Stress Management — Relaxation with Yoga Breathing

toobusytorelax-1As I’ve said before, yoga has many benefits that relate to life — stress management and relaxation are a couple of those benefits.  I have learned to find a deep relaxation with yoga breathing, even when I am not doing yoga.  Of course deep breathing relaxation exercises are common for managing stress, so this should come as no surprise.

The Inhalation

You should breathe in through your nose.  Rather than belly breathing, you want to expand your chest to fill your lungs.  In yoga you are trying to keep your core engaged, so this does not play well with belly breathing.  Yoga breathing is coordinated with the movements (in vinyasa yoga).  Often when a pose is particularly challenging, the instinct is to hold your breath.  It is important to keep breathing well at all times, and you will find this true in life.

The Exhalation

In yoga you learn to breathe out audibly through the nose (not through the mouth).  A newcomer to yoga must think it is very strange that everyone is breathing so heavy.  This forceful exhalation is called ouija breathing, and it helps to warm the body and increase oxygen consumption. 

This breath helps push more air out of the lungs.  This really allows a dramatic release of tension.  It feels a bit like ‘blowing off steam’, and it is an amazing breathing relaxation technique.


Often in class we will do cleansing breaths.  They are exhaled through the mouth, often accompanied by a sighing sound.  These sighs are timed right after more intense exertions in the practice.  Translation:  when feeling stressed or after finishing a major task, try using a deep sigh to let go and relax.

It is natural for me to use deep breathing relaxation methods throughout my day without even realizing it.  Yoga has helped to train my automatic behavior.  I find myself taking deeper breaths as needed without consciously initiating them.  I also catch myself when I am holding my breath, and redirect myself to some deep breathing.

Instructors often say a single, conscious breath constitutes a yoga practice.  It is nice to experience stress management from yoga not only in class, but crossing over into the real world.  Relaxation with yoga breathing will become automatic for you after practicing a while.  Yoga:  the only breathing relaxation technique you’ll ever need.

Hot Yoga

yogapose6878People always seem drawn to and curious about hot yoga.  There is sort of a sensationalized image of hot yoga:  steamy room, sweat dripping from contorted bodies, etc.  The rooms I’ve been in lacked the dramatic steam, but certainly had the sweat you would expect from this yoga practice.  While not as glamourous as you may think, this yoga does have its benefits.

Hot yoga was introduced through Bikram yoga, but not all hot yoga is bikram.  You can do yoga of any sort in a room with the heat turned up.  Temperatures are typically 95 – 105 degrees.

The major benefit of the heat is it allows the muscles to really relax.  This increases flexibility at early points in the practice — rather than the typical need to ‘warm up’ before really finding some good lengthening.  I find the heat so helpful with this that I will dress in layers if I am unable to practice in a warm room.

It does take a few classes to adjust to the heat.  We typically want to be ‘cooled off’ when we are doing physical activity.  It can feel frustrating to be getting warmer in an already warm room.  It may even make you feel nauseated or dizzy initially.  Heed these warnings and take a comfortable pose until the feelings pass.

The increase in sweat also demands adapting.  Sweat can tickle and itch, which is inconvenient in downward dog or any other number of poses.  My instructor is so good at challenging the ego — she will suggest the need to wipe away the sweat or make other readjustments is a test of the distractions of the ego.  Regardless of the test, you probably want to bring a small towel.


The number one necessity is water or an electrolyte drink.  You will be dripping during this practice.  You will also be very warm.  It is important to continue to hydrate and cool yourself with your close supply of fluids.

Hot yoga may not be for everyone.  I am certainly a convert — it makes the experience deeper for me.   The heat does allow you to push your body further into poses, getting the fullest benefit from them.  The heat also pushes your limits.  It absolutely does trigger the ego to complain and distract.  This adds to the challenge of being able to see through these thought and focus on the practice.   Now, go get hot and let me know what you think…

Yoga for Runners

Not only am I an avid practicer of yoga, I am also a marathon runner.  These two might sound completely opposite, but they have much more in common than you would think.  Especially if you are the kind who likes to learn something deeper from what you do.  Both activities provide many metaphors for life.

I have talked about the lessons of yoga, and how they apply to life.  Well, the same is true for running.  The insights I learn from yoga help my thinking and performance in running.  Occasionally it is the other way around.  Both benefit me tremendously in my daily life.  The management of your mental chatter in these activities allows you to do the same in the rest of your day.

