted and positive.  The ‘office politics,’ often a result of simple fatigue and irritability, diminished — improving morale, cooperation, and productivity.   Employees’ work was more efficient because they had time — apart from the workday — to deal with their other obligations, family crises, etc.  And interactions between employees and business clients were positive, because the employees enjoyed their work.  As a result, clients enjoyed working with the company, and recommended it to others.  

All of this because the employees were cared for and rested.  The result was more and better work!

sleeping-cat

We’ve heard stories like this before, but I think most of us still feel that the busier, the more harried, the more stressed we are, the more productive we are.  And (perhaps?) even the more valuable we are.  

And with this busy-ness & time-consumption comes fatigue, irritability, destabilized/strained relationships… Not to mention the physical and emotional effects of chronic stress.  

stress-ball

We wind up with repressed (or not-so-repressed) resentment toward our work, even if it’s something we believe in, because of the other interests/passions/hobbies/relationships that it blocks out with its demands on our schedules & mental space.  

So there are many ways in which Ajahn Brahm’s thought is true:

Ajahn Brahm

* Five minutes’ investment in rest can give you mental clarity to assist your brainstorming– Cutting down on the hours you invest in a project, dilemma, etc.

* Five minutes’ investment in rest can lend the poise and peace of mind to deal with a confrontational person, a difficult situation, etc– Cutting down on the time spent mixed up in office politics, in apologies, in worrying about personal encounters, etc.

Harried.

* Five minutes’ investment in rest is enough to break the pattern of chronic stress, lower your blood pressure, fill your lungs with oxygen, and release some muscular tension– Improving your immunity and your heart function and saving the time you may otherwise spend at home with an illness, in a hospital with heart problems, or dragging yourself through your work day with a common cold.  

* Five minutes’ investment in rest can help bring balance and rest to your mental state so that it’s easier to fall asleep at night.  Which means you get more sleep and have more energy the following day, which means that the work you do is better and more efficient.

sleeping-in-bed

* Five minutes’ investment in rest is enough to refresh your senses, bring you into the present, and inspire you with the power of the immediate moment.  It’s enough to remind you of your motivation for your work: what truly inspires you to put forth your effort.  It’s enough to remind you of your love for your family, your love for your fellow man, what really matters in life, the small-ness of problems that otherwise seem insurmountable… Not to mention your personal values & your faith.

Hands All of this can save time you may spend later on trying to make up for half-hearted work, or trying to repair or maintain difficult relationships that crop up as a result of negligence or stress.  It can save you time dealing with depression, apathy, listlessness… and/or years spent doing work from which you feel disconnected.  

Incidentally, just five minutes of Yoga has been proven to lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, increase energy, release tension, provide deep rest (often better than a nap), improve sleep, improve digestion, improve mental focus and clarity, and even increase a sense of happiness and peace.  

balasana

In short, take your five minutes.  You’re too busy not to!

sleeping-dog

Inspiring to Me.

Taken from Ascent Magazine

When I first started yoga, I was excited and imaginative, anticipating ecstatic spiritual experiences along the line of drug hallucinations. I thought yoga would lift me up so high that I would become something other. The reality is that I am more myself than ever, and yet I question ever more deeply who that self is.
From the ground of the asanas, I continue to stretch into new territory — with my body offering rich information and my mind expanding to question who it is that is experiencing. The more I practise, the more there is to learn. This sense of newness encourages me. I like an open system. Even though I repeat the same asanas again and again, they are never exactly the same; and so it is with me. I am the same but different.

–by Swami Lalitananda

The Hardest Part.

The hardest part, for most of us anyway, is believing that you’re worth the time.  I could be wrong about this, but one of the few things about which I feel certain these days is that we tend to come up short when it comes to self-compassion.  Such a thing doesn’t have to extend into self-hatred or even negative self-talk (though it does for the bulk of us), but it does include the inability to place value on one’s self.  

Uncluttering Your Life, below, sheds light on how this manifests for many of us: The way we’ll bend over backwards for someone else, but we won’t lift a hand for ourselves.  

(As a sidenote, this is utterly the opposite of what I grew up believing.  This is the opposite ailment of our souls.  It’s not that we’re selfish; it’s that we aren’t.)

In a manner of speaking.

Granted, it’s not like our bending-over-backwards is extended to “the whole world,” without regard.  It’s usually our families, friends, jobs, places of worship, community meetings, volunteer orgs…

But it’s certainly not extended to ourselves: the ones who (let’s face it) do have to actually be around (and, if I can be wildly greedy, NOT encumbered by self-doubt) in order to have a truly positive affect on our spouse/children/families/friends/clients/others.

And so Yoga is, as Amy Weintraub has said, “…about learning to build a new relationship with your body.”  Not just your physical body, but your mind, emotions, everything.  

