Learning to Listen

Are you a good listener? By that I mean do you listen to the messages your body is sending? Feelings and sensations are your body’s thoughts. They alert you to what is happening and what you might need. Generally speaking, most people are too busy to notice what their body is saying. Your body can alert you of its needs the same way it alerts you of hunger and pain. The question is, do you pay attention?

In Western culture, the body and the mind are regarded as separate parts. Yet in the East, they are considered an integrated unit. Yoga practice, which includes physical posture, breath work, and meditation, is an opportunity to build a relationship with your body. Time on your Yoga mat or meditation cushion provides a space to get quiet enough to really listen. It takes a dedicated practice to expand your awareness and feel all your parts.

The human body has proprioceptors within its muscles and joints. Proprioceptors provide information to the brain. They let you know where you are located relative to the space around you (this is called exteroception). And they let you sense the internal state of your body (this is called interoception). The latest science suggests that one of the greatest causes of pain and dysfunctional movement is lack of body awareness. Studies show that when you increase proprioception you decrease pain.

The Yoga Tune Up® /Roll Model® Method therapy balls and techniques are an excellent tool to expand your body awareness. This work is the perfect complement to all your other movement practices – including the simple day-to-day practice of living in a human body. I have found it to be so effective that a few years ago I furthered my studies and began offering it in classes and workshops.

The therapy balls help you identify areas of overuse, underuse, and misuse. Not only can you disarm tight and overworked muscles, but you can wake up muscles which are not performing. When you understand and address your compensation patterns, your body becomes more unified in its movement and your performance is increased.

I often joke that humans don’t come with an instruction manual. You learn to move by copying those around you. Most adults don’t have a grasp of basic anatomy. As Jill Miller, the founder of Yoga Tune Up® says, we know our way around the town we live in better than we know our way around our own body. This work will give you a basic understanding of your body and a path to living more fully in it. In other words, you will gain the tools to listen more deeply.

Here are some opportunities to do this work with me:

1. My Yoga Tune Up® class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, 5-6 pm, at Yoga Tree Hayes. I design this class so that in one hour we address a particular body part, muscle group, or aspect of movement.

2. Roll and Relax is a 2-hour full body massage workshop where you learn the Roll Model® techniques and do a full body self-massage. There are two more this year with the next one coming up in June.

3. I will teach a more comprehensive workshop on rolling this fall in Los Gatos. It will include a full body roll-out, some basic anatomy and kinesiology, and the science behind rolling.

4. For a few years now I have been dreaming up an embodied anatomy and functional movement course. It will finally happen next year beginning in January so stay tuned.

