My motto is yoga anywhere anytime. While all the accouterments are nice perks, I don’t need yoga mats, studios, special apparel, or props to practice yoga. Often, people use those things as excuses to avoid the practice. “I forgot my mat.” “Oh, no, I don’t have a large enough space.” “These jeans are too tight.” Or, “The studio doesn’t offer my favorite class on Sundays.”
Around the world, I’ve never had a problem finding my yoga space. My yoga anywhere anytime nooks have included being perched on top of stones, fallen trees, damp sand, tall grass, and concrete. I know enough to avoid kneeling or doing a headstand on a hard, rough, slippery, or other potentially dangerous surfaces. Above all, I adjust my practice to my studio for the moment.
Likewise, I do yoga stretches and breathing exercises when I’m out and about. For instance, great ad hoc “props” are lamp and electricity posts, the racks at the library, the check-out counters at the grocery store, the benches in museums gazing at art on museums. I admit, as unobtrusive as I may have been, one security guard in Italy did not appreciate my yoga anywhere anytime philosophy.
When and Where?
I don’t relegate yoga to a 60-minute time block. With my yoga anywhere anytime mindset, I infuse the eight branches in my life. Every day.
My favorite places for introspection are wherever I can best absorb the most prana. Usually, that means outdoors. At the very least, with windows wide open and A/C and heating off. For example, I love feeling the sun and wind on my skin. Being surrounded by mist or under light rain doesn’t bother me. Those are ways to up my daily dose of prana.
First, The Namaste Getaway has a dedicated indoor yoga room, where I open the window for sun and air to stream through. Next, the BarnOm has a rolling 16-foot-wide door that opens to a high ceiling. But, my favorite spot on my property is my covered back porch yoga deck. Even though I have a dozen mats, I like to feel the wooden boards underneath my feet and hands. Doing my chaturangas on the bare floor gives me a greater sense of grounding.
On weekends, I hike a few miles and practice vinyasa flow on the concrete lanai-covered walkway (sans mat). Often, with my dog. My site for savasana is a park bench.
New Find for Prana 360
I recently found a gem of a place for yoga and meditation just a five-minute drive from my Airbnb.
My new special digs are on the top of Old Baldy aka prayer mountain. It’s a four-acre park with a 360-degree view of Wimberley. Perfect vibes for praying — or meditating. It’s an easy climb up the 218 limestone steps to get to the plateau. Although the peak is a rough surface, there is plenty of room for multiple people to practice yoga at the same time. Plus, for meditation, you can sit directly on the grass and dirt-free crest. Or, to elevate your hips, pick one of the big rocks surrounding the big flat top.
I want to share my delight for this prana-filled prayer mountain. That’s why I’ll lead a free session in this magical locale to anyone who makes a reservation at The Namaste Getaway or my BarnOm (before September 1, 2021) and mentions this article.
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.
In the Western world, too often, yoga means physical fitness practice. People focus on mastering a pose, or hope to work up a sweat in a yoga class. But, that’s not what yoga really is. Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras wrote SthiraSukham Asanam. To me, that means stillness in your seat, or space. Sounds much more like a meditation practice to me.
That’s also, why I tend to encourage Yin, Restorative, and Kundalini styles of yoga to my students. There’s great stillness in the first two, and mantra meditation, mudras and breath work are fundamental in Kundalini.
Likewise, I’m happy to announce a meditation and kundalini retreat at The Namaste Getaway in Wimberley, November 15-17. A few spaces are still available.
Following are personal testimonials from me, and Carrie Edmond, a meditation pro who’s leading the retreat.
My Meditation Practice
My personal path to “yoga,” began with meditation. Having struggled with digestive issues since childhood, early on, I experienced the benefits of stillness. Stillness of body. And mind.
When I added Hatha asanas to my practice, stillness of body and mind was crucial. Basically, my personal asana practice became a meditation practice. With movement.
Off the mat, I also adhere to a meditation practice. Daily, I practice japa mantra meditation. Plus, I have a labyrinth on my property for walking meditation. And, a creek for sound meditation. Finally, for traditional silent meditation, I switch between my deck, my yoga room, or my tree house.
Over the years, I’ve taken many a meditation class or workshop, across the country. In San Antonio, I found Carrie Edmond. She is unique in the way that she tries to pass the torch. On the one hand, she educates others to lead meditation. At the same time, she is expert at making meditation enjoyable and easy to practice.
Carrie’s Meditation Practice
“Meditation is an essential part of my life,” notes Carrie, who has been making meditation accessible to San Antonio public school kids for many years.
“Since I was very young, I have experienced intense anxiety. Before I learned to meditate and developed my own practice, life often felt chaotic, overwhelming and unmanageable. Through meditation practice, I have become more aware. With this awareness, I have found an ever-present ability to notice, and allow, in a way that reduces suffering and confusion.”
“Life still offers all its joys and challenges,” continues Carrie. “But my relationships, especially to those uncomfortable hard moments, are easier to navigate. I have learned to embrace the full human experience. I have also seen first hand how others have found healing, peace and a sense of freedom through their own meditation practice.”
Carrie’s Meditation Retreat
Joining Carrie, November 15-17, will be Angela Harper. Angela is a San Antonio-based KRI-certified Kundalini instructor. The retreat is designed to help nurture women. In part, because women, too often, don’t have the bandwidth to nourish themselves. The retreat will help ladies to explore the dynamic energy of the feminine. Plus, nourish the body and mind through Kundalini, meditation, gong, Reiki, journaling, healthy foods, and more.
“I love when women come together in this way to share, explore and learn from one another,” adds Carrie. “By applying what we share and learn from each other, we can go back into our daily lives with inner resources along with the collective wisdom to thrive and be in service to others.”
To register, for more information, or links to articles on Reiki and meditation, visit Carrie’s Facebook event page. Or, read more on the health benefits of meditation on my blog. Note: Photos are from The Namaste Getaway, just an hour from Austin, or San Antonio.