Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Easy Yoga Secrets For All

A breath of fresh air always feels great. So it is not a surprise that breathing is a critical element of one of the most energizing and relaxing techniques in the world: Yoga. Anyone can use its techniques to calm and focus during stressful times, or to provide a quick pick-me-up during a midday lag period. I asked Jeff Migdow, MD, director of prana yoga teacher training at the New York Open Center in New York City and author of Breathe In, Breathe Out (Time-Life) for his favorite exercises.
To Relax: Alternate Nostril Breathing
When you're nervous and anxious, one of the best things you can do is to stop and take a deep breath -- literally. For relaxation, Dr. Migdow recommends alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana ("channel purification"). This calming, balancing breath helps to integrate the right (creative) and left (active) sides of the brain.
How to do it...
Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or in a chair.
Raise the thumb and fourth finger of your right hand to your face. Keep the two first fingers folded into your palm.
Bring your thumb to the right side of your nose. Rest it gently against your right nostril, and inhale fully left.
Release your thumb, block off your left nostril with your ring finger, and slowly exhale right.
Then fully inhale right.
Release your ring finger, block off your right nostril with your thumb and slowly exhale left.
Repeat this sequence five to 10 times.
Dr. Migdow's special tips: Try to exhale twice as long as you inhale, because this is the relaxing phase. When you inhale, press your abdomen out so the diaphragm can drop down. Draw the abdomen in as you exhale to squeeze all the air out.
To Energize: Kapalabhati
Kapalabhati is the Sanskrit name for this energizing and uplifting breathing exercise, which is essentially a series of forced exhalations through the nose, in between which air flows in passively. According to Dr. Migdow, kapalabhati renders your perceptions more clear and accurate, and it is an excellent pick-me-up when you're feeling tired or sluggish. It clears the sinuses, stimulates the digestion and generates heat.
How to do it...
Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or in a chair.
Inhale a medium-sized breath, and then exhale sharply through the nose. As you do so, draw your navel back toward your spine.
Release the belly and let the air flow back into the lungs through your nose.
Exhale sharply.
Start with five breaths at a time. As you grow more skilled in the technique, exhale more quickly. Work your way up to 30 breaths or more at a comfortable pace.
Dr. Migdow's special tips: Wait at least three hours after you eat to practice kapalabhati. Due to increased pressure in the abdomen, this breathing exercise is not for you if you have high blood pressure, congestion, fever, headache, an inflammatory disease such as colitis or if you are pregnant.
If you're interested in learning more about the breathing exercises of pranayama yoga -- or about any other type of yoga for that matter -- visit the Web site of the Yoga Journal at www.yogajournal.com. There you can find step-by-step instructions on a variety of yoga exercises or locate a class in your area. Although you can practice yoga on a daily basis on your own, it's best to learn the techniques first from an experienced teacher. That way you'll be sure you are doing them the right way, so you can derive the greatest possible health benefits from practicing yoga.

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