Tuesday, March 26, 2013

UPdog: Just Keep Breathing...What do we do? We Breathe

I have been thinking a great deal about breathing the last little while. Such an automatic simple thing, and yet so life changing. A friend of mine just completed the first in a series of trainings to become a yoga teacher and the two of us have been discussing the art of pranayama in both our physical asana practice as well as in our daily lives. Since I have learned to breathe, really mindfully and actively breathe, my life has been so much more peaceful than I ever thought possible. I always thought I had a short temper...turns out I was short of breath!

I have been leading a lunch time yoga practice as of late, and many of the folks in the class are coming from work. I have been amazed at the hurriedness of people as they run in, short of breath and quickly jump onto the mat all wiggles and agitation, but in just a few minutes of sitting quietly with nothing to do but breathe, the energy in the room changes dramatically. The frantic stress of jobs and traffic is gone and there is just calm and joy.

A third thing that got me thinking about breathing was a question asked about breathing after class today. One practicer has been having difficulty breathing during class. Feeling as if the lungs do not want to fully inflate on an inhale. I started thinking about what we could do to help strengthen the lungs and also get us used to that thing that so many of us just refer to as "yoga breath." That is, the long deep inhale followed by the slow full exhale. The practice of pranayama. Believe me, there are as many ways to practice breathing as there are yogis, but this is just a little something that I came up with.

During the next few days, focusing a few minutes throughout the day to breathe.

During any yoga practice asanas or just breathing practice, the tongue actually plays a huge role. Flattening the tongue so that it sits relaxed at the roof of the mouth is key. The tip of the tongue touching the back of the front teeth and the tongue taking up the entire roof of the mouth. This actually causes that tiny closure of the back of the throat that makes breath sounds audible sometimes. It also reminds us to keep the mouth closed and the jaw relaxed.

Our first practice, let's try doing some breathing a just focusing on that (tongue placement) for a few breaths. That's it. We're done for now.

The next time (which may be later that day or the next day) we can start with a few breaths focusing on the placement of the tongue again and then adding a few more breaths, concentrating on expanding the belly on the inhale. Done again for a while.

The next practice can focus on the above two things (each for 3-5 breaths) then adding on again by focusing on the rib cage expanding as well as the belly. Done.

Ok, we are getting the hang of this. Next time, adding on yet again by inviting the air all the way to the collar bones, still allowing the belly and ribs to expand on that inhale. Enjoying that deep breath each time.

Finally, when we are feeling those beautiful inhales we can start to focus on the exhale as well...slowing it down to match the inhale.

So the first one will only take a minute. Each pranayama practice after that will be a bit longer and a bit longer. Ideally we are practicing some place quiet, in a comfortable seated position, with our eyes closed. After a while, with practice, we could do this on a busy subway and forget there are even other people around!

The act of breathing itself tones that thin sheet of muscle right beneath the lungs. Our physical practice adds to that because when we are folded, twisted or stretched in a pose, the lungs have to work even harder to fill up, which helps strengthen them more. The breath both calms and energizes the body. Really quite a miracle of engineering...

Happy breathing!

Quote of the Day: "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next."--George Steinbrenner 

Monday, March 18, 2013

EatUP: Comparing Apples To Oranges and also Corn Dogs?

Food. I love it. And sometimes I hate it. We have grown up in a society here in North America, where food is a constant source of both of these emotions. It really should not be that way, but it is. I never really thought much about the food that I was putting in my body until I reached my mid-twenties. I ate what I wanted and I was active, and I never gave my body or my nutrition much thought at all. As I got older and wised up to the crap that was served and labeled as food, I started giving it more thought. I won't bore you with the details of the last 20 years of trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong when it comes to food, but I have figured out that what we eat should be food. Not the stuff that passes as food, but food, food.

 |fo͞od| noun--any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth

So, "nutritious" is the key I guess. My thought as a religious person is that food is the stuff that God made for us to eat. Each of us may have our own idea of what that is, but I think we all can agree that no God created Twinkies or Wonder-bread. My ideal is to eat food that is as close to the way God made it as possible. The fewer steps between its creation and my mouth the better. I know, it seems simple enough, but "junk" food is cheap, tastes good, and is highly addictive. In fact, cost is one of the major reasons that people state for not eating as healthy as they could. (Highly addictive and tastes good are the real reasons by the way.) So here we all are with the love/hate relationship.

All of this hot air is to make one observation. On my drive home from the grocery store today I passed a fast food establishment whose marquee advertized corn dogs for $.79! Cheapo! But when I unloaded my groceries I did a quick little bit of math. I bought a 3lb bag of Apples for about 4 bucks. That worked out to $ .33 per apple! Two apples for the price of one corn dog. I also had a bag of mandarins. They were about $3 for three pounds, coming in at about $.12 per little cutie. That is about 6 oranges for the price of one corn dog. Still sound cheap?

I know, I know...corn dogs taste good. Love. Hate.

Quote of the Day: “Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? It's made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!” 
― Roald Dahl