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?

Malas: Focus Better During Meditation

My wood and rose quartz mala.

First off, what is a mala?

A mala is a necklace created to aid in meditation. They are typically made from wood, seeds, or gemstones. The number of beads on a mala can vary, but commonly mala necklaces have 108 beads and bracelets contain 27 (which can be used during mediation 4 times to achieve 108). In addition to the main beads, most malas contain a larger "guru" bead and sometimes smaller divider beads (to help you keep track).

When meditating with a mantra, it is important to keep focus. Malas are used as tools to keep count of how many times you have recited your manta, along with serving as a tangible and interactive object to help restless minds and bodies remain fully present during meditation practice.

Mantras are very personal matters, determined on where you are in life, what you need to reaffirm, and/or what you need to learn. Some are popular and freely shared (such as "Om"). Some you can only learn from a teacher or spiritual guide, and should be kept private and use as per instruction (with the accompanying lessons and empowerment). Some may simply flow freely and intuitively to you, and that is the one you should use (until it has served it's purpose). They can take the form of Sanskrit ("Om Tara" speaks to the goddess Tara which encourages compassion, healing, and strength), or English ("I am love").

Regardless of source, all mantras should possess a compassionate message towards yourself and/or others. For example, say you have a strained relationship with one of your coworkers. Although a part of you may wish you did not have to interact with them on such a frequent basis, your mantra cannot be "My coworker will quit.", as tempting as it may seem some times! Taking a compassionate stance on the issue, look within. Maybe it is from a place of jealousy that you butt heads with your coworker. A reaffirming mantra such as "I am enough" can help encourage you to realize your own personal value, and break the cycle of comparing yourself with your coworker.

Once you have discovered your mantra, it is time to settle down and meditate.

Ideally, find a quiet space where you can meditate without being disturbed.  Clear your mind of stray thoughts, and breathe deeply. Feel the grounding pull of the earth, and center yourself. Once you feel connected and grounded, begin your practice. Hold the mala gently and respectively in your left hand, with the beads between your index finger and thumb. Beginning with the first bead after the guru bead, count a bead for each completed recitation of your mantra. When you finish your journey around the whole mala, do not count the guru bead. If you wish to continue, flip the mala around (with as much grace as you can manage) and begin again the other direction.

In future posts, we'll explore potential mantras, other meditation techniques, and even a tutorial on how to construct your own mala!

What are your meditation habits? Do you have a mala to assist in meditation?