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Ask: What is Yoga?

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US: Newleyweds, 1 year later

US: Newleyweds, 1 year later

My Inspirer, my Love, my anchor, my Life.

We celebrated our one year anniversary this past Sunday.

When you are having a great time, with your bestest of friends, time simply seems to fly, and fly for us it did.  For us, it wasn’t a matter of “finding” each other, rather it was a process of self-discovery that ultimately led us to each other.  Separately, we did a ton of work on ourselves, knowing that it wasn’t about “being with” someone that makes us happy, instead it was “being someone” that made us (ourselves) happy…and when we were happy with being inside our own skin and where we were in our separate lives, we met.  Then the process began all over again, learning how to love, how to forgive, how to support and nurture, while maintaining a beautiful way of life that helps support each other’s health and well-being.  It works because we put each other first…and it works because we work hard to protect what we have built together with boat loads of patience & respect.

Wishing you health and love and joyous futures…

 

 

Read: Pranayama

Why practice Pranayama?

 Physical well-being.

Lightness of heart.

Clarity of mind.

Inner and outer health and fulfillment.

Purpose, intention, and direction.

 

Defining our Terms

It should come as no surprise that breathing is one of the most important and intricate activities we engage in. In many ways, our conscious life begins with our first breath and ends with our last. Cellular respiration, the source of all our physical energy and expression in the world, is dependent on a constant flow of oxygen being delivered to each cell and carbon dioxide being taken away. Every emotional state we experience has a corresponding pattern of breathing associated with it. Even the elemental rhythm of our heartbeat is intimately connected with the action of our lungs. The word “inspiration” itself refers to both the act of breathing in as well as the state of being filled with spirit and energy.

Because yoga comes from India, many of its terms sound foreign to Western minds and can make the practices seem esoteric or inaccessible. In reality, pranayama is as easy to practice as our next breath. “Pranayama” is a Sanskrit word made up of two halves, “prana” and “yama” (or “ayama”), and is most often translated to mean “mastery of the life force”, or sometimes, “removal of obstacles to free the flow of life force.” In yoga, the life force, known as prana, refers to the energy that animates, controls, and permeates the world in and around us. Digesting our food, changing our heart rate in response to exercise, and fighting off infections are all highly complex and variable tasks, yet each of them happen spontaneously, effortlessly, and automatically through the functions of prana. This same force is behind great migrations, the interdependence of species, and the changing of seasons. As the naturalist John Muir said, “Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.” Prana is this active and intelligent force connecting everything. And pranayama is the exploration of how we can tap into this universal potential.

The aim of both yoga in general and pranayama in particular is to help us participate in the nearly unlimited intelligence of the life force so that we can share in its capacities. Instead of fighting nature, we gradually become able to partner with it. When the ancient seers began their study of the potential of being human thousands of years ago, they soon saw that working with the breath could yield impressive results toward greater aliveness, self-expression, and power. The breath is one of the easiest doorways into the capabilities of the human nervous system because it touches every aspect of our being: physical, physiological, psychoemotional, and spiritual.

 Physical Effects: Organ Toning and More

The first step in pranayama is training ourselves to use the entire range of our physical breathing apparatus. This means experiencing full yogic breathing—coordinating the lower, middle, and upper parts of the breath process—as well as learning to attenuate the outgoing breath. You can learn this type of breath from any qualified yoga instructor.

When we take full, slow, deep breaths through the nose, using all three sections of our breathing apparatus and drawing out the exhalation longer than the inhalation, a number of important things start to happen in our body. First, nose breathing filters the air, warms it, and keeps it moist. Thus the air arrives in the lungs in the best condition to provide efficient transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This is no small thing. Anyone who deals with breathing difficulties will tell you just how much dusty, dry, cold air aggravates their challenges. In addition, full breathing through the nose also stimulates some of the subtle nerve structures, beginning the process of bringing light and aliveness to our inner realms (more on this later).

A full breath with the exhalation longer than the inhalation also has significant impact on the processes of the abdominal cavity, where all of our main organs are located. As the diaphragm moves up and down, each of our abdominal organs moves also, sliding against one another, changing shape, tugging on its attachment tendons and fascia, and sloshing around any liquid or food it contains. These physical actions are crucial to the health of our organs, and thus to our quality of life.

