"'Prana' means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength. 'Ayama' means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint, or control. 'Pranayama' thus means the prolongation of breath and its restraint"
BKS Iyengar, Light on Pranayama
Breathing is freaking cool. It's one of those functions of the body that's automatic when we're not consciously thinking about it, and yet we can control it with great precision. Imagine doing that with your heart or your intestines. Actively controlling the first sounds stressful and the second just seems weird and confusing (who knows what's going on in there 😂).
In yoga, we practice learning about our own breath and using different breathing techniques to directly affect the nervous system. It's freaking powerful stuff, and if you don't believe me, listen to Wim Hof. He's the Ice Man, and he's been using breath work for decades to push his body beyond the limits of modern scientific beliefs.
You can feel the power of the breath right now. Close your eyes and and take 5 slow, deep breaths. Just do it.
Ok, what changed? Did your shoulders relax? Did your mind slow down? Do you feel at least a little bit better?
It's really quite amazing, and I mean that in the most sincere way. Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga and sorely overlooked in Western practice. If this stuff fascinates you as much as it fascinates me, I suggest finding a yoga teacher you like to help you explore the world within your inhalation and exhalation.
Go prana! 🤸
We've all heard by now that meditation has a myriad of health and wellness benefits. It lowers stress (which untamed can lead to other health issues), improves your focus, and in my opinion has the potential to teach you to be less of an asshole to yourself and to others. I can personally attest to that last one. But I'm not here to tell you, yet again, why meditation is amazing.
I'm here to talk about why you're not doing it.
It takes motivation (a feeling) and discipline (a behavior) to sit down every single day and commit to meditating. I know it's hard. I know that sometimes it sucks. I would argue that most of us don't want to sit down and do absolutely nothing for 5 or 10 minutes. The horror of being left alone with yourself is real.
We are rarely with ourselves. When was the last time you sat down with no electronics? No books, board games, music, or company? If you can remember, was it a positive experience? If yes, that's great! If not, meditation can get you there.
The good news is that there are as many ways to meditate as there are of doing yoga (i.e. nearly infinite). If you try one type and it doesn't flow after a couple of weeks, just switch to something else. You can literally shop around for the meditation app you like best. Make use of the free trials, search YouTube, ask a meditation teacher to help you find your groove 😉
I can guarantee that when you find the meditation for you, you'll be astounded at the difference you feel in your every day experiences. And best of all, being alone with yourself won't be so scary or boring anymore. That's something you can take with you everywhere.
If you're looking for guidance, I'm offering meditation lessons online. Feel free to join me HERE, or move on your path by following the hints and clues you've been seeing to just get started 💗
If you take a look at what services I offer online, you'll find a category called "Asana". I felt weird offering "Yoga" as a lesson, because there are so many aspects to yoga, and this choice actually led to this whole series to explore the eight limbs of yoga.
According to Yogipedia, "Asana is traditionally defined as the seated posture, used for meditation, from the Sanskrit meaning 'seat.'" Patanjali (the dude who describes the eight limbs of yoga) wasn't even talking about the other postures that we see today! Depending on which yogic teaching you follow, asana means a lot of different things.
Most simply, for our purposes today, asana is the physical practice of yoga. It's what you see on the covers of yoga magazines, what you see in Hollywood films, what you scroll through on Instagram. The thing about asana is that it's not properly represented by "pop-yoga".
Accurate representation has never been media's forte, so it's naive to expect the representation of yoga to be any different. It is what it is (for now 😉). Unfortunately, most non-yogis are bombarded with poses that are either hypersexualized or attainable to a very, very, very small percentage of the population. Who wants to try yoga if they think they'll have to go straight into a handstand?
Please let what I'm about to share sink in.
Asana is for every body.
The physical postures of yoga are intended for any and every body.
Yoga is for everybody.
If you've ever felt marginalized or unwelcome to practice yoga, please know that asana is so much more than wow-factor Instagram pictures. My heart breaks when someone who can benefit greatly from yoga feels it's not "for them" because of this very narrow view of what yoga is. Yoga is more than asana. Asana is more than deep backbends and arm balances.
