Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pranayama: Three-Part Breathing May 31, 2011

Filed under: breath — R. H. Ward @ 9:49 pm
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A few days ago I posted about diaphragmatic breathing. The next breathing technique I have to practice this month is called three-part breathing. Three-part breathing works to completely fill and then completely empty the lungs, which is beneficial for removing toxins from the body. Because the three-part breath is so slow and deep, it’s also a helpful technique to learn for combating anxiety, anger, or stress.

Three-part breathing uses a long, deep inhale to fill the lungs to capacity. First, you activate the diaphragm to fill the bottom of the lungs (i.e., a diaphragmatic breath), then you continue to inhale, using the chest muscles to fill the ribcage, and finally the top of the chest rises as the lungs are completely filled with air. So the three-part breath consists, in order, of the diaphragmatic breath, the chest or thoracic breath, and the shallow or clavicular breath. Externally, the three-part breath can be observed as each section of the lungs fills up: first the belly puffs out, then the sides of the ribcage expand, and finally the top of the chest and even the shoulders rise as the lungs fill to the top.

On the inhale, we fill the lungs from bottom to top; exhaling, we empty the lungs in reverse order, from top to bottom: first the chest and shoulders drop, then the ribs contract, and finally the belly sucks in as the last bit of air is released from the lungs. (Note that all inhalation and exhalation should be through the nose, not the mouth.)

To try practicing three-part breathing at home, first work on isolating the three distinct movements and get familiar with what each movement feels like. Place your hand on your belly, then ribs, then chest, to feel how they rise and fall. Then try putting all three movements together in order. It will feel unnatural and strange at first, but with a little practice, breathing this way will feel more and more natural. I’ve only been practicing this technique for a little over a week and already I find myself breathing this way unconsciously. It’s a good calming breath for when I feel stressed or upset, and it’s also good to use when oxygen seems scarce (like on a crowded train car!).

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Pose of the Month: Side Plank May 29, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 6:45 pm
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Side Plank - Back View, Unmodified
Side Plank - Back View, Knee DroppedSide Plank - Back View, Foot Planted
Pose Name:Side Plank

Sanskrit Name:

Vasisthasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in downward-facing dog. Shift your weight forward into plank pose.
  2. Place your left hand directly under your face.
  3. Rotate the left foot to press the outside edge of the foot against the floor, and stack the right foot on top of the left.
  4. If this version of the pose is too challenging, there are two variations you can try. Either variation will add stability to the pose.
    • You can drop the left knee to the ground and keep the right leg extended with the inside edge of the right foot on the floor.
    • You could also keep the left leg extended, but bend the right leg and plant the right foot on the floor in front of you.
  5. Once the feet are settled, open your body to the right and extend the right arm straight up overhead, supporting yourself just on the left hand and left foot (or variation as appropriate).
  6. Keep the body straight. Try to make the body one long straight line from the outside edge of the foot to the top of the head. Engage your core muscles to hold yourself up.
  7. Hold the pose and focus on your breath.
  8. To come out of the pose, drop both knees to the mat. Press back into either downward dog or child’s pose if you need a rest.
  9. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Side plank greatly strengthens the arms and core muscles. It’s also helpful for improving balance.

Counterindications:

Those with wrist problems may want to avoid this pose, as it places a lot of pressure on the wrist; working with dolphin pose and dolphin plank, or just resting in child’s pose, may be good alternatives for these students.

My Experience with Side Plank:

Side plank has been challenging for me for some of the same reasons that regular plank is challenging: I have to rely on my arm strength to hold me up. However, side plank is even worse because in this pose I have only two points of contact with the ground (one hand and one foot, instead of both hands and both feet). So in addition to putting pressure on my wrists and wracking my weak arm muscles, side plank requires me to balance precariously on an arm that I know to be untrustworthy. It’s no wonder that side plank is a constant struggle for me. When I try to practice the pose without dropping a knee, my arm shakes and I can rarely hold the pose for more than a few breaths. Even with dropping the knee, the pose requires a strong conscious effort to focus on my breath and keep my breathing slow and even.

With side plank, I don’t feel the disappointment and frustration that I feel when practicing regular plank. Regular plank seems like it should be achievable but stays just beyond my reach, while attaining a solid side plank is clearly pretty far down the road for me. It’ll be a long time before side plank will be a pose where I can find the line between challenge and ease.

