5 breath exercises for energizing the spirit

1. Alternate Nostril Breath

My absolute favorite form of pranayama (breath control) is Alternate Nostril Breathing. It’s simple to do and in just a few moments can completely calm and balance the monkey mind.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is traditionally done in a seated, cross-legged meditation posture, though it’s fine to sit in a chair if you’re not comfortable on the floor. In either case, sit up with a tall spine and relaxed face and shoulders.

The mudra (hand position) is done with the right hand. Fold the index finger and middle finger down to touch the palm. Begin with the thumb lightly closing your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, to the count of four, six or eight. Hold the breath in for four, six or eight seconds. Then, lightly close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the thumb from your right nostril. Exhale through the right side. Inhale again through the right side. Retain the breath here in the middle only if you feel comfortable doing so. Exhale through the left.

That is one cycle.

To summarize: inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. Optionally retain the inbreath in and the outbreath out. Continue for five cycles or more. You can work up to doing this breath exercise for five or more minutes at a time.

Alternate Nostril Breathing works like a charm to clear and calm the mind. It’s a terrific technique to incorporate at the beginning and/or end of your yoga session.

2. Bumblebee Breath

Use your fingertips to lightly cover your closed eyelids. Using your thumbs, close your ears. Inhale deeply through the nose and as you exhale, let out a long, low humming sound. With the eyes and ears closed, the hum will reverberate in your head and sound like a buzzing bee. Repeat three, four, or more times.

As you do this breath exercise, bring your inner gaze to the third eye, the point between your eyebrows. The Bumblebee Breath is purported to calm the mind and inspire new creative ideas.

Next time you are feeling overstimulated or uninspired, give it a shot.

3. Dog Breath (a.k.a. Breath of Fire)

You need to get in touch with your inner child for this one. (It’s great for kids yoga, as is Bumblebee Breath.) For Dog Breath, pant like a dog, first through the open mouth. Then, close your mouth and continue the panting breath through the nose. Do two sets of thirty seconds each, pausing between the sets and taking deep breaths. This technique brings oxygen to the brain and help you wake up and feel more alert.

4. Ocean Breath

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”

~ Alan Watts

Ocean breath is super simple and calming yet energizing. Take deep, slow, long, active inhales and let the exhale out naturally and passively. Close your eyes and notice how this creates a sound like the waves in the ocean.

5. Just Sit

“There is no success or failure, no great place you are going. You are “just sitting.” To wander, to obsess, to lust—you get a flavor of the mind, a direct meeting. Without acting on any of the thoughts, you get to see how they rise up and—if you’re lucky–pass away. Sometimes we get stuck. You get to observe the nature of being stuck.”

~ Natalie Goldberg

Simple breath awareness is an excellent meditation technique. As you breathe consciously through the nose, recall that this magnificent function has been with you since the moment of your birth and will be with you until your final exhale of this precious life.

Credit; Elephantjournal.com

6 Ways to Make Yoga Less Intimidating for Beginners

If you feel slightly terrified to walk into a yoga class for the first time because you think it will be pretentious and awkward, your might be right. Too often, new students feel uncomfortable or secluded by inaccessible poses, vague instructions or elitist attitudes. As a beginner to yoga, you should feel empowered and engaged by the teachings – not isolated or overwhelmed by new, esoteric ideas.

Yoga should be as accessible and safe as learning to ride a bike. A quality yoga class is welcoming and comfortable for everyone willing to give it a try. Strong yoga teachers facilitate an experience that has depth without making students feel like they are entering a cult. Here’s how yoga instructors can make class accessible to new students so they can work toward developing a deeper practice:

1. Ditch the yoga jargon.

Yoga jargon makes people feel excluded and confused. The more basic and understandable a teacher explains ideas, the more the instructor will connect with students. When teachers use Sanskrit (the yoga language), they should define the word in English. When teachers speak with their own authentic voice and sense of humor, it shines through. In those classes, students feel like they get a more personal and genuine class.

2. Be powerful, not preachy.

Students do not come to yoga to be lectured or to have a therapy session. As a yoga teacher for men, I cringe when I hear how many first-time male students are completely discouraged and annoyed by teachers’ condescending tones. It’s challenging enough to get new students to try yoga. Why are we making it harder?

Yoga is not a school – it is a practice. People come to yoga to put their intentions into action, and to become grounded by moving intelligently. There is a richness and a deeper sense of subtle awareness and connectivity in yoga. Yoga teachings should feel meaningful, but shouldn’t push an agenda or make students uncomfortable. A good class leaves you feeling empowered, not belittled or guilty.

3. Chant less, pant more.

Everyday people do not understand the ancient yoga language and the chants, let alone the meaning behind them. I personally love the language of yoga, but I understand that – unless you have a significant amount of time to teach students why you are chanting and what you are saying in plain English – it is not comprehensible.

