Thursday, June 19, 2014

June 10 & June 17 Restore Series

I am playing catch-up on the blog today as I combine our June 10th & June 17th classes in this blog.  Now you will have a full slate of poses, breath and inspiration.  Enjoy!  And as we wind down our Restore series until our return in September, I invite you to visit the blog for some summertime downtime.

My mentor, Jillian Pransky, has been a busy bee lately with the release of her DVD (previously shared), a TEDTalk on Metta Compassion (http://tedxnavesink.com/project/jillian-pransky), an on-line yoga video with Prevention Magazine and now an article, again with Prevention Magazine, on Yoga and Weight Loss.  Read this article below as it relates to our restorative yoga practice and weight loss. Surprising results from several researchers are in store.


The Surprising Way Gentle Yoga Can Help You Lose Serious Weight

How could a few minutes of deep breathing and gentle moves help anyone drop pounds? Here's exactly how.


Scientists are just now uncovering the slimming power of gentle yoga. Jillian Pr
Jillian Pransky wasn't always the calming, glowing presence she is today. Twenty years ago, the New Jersey-based yogi was as fired up by the corporate ladder as she was by the step classes and rigorous marathon training she subjected her body to. If it was hard, she was into it, and as a natural result, she was sometimes as stressed as the students who now flock to her slow-flow vinyasa and restorative classes. But working ferociously to maintain her weight stopped making sense once she discovered what scientists are just beginning to understand: Yoga—even the gentlest of styles—has an uncanny ability to make everything in life a little easier. Including weight loss. "I haven't worried about my weight for over 10 years," says the 46-year-old former marketing director turned international yoga teacher. "I see the same changes in my students."
Certainly, anyone can understand why a vigorous Sun Salutation series would tighten the core and firm the triceps. But the experience of Pransky and her students takes yoga far beyond Physiology 101 and into the counter-intuitive world of mind-body mystery. Because what they are confirming is that a practice that at times looks like nothing more than lying on the floor with a couple of blankets under your tush can change your body.
It may sound like hype at first: "Melt fat without breaking a sweat!" Even scientists who've done some of the key studies recognize the disconnect. The weight loss that happens with gentle yoga isn't due to the typical causal pathways, in which you burn more calories than you take in, says Alan Kristal, lead researcher in an ongoing study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Nonetheless, promising results continue to roll in. In Kristal's study of more than 15,000 adults in their 50s, overweight people who did yoga at least once a week for 4 or more years lost an average of 5 pounds, while those who didn't practice packed on an average of 13.5—a difference of nearly 20 pounds. Additionally, yogis who started at a healthy weight were more likely to maintain their weight than those who never unrolled a mat.
Despite not knowing exactly how sweating so little can work so well, scientists are piecing together a compelling story about gentle yoga. Its basic outlines will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a self-help book. Changes in the body change the mind, which changes behavior, which reinforces changes in both mind and body. In this case, what's profound is what this virtuous loop ultimately changes: the body's very shape and size.
DROPPED TWO SIZE: Josie Say (left), 39, no longer worries about the scale. Instead, she applies the stress-lowering techniques she learned on her mat to her relationship with food.  SHED 20 POUNDS: Jenese Martinez (right) discovered that she didn't have to fight her body to change it. At 44, she is happier and lighter than she was working as a fitness instructor in her 20s.
Josie Say (left), 39, no longer worries about the scale. Instead, she applies the stress-lowering techniques she learned on her mat to her relationship with food; and as a result, she dropped two sizes. Jenese Martinez (right) discovered that she didn’t have to fight her body to change it. At 44, she is happier and lighter (she dropped 20 pounds with yoga) than she was working as a fitness instructor in her 20s.
To connect the cutting-edge-research dots, let's start with new findings that show how the ancient practice alters the structure of the brain, enlarging the stress-regulating hippocampus as well as the superior parietal cortex, which governs focus. Scientists have already confirmed what anyone who's dived headfirst into a plate of fries after a bad day knows: Stress can lead to a poor diet. Consumer Reports last year asked 1,328 psychologists which strategies are essential to losing weight and keeping it off, and the top answers were "understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions" and "emotional eating." So it stands to reason that a regular yoga practice, by improving how the brain controls your reaction to stress, could lead to healthier food choices and, perhaps, easier weight loss.
"I try to eat foods that will serve my body, but I no longer become upset when I cheat," says Josie Say, 39, a student of Pransky's who dropped two dress sizes when she first picked up yoga and then quit obsessing about the wobbling needle on the scale. Now, when she gives in to cravings, she takes a deep breath and moves on.