Right now, side plank is all work. I try to practice the pose dynamically, dropping a leg down when I need to rest and raising it up again when I feel able. I learned a different modification at an anusara studio last summer – rather than dropping the bottom knee, now I can try bending the top leg and planting the foot out in front, which requires more work than having the knee down but still adds stability. Having a few different techniques for modifying the pose gives me more confidence that I can eventually conquer it.

Side Plank - Front View

 

Pewww I’m a Rocket Ship! May 28, 2011

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:31 pm
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Here’s a hilarious and semi-offensive chart of yoga poses!

Names for Yoga Poses

Re-posted from graphjam.membase.com.

 

Hangover Sequence May 27, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:30 pm
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In honor of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, I present you with a sequence of yoga poses designed to help with hangovers! (Or, if you prefer, to help with headache pain and remove toxins from the body.)

  • begin in child’s pose (briefly! and don’t just stay there!)
  • rabbit pose to start the warm-up
  • come up to all fours for some cat/dog tilt (also called cat/cow)
  • thread-the-needle side stretches
  • step forward and up to standing (yes, really, it will do you good)
  • 2 rounds of half sun salutes
  • 2 classic sun salutations (nice and slow now!)
  • standing sequence: warrior 1, warrior 2, radiant warrior, triangle pose, revolved triangle
  • standing sequence, other side
  • tree pose for balance
  • come to the floor for cobbler pose and paschimottanasana
  • marichyasana and janu sirsasana with a twist (these seated twists will wring the toxins out of your internal organs)
  • if time allows, take another seated twist (for example, adding a twist to a simple cross-legged pose)
  • inversion: legs-up-the-wall (no need to get complicated here, your head’s throbbing enough already)
  • sivasana (and maybe a nap)

I hope this sequence helps you have a terrific weekend! I’ll be trying it out on at least a few friends, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’d like to read more about how yoga can help a hangover and learn why I chose these particular poses for this sequence, check out this article in the New York Times and this post at Elysium Yoga.

 

Pranayama: Diaphragmatic Breathing May 26, 2011

Filed under: breath — R. H. Ward @ 2:32 pm
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This will be the first in a series of posts describing the different pranayama breathing exercises I’ll be doing all month. First up is diaphragmatic breathing. This technique is just what it sounds like: breathing with your diaphragm.

Take in a deep breath, and let it out. Notice how your body had to work to breathe in, and how you relax as you exhale. This is natural: your lungs’ natural position is to be empty, so it doesn’t take any work to breathe out, but breathing in requires muscular work. If you aren’t paying attention to your breath, your body will do this automatically, but we want to bring some attention to how we breathe, notice any patterns or habits, and cultivate an awareness of how this system works. (After all, it’s what keeps you alive!) There are three main types of breathing: diaphragmatic breathing (which makes your belly pooge out), thoracic or chest breathing (which makes your ribcage expand), and clavicular or upper chest breathing (shallow breaths that make your upper chest and even shoulders move up and down).

The diaphragm is the muscle right under your lungs that helps you to breathe. When your lungs are empty, the diaphragm curves up into the natural space made by your ribcage; when you breathe in, the diaphragm flattens out as the lungs fill with air. By flattening the diaphragm, you draw air all the way down into the bottom of the lungs. This is a good thing! The lungs’ job is to oxygenate the blood, so that oxygen can be carried throughout the body. When we are sitting up or standing, gravity causes the blood to gather at the bottom of the lungs, so by using the diaphragm to pull air to the bottom of the lungs, the air can get the blood more easily and your lungs can do their job more efficiently.

Sit up straight and place one hand on your belly. Breathe in through your nose, concentrating on making your belly puff out. (No one’s watching, and you’re not wearing a bikini, so go ahead.) Don’t expand the ribcage, and don’t let your shoulders lift – just feel the belly puff out. Then breathe out, also through your nose, and feel the belly contract. If you exhale long enough, your belly might even go concave. Then breathe in and puff the belly out again. Do this a few more times until you get the feel of it. Then put your hand on your chest and do some shallow chest breathing: like a dog panting, or like you’re on the treadmill at the gym. Feel your chest go up and down; if you’re near a mirror, you can see this too. Do you feel the difference? You need a lot more of the shallow breaths to equal one long, slow diaphragmatic breath.

Next time, we’ll combine diaphragmatic breath with thoracic and clavicular/shallow breath to form (like Voltron) a three-part breath!