Mobility and Enlivenment

I took my first yoga class about 23 years ago and it didn’t take long before I was hooked. For the better part of these years my focus was on getting more flexible. In some places I succeeded, but unfortunately it only brought me instability, pain, and injury. My problem was that I was weak.
For several years now I have been working on getting stronger and more integrated. Not only does it feel good to be strong, but I move better and don’t have pain. In terms of yoga, this strengthening has made me loose the ability to do some of the super flexi things I used to do easily.
Does it really matter?
Do those things make my life better?
Do they help me move better in all the ways I want to and need to everyday?
The answer is NO. And I didn’t “own” those poses in the first place.
A common theme in my classes is that, “you must own your flexibility.” I am not interested in flexibility that comes by accident, or with momentum or gravity, or by collapsing into a joint. Mobility is flexibility you can control, it’s not passive. So who knows, maybe if I work on those lost poses from this new found strength I will be able to do them again someday with more integrity. We shall see.
These days in my yoga classes the warm up poses are often mobility exercises. Sure, you can do a traditional warm up of 10 Surya Namaskars, 5 A and 5 B, and there is nothing wrong with that. It will get you moving, breathing, and warm – maybe even sweating. However it will not “talk” to the muscles you need to use for the poses we will be doing later in the sequence.
When your warm-ups consist of strengthening and moving the muscles you will need for the yoga postures you get those muscles hot! You are not just working at the level of the muscle, but you are also bringing these muscles “online” in your brain/central nervous system. This creates highways of connection that will give you conscious control over them. As a result you will have much more access to them when you need them in the postures – and in everyday movement. This has great value even if you are strong and/or consider yourself stiff. The flexibility you are seeking comes from strength.
The results are rewarding – both for me and the students attending class. I see people getting stronger, improving their posture, and moving better. It’s wonderful to watch
someone push up to Urdhva Danurasana – Full Wheel Pose with more ease and without pain. Even the students who could already do the pose feel they are more in control of their experience. And those who can do it sometimes but not other times are finding it doesn’t happen by accident. When we break down the actions and train the body parts you can do the posture with intention. A note again to the strong ones, it actually takes strength in your extensor muscles to do a backbend. You have to teach your spine to bend. 😉
After 18 years of teaching yoga I continue to find inspiration in learning about the body and how it moves. I keep up with continuing education because I love learning new modalities and bringing them into my classes in the spirit of yoga. And I am thrilled that functional movement, strengthening, and mobility exercises are making their way into mainstream yoga studios.
For me yoga is about ENLIVENMENT – coming more into this life, this body, this world… Your yoga practice should help you feel better and move better in your body – it should make your life better. In this spirit it is my opinion that the practice is ours to grow and evolve. Modern understanding of movement science and Neuromechanics, which combines human biomechanics with neurophysiology can enhance everything we do on the mat. What do you think?
So if you have fallen out of practice please come back and join me to explore the place where art, science, and spirituality meet.

The Wisdom of the Dancer

What a stressful year this has been! When life gets challenging I try to look to the teachings of yoga for wisdom. Lately, I have been reflecting on Shiva Nataraja, The Cosmic Dancer.  This icon is a symbol of our yoga practice and has a lot to offer us in terms of how to engage in the world.

Nataraja represents Shiva dancing the universe into existence. And the Nataraja represents you, dancing your life into existence. Within the dance, the cosmic dancer performs five acts, called Pancha Kritya.  The first three of these acts are creation, maintenance, and dissolution.

Let’s start with the easy one first. I often say that your day-to-day yoga mostly consists of maintenance – going to work, cooking, eating, chores, relationship, all the things that sustain the status quo in your life. We call this being a householder.
And at the same time, there is always creation. Beautiful things are being born, more sustainable ways of living are being created, and new ideas and ways of working and living are being discussed and implemented. You may even be beginning new chapters in your life.
But what I have been contemplating lately, and the topic I want to discuss today is dissolution. There happens to be a lot of dissolution in the world right now. From the destruction of mass shootings and natural disasters to the surfacing of the depth and breadth of sexual harassment in our society, to what feels like the dismantling of our government and democracy, we are all living with extreme toxic stress. Dissolution is emotionally taxing, exhausting, and scary.
But I must share with you something that I firmly believe. From dissolution arises the opportunity to reimagine, rebuild, and recreate. There is no doubt the old paradigm is dying and while the uncertainty is scary, stressful, and threatening, it is up to us to look at different ways of living and being in the world. As they say, “The phoenix rises from the ashes.” Dissolution is the opportunity to get creative, rethink how we are living, and rise up to become better and more refined.
At every level – from our personal lives to our local communities, state and federal government, and globally, we have a chance to change the world. And that happens because each one of us is engaging, doing our yoga, and participating in the dance.
We can already see this happening. People are waking up, speaking up, and changing their ways. Here some recent events that are worth celebrating:
• Tesla restored power to a children’s hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico with 700 solar batteries. This could be a model to show it can work on a large scale.
• A 22-year old invented a way to clean the trash from the ocean. His project has raised 31 million dollars and is set to begin next year.
• Citizens are taking an interest in government, participating, and even running for office. A record number of women are running for positions from the local to the national level.
The fourth and fifth acts of the dance are concealment and revelation. We have no idea how much more dissolution there is to go. My guess is that it will get worse before it gets better. We have no idea what will happen and how we will get through it, past it, and what it will look like on the other side. The uncertainty is scary but this is the nature of concealment and so to it the nature of life.
Revelation takes faith, a deep trust in the power of life, and in the victory of what is good, right, and just. And it takes your participation. You are being invited to the dance, invited to engage. And not only is that is all you can do, it is what you have to do. Your yoga is to participate in the dance. It is to pause, listen, reflect, feel, and pay attention. To trust in the revelatory power of life to continue to show you want the next step is. And that is all you have to know, the next step.

