Ann Grace Yoga, Breathing Exercises, Meditation, Relaxation, Yoga

Stay Balanced with Balancing Breath

I tend to get into my head a lot and forget to breathe, which in turn can lead to anxiety and overwhelm. Over time, if not attended to, this can develop into chronic stress!

One of my go-to self-care tools for managing my stress is taking 5 minutes to relax and breathe. As a yoga teacher, I’ve learned a lot of different breath techniques over the years, but the one I come back to again and again is Equal Parts Breath or Balancing Breath.

How to Practice Balanced Breathing / Sama Vrtti:

  1. Sit in a relaxed yet upright posture, or lie down with supports under the head and knees, if needed.
  2. Tune into the natural rhythm of your breath.
  3. Breathe into your belly – not forcefully, but focus on expanding the belly like a balloon on your inhalations.
  4. Breathe in to a count of 3 or 4 seconds, and breathe out to a count of 3 or 4 seconds. 
  5. Gradually lengthen to count to 5 or 6 seconds per inhale and exhale, if it is comfortable.
  6. Come back to your natural rhythm of breath if you need to at any time.

This simple breath exercise has been proven to improve heart rate variability, which is a measure of our resiliency to stress. Give it a try – when you’re sitting in the car, about to have a difficult conversation, when you first wake up or right before bed – your nervous system will thank you!

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Ann Grace Yoga, Ayurveda

Lime Cooler

Try this cooling Ayurvedic mock-tail to whet your whistle during the summer months.

“Many individuals reach for iced drinks, popsicles and other frozen treats when the temperatures increase, but these can dampen and harmfully affect the agni or digestive fire,” to quote the Ayurvedic Institute, the organization started by Dr. Vasant Lad.

I recently received a recipe for this Lime Cooler from the Ayurvedic Institute, which thought I’d share it here as well since was so delicious! I adapted it slightly, and served it to the beautiful women warriors in my Self Care for Women workshop last weekend.

Spending time near or in water is beneficial to Pitta types especially during the summer months

“In Ayurveda, agni is often referred to as your digestive fire. Agni governs all metabolic activities in the body and mind so we must keep this fire in balance for vibrant health. It’s also important to note that keeping the body’s temperature cool during this Pitta summer season is as crucial as maintaining a healthy agni.”

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 limes (depending on how tangy you like your beverages)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 5 teaspoons fresh mint, minced and ground
  • 4 tablespoons organic maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon ground chia seeds 
  • Tiny pinch of ground ginger

Directions:

  • Juice the limes and mix all of the ingredients together in a mason jar.
  • Let the mint steep into the water for approximately 20 minutes, then drink at room temperature or place in the refrigerator to cool slightly.

How I modified the above: I doubled the limes and water for 6 servings, and only added a little more maple syrup and mint. I didn’t use ground ginger, but brewed some ginger tea instead. I also didn’t use any chia seeds. And, after the mint had steeped, I strained it out entirely. Have fun making it your own.

Pour into your favorite glass, add a sprig of mint, and enjoy this cooler in a peaceful, shady spot! I loved the way this tasted – it wasn’t too sweet, and the tanginess of the lime was smoothed out by the addition of the mint. It was easy to make, and such a treat during a heat wave! Let me know how it goes if you try it.

Ann Grace Yoga, Breathing Exercises, Women's Health, Yoga

Cool down with Śītalī Breath

Panting is the primary way for dogs to cool themselves off because they don’t sweat the way humans do. Instead, dogs cool down through their mouths using the evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, and by exchanging the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air.

For us humans, Cooling Breath, or Śītalī (shee-tuh-lee) Prāṇāyāma, can help in much the same way. We can “drink the air” through a curled tongue to cool down!

Śītalī Breath cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and may reduce fatigue, bad breath, fevers, and high blood pressure. I use it for hot flashes.