In nonscientific terms, Say is describing self-compassion, and research has shown that people who avoid beating themselves up over diet slip-ups are much more likely to go back to healthy eating at the next meal. While claims that yoga promotes self-compassion are impossible to study in a randomized controlled trial, regular practitioners attest to how yogic lessons (the stuff teachers often share at the beginning and end of class) encourage them to do something a breakneck boot camp class might not: search their souls and be nice to themselves. "The work you do in class fosters a compassion that flows into every aspect of your life," says Pransky.
That resonates with Jenese Martinez, 44, another student of Pransky's. Martinez spent her 20s alternating between intense sessions at the gym and late-night binges. "Before I found yoga, I was my own worst enemy," she says. "I spent years fighting my curves. But the yoga teachings helped me to stop focusing on the shape of my thighs and start honoring who I really was. Instead of saying 'I hate you' to my body, I started to say 'I love you.' "
Her introspection led to transformation: Within 6 months of starting a gentle practice, Martinez saw the 20 pounds she'd been trying to lose melt away. She simply started to consume less and noticed that even when she did want the occasional glass of wine or slice of cake, she enjoyed it much more. The research backs up her steady, powerful shift. According to a study published in the journal Qualitative Health Research, an at-home yoga practice reduced women's bingeing in 12 weeks. Simply by cultivating present-moment awareness, the participants found that they ate less overall.
While practicing yoga may help you take in fewer calories, it may also be changing where those calories end up. Fat collects where we want it least—the stomach—in part when levels of a so-called stress hormone, cortisol, rise. Not surprisingly, yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, presumably making it easier to shed belly fat.
Fascinating new research bears this out. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, women who did restorative yoga—a practice in which poses are held for a long time, typically on the floor and supported by blankets and props—burned 2% times more body fat than those who just stretched for that same period. In another study, published last year in the Journal of Alternative Medicine, overweight men who practiced yoga and breathing exercises daily lost an average of 4 pounds in only 10 days.
Yoga's focus on the breath and body is likely the key to many of its results. Increasing mindfulness on the mat makes it easier to stay tuned in the rest of the day—which could translate into something as simple as realizing that your body is craving a walk or eating only when you're hungry.
That's what happened with Martinez. After several months of practicing yoga, she was able to ask herself why she'd wandered into the kitchen in the first place. Was she hungry, or bored?
Whatever the cascade of impacts, the benefits appear to last as long as the practice does. Stay away too long and the effects start to fade, as Jenene Klem, 48, learned.
For years, Klem enjoyed matching her practice to her mood. At some point, though, "I lost my yoga," she says, and she gained 20 pounds. Despite diving into vigorous cardio and strength-training classes, Klem was unable to shed the weight. She recalls being ravenous after class and paying little attention to how much or what she ate. Now she's back on the mat, and the pounds are falling off again. "Yoga just makes you pay attention and think differently," she says.
Thinking differently also means acknowledging that you're human. "Sometimes you still go into that dark place of self-criticism or overeat from time to time," says Martinez. "But it's so nice to have this tool to help you get back on track. When it happens, you can come to your mat and say, 'All right. Now breathe.' "
Scientists are just now uncovering the slimming power of gentle yoga. Jillian Pransky, 46, hasn’t thought about her weight in 10 years.
Start At Any Size
Yoga isn't just for show ponies prancing around in their Lulus. Nancy Taylor, 44, lost more than 160 pounds with a regular practice and, like every yogi, had to start somewhere. She shares her tips for getting past the utterly distracting but mostly unavoidable self-consciousness that can come with getting started on the mat.
Don't obsess about what others are thinking. "I worried people would think, Here's a big girl in yoga," Taylor remembers. "But nobody looked twice."
You can wear whatever you want. No need to squeeze into leggings and a compression-bra top to do asanas: A T-shirt and any bottoms that allow you to move freely are fine. "Of course, if you're comfortable with how you feel in spandex, wear it," says Taylor, who rocked bike shorts and a sports bra even at her heaviest.
Good teachers matter. Finding a competent, versatile teacher is key, says Taylor. You want an instructor who will make you feel welcome and will make time to show you modifications.
There's no such thing as being bad at yoga. You don't have to do a pose exactly like the person next to you, and it's OK to rest in Child's Pose at any point during a class.
Find your own flow. "Living in Los Angeles, I tried a lot of different styles of yoga," Taylor says. "I ended up settling on Bikram because I felt like I needed something really invigorating. My friends thought I was crazy. Who would go into a room heated to 105°F and 40% humidity? But I loved it."
Show up. Yoga teachers always say it, and they say it 'cause it's true: The hardest move in yoga is getting onto your mat in the first place. Once you're at class, the tough part is over, Taylor says.
More from Prevention: For more Yoga poses to sculpt a strong, sexy core, check out the Flat Belly Yoga DVD!
Practice With Pransky
Follow along with the 10-minute sequence created by Jillian Pransky in the video below, and click here to see the workout step by step.
Additional reporting by Jenna Bergen Southerland, Devon Rutz, and Lindy Speakman.

