Month five of quarantine. Too many have lost a loved one. It’s no longer six degrees of separation.
And yet, we retreat in our homes, and in our communities. We get in the car, or order pick-up or delivery, and tune in to Zoom sessions. Few of us are surrounded, daily, by the raging virus.
For those cramped and caged in correctional and detention facilities, there’s no place to hide, retreat, or get away. Even worse, there’s no escape from coronavirus. Today, ICE reports 4,131 covid-19 positive cases throughout its facilities., 72 at Karnes County Residential Center, where I aided women seeking asylum.
Even worse, coronavirus took over the San Quentin high-security prison. As of August 3, there were about 2,200 infected San Quentin inmates (two-thirds of the population). While 22 died. Those who are “locked up,” for whatever reason, are mostly nameless and faceless neighbors thanks to the NIMBY mentality.
Jai Uttal recognizes the guys at the state prison’s names and faces, as well as their melodious voices and tender souls. That’s why the Grammy-nominated kirtan artist released “Behind the Walls.”
We are All Brothers–Behind the Walls
“For the last 11 years, I’ve been going semi-regularly to San Quentin, singing with the guys. I saw that these men, who at first seemed so hard, were melting and smiling and singing and expressing so much emotion.”
“Standing outside of San Quentin can be quite intimidating. It took me a while to find my way to be authentic and real with the men; to not see them as ‘other’. But once that happened, I found a community of brothers there who were so incredibly committed to their spiritual practices and to finding inner freedom within the confines of their incarceration. Their dedication and deep spiritual longing were completely inspiring to me.”
For example, one of the inmates told Jai, “We are all brothers here (at San Quentin): The House of Healing.”
What’s more, scientific studies confirm that music is healing. Many times, I’ve written about that, and it’s in my upcoming book. Psychotherapist Viana Vallejo* says, “Music and movement regulate the central nervous system, and when done with others builds connection, and helps counteract trauma.”
Every Human Being Deserves Medical Attention–Jai Uttal
But Jai’s spiritual music can’t heal everything. In May, a facility in Chino, California transferred 120 prisoners to San Quentin. All were over age 65, or with underlying medical conditions. However, they weren’t tested before the transfer. Consequently, it spread like wildfire.
Not surprisingly, the debacle at the oldest prison in California sickened Jai. “What kind of unconscious person decided to send 120 infected persons to San Quentin?” His new track tells the world about covid-19 spreading among the men he knows inside the high-security fences, gates, and doors.
“Everyone is important. Every human being deserves medical attention and care in times of deep crisis. When I heard about the intense covid-19 surge inside the prison, and how little the authorities were doing about it, I was affected very deeply, and personally concerned with the plight of some of my friends there. There’s very minimal medical care. And, the local hospitals are not overjoyed taking in prisoners.”
Hard Men Shed Tears…Behind the Walls — Jai Uttal
Back in the ’70s, when he sang in prisons while touring with Ram Dass, Jai saw the incarcerated as normal folks that made mistakes. Or, people of color who couldn’t afford the best legal defenses.
Jai hopes his “Behind the Walls,” viewable on YouTube will bring donations to a non-profit co-founded by a former San Quentin inmate. Re:Store Justice aims to heal traumas, find lasting solutions to crime, and build safer, healthier, and more equitable communities.
“We have our local health food store, and our local penitentiary. It’s amazing to me that what’s happening behind those walls is going unnoticed by most of the residents of Northern California,” and beyond.
Of course there are so many unforgettable and special moments in India. (Read my series on Men in Orange, for a few.) However, when I was traveling in India last year, I was feeling under the weather. There was a constant sense of chill, except for when tucked in bed. Plus, the dry air and dense smog wasn’t good for my respiratory system. I dressed in lots of layers, took tons of Ayurvedic herbs, and stayed in my hostels once the sun went down.
After traveling thousands of miles within India, via plane, train, motorcycle and tuk tuk, there were two occasions where I felt blissful. Both were quiet times on rooftops. Neither site would have been listed in a travel guide. Although both were in towns that attract many tourists. Following is a recount of one. For privacy reasons, none of the images included are from that experience.
Unfortunately, I ended up being harassed by my guest house host for months after I returned to the U.S. To his credit, he was a perfect gentleman the entire time we shared space. And it was a lot of sharing. For a modest fee, on his tiny motorcycle, he led me on custom made full-day itineraries.
Special Moments in India, Left Alone on the Rooftop
One afternoon was perfect. Definitely one of those special moments in India. Especially for the cultural anthropologist in me. It was a Friday. The Muslim day of worship. He took me to his multi-generational family’s small home. While he and his brother spoke excellent English, no one else uttered a word of it. That didn’t matter. His mother made me a plant-based lunch. The men showered, and changed into stark white clothes. As the men headed to the masjid for prayer, my guide suggested I relax on their rooftop.