Do I sound upset? Well, aren't you? I won't bash the yogis of the Internet because there are plenty out there who share well-rounded practices with suggestions of props or modifications. Even so, these posts and pictures aren't as interesting to non-yogis than something that looks like your body is made of rubber. It's the nature of the Internet that those who can do something "different" than the average person will immediately get more attention. Remember that other resources and inspiration exist! We just have to find it, share it and practice it.
Most importantly, when you find asanas that speak to you, be kind to your body. Find modifications, use props, ask an instructor to help you find that sweet spot of effort and ease.
I have so much more to say about our perceptions of yoga, but that's asana for now. Feel free to ask questions, reach out, and find your own practice!
We've covered the first limb of yoga - the yamas. The second limb of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, are the niyamas.
Directly translated from Sanskrit, "niyama" means "agreement". Consider these five guidelines "personal ethics" of the yoga world. While yamas are the "don'ts", niyamas are the "dos". Here's a quick description of each one, with my personal experience as an example in case you're interested in more:
1. Saucha - purity/cleanliness
On the mat: Keeping my practice area clean and free of clutter 🧽 Not allowing my mat or my space to be disrespected or misused.
Off the mat: Tongue scraping, body brushing, eating clean, and most difficult of all - avoiding entertainment that focuses on negativity
2. Santosha - contentment
On the mat: Accepting and enjoying whatever I can do, and not getting caught up in what I am unable to do during any given asana practice
Off the mat: One of my biggest challenges, honestly. I remind myself that I am where I need to be, and everything will come in its due time 😌
3. Tapas - discipline with passion
On the mat: Practicing asana even when I don't feel like it. Arriving on my mat and choosing to breath into my practice
Off the mat: I may be a bit extreme with this one. I follow a schedule that keeps me productive and somehow fervently vacuuming feels a lot like asceticism 🤣
4. Svadhyaya - self-study
On the mat: Meditating. Observing my body, my assumptions, and my reaction within each posture
Off the mat: Oohhhhh my favorite 🤩 I love to learn about myself. Reading self help books, having deep conversations, and trying new things
5. Ishvara pranidhana - surrender to the Divine
On the mat: Devoting my practice to something bigger than myself
Off the mat: Letting go of what I cannot control and leaving it up to God/the Universe
As I mentioned before, this is a very simplified explanation. There is overlap between how I experience these guidelines in practice. I feel more passionate about certain ethics than others - actually, sharing my practices has been an exercise in realizing which areas need a little more love and effort ❣️
I hope you've gained a basic understanding of the 10 principles that govern yoga. In case you'd like to read more, check out this post from The Yoga Collective.
Like any deep-rooted tradition, the eight limbs of yoga begin with the philosophy that in order to reach enlightenment or a connection with the Divine, one must live by a certain set of guidelines.
Just as the Ten Commandments shape Judaism and Christianity, the yamas and niyamas shape the yogic lifestyle. Note: yoga is not a religion, I'm simply drawing a comparison that helped me understand how these principles are used.
Directly translated from Sanskrit, "yama" means "self-restraint". Consider these five guidelines "universal ethics" of the yoga world. They are basically the "don'ts". Here are the very basic definitions of each one, with my personal experience as an example of how I attempt to follow the ethic on and off the mat:
1. Ahimsa - do not harm
On the mat: If something hurts, I don't do it. Simple as that. This requires a constant re-evaluation of how I feel in each pose.
Off the mat: Ahimsa speaks to my soul - I don't do well with violence or aggression. I try my best to eat as vegan as possible, shop for ethically sourced clothing, and speak with kindness to others 🦋
2. Satya - do not lie
On the mat: Knowing whether I'm doing poses to prove something to myself or someone, or whether I'm doing poses to stretch, strengthen, and heal my body. Proceed accordingly.