The Breath
Sitali, the Cooling Breath
This yogic breath will help calm the mind and soothe the emotions such as anger, anxiety and frustration. Also good for fevers or when you feel overheated. Will give you a feeling of contentment. Regulates digestive and sexual energy and detoxifies.
Open mouth and curl your tongue like a taco. 
INHALE through the curled tongue. Close mouth and EXHALE through the nostrils. Continue this cycle.
Sit up with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair. Hands in gyan mudra ( pads of thumb and index finger touching)

Practice this breath for 3 – 11 mins bring contentment into your life.
The Poses
Mountain Brook
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll, two bolsters
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.

Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing.  It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.

On your mat, place one bolster where your knees will be and another where your lower legs can rest, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), and a neck roll for the cervical spine.  Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up or come into Goddess arms.  If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel.  Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes.  Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves.  Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket.  Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.
Legs up the Wall Variation
Props: 2 blocks, 3 blankets, neck rolls
Benefits: Supportive, releasing pose for legs, feet, pelvis. Spinal realignment. Helps legs drain of fluid and promotes circulation.

Set two blocks at end of your mat at whatever height you want. Make a flat roll our of one blanket and place on top of the blocks so it doesn't roll off.  The two blankets will stack in front of the blocks (calves rest here), adding any neck rolls or adjustments to support the entire lower leg through to the knees. Rest feet and legs on the supports and arms come to a comfortable distance by your side. Perfect for savasana and instant relaxation.
Surfboard

Props: blankets, including one for warmth, stuffed animals or eye bags for hands
Benefits: gently stretches the lumbar spine and para spinal muscles, and gives a release in the diaphragm, quiets the mind and comforting. Gives a sense of security.  

