3 Kinds of Deep Breathing

Get a Hold of Yourself

By Therese Borchard

Deep breathing has become increasingly important in my recovery from depression and anxiety because I recognize that shallow breath contributes to my panic. In fact, at my worst hours, I would use a paper bag to keep from hyperventilating.

The practice of deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest. It functions in opposite to the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates activities associated with the flight-or-fight response. I like to the think of the PNS as the calm sister and the sympathetic nervous system as the non-sympathetic crazy sister on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You know that woman in the movie Airplane,

and the line of people awaiting with weapons while a few shake her saying “Get a hold of yourself.” The woman represents the sympathetic nervous system, and the long line of folks with bats, ropes, purses, etc. are members of the parasympathetic nervous system trying to calm the panicked passenger.

Of all the automatic functions of the body—cardiovascular, digestive, hormonal, glandular, immune–only the breath can be easily controlled voluntarily, explain Richard P. Brown, M.D. and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. in their book, “The Healing Power of the Breath.” They write:

By voluntarily changing the rate, depth, and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body’s respiratory system to the brain. In this way, breathing techniques provide a portal to the autonomic communication network through which we can, by changing our breathing patterns, send specific messages to the brain using the language of the body, a language the brain understands and to which it responds. Messages from the respiratory system have rapid, powerful effects on major brain centers involved in thought, emotion, and behavior.

In their eight substantive chapters, the authors discuss several techniques of deep breathing to reduce stress and anxiety. They start off with three basic approaches which provide the building blocks for the others:

Coherent Breathing
Coherent breathing is basically breathing at a rate of five breaths per minute, which is the middle of the resonant breathing rate range. I achieve this if I count to five inhaling and count to five exhaling. The five-minute rate maximizes the heart rate variability (HRV), a measurement of how well the parasympathetic nervous system is working. Brown and Bergarg explain that changing our rate and pattern of breath alters the HRV, which causes shifts in our nervous system. The higher the HRV the better because a higher HRV is associated with a healthier cardiovascular system and a stronger stress-response system. Breathing at a rate that is close to one’s ideal resonant rate (around five breaths per minute) can induce up to a tenfold improvement in HRV.

Resistance Breathing
Resistance breathing is exactly what its name suggests: breathing that creates resistance to the flow of air. Per the authors:

Resistance can be created by pursing the lips, placing the tip of the tongue against the inside of the upper teeth, hissing through the clenched teeth, tightening the throat muscles, partly closing the glottis, narrowing the space between the vocal cords, or using an external object such as breathing through a straw.

All that sounds a bit complicated to me. Breathing should be easy, right? So I simply breathe out of my nose, which, according to Brown and Bergarg, creates more resistance than breathing through the mouth. I do think it’s interesting when they explain that singing and chanting – all musical sounds created by contracting vocal cords—are forms of resistance breathing, and that is why they provide that relaxed sensation you can get meditating (if you CAN meditate).

Breath Moving
Breath Moving is when, well, the breath moves. Courtesy of your imagination. Brown compares this exercise to an internal massage. I’m not sure I’d go that far. I like the real deal. However, I do think sending your breath on a little journey around your body – as long as it doesn’t get too lost — does help you keep your concentration on the exercise and not on your to-do list because counting to five can get a little old. For example, here’s part of a circuit the authors offer in their book:

•As you breathe in, imagine you are moving your breath to the top of your head.
•As you breathe out, imagine you are moving your breath to the base of your spine, your perineum, your sit bones.
•Each time you breathe in, move the breath to the top of the head.
•Each time you breathe out, move the breath to the base of the spine.
•Breathe in this circuit for ten cycles.

The history of Breath Moving is fascinating. According to the authors, the technique was created in large part by the Russian Christian Orthodox Hesychast monks around the eleventh century. The monks would teach the technique of moving the breath to the holy Russian warriors to help protect them from harm and to empower them as they defended their territory against invaders.

Yoga Poses for Your Health

Ayurveda and Asana:
Yoga Poses for Your Health

by Mark Halpbern

Have you ever wondered why some yoga poses seem to leave you calm, centered, and balanced, while others make you agitated, sore, and off center? Or why your best friend flourishes in a rousing “Power Yoga” workout, while you do best on a regimen of slow, gentle, stretching?

The ancient Indian healing system known as Ayurveda can help you answer such questions. According to Ayurveda, different people require very different yoga practices. As a yoga teacher and doctor practicing Ayurvedic medicine, I’ve experienced firsthand how Ayurvedain addition to the dietary and lifestyle advice that it is best known for can shed light on the practice of yoga.