A colleague of mine emphasizes that “life is motion.” Since many of us spend too much time sitting, we don’t get the movement we need to promote optimal health, especially in our abdominal cavity. Sitting at a desk, table, or in a padded television chair undermines proper breathing by promoting a “hunched over” or compressed posture that pinches the abdomen. This compromised posture leads to an over reliance on getting our breath from the middle and upper parts of our lungs, using our diaphragm inefficiently, and costing us the health-producing movement of our key organs. It may sound odd to credit a regular pranayama practice with improving both digestion and elimination, but if you practice regularly, you will see that this is what happens.

 When we practice full yogic breathing, we also increase the velocity of the fluids moving through all the tissues in our body, thus promoting an increase in nutrition to the cells, more efficient waste removal, and better immune defense. Scientists estimate that we have more than two gallons of fluid in our body that is not contained within our cells but around our blood vessels, organs, and cells. When the breath moves in and out, it produces alternating saturating and wringing effects on our tissues and this “interstitial fluid.” Similar to cleaning a dirty sponge in a sink, this action has a significant cleansing effect.

The alternating squeezing and soaking process helps the lymph system in particular. Our lymph system is tasked with fighting infections and overall detoxification. This function requires fluid transport, but the lymph system itself does not contain a primary pump like the heart, so any activity that promotes fluid movement becomes crucial. Complete yogic breathing is one of the best facilitators of this necessary transport.

The last physical benefit of pranayama practice is that full yogic breathing tends to empty the lungs completely. This has two important consequences. First, this means that the bottom third of the lungs gets a thorough airing when we do pranayama exercises. Like the bottom of any container, gravity will tend to accumulate material there. When we use our lungs completely on a regular basis, we have a better chance of keeping the bottom third of our lungs cleaner. Second, regular practice of a full- breath technique will keep the tissues of the lower lungs more nourished, flexible, and free of toxins. Just like the heart can starve for blood when the arteries harden and narrow, the lower lung tissue can starve for nutrients and oxygen when it is insufficiently used and seldom moved.

 Physiological Effects

Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response, the automatic reaction that happens in difficult or threatening situations. This response comes from our unconscious nervous system (the autonomic nervous system), which actually consists of two halves: the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic system helps us get “pumped up” or energized to deal with external demands or threats, and is thus the originator of the stress response. The parasympathetic system moderates or de-energizes the body, and is thus the originator of the relaxation response. In a healthy system, these two halves of our autonomic nervous system should turn off and on regularly and in response to life events.

Unfortunately, our nervous systems do not always function in a healthy way. In our modern world, it is well established that we over-stimulate our sympathetic nervous system and under-stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system—with disastrous impacts on our health. Living with an over-amped sympathetic nervous system in a habitual stress response contributes to almost every domain of illness, from heart disease and hypertension to digestive difficulties, diabetes, backaches, joint pain, autoimmune disorders, and insomnia.

A daily pranayama practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system as well or better than any other activity—you can test this yourself by starting a regular practice and noticing that at some point during your breathing session your salivary glands will kick in and fill your mouth with saliva, one of the key indicators of parasympathetic activity. Taking time each day to consciously activate the parasympathetic nervous system will, over time, reprogram our bodies’ habitual pull toward an overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and significantly reduce the health risks associated with that overstimulation.

Psycho-emotional Effects

Do you remember your parents or grandparents telling you to take 10 deep breaths when you got angry and before you acted on that anger? This folk wisdom endures because it has a solid base in science—and begins to demonstrate some of the most powerful benefits of pranayama: that the breath pattern will automatically change when the emotional pattern changes. We breathe in one pattern when we’re joyous, another when we’re angry, another when we’re depressed, another when we’re distracted, and so on. This presents an important opportunity.

