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There has come a time for me to start logging my work.

I haven’t bothered with this during the last 6 months of exploration but as it seems I am moving into uncharted territory i would like to leave some footprints and also some sign that this has indeed been an independent journey.

So I started using the Breathing App as a breath frequency guide for Yoga Asana practice in June 2018.

It’s been a fantastic help to apply the coherent breathing  frequencies to physical movements during asana.

Ive been applying this method to teaching classes with what I feel are very positive results.

In my opinion the app is perhaps too dense to use for 90 minute classes. The limitations are that the binaural beats produce too strong an effect for some students over a 90 minute period. The other difficulty is that 6 seconds or even 5 second intervals are too challenging for students with poor cardiovascular or respiratory fitness. While 4 seconds is too fast for some asana sequences and seems to overly stimulate the students.

As I am not yet measuring autonomic, respiratory or cardiovascular function in the students  I am only inferring the effect of this type of practice anecdotally by my own observations and from student’s subjective reports.

While I see great benefits in other and have noticed my own positive experiences I have come to approximate that a 4.5 second interval seems to suit most people best.

This 4.5 second interval is not ideal for every situation as some asana practice could definitely  move faster or slower.

From mid August 2018 I have been using the soundtrack produced by my friend Richard Silver with very good result. Richard has produced a custom made 4.5 s interval 90 minute track.  The advantage of this track over Breathing App is that it has more variety and more cues for synchronising breathing with movement during the classes. Because there are no binaural beats and also its free from solfeggio frequencies this soundtrack gives a fresh and free feeling compared to Moby’s work on the Breathing App. This has been helpful for extended use but I’d like to add here how much I also appreciate the Breathing App as a practice tool for shorter periods. To my knowledge no-one I know is using specific soun

To date I have been using breath frequencies between 4 and 6 s to attempt an autonomic toning response during Asana practice The theory is that these breathing at these sub-normal frequencies reflexly stimulates parasympathetic tone. I hope to at some stage verify this by taking Heart rate variability (HRV) data. The expected results would be confirmed with increased HRV. Further analysis with Electro-encephalography might also show positive results if the Alpha and Theta bands increased or Beta reduces. The  HRV or EEG result would need to be taken both as a baseline and post exercise for an extended period to give quality validation. Hopefully in the future I can get some assistance to make some trials with students

In the meantime I continue to experiment with breath frequencies and Asana practice. The key technique Ive been applying is to use predominantly diaphragmatic breathing during practice in all spinal positions. Because of the rich somatic effects Ive also used reverse diaphragmatic or thoracic breathing during flexed  spinal twists. The only time diaphragmatic breathing seems inadequate is in prone positions with weight bearing directly on the abdomen like Dhanurasana.

I have been exploring an experimental approach in my personal practice since I was introduced to diaphragmatic breathing by Simon Borg-Olivier in March 2017.  Id like to summarise the additional elements which have come together into quite a satisfactory synthesis. 

  1. Coherent Breath Frequencies.
  2. Diaphragmatic breathing.
  3. Reverse Diaphragmatic breathing during flexed spinal twists.
  4. Thoracic Breathing during extended spinal twists and prone position which are abdominal weight bearing.
  5. Pandiculation or inhaling while making anti-gravity concentric contractions.
  6. Stretches which require muscle tone aka Facilitated stretches and avoiding static and passive stretches
  7. Using movement as an antidote to strong contractions and avoiding stretches
  8. Di-synchronous rhythms using hand and eye co-ordination

This article is really just a log of my work to help establish a timeline if in fact I am producing something unique and valuable.

The post Whats new in my approach to Asana and Therapeutic Yoga appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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Why do we practice Asana as a vital part of Yoga? I believe the primary reason is that the physical intelligence of the body is a repository for unsatisfying experiences. These memories get stuck in our system if we do not clear them out regularly. 

If I had to make a map to describe the current state of my human energy body I would use three axises. High and low energy, positive and negative emotion and inward and outward focus. Yoga seeks to bring consciousness to all corners..

The way we orient to our environment is very important. We are social beings with an amazingly fluid ability to communicate using our body. So we need to navigate through high and low and positive and negative energies internally and express them outwardly to the world.

The two negatives energies which speak loudest to our pain are vigilance and fear. Fear is obviously a cause of suffering while vigilance might appear to be exciting but eventually will be revealed as insecurity.

These emotions of fear and vigilance are entwined between high and low energy states. Usually fear is low energy and vigilance is high energy, however our bodies are capable of creating an image for outward interpretation.by external others. This is because we are socially required to display our feelings. So things can get confused and then we lose our freedom to choose.

Finding an intimate personal experience of safety and security requires us to shake off and let go of these sticky emotions like fear and vigilance and others

Of course its also necessary to decorate our life and make it beautiful. But If you were to create a home, would you not first clean and repair before decorating. Put everything back in its place, then arrange the parts harmoniously and then paint a pretty picture.