2 bolster fold blanket placed lengthwise on mat on top of each other. One blanket at end of mat for ankle support. Make roll for ankle support. Rest of that blanket fills in gap where shin does not meet the floor. Make sure no blanket is on knee. This supports the knee in the pose.  Top bolster folded blanket roll towards you in a wider roll to fit in chest and shoulder area. One more blanket folded so that its height is the same as the two bolster folded blankets. Come to all fours straddling the props, release to forearms and then fully recline on props.  Ankles rest on small roll at end of mat, shins supported by the rest of that blanket. Rest the rest of your body at hip crease on the bolster fold blankets and lay chest on wider roll of top blanket. Head rests on additional blanket at top, turned to the side. Arms come out to the sides, releasing shoulders down the back and away from the ears. Placing an eye pillow or stuffed animal in palms as they face floor is very grounding and comfortable. Additional blankets for pillows tucked in as needed with student to create boundaries or make more comfortable.
New Version includes laying tops of ankles over padded blocks for further draining of the legs.

Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddhakonasana)


Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. 
Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow

Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. We used the wall in this week's class placing the bolster at a higher elevation. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees)  Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment.  Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.
Savasana on Bellies
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll
Benefits: gives lumbar spine support, ease strain on sacral ilium area, good for digestion, full release of the body to gravity with low back pain. Return the body to a state of balance after your practice.

Place a double or triple folded blanket under your abdomen as you belly down on the mat. One leg extended, other one bent at a 90 angle.  Fold arms under head and rest forehead on them or send them to a Goddess position.  Modify arm/head position for most comfort.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

June 3 Restore Series

I was run over by a steamroller Tuesday night and the thing kept on rolling over me until I emerged from my steamroller massage, early this morning.  I don't think I have ever slept 24 hours before.  A new record for even me who loves sleep.  I am completely befuddled why I got sick as my immune system I thought was top notch, no big stresses in my life, eating real healthy and getting plenty of sleep.  Well I do know that the sleep helped and I bet a few restoratives will put me back in some type of equilibrium boosting my immune system as well.

Enjoy the restorative and immunity-boosting poses and an Extended Exhalation here and there. (YogaJournal http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2695).  Please do not attempt Headstand, Shoulderstand or Plow if they are not already in your practice.  For a Supported Shoulderstand, place a block under your hips and raise the legs up in the air to drain (can come into this from Supported Bridge pose).

Immunity Boost

To prime your body for winter health, try this gentle sequence designed to support the lymphatic system.
By Elizabeth Winter with Tias Little
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If you'd just as soon skip winter's colds and flu this year, you may want to spend more time on your mat. Tias Little, director of Prajna Yoga, believes a practice that includes supported and inverted poses, like the one you'll find on the next two pages, increases circulation of lymph—a clear, watery fluid that moves through the body picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out via the lymph nodes.
Unlike blood, which moves as a result of the heart pumping, lymph moves by muscular contractions. Physical exercise, such as yoga, is key for keeping lymph flowing. The movement of lymph is also affected by gravity, so anytime your head is below your heart—for example, in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)—lymph moves into the respiratory organs, where germs often enter the body. When you return to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph, sending it through your lymph nodes for cleansing.
In each pose, Little recommends resting your head on a support to allow your neck, throat, and tongue to relax fully, thereby encouraging the lymph to flow freely through the nose and throat. Hold each pose for two to five minutes, breathing deeply from your diaphragm for the entire time. Don't wait until the first sign of sniffles to attempt this practice—by that point inversions could agitate both body and mind. Instead, use this sequence to build up your immunity throughout the winter and keep common colds at bay.