Off the mat: No lying, manipulating, or hiding the truth ❌ To others or myself.
3. Asteya - do not steal
On the mat: Giving myself time to practice every day (not "stealing" from my own yoga practice).
Off the mat: Not taking what is not given to me freely, including objects, time, and energy 🧛♀️
4. Brahmacharya - do not overindulge
On the mat: Using my energy correctly. Adjusting the intensity of my asana to my energy level.
Off the mat: Not consuming food and drink in excess. Also, binge-watching Netflix definitely falls under this umbrella, and I'm definitely struggling with that 😅
5. Aparigraha - do not hoard
On the mat: Sharing my yoga practice with others. Social media has its problems, but I believe there is benefit to sharing my practice and what I've learned from it.
Off the mat: Regularly cleaning out my closet/home to donate what I no longer use. Also, not accumulating what I don't need in the first place.
This is, obviously, a very simplified list and explanation. I'll be the first to say that I'm not perfect, and I've messed up in all of these categories. The cool thing is that I can wake up the next day and try again 😉
I'm curious, though - do you find yourself following the yamas in your own life? Do you see similarities with the religion or philosophy of life that you are familiar with?
What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say YOGA?
Warrior 2? Handstands? Someone in cute leggings doing a crazy pose?
I'm really curious. What is the framework of yoga that you've absorbed through popular culture, gorgeous Instagram images, or your own experience of a yoga class?
I would argue that most of us from the Western world immediately think of the physical aspect of yoga: the poses. Moving your body through space. And many people don't realize that the physical part of yoga (called asana) is just a small piece of a much larger whole.
Yoga consists of eight "limbs". That's right! Eight different practices that all work together to "yoke" or to become one with. Whether you are yoking your body and mind, or your consciousness with Divine consciousness, the practice of yoga ranges from the cleanliness of your body to the withdrawal of your senses away from external sources. It's an endless journey that guides you to a more blissful experience of life.
I'll expand on these eight limbs over time, especially in the context of modern life and how I've personally experienced them. In the meantime, take a moment to notice whether your definition of "yoga" has been limited to just one thing. I know that mine was for a long time, as everywhere I saw the word, it was linked to people stretching and sweating and singing "Aum." 😜
My challenge to you Is to be a little more specific - instead of saying "I really enjoyed that yoga lesson", try "I really enjoyed that asana sequence". It may just open your eyes (and someone else's!) that you have so much more to experience. There's so much more to learn and discover. 😃 Isn't that exciting?
The seventh and final chakra in my two-month-long challenge.
In my ideal world, I would have completed this challenge within one week - one chakra per day. As I don't have that sort of patience with recordings and voiceovers, I ended up averaging one chakra per week. And that's OK! One thing I've noticed over the past several weeks is that I'm feeling much more content with what I can do. It's pretty freaking awesome.
The crown chakra is symbolic of your connection with the Divine. The universe, God, Gaia, whatever you'd like to call it. It is the thousand-petaled lotus, a culmination of the openness and harmony of the six other chakras. (So now you see why we start at the bottom 😉)
What fascinates me about connecting with the Divine is that it's such a polarizing idea. People will either love you for allowing yourself to feel it, criticize you for calling it a different name, or pass you off as one someone who's loony. Well, that's just dumb. Your connection (whether you have it or not) is an entirely personal matter that should be respected however you call it.
I could go on and on. But that's not for today. Today I'm sharing the crown/sahasrara chakra challenge. Credit for the chakra yoga sequences comes from Mark Stephens' book, "Yoga Sequencing."
Join me for my experience following a crown chakra sequence. Here are the basics of what I learned:
Even though I was nursing painful hips and a wandering mind, I found this practice absolutely lovely. I recognized aspects from each previous chakra sequence within this crown chakra sequence, and found myself feeling radiant, if I may say so myself.
The biggest takeaway I've had from this challenge is that each part of you deserves attention and love. Spend time with yourself. Learn what your body and your mind need on any given day or any given moment. Honor yourself. Replace bad habits and toxic people with radical self care.