Similarly, Yoga Asana begins with cleaning up the messy energies and aligning the parts then going on to cultivate positive affect in mind and heart.

So if you are with me on the mission to compost the stagnant energies of fear and vigilance and use that raw energy to grow flowers of positive feelings I’d like to describe a process.

I know we have many other negative emotions like disgust and anger but I’m reducing them to two physical states.

Fear makes us contract; meaning muscles will contract to produce what is called the flexion response. This is closing the front of the body to protect vital organs and blood vessels. This type of posture is quite unbalanced for the spine’s discs. Typical problems include hypertonic psoas, pectoralis minor and sterno-cleidomastoideus muscles. Also while it (What?) feels safe it tends to keep us introverted and restrict breathing.

Vigilance is displayed as a hyper-erect posture. Some of the previous muscles mentioned, and others, create extension in the spine so we appear taller. This might look like good posture but the worst part is the shift to hyperextend joints locks the knees and loads the sacrum. This type of posture suits a high energy state well but it can also produce the type of thoracic breathing which helps us stay anxious.

In between the two physical extremes there is a calm place. Yoga is a state of awareness that can extend to all possible experience in those who are awakened. However it’s easier to wake up the subjective awareness when we are calm in the mind, easy in the breath and comfortable in the body.

So my basic approach to the practice of Asana works with harmonising fear and vigilance using every breath. Then to reverse the breathing pattern to unlock the trapped energy from the body.

Possibly the breath holds more psychosomatic emotional patterning than the body does – but thats another story.

Once the energy starts to flow we check in with centering to find the balanced place between the two extremes. There we can find comfort and poise and untangle the knots of psychosomatic stress from our physicality.

Asana is an essential practice to purify the body of negative energy and transform this energy into calmness. The calm comfortable state is the best place from  which to express personal goodness to the world.

Asana explores the extremes to help us find our center. Extreme fear feels like paralysis and indeed Yoga-Asana utilises this immobilising trait to transcend the physical but this level of practice is quite advanced. Sitting completely still for hours a day, contorting the body to the furthest limits and then holding with calm breath while the nerves implode.

The price of peace, some say, is eternal vigilance though I feel personal security can be much easier to attain. Perhaps by finding a somatic balance we support an attempt for emotional wellbeing. Asana also teaches how to hold high energy tone in the muscles of action.

The easiest and most available place to find inner peace is in between these two states. Its endlessly subtle trying to balance the two. There is in fact no real center, just centering.

Letting go of trying to achieve the perfect center makes the practice always accessible and valid.

Then we can meet our fears and defences at any moment in any position. Then Asana can come to life.

With every breath the body moves in flexion and extension, this pulsation produces a wave form. In Asana The movements of the body can meet the movements of the breath. When the Yogi is absorbed in the movements  this dance is called Citta Vrtti – the fluctuations of the mind stuff. Mind, breath and body unite.

Undoing the patterns of fear and vigilance from body and breath we let go of old emotions and it helps us to arrive where we are. To connect through the senses with the world in time and space.

To play with gravity using our body.

For Yoga to wake us up Asana helps by purifying the emotions imprinted in our muscle’s tension. We hold the patterns in our nerves and muscles.

The post Vigilance and Fear – Asana for psycho-somatic cleansing appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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There are a number of organisations especially yoga alliance which have created has certification program for yoga teachers. Perhaps initially with good intentions to produce a set of recognisable standards for educators to be able to help aspiring yogis to become yoga teachers. However the kind of changes that have taken place in higher education in recent years has produced a bunch of nonsense courses.

So you decide to take a Yoga Teacher Training Course in India, from the source, in the motherland. A little research show more choices and advertising than a real estate market in a big city. This article might help you to make smart choices and hopefully find the Teacher Training Course you’ve been searching for you.

Finding a yoga teacher is a very personal journey. What makes someone good for you depends very much on your personality and where in your yoga journey you are.

While Yoga has always been constant as a process of exploration the states of human consciousness. The package it comes in has many varieties. Because of its historic and cultural roots India might be your fist choice if you are looking for tradition.

From the greatest most authentic and historically connected possibilities to a complete disappointment and potentially a dangerous shambles.

Teacher training courses in India are very recent phenomena. This is become the booming industry since the year 2000. There are perhaps a few quality programs and then there are hundred of both indigent and exotic players in the market

So how to spot the good ones and how to avoid the rip-off merchants.

First make a distinction between a Practice intense and a teacher training course. While there are many opportunities to do intensive practice in ashram and in your centres there are very few programs which manage to produce Yoga teachers with much ability.

Spending Time in an ashram in India could be a groundbreaking experience. The spiritual environment of an ashram is designed for the cultivation of compassion and awareness. The approach to yoga practice

The post Yoga Teacher Training in India appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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This post I want to discuss holding the breath to produce the lowest breath frequency and why its really really interesting.