Which doesn’t mean you start neglecting other people, or acting like an a- -.  (Sometimes we fail to do what’s good for us because we fear it will somehow hurl us into an abyss of selfish jerk-dom.)

cb054879

Rather, it means that you begin to pay attention.  

Maybe when you breathe, you notice the breath.  Maybe when you eat, you truly smell and taste the food.  When you lie on your living room carpet, you feel each part of your back body against the floor.  

(savasana)

Or when you stand in Mountain Pose, you feel the ground beneath your feet, the uplifting of your rib cage, the crown of your head pressing up.

(Mountain Pose)Maybe when you’ve been working for ten hours, you feel the fatigue (and maybe even rest!).  When you’ve been eating thirds and fourths, you feel that you’re full.  When you’re having a negative conversation, you feel its effects.  When you have a joyful encounter, you feel the joy fully.  When you love someone, you let it move you deeply.

(love)

(love)

Of course, maybe it means that you give yourself 90 minutes a couple times a week to truly be in your body, doing some Yoga and letting the practice sink in.  

Or that at night you take some deep breaths to soothe your nervous system, or, upon waking, maybe you breathe deeply while offering gratitude for a new day.  

Whatever it is, if you’re like me, it’s hard as h—.  

But not impossible.  

Perhaps we’ll teach each other.

Uncluttering Your Life

Excerpts taken from article of the same title in Yoga + Magazine, written by Michele Morris

We all want a life that’s rich in experience, but not at the expense of our energy and inner peace. How can we get the right balance?

images1

Know Your Heart
Overdoing for others can be a sign of a failure to love yourself. If you don’t value your own needs, you can’t possibly give them proper weight. For yoga teacher Donna Farhi, the author of Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship, staying close to her dharma [calling] keeps her close to her true self. “When I stay close to the truth of what I have agreed to do and what is the most valuable use of my time and energy, there seems to be little conflict involved,” she says. “When I don’t stay close to that truth, conflict ensues. The conflict can manifest itself as fatigue, getting sick, or as resentment that I am giving something that I really don’t want to give. It can manifest as not being fully present…

… Farhi, who teaches yoga throughout the world, is zealous about not allowing the many demands on her time to take over her life. “When I am on a deadline or on the road, it’s just not possible to take on other commitments,” says Farhi. “Otherwise I risk not fulfilling the commitments I’ve already made to people or getting exhausted so that I am no use to anyone, least of all myself.” How does she do it? “First, I honestly reflect on what I can do and what I can’t do, and what I need to delegate to some responsible individual,” she adds. “I am not a robot. I am mortal. The world will not stop if I take a nap.” 

One of the appeals of yoga or meditation practice is that we take time to breathe. But this is a skill we can use to bring balance to even the busiest day. When you’re waiting for an elevator, instead of punching the button repeatedly, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and wait for the bell. Before a meal, take the time to say grace, or simply pause and take a moment to breathe.

Shifting gears, creating rituals, setting boundaries, and staying focused on what really makes you happy will help you break the habit of overcommitment. Jane Morrison has come up with a different way of looking at the problem: “Something has to give—you or your family,” she says. “You can’t do it all. Rather than say no to everything, I think about what I want to say yes to. If I fill my life with the right yes’s, there’s no room for no’s.”+

Yoga’s Surprising Health Benefits

 

Seated Twist

Stretch yourself to a healthier heart, a better night’s sleep, and a happier outlook.

By Hagar Scher; taken from Fitness Magazine

For centuries, yoga gurus have said this ancient mind-body practice can do more than just keep you fit and flexible. In fact, they believe that regularly twisting your body like a pretzel on a sticky mat will yield incredible health benefits — staving off insomnia, extra pounds, even heart disease. Skeptical? We were too, at first, so we did some digging to see if we could track down legitimate research to back up these bold claims. Here’s what we found:

Lower-Back Pain

Yoga increases the range of motion in your hips, which can reduce lower-back pain, says Loren M. Fishman, MD, coauthor of Relief is in the Stretch: End Low Back Pain Through Yoga (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). In fact, a small study of older women (ages 44 to 62), presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting last year, suggests that yoga increases lower-back flexibility and diminishes pain. A word of caution: People suffering from persistent lower-back pain need a professional diagnosis before embracing yoga, because both backbends and forward bends can exacerbate some back conditions.

Heart Health

Practicing yoga for an hour and a half three times a week can make your heart healthier in just six weeks, says recent research from the Yale University School of Medicine. The 33 men and women who did just that lowered their blood pressure and improved their blood vessels’ ability to expand and contract by 17 percent. “How well the blood vessels dilate is a good indication of how healthy the heart is,” says Satish Sivasankaran, MD, author of the study. Researchers speculate that the improvement is due to the stress-reducing benefits of yoga.