Before You Begin

Breath Take a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and breathe, focusing on lengthening the duration of both the inhalation and the exhalation over time. Visualize the skin around the throat, jaw, and mouth softening.
Salute Practice 3 to 5 rounds of the Sun Salutation of your choice.
Balasana (Child's Pose), supportedBegin by sitting on your feet, with your knees separated and your big toes touching. With your eyes closed, fold your torso forward, letting your forehead rest on the floor or on a support such as a bolster, blanket, or block so your head and neck can rest more fully. Place your arms on the floor in front of you, allowing the elbows to bend out to the sides.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), supportedFrom Balasana, press your hands into the floor, tuck your toes under, and lift your hips up and back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Rest your head on a support. Extend through your inner arms while pressing the tops of your thighbones firmly back and away from your face.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)From Adho Mukha Svanasana, walk your feet until they are in line with your hands and come up to standing, maintaining a flat back. Bring your feet about 4 feet apart and fold your torso forward, resting your head on the floor or on a support. Place your hands on the floor to the inside of your feet.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), supportedFrom Prasarita Padottanasana, place your hands on your hips and, maintaining a flat back, come up to standing. Bring your feet hip-width apart and on an exhalation, fold forward, resting your head on a support. Clasp the back of your heels with your hands, gently bringing your torso toward your legs.
Sirsasana (Headstand)Editor's note: If you've never attempted Headstand before, do so with the aid of an experienced teacher. Performing the pose incorrectly can put your neck at risk.
Release Uttanasana and come down to your hands and knees. Interlock your fingers and place your outer forearms against the floor. Tuck your chin and place the back of your head in the cup made by your hands. Straighten your legs, coming up onto the crown of your head. Lift your legs overhead to vertical. For additional support, rest your knuckles against the baseboard of the wall and kick up onto the wall. Rest in Balasana after coming down.
Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), supportedLie on your back with your shoulders on the folded edge of one or more blankets. The shoulders are supported by the blanket, and your head, but not your neck, rests on the ground. Lift your legs to vertical, supporting your midback with your hands and keeping your upper arms and elbows parallel to each other.
Halasana (Plow Pose), supportedFrom Sarvangasana, lower your legs over your head until your tucked toes touch the ground. Interlock your hands behind your back, straighten your arms, and powerfully press them into the floor. Engage your quadriceps to press your femur bones up and away from your face. To come out of the pose, separate your hands and slowly roll down out of the pose while maintaining full extension in the arms.
8 Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose)Lying on your back on the floor, draw your knees into your chest. Keep the left side of your back in contact with the floor, extend both legs straight out toward the right, and hold the outer edge of your left foot with either your right hand or a strap. If you experience pain in your lower back, keep your knees bent. With each exhalation, rotate your belly in the direction opposite your legs. Repeat on the left side.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), supportedLie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips and place a block (standing on its tall end) underneath your sacrum. Ground the outer border of your shoulders into the floor and lift the sides of your torso up, keeping your front ribs, sternum, and collarbones broad.
10 Siddhasana (Adept's Pose)
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the edge of one or more folded blankets, making sure that your knees are lower than the top of your pelvis. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing down. Elongate the sides of your torso and lift your sternum. Create space under your armpits by imagining you have a small balloon under each arm. Breathe fully, focusing on the inhalation.

The Breath
Extended Exhalation
A basic breath that you can take anywhere when you need to.  Lengthening the exhale kicks the parasympathetic nervous system up a notch, allows more space between thoughts, eliminates more waste and toxins from the body and allows the body to settle more.   Much like the Equal Breath, we use a count to inhale but then we exhale for double that count.  Find a comfortable seat or lay down on the floor, hands can be placed on the belly or wherever they are comfortable.  Begin with the inhale to a count of 2, then exhale for a count of 4.  Slightly constrict your back of throat as you exhale (similar to Ujjayi breath). As you practice and progress in deepening your breath, perhaps the counts will get longer.  Begin to add a pause at the end of the exhalation where no breath is coming or going.  Then when you feel the need to breath in, inhale.  Adding this pause sends a message to your brain to slow down, thoughts come a little slower.  Try it and see how it affects your thinking.

The Poses

Elevated Legs

Props: 2 blocks, 3 blankets, neck roll and other support
Benefits: reduces fatigue, reduces swelling in the legs and feet, soothes the nerves and eases mental agitation.  Great for after a long day on your feet.

