Center Yourself with Alternate Nostril Breathing


For thousands of years, yogis have believed in the power of breath. To this day, yoga instructors even go as far as to say that if you lose track of your breathing during your yoga practice, you basically void the benefits of your asanas. Long story short: breathing is a crucial part of yoga!

Pranayama, or yoga breathing, makes you more connected to your breath. Although it is important to practice during your yoga practice, it can be beneficial to practice before meditation, right before you go to bed, right before you wake up, or when you just need to recharge. I have found that returning to my yoga breath can really help when I am stressed and need to reset my brain, like when I am hanging off of a mountain on a hard rock climbing route.

A technique that I love and have been using everyday is alternate nostril breathing (also known as Anulom Vilom). It is a great beginning pranayama practice, and can be done by everybody!

Alternate nostril breathing can be an extremely therapeutic and calming ritual. It cleanses your lungs and your mind, calms your emotions and your nervous system, encourages the flow of prana (energy), and can relax a restless brain and body. Doesn't that sound wonderful? Lets get to it!

Begin by getting into a comfortable seated position on your yoga mat. Sit up straight, with your neck, back, and tailbone stacked. Using your right hand, place your pointer and middle finger on your third eye (in the middle of your forehead just above your eyebrows). Take a few relaxed breaths until you feel centered and ready to begin.

Using your thumb, close off your right nostril. Slowly breathe in through your left nostril for a count of four. Hold breathe for a count of four.

Close off left nostril with your ring finger, and release your right nostril. Slowly breathe out for a count of four. Inhale though the right nostril for a count of four. Hold for four, then release through your left side as before. Repeat a few rounds of this alternate breathing and feel how your body responds to this gentle and nourishing practice.

Remember:
Never be forceful with your pranayama practice. If holding four counts is too much, try shorter increments until you can work your way up to it.
Health conditions, such as high blood pressure, might mean that you shouldn't participate or hold your breath. (Translation: Talk to your doctor.)
If possible, try to practice on an empty stomach or if has been a few hours since eating.

Do you practice pranayama? How do you use yoga breathing techniques in your everyday life?

5 Essential Meditation Tips for Beginners


“The whole of meditation practice can be essentialized into these 3 crucial points: Bring your mind home. Release. And relax!”  
Sogyal Rinpoche

When my brain starts getting a little frazzled, I can usually trace it back to not meditating enough (aka I've been a lazy bum that day and pressed snooze instead). Therefore, whenever my friends and loved ones are stressed, my suggestions usually involve a little meditation to recenter themselves.

However, sometimes they express a little hesitation at the idea for a variety of reasons, like they are intimidated, unsure how, or believe that it is solely religious based. To which I say: Don't be silly! Meditation is for everyone, regardless of experience or religion. Studies have shown the positive effect meditation can have on your life, so there is no time like the present to begin!

If you don't know where to start, take a peek at these suggestions:

1 - Carve out a little time. Set aside a specific time everyday to sit and meditate. Whether it is 5 minutes in the morning before work, or 20 minutes after dinner every night, honor it as a time for meditation and nothing else.

2 - Establish a ritual. Light a candle. Create a meditation corner that you can retreat to. Acknowledge the positive change you are bringing to your life, and make it a special moment.

3 - Start out easy. In the same way that you wouldn't run a marathon without any training, you shouldn't begin meditating and sit for two hours. Meditation is mental training, and nobody gets monk-like meditation power overnight. Start off with 5 minutes (or even lower if needed) and work your way up over time.

4 - Focus on your breath. Allow it to come naturally and feel your body relax further with each inhale and exhale.

5 - Experiment. There is no wrong way to meditate, and what works for one person might not for another. There are numerous techniques you can try. Adopt a mantra and use a mala to keep track. (Learn how to use a mala here.) Use an app to take you through a guided meditation (I like Headspace). Go into nature and find a quiet place to listen to the calm rustle of the trees and the hum of the life around you. Listen to a singing bowl CD. Attend a local meditation group. Anything works!

Do you have any meditation techniques or routines that you follow?