Posts tagged ‘breathwork’

Free to Breathe Yogathon

I am once again raising money for the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon that takes place 4 weeks from today (specific details below). Last year, I lost my grandfather to lung cancer just two short months after he was diagnosed.

In last year’s yogathon, I participated as an individual, but this year, I am Team Captain of Team Charm City Yoga. This blog post explains a little more about Free to Breathe, about the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon, and about Team Charm City Yoga.

Free to Breathe

Free to Breathe is the event series raising money for the National Lung Cancer Partnership, an organization that supports lung cancer research and awareness.

In a yogathon, or a yoga mala, yogis perform 108 sun salutations continuously. We unite as one to breathe together for a single purpose.

On November 4, 2012 at 1 pm at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, yogis from all over Baltimore will breathe together to raise awareness for lung cancer.

Did you know? Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the United States. In fact, it kills more people than the next 6 cancers combined. 27% of all cancer related deaths in the US are due to lung cancer.

Yoga and the breath are integrally connected. Yoga unites mind to body using the breath, so a yogathon is the perfect fundraiser for lung cancer, so says the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon creator Elissa Sachs-Kohen, a Rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Rabbi Sachs-Kohen reached out to Free to Breathe after her mother died of lung cancer. She brought the Yogathon to Baltimore in 2008, and has been an advocate for Free to Breathe ever since.

Team Charm City Yoga

This year several Charm City Yoga teachers have united to form Team Charm City Yoga to raise money collectively. We invite you to join our team and be a part of not only Charm City Yoga, but also a part of helping fund research for the most underfunded cancer.

That’s right: lung cancer is both the number one killing cancer and the most underfunded in research dollars.

Over the last four years, the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon has raised over $75,000 and counting. Every dollar raised helps fund invaluable research and prevention.

Join Our Team

Today I ask that you consider helping Team Charm City Yoga. You can help in several different ways.

  1. Be a part of Team Charm City Yoga by joining our team.
  2. Donate to either my personal fundraising page, or Team Charm City Yoga‘s fundraising page.
  3. Join us on November 4th for the 108 sun salutations for a registration fee of $30.
  4. Or, simply share this blog, or our fundraising pages to help us raise money for Free to Breathe.

Yoga means “union”, so let’s unite as a team and raise money so that everyone can be Free to Breathe.

Details

When: November 4th, 2012 at 1 pm
Where: Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Avenue, tel: 410-764-1587

Thank you for your support!

Love,

~Amber

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice that was created over 3,000 years ago in India. Yoga, meaning “union”, is intended to connect the mind to the body.

There are many different types of yoga. The physical practice is called Hatha Yoga, “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon, and its purpose is to unite opposites and stretch the body in all directions.  The physical practice was invented specifically so that yogis could sit comfortably erect in meditation without too many pins and needles in their bodies.

Hatha Yoga is what we think of when we refer to yoga in the West, however, as you will read below, yoga is much more than just the physical practice where we contort, strengthen, and stretch our bodies.

Wait a minute… What if I am not interested in a spiritual path? Can I still practice yoga?

Of course you can! The spiritual path of yoga is not for everyone. The beauty of yoga is that the philosophy can be adapted to fit your personal beliefs.

Even if you practice yoga just for the health benefits, or the amazing workout of asana, you can still call yourself a yogi. Likely what will happen is that even if you practice only asana and nothing else, you will find yourself able to deal with stress much better than before, which will improve your quality of life.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The asanas are just one part of yoga. There are, in fact, 8 limbs to yoga, which represent the intention of our yoga practice. These 8 limbs were written out in the Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali around 300 BCE.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explained that the purpose of yoga is to calm the mind so that we can elevate our conscious awareness. He laid out an 8 fold path.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are:

Yamas (the restraints)                     Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
Niyamas (ethical observances)     Dharana (concentration)
Asana (postures)                              Dhyana (meditation)
Pranayama (breathing)                 Samadhi (higher consciousness)

The 8 limbs are meant to be a series of progressive stages where we begin to explore our ability to live in a state of Samadhi.