Achieve Your Goals with Yoga

What are you working on, or towards in your life? What are your goals and dreams?

In our society, to achieve what you want in life it often means you move and strive in one direction. Unfortunately, if you approach your yoga this way you end up getting stuck, or even worse, injured. If you come to my class you’ll often hear me say, “yoga is two directions.”
My definition of yoga is; “the harmonious integration of two opposite actions or energies.” In the physical practice, this means to first connect to what is steady and stable. Once you are established in your own center and connected to the earth via the foundation of the pose, you move toward your edge of the shape. Then the pose becomes your pose, a pose you own, not a shape you saw on social media or what the person on the mat next to you is doing.
Practicing in this way you embody the bigger purpose of yoga; to establish your awareness in the steady, unchanging nature of your Self.
Like the poses of yoga, life will push and pull you in many directions. You will get thrown off your center. You will have highs and lows. In the words of my wise teacher, Dr. Douglas Brooks, “life is never not the thing that is happening to you now.”That thing going on, that challenge, that triumph, that drama, that IS your life.
The yoga then becomes how you engage with it, how you respond, and how you rebound from the highs and lows. It is remembering that there is a part of you that is steady and unchanging, even amongst all the chaos.

So back to your goals. Here is how you apply the wisdom of yoga to the things you want to achieve in your personal and professional life:

• Make sure you are authentic in both your relationships and your endeavors.
• Get clear that you are working toward the things that you value, believe in, and are passionate about.
• Establish yourself in the skills and virtues that will help you achieve your dreams and move forward from there. 

Progress on the Path

A question often asked by yoga students and non-yogis alike is, “What makes yoga different than other forms of movement and exercise?”
In its original context, yoga is a practice of spiritual development. Intrinsic to the practices and techniques of yoga are an element of self-inquiry. This inquiry brings discovery and realization. At their very core, these practices hold an intention of becoming your best self; more aware, more discerning, and less prone to dis-ease, just to name a few.
The ‘apex pose’ of your yoga is how you posture yourself in life. My most influential teachers have encouraged me to measure my progress on the path by asking myself these questions. Am I a nicer person? Am I better in my relationships? Am I more connected to the world around me? In other words, progress is not about the poses you can do on the sticky mat, it’s about how you show up in the world.
When I come to the mat I am not just moving, stretching, and strengthening my physical body, I am working through my stuff. And I always know that when I get a bit grumpy, impatient, or lack my usual joy, I am simply not getting enough time on the mat.
Does your yoga practice help you become stronger, more aware, and more compassionate an individual? If so, what are you doing with that outside of the yoga studio?
When you are stronger, you can stand up for those more vulnerable. When you are more aware, you make better choices for yourself, for those around you, and for the planet and its future. When you are more compassionate, you are kinder to others. You can be richer with generosity and give your time, resources, and services to those in need.
This week I invite you to take some time for self-reflection. How do you mark your progress on the path?

Squat Like Your Ancestors

 Long before chairs were invented humans took a load off in a natural seat. Our ancestors and many people all over the world today use the resting squat as a position to rest, eat, wait, and well you know, relieve themselves. 
Squatting is a fundamental human position. It’s hard wired into your DNA. I love watching kids squat without even a thought or a struggle. Unfortunately many people loose the ability to squat as they grow older. Have you ever thought about why? 
If you guessed that one sitting in chairs is one of the reasons you were right!
When you sit in a chair your body stays flexed 90 degrees at the hips and knees. Some of your muscles turn off because they don’t have to work to hold you up, the chair supports you. Other muscles end up over-stressed. Over time your hips and legs
become weak and tight and you begin to lose mobility. Our society calls this aging. Too often people are willing to accept a loss in range of motion and ability to do the things they love. But it does not have to be this way!  
Making a squat part of your daily routine will help keep you fit, mobile, and healthy. Squatting makes you strong in your hips, legs, and feet. It also brings strength to the postural muscles that support your spine to lengthen and hold you upright. A squat asks your body to come to an end range of flexion at your knees and hips, and it demands mobility in your ankles. 
There is tons of research out there that praises the squat as a place to down-regulate, burn calories and fat, improve digestive health, slow down the effects of aging and much more. Sounds like a no brainer right? Why don’t you give it a try!
Starting with a wider base and turning your hips, legs, and feet slightly outward will give you more access and stability. Over time you may bring your feet closer to one another.

