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Thursday, September 18 2014

During the Labor Day Weekend, I attended a retreat on a beautiful farm in Stanton, KY.  My goal was to attempt to connect with my past—all the bad and the good—in a meaningful to help me move on with my life.  I thought meditation out under the stars might help me achieve this goal.

Through a yoga practice spanning 15 years and countless hours of meditation, I have been able to calm the chatter in my mind and progress through different levels of meditative states.

However, to my surprise, I experienced a great awakening, just by planting my bare feet on the ground, near a venerable maple tree and gazing up at the beautiful Milky Way.  I wrote about my experience and Elephant Journal published it today.

It may be a naive wish, but I truly wish everyone on Earth could experience what I experienced that lovely night.  I believe it just might be a path to making all of our lives so much easier.

Namaste.

Posted by: Jody Zimmerman AT 08:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, March 07 2014

Jody Zimmerman in Standing Backbend, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, July, 2010

I’ve practice yoga almost daily for fifteen years, and I have been a yoga instructor for four years.  Of all the asanas I practice and teach, I have observed that backbends, particularly the standing backbend, generate the most anxiety, fear, and reluctance among yogis.

Backbends are one of the most mysterious of all the asanas, but just like a great mystery novel, as you progress page by page, slowly revealing the layers of the story, as you approach your backbends step by step, you unlock their enormous power.

Anxiety, fear, and reluctance are terms not normally associated with the benefits of the practice of yoga.  Don’t we all practice yoga to rid ourselves of these states of being?  The answer is yes and no.

The practice of hatha yoga or forceful yoga employs the body, mind, and breath control to help an individual arrive at a physical, mental, and spiritual state of overall calmness in order to meditate and connect with the universe—that which is everything.

So, what does this have to do with backbends?  For most of us, particularly Westerners, we spend our working lives hunched over computers, bent over executing physical tasks, bowing toward omnipresent gravity.  In this hunched over state, we are, both symbolically and physically, protecting our vital organs and our hearts.  We are covering and concealing and relinquishing to gravity. 

Backbends are the polar opposite of this.  In backbends, we are uncovering and exposing our vital organs and our hearts.  We are lifting our heart toward the heavens, away from the pull of gravity.  We are opening our spines in opposition to our normal state, we are exposing ourselves, and we are displaying our vulnerability.  These are all fearful, sometimes terrifying states for many of us.

The key to practicing backbends without anxiety, fear, and reluctance is to start within your comfortable range, and each time you come to your mat, take it one tiny step further.

Most of us do backbends each morning without even thinking about it.  At some point we stretch our spines upward, open our arms wide, reaching up, lifting our chests, perhaps with a yawn—performing an unconscious hatha yoga movement to wake up our bodies after sleep.

Locus pose and Bridge pose are the easiest back bends for most of us, because we are firmly supported on the ground.  Camel and particularly Standing Backbend present more challenges because our bodies are more vertical and further away from the mat.

Backbends often generate a great deal of emotional release as you open your Heart Chakra.  Immediately after the death of three of my beloved dogs at different times in the past, I would go straight to yoga practice, and invariably, each time I arrived in Camel Pose, I became overcome with emotion and literally cried my heart out, helping me to both grieve the loss of my loved ones and to arrive at an understanding that they weren’t really dead or gone, but merely moving on to become a part of the universe in a different way. 

And so goes the mystery and power of backbends.

Jamie Haworth, Jody Zimmerman, Shawna Spellman, and Rob Spellman from Heat Yoga and Wellness in Camel Pose at Pura Vida Yoga Resort in Costa Rica in February 2007.

Posted by: Jody Zimmerman AT 10:02 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, December 20 2012

Taking a breath is the first thing you do when you are born, and it is the last thing you do before you die.  We need food and water to survive, but we need to breathe more than anything else.  The body can survive days without water and weeks without food, but only a few minutes without the breath.

We tend to forget about the breath, especially as we mature and get caught up in everyday living and routines.  In my yoga classes, I teach that the breath is the most important part of the yoga.

The great spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda taught that through Kriya Yoga Meditation (based on breathing techniques), a person’s soul can transcend a million years in one lifetime.  That is some pretty powerful breathing!

When was the last time you enjoyed taking a deep, rejuvenating breath—letting your lungs expand completely, all the way down to the lowest lobes?

The following five breathing techniques offer simple ways for you to connect with your breath.  Returning to your breath is a basic thing, something that grounds you, connects you with your inner-self and with the universe.

The brain is smart, it learns, remembers, and is influenced by a multitude of internal and external forces.  The brain is the control center of your body and so long as you are getting enough oxygen for normal body functions, the brain will not ask you to breathe deeper, using the full capacity of your lungs.  The following breathing techniques require you to put the brain in the background, slowing or silencing the chatter of the mind, so that you focus only on the breath. Listening to your breath is the basis of most meditation practices.

Taking a few minutes each day to connect with your breath will create positive changes in your life, making you healthier, giving you a richer perspective of your world and the universe.