When we spend several minutes a day consciously regulating our breath, we break our unconscious patterns of breathing—and thus the unconscious emotional patterns that underpin them. This is a very important phenomenon. We function best when we are flexible, agile, and able to flow with the changes that life brings. Unfortunately, many of us fall into habits of thinking and feeling that come to dominate our consciousness, even when they are out of step with what life is presenting. We wind up narrowing the range of our emotional and cognitive experience and become more rigid, more habitual, and less creative. Daily practice of breath regulation works against this ossifying tendency. Just as many times computer glitches can be solved simply by rebooting the hard drive, so too can habitual emotional glitches be solved simply by regularly changing the patterns of our breath.

One of the most important psycho-emotional benefits of practicing breath regulation is the confidence it gives practitioners to self-regulate in other areas of their lives. Because pranayama takes focus, overall concentration increases as well. Since you are stimulating the relaxation response, you are able to be calmer in many areas of life. Since you are increasing oxygen levels in your blood each day, your cellular respiration becomes more efficient and your energy levels start to build. Because you are starting to see success in so many areas, your self-confidence gets a boost and that growth in confidence brings a higher level of performance, thus further bolstering self-confidence. Pranayama practice is the priming mechanism for the pump that starts the virtuous cycle of feeling good about yourself.

Over time, pranayama practice also generates awareness of the more subtle layers of interconnection between our choices and their effects. Many people doubt that such simple exercises can produce the results I am talking about, but those who actually practice have no doubts whatsoever, including the yogis who have confirmed this over and over for thousands of years. Think about it—if it weren’t effective, would humans have bothered to keep this knowledge alive as long as they have? Try it for yourself.

Spiritual Effects

Looking at the catalog of the benefits of pranayama practice in these domains, there is more than enough inspiration to begin practicing, but the real payoff goes beyond these.

Western science focuses on the gross nervous system, but yogic wisdom always posited the existence of a matching subtle nervous system. Full pranayama practice aims to illuminate and enliven this subtle nervous system. Yoga teaches that the human nervous system has potentials far beyond the normal regulation of the physical and mental bodies. In yoga, the human nervous system is like a set of antennae that can focus and channel the creative power of the universe into expression in a single life. Pranayama practice polishes the capacity of the nervous system to conduct this cosmic creative potential into real, tangible manifestation. It is similar to increasing the capacity of a wire inside a light bulb so that it can handle more wattage without burning out. When the wire can handle more wattage, it produces more light and heat. When we practice pranayama every day, our subtle wiring gradually becomes stronger and we begin to fill up with light and energy. In many ways, this is all we really mean when we talk about being “enlightened.” There is really no end point, just a gradually increasing capability of our nervous system to handle all forms of energy.

As the light body is gradually polished and enlivened, we also develop a much richer inner life and a deep sense of spiritual balance. When pranayama is followed by a short period of meditation, the connection to inner stillness increases by leaps and bounds and will ultimately create the period of rest, integration, and quietness that we crave in our practice.

In the end, breath, movement, and energy are life, and life is breath, movement, and energy. The yogic practice of pranayama combines all of these elements into a single integrative experience that is well worth the investment and one that will absolutely generate both inner aliveness and resilience and a powerful outward expression. The only thing you need to do is practice each day.

Durga Breath (3-part Breath)

Three-part yoga breathing is a pranayama technique that is valued for its many benefits. This method of breath control enhances your self-awareness of your body while increasing your sense of self control and calm. It is useful for meditation, calming yourself in times of stress or trouble and during your yogic practice. It is also purported to oxygenate the blood and release excess carbon dioxide, increasing alertness and relaxation.

Three-part yoga breathing is a method of breathing slowly and regularly through the nostrils in such a way that you fill all three chambers of your breathing capacity. You can practice this right now wherever you are and experience the great serenity that accompanies this form of breathing exercise.

Breathing in through your nostrils, fill your lower abdomen with air, then fill your upper abdomen with air, finally filling your upper lungs. Use your hands to gently feel your abdomen, following the filling of each chamber, rising as your entire abdomen and chest fills to its maximum capacity.

Exhale through your nostrils from your upper chest, to your mid-section, ending in your lower abdomen again, releasing all the air from your lungs and abdomen in a steady, calm manner. Let your hands slide down your chest, then your upper abdomen to your lower abdomen as you finish the breath. Repeat this process slowly, gently and with great intent, focusing on the control you have over your breathing and the relaxation that accompanies such deep, controlled breaths.

