Archive for the ‘breathing’ Category

How I Love Teaching Office Yoga

Last week I was grateful to teach a series of office yoga sessions for a huge global real estate company with several DC locations as part of their employee health & wellness program.  After spending three days in a row in Bethesda (Tues), Washington, DC (Wed) and Tysons Corner (Thurs) teaching the benefits of yogic breathing and movement (yoga asana) in conference rooms, I realized a few things:

  • Yoga is accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.  In these office yoga sessions I actually taught “chair yoga” – breathing, mindfulness and movement techniques people can do at a desk without a yoga mat, in work attire.  There were a few people with physical limitations and they were able to do most of the breathing & movement.  Again, yoga is accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.
  • I am doing exactly what I’m suppose to be doing – teaching yoga.  As a former corporate soldier, I can relate to my audience.  When I go into an office and teach yoga to people who are chained to their desks all day, I naturally seem to be able to speak about yoga in a way that they understand.  I can empathize as I lived and breathed corporate lifestyle for 10+ years.
  • P90X is turning people (men) on to yoga.  In both the Bethesda and DC offices, I had more men attending than usual.  On top of that, the men were asking multiple questions about yoga — breathing questions, pose specifics, how often they should practice, etc.  This was a shift.  Usually when I teach yoga in corporate settings it’s mostly women showing up and they have little experience with yoga.  When I would ask these “guys” about their yoga experience, they each had done the P90X yoga.  I’ve never seen P90X to give it a proper evaluation, though what I’m comfortable saying is that if it’s getting people (particularly men) to try yoga then awesome!
  • A lot of people have long commutes.  When a woman in the Bethesda office told me she commuted from/to Ashburn, VA each day I quickly realized a) I am grateful to no longer commute 60+ minutes each way/day, and b) commuting is the perfect time to practice yoga.  I’m not suggesting anyone bust out a downward facing dog on the bus/metro/highway.  Regardless of your commute time & mode of transportation, breathing is a yoga technique one can practice anywhere, anytime.  Breathing is an essential part of yoga and it requires no special equipment except for YOU to PAY ATTENTION to it.  The more you can practice actively slowing down the breath, the more you’ll be able to slow down your mind and relax your body.
  • People are enthusiastic about “their” yoga.  In each office I visited, at least a couple of participants wanted to chat me up about their yoga teacher or the style of yoga they practice.  I loved it!  Whether it was P90X, Bikram, Gentle or Vinyasa Yoga, I could see the glow in their eyes and feel the love for their practice.

I share all this as I realize I’m lucky to be what I’m doing.  I love that I continue to learn as I do what I love.  It’s also great to know I’m helping people open their eyes to doing yoga beyond a yoga studio.  So many think they need a yoga mat, 90 minute class or a special yoga outfit to benefit from yoga.  Not true!  Just a few minutes movement and active breathing every hour can do wonders.  Recent research from the Mayo Clinic shows that lack of movement (due to working at a desk all day, long commutes, watching TV for hours on end, etc.) can be worse than smoking and can defeat the efforts of a weekly exercise routine.  This is proof enough that office bound people need to find ways to feel and be healthy…and this is just another reason why I love teaching office yoga.     

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Yoga’s Little Secret: Pranayama

“…the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled.  This is pranayama.”  sutra 2.49

“Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.”  sutra 1.34

Pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Outside of the yoga world, no one talks about fully dedicating attention to your breath unless you’re hyperventilating or experience some other health issue like pneumonia or asthma.  Even then, in my limited experience, the medical world rarely knows what the power of conscious breathing has to offer.

To the general population of non-yogis, yoga is typically only associated with physical movements/poses (asana).  Don’t get me wrong.  Yoga asana offers a ton of benefits such as improving balance and coordination, increasing strength and flexibility and boosting confidence and concentration.  There are many, many reasons to do it.  And in most asana classes, breathing is usually mentioned and encouraged but it tends to be secondary in the minds of many students (at least those newer to asana).

Pranayama (sanskrit for breath control) is really the heart and soul of yoga, just as breathing (the exchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide) is essential to keeping our hearts pumping and blood flowing.  The benefits of exploring pranayama can be as grand as easing high blood pressure and asthmatic symptoms to as simple as cleansing the body and calming the mind.

There are numerous pranayama techniques, each having their own specific function and benefit.  For instance, Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs, warms the body and tones the abdominal muscles.  Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) has a calming and balancing effect on the nervous system.  Sound breathing improves concentration and can positively shift your energy (i.e. awakening the chakras).  For details on some of these techniques, check out The Science of Pranayama.  If the techniques I’ve mentioned sound too esoteric (which I get!), Max Strom’s Learn to Breathe DVD  might be your speed.

My current fav:  Calming Breath.  Why?  It’s easy.  Anyone can do it.  Plus, it can be done anywhere, anytime.  Simple instructions:  Work with a 4:2:4 breathing ratio for a few weeks (5-10 minutes a day).  This means inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4.  As this gets easy, you can increase the ratio to 6:3:6, or 8:4:8.  Don’t be too ambitious.  Remember it’s called calming breath so more doesn’t mean better.

Again in my mind, pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Trust me, my little blog post here really doesn’t do it justice!  Explore it for yourself.  Read up on it.  Find a yoga teacher who can guide you and answer your questions.  And just like asana, practice it daily.