How to Practice Śītalī / Śitakārī Breath:

  1. Close your eyes, take a few normal breaths, then open the mouth and form the lips into an “O.”
  2. Curl the tongue lengthwise and project it out of the mouth.
  3. Inhale deeply across the tongue and into the mouth as if drinking through a straw.
  4. Focus your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath as the abdomen and lower ribs expand.
  5. Withdraw the tongue and close the mouth, exhaling completely through the nostrils. During each exhalation, you can also lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, inviting the tip of the tongue to send coolness toward the upper palate.
  6. Swallow now and then if the throat feels dry. 
  7. Continue this cycle until you feel refreshed.
  8. If you are unable to curl your tongue, try Śitakārī (shee-tuh-kah-ree) breath. Gently press your lower and upper teeth together and separate your lips as much as you comfortably can, so your teeth are exposed to the air. Inhale through the teeth and exhale through the nose.

Besides building breath awareness, this practice is said to calm hunger and thirst! If you experience hot flashes or feel uncomfortably hot due to the weather, give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Ann Grace Yoga, Ayurveda, Women's Health, Yoga for Everybody

Self-Care for Women

Summer Self-Care for Women Workshop

We’ll explore using the tools of Yoga and Ayurveda to develop self-care routines that support a woman’s health after the age of 35. 

  • 3 Saturdays in Summer from 10am-12pm
  • June 25, July 23, August 27 at the PAC Center in Swarthmore, PA

Find out more about your dosha, or personal constitution, and learn new (but ancient) ways to manage your current imbalances.

Expect to do gentle yoga, breathing exercises, and guided relaxations tailored to harmonize with the summer season.

Get acquainted with the subtle anatomy of the chakra and kosha systems.

Find fellowship within the communal support of the group while sharing an Ayurvedic drink and snack.

Bring a yoga mat, yoga blocks, and pillow. Chairs are available if sitting is preferred.

Ayurveda means “science of life,” and is a 3,000 year old system of living originating in India that focuses on preventing dis-ease by living in alignment with one’s personal constitution, the seasons, and one’s phase of life.

Bio: Ann MacMullan, E-RYT 500 Yoga Therapist Candidate, and Breath Coach has been joyfully sharing the gift of yoga since 2015. A native of Swarthmore, Ann has 150 hours of training in Ayurveda and has completed Women’s Health and Hormones  through Dr. Claudia Welch.

Ann Grace Yoga, Energy, Grounding, Meditation, Relaxation, Yoga for Everybody, Yoga Nidra

Summer Relaxation

Learn Yoga Nidra, the Art of Conscious Relaxation

Give yourself permission to relax and rest, while setting intentions for personal growth and exploring the deeper self.

Yoga Nidra is a guided relaxation practice that includes a systematic sequence of breath and body awareness exercises that naturally calm the mind and nervous system. Tune into the the peaceful vibrations of authentic Himalayan singing bowls.

Bring your yoga mat, pillow, blanket or towel, and any other props you’d like to use to create a comfortable reclining posture. Chairs are available if sitting is preferred.

the Park Ave Room is quiet

Research shows that Yoga Nidra can reduce stress levels, help you sleep better, and improve overall well-being. Himalayan Singing bowls introduce a healing harmonic sound wave that helps dislodge stagnation on the cellular level and bring the body and mind into perfect tune.

“Set your intention and the sound will carry it to the divine,” Suren Shrestha, Master Teacher at the Atma Buti Sound and Vibrational School

Instructor Bio: Ann MacMullan, E-RYT 500 Yoga Therapist Candidate and Breath Coach, has been joyfully sharing the gift of yoga since 2015. Ann is trained in Yoga Nidra and the Atma Buti Method of Sound Healing. Learn more about Sound Healing with Ann.

Ann Grace Yoga, Motivation, Yoga for Everybody

Why Do You Practice Yoga?

As we start each yoga class or series of classes, you may find me asking the question, “why are you here today?” You might have a quick answer like: “I want to improve my balance and flexibility.” But I’d like you to go a little deeper than that.

Right now, my intake forms are filled with a panoply of reasons like these:

  • Better balance
  • Improve flexibility
  • Mental and physical nourishment
  • Maintain strength
  • Reduce or manage chronic pain
  • Better self-care habits
  • Better Breathing
  • Improve Posture
  • Stress relief
  • Improve mind-body connection
  • Calm, Peace of Mind
  • Acceptance

Behind all these worthy hopes lies another reason, the reason that will motivate you and keep you progressing, keep you in touch with who you are in this moment. Continue to ask why until you have that core reason, until you find your deeper “why”.