1. Only drop your hips as low as you can keep your heels on the ground. If your heels raise up use a blanket or a towel to support your heels. Squatting with your heels up sends your knees too far forward and puts too much pressure on your patella tendon.

2. Ask yourself if your tailbone is curled under you? If this is the case then lift up out of the squat until you can keep your tail aiming behind you. You may find raising your heels with a support helps you keep this position of your pelvis.

3. Check in with your knees and feet. Are your knees falling in and/or your inner arches of your feet collapsing down? Again, adjust the position so you can keep the knees in line with your ankles. 
If you need support, hold on to your kitchen sink and hang down to your end range. Stay in the pose for up to one minute, as long as you don’t experience any pain. Over time you will find your end range will improve and the position will become more comfortable.
Here are some previous posts and free YogaVibes videos I have made that will help you improve your squat. *Click the photos for the complete video or blog post.*
Roll Your Feet! It’s no secret that these days I prefer the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to the “Pinky Ball” I use in this video and I have expanded on the techniques. Nonetheless this is a great start. Did you know that 25% of the bones in your body are in  your feet? Rolling your feet gives you more access to the support and movement in your feet nature intended. In addition it helps to loosen up the tissue on the back of your legs.
Office Chair Yoga! Take a 10 minute break and use your chair to relieve the effects of sitting in it!
Six-Minutes of Yoga for Stiff Bodies! This daily routine speaks for itself. 

Try this supine sequence. It’s not just for when you are feeling tired, it’s a great way to increase your hip mobility!

Kitchen Sink Yoga. A great stretch while you are waiting for your tea to steep!


Outer Hip Relief. Another great break from sitting in your chair!


Yoga Anywhere! For more relief from sitting and other things that ail you, please see the free videos on my website.


Happy squatting! Let me know how it goes in the comment below.

Gentle Restorative Inversions

It’s Summer Solstice! As I reflect on the first half of the year these are my go to restorative poses. You can use these beneficial poses any time of the year but I have been enjoying them this last week. Both poses are comfortable enough to stay in for long periods of time. Whether you hold them for 5 or 20 minutes they are deeply restful and rejuvenating.  They have helped to recharge my batteries, balance my system, and harness the extra energy the summer sun has brought to support me through the second half of the year. Give them a try!

Straight Leg Bridge Pose:
 This pose is enough of a backbend in the upper back to open your chest and lungs. But because the legs are straight it should not pinching your lower back. And it’s an inversion because your head is lower than your heart so you get the benefits of that. 

Set up at the wall with bolsters or blocks. Let your shoulders, chest, and head waterfall off the edge of your support. Elevate your legs and feet so the rest of your torso and legs are all at the same height parallel to the floor. For maximum support and comfort strap your legs together so they don’t have to work. 







Simple Inversion: This is an easy pose that is comfortable and extremely quieting to your system. 

Place a bolster or a few folded blankets under your pelvis so your hips are fully supported. This allows your heart to drop slightly lower than your hips making it a gentle inversion. Support your lower legs on the seat of a chair. Place your hips slightly forward from your knees so your thighs are at an angle. In other words, make sure your hips are not directly below your knees.







In case you missed it, check out my article last week on the benefits of inversions and learn why they are so darn good for you!

