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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Breathing

"The Yogi, using the method of pranayama, is able to absorb the energy from the infinite mass that exists behind, uses this energy for his quick growth, and within a short time is able to reach the highest perfection."
-Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

On Wednesday, I began a new series, pointing out what it is to live the yogic lifestyle by discussing the five points of yoga developed by my guru, Swami Vishnu-devananda.  Today we move on to the second point, proper breathing.

 So, what does it mean to breath "properly"?  In my particular yoga tradition, it means to use the yogic breath, or, three-part breath. To complete the yogic breath, follow these steps:
1. Inhale slowly but deeply into the abdomen.
2.  Once the abdomen is full, start expanding the ribcage.
3.  The last step is the raise the clavicles (collarbones).
The exhale should be done in the same order by caving in the abdomen, ribcage, and finally lowering the clavicles.

But, why breathe this way? The yogic breath places emphasis on using full lung capacity, thus allowing for the intake of more oxygen on the inhale and the release of more toxins on the exhale.  Breathing this way makes us more conscious of how we breath, balances the energy in our system, and helps us use this energy for a higher purpose (Fingers crossed for enlightenment!)

However, the yogic breath alone won't cut it for serious yoga practitioners: It must be combined with pranayama exercises as well.  Pranayama is important because it allows for the control of prana (energy) in the body, thus leading to the control of one's mind (aka serious preparation for obtaining enlightenment).  It is recommended that 15-20 minutes be done everyday.  The two most popular pranayama techniques are Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma, also knows as breath of fire and alternate nostril breathing.  If you are interested in learning these techniques, I would recommend asking a yoga teacher to demonstrate or finding a video on youtube, as describing them can be very difficult.

If you have any questions on proper breathing techniques, please, feel free to ask. Or, you can check out the Sivananda website for more information. Om Namah Sivaya!

** Information learned from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Exercise

"Yoga is a life of self discipline built upon the tenets of simple living and high thinking. If you follow these five points,which compose a true holistic approach to our whole system of body, mind, and soul, you will gain strength and balance in this demanding stressful world.  Obstacles become stepping stones to success, and life is a school for the development of character and compassion and the Realization of the Divine all-pervading Self."
-Swami Vishnu-Devananda in The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

I know that I stated in my last post that I would soon be starting a series on meditation. However, I just didn't feel right about diving right into the act of meditating without at least giving you a brief introduction on what it is to live the "yogic" lifestyle.  So let's do an experiment:  What is the first thing you think of when I say (write) the word 'yoga'?  I bet it was some form of exercise, wasn't it? But did you know that "exercise" is only a small portion of what makes up yoga? That is why I've decided to give you a crash course in the five points of yoga.

My guru, Swami Vishnu-Devananda, very generously broke down the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles.  He synthesized these points so that people like you and me would be able to easily incorporate them into our everyday life.  So, what are these five points? Well I intend on breaking them down for you in my new series!

Point One:  Proper Exercise - Asanas
Many of you are already familiar with this point, because it is what many westerners believe yoga to be in its entirety: exercise.  Asana, when translated, means steady pose.  So why were these poses created and why are they so important to the five points? Asana practice is what prepares one for serious meditation. Think about it:  When you meditate, you sit in the same pose for an extended period of time.  This practice becomes easy when one is able to hold more difficult poses for long periods of time.  Also, asana poses should be done with meaning and concentration, thus furthering your ability to meditate successfully.

Another reason asanas are so important is that the practice strengthens and stretches muscles without using violent movement.  When violent movement is eliminated and thoughtful, precise movements are emphasized, the build-up of lactic acid on muscles is avoided.  We've probably all felt the effects of lactic acid and know that it can cause extreme fatigue to our bodies.  With asana practice, we are actually increasing oxygen circulation in our bodies, thus creating energy.

And finally, let's talk about the effects of asana practice on the mind.  There is a lot of philosophical information I could fill the page with on this topic, but it would take you awhile to read and then I would probably lose you somewhere between the nadis and the prana (See?). So basically, the practice of asanas aligns the body with the mind.  When these two are working in harmony, the practitioner gets a deeper sense of Self and meaning, thus furthering one's meditative experience.

Confused yet? I know, this stuff can blow your mind. But, if you have any questions, hit me up in the comment section below.  And, look out for the next point in the series, proper breathing. Om Namah Sivaya!

** Information learned from the teachings of The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta. For more information on proper exercise, check out this link.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My New Friend: Tea Tree Oil

The last two weeks have been especially crazy, so please forgive me for my lack of postings. :) I have gotten some feedback from a few people and will hopefully be starting a series on meditation in the near future.  But for today, I want to share a holistic sinus remedy since allergy season will soon be upon us!

If you are anything like me, when March hits, you suffer from severe sinus problems.  Springtime means more pollen production which can wreak havoc on the sinus system.  So what are your options when sinusitis hits?  Normally, I would make an appointment with my doctor and take antibiotics (most likely a z-pack).  However, that really wasn't an option for me when I developed a sinus infection this past week:  My husband and I were driving from Mississippi to Texas.  So in an attempt to get well, I began googling home-remedies for sinusitis and one thing kept popping up: tea tree oil.

Tea tree oil originates from the leaves of the melaleuca alternifolia tree which is native to Australia.  It has a variety of uses such as a household cleaner, a pesticide (especially effective on lice), a skin rejuvenator,  and is effective at treating bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.  In my research, I found that tea tree oil, when used effectively, can actually kill the bacteria that causes a sinus infection.  At first, I was skeptical.  Then, I realized I had little to no other option, so I gave it a shot.

According to Tree Hugger, the following steps can be taken in order to ward off a sinus infection. What you will need:
*1 bottle of tea tree oil - Please do not confuse with tea oil. It is completely different. You can usually find tea tree oil in the vitamin section of your pharmacy.
*A sauce pan large enough to boil water.
*Olive oil

First, you will want to fill the saucepan with water and add a few drops of the tea tree oil (maybe a tsp worth).  Bring the water to a boil and inhale the steam.  Be careful to not inhale too closely or too deeply because irritation may occur.  Inhale for twenty-minutes or so. You can even drape a towel over your head in order to catch the steam, just be careful not to set yourself on fire. This can be done twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  I pulled a bar stool up to the stove and hung out for twenty-minutes while listening to the TV. Not too bad considering the results.

Another thing you can do to kill bacteria, is make a tea tree salve.  This is where the olive oil comes in.  Mix about 1 tbs of olive oil with about 1/2 tsp of tea tree oil.  After mixing, you can apply it under your nose, or even inside the nostril if you aren't especially sensitive to the tea tree oil.  I would not recommend applying tea tree oil alone to the skin.  It can prove to be a skin irritant, which is why I cut it with olive oil.  You can apply as needed. I personally only apply it before bed.

After two days of this routine, mixed with sleeping with a humidifier and nasal strips, I am feeling much better.  This is going to sound gross, but I am no longer producing bright yellow mucus (hooray!), my nose is no longer itchy, and I'm less congested.  I plan on doing the routine for the next couple of days just to make sure I fully kill the infection.

Hopefully this little remedy helps you as much as it has helped me.  I know if another infections hits, I'm using tea tree oil again instead of rushing to the doctor's office! Om Namah Sivaya!

** Please note that I am not a medical professional.  My advice should never replace the opinion of a trained medical doctor.