Finding Your Why

  • Why do you (want to) practice yoga?
    • Because I want to improve my balance.
  • WHY do you want better balance? 
    • So I can take a walk by myself without fear of falling. 
  • WHY do you want to take a walk by yourself? 
    • Because I want to be able to enjoy the life I have. 
    • BINGO!

Turn Your Why Into an Intention

From there, turn your “Why” into a positive, present tense phrase that you can easily repeat to yourself internally. 

For example, “I enjoy the life I have.” 

This is your intention. When we repeat intentions internally, we can actually repattern ourselves from within, cognitively.

And it works as a motivator, when we’re practicing yoga, to remember why we’re there. More on Guide to Intention Setting.

Secret: I’m doing something called motivational interviewing, and hopefully empowering you to practice self-study or svadhyaya, one of the five niyamas or self observances of yoga.

Why do you practice yoga? Feel free to leave some comments for me!

Ann Grace Yoga, Energy, Grounding, Yoga, Yoga for Everybody, Yoga Nidra

Balancing Your Energy Levels

When you're depleted, give yourself permission to rest for better immune system function.
Give yourself permission to rest for better immune system function.

🛑 Are you having a Red Light day? As we move into a busier season, it’s so easy to take on too much. Here are a few ideas for developing your energy awareness skills in order to build, balance, and restore your energy levels.

Ground Yourself

Start each day by grounding yourself so that your energy doesn’t dissipate as easily – simply bring awareness to your connection to the earth through the feet or seat. Move the feet and legs! Notice the whole body, the container of your energy.

Try Yoga for your feet as a grounding exercise each day.

Energy Check-In

Practice an “energy check in”- just sit and feel the pulse of energy moving in your body, your breath. Choose a number from 1-10 that represents your energy level. If numbers aren’t your thing, try the traffic light approach.🚦 Determine whether you’re having a red, yellow or green light kind of day – and make decisions based on that.

Notice and Document – What Depletes Your Energy? What Feeds It?

When do you typically have the most energy? Schedule activities accordingly. Begin to notice the activities, environments, and people that drain your reserves, and budget a counter activity that helps you fill up your energetic well. If it drains your energy – write it down! If it feeds your energy – write it down! I personally journal every day. It’s like leaving bread-crumbs for your future self to navigate life more gracefully, creating a Users Guide for your own body, mind and spirit.

Build Energy or Prana – Breath, Movement, Awareness

Prana mudra is a hand gesture used to build immunity and life force.

Build your prana or life force through breathing, movement like walking or yoga, mudras, and awareness practices. Remember, “where awareness goes, energy flows.” 

  • Inhale – feel the energy expand and rise.
  • Exhale – allow the energy to ground into the container of your body and the earth below.

Nourish – Food, Drink and Nature

  • Drink in some sunshine and fresh air.
  • Eat fresh nutritious foods high in prana – whole foods, fruits and veggies as close to their origin source as possible. Avoid frozen foods, and alcohol.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • A cup of hot herbal tea goes a long way in my opinion. What’s your favorite?

Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Fill Up Your Well – Rest and Relax

Give yourself permission to rest, supporting better immune system function. Remember “all healing begins in rest.” You are being productive by allowing your body to rest!

Try nourishing practices like Body Scans and Loving kindness meditations, Yoga Nidra, and restorative yoga postures like Supported Bound Angle, pictured here.

Get Outside Support

Ask for help! Don’t be a hero and try to do it all. You don’t have to be perfect. Schedule a Private Yoga Wellness session with me to learn new ways of managing your energy in a supportive and therapeutic environment.

⬇️ Head over to my Insight Timer page for some guided support! ⬇️

Or visit me on YouTube to take exquisite care of yourself!

Like my free videos and recordings? ☕️ Buy me a coffee to say thank you!

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what type of day you’re having – is it a red, yellow, or green light day? What activities, environments or people drain your energy? Which fill your well?

Thanks for reading! And please, take exquisite care of yourself.

Ann Grace Yoga, Meditation, Yoga for Everybody, Yoga Nidra

A Guide to Intention Setting

If you’ve ever been asked to form an intention during a yoga class or meditation exercise, and found yourself floundering or resisting the request, you’re not alone. Me too, friend. Once I tried Yoga Nidra, however, I was hooked on intention-setting. I learned that the purpose is not to manifest your wishes out of thin air, but to create strength in the structure of the mind. Studies that used such intentions during meditation have shown that cognitive restructuring processes are stimulated.

