Tag Archives: breath

Yoga Club: Where Small Bodies Learn to Take Big Breaths

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I’ve bragged about my kids’ elementary school before, noting the creativity of the PE program and its focus on finding ways for every child to develop an interest in a life-long sport. New this year is a parent-led Yoga Club, which meets each Tuesday from 7-7.30am. The group is open to students, parents, and teachers….no yoga experience required!
I volunteered to teach one meeting per month, and I brought my fourth grader along to the first class. He’s my super physical kid, The Monkey, the one who has never done anything with his body that he hasn’t enjoyed. I wasn’t so sure yoga would be his thing, though.
My class plan included asana that mimic animals. I wanted kids to think about how the spines (or lack thereof!) of animals align with their movement patterns. We were able to move through the invertebrates—fish and cobra—to the small animals—rabbit and frog—to bigger creatures like camel and horse. We finished with the pranayama of the lion.
As it turns out, I was wrong about The Monkey. He didn’t say much after the class while I walked him to his classroom, but after school he told me that the yoga helped him wake up and feel ready for the day. I explained to him that breathing deeply and thinking about how he moved his body with intention was a great way to fire up the brain/body connection.
Fast forward to the next week, when I wasn’t going to be the Yoga Club leader: Monday night at dinner, The Monkey says, “Don’t forget, Mom. Yoga Club is in the morning.”

So, there we were again—this time with The Stowaway in tow. She wants to do anything her big brother does, and she’s the one I often find having stolen my aqua yoga class plans trying to mimic the postures.

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The mom who lead this class had a deck of yoga cards and let each kid pick a card to determine the flow of the class. The kids got really excited about choosing each new posture. We finished the class with a game of “yoga freeze”—a variation of freeze tag in which the tagged person had to hold one of the yoga poses we’d done earlier in the class until they were tagged again by a free player. As you might imagine, this was a big hit with the kids.

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If you’re interested in starting a Yoga Club at your local elementary school, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way for kids to be introduced to yoga in a familiar setting; furthermore, the inclusivity of yoga allows kids to practice alongside their parents and teachers. Kids love anything that makes them feel part of a group, and Yoga Club does that without any of the pressure or expectation of competition.
Namaste!

Full Moon, Broken Sleep

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From an increase in emergency room visits to an uptick in babies being born, the human body and human behavior is affected by the full moon.  For years, this phenomenon was the realm of superstition.  But new studies support what ER nurses and physicians have always known: strange stuff happens with the full moon.

A ten-year-old study that has recently been revisited indicates that the full moon may be the root cause of sleep disruption.   Study participants had 30% less deep sleep during the full moon than on nights on either side of the full moon.  That’s a pretty significant shift!

Regular readers of OnBalance know I’m a stickler for sleep.  I believe it is the missing link for most people in their search for a more balanced, healthier lifestyle.

One of the best ways to encourage better sleep is to prepare your body and your mind for sleep.  While staying away from blue light screens (laptops, e-readers, and even televisions) for two hours before bedtime is ideal, that’s not a realistic adaptation for most people.  You can still create a wind-down ritual that will serve your sleep goals well.

The easiest habit to implement is relaxing breathwork.  The yogic practice of pranyama can be quite simple.  Try inhaling for a count of 4, then exhaling for a count of 4.  On the next breath, inhale for 5 and exhale for 5.  Keep adding one count to each breath until you get to 8.  Maintain that deep breath pattern, visualizing the breath filling and then leaving your body.

While the more popular sun salutation sequence is used to invigorate the body, the moon salutation chandra namaskar is a series of asana that can calm, focus, and bring the body to rest.  If done during the full moon, one might find it brings on more sound sleep.  The postures are simple enough even for a beginner to do.  Yoga Journal has an outstanding explanation of the history and process of chandra namaskar.

The full moon is tomorrow night– give these tips a try and see how you sleep.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Aqua Yoga: Pranyama in the Pool

This is the final post in my five-part series about aqua yoga.

Before you read this post, take a deep breath.

If you’re one of those people who is interested in yoga but feel intimidated by all of the buff and bendy folks you see on the slick yoga magazines and the internet, I have a fabulous secret for you.

Yoga, at it’s heart, is about breathing.

It doesn’t matter how long your legs are or what the scale says or even if you can touch your toes; if you can breathe, you can do yoga.

(And since you’re reading this, I know you can breathe.  So no excuses!)

The yogic breath practice is called pranyama.  I must admit that I practiced yoga for years– mostly in fitness-oriented studios– and never encountered pranyama.  It was only when I started studying to teach yoga that I learned about pranyama.  And now it is one of the key parts of my practice.

But what does all of this have to do with aqua yoga?

I find pranyama practice in the pool especially effective at settling my mind and cooling my body.  Because I teach aqua yoga outdoors during the summer in Austin, integrating the cooling practices of pranyama are a key part of my classes.

Here are two types of cooling pranyama I use regularly:

Sitali breath

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  • Form a “taco tongue” and inhale through the mouth.  (If you can’t make a taco, purse the lips for the inhale.)
  • Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, close the lips, and exhale through the nose.
  • Aim to make the exhale longer than the inhale.
  • Repeat for 10-20 breaths.

I usually stand with my feet about 6 inches from the pool wall, back to the wall, and my fingertips lightly pressing in to the wall.  This helps me keep my shoulders low and chest open.

Single-Nostril Breath

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  • Stand with your feet grounded under your hips
  • Use the right pinky to close off the right nostril.
  • Inhale and exhale with the left nostril only.
  • Repeat for 10-20 breaths.

The left side of the body is associated with the lunar tendencies.  The left nostril is considered the subtle channel, responsible for cooling the body.  I like this pranyama for the pool because water is also a lunar element.

Hey, Swimmers….

You’re well aware of the importance of breathing while you’re in the water.  Pranyama can help you become even more in tune with the inhale-hold-exhale-hold pattern we always have while breathing, but getting the timing right in the pool means breathing air rather than choking on water.

If you’ve ever tried lap swimming but struggled with regulating your breath, take a yogic approach.  First, establish a breathing pattern that feels comfortable to you– that may mean breathing every other stroke (so you’re always breathing to the same side) or every third stroke (alternate-side breathing).  Next, ensure that you’re exhaling into the water–aka blowing bubbles– when you’re swimming.  Finally, add a “hum” to your exhale.  Not only does this give you something to focus on to keep your rhythm steady, but it also creates a bodily vibration similar to chanting “om” in a yoga class.  The vibration is steadying and centering.

I hope you’ll take some of these ideas and play around with them next time you’re in the pool.  Breath work is one of the few silver bullets in the wellness world– breathe deeply and fully, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.