Weight Control

Researchers can’t say exactly why, but two recent studies show that yoga helps with weight loss and maintenance. After surveying more than 15,000 adults, researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that those who didn’t practice yoga gained about 18.5 pounds more over a 10-year period than those who practiced for at least four years. A second study from the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, found that people who practiced yoga and meditation regularly, exercised, and watched their diet lost more weight than those who exercised and ate a healthy diet but skipped yoga.

Insomnia

Yoga can calm the whirling of the mind, which is helpful for insomniacs, who often have elevated levels of mental and emotional arousal, says Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, an instructor in medicine, division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School. He recently published a study which found that a half hour to 45 minutes of daily yoga practice — emphasizing meditation and breathing — helped chronic insomniacs sleep through the night. On average, the subjects increased their overall sleep time by 12 percent.

Anxiety and Depression

Yogic breathing techniques are powerful tools for alleviating serious anxiety and depression and neutralizing the negative effects of stress, says recent research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. That’s because yogic breathing can lower the heart rate and calm the nervous system, says Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, and one of the study’s authors.

December 2, 2008.

 

Down-Dog

 

Hello friends!

Oh the Downward-Facing Dog adventures we had.  Thank you for practicing! 

Here’s a Tuesday-Night Review for the interested–

We began practice on Tuesday night with a review of the Yogic 3-part breath and the Ocean-Sounding Breath.  The latter, “breathing with sound,” is the tool with which you can bring greater awareness, groundedness, oxygen supply, and release to your practice.  Try incorporating it more and more into the practice as we go!

Tuesday’s session was focused on opening the chest and lengthening the spine, so after some shoulder rolls and sun breaths, we did some seated twists (sitting cross-legged, twist to right and then left, maintaining a long spine as you go), the seated Half-Moon (reaching right arm up and over body, maintaining the long spine again), and some hip openers.  We didn’t get to the standing Half-Moon last night, but we’ll include it soon!

We warmed up the spine further while on all fours, with the cat/cow stretch, the c-curve (reaching the right shoulder toward right hip, repeat on left side), and threading the needle – where the right arm threads behind the left and you lie down on the right shoulder, in order to open up the shoulder blades.  

(If you’re feeling tight in the morning, restless in the evening, or taxed during the day, I recommend this short series of poses… Especially Cat/Cow, which is also great if you’re experiencing lower-back pain and tightness!)

We continued with the Puppy Pose, which is like the Downward-Facing Dog but on your knees and elbows (rather than feet and hands).  NOTE: If you’re experimenting with lengthening and straightening the spine in Down Dog, experiment some more with the Puppy Pose.  As you do, notice how the back feels, and stretch the elbows further away from you, elongating the spine.  Later, when we practice Down Dog, see if you can duplicate that feeling (to whatever extent works for you) in the Down Dog.

Puppy Pose

We moved from there through Child’s Pose, then Down Dog against the wall and with a chair (thank you for experimenting with me!)… And then we moved to standing poses: Mountain, shoulder-stretch with a strap, Yoga Mudra (clasping hands (or holding strap) behind you, and lifting hands up until you feel a stretch).  We worked through a couple Half Sun Salutations: Swan diving from Mountain down to a forward fold, lifting up halfway with a straight spine, then folding again, and sweeping up to Mountain again.  

We also repeated the modified Warrior 1 (on one bent knee), focusing on opening the chest and spine while balancing on the front foot and back knee.  We’ll work on the full Warrior 1 in the next class!  🙂

Our final postures included two belly-down asanas (postures), including Cobra (lying down with hands by rib cage, lifting head, neck and shoulders off of mat, keeping the spine long and working the back muscles) and Half-Locust (hands along sides, lifting one leg at a time).

And then we moved through Happy Baby (a great release; we’ll do this again!) and Savasana (Corpse Pose) for relaxation.  

As you move through the rest of the week and weekend, see if you can notice any moments when your shoulders are rolled forward or hunched up near your ears.  Notice if the back of your neck is falling toward your shoulder blades, or if your chin is drooping far forward staring at a laptop.  🙂  In these moments, lift your torso up out of your waist, roll your shoulders up, back, and down, and make your neck long, elongating your spine.  Take a deep breath and see if you feel just a bit revived.  🙂

*If you’d like to work more on the Downward-Facing Dog, here are two great things to try!

