Friday, May 22, 2009

Restorative Yoga Breathing

2 to 1 Breath

There is a type of breathing I especially like for Restorative class. It is called 2 to 1 Breathing. This means that you will extend your exhale to take twice as long as your inhale takes.

To start out, close your eyes and settle into your body. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the belly bellowing out on the inhale and drawing back into the body on the exhale. You are not making this happen, it is happening naturally. Sit here for about 5-10 breaths, settling in to the body and quieting the mind.

Now start to notice how many counts it takes you to inhale and how many counts it takes you to exhale. In normal breathing the counts should be about equal. For me it is about 2-3 counts for both inhale and exhale. Notice this breathing pattern for about 5-10 breaths.

Next, start to nudge your exhale to take longer than your inhale. You are now controlling your exhale, drawing it out, extending it to 2 times the length of your inhale. So, if your inhale takes 2 counts, your exhale should now be 4 counts, or if your inhale was 3 counts, your exhale should be 6 counts. Practice this 2 to 1 Breath for 5-10 counts. If you start to feel panicky let go of the 2 to 1 Breathing and go back to regular, even breathing. If you like this breath continue for the full 5-10 rounds.

When you have competed 5-10 rounds of 2 to 1 Breathing let go of the control of the exhale and return to even, steady breathing, equal counts on the inhale and the exhale. Let your attention come back to the body and then back to the outside world. Continue on with your day.

2 to 1 Breathing is calming, helps relieve stress and soothes the body. Use this breath anytime before or after practice, at work, at home, or any time you are feeling stressed out and just need a quick "breather."


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pain, Fear, or Fear of Pain?

More Teacher Training Ah-ha's

I have noticed a tendency both in myself and in some students to hold back in a posture because of a previous bad experience, a chronic pain issue, or because of a perception that something bad will happen.

I try to do a couple of 40-day practices throughout the year. In one of my 40 day practices last year I laid on the foam strip every day (in addition to other postures). It felt so good that I would stay for quite some time. I don't keep a clock in the room where I do yoga so I can't say for sure how long it actually was.

After a couple of weeks I started to have extreme discomfort in my mid-back. I had a hard time taking a full breath and I felt like I needed to crack my back all the time. The only time I didn't hurt was when I was laying on the strip.

Finally the pain got to be too much and I made an appointment with my chiropractor. Turns out my back was all out of whack - especially around T7 and T8 - the exact region where the end of the foam strip would rest. My chiropractor was able to get me adjusted but I became misaligned again within a few days and had to go back.

After that experience I became fearful of the foam strip. I didn't want to lay on it at all but we were using it a lot in the classes I was attending so I often had to lay on it. So I modified the pose and used the strip in 1 layer instead of 2, placed a blanket under my bum and only stayed for a couple of minutes.

Then I had a training with Susi Hately Aldous and she wanted us to use the foam strip doubled up. I was so scared of creating pain again in my body that I started to cry. Susi talked me through it, saying to breathe to the area and ask myself if I was actually having pain or if I was having fear. An interesting question. Something we could all ask ourselves about many things. In this case it turns out I was having fear of pain, not pain itself.

In the book, The Yamas and Niyamas Deborah Adele talks about Svadhyaya (Self-Study). This idea of breathing into an area of the body and asking it what is going on in there (self-study) has been helpful to me in figuring out old hurts and habits and in working out new patterns and postures.

Now I can lay on the foam strip (doubled) without pain but still with a little fear - I like to call it caution. I stay only as long as I feel comfortable. I keep my awareness in my spine and as soon as I start to have discomfort I remove the foam strip. With this new awareness I am able to reap the benefits of the opening that comes from using the foam strip in the doubled up position without crossing the edge into pain.

Happy exploring.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Therapeutic Teacher Training Ah-ha's

Are you Married to Your Breath?

This is a good one. Watch yourself move, watch yourself breathe, watch yourself breathe and move. Can you move counter to what you have trained yourself? Can you exhale when you open your chest and inhale on contraction? Sounds backwards I know. And it feels backwards too but the point is....Are you married to your breath and/or your movement patterns?

A couple of examples...

1. We were practicing Marching Abs (bent knee leg lifts) with an engaged core. I noticed that I could not lift a leg until I had taken a deep inhale and a full exhale (to relax? to prepare? for what purpose?). Only then could I engage my core with purpose and lift a leg. I was stuck in a breath and movement pattern. I had practiced this pattern so many times that it almost became a superstition: inhale-exhale-relax-engage core-lift leg. I couldn't lift my leg without the first 4 steps happening in exactly that way. Now, after practicing this I am starting to be able to engage my core and lift my leg without the first 3 steps. But I still want to revert to my pattern. Curious.

2. Another woman was not stuck so much in a breath pattern as a movement pattern but the example is still relevant. We were practicing finding a twist solely from our torsos by moving from the spine first. We were laying on one side with bent knees, top arm raises to point at the sky and then you try to twist open, bringing the heart center towards the sky without leading with the arm and without letting the top knee slide off the bottom knee. Her issue was that she couldn't lift her arm to the sky without twisting at the same time. Normally she can move her arm, but in this particular exercise she became so stuck that she couldn't lift her arm at all without her habitual movement pattern. Someone helped her lift her arm skyward a few times, she developed a new pattern and was able to move her arm without twisting. Interesting.

I invite you to watch yourselves. Watch your breath, watch your movement, watch your breath and your movement together. Notice your habits, experiment, play, and have fun with this.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Therapeutic Teacher Training

Today I am starting a 5 day Therapeutic Teacher training with Susi Hately Aldous. See the Therapeutic Yoga for the Shoulders and Upper Back blogs for more information about some of the teachings I have already taken from her. I'm looking forward to the training, to learning more about how to relieve pain in the body, and to sharing this new knowledge with my students.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Laying on the Foam Strip - Step 5

Therapeutic Pose for the Shoulders and Upper Back

Step 5: Lay for 5-10 minutes, allowing the shoulders to settle in around the black strip. Focus on your breathing. To come out of the pose, or if at any point laying on the strip becomes uncomfortable, push the blanket out from under you, roll gently to one side, push the strip out of the way and then lay back down on your back in Savasana.

For more information about exercises you can do while laying on the black strip see my blog post: Therapeutic/Restorative Yoga Help. For more information on the book by Susi Hately Aldous which inspired this pose, check out: Therapeutic Yoga for the Shoulders and Hips

Review Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 or Step 4.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Laying on the Foam Strip - Step 4

Therapeutic Pose for the Shoulders and Upper Back

Step 4: If you still have discomfort or flared ribs, unfold your strip and lay on it in a single layer. If you feel like your chin is higher than your forehead place a pillow or folded blanket under your head.

Review Step 1, Step 2, or Step 3.