Take the case of the 31-year-old woman who came to me complaining of nervousness and chronic neck pain. She had been practicing yoga for six years and still could not understand why she was still experiencing these difficulties.

Our work with Ayurveda helped this woman understand how the asanas she had been practicing had aggravated the subtle energies of her body. She also learned new asanas that were more in harmony with her unique energetic balance. With this new knowledge, she was able to modify her practice and eliminate her neck pain and nervousness, bringing greater well-being to her body and mind.

Sister Symptoms
Yoga and Ayurveda are two paths intertwined in such a close relationship that it is hard to imagine traveling down one of these paths without knowledge of the other. Ayurveda, which means “knowledge of life,” is the ancient art and science of keeping the body and mind balanced and healthy. Yoga is the ancient art and science of preparing the body and mind for the eventual liberation and enlightenment of the soul.

Like hatha yoga, Ayurveda teaches how to keep the physical body healthy, and how this health relates to our spiritual journey. Both yoga and Ayurveda spring from the ancient Sanskrit texts called the Vedas. According to Vedic scholar David Frawley, “Yoga is the practical side of the Vedic teachings, while Ayurveda is the healing side.” In practice, both paths overlap.

In fact, Ayurveda and yoga are so closely related that some people argue that Patanjali, the first codifier of yoga, and Caraka, the first codifier of Ayurveda, may have in fact been one and the same person. Philosophically, both yoga and Ayurveda are rooted in Samkhya, one of six schools of classical Indian thought. The foundation of this philosophy can be described as follows:

1. There exists a fundamental state of pure being that is beyond intellectual understanding and which all life consciously strives for. This is the state of enlightenment or self-liberation.
2. Suffering is a part of our lives because of our attachment to our ego or self-identity (ahamkara).
3. The path toward ending suffering is the path of dissolving or transcending the ego. In doing so, all fear, anger, and attachment are eradicated.
4. To achieve this goal, we must live a purely ethical life. (Ethical guidelines are listed as the yamas and niyamas in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.)
5. Any disturbance within the mind or body interferes with this path. Ayurveda is the science of keeping the biological forces in balance so that the mind and body may be healthy.

Fundamentals of Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, the universal life force manifests as three different energies, or doshas, known as vata, pitta, and kapha. We are all made up of a unique combination of these three forces. This unique combination, determined at the moment of conception, is our constitution, or prakruti. The three doshas constantly fluctuate according to our environment, which includes our diet, the seasons, the climate, our age, and many more factors. The current state of these three doshas most commonly defines our imbalance, or vikruti. Since we all have a unique constitution and unique imbalances, each person’s path toward health will be unique. In addition, what will keep each of us healthy is also unique. Understanding our prakruti and vikruti offers each of us the potential to make correct choices.

The three doshas are generally described in terms of the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether (the subtle energy that connects all things). Vata is said to be made up of air and ether. Likened to the wind, it is said to be light, drying, cooling, and capable of movement. Pitta is said to be made up of fire and water. Considered to be mostly fire, it is hot, light, and neither too dry nor too moist; it does not move on its own, but it can be easily moved by the wind (vata). Kapha is said to be made up of water and earth, which combine like mud. Kapha is heavy, moist, cool, and stable.

The three doshas fluctuate constantly. As they move out of balance, they affect particular areas of our bodies in characteristic ways. When vata is out of balancetypically in excesswe are prone to diseases of the large intestines, like constipation and gas, along with diseases of the nervous system, immune system, and joints. When pitta is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the small intestines, like diarrhea, along with diseases of the liver, spleen, thyroid, blood, skin, and eyes. When kapha is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the stomach and lungs, most notably mucous conditions, along with diseases of water metabolism, such as swelling.

When working with the doshas, remember these basic principles: Like increases like, and opposites balance each other. In other words, foods, weather, and situations that have similar characteristics as the doshas will increase them; those that have opposite characteristics will decrease them. Knowing this, you can adjust your yoga practice, diet, and other environmental factors to affect these forces in ways that create greater balance and harmony. (For example, vata types who are dry, light, and airy should avoid foods with similar qualities, like popcorn, and consume foods with opposite qualities, like warm milk).

The Three Gunas
Another fundamental Ayurvedic principle is the idea of the three gunas, or qualities of nature. The three gunas sattva, rajas, and tamas are used to describe emotional and spiritual characteristics.

That which is sattvic is light, clear, and stable. Sattva is the state of being which comes from purity of mind, and leads to an awareness of our connectedness to God, a state in which we manifest our most virtuous qualities.