I walked up narrow steps. Sat on the flat surface that had no railings, ledges or walls. In Spanish, I call this an azotea, which is an Arabic word for flat or spread out. Typically, an azotea is used just to wash and dry clothes.
In contrast to the chilly air, I was surrounded by warmth. The sun on my skin and clothes felt like soothing hot chicken soup. The heat of the dark surface under my bottom and legs reminded me of me sitting on the radiator as a friolenta (sensitive to cold) kid in Chicago.
Surrounded by the warm calm, I did some breath work and yin yoga poses.
Then, one of his sisters came up to the roof and sat beside me. Via gestures, I understood she was recently married. I felt her soothing peaceful energy. There was something beautiful about her, despite her awkward features and missing teeth. I felt her gentle honesty and innocence. After a bit, she motioned that she’d return. When she did, she was carrying what seemed to be a bag of jewels. She unpeeled several coverings to show me her prize.
Special Moments in India, Viewing a Bridal Album
A wedding album*. Hers.
She was dressed exquisitely. It was as if she’d rented the finest apparel, jewelry, hairdresser and makeup artist and venue in another city.
She pointed, without touching, to each picture. Proudly saying the few English words she knew. Fa-ter. Bro-ter.
This was a very humble woman. In a very simple home. The animals in the courtyard were not household pets. They didn’t have a flush toilet. Her neighbors lugged empty pails to a nearby watering pump.
Her wedding was her Cinderella moment. She and her family were at the ball until midnight. It was her storybook tale.
Most likely, this was her most awaited of special moments in India.
Special Moments Include Just Keeping Space for Someone
I felt a deep sense of comfort within –and connection with her — sitting on the rooftop. It may have been an hour. Maybe two. I had no desire to even move. Nor for her to leave. Despite her rejoicing in the wedding, I felt her sadness. I read emptiness and sorrow in her eyes. They contrasted with what I saw in the album: positive anticipation, elation, hope, dignity.
Later, I asked her brother if she was visiting, or living here. He said she was temporarily staying in their family home. Her husband was in a city far away. To explain that, he voiced that the marriage wasn’t what the family had expected. In India, traditionally, the bride’s family pays a large dowry. Sadly, this family must have saved for years, wanting the best for their daughter. Apparently, the groom was a successful businessman. Perfect husband material for multiple reasons. But just like in the Cinderella story, nothing is exactly as it appears. Maya. The illusion. In her case, disillusion.
*Note: All wedding photos displayed are royalty-free images from Pixabay. Therefore, they are NOT actual images from the family wedding album described.
This is the 18th year that Grammy-nominated recording artist, Jai Uttal, and his classical Indian dancer yogi wife, Nubia Teixeira, run a Kirtan Camp. This camp is all about play. Playing and singing devotional chants, that is. Kirtan is an ancient practice. As part of bhakti (devotion), it is a branch of yoga that helps connect with one’s inner soul, and the divine.
This year, Kirtan Camp is virtual. It’s more affordable. And, accessible. People can tune in to Kirtan Camp from anywhere, any time. No long flights or drives. Live Zoom sessions run June 30 until July 28. What’s more, participants can catch the recordings at their leisure, or even replay them repeatedly, for three months.
The 2020 participants will learn all the basics about kirtan music, which Jai says is “a timeless gift that has been given to us by the saints and sages of ancient India.” Given the confusion, frustration and anger that’s sweeping our nation and the planet, the 2020 camp will be even more meaningful. Content will empower people to go inward to find greater meaning to what’s going on around them.
Kirtan is food for the spirit, a life raft of song. –Jai Uttal
“The current global crisis brings a different context to the practices, demanding us to look much deeper into our spiritual selves. The rising awareness of the inequalities in our society demand us to reach out to others and express our bhakti in service. I hope to inspire the students to share this work far and wide.”
Furthermore, a bhakti practice can be very healing for oneself. Arguably, it can permeate the world.
“With the many distractions and attractions of human interaction being cut off, we are left with our selves, our loved ones, and our practice. The harsh reality of police brutality asks us to keep our eyes open, and our vision clear, regarding who we are and what we stand for. All of this is very challenging, and requires a calm mind and an open heart. Singing kirtan, and chanting mantras, is a soothing balm for the soul and helps clear away the fears and anxieties of this transformational time. I hope that the practices shared in this online camp will become like a soft blanket of blessings over your life, like they have for me.”
Raised in the music industry, Jai learned classical piano at age of seven. However, it wasn’t until he attended a concert by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan that he discovered the music that moved his soul: the classic sounds and instruments of India. Ragas. Bhajans. Sarod. Harmonium.
He felt the sounds, “entered my heart like the source of all life.” As a result, kirtan and bhakti are pillars in his life. For 50 years now.