If you are new to these articles Ive covered Natural Breathing and Equal Breathing so now lets look at breath holding. Really its best to learn these techniques from an expert. So I wont go into so much practical detail but want to share the information on why it works when its done well.

If you’ve ever tried holding your breath a long time you might already know that it can feel like torture. There is a panic that sets in when the body decides that its had enough. The sympathetic nervous system releases its hormones and aside from the physiological effects it makes us angry, vigilant and irritable. That is a sure sign that you are doing it wrong and it can trigger negativity. It can also be a mild nuisance which gives an energising positive buzz but this is still a sympathetic response.

Getting it right produces a warm calm feeling that can last many hours. Its softens our mood and seems to expand time and space as everything just flows. This security is a sure sign of entering into parasympathetic territory.

Now its definitely safer and easier to induce the parasympathetic state using natural breathing and even breathing. Making the state into a regular trait is the promise of dedicated and evolving practice of breath in pranayama and meditation.

Many people have discovered that breath holding acts as a powerful lever to tip the balance of the autonomic. I also believe that breath holding gives more bang for the buck. You can get a more potent shift in less time but unlike the more gentle methods it has inherent risks.

Its good to know what is wrong to have a clear idea of what getting it right feels like. So lets look at the bad news first. Two ways it can go wrong in practice then, one is dramatic and the other is oppressive. 

If when you hold your breath and feel the struggle you are having what feels like an allergic reaction and getting emotionally overstimulated this is drama. It usually happens more immediately even with a single breath hold. 

Oppression is very different. Practicing many cycles of forced breath holding becomes dulling rather than exciting. We learn to endure in the wrong kind of way, actually its not relaxing. The after effect feels like depression, it might be calm but cannot tolerate well the normal stresses which life will always give. Energy is low and self indulgent.

The secret is knowing how to relax while being present. Specifically we want to relax the diaphragm muscle. But keeping everything else relaxed is imperative for us to even feel our diaphragm.

There are many ways we can get a wrong result by ignoring the diaphragm. We can focus our mind on dialogue like counting or watching a clock.We can also disassociate into visual memory or fantasy. We can tense the body to feel like we are in control.

Eventually though to get the best result its not dependant on how long you can hold your breathe but rather how long you can relax your diaphragm. When the need to breath starts to feel strong is when the effect of keeping a relaxed diaphragm gives the deepest afterglow. But go just a little too far and we shock ourselves.

It works well to do say 10 repetitions of long breath holds and use smooth deep breathing as both a preparation and a recovery for a few minutes to connect the cycles.

The diaphragm is innervated by the Phrenic Nerve which relays sensory and motor information connected to multiple sites in the brain stem. There are sympathetic and parasympathetic mechanisms for initiating the inhalation.

The big secret then is that we learn to avoid the sympathetic inhalation. Instead using the parasympathetic respiratory pathways originating in the Nucleus Ambiguus to inhibit the inhalation. You’ll be able to see or feel the difference as the heart rate slows down instead of speeding up. It also induces the consciously felt change in mood and relationship to the environment and feels great!

In practice this means going consciously into sensing the diaphragm just at the time the body is demanding you breathe in. You will need to feel this to learn how to do it and it will be slightly uncomfortable. Its a wonderful skill to train the autonomic response.

There is a milder version of breath holding which is the classical approach to pranayama called Kumbhaka. Either breath in and hold then exhale or breath in and hold and breath out and hold. There are many stages and levels to increase the time of each phase and place emphasis on individual phases.

The difference is that in classical pranayama the breath is held during each cycle over and over starting with maybe 10 cycles and in an olympic effort maintained for many hours. Gradually the body changes in its ability to stay relaxed during this very slow form of breathing.

Getting classical pranayama wrong happens with a forceful uncompromising approach and produces a depressed mood and oversensitive personality. This potentially bad effect can be avoided with good practice in a mild range or by combining other breathing exercises to normalise the autonomic state.

I believe the depressed and socially disconnected affect to be caused by the Old Vagal system described by Dr Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory. This parasympathetic system does not originate in the Nucleus Ambiguus and so is quite different to the positive Vagal tone produces by diaphragmatic relaxation described above.

I think I should add something here as Im giving away the keys to the medicine cabinet and publishing it. Long Breath holds and advanced pranayama should only really be practiced after a medical examination and with a skilled guide.

Long breath holds are powerful in their effect and can cause changes in human physiology. We humans have a very neat little biological trick called the dive reflex which helps us to be able to swim underwater by changing our metabolism.

One deciding factor in our ability to hold the breath is our tolerance of high CO2. When we use up most of the available Oxygen in our blood Carbon Dioxide levels go up because we are not exhaling it out.

There are chemical receptors which measure the pH of the cerebrospinal fluid to inform the brain centers which control our breathing when CO2 is getting high.

One group of these special cells are found in the brain stem close to the respiratory centres and they have the ability to adapt or to desensitise.