That which is rajasic is active, agitated, or turbulent. Rajas arises when we are distracted from our truest essence, and manifests emotions such as fear, worry, anger, jealously, attachment, and depression.

That which is tamasic is heavy, dull, dark, and inert. Tamasic actions include violent or vindictive behavior, along with self-destructive behaviors such as addiction, depression, and suicide.

All movement or activity is by nature rajasic (agitating) and heating to the body. Yet some movements are more agitating and others less so. Generally speaking, the slower the movement, the less rajasic and the less agitating to the body and mind. The faster the movement, the more rajasic and the more heating it will be.

Any movement practiced with great awareness becomes more sattvic. Movements done with distraction or less attentiveness are more rajasic. Thus, one way to enhance our experience of yoga is to practice slowly and with awareness.

No movement can be purely sattvic. The inherent nature of movement is rajasic, as rajas is the principal of energy, and movement requires energy. Hence our sattvic qualities are most nurtured in meditation and in the stillness of holding a pose, where we can find pure awareness.

The rajasic nature of movement does not necessarily make it bad for us. Rajas serves the useful purpose of stimulating our bodies and minds. We could not function in our world without a part of us being rajasic.

What Sort of Yoga is Right for You?
When determining the kind of yoga practice that is right for you, the most important factor is your vikruti, or imbalance. Your vikruti is, in fact, the single most important determinant of your entire regime. Once you have corrected your imbalance, you can stay in good health by choosing a yoga practice that balances your constitution, or prakruti. (It’s sometimes hard for the lay person to distinguish between characteristics that are inborn, or constitutional, and those that result from an imbalance. For best results, consult a trained Ayurvedic physician.)

People of vata constitution or imbalance are most supported by a yoga practice that is calming, quieting, and yet warming. People of pitta nature or imbalance are most supported by a yoga practice that is calming, quieting, and cooling. And people of kapha nature or imbalance are most supported by a yoga practice that is stimulating and warming. Each individual has different needs. To practice in a way that does not support you is to invite greater imbalance.

Asanas for Vata
The asanas which are most suitable for balancing vata are those that are calming and grounding by nature. They will counter the tendency for those with a vata imbalance to be “spacey,” agitated, or nervous. These asanas will help allay fear, worry, and anxiety and also improve vata physical imbalances such as constipation, lower back pain, and joint pains. The lower abdomen, pelvis, and large intestine are the main residence of vata in the body, so many of these asanas compress the lower abdomen or cause the lower abdomen to become taut. In addition, asanas that strengthen the lower back help alleviate vata.

In general, most yoga asanas are good for balancing vata, since most asanas are calming to the mind. There are, however, some that are particularly good and some that should certainly be avoided.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) is an exceptional asana for vatas. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. The arms may be raised over the head as you reach to the sky, or you may wish to bend the elbows, clasping the opposing arms just above the elbow and letting your forearms rest on or just above the crown of your head. Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward from the hips as you exhale. Bend as far forward as you comfortably can. Your hands may remain crossed, touch the floor in front of your feet, or, if you are very flexible, be clasped just behind your heels. For the less flexible, the hands may be placed on blocks which rest on the floor. Let gravity assist the lengthening of your spine. All standing asanas tend to be grounding if awareness is placed on the feet, honoring the connection between your body and the Earth.

Note that this asana can put quite a strain on an injured lower back, so care should be used. If the lower back is simply tight, a condition related to aggravated vata, this is an excellent asana. The seated version of this asana, Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), will have similar value and may be easier if your back is sore.

Balasana (Child’s Pose) is another excellent asana for compressing the pelvis and the vata region. Sit upright with your knees flexed and placed underneath your buttocks. Keeping your arms to your side, bend forward from the hips until your head is resting on the floor in front of you. If you do not have the flexibility to place your head on the ground, place a folded blanket or a pillow on the floor in front of you for your head to rest upon. Compression asanas are excellent for constipation and for chronic gas.

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) is another good asana for vata. Kneel with your knees together and your buttocks resting on your heels. Move the legs out to the side of the pelvis so that the buttocks slide down in between both legs. Place the hands on the soles of the feet and lean back onto the elbows. This may be enough extension for many people. If you are flexible enough, gradually lower your back down to the floor. Your hands may lie by your side or be stretched above the head to lengthen the spine.