Place two blocks medium height at end of your mat, roll a blanket smoothly and place over blocks.  Two bolster folded blankets are in front of blocks stacked on top of each other.  Use a neck roll and eye pillow and any additional blankets for comfort and grounding. Can add a blanket to lower legs.  


Childs Pose - Frog Variation

Props: bolster, one blocks, 2-3 blankets, neck roll for forehead
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind.  Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release. Gently lengthens the legs.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum

Place bolster on the mat lengthwise and lay a blanket over it. Make a smaller roll for the ankles and place at the other end of the mat. Also place a block at top end with a neck roll or eye pillow on top. Begin on all fours and lower  your upper body onto the bolster. Settle the tops of the ankles on the smaller roll and adjust the body so that the tops of the thighs rest on the edge of the bolster.  Lay the forehead on the cushioned block and place the arms to the side, shoulders dropping from the ears.  Soften your jaw and let the body sink into the supports and the floor. 


Reclined Goddess
Props: 2 blocks, 2 blankets, neck roll
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. Shoulders release their tension. 

Bring blocks to lowest height, place rolled up blanket on top of blocks, smooth any wrinkles.  Two longer blankets folded in half go lengthwise on mat. Fold top blanket down for head pillow.  Sit between blocks and long blankets and put legs over blocks, soles of the feet together.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 27 Restore Series

Lucky Statues

This may be TMI or Too Much Information, but I have been a hot sweaty mess this late Spring.  News Flash, I am having Hot Flashes.  And besides the sub-zero temperatures that I crave, I need some more support for these waves of heat.  Announcing the Cooling Breaths of Sitali (or Sheetali) and Seetkari. (see website for more informaiton http://yogawithsubhash.com/2010/09/15/sheetali-seetkari-pranayama),  Give it a go this summer whenever you feel the need.  In addition, I am going to buy one of those touristy hat fans.  


Sheetali and Seetkari – Pranayama to Control Stress and Blood Pressure 

In the last few posts on pranayama, I introduced the concepts of breath retention (kumbhaka) and the energy locks (bandhas). Essentially, these techniques can be used in conjunction with any of the pranayama techniques that I have talked about in previous posts. I will be covering some of these variations in future blog posts.
In today’s post, I would like to introduce you to two breathing techniques which are jointly labeled "cooling pranayama". They provide cooling not only at the physical level but also at the nervous and mental levels. They are highly effective in cooling the system during summer time. However, they can be practiced even during winter months as they calm the nerves down and also help release mental tension and stress. These pranayama techniques also help reduce blood pressure.

Seetkari Pranayama

The word "seetkari" (सीत्कारी) literally means the breathing technique that "produces the ‘seee’ or the ‘seet’ sound". In English, it is usually translated as the "hissing cooling breath".

seetkari

Step-by-step

  1. Sit in any comfortable cross-legged sitting posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  2. For the next few breaths, observe the flow of breath at the tip of the nose. This helps bring in a feeling of being centered and inward focused.
  3. Open the lips and bring the teeth together lightly.
  4. Take a long deep inhalation through the gap between the teeth.
  5. At the end of inhalation, lower the chin to the chest in Jalandhara Bandha and hold the breath for 6 to 8 seconds. Make sure that you retain the breath only as long as it does not impact the quality and depth of the following exhalation.
  6. When you are ready to exhale, lift the chin up, close the right nostril with the right thumb. Using Ujjayi breath, exhale slowly through the left nostril. This completes one round.
  7. Repeat for five deep breaths.
  8. At the end, bring the breathing back to normal and relax.