If teachers chant complicated yoga sounds during a class, it may be challenging to keep the interest of new students, who are often reluctant to try yoga in the first place. For example, chanting the sounds of the chakras – “Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om” – requires hours of teaching for students to even begin to understand the chakras and their relevance. It can also make beginners feel singled out.

It makes more sense to offer aspiring yoga teachers – not beginners – in-depth studies on the energetic body and their mantras. If teachers decide to chant in their classes, I suggest they keep it to a minimum and get students moving.

4. Develop a simple and meaningful philosophy.

New students often come to yoga because they want something more than a mindless workout. Yoga has a deeper meaning than just its physical practice. Teachers should be careful to present the philosophy in class in a way that does not make students feel awkward. If instructors come across as if they are talking down to students, or claim to be more spiritually advanced, they’ll only alienate the people they’re trying to inspire.

Ancient yoga philosophy is interesting and fun to learn, but it’s a topic that can be inaccessible to beginners. The notion that people can obtain nirvana, or transcend this world, is not something anyone can honestly talk about. If you put someone on this pedestal of power, it is a recipe for disaster. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, is the latest example: After building a loyal following, he’s now accused of sexual assault and rape.

Other yoga teachings have evolved to take on a more progressive view of the practice. They are not concerned with something beyond this life, but focus on savoring the one in which we live. Classes that weave in practical philosophy that is relevant to day-to-day life will be well-received.

5. Clear landmarks and modifications.

Each yoga pose has a logical progression toward its fullest expression. There are clear physical landmarks that are great measures for healthy alignment. These landmarks are normally instructed with simple “if, then” statements. For example, “If you can touch the floor in a standing forward fold, then actively work toward straightening your legs.”

Every class has a wide range of student levels. It’s imperative that modifications are offered to people who are working with injuries and other limitations. Two blocks, a blanket and a strap for each student are ideal props for most all-levels classes. Students can make it easier on themselves by learning to use the props in a way that keeps the poses safe and efficient.

6. Keep it simple and sustainable.

It’s easy to complicate yoga poses and make a class difficult to follow in an effort to be overly creative. The most simple, efficient instructions work best. First, teachers should name the pose and get everyone into it as clearly and quickly as possible. Once everyone is in the basic shape of the pose, they should help students explore the pose with subtle cues.

Many teachers get caught up with stringing together multiple poses, or sequencing them in a way that is unique. The basic postures work. If done correctly, they are powerful and can be made as challenging as advanced postures. My suggestion to teachers is to go more in depth into the basics rather than trying to force students into complicated poses.

4 Reasons to Take Fitness Outside

Now that it’s finally warm enough to be outside (even up North), you should definitely take your workout outside with you.

Fitness in a natural, outdoor environment is one of the foundational backbones of the “Indigenizing fitness” movement. Heading from the gym to the ground will benefit you in more ways than meet the eye. Here’s why:

1. Open Skies = Open Minds

This means that when you go outside, no matter the weather, you’re more likely to feel clear-headed and relaxed. Nature will work wonders on your mental health, which will set you up for a more holistic and enjoyable physical workout. It works fast, too. Studies show that within five minutes of walking outdoors, stress levels visibly decrease. Finding ways to clear your mind is just as critical to a wellness routine as anything – especially if you sit in front of a computer screen most of the day (which many of us do).

2. Challenges of the Elements

Whether it’s heat, cold, cacti, water, tall grass, or big trees, when you go outdoors, you will face some type of added challenges and obstacles from your surroundings. It’s something that simply cannot be experienced under a roof. Studies show that even slight winds can up the intensity of a run or bike ride. Walking or hiking along rough, uneven terrain will work small muscles that would never be touched on the smooth ground of a track or treadmill. Even though these obstacles might seem tricky or unnerving at the time, you’ll feel so good about your workout once you’ve overcome them. Embrace the elements and remember that your ancestors stayed fit by living and working outdoors nonstop. You can do it for an hour or two.

3. Mother Earth Gym

One of the primary components of the Well For Culture movement is to utilize rocks, logs, sand, or other things found in nature as fitness equipment. We call it a Mother Earth Gym, and we use it as often as possible. Imagine doing pull-ups off the edge of a rock ledge or squats holding a giant rock instead of a dumbbell. It can be done- and it’s fun! Go out and find natural fitness equipment, but don’t forget to show respect, ask permission, and put things back where you found them.

4. Fun and Energy

We don’t need science to tell us that playing outside is as fun in adulthood as it once was as a kid. As much as I love going to the gym sometimes, there’s no doubt that it gets to be a little monotonous and gloomy surrounded by the sterile, cold energy of machinery and electronics. As much as I love the rowing machine, I would take any opportunity to row in a canoe or kayak instead. The energy of an outdoor workout will inevitably be more alive. Not to mention, the variety of things you can do outdoors far surpasses what’s possible in a gym. Whether it’s hiking, running, basketball, swimming, or just chasing around your little cousins, you can find all kinds of ways to work up a sweat under the sky.