Samadhi, meaning bliss, refers to living our lives in a state of equanimity, where no matter what the circumstances are we can be content. The place of contentment comes through the journey of the other 7 limbs where we learn non-attachment to the fruits of our labor; giving, working, and loving just for the sake of doing the right thing.

But the 8 limbs does not start at the finish line, of course.

The “10 Commandments” of Yoga

The first two limbs of yoga are the Yamas and the Niyamas, which together make up the “10 Commandments of Yoga”. The Yamas are the restraints that Patanjali suggested allowed us to live a more selfless life. The Niyamas are the ethical observances that he recommended we adopt to live more healthfully and consciously.

The 5 Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa – Non-Harming
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-Stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Control
  • Aparigraha – Non-Greed

The 5 Niyamas are:

  • Saucha – Cleanliness
  • Santosha – Contentment
  • Tapas – Heat/Passion
  • Svadhyaya – Self-Study
  • Ishvarapranidhana – Surrender to God, or surrender to the powers greater than yourself, or simply, surrender to that which is.

Asana

Asana means “seat”. In the Yoga Sutras, the word asana was used to represent the seat upon which a yogi sat to meditate. Asana includes the physical postures we associate with the word “yoga” in the West.

Part of the Niyamas is tapas, or heat. Asana is meant to purify the body using the heat that we build as we practice the athletic aspects of yoga. Yogis treat their body as a temple, and asana is the method by which that temple is maintained.

Pranayama

The second sutra in the Yoga Sutra states that yoga is a practice by which we still the mind. Pranayama is the breath work that yogis use to calm the mind.

There are dozens of breathing practices used by yogis, each of which have a different purpose. Some of the breath work stimulates the body to prepare it for intense labor, and some of the breath work is calming and relaxing. Some are meant to warm the body, and some are meant to cool the body. Others relax certain areas that commonly hold tension. There are even breathing techniques that intend to bring yogis to higher levels of conscious awareness.

As different as they are, all of the pranayama techniques have purpose along the 8 limbs of yoga.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. Why would we want to withdraw from the senses?, you might as. Withdrawal from the senses allows the mind to begin to look inwardly so that the next limb of yoga can be achieved.

Dharana

Pratyahara withdraws the distractions of the senses from the mind so that the mind can reach Dharana, which means concentration. The Sutras claim that with single-pointed awareness, the yogi can move to the next stage of the 8 limbs. Are you beginning to see how the limbs are intended to be followed in a sequence?

Dhyana

Dhyana translates to meditation. Remember that asana was created so that the yogi could sit comfortably in meditation. Through purifying the heart with the yamas and the niyamas; keeping the body strong and relaxed through asana; stilling the mind through pranayama; withdrawing from the senses with pratyahara; finding concentration with dharana; the yogi finally comes to a place where the mind can be quiet enough to sit in meditation.

Samadhi: Why We Meditate

Yogis meditate to reach Samadhi, bliss. Through meditation, yogis can begin to explore the intentions behind their actions. With this kind of svadhyaya (self-study), equanimity can be achieved.

As previously mentioned, the path of yoga is a path to live without attachment to the fruits of our labor. To live for the sake of living. To give for the sake of giving. To love for the sake of loving.

When we live from a place where we are not attached, inner peace is achieved. By not being attached to the results of our actions, there is no place in our hearts for greed, jealousy, resentment, anger, or heartache. When we peel away those negative emotions, we find our true nature, which is love.

More importantly, through non-attachment, yogis are content (santosha) regardless of the circumstance. Does that mean they are never sad? Of course not. What it means is that even though yogis might be sad, we are aware that “this too shall pass”.

Nothing is constant except change. Yogis understand that the ups and downs of life are all fleeting moments. True happiness, true contentment, true satisfaction can only come from within.

Yoga is a path to enlightenment, and yogis believe that enlightenment is living without attachment to action, equanimity.

To Practice or Not to Practice

Remember, you do not have to be on a spiritual journey to practice yoga, but I am sharing this with you because most people do not know that there is more to yoga than just the physical practice.