The idea for Kirtan Camp was actually Nubia’s. Also a bhakta, for 30 years she has dedicated herself to the “art-science-philosophy-practice” of yoga. Participants can enjoy a 40-minute bonus segment she’ll lead on the Gods and Goddesses of India.
Kirtan is for all people. There are no advanced students, no beginners. –Jai Uttal
Kirtan Camp is appropriate for anyone that wants to delve deeper into the sacred sounds. It’s not restricted to musical virtuosos or those who sing like a nightingale. Jai says his camp is ideal for anyone who:
wants to explore the journey of bhakti yoga in a deep, joyful, and meaningful way;
has been touched by a kirtan experience, or who wants to bring more devotion into their lives;
is seeking a more heart-centered and soul fulfilling life;
or is ready to find their voice, and learn musical skills that support a chanting practice.
Divided into six extended all-level lessons, each is appropriate for a beginner or an experienced kirtan leader alike. While no instruments are necessary, Jai offers harmonium and guitar tutorials. Recordings facilitate participants to go at their own pace. At the same time, live Zoom sessions and a dedicate Facebook page will boost sangha (community, or association).
Kirtan is a train carrying us home. — Jai Uttal
The virtual sanghas are not new to Jai. He was onboard with livestream concerts and kirtans when quarantine began. Nor surprisingly, those gatherings built bonds among people all over the world.
Jai notes that they “chat with each other and send me many letters of appreciation. I feel like my Friday concerts have created a real online community of bhaktas that want to give support and receive support. This has been very healing to all of us.”
Additionally, he wants the interactive Zoom sessions to be a source for cohorts not just to learn the basics about kirtan, but to connect. Share their own music. Find homework buddies. Listen to one another’s thoughts and dreams. In essence, create a new community of like-hearted friends.
Finally, as everyone reconsiders what to chuck from pre-Covid days, Jai encourages people to think about the planet.
“Air travel is one of the biggest causes of climate change. As we’ve been forced to share our work online, we’ve also felt the relief of not traveling. So we’ll continue to work this way as long as it’s sustainable. I do miss playing with other musicians and interacting with a ‘live’ audience, so I’ll still do concerts and kirtans, but I’ll stay much more local. And I’ll continue to compose and record new music till the day I leave this planet.”
Amidst the unending racial injustices, and divisiveness, there’s an outpouring of emotions and concerns. People are outraged. Yet unsure about how to make a real difference.
We see protests. Acts of solidarity. And, Mea Culpas. Reading lists and movie recommendations are popping up. Most want to do the right thing, and make sense of the senseless. But, how?
A White female likely won’t really get what it’s like to be a Black man. There may be compassion. But not complete comprehension without walking in his shoes.
Solid In Solidarity
As a kid, I was taught we are all one. At the dinner table, we discussed prejudices and racial injustices. Emma Lazarus’ words. My mom took me to demonstrations. She was an avid letter-to-the-editor and guest commentary contributor to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, and many other publications. Outspoken. Bold. Adamant about equality and justice.
My mother often recounted the prejudices she faced as a child. And, as an adult. Forget that her skin was very pale. She was a minority in an all White small town. Daughter of immigrants, both her parents had thick accents. My mom who had a mellifluous voice and perfect elocution, didn’t know her parents had accents — until kids pointed it out. Rudely. I admit, I’d giggle inside whenever my grandfather said, “make out with the lights.”
Early on, I’d ask, “Aren’t we Russian?” No. My ancestors just took a long detour through Eastern Europe. The Ellis Island documents say they’re “Hebrew.” But they didn’t speak Hebrew. They had their own language, religion, foods and customs that set them apart from the others. They lived in shtetls. Like a barrio or ghetto. Attended different schools, and were buried in separate cemeteries from the Russians or Poles. The police and the military didn’t protect us. They threatened, raped and killed us.
So I identified with minorities. I didn’t want to check the White box.
My bachelor’s was in cultural anthropology with a minor in Latin American Studies. I lived, studied, and traveled extensively in non-White, or non-Christian, worlds. That’s where I feel comfortable. Even if we are all one.
Making Sense of it All
I may be in the communications field, but it’s hard for me to write about racism in the United States. I’ve seen racism and prejudice my entire life. And yet, so much I haven’t seen or felt. But I feel it bubbling up and out, and needs to be addressed. So I look to a Malaysian-raised retired Canadian Mounty to make some heads or tails about it.
Baltej Singh Dhillon leads spiritual gatherings that combine discussion with chanting of symbolic mantras. Yesterday, in his virtual satsang, he talked about the crux of the problems with our society. Not pointing a finger at the U.S., he acknowledged the issue is widespread.
“We have to take responsibility. That’s our job. Daily. Every moment. Every time.”
We Are All One. Ek Ong Kar.
Then, referring to the latest in the wave of police brutality and killings, he said, “We see what’s going on in the States. We see the rioting. We see the violence. But what is the basis, the foundation of all of that? What is the underlying issue?”