While this stretch does not compress the pelvis, it creates a mild extension of the lower abdominal muscles and lower back. This action increases the pressure in the pelvis, again alleviating vata. According to Ayurvedic doctor Vasant Lad, this asana is particularly useful as a part of treatment for vata-type asthma conditions.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) also extends the lower back and places pressure on the pelvis. Lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Lift the head, shoulders, and chest off of the mat and bend both knees. Reach back and take hold of the ankles. Let your legs draw your chest farther into the air so that your body weight rests on the pelvic region. This is essential for the maximum relief of vata.

Virasana (Hero Pose), Siddhasana (Easy Pose), and Padmasana (Lotus Pose) are very calming poses which sedate vata’s agitated nature. These meditative poses are excellent for calming the nervous system, which aids in the healing of anxiety, nervousness, sciatica, and muscle spasm. The most calming pose of all is, of course, the supine Savasana (Corpse Pose).

People of vata nature should avoid asanas that are overly stimulating to the nervous system, such as repetitive Sun Salutations, and those that place excessive pressure on sensitive joints in the body. The cervicothoracic junctionthe bony region where the neck meets the shouldersis one of these areas. Here, large vertebrae stick out like “sore thumbs.” People of vata nature and imbalance tend to have weaker bones, less fatty padding, looser ligaments, and more susceptibility to pain. For these reasons, Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) should be avoided or modified by placing a blanket under the shoulders for extra padding. This also decreases the extreme flexion the neck is placed in. Even so, people of vata nature or imbalance should not hold these poses for very long, or they will risk injury.

Asanas for Pitta
The best asanas for pitta are those that are calming and not overly heating. People of pitta nature or imbalance tend to be more assertive and intense. Calming poses help sedate their intensity and ease the emotions of anger and resentment that they are prone to. By alleviating pitta, these asanas are good as part of the treatment for conditions such as ulcers and hyperacidity, liver disease, and acne.

Asanas that help balance pitta are those that place pressure on the naval and solar plexus region, in the small intestine where pitta resides. These asanas directly affect the liver and spleen and help regulate the strength of the digestive fire.

Ustrasana (Camel Pose) is very beneficial for pittas. Kneel with the buttocks lifted as though you were standing on your knees. Place your palms on your buttocks. Move your thighs and pelvis forward as you extend the lower back, bringing your hands to your heels. Gently extend your neck. Remember to breathe. This asana opens up the abdomen, solar plexus, and chest, allowing for freer movement of energy through these regions.

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) are also excellent solar plexus extension poses for pitta. These asanas can play a role in the treatment of ulcers and hepatitis.

To perform Cobra Pose, lie face down with your feet together and ankles extended. Bend the elbows and place your hands flat on the floor by your lower ribs. (Less flexible people may choose to place the palms on the floor at shoulder level.) Upon inhalation, extend the elbows and raise the head, chest, and abdomen off the floor while keeping the pelvic bones on the floor. The head may be held in a neutral position or in extension.

Headstand should be avoided for people of pitta imbalance or constitution. Headstands heat the body, and much of this heat accumulates in the head and the eyes. The eyes are an organ controlled mainly by pitta. For this reason, Headstands can help cause or worsen diseases of the eyes. If a person of pitta constitution with no serious imbalance chooses to do Headstands, then the Headstand should be held for a very short period.

Asanas for Kapha
To balance the heavy, slow, cold, and sedated nature of kapha, practice asanas that are more stimulating and heating. Asanas best suited to individuals of kapha nature or imbalance are those that open up the chest. The stomach and chest are the areas where kapha accumulates. In the chest, kapha takes on the form of mucous. These asanas are excellent for the prevention and treatment of congestive conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia as well as constrictive conditions such as asthma and emphysema.

Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) are useful asanas for kaphas. To perform Setu Bandha, lie flat on your back with your arms to your sides, with palms facing down toward the floor. Using your elbows and forearms, raise your pelvis off the mat as you keep your shoulders and feet grounded. Try to stay on the tops of your shoulders and increase the height of the pelvis by extending evenly through both legs.

As a gentle alternative to this posture, lie on your back in extension over a bolster and a pillow. Both of these variations do an excellent job of opening the chest, allowing for greater circulation of energy through this region. These asanas also affect the flow of energy through the heart chakra, aiding the development of compassion and unconditional love.

For those of kapha nature and imbalance, the calming and sedating effect of most asanas needs to be balanced by other asanas that are more stimulating and heating. People of kapha nature are the best suited to handle strengthening poses, as their joints and muscles tend to be strong and stable. Increasing flexibility is extremely important for those of kapha nature, as kaphas tend to become overly stiff or rigid.

Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) is a very good aerobic exercise for kapha and helps in the treatment of obesity and depression, two common kapha conditions. The Sun Salutation is the ideal asana for kapha, as it is very active, creates heat, and opens the chest.

There are 12 parts to this sequence of poses. Begin by standing erect with the feet touching each other. Bend the elbows and bring the palms together in the middle of the chest. Raise the arms above the head and extend into a slight backbend. Bend forward into convex Uttanasana (head down) and bring the hands to the floor, bending the knees if you need to protect your back. From this position, arch the back and look up in concave Uttanasana.  Then jump with both legs or step backward with the right leg first.

Bring the left leg backward and place it by the right leg as you lift your back inner groins high into the air after coming into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Pressing hands and keeping arms firm,  glide your body forward into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog). Then press into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-limbed Staff). Return to Upward dog. Next, looking forward, jump with both legs or take the right leg forward. Bring the left foot forward, if stepping, as you return to concave Uttanasana. Follow with convex Uttanasana.  Come up to a standng position and raise the arms once again over the head in Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Arms), extending the back and neck. To complete the cycle, return the hands to the chest, palms together in Namaskarasana (Prayer).

People of all constitutions can benefit from Sun Salutations during the time of day that is dominated by kapha energy (6:00 to 10:00 a.m and p.m.), as long as there is not a serious imbalance in pitta or vata. People of kapha nature should do many repetitions and perform them with great speed. While in general people of vata nature should avoid the speed, performing it very slowly and with great awareness will decrease its vata-aggravating tendencies. Pitta types should do limited repetitions, as this series is very heating.

Few asanas are harmful to kapha, as kaphas benefit from all forms of stretching and movement. Two weak areas of the body for kapha individuals, however, are the lungs and the kidneys. Asanas that place excessive pressure on the lower abdomen, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), can aggravate the kidneys if held for too long.

Other Factors
In some ways the prescription I have just given is overly simplistic. In developing a healthy yoga practice, you must take into consideration not only your constitution and imbalance but also your age, the season, and the time of day you are practicing.

At different times of our lives, different doshas play a greater role. This is a part of the natural fluctuation of these forces. From birth through puberty, our bodies and minds are more affected by kapha. From puberty until around our retirement years, the influence of pitta increases. The later years, post retirement, are most dominated by vata.

During each of these periods, we must pay attention to the effect our age has on us and modify our practice appropriately. When we are very young, our bodies can better tolerate the more aerobic styles of yoga. As we age, we need to practice more calming asanas.

The seasons also affect a healthy practice. The season of cold dampness increases kapha. The season of warm weather increases pitta. The season of cool dryness increases vata, as does the windy season. (In different parts of the country these take place at different times, so placing the names of traditional seasons upon them can be misleading.) During the kapha season, a practice that is more stimulating and warming is better. In the pitta season, a practice that is cooling is best. In the vata season, a calming practice supports greater health.

Finally, the time of day we practice will affect the balance of the doshas. Kapha naturally increases between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m and p.m, when we are moving slowly. Pitta naturally increases between 10:00 and 2:00 a.m. and p.m., when the digestive fire is at its height and, in the daytime, the sun is at its peak. Vata naturally increases between 2:00 and 6:00 a.m. and p.m., during the transition between night and day.

Most people practice yoga in the early morning, when the world is calm. Before 6:00, during the time of vata, a very quiet and gentle practice is recommended. After 6:00, during the time of kapha, a more stimulating practice is appropriate. Remember, though, that when designing a yoga practice for yourself, your overall vikruti, or imbalance, is more important than the influence of the season, your age, or the time of day. These should be seen as the factors that modify your practice but not the factors that create it. When you are in near perfect balance, you can create a program based almost entirely on your constitution, the seasons, and the time of day.

In Ayurveda, balancing the effects of the doshas is only half of the formula for creating health and well being. The other half is developing a more sattvic lifestyle and learning to express our sattvic nature: that aspect of ourselves that, through an awareness of our connectedness to Spirit, allows us to express our highest or most virtuous qualities.

Yoga, practiced in harmony with each person’s unique nature, is part of the Ayurvedic path toward balancing the doshas and enhancing sattva. Through this path each of us can reach our full potential.

Marc Halpern is the founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda in Grass Valley, California.



by Megan de Matteo

In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar offers some simple explanations to describe the three gunas: rajas, tamas and sattva. Rajas is the quality of activity and mobility that is responsible for movement, and an having an excess of rajas can lead to willful stubbornness. Tamas is the quality of inertia and form and is associated with delusion, obscurity and ignorance. Sattva is often considered a goal of one’s yoga practice, and is the quality of clarity, tranquility and truth-illumination.