Break Up With Stress – Part Four – Inversions For Health & Well-Being

You may have heard that inversions in yoga are good for you. But do you practice them?
Maybe you are a bit intimated by the thought of doing an inversion. Or you don’t think you are strong enough to hold an upside down pose long enough to reap the benefits. Or perhaps when you think of an inversion you think of headstand and another pose that seems more like a circus trick than something you see yourself doing.
This week I would like to demystify inversions and make them accessible to you on a daily basis.
Inversions revitalize your whole system. By taking the weight off your legs, they relieve strain. By turning the internal organs upside down, sluggish parts are awakened. They improve circulation, support the glandular system, and help the body and mind relax, promoting deeper sleep. 
What is an inversion?
Technically an inverted posture means that your head is below your heart. While most inversions take strength, stamina, and flexibility by this definition even child’s pose is an inversion.
In some inverted postures your legs are also above your heart. But these poses don’t have to be challenging and you don’t have to be strong to perform them. There are gentle ways to do inversions. By using props for support you can hold the pose longer and take advantage of the benefits it offers.
Why do inversions work?
Inversions benefit all of the systems of your body. They bolster your immune system, bring clarity and focus to your mind, and turn on your nervous system toward rest and recovery.
As I mentioned before in an inverted pose your head is lower than your heart so gravity naturally takes your blood toward your head. Receptors in your body detect the blood flow toward your head and signal your brain to slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and turn your nervous system to relaxation mode.
The lymphatic system is your body’s sewage system. Lymph moves through your body picking up toxins and bacteria along the way. Getting upside down naturally brings the lymph into your respiratory system, the place where toxins enter your body. Just five minutes in an inverted posture will help the body move fluids more efficiently through the channels both removing waste and bringing nutrients to the cells. This in itself gives your immune system a boost.
Inverting also gives your heart a well-deserved break. Your heart works tirelessly pumping blood toward it to be oxygenated and then carrying that fresh blood chock full of nutrients back to the rest of your body. Inversions work the way cardiovascular exercises do. You have to run, dance, or bike pretty hard to get the blood circulating down to your extremities and up your back to your brain. In an inversion gravity takes the blood to your heart and ensures that oxygenated blood makes it to your brain and sensory organs giving you clarity of mind and mental focus.
So what are you waiting for? Turn yourself upside down!
Practice Phase One: These poses are all considered inversions. If you use a prop to support your head not only do you have another limb to use for support and length, you can hold the postures a bit longer in a more relaxed way. This sequence is an excellent warm up for more vigorous inversions or another practice as well as being a great way to start or end the day. Use it as a mid-day boost instead of caffeine or sweets. 
Set an interval timer for one minute. Hold each pose while breathing evenly. Keep your head below your heart during your transition from pose to pose. Perform each pose once, twice, or three times. You can do the same practice below using this video I filmed on YogaVibes, it’s free. 
Balasana – Child’s Pose
Sit on your shins with your feet together and your knees apart sit your hips to your heels,
stretch your spine and arms forward. Place your forehead on the floor, a block, or a folded up towel.
Uttanasana – Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet hips width apart and bend forward at your hips. This version suggests you place a block or a few under your head. Alternatively you can use a chair seat or a coffee table. 
Prasarita Padottanasana – Wide Legged Forward Bend
Stand with your feet wide apart and bend forward at your hips. This version suggests you place a block or a few under your head. Alternatively you can use a chair seat or a coffee table. 
 Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
Place your hands at the front of your mat and step your fit to the back. Place a block (or 2) under your forehead without straining to reach it or kinking your neck too high. Stretch your arms, legs, and spine.
When you complete all of the cycles you plan to, return to child’s pose. 
Pro-Tip: If you need to lower your head to reach the block widen the distance between your feet. If you are kinking your neck and want to be higher, narrow the distance between your feet. 
Practice Phase Two: Viparita Karani
Set this pose up at the wall. Lay with your close to the wall and the soles of your feet on the wall. Push into your feet and use your legs to lift your hips. Place a block, bolster, or folded blankets under your hips. Set your hips down and tuck your shoulders underneath you opening your chest. Straighten your legs up the wall. Stay here for 5-15 minutes. When you come out lay flat for a few minutes to ease your way back to upright.
You can practice any one of these poses on their own. Turning yourself upside down, even for just a few minutes can do wonders to re-energize you and brighten your day.