One of the greatest benefits of doing both yoga and running is physical.  Things get tight with running.  Yoga helps loosen muscles, stretch tendons and ligaments, and provides a nice full body massage.  People are experiencing a decreased risk of injury when adding yoga as part of their total running program.


I have been having IT band issues this year.  This is a very common injury for runners.  I have definitely seen improvement with this after doing some hip opening exercises.  The secondary benefit of hip openers is the tendon stretch — it has been working miracles for me.  I actually really enjoy hip opening exercises now that I relax into them (runners tend to be very tight in the hip area).

The Runner’s World website has a link to yoga.  The awareness is growing of the beneficial connection.  I do fear runners will mentally minimize the benefits of yoga.  They may be robbing themselves of a crucial tool that can have a profound effect on training and performance (not to mention injury prevention).

If you’ve only done yoga, or you’ve only been a runner…consider dabbling into the other realm.  Running won’t be for every yogi or yogini.  Yoga certainly won’t appeal to all runners.  However, it can be such an experience to push yourself into new areas of the physical wonderland.

Baron Baptiste Yoga Boot Camp

This September I am headed to Utah to experience Baron Baptiste in person.  I am pretty excited about this opportunity.  It is a short boot camp — just 3 days.  I know it will just leave me wanting more. 

The reason I enjoy Baptiste yoga so much is that it is all encompassing.  It is not about yoga.  You don’t leave what you learn on the mat.  It directly applies to life in endless ways.  I have found myself more centered, more mindful and more alive since I’ve been doing Baptiste yoga. 

My instructor is always saying that how you are in yoga is how you are in life.  If you are constantly looking around and comparing yourself to others…well, guess what you are doing in the real world.  If you are just waiting for it to end or worrying about what you need to do after, chances are you are not enjoying your daily life much either. 

I have really noticed my weaknesses in class, and I make a conscious effort to try to work on them in the next class.  I noticed that I would hold back on some yoga poses so that I could complete the class without falling over.  I decided that is not how I want to live.  I would rather really ‘bring it’ to every moment, and if that means I collapse in a later pose…I will find honor in that. 


I once caught myself looking at the clock in yoga class (upside down, of course).  I was so frustrated with myself.  I thought, “If I don’t want to be in yoga, where else could I possibly want to be?”  This one has been easy to apply to life.  In each moment I will be present, not waiting or watching the clock for the next thing.  I want to live in a clockless world.

When she cues poses that I would normally mentally groan about, I am now trying to look at them as challenges.  I am very aware now of the tone of my inner voice during my time on the mat.  This is directly impacting my ability to recognize and regulate the way I talk to myself throughout the day.  The voices in my head are now much nicer, so I like being with me much more.

So, Baron, I look forward to our 3 days together this fall.  I know that the way you have helped me evolve so far is just the tip of the iceburg.  I know the Baron Baptiste Yoga Boot Camp won’t be easy, but very few of life’s most important experiences are.

 

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Yoga Workouts at Home

I started doing yoga workouts at home when I was a teenager.  I was armed only with an Iyengar yoga postures book.  I would say I did pretty good for being on my own.  When I went off to college, I stopped really doing yoga much at all.  Now I am grateful to be able to do yoga 3-5 times a week.  I prefer to do it in the hot studio where I am a member.  However, schedules do conflict on occasion.  For convenience I find myself enjoying a variety of yoga DVD’s (or yoga videos)  within the comfort of my own home.

I have had the pleasure of enjoying a range of digitized yoga classes.  Here is a list of my favorite instructors available on DVD:

  • Baron Baptiste–this is my all-time favorite style of yoga.  The reason:  he teaches yoga lessons that apply directly to life.  I have walked away from class (taught by a Baron Baptiste instructor) profoundly moved by the wisdom gained.  I have also, without realizing it initially, directly applied the truths I’ve learned from class in my daily life.
  • Shiva Rea–she is intense, but has great routines.  Her DVD’s actually allow you to choose your own routine if you’d like.    Try not to be intimidated by her, she is pretty bendy.
  • Rodney Yee–he provides all levels of practice.  He can help you get started with yoga, or he can make you burn…the choice is yours.

Another option is to checkout podcasts–there are audio and video versions of routines available on the internet.  You can simply google “baron baptiste podcasts” and there is a long list of options from certified instructors.  Once you are familiar with the names of the poses, you can easily do the routines with just verbal prompting.

It is possible to use a book like I’ve done in the past.  It would be nice if the binding on the book was spiral.  In fact, I believe you can take a regular book and have Kinko’s make it into a spiral for you.  This would make keeping it open much easier.  I have also seen packs of cards with yoga poses from Barnes and Noble.  These would be nice to take to work and whip out when you have five minutes to find your Zen.