When describing the gunas, I often feel like Goldie Locks in The Three Little Bears. It is tempting to say that rajas is “too much action” and that tamas is “too slow!” This leads me of course, to say that sattva is “just right!” implying that the other gunas are somehow “bad.”

However, it is important that we embrace all three gunas because they each have an essential role in our lives. As humans, tamas is built into our DNA. Without it, how would our muscles and bones maintain the oh-so-important density that supports us as we move through the world? Similarly, our minds might feel dominated by excess activity, or rajas, from time to time—especially when we’re feeling stressed or overworked. But if we did not have rajas, we would not be able to respond to the constant stimuli and activity of daily living.

So, while it’s tempting to want to “get rid” of tamas and rajas, we must respect their role in our lives and embrace them as useful with an inclination towards finding balance. In doing so, we can view the gunas as a complete and functional system which, when utilized wisely, brings us into balance. Even if cultivating sattva is the aim of our yoga practice, we can utilize the gunas in the following ways:

1. Intelligently choose your asana practice. Hatha yoga is a great way to check in with the body and bring balance to the gunas. Wisely choosing asanas that address your mental, emotional and physical states are an important part of this practice. The gunas come and go in different proportions throughout the courses of one’s day, week and even lifetime. If you’re heading to a yoga class because you feel imbalanced in some way, check-in to discover the cause of your imbalance. For example, if you’re feeling tired and physically unmotivated because of excessive thoughts or emotional stressors, an energetic and rajasic asana practice that challenges the body to move (rather than the mind) might bring about balance. However, if these rapidly moving thoughts are creating a lot of stress and anxiety, asanas that are too rajasic may be overly stimulating. In this case, a slower, tamasic asana practice (think: gentle or yin yoga) intended to ground and encourage the experience of support is an ideal way to bring about balance. When you’re feeling out-of-sorts, consult your intuition, consider your particular constitution, and honor the circumstances in the present-day circumstances in which you find yourself.

2. Be mindful of your diet. We all know the adage, “you are what you eat,” so you can imagine how eating too many tamasic (or dense) foods could lead you to feel heavy and lethargic. Likewise, think of foods that are rajasic and catalyze action in the body, such as“hot” foods that stimulate digestion, like ginger or spicy curry. A sattvic diet includes both tamasic and rajasic foods, but like an intelligently designed asana practice, the sattvic diet uses particular foods only when they lead a person’s energetic state into balance. Going back to the example of Goldilocks, we can think of it like this: on a cold winter’s day, warm porridge served with ginger and cinnamon might be “just right,” whereas on a hot summer day, cooler porridge served with a sprig of mint would be a better choice. Using discernment in the diet along with simply eating sattvic foods are easy ways of cultivating harmony in the body, mind and spirit.

3. Practice pranayama. Our breath has a profound impact on our physiological states. Using breath to address imbalances of the nervous system is a very effective and powerful way to cultivate sattva. For example, did you know that simply extending the length of your exhales beyond the length of your inhales stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (the “calm down” mechanism in your body)? On the other hand, taking breaths where your inhales are longer than your exhales has a stimulating (or rajasic) effect. Depending on how your body is feeling (overly stimulated or overly inert), you can choose the breath that brings you closer to balance.

Can you recall moments of imbalance in which you felt “stuck” or overly stimulated? What techniques brought you closer to a sattvic state?

Yogāsana & Prāṇāyama

A student recently asked me if yogāsana and prāṇāyama could provide complete fitness. “Don’t I need cardiovascular work?”, he queried. Off course, this depends on the length of practice and the frequency with which one does the aforementioned. The third and fourth limbs of Patanjali’s eight limb system certainly have the potential to increase cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, plus make one more flexible. If you doubt this, then you perhaps have not heard of John Schumacher, Iyengar Yoga teacher and founder of Unity Woods in Washington, D.C.

“Four years ago at age 52, Schumacher decided to prove his point. He signed up for physiological testing at a lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland. As he expected, Schumacher tested near the top of his age group for a variety of fitness tests, including maximum heart and exercise recovery rates. His doctor told him that he was in excellent physical condition and estimated that Schumacher had less than a one percent chance of suffering a cardiac event. ‘I’ve always maintained that yoga provides more than adequate cardiovascular benefits,’ says Schumacher. ‘Now I have the evidence that regular yoga practice at a certain level of intensity will provide you with what you need.’”