Sheetali Pranayama

The word Sheetali (शीतली) means "the one that can cool you down". The technique is very similar to the Seetkari pranayama.

sheetali

Step-by-step

  1. Sit in any comfortable cross-legged sitting posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  2. For the next few breaths, observe the flow of breath at the tip of the nose. This helps bring in a feeling of being centered and inward focused.
  3. Bring the tongue all the way out and roll it in the shape of a tube. Some people have problem creating this tube with their tongue. In that case, continue with the Seetkari pranayama, described above.
  4. Take a deep, long inhalation through the tube in the tongue.
  5. At the end of inhalation, lower the chin to the chest in Jalandhara Bandha and hold the breath for 6 to 8 seconds. Make sure that you retain the breath only as long as it does not impact the quality and depth of the following exhalation.
  6. When you are ready to exhale, lift the chin up, close the right nostril with the right thumb. Using Ujjayi breath, exhale slowly through the left nostril. This completes one round.
  7. Repeat for five deep breaths.
  8. At the end, bring the breathing back to normal and relax.

Benefits

  • Both Sheetali and Seetkari are effective in cooling the system down. The cooling effect is induced by the incoming breath which makes contact with the moisture in the mouth.
  • Cooling is not just limited to the physical level alone. These practices calm the nerves down and also help calm the mind.
  • Helps deal with stress more effectively.
  • Helps lower blood pressure.
  • You are able to sleep better, thus helping fight insomnia.
  • Mental calmness can help deal with anger and anxiety.

Contraindications

Sheetali and Seetkari can be practiced by everybody. The only caution that you may observe is to avoid these techniques during the extreme cold days of winter.
Also, avoid these if you are suffering from a cold or congestion.

The Breath - Prana & Apana
(this article has been shortened, for full version with poses details, please go to http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2585)

Find Your Roots

Move your energy downward and watch your Kraunchasana grow.
By Richard Freeman
The great eighth-century yogin and philosopher Shankaracharya said, "Yoga asana is that in whichmeditation flows spontaneously and ceaselessly, not that which destroys happiness." In other words, when yoga poses are well aligned, they feel so good internally that the mind is practically stunned with awe, and the breath flows right up the front of the spine into the spacious radiance of the body's central axis. The experience is beautiful and sublime. Realistically, our practices can rarely be called sublime. The mind and ego seem programmed to stay out of the central axis, making practice a superficial exercise in self-improvement rather than the precise observation of, and insight into, the nature of our body and mind.
An excellent way to counteract this tendency is to link the two basic internal patterns that control inhaling and exhaling. These are called prana (upward spreading breath) and apana (downward contracting breath). The prana controls inhaling; it is felt as an upward floating, spreading, branching, and flowering pattern. Its home is the core of the heart. The apana controls exhaling. It is the downward rooting flow, which contracts, or tones, into a seed point at the center of the pelvic floor. This small area in the perineum is also known as the mula, or root, in yoga. The poses in this series will increase your awareness of apana by bringing attention to the pelvic floor, which will help you feel rooted to the earth, grounded, and calm.
With each breath you take, prana and apana organize the movement of bones and muscles. Prana lengthens, or extends, the spine (as in a backbend) and brings the legs into internal rotation; apana rounds, or flexes, the spine (as in a forward bend) and spins the legs externally. In the sequence that follows, I strongly encourage you to go beyond the external forms of the asana and into the realm where prana joins apana. You can experience this joining energetically, by feeling how the two pull against each other as you breathe. And you can feel it physically by playing with the resulting extensions, flexions, spins, and counterspins that naturally occur in your spine and your limbs as you do the poses. By practicing this way, you will learn to cultivate the full spectrum of breathing and muscular rhythms that goes on deep inside your body, which will enable you to tap into the radiant nature of your core body and bring you into meditation.
To start this process, be mindful of your breath. In each pose, make the gaze of the eyes steady and soft, and empty the palate by relaxing the mouth into a Mona Lisa smile. Then begin to draw the breath into long, pleasant threads as you work in the pose. After some time with the breath flowing in this way, the four corners of your pelvic floor—the coccyx , the pubic bone, and the two sitting bones—will simultaneously drop, and the center of the pelvic floor will draw up like a flame into what's known as Mula Bandha (Root Lock), forming an intelligent base that brings the rest of your body into harmony. When the mind is distracted, the apana and the prana are not integrated, and the coccyx and the pubic bone will not pull down at the same time. Pay attention to dropping the coccyx, which strongly stimulates the apana pattern, at the same time as dropping the pubic bone, which strongly enhances the prana pattern.
The strong work of grounding, connecting to the earth, and of spiraling and counterspiraling that you'll do in this sequence is like laying down a root to hold on to the earth. If you can do this work with a sense of kindness and compassion, and with an empty palate, the root will sprout and, as it grows, it will bear flowers of openness and natural insight.