I also want to mention that I have a Wii and the Wii Fit.  The Wii Fit has a yoga program on it that is quite good.  The only downside is that you have to manually switch the poses, which tends to break up the flow.  But it is probably perfect for someone easing into doing yoga.

So while it is nice to go to a class, there are many options for your yoga workouts at home.  This can be nice if you are feeling insecure about your abilities.  Most people are pretty wobbly for a while (or forever).  Until you can laugh at yourself, you may be better off keeping your workout at home. Regardless of where you are doing it–get out there and get bendy!

How to Meditate

There is plenty of advice out there that meditation is beneficial.  The obstacle is many people don’t know how to meditate.  There are many different meditation techniques.  But regardless of what works best for you, meditation is sure to bring stress relief and a level of inner peace.

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What time of day? Many people find first thing in the morning is a nice time to do it.  At this point the mind is more quiet, so it can be easier to slip into the meditative state.  Mornings are rushed, though, for many who meditate.  This is why evening (and often right before bed) works better for some people.  Another option is to schedule it into the middle of the day to inject some much-needed centering.

How long? Most people start with just 5 minutes.  This is harder than it sounds.  It can take 10-15 minutes just to get the mind to quiet down.  People who are serious about it often build to 30 minutes to an hour per day.  I know it may sound like time you just don’t have for yourself.  It is important to remember, though, that you must take care of yourself if you hope to take care of anyone else.

How do you do it? There are many different meditation techniques available.  Here is a short list:

  • Silent Meditation–this is simply sitting upright, eyes typically closed.  You are attempting to have no thoughts, or at least to release them as soon as you notice them.
  • Blank Screen Meditation–this approach visualizes a blank screen on the inside of the head.  You are staring at the screen (eyes closed), and if a thought comes you refocus on the screen.
  • Flame Meditation–a really nice method involving staring at a candle to find peace and quiet the mind.
  • Guided Meditation–here you are using a podcast or CD to guide your thoughts to help with relaxation.

It is nice to try different methods, and ultimately use the meditation technique that works best for you.  It is important to be easy on yourself with this.  It can be frustrating trying to quiet the ‘monkey’ of the mind.  It can also be difficult to make it a priority.  But the payoff is huge.  Once you learn to stop intrusive thoughts while meditating, you will find you are able to do this more during your daily life.  This will decrease your overall feelings of anxiety throughout the day.  In many ways, being able to control the mind gives you a greater control over your life…your thoughts are your life.

The Yoga Mat

Chakra Wheel Position

Ever had the feeling, while hanging out in downward-facing-dog, that you are literally slipping away on your yoga mat? Talk about engaging some muscles. The pose can be challenging enough without the worry about sliding down onto your face.  If you are working hard, you are probably sweating.  I have found that although yoga mats always say they are ‘non slip’, I am slipping.

The instructors will say that pressing through your fingers will help.  It did not do the trick for me.  Keeping my hands dry is not realistic either.  So I did some research on this issue.  What finally worked for me was a handy, dandy yoga towel. These are special towels that cover your whole mat.  They absorb very well and become more effective when they become moist.  The most important characteristic of this towel is the rubbery knobs on the bottom (or top, whichever you prefer).

These knobs provide the essential grip needed to stay put.  I have been able to concentrate on the poses instead of fearing slipping and sliding.  One of the brands of towels is called Yogitoes.  They have several different products, but I like the full mat-sized towel to be the best.  There are other companies making this type of towel–I found one for a bit less at Sports Authority as well.

From my own experience and the reports from others, it seems all mats tend to be slippery.  It would be great if there was just a mat solution, and no towel was needed.  By far, the best mats available are Jade Harmony Mats and the Manduka Black Mat.  These mats are probably your best shot for not needing a towel as well.  Some people say yoga mats will become more sticky with use.  Others even suggest washing them to break them in a bit. 

One of the hazards of the towel is said to be interference with hopping. The hop occurs when coming from downward dog into forward fold.  It can also be hopping from forward fold into plank position.  Some complain the towel can bunch or move.  I held back on hopping for fear of this.  Only recently am I doing hops again, and it is going pretty smoothly.  It seems the rubber grips really hold the towel in place.  I even think the care I take in the hop makes it a bit more ‘floaty’, which is part of the goal there.

So if you find yourself slipping on the mat during yoga, consider the yoga towel.  Using the thin mat underneath, with the yoga towel on top seems to make the perfect combination for a slip-free yoga practice.