You can do this sitting up in a chair, but it is even more effective if you are lying on your back or are sitting in a meditative position. Practice this breath control and feel your heart rate slow, your blood pressure fall and your body relax in response to the release of tension. Allow your mind to clear and enjoy a few moments of meditation as you allow this therapeutic form of pranayama exercise to clear your mind and feed your soul.

Viloma I & II

Viloma = literally means “anti-hair” refers to going against the natural line or movement of the breath.

Viloma I (cooling breath):

Inhale deeply, hold the breath at its peak.  Slowly release the breath 1/3. Pause. Release another 1/3. Pause.  Release the last 1/3 and empty the breathe all the way out. Pause.  Inhale and repeat.

Viloma II (heating breath):

Inhale deeply, release the breath all the way out and hold for a moment at the bottom of the breath.  Slowly inhale 1/3. Pause.  Inhale 1/3 and pause. Inhale last 1/3. Pause at the peak, and then release the breath all the way out. Repeat.

 After practicing each breath take a moment and notice what sensations you’re experiencing.  Just take note of them, and notice how the experience changes each time you practice these breathing techniques.  Most importantly, remember to keep the body calm, the brain quiet and the breath flowing.  Your breath is always with you, so call upon it to nourish, calm, heal, and energize the body whenever you need it.

 

10 foods to keep you healthy and vibrant

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From left to right:

Organic Pastures Organic raw butter

Read benefits of raw butter here.  This is what I cook with, along with coconut oil.  “When produced from the cream of grass-fed cows, butter is extraordinarily rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2; further, it is a rich source of the antioxidant beta carotene which accounts for its rich golden color.  And in the beautiful synchronicity of nature, beta carotene, like many antioxidants, is best absorbed when paired with fat (read more about why you should butter your vegetables). Due to the presence of milk solids including casein and lactose, butter has a low smoke point of about 350 degrees Fahrenheit and is therefore suitable to gentle cooking.  Clarified butter and ghee, however, have been slowly melted and then filtered to remove these milk solids.  The resultant fat is free from offending proteins and sugars and is often well-tolerated by those suffering from dairy sensitivities.  Further, after the removal of the milk solids, clarified butter and ghee can tolerate higher heats up to 485 degrees Fahrenheit.” (excerpt from Nourished Kitchen, LLC)

Coconut spray oil

It is particularly rich in lauric acid, a nourishing fat only otherwise found in abundance in human breast milk.  Lauric acid is known as an immune booster.  Further, coconut oil plays an enormous role in the traditional diets of South Pacific islanders who enjoyed resilient health prior to the wide-spread availability of processed foods, sugars and industrial vegetable oils. With a smoke point of about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, unrefined extra virgin coconut oil is suited to baking and light sauteing.

Himalayan Pink Salt

Known as the purest salt on earth.  Salt is a necessary component of our physical body.  I take a tsp of this every morning in warm water.  Here are some benefits.  Please consult your doctor if you have any questions.

  1. Regulating the water content throughout your body.
  2. Promoting a healthy pH balance in your cells, particularly your brain cells.
  3. Promoting blood sugar health and helping to reduce the signs of aging.
  4. Assisting in the generation of hydroelectric energy in cells in your body.
  5. Absorption of food particles through your intestinal tract.
  6. Supporting respiratory health.
  7. Promoting sinus health.
  8. Prevention of muscle cramps.
  9. Promoting bone strength.
  10. Regulating your sleep — it naturally promotes sleep.
  11. Supporting your libido.
  12. Promoting vascular health.
  13. In conjunction with water it is actually essential for the regulation of your blood pressure.

Wine (how’d that slip in?!)

I love a decadent bottle of red.  In moderation now than when I was 10 years younger, of course. Read about benefits here.

FRENZ free range eggs

Quite possibly the best eggs on the planet.  Along with the hefty price tag comes an amazing, rich, yellow yolk.  I swear I can taste the difference.  If you are looking for eggs (which nowadays can be quite confusing to figure out which ones to get), I personally prefer brown eggs, cage free AND free-range.  Organic feed is fine – but if they are free range, you know they are grazing on green pastures instead of being fed organic grains.  Grains are a no-no.