“The root issue is not understanding Ek Ong Kar. One Universal Creator. We are all one. We are immersed in the one. Come from the one. You are I. I am you. Through you, and through me, is all that occurs.”
Furthermore, there’s a major schism between Sikh teachings and the cases of police bias and brutality.
Singh Dhillon referred to a legendary story about a humble water carrier. During a fierce battle, he fed, helped and supported the enemy. That provoked wrath among his allies. So they turned him over to the holiest wise man, Guru Gobind Singh. The Sikh guru, poet and philosopher heard the water carrier’s intentions. Rather than punish him, the guru embraced him. Called him bhai (brother). Guru Gobind Singh congratulated the water carrier for understanding the true meaning of Sikhism. Selfless service to others.
Clearly, a disconnect said Singh Dhillon, when “someone who is supposed to keep the peace, is with his knee on George Floyd (as he’s) begging for his life. So, you see the distance between the two? And, how much disparity there is? We can put all kinds of intellect to it. But it comes down to that root issue of not connecting with our own selves and who we are and being true to that. And may I say, that we all have work to do. We need to come back to what was shared with us 550 years ago. And if we forget that, we will have the same violence continue. Until we begin to connect with those teachings.”
Daily, I try to practice as many branches of yoga as possible. Many of us need to push ourselves to go beyond the most common yoga practices of breath and body work. Now, in my second month of quarantine, I strive to incorporate pratyahara, the fifth branch of yoga. But, it’s not as easy as the other forms of yoga. That’s why I’ve designed my own three-day silent retreat. It begins tonight, at sundown.
Pratyahara: The hardest yoga practice
Sitting in a pose, or focusing on the breath, is pretty simple and straightforward. But pratyahara is harder to understand, much less practice. First, there’s no simple translation. Swami Sivananda explained, “Pratyahara itself is termed as Yoga, as it is the most important Anga (branch) in Yoga Sadhana (practice).”
A Yoga International article translated pratyahara as “gaining mastery over external influences.” The article further explains pratyahara “involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions, and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions, and right associations. Just as a healthy body resists toxins and pathogens, a healthy mind resists the negative sensory influences around it. If you are easily disturbed by the noise and turmoil of the environment around you, you need to practice pratyahara.”
Definitely not that easy to comprehend. Or, practice. Michelle Fondin on chopra.com spelled out that pratyahara “teaches us to mindfully filter what we experience in our outer world so as not to live in constant fear or become overwhelmed.”
Everyday “norms” overwhelm the senses
Our worlds, pre-quarantine, were so often overrun by an excess of unhealthy stimuli. Dodging vehicles, foot constantly on and off the break pedal. A constant flow of billboards and enormous, sometimes flashing neon, signage can’t escape even our peripheral vision. Plus, responding to work/life demands 24/7.
Opening bills, which may include long lists of charges for non-essentials. Yet, items or services we have been led to believe we can’t live without. (Note: I have worked in marketing for more than 40 years.)
To intensify it all, we open our refrigerator or pantry. More often than not, piles of food items are crammed inside. Still, we grumble, “I have nothing to eat.” The same with our closets. Most are tasked daily with rifling through too many options of footwear, clothing and accessories. Then again, we complain, “I have nothing to wear.” Overwhelmed by stuff. Choices. We may react by inaction. Or frustration. Purchase something new online.
Even worse, the unhealthy noise, messages and images that blare from TV sets. Both programming as well as advertising.
Oftentimes, if there are four people living in one household, there are four smart phones, four cd players and four televisions/monitors. Our society has created elaborate mechanisms to tune in to non-essential noise and visuals. Worse yet, we have no one to talk to. Communication is relegated to texts. As a result, we tune out others, along with our selves.
Tune in to your inner voice
As many of us are still trying to be safe at home, we should cherish — or seek — the doorway to our inner voice. Be safe with our minds and spirits. Listen to the inner knowledge. The inner self. Your inner voice. Not to say we shouldn’t be thankful to technology for connecting you with loved ones. But know when to disconnect.
Relish turning off external, unhealthy stimuli. Embrace isolation. Appreciate the sanctity of your home. For example, shut out whatever external annoying stimuli and noises still surround you. Conversely, appreciate the sound of silence. The chirping of the birds. What have you been shutting out from your own thoughts for far too long. Examine what is often ignored. Your true nature.
Humans were not intended to be packed in automobiles, tied to a computer, or working at an assembly line. We were created to be symbiotic with the planet. Rather than overtakers and eliminators of nature. Humans are just a speck in this universe. Not the focal point.
The word quarantine, comes from the Latin word quadraginta, or forty. In Latin America, the cuarantena is a 40-day healing period. Lent, in Spanish, called cuaresma, comes from the same root. Dietary and lifestyle changes are best made over a 40-day period. It is said that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Honor this period, even if it’s beyond 40 days.
