Yoga for Cancer Videos -- Practice at Home!

During treatment, it can be hard to find the time and energy to leave the house and attend a yoga class. I happy to share these yoga videos that I made in collaboration with weSPARK Cancer Support Center. Our hope is that you can practice these gentle yoga sets in the comfort of your own home. 

Click here to watch! 

New Year's Resolutions: A Yogic Approach

As we move into the new year, many of us find ourselves feeling reflective, analyzing the successes and failures of the last year and focusing on what we may like to do differently in the upcoming year. New Year’s Resolutions – and breaking them – are an age-old tradition. The problem is, many of us get caught up in the cycle of feeling excited about our new goals, and then depressed shortly afterwards when we don’t stick to our plans. Or even worse, we set impossible goals and then feel despondent when they seem out of reach.

We all want more happiness in our life – and the main goal of yoga is to help us achieve that. But how? One of the ways to create a lovable future is to set goals that are positive, concrete and specific. However, so many of our New Year’s goals tend to be vague or framed in a negative way:

I want to date a guy/girl that’s not a jerk.
I need to lose 15 pounds.
I want to be balanced.
I need to quit (insert your poison here).

Hmmm. Do you feel better? I don’t. How does one achieve these goals? Rather than asking for what you don’t want, try defining what you do want.

If you’re looking for a great partner, try defining what it is you actually want in a relationship. Ask yourself a few questions:

What will this person do (i.e. what is their behavior)?
What will they say?
What will you do together?

When you refine your value system you are much more likely to recognize that great person when you meet them… or at least not waste too much time with that hot, uninspiring stranger that you met at your local bar.

If you want to lose weight, instead of focusing on how many pounds you want to lose, try visualizing how you would feel and look as the healthiest possible version of you. What are the kinds of things you would do? What are the steps you might take to get there? Be specific and realistic. Dropping 15 pounds in a month is a stretch. But taking two yoga classes a week, drinking more water, and eating slowly and mindfully – these are all concrete steps you can take. And they help you lose that weight.

“I want to be balanced.” We hear a lot (and say a lot) of vague new-age catchphrases as yoga teachers. We all want to be “balanced”, “present” and “grounded”, but we haven’t defined what that means to us. What does being balanced entail? A meaningful job? A healthy relationship? Better communication with your family? Svadhyaya, or self-study, is one of the primary tools of yoga. First define what makes you happy and what you are working towards. Then within that structure, you can begin to refine and become more specific.

Yoga is often defined as the ability to do something tomorrow that you can’t do today.  This particularly applies when one is trying to quit coffee, cigarettes, procrastination, eating an entire bag of Doritos… whatever your vice may be. Fortunately, yoga’s model of abhyasa and vairagya can help.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Abhyasa -  linking with something positive, adding a positive new habit
Vairagya - de-linking with something that doesn’t work

Anyone who has ever been around a child knows that it’s much easier to take something away from them if you give them something new and shiny to look at first. We can train our minds and bodies in the same way.

Here’s an example from my personal life -

I needed to quit drinking coffee because it gave me terrible stomach pains. As far as I was concerned, this was a total disaster. I had been drinking coffee since high school! I desperately needed the caffeine burst, I loved the taste, and I especially loved the ritual of waking up and smelling brewing coffee in the early hours.

So… rather than quitting cold turkey, I started making a cup of black tea and a cup of coffee in the morning. I’d drink my coffee and then some tea. Eventually, I started to cut down the amount of coffee, while still drinking tea. Within a couple of months, I was down to one cup of black tea and no coffee. Now I can even switch it to green tea… or not have any tea at all. My nervous and digestive systems are happier -- and now that I’m not so addicted to caffeine, I find it easier to wake up in the morning. Yoga is the original replacement therapy – if you want to let go of something old, link first with something new and positive.

People often say to me – I can’t do yoga because I smoke, I’m overweight, I’m not flexible, etc. It doesn’t matter. If you add that healthy habit of a breath or exercise practice, you may find that you want to smoke less or eat more mindfully. Healthy habits beget other healthy habits. Yoga’s not rocket science – it’s actually a just a refreshingly simple way to take care of yourself. 

Stressed? Try Yogic Breathing.

Of the many elements that help to comprise a yoga practice – physical postures, breathing, mantra, visualization and meditation – it is arguable that yogic breathing is the most profound. Breath links us to the deepest parts of ourselves, and is indeed the foundation of our life. As we leave the comfort of our mother’s womb, the doctor’s slap on the back forces us to take our first gasp of breath – a single breath that has enough force to reverse our blood flow and start us down our path in the unknown, outside world.

In the yogic tradition, breathing techniques are referred to as pranayama. Prana translates into breath – but it is far more than that. Similar to the Chinese term Chi, prana is not only our breath, but our life force. It is all that underpins our actual existence. It encompasses our circulation, metabolism, digestion and the more undefinable energetic force that underlies all of our actions. The word yama translates into control. Pranayama is our conscious way of directing and focusing that life force energy in the body.

One doesn’t have to stretch the imagination too far to see how our breathing affects us in daily life. If you think back to a time in which you were shocked, you may have found that you held your breath -- or maybe when anxious, your breath became shallow and rapid. If we are depressed we often sigh aloud, trying to release the oppressive energy within us. Breath is the seat of our emotion.

When we are under stress and our emotions run amok, it often creates the “fight or flight” response in the body, firing up our sympathetic nervous system. We produce adrenaline, our hormones go haywire – essentially we gear up for a fight. The problem is, many of us walk around in this state of anxiety and tension all day – without ever letting go of “the fight”. Yogic breathing can shift us back into balance. A simple long, deep breath can do wonders – stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or what is known as the “relaxation response” in the body. Learning how to control the breath is key in stress relief.

The next time you find yourself stressed or anxious, try experimenting with these simple pranayama:

Left nostril breathing: Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Block off your right nostril with your thumb and breathe long and deep through your left nostril for 1-3 minutes. This helps to slow down the mind and body, and is also great for insomnia.

Anti-anxiety breathing: Sit comfortably or lie down on your back. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through a rounded mouth. Then inhale through a rounded mouth (as though you are sipping through a straw) and exhale through your nose. Continue for three minutes.

Try to become very present with your breath as you practice these two pranayama exercises. As you become more attuned to the subtleties in your breath, you can see how you can affect both your physical and mental well being with your breath.