 

Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday Pranayama May 25, 2011

Filed under: breath,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 6:45 pm
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This month at teacher training is Breath Month! At Saturday’s teacher training session, we started work on pranayama, which are breathing exercises designed to improve the flow of energy in the body. Life energy, or prana, is what enlivens all of us, what makes us alive. Prana courses through the body, giving us energy, helping our cells do their work, and healing any problems. Breath is the mechanism by which prana is able to move in the body, so by deepening the breath, we can increase the flow of prana, and by practicing other breathing exercises, we can affect our energy levels and our mood and even heal illness.

So far in teacher training, we’ve studied the yamas and niyamas (moral practices), and asana (physical postures), all of which I’m completely on board with. Now, though, we’re getting into the realm of New Agey stuff. I don’t know how much I buy into the prana thing, or the concept that by practicing certain breathing techniques we can heal illness. I know the body is capable of many miracles, and so I’m trying to keep my mind open.

I’ve started on this month’s reading in Science of Breath, and one thing so far has made a lot of sense. In chapter 1, the authors point out that breathing is a unique biological function: it’s involuntary, like heartbeat or digestion, so it will happen automatically no matter what, but unlike heartbeat or digestion, breathing is a function that we can also control if we choose. It’s the only involuntary function that we can control. Ancient yogis noticed that breathing is unique in this way and decided that, because breath is the only function that is both voluntary and involuntary, breath might be the link between the body and the mind and controlling it might be the key to controlling other bodily functions. That sort of makes sense to me: breath is already in a special category, so maybe it does other cool stuff too. More to come as I continue with this month’s homework (see below).

We also had teaching practice on Saturday afternoon. We formed one big class together and J tapped each person to teach a part of the class to the whole group, telling us which poses to teach. I was given sun salutations; I taught the classical version with lunges, which I hadn’t taught before, and I think I did well. It was interesting, as always, to see how my classmates teach and what they say versus what they don’t say.

Here’s our homework for this month:

  • Complete an ayurvedic profile, tally the score, and read the results about your body type
  • Read the book Science of Breath by Swami Rama
  • Start on the book Moola Bandha: The Master Key by Swami Buddhananda
  • Practice daily pranayama exercises: diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing, and alternate nostril breathing (I’ll define the types of breathing for you in a later post, but what we’re talking about here is ten minutes or so, ideally twice a day)
  • Keep a journal about the pranayama exercises, my reflections and observances; this will evolve into being my paper to hand in next month
  • Do two posture write-ups on standing poses (choose any two)
  • Suggested: recruit friends and family to be yoga guinea pigs and practice teaching

This feels like kind of a crap-ton of homework this month. Luckily, I’ll be on a train for a good 8-9 hours round trip this weekend, which should help with getting the reading done, and I’ll be traveling to visit with friends who are willing yoga guinea pigs.

I had been upset that last month was Asana Month because I was so busy last month and I wanted more time to actually be able to practice the poses, but I honestly think it worked out for the best: being busy, I had to complete the work when I could, and I couldn’t be a perfectionist about it. This month the homework is less active and more thoughtful, and I am almost as busy this month as I was last month, so I predict insanity to come.

 

Veg-Adventures: No Hot Dogs for Me May 24, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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I survived my first visit as a vegetarian to a hot dog joint. I was in Arizona for a wedding, and one of the wedding events was a trip to a Mexican hot dog place because the groom was dying for a “Sonora Dog”. (In retrospect, my whole AZ trip would have been less problematic and possibly more fun if I hadn’t converted to a meatless diet a few weeks earlier, but c’est la vie.)

This hot dog event actually wasn’t too bad for me – I’m a hot dog purist, so the Sonora Dog, covered with cheese and lord knows what all, didn’t really entice me. What was hard was not being able to participate in what the rest of my group was doing, the group experience of eating this particular food. I got two cheese quesadillas and heaped salsa on them. I found out later from the bride that I could have requested other filling inserts, like avocado and onions, but as it was, I ate what I ate and it was fine. I did get to drink horchata, which is one of my absolute favorite beverages, so that was great. Overall I focused on enjoying how happy my friends and family were to be eating this crazy food, because it makes me happy when the people I care about are happy.

The overall experience reminded me that there are just going to be times when, because of my choice not to eat meat, I’ll feel left out. That’s inevitable, but it’s also okay. Everybody feels left out sometimes. I made this choice for a reason, and a little discomfort doesn’t change that. I can appreciate my friends’ fun without resentment and without guilting them about it. And on future occasions, I can cook good food without meat and have friends over, or when it’s my turn to pick I can suggest vegetarian restaurants where we can all enjoy the meal.