Break Up With Stress – Part Three – Release Tension & Relax

Pandiculation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and Guided Savasana:
Besides being a new word you can impress your friends with, pandiculation is good for you! It’s like nature’s reset button to relax your muscles and reboot your brain. I imagine you have seen a cat or a dog jump off the couch and do what looks like a full body yawn. It’s a simple move that we humans and nearly all animals have been doing since the beginning of time. It results in more relaxed muscles while having greater muscle control and coordination.

There are three steps to pandiculation:

1. a voluntary contraction

2. a slow lengthening

3. complete relaxation

So what does this do? It resets the length of your muscles, not just in the muscle fibers but also at the level of your brain. It’s different from stretching because it is active, not passive. Lengthening a contracted muscle sends a message to your sensory motor cortex to release accumulated tension. This helps you with proprioception (feeling and sensing your body) and gives you access to fuller range of motion.
Active vs. Passive Stretching:
When you stretch a muscle passively the sensory organs in the tissue send a signal to the brain that the fibers are being stretched. Once you get to your end range the message registers in the brain as dangerous. It says, “STOP! HOLD ON! CONTRACT!”
In an active stretch the muscle is contracted as it is lengthening. This overrides the STOP message and replaces it with a message that tells the nervous system, “it’s okay, I am in control.”
When you are in control you are communicating with your brain which enables a change in the nervous system. It’s this type of change that makes a lasting difference. And it is the very reason I teach you to engage your muscles when you stretch them in my yoga classes.
Learning to relax your muscles is an important skill. The more you practice relaxing the more aware you are of when and where you are holding tension in your body. Over time you will notice the stress response immediately and will be able to relax before the tension can accumulate. And you will have more control over all of your muscles.
Yawning is a type of pandiculation. It is an indication that you are bored, hungry, or fatigued. The act of yawning engages many of your body parts. Your mouth opens wide and your jaw drops so you can inhale as much air as possible. Your lungs fill, your abdominal muscles flex, and your diaphragm is pushed down. 
Interesting facts about yawning:
1. yawning gives you energy and makes you more alert. 
2. yawning is triggered by a rise in brain temperature and actually cools the brain.
3. yawning circulates cerebral spinal fluid and flushes out sleep-inducing molecules.
4. yawns are contagious! When a friend or relative mirrors your yawn or vice versa it is a sign of empathy. 
You can do pandiculation and progressive relaxation anywhere, laying on the floor, the couch, or your bed, or even sitting in a chair or even standing. For this practice I will have you lying on the floor. Follow the instructions below
or listen along with THIS VIDEO I have created for you. 
Step One: Pandiculation
Lay on the floor and do a few rounds of breath. Inhale through  your nostrils and fill your belly. Exhale out of your mouth and let yourself let go.
Once you are present join your legs together and your arms over head. As you inhale tense everything like you are squeezing your body into a tube. Then slowly lengthen everything away from center as if you were an arrow. Exhale, drop and completely relax. Repeat this whole body pandiculation three times.
Step Two: Progressive Relaxation
One limb or body part at a time tense the muscles for 5-10 seconds. Then slowly lengthen and stretch them out. Finally completely drop them and relax. Repeat on the next limb or body part until you move through your whole body.  
When you have completed your entire body take a moment to scan with your awareness. Repeat any part that does not completely let go.
Step Three: Savasana:
Allow yourself to continue to lay still and relax for 5-20 minutes. You can use a guided Savasana audio or a visualization if you prefer.
To complete, deepen your breath, begin to move in familiar ways, and slowly return to a seated position. You will either be ready for a good night’s sleep, or drink a glass of water and carry on with your day!
Tune in next week for one more way to break up with stress.