If you increase your yogāsana practice and perform prāṇāyama regularly, there will be no need for cardio burn.


Systematic Intelligence

Prakash, an Introductory Level instructor in Plano, TX has a keen understanding of why we practice yogasana as taught by B.K.S. Iyengar

Systematic intelligence in yogasana is the methodical extension of awareness through each of the body’s organs moving from the gross to the finer parts so that you can begin to feel the freer flow of energy and begin to make adjustments internally where you feel obstruction and resistance. Parts that resist have to be reached and worked through correct action without causing injury. It is very easy to be sluggish in asana and often an experienced teacher will make hands on adjustments on you so that you can extend the intelligence to that part that was asleep or that you were not even aware of but you could reach. Through this process injured parts heal and areas you have reached and worked exhibit more vitality.


Yoga Sutras on Pranayama

II.49 tasmin sati svasa-prasvasayor gati-vicchedah pranayamah
When that [asana] is accomplished, pranayama, breath control, [follows]. This consists of the regulation of the incoming and outgoing breath.

Pranayama as breath control is an ancient practice that can be found in the old Brahmana texts. Vyasa explains that the svasa from this sutra is the intake of air from the outside, and pravasa, the exhalation of air from the stomach. He defines pranayama to be the suspension, or absence, of both—in other words, the suspension of breath.” The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Edwin F. Bryant

“It is difficult to explain Prana, as it is to explain God. Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels. It is physical, mental, intellectual, sexual, spiritual, and cosmic energy. All vibrating energies are prana. All physical energies such as heat, light, gravity, magnetism, and electricity are also prana. It is hidden or potential energy in all beings, released to the fullest extent in times of danger. It is the prime mover of all activity. It is energy which creates, protects, and destroys. Vigour, power, vitality, life and spirit are all forms of prana.”

Prana means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength. When used in the plural, it denotes certain vital breaths or currents of energy (prana-vayus). ‘ayama’ means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint or control. ‘Pranayama’ thus means the prolongation of breath and its restraint.”

Pranayama is an art and has techniques to make the respiratory organ to move and expand intentionally, rhythmically and intensively. It consists of long, sustained subtle flow of inhalation (puruka), exhalation (rechaka) and retention of breath (kumbakha). Puruka stimulates the system; rechaka throws out vitiated air and toxins; kumbakha distributes the energy throughout the body. The movements include horizontal expansion (dairghya), vertical accession (aroha) and circumferential extension (visalata) of the lungs and the rib cage.”

“The disciplined breathing helps the mind to concentrate and enables the sadhaka to attain robust health and longevity.”

“All stages of [Ujjayi Pranayama (Expanding Conquest Breath control)] except those with retentions may be done at any time. However, if the heart feels heavy, full or painful, or the diaphragm is hard, and if you are agitated or the heart-beat is abnormal, lie down…”
Light on Pranayama, B.K.S. Iyengar

II.50 bahyabhyantara-stamba-vrttih desa-kala-sankhyabhih paridrsto dirgha-suksmah
[Pranayama] manifests as external, internal, and restrained movements [of breath]. These are drawn out and subtle in accordance to place, time, and number.

“Moving on to the second part of the sutra, all these different types of breath restraint are regulated by place, desa, that is, the surface area that is reached by the breath, says Vyasa. He understands time as the seconds of duration of these cessations of the flow of breath, and number as how many sequences of inhalations and exhalations are restrained, and whether they are mid, middling, or intense in nature.”

“Time, kala, refers to differing durations of each individual exhalation, inhalation, and retention,… Number, sankhya, is the number of reputations, or rounds of each cycle of inhalations, exhalations, and retentions at one sitting.”

“In other words, say the commentators, one can increase the duration of these intervals of breath restraint so that they become more and more prolonged and imperceptible in terms of the moment of air. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Edwin F. Bryant

Ujjayi I, II and IIIp.pdf


Sadhana – Disciplined and dedicated practice or learning

“Just performing the asana-s is one aspect of sadhana, but to understand one’s own body, mind and breath through the practice is another aspect; this has to be clearly understood by each practitioner. Often, one thinks of either limiting the freedom of the body movements because of fear and/or pain, or one attempts to break the limits using willpower in a wrong way, thus resulting in injury. When the body is unprepared, both these approaches are wrong. In fact, asana is a process to look into oneself.”

“Often, one thinks of the inner journey for the sake of self-realization. However, as the inner journey begins, one has to look at the first object, the first instrument – the body – which otherwise is neglected totally. We know the body as we have read and studied about it in school. However, this study of our anatomy and physiology gives us an objective knowledge of the body. Many hidden depths and sensitivities like the precise and judicious stretching of the arms ad legs remain unknown to the practitioner. The opening of the palms and the bottom of the feet of the sole-skin is not understood at all as there is no awareness.”