While it’s better to try and find your intention (or sankalpa) in the relaxed state, some of us can get very distracted trying to find the right one during practice. To assist my Yoga Nidra practice, I sat down and did some journaling to get me started. Here’s what I came up with:

Step by Step: Finding the Seeds of Intention

  • Close your eyes and think of your current daily life.
  • Create a list of “wants” and “needs” — stay away from the trivial, go for the deep.
  • Take a break from your list and come back to it a day later.
  • When you come back to that list of wants and needs, what stands out as the most challenging, or maybe even a little scary? (Mine are highlighted in pink.)
  • Create an intention that is short, positive and present tense surrounding that.
REST AND MANIFEST – meets live on Zoom once a month

While you can set intentions at any time, they are more effective when they’re planted into a very relaxed mind. That’s where Yoga Nidra comes in. Yoga Nidra contains a systematic sequence of body awareness and breathing that can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and increase the amount of alpha-waves in the brain – a perfect time to plant those seeds! That little bit of pre-journaling work you did while in a more conscious state might help you refine your intention once you enter alpha states.

A Few More Examples “in the Moment”

  • If you experience stress and frustration: “I am calm and patient”
  • If you are scattered: “I am present”
  • If you experience illness or disease: “I am healthy and whole”
  • If you’re feeling vulnerable: “I am safe”
  • If you feel isolated: “I am connected”
  • If you experience turbulent emotions: “I am content”
  • If you have trouble sleeping: “I sleep soundly and wake refreshed”

You can use the same sankalpa for a while, and then because we are ever-changing, over time your sankalpa may change too. If you’re stuck in a rut, maybe Yoga Nidra could help. I’m not promising personal transformation, but it’s just possible that like me, you have never really explored your subconscious and practiced opening up your mind-space, allowing it to wander. Plant your intention into this open, liberated mind-space, and trust that the suggestion will take root and grow.

Join me for a live Zoom session once a month, on second Sunday of each month at 4pm Eastern Standard Time. FREE for health care workers and those affected by Waldenstrom’s.

Resources:

Through the practice of yoga nidra, we are not only relaxing, but restructuring and reforming our whole personality from within. Like the mythological phoenix, with every session we are burning the old samskaras, habits and tendencies in order to be born anew.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Ann Grace Yoga, Breathing Exercises, Grounding

Ujjayi Breath for Calm Focus

Ujjayi breath is a common yogic breathing technique where a soft oceanic sound is created by constricting the vocal folds in the throat. Also called Victorious Breath, it sounds like a faraway ocean, or your fans cheering for you! Try Ujjayi Breath for calm focus as you sit in meditation, practice yoga, or go about your day as a way to keep you anchored in the present moment.

I was taught Ujjayi breath in one of the very first yoga classes I ever attended, and although it took a little while for me to figure out how to find ease with it, now it’s become my number one tool in my conscious breathing toolbox. It’s also a gateway to controlling your breath for better respiratory function, improving blood pressure and overall quality of life. There are even some studies that connect Ujjayi breath with better immune function in cancer patients. Personally I use it to stay present, and to help lengthen my breath with smooth control, in order to regulate my own nervous system.

Ujjayi breath has a very soft sound to it. This sound is creating by lightly constricting the throat, or vocal folds, as if you were whispering or fogging up a windowpane. Except the mouth is closed. The sound itself is very calming and light, never forced. Never as loud as Darth Vader’s breathing.

Because it is a smooth, controlled breath, practicing Ujjayi can help you avoid gulping air in, or just huffing the air out. In this way we can really explore lengthening the breath, and in turn calming the nervous system. It’s as if you were sipping air slowly through a straw, sweetly savoring it and releasing it out luxuriously, like a stream of oil flowing, smooth and uniform. Even inhale, even exhale.

Ujjayi Pranayama is detailed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Yogi Swatmarama in the 15th century. He writes, “closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration, so that the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound…it helps relax the physical body and the mind, and develops awareness of the subtle body and psychic sensitivity.”