It's time! What are you waiting for?
If you are looking for guidance for your first steps, or you'd like a custom-made yoga lesson, you know where to find me.
Ah, the third eye. Probably the most well-known chakra in Western society.
Personally, I've gone through phases of following my intuition and ignoring it. (Hint: save yourself the time and effort and just follow it 👍). I don't particularly like to recall the times I've ignored my self, so I was definitely excited to amp up my third eye chakra.
It could be a combination of multiple factors, but in the days following this challenge, I've found myself "in flow". I am in tune with what my body needs, and what will make me happy. Truly happy, not binge-watch-Netflix happy. I'm less tempted by distractions like social media and more inclined to reach for the book I'm reading ("Talking to Strangers" by Malcolm Gladwell) or spending time writing.
So, here we are with the third eye/ajna chakra challenge. Credit for the chakra yoga sequences comes from Mark Stephens' book, "Yoga Sequencing."
Join me for my experience following a third eye chakra sequence. Here are the basics of what I learned:
As I mentioned in the video, Aum has a beautiful presence around multiple cultures. HERE is some reading in case you're interested.
The pranayama suggested for this practice was nadi shodhana, also known as alternate nostril breathing. As much as I used to dislike this breath (it always felt like one of my nostrils was difficult to breath through), I now enjoy it very much, and find it to be even more calming than a 4-7-8 breath.
I hope you find the time to implement a couple of these elements to enhance and balance your third eye - it's done wonders for me in just a few days ☺️
See you soon for the last chakra challenge!
As excited as I was for the heart chakra sequence, I was a bit nervous to move on to this next challenge.
Both literally and figuratively, the throat chakra is my most unbalanced energy center. I have a long history of strep throat, bronchitis, and laryngitis, not to mention my frequent struggles with communicating what I think and how I feel.
In the days after this challenge, I've paid more attention to my throat chakra, drinking warm, herbal teas, increasing my vitamin C intake when I felt a tickle at the back of my throat, and not stopping myself so much before I speak. These tiny changes add up, just like with any new, healthy habits, and I feel that my relationship with my throat chakra is healing tremendously. You never know what an hour of focus can do!
So, here we are with our throat/vishuddha chakra challenge. Credit for the chakra yoga sequences come from Mark Stephens' book, "Yoga Sequencing."
Join me for my experience following a throat chakra sequence. Here are the basics of what I learned:
In addition to the Lion's breath that was included in Upward Facing Dog at the beginning of the sequence, I added a classic Lion's breath exercise before meditating. I can't remember the last time I practiced this pranayama, and now I'm convinced I should do it regularly. My throat felt rejuvenated and soothed, which is a welcome change from all of the battles it's fought. HERE'S an article I found with more details about this pranayama.
I'm super excited to explore the next chakra in the sequence, and put it all together. The challenge is almost complete! Have you tried any of these yet?
This is the one I've been really excited for.
If you've been following my chakra yoga challenge, you may have noticed that the sequences have been tough. Physically, the root, sacral, and solar plexus sequences have been sweaty and exhausting. Don't get me wrong - I still loved the flows and the various challenges they provided. But I'd be lying if I said I preferred a heated, high-energy flow to one that's more relaxing.
So, here we are with our heart/anahata chakra challenge. Credit for the chakra yoga sequences come from Mark Stephens' book, "Yoga Sequencing."
Join me for my experience following a heart chakra sequence 💚 Here are the basics of what I learned:
The suggested pranayama was ujjayi. In case you're unfamiliar, ujjayi is commonly referred to as "ocean breath", though it more accurately translates to "victorious breath". It sounds a bit like Darth Vader 😆, but you can hear more of my thoughts on ujjayi toward the end of the video.
Personally, the heart chakra is one that I pay special attention to. It's the connection between the upper and lower chakras, and represents how we feel about ourselves and others. I highly recommend following a heart-opening sequence in your own yoga practice, or scheduling one with me by click the link HERE 😊