Tune in to what’s been positive, and try not to tune back in to the negative. Search for whatever healing is right for you during this societal game changer. You don’t have to sit silently for three-days. But, take the time to go within and listen to your heart. Determine what is your true north, and try to heed that, moving forward. Knowing that you’ve got those 40 days already under your belt.
It’s now more than 40 days of quarantine for many. I’ve been trying to followthe words from a song on one of my yoga playlists: So Much Magnificence. And herein, I’m expounding on that refrain. I am offering this advice to you.
So Many Treasures in Our World
Open your eyes to appreciate the beauty and bountifulness of this planet. Do not focus on limitations, challenges or roadblocks. Gaze beyond your immediate backdrop, and see the treasures outside waiting for you. The world is endless. The possibilities, labyrinthine. Joy, unending.
But only if you open your eyes, and appreciate God’s gifts.
The heavenliness of a blue sky. Corn fields. Wheat fields. Giant oak trees. Olive branches. Mango groves.
You are just one minute particle in this immense world. Yet, you can make a remarkable difference. If only you open your eyes to the beauty and grace of those things that man can not make.
So Much Magnificence Surrounding Us
Turn the kaleidoscope of millions of magnificent colors and shapes that share this space with we humble humans. Open your eyes as wide as an elf owl to appreciate your neighbors. Diminutive lady bugs. Undescribably-colored chameleons. Heroic bumble bees and stronger than Atlas leaf-cutter ants.
See the vast power in the ocean. Or even the narrow snaking stream. Even if it’s murky.
Honor the power of the sun and the moon, as many of our ancestors did. Respect the rain, and the earth. They are gifts from the Creator. Do not disregard them and trash them.
I am offering this advice to you. Open your eyes. Soak up the beauty in 360 panoramic vision. But think, and thank, with your heart. Every breath you take. Every step you take. Respect God’s gifts. Indeed, we all must live in harmony.
Life is a dance. Free-style. Non-choreographed. Going with the flow. Modern vs. ballet.
Freedom in movement. Expansive or binding. Freedom to paint your world. Your community. Friends and family. Your lifestyle — and your life view. A black box theatre, an orchestral pit or a open-air amphitheater.
Silence vs. symphony. Whereas even white noise is a backdrop to your dance. Steering you away, or closer to, whatever it is that you choose. Free Will. Freedom to Create and Mold.
Freedom of choice to listen to the sounds that spur you to happiness—or discontent.
It’s your life. Freedom to choose. Your dance can take you soaring over the highest peaks. From the vista of a helicopter. Or, your dance can keep you at pedestrian-level, or the view from the subway.
The music can be slow, steady beats that one by one, propel you farther on your path. Or, they can surprise you like a bag of microwave popcorn. Bursting every which way in a hip hop pattern. Or, keep you stuck in your seat like a wallflower.
Freedom to Grow, and Hibernate.
It’s your life. Freedom to choose. Your dance…Your libretto…Your backdrop…Your bag of popcorn. Buttered or no-butter.
I speak for the planet. Mother Earth. Nature. All sentient beings. Everything that grows, and yes, dies. That is what I visualize with my prayer for the planet.
I speak for the planet when I extol the silver lining in what may seem like infringement on our freedom. As people complain about missing the hair or nail salon, I shout to the heavens that this glorious world is in a stage of rebirth. Mankind is not kind, when focused on personal gains and comfort. Humans need to be humane.
I speak for the planet as I urge everyone to open their eyes. Look at the destruction we have created through “modernity” and human “intellect.” Recall the days of your ancestors who living in sync with the environment, cherished family and the bounty of Mother Earth.
I speak for the planet when I urge people to respect those “primitive” tribes or cultures that still today pray to the sun, moon, or rainclouds. Those that are connected to Mother Earth rather than setting a planetary distance between themselves and our universe.
I speak for the planet when I encourage you to consider that you are as minute as a snail in this world. Unbury your heads from underneath your shell of societal norms that destroy, rather than nurture, life.
I speak for the planet when I suggest that life is a current of interrelated energy. When man destroys anything, there is an echo effect that destroys, and destroys, and destroys. Now is the time to plant seeds to grow, and grow, and grow.
I speak for the planet when I pray that these days of self-isolation have created a greater sense of wisdom. An appreciation for love. For life. One world. Humanity for all, not just for humans.
I speak for the planet when I hope that these last 30-some-odd days have made burned an unending candle to flicker images of better human beings and members of this universe. My 2020 prayer for the planet.
Covid 19 Breath Work Techniques for Physical and Emotional Wellbeing
Beset with chronic pain, I discovered the benefits of pranayama (breath work) as a teen. Today, pain free, I practice six different breath work techniques daily. Furthermore, as a yoga therapist, I routinely prescribe breath work tailored for my clients’ needs. Because of the current pandemic, most everyone should incorporate Covid 19 breathwork techniques. Here’s why, and what Covid 19 breathwork techniques you can do.