The Poses
Supported Twist
Props: bolster, 2-4 blocks, 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: blanket for warmth
Benefits: Allows breath to come in to the rib cage and belly more freely. Detoxifying. Can reduce high blood pressure. Relieves fatigue and insomnia.  Safe for a Prenatal twist.

This can be a very prop intensive pose but once you are in it, it is worth it.  Begin with right side of body, place the bottom of your right foot against the wall with leg extended. Left leg is bent at a 90 deg. angle and propped up with two blocks and a bolster with maybe a blanket on top. at least two blankets, S-fold blankets, and/or pillows placed along spine for support, lengthwise.  Extend your left arm out to the left side and lay it on a smaller stack of blankets either s-fold or triple-fold out to your side.  Right arm extends out to the right.  This means the left arm is at a higher elevation than right. Head can remain neutral to ceiling or turn to one side.   Extra blankets can be placed in spaces that need more support.  Neck roll for cervical spine and eye pillow.
*we are digging placing the arms in Goddess pose (not pictured) so try that one out as well. Place blanket support under arms. 

Supported Bridge
Props: 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow, can also use bolster for more stretch
Extras: blanket for warmth
Benefits: Expands the chest muscles, opens the lungs, balances the glands, quiets the nerves and releases tension in the nervous system, increases oxygen intake to the brain, can stimulate the immune system (thyroid)

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift butt and slide the stack of 2 or 4 blankets under the base of your spine. Find a comfortable position, then let the upper back release on the floor. Arms are relaxed at sides or resting on belly. Feel chest and belly rise with each breath. Roll gently to one side when done and inhale up to seated.

Variation
Props: 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: blanket for warmth, strap for legs
Benefits: Expands the chest muscles, opens the lungs, balances the glands, quiets the nerves and releases tension in the nervous system, increases oxygen intake to the brain, can stimulate the immune system (thyroid)

Make two stacks of two double or triple fold blankets on top of each other.  Placed the two stacks end to end. Height and width of blankets can be adjusted for your body.  Sit down straddling one of the stacks and carefully lower yourself down onto forearms, swing your legs on to other stack and lie down. Neck roll is placed at top stack, lower shoulder and head to floor.  Neck is supported by neck roll and head is completely flat on floor with forehead and chin on the same plane.  Arms stretched out to the sides. The stacks of blankets should be long enough for the entire body to be resting on including the feet.  Option to put strap around calves if the legs are rolling outward.  Stay for up to 15 minutes. Roll off blankets slowly and bring knees to chest with some movement.

Nesting Pose

Props: blankets, bolster
Benefits; Nurturing, sense of security, well-supported pose to regulate the nervous system, good for when you are feeling anxious, keeps body in alignment, supportive for the spine, hips, shoulders, head.  Allows for optimal healing and sleeping position. nurturing, sense of security, optimal for sleeping

Create a big enough folded blanket to place between the knees to align the legs in Tadasana. Add a folded blanket to rest your top arm on. Recline on a side that is comfortable, resting your head on a blanket. A neck roll can go under the ankles for support.  Bolster can rest along spine for further support and grounding. Finally, cover yourself with a blanket from head to toes.  Sink down with each long exhalation.  Mantra to accompany pose "I am safe, I am supported".