This oceanic sound really helps you become more conscious of your breath – by itself Ujjayi breath can be a concentration practice. We can also control our breath better, because as we lightly narrow the throat, we’re increasing airway resistance and controlling airflow so that each phase of the breath cycle can be prolonged to an exact count. It helps me breathe more slowly, show up more fully. When we can consciously slow down the breath, or regulate the length of inhalations and exhalations, we can regulate our own nervous systems.

Once you get the hang of Ujjayi breath on its own, see if you can practice Ujjayi breath while doing something else – of course, yoga comes to mind, but maybe you have PT exercises you can add the breath to, or try it while you’re out walking. Let me know how it goes!

Resources:

Exploring the Therapeutic Benefits of Pranayama (Yogic Breathing): A Systematic Review

Ujjayi Pranayama

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Personal Practice over the last 10 years



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Ann Grace Yoga, Breathing Exercises, Yoga, Yoga for Everybody

Hum Your Way to Health with Bee’s Breath

I discovered Bee’s Breath, or Bhramari Pranayama, many moons ago when it was offered as a tool to help reduce my anxiety. Back then, before I began a regular yoga and breathing practice, sometimes “taking a deep breath” or even focusing on the breath at all wasn’t helpful or made things worse. However, in the first few moments of trying Bee’s Breath, my unhelpful mental thought-loop was literally drowned out by the humming sound I was creating, and its vibration immediately grounded me in my body. I started to feel calm right away, and return to this practice again and again for these benefits.

Bhramari is the Sanskrit word for “bee,” so this meditative breath exercise is named for the humming sound produced: like that of a bee, droning in the garden. As we’re exhaling and creating the droning sound, we’re also lengthening our exhalations – which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the side in charge of “resting, digesting, and healing.”

But wait, there’s more! I recently learned that humming could also improve immunity, by releasing a beneficial gas called Nitric Oxide into the system (NO.) NO is a critical component in the eradication of viruses.

Here’s how it works:  Nasal NO levels increase dramatically during humming compared with normal quiet nasal exhalation. This effect is likely due to increased contribution of NO from the paranasal sinuses. Humming causes the air to oscillate, which in turn seems to increase the exchange of air between the sinuses and the nasal cavity.

However, to receive the full anti-viral and anti-bacterial benefits of NO, we need to inhale through the nose after the humming is finished, to draw the NO back into the respiratory tract via the bronchial passageways. Nitric Oxide is a free, naturally produced, anti-viral, anti-bacterial gas and can be made available at any time!

Bee’s Breath Potential Benefits

•      Calms and quiets the mind
•      Releases Nitric Oxide into the nasal passages, NO is naturally anti-viral and anti-microbial
•      Improves immunity
•      Increases lung capacity
•      Initiates the “Rest, Digest, and Heal Response,” lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and calming nervous system
•      May aid in loosening blockage from the sinuses

Bee’s Breath may also have a positive effect on tinnitus, bolster the health of the throat, and strengthen and improve the voice. Practicing for at least 5 minutes may help you achieve a more meditative state. Try it with me in the video below, and let me know how it goes.

How to Practice Bee’s Breath:

  1. Sit comfortably but upright, with a stable foundation to support you.
  2. You can rest one hand on the heart, another on the belly if you want to really feel the vibration of the hum.
  3. If it’s comfortable you could close your eyes, or gaze softly downwards.
  4. Gently close the lips, and try to keep the jaw relaxed throughout your practice.
  5. To begin, take a deep breath in through the nostrils.
  6. As you slowly exhale with the mouth closed, make a steady, low-pitched ‘hmmm’ sound at the back of the throat—like the humming of a bee. Focus on making the sound soft, smooth, and steady.
  7. When you inhale, be sure to breathe in through the nose, thus distributing the beneficial NO throughout the respiratory system.
  8. Continue for as many repetitions as you like. After the final exhalation, allow your breath to return to normal and observe any effects from your practice.
  9. Maybe you can even feel the vibration continue after you’ve stopped humming!

Let me know how it goes by typing your comments below or on the YouTube video‘s comment section.

Resource Links:

•      Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on health – A systematic review
•      The Effect of Bhramari Pranayama (Bumblebee Breath) on Tinnitus
•      Humming Greatly Increases Nasal Nitric Oxide
•      Nitric oxide and redox mechanisms in the immune response