Break Up With Stress – Part Two – Abdominal Breathing

Break Up With Stress Week Two, Abdominal Breathing:
In order to release stress you must turn on your parasympathetic nervous system so your body can down-regulate. This is often referred to as “rest and digest.”  There are several ways to dump stress, this week we cover one of them, abdominal breathing.
These days most people live with their system on overdrive. One reason is the tendency toward quick, shallow breathing, primarily in the chest area. This elicits a “fight or flight” response. You can you learn to use your diaphragm to slow down and deepen your breath and stimulate the “rest and digest” response.
Anatomy of the Breath:
Your diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that lives in the base or your rib structure. It separates your heart and lungs from your internal abdominal organs. When you inhale your diaphragm is supposed to move down into your abdomen. This causes the abdominal region to swell. The diaphragm draws air into your lungs like a vacuum. When you exhale the diaphragm moves back up into its resting place pressing the air out and deflating your lungs.
Did you get that? Your respiratory diaphragm is a muscle! When you do yoga or work out you think of strengthening and stretching your muscles. But have you ever thought about stretching or strengthening your diaphragm? 
Interesting facts about your diaphragm:
1. it is both under conscious and autonomic control. 
2. its movement influences your nervous system by stimulating and sending nerve impulses to your brain.
3. it moves in harmony (or not) with your pelvic floor muscles.
4. its fibers connect to your lumbar vertebra, psoas and quadratus lumborum, and your rib structure therefore it can effect posture and even be responsible for back pain.
Step One: Receptive Core
Start by laying down on your back in constructive rest posture. You can bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, or you can place a bolster or some pillows under your knees.
Watch your breath. Where in your body you are breathing. Slow your breath down. Invite your belly to relax and be open to receive your breath.
If you tend to hold in your belly then it may take some time to let it go. I myself am a recovering “tummy tucker!” Practice allowing your belly to rise when you inhale, and fall when you exhale with as little effort as possible.
This type a breathing turns on your parasympathetic nervous system and begins to help you nurse your diaphragm back to good health. By allowing your belly to swell you are literally allowing your diaphragm to do its job which is to move down into your belly. Conversely, if you tend to hold your tummy in you are restricting the movement of your diaphragm and the depth of your breath.
Once you are skillful at relaxing into a passive, receptive breath you can work with two variations:
1. make your exhalation longer than your inhalation
2. gently pause after your exhalation and retaining for a moment on empty, before you inhale again. Here is a video to help you: http://namastacey.com/yoga-anywhere-reset-your-breath/
Step Two: Give Your Diaphragm a Workout
Start by watching your native breath. Slow your heart rate down with abdominal breathing. Now you can begin working with some active breathing practices.
When you get to the top of your inhale give the breath a little help, take in a little more breath.
Then exhale very actively using your abdominal muscles to help squeeze the air out. Even when you think you have released all the air, give it an extra nudge to press the rest of the air out.
Pause. Relax. Wait. Let the next inhale and exhale be completely passive.
Repeat an active round followed by a passive round five times.
Then continue with your passive, receptive core breathing. Notice if you have more breathing room, are more rested, or even have a little burst of energy.
Step Three: Stretch and Strengthen Your Diaphragm:
As I mentioned above your diaphragm is a muscle and it’s beneficial to learn how to stretch and strengthen it. Sandbag breathing is a great way to start.
At the yoga studio we have 10 pound sandbags. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, instead use a bag of rice or beans, or even pet food! 5 pounds should be enough.
Once you have down-regulated your system using the instructions from step one place the weight across your abdomen. Continue to breath normally. The weight will cause your diaphragm to work harder when you inhale. When you exhale the weight will create a bit of a stretch for your diaphragm.
Here are two variations to play with:
1. At the top of your inhale hold the weight up for a few seconds. Relax and let the weight help do the exhaling for you.
2. After holding the weight up actively exhale using your muscles to squeeze the air out. Then relax completely with the weight in your belly on empty breath. This will give your diaphragm a stretch.
Once complete remove the weight and return to passive, receptive breath. Notice you have more breathing room and that you are more relaxed.

Whichever of these breathing practices you do, I bet you will sleep well tonight!!!

Tune in next week for more ways to break up with stress.