Please feel free to continue practicing asana or meditation, or only the limbs suit your needs. Regardless of how many limbs you practice, you will reap rewards!

Namaste,

~Amber

Better Than Coffee

When I am tired and I need a boost of energy, I practice pranayama, or the breathwork of yoga. Pranayama is also beneficial if you are stressed out, as it will help calm you down.

The study of yoga teaches us that by controlling the breath, we control the mind. The mind becomes calm and clear, and we can better focus our energy to complete tasks.

Kapalabhati Breath

Once such practice of pranayama that I will discuss today is called kapalabhati breathing, or fire-breathing. Kapalabhati is also called the skull-shining breath, because it is known to bring a sense of brightness to the brain. It is also good for the digestive system, so it is cleansing and detoxifying breath.

Kapalabhati focuses on a very forceful exhale. The inhale happens automatically. It can be practiced with the mouth open, it can be practiced with the mouth closed (have a tissue handy if you have mild stuffiness).

To practice Kapalabhati, follow these steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable upright position. You may use a chair.
  2. Take a few long, slow calming breaths.
  3. Inhale normally, then either with an open mouth or a closed mouth, exhale forcefully 10-30 times in a row, noticing that the inhale happens automatically. If you become too light-headed, stop and return to normal breathing for a moment. Resume kapalabhati when you are no longer light-headed.
  4. On your last exhale, breathe normally for a minute or two, and then practice another round.
  5. Repeat kapalabhati breath at least 3 rounds.

Tips to Kapalabhati:

  1. Practice on an empty stomach, or at least two hours after a meal.
  2. Do not practice if you think you might be pregnant, or if you are pregnant, if you are severely sick, if you have cardiac problems, or if you have a hernia. If you have unmedicated high blood pressure, avoid practice as well.

Benefits to Kapalabhati:

  1. Provides abdominal exercise to strengthen the core, and a cardiac exercise to strengthen the heart.
  2. Helps clear the lungs.
  3. Improves your mood.
  4. Moves metabolic waste out of the cells through the lungs.
  5. Increases peristalsis, or the contractions of the digestive track to improve elimination.

Happiness is a Consequence of Personal Effort

Pranayama is an excellent way to improve your state of mind whenever you need it. I encourage you to tap into your breath if you are tired, upset, stressed out or angry.

Remember that yoga is about the expansion of conscious awareness of ourselves. One way to tune the attention inward is to focus on your breathing, which will allow you to reflect on your mood. From controlling the breath, you can then improve your mood.

Happiness is a choice, and one trick that will help you is pranayama. It does not hurt to try.

Best,

~Amber

One Step At A Time

All seemingly insurmountable tasks are accomplished the same way: one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

A lot of people ask me how I get through my incredibly long days. Most days I start at 4:45 am, and do not get home until after 8:30 pm, sometimes after 9 pm.

I get through my very long days one step at a time.

Focus On The Moment

I used to suffer from anxiety. I would constantly worry about all the tasks that I had to complete and I would let that worry overwhelm me and make me feel like I was drowning.

I am here to tell you that letting worry overwhelm you is not an effective strategy to accomplish your goals.

Yoga taught me to breathe deeply and to focus on the moment.

I often tell myself: “the future will unfold itself, and I will deal with the future when it happens. Right now, I need to focus on the task right here in front of me.”

By focusing only on what is happening before my very eyes, yoga cured me of anxiety.

And Enjoy The Moment

Moreover, I am much happier when I live in the moment. My very long days also could not be done if I did not enjoy what I was doing.

A very effective motivational tool for me is to make what I am doing enjoyable, because I cannot complete anything unless I am having fun.

If the task you need to complete is not enjoyable, try making a game out of it. Reward yourself after you get so much work done, or time yourself in intervals to see if you can keep beating your time.

Because Life Happens In The Now

Your life happens in the present moment. The past has already occurred, and the future has not happened yet.

Be alive and aware of what is happening around you in the present moment. Focus on one task at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time.

I guarantee by doing so, your mind will be calm and you will feel much better about your ability to accomplish a difficult goal.

Love,

~Amber

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