1. Remember that Yoga is a process and a practice.  If your body won’t yet allow you to experience the full pose, give yourself time, compassion, and breathing room.  Your body is the way it is right now because it’s had to be that way in order to protect you and get you through your days.  So thank it for holding you up, and for bearing your tension… And know that it will take some time and compassion to convince your muscles that they can let go.  🙂

2. Meanwhile, you can spend some time with the Cat/Cow stretch, particularly the Cow (in which the back is making a U shape). In the Cat/Cow stretch, the tailbone leads the movement.  It tilts up at the beginning of the Cow, and the spine follows, lengthening and pressing the heart toward the mat and forward through the arms.  

cow-stretch


As you practice the Cow stretch, pay special attention to the feeling of the tailbone and the arching down of the spine.  When you practice Downward-Facing Dog, your spine will be making this same shape and stretch: The tailbone tilted, the spine arching down with the heart pressing toward the mat and forward through the arms.  

So by finding Cat/Cow every now and again, you’ll learn a bit more about the lovely asana “Downward Facing Dog.”  And bonus, the Cow stretch feels awesome.  

More to come soon!

Two Quick Thoughts.

“Going to a class is not about accomplishing the perfect posture.  It’s about learning to build a new relationship with your body.” 

–Amy Weintraub

Want to relax?  🙂

“A small Scandinavian study that measured brain waves before and after a two-hour Yoga class found that alpha waves (relaxation) and theta waves (unconscious memory, dreams, and emotions) increased by 40 percent.  The increase in alpha waves and theta waves…means that the brain is more deeply relaxed after Yoga and that the subjects have better contact with their subconscious and their emotions.

“…Researchers at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, in cooperation with the Yoga Research Society, found that practitioners experienced a significant drop in cortisol levels after a single Yoga class.”

–Yoga for Depression

Sunday, November 30.

A review!  🙂

At the first class for our December series, we talked about some of the foundations of a Yoga practice, beginning with the idea that the practice is an opportunity to bring awareness into the physical body.  (We often ignore our physical bodies, or we’re at least unaware of them… Which is how we wind up with all kinds of muscle tension, why we can’t relax or sleep well, etc.)  Yoga is an opportunity to listen to your body and see where it is, how it feels, what it has to say right now.

We also talked about the Breath, and how breathing is foundational in Yoga.  In fact, you can have a Yoga practice even if you’re bedridden — Because you can practice pranayama — or breathing exercises.  

We began by learning the dirgha, or 3-part breath: Bringing the breath into the belly first, feeling it gently expand; then into the mid-chest, feeling the rib cage expand in all 4 directions (back, front, side, side); then into the top of the chest near the collarbones, feeling the tips of the lungs coming up beneath the collarbones.  You can also think of this as the three areas of the lungs — The very bottoms of the lungs, the middle area, the very tops.  This may help you visualize bringing all of the oxygen possible into your lungs, especially when you consider that we usually breathe shallow breaths, bringing oxygen only into the tops of our lungs. (As an aside, this kind of breathing naturally amps stress.  In fact, you can increase your anxiety purposely, just by breathing only into the tops of your lungs.  I don’t recommend experimenting though.)  🙂

After the Dirgha 3-part breath, we learned the Ocean-Sounding Breath (Ujjayi), where you breathe with sound, controlling both the inhale and exhale with smooth motions, making that Darth Vader kind of sound.  This kind of breath strengthens the diaphragm (since you must use the diaphragm in order to breathe this way), promotes relaxation, and brings oxygen into your body more efficiently.  Here’s a great quick explanation, taken from about.com:

Another way to think about Ujjayi Breath is to visualize your throat as a garden hose, with the breath passing through like a trickle of water. If you put your thumb partially over the opening of the hose, you increase the power of the water that is coming through. This is the same thing you are doing with your throat during Ujjayi breathing. The air that comes in through your constricted throat is a powerful, directed breath that you can send into the parts of your body that need it during yoga.

After breathing consciously, we moved into some warmups (especially for hips), and then learned Downward-Facing Dog (the upside-down V), Child’s Pose (resting over the knees), Mountain Pose (standing with grounded-ness and awareness), and a modification of Warrior 1 (much like a kneeling lunge, with arms overhead and hands in a temple position).

We ended the practice with the Seated Half-Moon (sitting cross-legged, stretch right arm overhead while leaning to the left, repeat on other side), and then the Supine Spinal Twist (lying down, bent right knee crosses over straight left leg, then you twist the spine to the right, and repeat on other side).  

And of course, the spinal twist was followed by Savasana, Corpse Pose, where we consciously relaxed from head to toe, and allowed ourselves to be still for once.  🙂  Savasana is often the most difficult of all Yoga poses, and it’s certainly one of the most important.  It integrates your physical practice, calms the nervous system, brings the mind to rest, and provides time and space for true relaxation — which is necessary to develop self-compassion, and to maintain a truly healthy body and mind.   

Thank you for practicing!

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