Its possibly these guys which also communicate with the Nucleus Ambiguus I mentioned above that are able to help our autonomic system respond to breath holding by becoming super calm to avoid exhaling.

So to summarise there are two ways to reduce the breath frequency either by holding the breath for a very long time and repeating like free divers training for Carbon Dioxide tolerance. Or to continuously hold the breath during the breathing cycle like Yogi’s who breath at 1 breath per minute or slower for minutes to hours.

When done skilfully we learn to relax the diaphragm and become very tolerant to high Carbon Dioxide and low pH or acidic blood. The training is mediated by the Parasympathetic Nervous System to create a beautiful serene change in attention, emotion and metabolism. Just like meditation but perhaps more powerful.

The dangers are to shock the system into a sympathetic response where the heart rate increases and we go into stress mode or to overly inhibit the whole system by triggering the Old Vagal system.

Next in this series I will talk about the ins and outs of Rapid Breathing to complete the spectrum of breath frequencies. Ill go into a bigger description of Polyvagal theory which Ive been drawing from in the first three pieces.

The post Breath Holding appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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Whats happening and how we feel about it changes our heart’s beat and our breathes’ rhythm.

In reverse our physiology responds to different breathing frequencies. Like a magic formula for producing specific internal states just by breathing faster or slower. Our stress status then colours our mental and emotional experience. Breathing is one way to reset the system and its not so much a button as a dial.

The links are bidirectional, standing between breathe and mind is the autonomic nervous system.

To understand how breathing exercises work one essential view is to look at the frequency of breathing. The length of a single inhale and exhale can be timed and the number of breaths per minute gives a frequency. Those frequencies are the markings on the dial.

Breath too fast and we go into sympathetic output. But breath too slow and we shock ourselves into what Stephen Porges found, the reptilian old vagal system.

In between fast and slow there is an ideal length of breath which puts us into a perfect stress free state where the mammalian vagal system extends to our mood. It’s calm, warm and secure, emotionally available and mentally refreshed. Spoiler alert! Its happens when breathing around 5 – 6 breaths per minute for 10 minutes.

In my last blog on Natural Breathing I mentioned how our involuntary uncontrolled breath changes with our metabolic state. It responds quickly to our energy requirements. When we are using more energy while exercising we need to breath more to keep up with our bodies demand for oxygen. And obviously when we are really relaxed our breath frequency becomes smaller and approaches an ideal minimum. Yet for many people the inner psycho-emotional play of the mind keeps us at a constantly elevated level and so the breath does not slow down optimally.

In this blog Ill touch on the big picture of different breath frequencies and focus in on the one mentioned above which gives a balanced effect. Its called equal breathing a.k.a. samma vrtti, coherent breathing or resonant breathing and even..…even breathing.

Our resting rate of breathing could be anywhere from 5 – 20 breathes per minute. Because the breath rate is responding to internal energy use it is a mirror of our stress levels. It’s very healthy to have a low frequency like 5 – 7 breaths per minute as a natural standard. 

Someone who has a higher breath frequency like 10 or above usually has a rapid and shallow breath style. The problem with overbreathing Ill describe in another post where I discuss hyperventilation. Hyperventilation causes oxygen supply to diminish its as dire a health deficit as sleep deprivation or malnutrition.

Breathing rapidly for a short period can be a great exercise for stimulation and it can produce a nice afterglow if combined with breath holding. But I wouldnt recommend it as a core practice.

You might wonder why I dont suggest that very slow breathing should produce a bigger and faster change to reduce stress? The answer is complicated. Going too far into parasympathetic territory is an acquired taste which can give the wrong effects to the uninitiated. Maybe you can already hold your breath for 5 minutes or have years of pranayama under your belt, then OK. But its a different kind of magic.

We can think of the economy of ideal breathing just like a kind of socially egalitarian environmentally benevolent model of finance. The ideal is to take only what is needed and to have a minimum of requirements. 

Now a few people are really struggling to make ends meet underbreathing with some chronic disease causing metabolic difficiency. Many more people overbreath and hyperventilate. As though they earn a lot of low value currency and spend it all. The ideal is too draw enough energy to take care of all needs, not too much and not too little. Then the parasympatheitc system can get about its business of storing energy and restoring health.

I’m happy to say that there is a valid and well documented relationship between breathing and metabolism. Its been often said that the length of life can be measured in the number of breaths and there solid physiological evidence to back up this ancient wisdom.

The best breath rate is slow with medium depth when we are at rest.

Changing our breath rapidly alters our metabolic or energetic state. This happens automatically without our awareness and is managed by the autonomic nervous system.

The amazing potential of breathing is real because by changing our breathing we can change our stress state. The changes last as well, by exercising we retrain our norms.

To put it simply when we breath slowly we move to a parasympathetic state and when we breath fast we shift to a sympathetic state. The parasympathetic state is when we feel safe and when we are saving energy and healing, in fact the immune system is suppressed by the hormones of the sympathetic state.