A doctor in a Bergamo, Italy hospital referred to his Covid 19 intakes as “bilateral interstitial pneumonia.” My understanding is that interstitial pneumonia and fibrosis equate to a loss of elasticity in the lungs. Hence, the necessity of respirators and ventilators.
Healthy lungs have elasticity, and should be exercised. However, we rarely stretch our lungs as we may stretch our hamstrings. Furthermore, the diaphragm IS a muscle. While we don’t feel the diaphragm working as we may feel our quads, it stills needs a workout.
Following are Covid 19 breath work techniques to exercise lungs and diaphragm. I recommend at least five to ten minutes, twice a day. For all the Covid 19 breathwork techniques described below, inhale and exhale through the nose. Check out links below for more details. Or, contact me to sign up for private or small group 30-minute “Practice During a Pandemic” donation-based sessions that incorporate Covid 19 breathwork techniques.
Ujjayi, aka Yogic, Three-part or Long Deep Breathing
Traditionally, I try to engage Ujjayi, throughout my Hatha or Vinyasa practice. However, when focusing solely on Ujjayi, I sit cross legged. Or in child’s pose to feel the expansion and compression of the three parts (belly, upper abdomen and lungs).
That said, as part of my Covid 19 breathwork techniques, I recommend lying on your back. A supine position provides more space for the diaphragm to descend and retract with each breath. Following are several supine options.
Savasana. Relax flat, no props.
Passive rest. Similar to above, but with knees bent and soles of the feet grounded.
Low supported fish. Place a rolled up towel horizontally under chest.
As an add-on, incorporate the following with for any of the first three poses. Place palms at the low belly. Make a diamond with your thumbs and index fingers surrounding your navel. Feel the hands rise with the “in” breath. With each exhalation, gently push the hands down to squeeze out the air.
Visualize the torso as an old ceramic decanter. With each inhalation, the vessel fills from the bottom up with water. With each exhalation, the liquid is “poured out,” top to bottom. In other words, deflate the chest, then upper abdomen, and low belly.
While this is the most basic of yoga breathing techniques, it’s also the most important to get right. Tina Karagulian, a San Antonio-based Kundalini instructor, just posted a video tutorial for Long Deep Breathing.
Triangle, or Sama Vritti
Triangle or Sama Vritti
Along with ujjayi, I often practice triangle breathing before bedtime. I find it calming. And calmness is a must, now. More importantly, Sama Vritti helps expand and contract the lungs beyond the norm. That’s why it’s one of my recommended Covid 19 breathwork techniques
I call this triangle breathing. Visualize an equilateral triangle. (Sama = equal). Each of the three components (inhale, retention and exhale) is of equal length or time. While ujjayi is good for everyone, neither retention nor suspension of breath is recommended for those with uncontrolled high blood pressure, glaucoma, or pregnant women. Adding the suspension is what creates Box or Square breathing.
Dr. Loren Fishman is a physician and yoga therapist with decades of experience. I recently attended a 90-minute Zoom session he led on Yoga and COVID-19: Possibilities and Problems.
Of the two Covid 19 breathwork techniques he reviewed, one was Sama Vritti. He recommended each of the three parts (inhale, retention and exhale) to last ten seconds. If that’s difficult, work your way up.
Dr. Fishman notes multiple reasons to practice this. He says Sama Vritti helps considerably to generate peace and boost Prana (life energy). It strengthens the diaphragm and the muscles of respiration. Plus, it gives you more control.
“The point is to get control… Breath is sort of voluntary… you can control it. If you don’t, (i.e. when you fall asleep) you breathe anyway. It’s where the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems meet. In a sense, the mind and the body.”
25/25/25/25:100 aka Four to One or Segmented Breath
Particularly good for people with respiratory issues, this is more frequently seen only in Kundalini classes.
I refer to this as the 25 percent breath. Because you inhale just 25 percent of your lung capacity, four times. First 25 percent: inhale and feel the chest expand a bit. Second 25 percent: repeat, filling the lungs more. Third 25 percent: fill almost to capacity. Fourth 25 percent: expand your breath beyond normal lung capacity. Next, release the breath with one long exhalation.
I find Segmented Breath helps us to better gauge our lung capacity. And, recognize that we can always add a bit more. Like a balloon. Furthermore, there’s a very slight retention after each inhalation. When I practice it, I feel as if I’m giving my lungs a workout.
Plus, to Dr. Fishman’s point, this breathing technique requires control. In fact, it’s said to help control the emotions as well. Another reason it’s part of my recommended Covid 19 breath work techniques.