Yoga for Weight Loss

Yoga is beneficial on so many levels.  Many people are looking for weight loss–sometimes they are looking in all the wrong places.  I used to be one of those people who felt only hardcore cardio and weights would lead to weight loss or weight management.  Now I cannot bring myself to do any cardio that is not fun, and certainly no weights.  But you can find me in the yoga studio 3-5 days a week.  Why?  Because it is enjoyable.  This is one of the keys to weight loss success:  having activities that you actually want to do.  Without this, you will quickly lose interest in any new fitness routine.

How does it work?  Yoga is far more intense than most people think.  There are some classes or forms of it that are less intense.  Most types, though, are quite challenging.  I have had the pleasure of watching some bodybuilder guys try it (piece of cake, right?).  They find themselves barely able to struggle through to the end and walk out with the shame of having had their butts kicked.  So, basically, it does burn calories.  A typical class is pretty competitive with any other hour of cardio you might do.

Also, it is weight bearing exercise, even if it is your own weight.  So it does build muscle in this way–and muscle is metabolically active.  This means muscle tissue burns more calories during rest.  You will be surprised to see the changes in your form that come from yoga.  It can take you by surprise because you don’t necessarily go into yoga expecting to ’sculpt’ your body.

Non-hunger (or emotional) eating is a major issue with weight struggles.  I am a dietitian, so after treating thousands of clients, I am pretty clear on the true cause of weight issues.  I find that yoga can be helpful with this aspect as well.  Because it can help with emotional regulation (decreasing anxiety, depression and general burnout), you may find yourself less likely to seek food when not hungry.  Self awareness is improved with a good practice.  This type of awareness in daily life can make unconscious eating less likely.  This can decrease your overall intake, leading to weight loss.

Weight loss is certainly not the most important benefit, but it is a potential bonus.  It is nice to know that recommendations for exercise can easily be met with a yoga practice.  No more need to sweat it out on the cardio and weight machines.  You can happily sweat it out in yoga class instead!

3 Life Lessons from Yoga

This may sound like the ravings of a yoga junkie, but I have found that yoga has transcended the mat.  I did not plan for that to happen.  I’ve always thought it was cool, but never really thought much of it besides its obvious physical benefits.  I’ve found, however, the lessons I’ve learned in class are often easily applied to life.  Here are some examples:

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  • Relax where you can –   when holding a pose there are some muscles that must be engaged, but others (like shoulders or jaw) should be relaxed.  Clearly this is a lesson for daily life.
  • It helps to breathe –   yoga is breath-dependent, which of course life is as well.  It is common to unknowingly hold your breath during more difficult poses.  Breathing through difficult moments in life is very beneficial.
  • It helps to smile –   people can have very serious or even strained expressions during their practice.  It is amazing how much more enjoyable it is when you smile–it changes your attitude.  When things are not going your way in life, it is often a good practice to smile anyways.  This may allow you to shift your inner dialogue.



Now you are beginning to see how easily lessons learned in yoga can translate to real life.  Beyond the pearls of wisdom coming from the instructor, you may also start to notice some discoveries of your own.  At some point you realize that relaxing in a stretching pose (rather than resisting it) actually almost feels good.  Or how about when you feel like you are about to collapse because your muscles are burning?  Somehow you are able to find a tiny bit more strength to hold it until the instructor tells you to release.

If you are lucky enough to have a good yoga instructor (I prefer Baron Baptiste certified instructors), you will learn things in class that go much deeper than the body.  However, if your mind is not open enough to receive the lessons, it wouldn’t matter if Gandhi himself was teaching you.  Yoga is one of the many paths to a changed mind.  I’ve found that as I have been more open to the lessons I learn in class, I’m more open to lessons from other parts of life as well.  It  absolutely can benefit anyone suffering with anxiety, depression, or just general burnout.  One last pearl:

  • This is your yoga practice –  this is your life, modify it so that you get whatever you need from it.

Now go out there and get bendy!

Jennifer Pereira, RD, LD, CSCS

I am Jennifer Pereira–I am a Registered/Licensed Dietitian, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.  I have a private practice in Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX.  I love yoga, especially Vinyasa Flow and specifically Baron Baptiste style.  I also love marathoning.  I am not fast, but I have done three so far, and I am scheduled for the Chicago Marathon in October 2009.  I love the spirit of them.  I am married to the love of my life, Roger Pereira.  We have two baby girls (just like we ordered), Gabriella (4) and Isabella (9months).  It is a good life.