The best way to start altering the breath is to slow down the frequency keeping the length of the inhale and exhale equal.  This is known in pranayama as Sama Vritti or equal breathing. 

I mentioned above that the frequency of the breath changes the stress level in a general average way. Well its also true that every inhalation elevates sympathetic activity and every exhale moves us to parasympathetic.

Equal length breathing is the most balanced way to gradually decrease stress and become relaxed and calm.

The speed of the heart beat responds to inhalation by speeding up and it slows down with every exhalation. This pattern is maximised when we are already relaxed but can be lost when we are stressed. The change in heart rate can be felt by taking the pulse while breathing slowly and smoothly. Its called Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia this alternating frequency and its a very good thing. Dr Stephen Porges has done amazing work examining how the Heart rate is variable and that more variability happens when we are in a parasympathetic state. 

So the ideal form of breathing is equal breathing. With an equal length inhale and exhale. Most people will be able to do this comfortably with a 5 second count. Breath in for 5 seconds and breath out for 5 seconds, dont hold the breath and dont breath forcefully. Do this for 5 or 10 minutes and then relax with natural breathing for a few minutes.

To make the most of this practice do it in a relaxed and gentle way. Feel the air moving in the nose and let it flow. Dont be too tight with the breathing or with the way you watch your breathing. Less judgement and more flow.

Now its a very curious thing that the Heart Rate variability has a unique maximum for everyone at a certain frequency.  Scientists have observed Yogi’s when they enter their most relaxed states and found that they breathe in a slow rythmic way with a specific frequency regardless of the techn ique of meditation used. Check out the work of Elmer Green who conducted these studies in the 1970’s.

This ideal frequency of breaths per minute happens for everyone and is between 4 and 7 breaths per minute.

Breathing in and out at 5 seconds per phase makes a 10 second breath which produces a 6 breath per minute frequency. If you dont have anyone to help you to measure heart rate variability then this is a good starting place.

If you happen to have large lungs and are super fit you might find that 6 seconds feels a little better than 5 seconds. Whats more important is to keep the count the same and breath with this frequency for 5 – 20 minutes.

This exercise can be done standing sitting or lying down. Its ideal to relax the body and have the eyes closed while breathing through the nose. If you are a Yogi you can of course use whichever asana and mudras you like. I love teaching breathing and would use many different technique to really get the best results, but it works well with this simple example.

In Yoga this is called Samma Vrtti or equal breathing and it has recently been validated scientifically and rebranded as Coherent breathing or resonant breathing.

Breathe equally and the pattern of breathing is mirrored by the heart rate responding to changes in Autonomic Control. The autonomic is like a relay station between heart and breath. The Autonomic then extends it grace tthe way our mind is working.

Something else very interesting happens. Our diaphragm which is a large muscle of breathing has a second function. It moves blood away from the lungs when we inhale and towards the lungs when we exhale.  During Equal breathing the diaphragm starts to pump blood in phase with the heart rate changes.

All of these different systems, the respiratory, the cardiovascular, the autonomic fall into rhythm when we breath equally.

Id suggest that this is the first pranayama for anyone to learn. Anyone can do this practice and receive healing. But its just the beginning of a very complex system when we also use very slow breathing, rapid breathing and breath holding to give power and resilience.

If you like what your reading I go into lots of physiological detail when I run Breathing Corses and Teacher Training. The techniques are simple but multi layered and coloured with lots of detail. I share the secrets of how to blend different techniques and how to teach this safely to get the best results.

The post Equal Breathing appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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A curious thing about breathing is that it happens automatically or consciously.

Whats even more interesting is when we bring our attention to breathing and try not to control it.

Controlling is very easy and feels quite solid. We can lengthen or shorten and strengthen or soften our breath. But when we just feel the air moving in the nose and avoid actively participating it becomes very hard to discern if we are totally relaxing.

The way that we control the breathing might be more or less dynamic. What I mean is that we can make the breath more intense, thats obvious. Making the breath more gentle can also be a type of control.

The natural breath begins when there is an absolute minimum of action while being aware of the sensation of breathing. And that is just the beginning of feeling ones way in, by relaxing it goes much deeper.

I think this ancient practice of breath awareness deserves a special category to set it apart. Because the typical textbook description of breathing is that it can be either voluntary or involuntary. Really there is a third possibility, it can be consciously involuntary 

I know this sounds like splitting hairs and Im pretty happy about that allusion because natural breathing is the meditation equivalent of nuclear fission. In terms of the search for the inner witness, breathing is the bomb that clears the path or if you prefer a broom that sweeps away 

The first dramatic realisation when zeroing in on this still point of non-doing while breathing is the mystery of time. Some people say there is only the present moment and others say there is no exact present rather time is a continuum with a neural delay between objective event and subjective awareness.