Kapalbhati, Breath of Fire
Note: Similar to the contraindications for Sama Vritti, only practice if your blood pressure is normal, you’re not pregnant, haven’t had recent internal surgeries, or have glaucoma. Additionally, since this boosts metabolism and digestion, don’t practice after eating.
If this is new to you, or if you have asthma or COPD, be sure to start this slowly, and take a deep breath whenever you need a rest. When I first began practicing this regularly, 15 years ago, I felt it was tough on my lungs. Now, it’s a cinch.
Normally done in easy pose, with hands at the knees, I often prefer Ego Eradicator. This is basically a more challenging version of Breath of Fire by holding arms up, elbows straight, in a V.
Visuals of both, with complete descriptions are on my Yoga Rx page.
But basically, you force the air out of your lungs and belly with rapid exhalations through the nose. The inhalation should be an automatic reflex. You may want to imagine you’re being punched in the belly, with all the air being kicked out of you…through the nose. You may also want to imagine the beat of a drum. Consistent. Almost like a heartbeat. And time your exhalations to those imaginary beats.
Sing Along for Covid 19 Breathwork Techniques
Finally, don’t forget that singing or chanting is all about breath work. Moreover, your feel-good response kicks in when you chant. What’s undeniable is that it’s a practice that cuts across all geographies, all religions, and all eras.
Beyond the joyous sensation that arises when you chant, studies confirm that singing is good for the lungs, especially vital lung capacity.
One study was among former smokers with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD) in Brazil. “We have concluded that singing classes are a well tolerated activity for selected subjects with COPD. Regular practice of singing may improve QoL, and preserve the maximal expiratory pressure of these patients.
A 2016 review noted, “Qualitative data from studies of Singing for Lung Health (SLH) have been strongly positive…There has been a rapid spread of singing groups across the United Kingdom. SLH has the potential to have a positive impact on the lives of people with lung disease, improving health status and social participation.”
While you can sing or chant by yourself, the benefits are boosted when you’re with others. Following are a few of the virtual chant sessions I tune into as part of my Covid 19 breathwork techniques and chill time.
Snatum Kaur is at 10 a.m. CT, via Facebook Live. As she notes, it’s a “community gathering for a livestream healing meditation with me, and whoever in my family joins me, currently broadcasting from our kitchen.”
Finally, for a breath of virtual fresh air from Costa Rica, tune in to Deva Premal and Miten. Via Facebook Live, their gathering is at 4 p.m. CT and you can hear the songs of the monkeys and lots of birds.
Social distancing and quarantines are no fun. Fortunately, virtual sanghas are forming to keep us sane.
For example, the other day, Gov. Cuomo mentioned an extremely heartfelt talk he had, virtually, with his daughter who was in self-isolation.
Without a doubt, technology is providing us with a welcomed doorway. A bridge to keep us connected. Uplift our energy and spirits in these trying times. For those missing their normal routine, now is an even more important time to soak up the wisdom, creativity and positivity of others.
Moving in a pinch, all the lead presenters from the recent World Bhakti festival revved up ways to get connected. Opportunities for the homebound to connect with like minded people. What I call virtual sanghas.
“I’m grateful for live interaction with my circle of support in challenging times,” says Sunshine Kessler Teran. She synchs to Bhakti House Band’s virtual sanghas. Plenty of others are finding solace tapping into the energy, spirit and talents of their favorite yogis or kirtan artists. Live. From their phone, tablet or laptop. Following are just post-World Bhakti offeringsi. (Details follow.) Because I was there. Felt the sangha form. And, recognize the doors to those virtual sanghas are wide open.
While I wasn’t a presenter, I’ve got sangha in mind. Aside connecting with other yogis in their virtual offerings, I revived my Yoga Book Club from San Antonio. Undeniably, this will be super simple. No need to buy or read anything in advance. Just tune in via Facebook Live Tuesdays, Thursdays and/or Sundays at 2 p.m. CT. I’ll read a passage. Afterwards, folks chat about the meaning.
The first selection is from John Pavlovitz. “A Bigger Table.” Disenchanted with the Catholic Church, he ended up serving as a Methodist pastor for 20 years. His book addresses the need for spiritual communities, within our outside of places of worship..
Sean Johnson, Virtual Sanghas from New Orleans
Last week, Sean Johnson launched virtual classes from his studios in New Orleans. “Here we go, entering uncharted territory together,” he said. “If yoga prepares us for anything, it’s for change, and we’re looking forward to supporting each other and seeking the gifts inside this challenging time together.” His next virtual class is Thursday March 26, while his instructors will lead asana and meditation sessions on other dayparts.
For those unfamiliar with Johnson, he’s a favorite among many yoga teachers. He performs, and teaches his unique style of Bhakti on the Mat, across the U.S. For first timers, his classes may seem unusual. They may start with storytelling, Students sit close together on the floor around him. Not unlike kids huddled in a pre-school.