“Moreover, the thoracic tilts or extending the abdominal band remains unknown. The inverted position of the body remains absolutely beyond one’s imagination. Normally, one lacks the courage to move, stretch, twist, bend or balance and go topsy-turvy. Faith and courage are required to do so. Every action has its effect somewhere, which has to be searched and noticed.”
Geeta Iyengar, Yoga in Action: Intermediate Course

Tadasana Paschima Namaskarasana

This week we worked on Reverse Prayer Pose, a very difficult technique for some of us.  Greater success is possible using a Wall Rope.

In this video, Mr. Iyengar demonstrates Tadasana Paschima Namaskarasana around 12:00. Please note how far his shoulder blades travel out, to accept the hands and how much they return to open the chest. Starting around 15:00 he gives further details. For those of you unable to do it, please practice Tadasana Paschima Baddha Hastasana or holding above the elbows in back while in Mountain pose, demonstrated around 11:00.

A simple way to install Iyengar Wall Ropes is by purchasing Over the Door Hangers from and pre-tied ropes from  If you would rather tie your own, watch this how to video.  

12′ of rope is likely necessary to do the knot and have a long enough wall rope.  A second way to tie one’s own is using a double Triple Fisherman’s.  Susan G. Clark has a much more detailed video on YouTube on how to do this second knot.


Yoga for the Spine

Yoga for the Spine: Scoliosis and Lower Back Concerns

Saturday, September 19, 2015 – 1:00pm to 3:00pm

Taught by Rafael Durán

Drawing of muscles of backIf you experience back pain or discomfort, are diagnosed with scoliosis or simply want a better understanding of this area, this 2 hour class is ideal for you.

Muscles along the spine are only a minor element affecting posture. Included are the ligaments and fascia of the sacrum, lumbar and thoracic spine. This hard working tissue is locked ‘short’ and tight through continuous use, especially when posture is imbalanced. Conversely, aging, injury and daily slumping flex the spine forward and lock the back area ‘long’.

Rafael will show ways to lengthen and strengthen muscles, ligaments and fascia related to the spine. Relaxation postures will be included.

Handouts will be provided. For all levels and abilities. Pre-registration is encouraged.

Need more information? Contact Rafael.

Cost is $25.

  • Enrolling in person or by mail? Download the enrollment form.
  • Enrolling with PayPal? Use the button.

Image: Plate 409, Gray, Henry. Anatomy of the Human Body. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1918;, 2000.

YOGAnews 3.1-1

Iyengar Yoga does not necessarily talk about chakras, yet you may be interested in this.

Instructions in this site may differ from my own, but use as reference if necessary.

Virasana (Hero)- On block and/or blanket between ankles

Anchor back of sit-bones down (while raising front pelvic crest), keeping toes spread and nail-roots grounded.

Decompress spine out of pelvic bowl, broaden collar-bones and move inner-blades toward sit-bones.

Join palms at Heart Center, helping keep top of breast-bone over bottom and release base-of-neck.

Take shoulder skin downwards to outer-elbow.  From inner-elbow, release skin upwards to finger-tips.

While listening to breath (with eyes closed):

Move Heart-energy towards base of brain during IN-breath (pause when finished) and Brain-energy towards brain-stem during OUT-breath (also pausing when finished), then repeat.

Repeat OM three times out loud (during the OUT-breath):

Mentally touch Crown, Bridge-of-nose, Throat and Heart centers during ‘Oooo’.

Navel, Genital and Base centers during ‘mmM’.

Tilt skull, gaze at Heart-center, place palms on lap during OUT-breath.

Raise head, open eyes during IN-breath. Dismount.

Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward-facing Hero) With head support

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog)- With head support

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog)- Over folding chair (pad and prop as necessary)

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)- Over folding chair with blocks at wall

Concave back

Convex back

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)- Chair or blocks for head support

Parsvotanasana (One Side Standing Forward Bend)- Rolled mat under foot for support

Parsvotanasana (One Side Standing Forward Bend)- Chair for hand support

Concave back

Convex back

Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)- Over folding chair

Shavasana (Deep Relaxation)

What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits” is a story broadcast on Morning Edition I spoke about recently.  The numbers 60, 30, 2 I recalled are a bit different than the actual 40, 20, 5.  My apology!  The main aspect is about behavior change.