Einstein brilliantly supposed that time can happen faster or slower depending on the density of gravity fields. Taking our internal experience of natural breathing a word that fleshes out our time perception is immanence. Its kind of timeless. We dont know if its the present or if time is fast or slow. Just feel the breath and avoid the intellect.

This illusion of momentariness usually blends into a sustained sense of presence. Time as a wave rather than as a particle. Very occasionally for some people this moment in time becomes a gateway a wormhole to an altered experience of an inner universe. Most of the time however other thoughts get in the way of finding this time sense.

Thats the grand picture of possibilities and I’d like to keep things simple and focus on the process rather than the outcomes.

The natural breath is very subtle. To approach it there should be a sense of not knowing if its happening completely. You can try it now for a few breaths. Sit still with eyes closed and feel the air moving through your nose. Can you actively relax the breath letting it flow very smoothly. Then see if its possible to continuosly let go of control of the breath while anchoring attention on just the sensation in the nose.

Your personal natural breath will have its own length and depth. The way your body breathes is synergistically related to your stress levels. The metabolic rate of the body is carefuly constructed by a senstitive nervous system which monitors both internal and external information. 

The external sights, sounds and movements  provoke internal changes in heart rate and breath rate. It all happens very quickly and obviously the best place to practice attuning to the natural breath is where you can feel secure with a minimum of disturbance.

Ive described the natural breath as consciously inovluntary or being simultaneously aware of breathing without doing the breathing. This is an essential practice for a preliminary type of Yoga known as Dhyana which means a state of mental absorbtion. In Dhyana there is an effortless experience of attention. 

There is a sense that the breath awareness holds the attention and the mind is not pushing it to that place. There is a special kind of attention which produces the best result. As if you were watching out of the corner of your eye, mildly interested in whats happening yet also connected with the inner peace of a clam still mind.

There are any number of secondary practices that can assist finding this type of experience like working with the body, the thoughts, the memories and emotions. All of which are very useful and practical to complete a bigger organisation of Yoga. Then there is the deeper state of Yoga that observes the witness, like watchiing the attention rather than watching the breath.

But keeping things simple I’d like to discuss just one single alternative to effortless breathing that helps to orient in practice and that is to actually control the breath.

As Ive already mentioned we can control the breath to make it very soft and gentle and smooth. This is still voluntary controlled breathing but it is approaching surrender and it makes it easier to let go. Its a point of departure of stepping off.

So when trying to find the natural breath go ahead and actually breath very gently with rhythm. Then gradually allow the body to breath by itself.

I like to restrict myself to just this one intervention or reponse to the difficulty in finding the natural breath. I find it to be the perfect stepping stone. Alternatives could be relaxing the body or the eyes, clearing the mind or reciting a mantra or chanting.

The natural breath can be used not only in meditation but also in asana and pranayama. Especially in pranayama we see natural breathing becomes the perfect restorative practice to the various controlled styles of breathing. Its the litmus test of stress response which gives just the right measure of how long to pause between exercises and after practicing.

If we are using the natural breath in meditation beginning with gentle conscious breathing helps greatly to bring attention in a fixed way. Gradually releasing the control and moving to natural breathing the attention also softens. There is a big difference between tightly focussed attention and soft diffuse awareness. This difference can be seen in the levels of electrical wave frequencies produced by the brain but thats another story.

So when it is difficult to bring attention, if there are external distractions or internal thoughts and emotions it can be very helpful to use a tight focus on gentle breathing. This can happen many times during a single session of meditation.

The location of the natural breath is not limited to the nostrils of the nose. We can feel the breath in many parts of the body and its wonderful to explore.

The second most important place to find the natural breath is in the diaphragm. This depends to a degree on the ability to breath diaphragmatically so the nose comes first as its more available. But if you can sense the movement and change in pressure in your upper abdomen and lower ribs go ahead and use it.

When our focus is on the nose the information from the eyes seems somehow more distracting. By moving to the diaphragm the feeling becomes more grounded, more somatic and less visual.

The principal of shifting gradually from gentle control to total surrender works exactly the same with natural diaphragmatic breathing. Begin by breathing gently and feeling the movement. Its no problem to use an absolute minimum of control. Expanding the belly on inhale and guiding it back inwards on exhalation. Then once the attention is tightly focussed begin to let go of control. See if you can relax the abdomen rather than activate it during both inhalation and exhalation.

Ill be writing on many other aspects of breathing and yoga practice I hope this article is helpful to explore the subtley and find the specificity in your own play with breathing and attention. Having technique which is simple and clear takes away alot of confusion about how to practice.

This piece was written to describe how natural breathing is consciously involuntary. Related articles ask why our natural breath is unique and what it tells us about stress and how other types of breathing exercises enhance and support natural breathing (or disturb it).

A very large subject which I havent touched on here is what happens in the mind to distract us from the ability to find focus. Emotions, memories and plans and Ill cover that other posts.

If you would like to find out more information about my work please check my site. I am a yoga therapist and teacher who loves to teach both how to teach and how to practice and I work with individuals to find the most useful and rewarding practices.

