Dear Sweet Community:
Big changes! I am so excited my new website is up and running. I really see this website as a chance for our community to really interact with each other. All of you may comment on each alignment friday newsletter, ask myself or each other questions, discuss what you want from this specialized class or simply add your own information to what I have written. I also have a more general blog post on my site and it is an opportunity for me to talk more about my own personal journey with yoga and meditation and also to talk about my work as a somatic therapist and how I integrate that in my life and teaching. So I invite you to read the blogs and comment on them as well.
As for me, well, today I got a screw taken out of my foot. It was really bothering me and interfering with my achilles tendon and mobility in my joints in my foot. Going into this procedure I knew it would be uncomfortable. More psychologically (though it freaking hurt when he took it out don't get me wrong!) than physically. So this is relevant because this past Friday we used breath work for the nervous system. I lay on that table and shut my eyes and visualized my foot happy and thriving without that pesky screw. I used my breath, deeper uijayi breath too regulate and then cleansing breath to discharge energy from the nervous system. As I felt my stomach get nauseous I kept tracking what I saw in the room and breathing deep diaphragmatic breaths, keeping the prefrontal cortex of my mind open. This is how our practice of pranayama SERVES us in our life. We belong to this practice and we serve our bodies with it. This is a commitment but it is really rewarding. I feel calm as I write this, my body is going to heal faster because my nervous system is regulated. This is the generous gift I gave to myself today; as you do every time you step onto the mat :)
Alignment Tip of The Week:
The past two Fridays we focused on Tittibhasana (firefly) and Pranayama (breathwork)
To do Tittibhasana, you need open hamstrings and hips. Sit with your legs open wide and forward bend. Then do the same thing with your legs together. Try coming into a runners stretch with the right foot forward and your left leg straight in a lunge. Weave the right arm under the right leg, placing the hand on the outside of your right foot. Lift your hips here slightly. You can bring your head behind the right ankle if it is available to you. Once you have done both sides, stand at the top of your mat with your knees and feet set wider than your hips in a forward. Place a strap resting on your tailbone; reach you arms on the inside of your legs and grab the strap so your hands are reaching up towards your tail. Try wiggling one shoulder and then the other inside your legs and then try straightening your legs. Do this until the shoulders are behind your calves as much as you can. Next, bend your knees and hold onto the back of your heels with your hands and squeeze your knees together. Then place your hands behind your heels a few inches, fingertips facing the top of the mat. Rock your weight into your palms as they lay flat on the earth, lift your feet of off the ground and try to touch your big toes, if you can do that, press down through your hands and try straightening your legs for full Tittibhasana.
Yoga is divided into several different practices. Asana is not the only one. Pranayama is a very important part of the practice. In order to do asana we need to understand how the nervous system affects the soft tissues of our body and how breath affects the nervous system.
For the sake of brevity, think of our nervous system as a self regulating system that keeps shifting between two modes of response; the sympathetic (fight or flight), or the parasympathetic, (rest and digest). When there is stress we go into sympathetic response and the nervous system tells all of the soft tissue of our body to tighten and become responsive to action. When there is no threat we are using more our parasympathetic, in which case the nervous system tells the soft tissue to release into more elastic states. The two are not mutually exclusive. In yoga the nervous system closely correlates to the nadis or energetic channels. The Pingala Nadi is the solar masculine and is related to "the gas peddle" or the sympathetic system. The Ida Nadi is the lunar feminine and is related to the "brakes" or parasympathetic nervous system. There is a nerve that wanders through the center of the body called the vegus nerve. and can be stimulated by the diaphragm. The veggies nerve triggers the parasympathetic response. The vegus nerve correlates to the Shushumna Nadi or the middle energetic channel.
There are several forms of Pranayama that work with the nervous system. Start in a comfortable crossed legged position with your spine straight and eyes shut:
Uijayi- Breathe in through your nose to the sound of "so" and open the back of your throat as you breathe out through the nose to the sound of "ha". Uijayi is diaphragmatic breathing. As the diaphragm squeezes and opens it stimulates the vegus nerve creating more rest in the nervous system and elastic soft tissue.
Nadi Shodana- As it's name infers, this pranayama works with balancing the Ida and Pingala Nadi's. Take the right hand to your forehead and press the first and middle finger into the third eye. Rest your pinkie finger by your right nostril and close your left nostril off with your thumb. Breathe in through the right nostril for 5-8 counts and then close off the right nostril with your pinkie finger. Hold the breath for 5-8 counts and then release your thumb and breathe out the left nostril for 5-8 counts. Next breathe in through the left nostril, close it off and hold the breath, and then release the right nostril and breathe out. Continue breathing this way. Because the right is the sympathetic and the left is the parasympathetic, you are balancing the functions of the nervous system which means that you are creating a regulated nervous system. The effect is very grounding and calming.
Kapalabhati Breath- This is heating breath. It is used to stimulate the nervous system and awaken sleeping prana, Some of us are in a more hypo state (depression for example) which mean we are under mobilized. Take a sip of air in 1/3 of the way and make a sharp exhale through the nose snapping the belly back. Continue this way for a count of 10 focusing on the exhales instead of the inhales. Keep your face relaxed. This has an energizing effect on the body.
Sitali Breath- This is cooling breath. It is used to calm the over mobilized nervous system. If the nervous system is in a more hyper state (anxiety for example), this pranayama demobilizes the nervous system. Make a tube with your tongue and stick it out. Breathe in through the mouth. As air passes through the tongue it will be cooling. Do this several times.
Discharging or Lion's Breath- As a somatic therapist, this is one of my favorite and immediate tools. Breathe in fully through the nose and breathe out fully through the mouth. This provides a small "discharge" to a stimulated nervous system. As you can imagine, this is like a small earthquake discharging instead of a huge one erupting. You can take this a step further by opening your eyes wide and sticking your tongue out and making a sound for Lion's Breath. Do several rounds of either or both.
Try these pranayama techniques during your asana practice to communicate with the soft tissue of your body. You may also take an inventory of your body off of the mat and use these techniques when you notice stress emotionally or in the body...or when you get a piece of hardware taken out of your foot :)
I look forward to seeing you all on the mat,