Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bumblebee breathing

I've been teaching Bumblebee breathing a lot lately. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe springtime inspiration? Or by the plight of the honey bee?
There have been some funny reactions in my classes: all out laughter, a sudden opening of the body and mind to chant Om, the sense that the room was still buzzing after we all stopped, and an intense focus for the rest of class on a deeper level than usual.

All from buzzing like a bumble bee!

The pranayama, or breathing exercise is called Bhramari in Sanskrit. Bhramari will help to control and calm the flow of prana (energy) in all layers of your person. This exercise is supposed to be especially beneficial for your sense organs of eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Here is how you do it:

Find a comfortable sitting position and close your eyes.
Rest your hands in your lap*.
Take a deep breath in through the nose, as you exhale, also through the nose, making a soft buzzing, or humming sound for the entire exhalation. Notice how the roof of your mouth vibrates with the sound.
Inhale again softly through the nose, and again exhale with a humming sound.
Repeat for at least 10 breaths, or more.
When you finish sit in quiet for a few breaths. Be aware of how the area right above the roof of your mouth feels. Notice if the room has a new vibration or energy.
Open your eyes and begin your day anew!

*Some people will close their ears with their thumbs and block the light from the eyelids with the last two fingers, placing the index and middle fingers on the forhead. This I would say is the advanced version of the pose and might be a little too intense if you are just starting out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Balancing Opposites

Imagine your body and mind like the string of a cello. The energy that lives in a string pulled from the base of the cello to its scrolling top can create a lovelyvibrating sound.

Same with you! Energetic balance in a yoga pose sounds rich and full. Pulled too tight, you might sound sharp, too loose could sound flat; the middle ground is where your body will vibrate right on key.

The words hatha yoga translate as sun(ha) and moon(tha) union(yoga). Too much sun would burn us; too much moon and we would be unable to grow, to wake up. The balance, or union of the sun and the moon creates life. The balance can be found in your tadasana (mountain) pose as well. Your feet root you to the floor. Your head is in the clouds. The balance of the two is what you breathe into to create life.

The opposites that can be balanced in yoga are endless: there is cool and warm, energy and relaxation, effort and surrender, remembering and forgetting. Yoga lies in between heaven and earth, liquid and solid, noise and silence, movement and stillness.

How do you find the balance between the opposites? By being very quiet and listening to where one element begins and merges into its opposite. That in itself is enough practice for a life time of yoga.

Friday, March 20, 2009


In yogic terminology, greedless-ness translates as Aparigraha. It is the last of the 5 Yamas, first recorded by the sage Patanjali thousands of years ago. The Yamas, or disciplines, are the foundation for travelling the Yogic pathway to freedom. To practice Aparigraha is to give to yourself freedom from the tyranny of stuff, freedom from your wallet, and freedom from the perception that the acquisition of wealth and its outcomes are what makes us worthwhile beings.

To practice Aparigraha, ( a good practice for these cash-strapped times, and much cheaper than a class!) try for one day not to shop. For that one day, when you feel the urge to buy candy, to buy another cup of coffee, to buy another pair of shoes, try saying to yourself, "I have everything I need to be a complete person, and anything else is unnecessary".

This is not easy to do. You might feel a little weird at the beginning, and a little empty. But the knowledge that you don't really need all that stuff can be much sweeter and more filling than anything you would find on a shelf.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Yoga of Effortless Standing

Since posting on the lifting of the kneecaps, I have had a simple, yet major revelation: In yoga practice we create energy and move into difficult poses by engaging and lifting our muscles. While this is helpful in an Asana practice, lifting these muscles too often will result in strain. Muscle strain produces injury.

Chloe Wing, a senior teacher of the Alexander technique, taught me this: Yoga alignment instructions are not daily life alignment instructions. She said (as I remember it) "Yoga is an ancient and mystical practice created to open the body to [divine] energy. It does not translate to daily function."

I expected a clap of thunder as she said this! I expected her statue of Shiva to leap off the windowsill and disagree! None of this happened. The only changes were my own eyes widening and my engaged shoulders releasing.

In daily life, the body should stand as effortlessly as possible.

Your muscles do not need to grip your bones.

The architecture of the bones can hold you up.

For you to try: Stand tall with your two feet on the floor. Feel the feet, not just what you think they feel like but truly how they feel: warm or cold, heavy or light, asleep or awake. Become aware of your toes and notice how they stream out from your foot without needing to grip the floor. The legs are even and steady. The leg bones stack on top of each other in a comfortable way. Relax your ribcage and shoulders. Forget what you have learned about proper posture, and instead rest and stand in comfort and ease. Let your arm bones hang loose and feel them growing very very long.

Breathe as if you were floating on your back in a clear lake. Stay here for as long as you like and float, effortlessly.

Thank you Chloe!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

a yoga practice tip!

While I was teaching the daughter of my student Lisa yesterday, Lisa came in to tell her daughter that the very best thing she learned from me in yoga class: to lift her kneecaps up.
She said that in yoga class she could do anything if she lifted her kneecaps up. I was impressed, and inspired myself, since I am a classic accidental knee-locker. A lot of knee-lockers (ahh!, You didn't know there was a club!), don't really know how to lift the kneecaps. This is not good at all because locking puts too much pressure on the knees, and stops the flow of energy, or prana through your legs.
Besides, Mr Iyengar (in my opinion the god of yogic alignment) is a big fan of lifting the kneecaps up, and I go with him on issues like this.

Here is a short exercise that you can try to experience your knee lifting capabilities:

Stand on your two feet and bend your knees as if you were going to sit back onto a chair. Place your hands on the muscles of your thighs. Slowly start to straighten your legs and as you do, root your feet into the floor, and use your hands to encourage your thigh muscles (quadriceps) to lift up. Try not to push your legs back in space (locking them), but lift them up toward the sky. Squeeze them up like this for 5 breaths, and then release, and just notice how you and your legs feel. Stand in your Tadasana (mountain) pose.

Now you can do anything!

Monday, March 2, 2009


Snowflakes are perfect without trying.
They just fall down like that, with symmetry and impermanence, making children happy and frustrating drivers. Good little soldiers of the sky!