The post The Natural Breath appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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The state of your body after you have woken up in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. Any disorder or discomfort in the body will dampen your enthusiasm and hinder your performance of routine tasks. Your ability to function well, comprehend, perceive and respond is directly equated to the health of your brain. Even though there are many exercise regimen that helps you stay healthy physically, your mental health is also crucial for holistic well-being.

Like every organ in the body, the brain also needs nourishment and energy on a regular basis. Similar to exercises that help keep the body in good shape, so will exercises for the brain endow your intelligence and thought process. Yogasanas can be of particular help in bettering the overall functioning of the human body.

Exercise for the brain

Yoga harnesses the innate capability of the human body to improve its powers and functioning. It acts as an instant cognitive boost, helping relieve stress and enhance the functioning of the brain. Brain oriented yoga has gone up in popularity recently among knowledge workers and educators. yoga teacher training India

Benefits of brain yoga

It is a short sequence of simple exercises to increase your brainpower. Brain oriented yoga stimulates the acupuncture pressure points on the earlobes that help invigorate your gray matter.

It’s recommended to follow-up this exercise with a session of guided meditation. You can increase brain power through meditation. Breathing through the left nostril stimulates the right side of the brain and vice versa.

This practice helps your brain by:

  • Stimulating thinking capacity
  • Making you more creative
  • Improving focus, concentration and memory power
  • Increasing mental energy
  • Distributing energy levels and elevating the sense of calmness
  • Synchronizing the left and right sides of the brain
  • Making you more psychologically balanced
  • Relieving stress or behavioral problems
  • Developing cognitive powers
  • Boosting decision-making skills

This kind of brain exercise has proven to be of help to patients who have Alzheimer’s, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mild depression, Dyslexia, Down’s syndrome and Autism among others.

Meditating is popular with most of us as a great way to reduce stress. Regular practice improves blood flow to the brain. If done for about 6 hours a week, meditation may actually change the way your brain functions. These changes can help improve memory, sharpen focus, increase concentration and enhance your multitasking skills.

Harvard-affiliated researchers conducted a study in 2011 at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) substantiating the various benefits. The practice of meditation improves the thickness of the cerebral cortex and enhances gray matter. These parts of the brain are the ones associated with aspects like attention span, memory, decision-making, and learning. Thus, meditation is a proven means of increasing brain power.

A combination of routine yogasanas, brain-oriented yoga, rhythmic breathing, and meditation can all together stimulate your physical body as well as mental faculty. So make it a point to dedicate some minutes every day so that you can lead a smarter life!

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For the past 50 centuries, yoga practitioners have been waxing eloquent about yoga’s mental and physical attributes. Now, you don’t need to be an expert practitioner to benefit — You can add a few poses to your daily health routine and benefit in all kinds of unexpected ways.

While yoga helps improve flexibility, strength, balance, and endurance on a physical level, it also teaches you to deal better with stress by developing a sense of ease. From a psychological aspect, yoga helps cultivate mindfulness by improving your awareness after a given pose or exercise. Research and studies continue to unearth even more health-boosting aspects of yoga even today.

All kinds of exercise have shown to help people with depression feel better, with yoga being no exception. Studies suggest that yoga could also benefit those living with schizophrenia, sleep problems, and other psychiatric conditions.

A yoga class, practiced along with others in a group, simulates the production of oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone. Yoga and meditation for enhanced mindfulness also result in higher serotonin – the hormone associated with happiness – levels and long-term practitioners displayed more mass in those areas of the brain related to contentment.

Numerous studies have found yoga to be an effective treatment for chronic back pain more than usual care. After a few months of practicing yoga, people suffering from chronic lower back pain report the same levels of pain, but better back function. This proves that even if you don’t have chronic pain, yoga’s stretching exercises can improve the spinal flexibility.

Couples are increasingly opting for yoga as a means for stress reduction and also to increase their chances of conceiving. Though a few studies indicate that benefits of yoga include enhancing fertility, it could indeed play a role simply by reducing stress as it has been shown to do.

Yoga allows a prospective mother to de-stress, relax and open up energetic channels, thereby enhancing the chances of conception. Yoga also allows for better blood flow to the body, and improved reproductive organs, in terms of organ and hormone functions.

Yoga is also a great way to detox your entire body. Yoga helps with metabolism, with poses like the shoulder-stand, and plow working on the thyroid gland, thus getting rid of a hangover faster. Reversing the blood flow and bringing more blood to the brain, in general, creates better circulation in the body.

Another benefit of higher metabolism is that it helps you burn fat, with the increased blood flow from yoga even helping blast the stubborn cellulite. Yoga also helps to reduce arterial plaque thus bringing some cardiovascular benefits.

Rhythmic and regulated breathing practice, known as pranayama, is an essential part of yoga teacher training India. Such exercises have been shown to help ease the symptoms of asthma.