Like storytelling with the kiddos, Johnson isn’t reading bland words. He is a cross between a poet and an actor. Using animated gestures, vocal and facial expression, he incites the listener to join in with sound effects. Animal noises. Pounding the floor. Howling with scary animal or nature sounds. In essence, he pulls the kid out of the adult. Making his sessions not only fun, but memorable.
Considering that Johnson’s stories all connect to the ancient Scriptures, his ability to make those learnings relevant to modern day American city folk is remarkable.
The son of a former nun, and father who was studying to be a Jesuit priest, he has an expansive vision of what’s holy. Johnson considers himself an educator that builds bridges between the physical and devotional aspects of yoga. Furthermore, he makes an effort to cross cultural and religious divides.
All the while, he expresses his New Orleans roots. Somehow, the Cajun spice mixes well with his reverence for the traditional mantras and vedas. He encapsulates the spirit and knowledge of the ancient sages through music that makes you want to rock and roll —and chant along. Regardless of whether it be via concerts, storytelling time or yoga classes. Consistently.
Bhakti House Band’s Virtual Sanghas Radiate from Fort Worth
As soon as people started to tuck themselves into their homes, Bhakti House Band began daily FaceTime Live satsang (gathering of truth). Not only Monday through Friday. But every day. Good thing, as weekday and weekend is now blurred for many.
Randall and Kristin Brooks of Bhakti House Band call their sessions Bhakti House Cafe. However, I call it chat and chant.
First, beyond the virtual Bhakti satsang, what makes their sessions so beautiful is the simple lessons they teach. Yes, they share their knowledge of Sanskrit and mantras. But, they connect to every day living — and challenges. Especially those people face in this phase of quarantines and six-foot distancing.
Second, each day is different in the virtual satsang. Nonetheless, they follow a routine that boosts self-discovery — and community. At 9 a.m. CT they elicit participants to share from their daily gratitude top three list. Close to 10 a.m. CT they chant a song from their latest double CD, “Roots to Revolutions.” Called “Raise Your Words,” it’s become their anthem to “rise above” Coronavirus. The song blends words from a Rumi poem, with Sanskrit Universal Peace mantra. After it winds down, they chant a verse from “Let it Be.”
“Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice. It’s the rain that grows the flowers, not the thunder.” ~Rumi
Additionally, Bhakti House Band is offering more intimate online classes and workshops Thursday evenings. Via Zoom, it enables them to delve deeper in discussions about the ancient learnings and modern day applications.
I first met Randall and Kristin about six years when they led 108 rounds of the Gayatri mantra in Houston. Now, they’re leading 108 rounds during their Saturday FaceTime Live satsang.
Over the years, I’ve chanted with Bhakti House Band in Houston, California and Madison, Wisconsin. They are friends, mentors and spiritual guides. To top it off, they’re phenomenal musicians who stay true to their urban Texan roots.
Roots to Revolutions. Indeed, they share their spiritual journey through relevant lyrics and heartfelt musical compositions. Plus, their love for the yoga of sacred sound and conscious devotion. Over the last few decades, they have criss crossed the country –and beyond–to inspire humanity. To awaken hearts. To live with purpose. And experience a higher sense of freedom and connection with all life.
While that sounds like a difficult feat, they’re successfully translating those desires to their virtual satsang.
Virtual Sanghas for Kids, too, with Stefanie Tovar
Stefanie is definitely the kind of person that you can tell likes to be in touch with people, person to person. She leads yoga and kirtan sessions to folks of all ages. Sometimes, in Spanglish. Often times in outdoor public places. Plus, she leads retreats geared toward going within, regardless of where you’re at, spiritually.
Moreover, The Dallas Observer recognized her kids’ initiative, Hanuman Homies, as The Best Underdog Nonprofit of 2019.
But, as of this week, she’s online. Daily. Most her offerings are on her two YouTube channels.
At the same time, she’s also connecting via Zoom and Instagram. Her new donation-based video classes range from Morning Mantra, to Practice in Your PJs. As part of Hanuman Homies, she leads mindfulness and yoga via shorter online sessions.
While she recognizes that people need to keep up with sangha, any way they can, she says that this new work is also to helping her to stay connected and committed to her purpose. “I’m honored to be of service, in some way, to as many people as possible.”
Sangha Comes in Many Styles
Additionally, two of the World Bhakti organizers are getting ready to go virtual. Lavanga Latika will lead Sangha With Lavanga. Via Facebook Live, she’ll discuss the Bhagavad Gita. For those wanting a traditional yoga practice, Kirsten Burch will begin those soon. And, I’m offering private virtual Yoga Nidra, as I think it’s more important now for so many,.
Finally, a great way to tune in to the music of Sean Johnson, Bhakti House Band and Stefanie Tovar is through a World Bhakti playlist on Spotify. Tune in to the vibes of that festival, as you do your laundry, cook some healthy food, or drink some tea.