Home-made Raw organic almond milk

(or “Golden Milk” as I’d like to call it with secret ingredients of Manduka 16+ honey and organic Turmeric)  I refuse to buy store bought almond milk anymore as it’s so easy to make your own.  Buy RAW unpasteurized almonds, soak one cup in filtered H2O overnight, rinse, put in blender with 4 cups filtered water, blend and drain with cheese cloth.  I even save the bits & dehydrate it for further use.  Dehydration basically converts it to almond meal/flour, like the ones sold in the market.

Organic Turmeric

Powerful little root.  It looks funny, is part of the ginger family, and really packs a punch.  It promotes anti-inflammation, is a powerful antioxidant, and just recently has been shown to block a certain enzyme that causes head and neck cancer.  Read here.

Fresh Raw Almond Butter

I’ll be making my own home-made version soon, but in the meantime, this one is delicious.  I love it when I need a quick pick me up, meaning a tablespoon in between teaching my classes.  It gives me the healthy fats I need to keep my energy going.  Hubby likes it in his protein shake.  It’s good.  Real good.

Madras Curry and Cauliflower sauerkraut salad

Found this little gem hiding in the fridge section at Whole Foods.  It is delicious to say the least.  Fermented vegetables are rich in nutrients, fiber and digestion-enhancing enzymes. They also help the intestinal tract maintain a healthy balance of flora by increasing beneficial bacteria.

Pot o’ home brewed green tea

Been drinking a mug full for nearly 2 decades.  By now, we should all know the benefits of green tea. If you are just jumping on the wagon, read more here.

Read: 17 Healthy Lifestyle Recommendations

Heard from my acupuncturist’s office…

1.  Do not drink alcohol on a daily basis, smoke, or use recreational drugs.

My thoughts:  If you are doing anything (aside from yoga and even every day yoga may be too much) you’re indulging in excess.  It’s all about balance, remember?

2. Limit caffeine intake. (I usually have no more than 2 green teas a day.  I’ll use the same bag through the span of the day, just to enjoy the flavor of the tea itself.)

My thoughts:  Ditch the coffee and go for Green tea green tea green tea!  Need I say more?  Green tea’s antioxidants, called catechins, scavenge for free radicals that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer, blood clots, and atherosclerosis. Grapes and berries, red wine, and dark chocolate also have potent antioxidants.  See # 1.  Anything in excess is still cause for imbalance.  If you need the extra pick me up, consider adding maca to your morning beverage.

3. Avoid processed, man-made foods and choose natural foods in their place:  i.e., oatmeal over cereal, potatoes and rice over pasta or bread, fruit over fruit juice, home-cooked meats over cold cuts from the deli, etc.  This includes manufactured soy foods.

My thoughts:  Once you move away from processed foods, you’ll never go back.  I cringe when I look at all the processed foods that line our grocery store isles.  Truth be told, bad food is cheaper on the wallet, but if you were to ask me, your health, your body, your vitality is the most important investment you’ll make in your lifetime.  

4.  Choose organic, hormone free foods whenever possible, especially when buying chicken, eggs, and meats.

My thoughts:  Organic all the way. Here is a list of items to buy organic.   Shop local, buy local, support the local CSA’s.  Although, what I’ve heard recently from speaking to farmer’s market vendors is that many can’t afford the expensive and LONG process it takes to acquire the coveted “organic” status, so they aren’t even bothering. This presents a challenge for consumers. Whatever the status of the farm is, make sure your produce is pesticide free.  We’ll have to wait and see how this scenario turns out in the next few years as this sets up premise for a whole other onslaught of regulation challenges which I will not get into on this post.  

5.  Avoid farm raised fish.  Choose wild-caught from cold, clean waters whenever possible.

My thoughts: Amen.  Read more about wild-caught v. farm-raised and make your own decision between the two.