Studies of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis show that yoga programs provide relief from pain, improvement in pain disability, depression, mental health, and vitality. Arthritis promotes gentle movement and heat, with styles like Bikram or gentle yoga especially being very beneficial for arthritis patients.

Related Post: How Yoga Can Help with Pain Relief

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The post The Myriad Health Benefits of Yoga appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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Everyone’s aware that yoga can help heal our bodies. While regular practice and postures heal the physical body, a mindful pursuit can heal both physically and mentally.

Yoga can strengthen your body and soothe any pain: in plenty of ways – mindful movement, dynamic flows, deep breathing, meditation, changing perspectives, static stretching in Yin Yoga…so on and on and on.

Across the globe, yogic practices are used by those in athletics and sports, to gain relief from the inevitable aches and pains that accompany rigorous physical activity. Physiotherapists recommend yogic stretches for relief from pulled muscles, strains, cramps or inflammation.

While the first line of remedy for most of these may be conventional medicine, it is recommended that it be complemented by a steady and organized yogic program. Over the long term, a sustained yoga regimen can be the one that sustains and supports the healing process. It would ensure that the healing effect lasts longer too. yoga teacher training India

The proper way of practicing yoga in the circumstances mentioned above is to follow certain basic rules.

  • The poses must be performed gently in the initial stages.
  • You should allow for a lot of rest breaks to allow muscles to relax.
  • Attention should be paid to sequencing all movements with your breathing rhythm, ensuring that you maintain steady breathing, especially with a pose that focuses on a pain spot.

To ensure that the healing process is thorough and the relief complete, you need to eat supplementary foods that will help alleviate the problem. For example, if your muscles are inflamed, you need foods that help defuse body inflammation, after proper diagnosis. For those recovering from injuries, you need to have more vitamin C foods in your diet. It is also recommended to Include foods rich in zinc.

Meditation can be a very useful process to heal, though it’s not taken seriously enough. Very often, it’s seen that most people do not even have a proper grasp of how to meditate the right way. For those new to meditation, it would do best to either download or buy short audio instructions/sessions and start out for just five to ten minutes, to begin with, until the habit sets in.

Regular practice of meditation can be an effective way to heal physical problems in your body. As opposed to the avoidance tactic of not moving at all, including some healing movement everyday can go a long way in healing. Remember that even the areas injured or in pain need some movement to facilitate healing.

There are several ways by which yoga can help with specific types of body pain. If you’re reading this, don’t worry—you are already on the right path to transforming yourself!

A mindful approach to yoga can inculcate healthy routines, practices, and habits that are better for us as human beings. From more healthily eating to choosing who we associate with in our life, to what we can accomplish with our time in the world.

The post How Yoga Can Help with Pain Relief appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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Excellence in anything can be achieved only with a lot of practice, but that practice has to begin somewhere. The problem is when and where to start. Most of us feel a bit of trepidation while venturing into something for the first time, and it’s no different with novice yoga trainers.

Here are a few pointers on how to overcome your nerves before that all important first class.

Keep yourself motivated.

While every teacher’s motivation to teach is unique, most will have one element in common: the desire to share the benefits of yoga with others. However, with specialized Yoga teacher training India, you tend to suffer from an information overload that makes it easy to lose sight of the original reason you started. Take a deep breath to remind yourself of the reasons that you love yoga and your desire to share it. This simple act can work wonders in calming your nerves and helps you focus on providing instructions.

Impart what you know.

Why would anyone want to teach something they don’t know? Remember, it’s not okay to teach things you don’t do yourself.

Teaching yogasanas to people with different skill levels and body structures requires not only being aware of how the pose works in your own body but also how it works for others in the class.

While there may be many things you are not ready to teach yet, the flip side is that there are quite a few things that you know very well and that your students wish to learn. It’s better to teach them those things.

Always be prepared.

Good teachers constantly adapt their teaching strategy to suit the students who they teach. Such adaptation turns second nature with years of experience but does not come quickly to new teachers. So, you should prepare each of your classes with considerable thought and planning, yet be ready to abandon the prep to suit the actual class itself. Sounds contradictory, but the more you work out plans in your downtime, the better you will be at making the right choices while guiding others during practice.

Watch the class.

The perfect way to impart the right amount of instruction is to watch over your students. Guide them clearly, and wait till they get the instructions right before moving onto the next one. This can prevent wasted time and effort while making every instruction more effective.

Final Thoughts

Remember that your students have come to you because they believe you can help them learn and perform yoga. People come to yoga class to better themselves, have a good time and they’ve somehow chosen your class because they think you can help them achieve that.

They aren’t attending your class to find fault with or critique you; rather they want you to succeed. They might be probably seeking your appreciation much more than you dreading their feedback. Let your training be more about yoga and them than about you. Remember, you have chosen to teach so that they can learn and practice.

The post How New Yoga Teachers can Overcome Nervousness appeared first on Noah McKenna.

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