Technique 1 – Deep-Breathing 7’s

a)        Sit up straight in a chair—no slouching or unnatural curving in your spine.

b)        Close your eyes and rest your hands on your thighs or knees.

c)         Relax your shoulders and hips, visualize any tension in your body draining down your body out through the bottoms of your feet into the floor or ground.

d)        Relax your jaw, but keep your lips closed, exhale completely though your nose.

e)        Inhale through your nose to your own personal count of 7, breathing from the bottom of the lungs up.  Put your hand right below your sternum.  You should be able to feel your ribs expanding as your breathe in.  Relax the back of the throat and let it open as you breath in.

f)         Exhale slowly through your nose to your own personal count of 7.

g)        Focus on the sound and rhythm of your breath with your eyes closed.  Try not to let your mind wander; keep retuning to the breath.  Repeat at your own pace for 7 minutes.

h)        I recommend setting a kitchen timer.  When the time is up, slowly open your eyes, smile, and thank yourself for taking the time to do this breathing technique.

Technique 2 – Deep-Breathing 7’s with Pauses

 This technique is performed exactly as above, except that you pause for 7 counts between each inhale and exhale.  If this is a challenge at first, just pause for a count of 2 or 3 and build up as you relax and gain more confidence experiencing a ‘breathless’ state.

This technique helps your brain move from the beta state (fully awake and alert) into the alpha state (relaxed, more right brain activity) that is a key requirement to reach meditative states.

Technique 3 – Alternate Nostril Breathing

a)        Get comfortable in a chair, sitting up straight or sit on the floor Indian style, or in lotus position.

b)        Close your eyes, breathing in and out through your nose, focusing on the breath.  Take normal, relaxing breaths.

c)         Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril as you breathe in through your left nostril.

d)        When you have breathed in a full, deep breath, immediately release your right nostril and close off your left nostril with your right index finger and exhale completely through the right nostril.

e)        Once you have exhaled completely through the right nostril, inhale deeply through the right nostril, with the left nostril still shut using your right index finger.

f)         Once you have inhaled completely use your right thumb to shut off the right nostril, release the right index finger from the left nostril and exhale completely through the left nostril.

g)        Inhale through the left nostril and repeat the cycles.

The alternate sequence can sometimes at first be confusing.  Relax and start with three minutes.  Before long you’ll be able to do five to ten minutes easily.

Technique 4 – Favorite Place in Nature Breathing

Almost everyone has a special place outside, a place that warms your heart, makes you smile when you think about it, a place where you feel safe, secure, and special, and a place where you long to go, time and again.  I use this technique a lot in my yoga classes.
We usually do it in corpse pose (savasana).

a)        Get comfortable in a chair, sitting up straight or sit on the floor Indian style, or in lotus position.

b)        Close your eyes, breathing in and out through your nose, focusing on the       breath.  Take normal, relaxing breaths.

c)         As you breathe normally, let your mind visualize your favorite place:  focus on the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feeling of the place you know and love so well.

d)        As your mind carries you to your favorite place, relax your body and begin to slow and lengthen your inhales and exhales.  Continue to breath in and out through the nose with the lips shut, the jaw relaxed.

e)        After three to five minutes of deep breathing focusing on your favorite place, allow your mind to focus more on the breath and less on the favorite place.

f)         Continue in this manner for ten to twenty minutes.

g)        You will probably be in a fairly deep meditative state by the end of this exercise.  To come out of it, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers as you  slowly open your eyes.  Smile, knowing you can be instantly transported to your favorite place through the mind and the breath.

Technique 5 – White Light Breathing

a)        Get comfortable in a chair, sitting up straight or sit on the floor Indian style, or in lotus position.

b)        Close your eyes, breathing in and out through your nose, focusing on the breath.  Take normal, relaxing breaths.

c)         Imagine that your spine is a hollow tube and that as you breath in, your breath starts at the base of your spine, climbs up the hollow tube, through your throat and head and out the crown of your head.  As you breath out, the breath travels from the crown of the head, down to the base of the spine.

d)        Now imagine that your breath is a pulsing, bright white light originating at the base of your spine.  As you breath in, the ball of white light rises up through the hollow tube of your spine and through the crown of your head.

e)        This white energy emerging from your head mixes with all the energy in the universe gaining strength, power, and intensity.  As you exhale, fresh, new white energy is drawn into the crown of your head, flowing back down through your hollow spine and into every cell of your body with healing, refreshing energy.

f)         Continue focusing on this image as you breath in and out through your nose. The white ball of energy increases in size with each inhalation and exhalation until it expands beyond your body, filling up the room, filling up the building, filling up your town, your state, your country, the world, the solar system, the galaxy, until it fills the entire universe and you become one with the energy of the universe.

g)        You will be in a deep meditative state by the end of this exercise.  To come out of it, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers as you slowly open your eyes.

Remember, the breath is the basis of our lives.  Without it, we do not live.  Be kind to yourself, honor yourself, and take a few minutes every day to focus on your breath.  After all, without the breath, nothing else really matters. 

Posted by: by Jody Zimmerman, Registered Yoga Teacher, RYTŪ AT 09:20 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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