6.  Avoid dairy products.

My thoughts:  If you are a die-hard dairy fan, go raw.  Yes, I mean raw milk. Organic Pastures produces some GREAT raw dairy products if you are looking to explore this further, or are already on the raw train.   Rainbow Acres carries a few selections of raw dairy items.  Going raw with regards to dairy is a personal decision.  I personally do not consume dairy anymore simply because it makes my body feel better.  The only dairy item I will use is in my cooking, and I LOVE the raw butter made by OP.  My husband does indulge in dairy usually through his coffee creamers and I’m currently seeking alternatives to it that actually taste good so he’ll switch.  Any suggestions welcome!

7. Eat 5-7 small meals per day.  This boosts your basal metabolic rate, increases energy, and reduces stress.

My thoughts:  This tip has pretty much been used by all the good diets and fad diets alike, probably because there is some truth behind it.  I love smaller portions because 1, my stomach isn’t taxed with the responsibility of trying to digest a huge meal and I feel lighter, happier and healthier overall.  

8.  Eat your first meal when you wake and every 3 hours after.

My thoughts: Eat your first meal within 1.5-2 hours max after you wake.  If you are like me and often dislike having a huge morning meal with eggs and shenanigans sitting in your belly because you’re running off to your yoga class, then have a green juice.  Or a liquid veggie based protein shake.  I personally make my green juice every day, if not every other day & sip on it constantly.  Cucumber, celery, ginger, half a green apple, optional turmeric, big bunch kale, big bunch spinach and big bunch parsley.  Juice and drink.  Here’s to your health!!!

9.  Each meal should consist of lo-fat protein, fresh vegetables or fruit, and a small amount of complex carbs (whole grains or potatoes).

My thoughts: Wow, this part is the interesting part.  I am about 75% vegan.  Nuts, veggies and berries. The other 25% is the protein I ingest from seafood and or eggs. Grains? No thank you.  Potatoes? Rare occasion.  However, with this said, I need to be more vigilant about including more protein in my diet.  Consult a holistic, nutrition guide, or feel free to ask your questions here. This will vary depending on individual to individual.

10.  Try to sit down when you eat and chew your food sufficiently.

My thoughts: I’m working on it.

11.  Drink a minimum of 8 8-oz glasses of purified water per day.

My thoughts: I’m working on it.  Make sure your water is filtered, or purchased in glass bottles.

12.  Exercise 5 days per week for 30-60 minutes including two to four resistance training sessions and three to five cardio exercise sessions.  This may include yoga, Qi gong, or Tai Chi as well as conventional exercise.

My thoughts:  5 days a week sounds like quite a bit of exercise.  The trick is to get creative if time is on the shorter side for you (or laziness)…Take the stairs rather than the elevator/escalator.  Park farther.  Bike to the grocery store instead of drive. Walk your dogs. Anything to get moving, rather than sitting and driving.  Hiking is a great option to get out, pant, sweat, and get in tune with nature and your Self. If you want to come to yoga? Message me to come as my guest in any of my public yoga classes.

13.  Sleep at least 7-8 hours every night.  Napping is healthy and not unusual or abnormal.

My thoughts: YES!  Shut that darn iphone, ipad, tellie off and turn on a meditation track or white noise if you need and lay back, settle in and drift off already!

14.  Follow a good basic vitamin and mineral protocol.

My thoughts: I have a few good suggestions. I never endorse any brand except the ones I’ve tried and love.  Nope, they have no idea I’m endorsing them. 

15.  Avoid excessive stress or stressful situations.

My thoughts: Relax!  Do Yoga!  Meditate!  My classes are listed here.

16.  It has been scientifically proven that pets reduce stress.

My thoughts: My dogs bring me so much joy.  Rescue a pet and change your life.  

17.  Learn to sit quietly and stop thinking from time to time.

My thoughts:  Meditating should be a daily requirement.  A daily task, evolving soon into a daily love.  Learning to master the mind is powerful.  Change your mind, change your life.  But first you have to get comfortable with going deep deep down inside and learn how to get quiet.   Sally Kempton is an amazing meditation teacher and so is Jack Kornfield.  Both of them have amazing works available for purchase.  Message me if you want recs.

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Here’s to YOU.  A healthier, happier, more fulfilled YOU.

Much Love,

Grace

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