I know from painful personal experience that I can be overwhelmed and frightened by the circumstances of my life. It took the illness and death of my husband and my own brush with life-threatening illness for me to learn the most basic lesson of self-care:
If I control my breathing, I shift my emotions and the sensations in my body.
Science has shown over and over again that we quite literally change the autonomic nervous system when we relax with the change in our breathing. What does that mean in real terms?
- Lower your blood pressure
- Decrease your heart rate
- Improve your digestion
- Improve the efficacy of your immune system
- Decrease stress hormones
All this (and more) just by changing your breath? Yes, this really works. There are many ways to do this and each of us needs to discover a technique that works for us personally.
One simple breathing practice:
- Bring your awareness to your breathing.
- Notice the breath and how you experience it. Do you feel the temperature at the openings of your nostrils, cool as you breathe in and warm as you breathe out? What parts of your body are moving? Does your abdomen expand on inhale and relax on exhale? Are your ribs perhaps moving out as you breathe in and letting go as you breathe out? Are you breathing through your nose, your mouth, or some combination of the two?
- Intentionally slow down your breath, exerting as little effort as possible.
- Take 5 slow and easy breaths.
When you have completed 5 breaths, allow your breathing to return to normal and notice how
Yoga is not just for people with beautiful bodies or those that are flexible. Yoga offers tools that can be adapted to your unique needs. Are you stiff? Have joint problems? Pain? Overweight?
Finally, a yoga practice for the person who may not be able to get on the floor and may not be flexible.
Gentle, physical movement that is linked to the breath can change your experience of your body as well your emotions. You might be surprised by how little it takes. Linking your awareness to your breath will actually change your physiology as science demonstrated. And a small amount of physical movement can reduce pain and inflammation as well as increase circulation.
This adaptive and gentle chair yoga practice is short and offers a variety of modifications. Try it! Please let me know how it works for you.
I had been practicing Yoga for many years when I happened into a Viniyoga class at my transplant center in Seattle late in 2001. I was quite ill and felt extremely sick and I had no idea exactly what this Yoga was – it seemed like not much was happening. But at the end of the class I felt profoundly still and filled with a sense of calm and balance that did not match my external circumstances at all. I knew then, that if I survived and could create the opportunity to learn more, I would.
I have been studying and practicing Viniyoga with Gary Kraftsow since 2004. I know it has been an essential element in my own healing, and I see the amazing impact a Viniyoga class or home practice can have for my students.
So What Is Viniyoga
Our view is…the breath is the primary tool through which you will be able to access what’s actually happening in your body. It’s the primary tool to activate change in your structure at a deep level, and it’s the primary tool to link your conscious awareness to the process of change.
So think of the breath as an internal flashlight, microscope, viewfinder, that helps you discover what’s going on.
– Gary Kraftsow, Founder and Director of the American Viniyoga Institute.
Viniyoga implies differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. It is a school of Yoga developed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, based on the teachings transmitted to him by T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar of Madras, India.
Viniyoga asana is distinguished by the following:
- Breath is the medium for movement in asana and we adapt the pattern of breath to create different effects.
- We emphasize function over form in asana and we use the science of adaptation to achieve different results in postures.
- We move in and out of poses not just holding in a static position.
- We employ a sophisticated art and science of combining sequences of different orientation, length, and intensity to match the intention and context of each practice.
Viniyoga draws from the many tools of Yoga, not just asana, so a class experience will always incorporate breath awareness and some kind of guided relaxation or meditation and often chanting. Your experience in a class is not just that of using your body. Even in a class setting, each student can discover his or her own potential and connect with that sense of interior well-being which is available to each of us.