Qigong and the Warrior Breath (Or, How to Feel Like You're on Drugs Just by Breathing Big)

Illustration via Christopher David Ryan.

I recently experienced my first few qigong classes, courtesy of a lovely friend who just completed her level 2 teacher training.

Have you guys heard of it?

Qigong is a breath and energy movement practice with roots in Chinese medicine and martial arts. The object of qigong is to move and balance qi, or life energy.

Photos via Flickr.

While much of the philosophical aspects of qigong elude me (and aren't my primary goal for trying the practice), I found it to be an amazingly meditative class... and a really great arm workout! You spend just about an hour with your arm muscles engaged, which increases circulation and muscle strength, and at the same time has a very relaxing effect.

Today I did a little more reading about the principles of qigong and discovered these core tenants courtesy of Wikipedia:
  • Intential movement: careful, flowing balanced style
  • Rhythmic breathing: slow, deep, coordinated with fluid movement
  • Awareness: calm, focused medititative state
  • Visualization: of qi flow, philosophical tenets, aesthetics
Pretty great stuff, right? In a lot of ways, its roots are similar to yoga, and qigong offers a lot of the same relaxing benefits.

Photos via Flickr.

The other practice that my friend Lindsay shared is called breath empowerment, and it's part of the qigong training she's done with Qi Revolution. Now this was an altogether incredible experience... and definitely not focused on relaxation! You spend about 35 minutes doing the "warrior breath," which is a forceful, fast and deep nostril breath in and out of your chest.

At first, I was a little nervous even just thinking about trying this breath empowerment thing. I've experienced anxiety before, even to the point of a panic attack, so the thought of breathing so intensely for so long triggered worrisome possibilities in my imaginative mind.

"I'm not sure I can lay on the floor and hyperventilate like that for so long," I told Linds, trying to hide my fear.

"We aren't hyperventilating," she reassured me. "We're hyper-oxygenating!" 

And man, she was right. We took our savasana positions on my living room carpet, and began listening to the guided meditation. Minute after minute, I continued breathing big, fierce breaths and before long my whole body was vibrating. I basically felt like this:

Photos via Lauren Ross on Tumblr. 

I could actually feel energy circulating through my system, swirling in circles in my face and cheeks, through my arms and legs, and throughout my abdomen. What a rush!

I enjoyed the recording we listened to, because Jeff's delivery of the dialogue is inspiring. He encourages you to keep going even after you think you can't, and his calm, steady voice keeps you from freaking out. Afterward I felt revitalized and awake, little jolts of energy still running through me.


Now I'm motivated to try other breath techniques and maybe even a tai chi class. It's great to mix up the yoga routine with other healing practices.

Have you guys done qigong or tai chi? What did you think?

Black Friday Art Giveaway (Closed)



Photos via Beth Morey of Epiphany Art Studio.

Are you shopping today, yogis? Or taking it easy and avoiding the Black Friday madness like me? :)

If you're looking for a unique, beautiful art piece to give as a gift, you should enter today's giveaway featuring handmade art by Beth Morey of Epiphany Art Studio. She has graciously offered to include a "Be You" print and a gorgeous Merry Christmas Mary card for one lucky reader.

You can also get a discount on any order in Beth's shop by entering the coupon code ALIVEINTHEFIRE at checkout.

Photos via Beth Morey of Epiphany Art Studio.

To win, please visit Beth's shop on Etsy and leave a comment with your favorite item from her store. If you'd like extra entries, you can:
  • Add Epiphany Art Studio on Facebook
  • Tweet about this giveaway, and be sure to mention @aliveinthefire and @betherann
  • Leave a comment on Beth's blog, Epiphany Art Studio
Be sure to leave extra comments here for each entry you complete.

PS Looking to shop for some new yoga wear or yoga gear? I couldn't help but glance at a few sales online today. Here are the spots I recommend checking out:
  • Iluka Activewear 
  • Onzie Yoga Wear
  • Hugger Mugger's having an open house where you can provide feedback and get 15% off your order.
  • YogaEarth - their Keen-Wah Decadence dark chocolate bar sampler would be a great stocking stuffer, or treat to buy for you and a girlfriend if you're going out shopping for the day.

Yoga for Sleep

10_sleep.png

All sleepy photos via

Pinterest

.

Has holiday stress impacted your sleep schedule? Here are some tips for easing into deep sleep, plus a lovely at-home yoga practice for you to try. Beginners through advanced students can incorporate a restful nighttime routine for better Z's.

Before I get into any specific postures, I highly recommend you try some 

yoga nidra

 and schedule yourself a 

retreat day

. Guided relaxation has saved me on many nights when I felt restless, anxious, or unable to wind down. And for the long-term, it's important to incorporate rest and relaxation into your life on a regular basis so that you can give yourself time to cope with the ups and downs. 

Yoga Practice for Soundless Sleep

When you practice yoga before bed, incorporate these tips in order to create a safe, comforting environment leading up to when you crawl under the covers.

  • Practice in a quiet, warm space. 
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing -- preferably layers if it's chilly in your house.
  • Move slowly between postures. Hold each asana for a bit longer than you might normally, and think about letting your body rest within a pose. Let the pose find you.
  • Back off if you experience pain or discomfort. This isn't the time to push yourself as hard as you can.
  • Rest in between postures. Child's pose is a great spot to return to for a few breaths before you try the next asana.
  • Concentrate on your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply from your abdomen.

Postures for Relaxation and Restoration

Photos via

Love to Know Yoga

,

Yoga-Vidya

on Flickr and

Lululemon

on Flickr.

  • Wide Legged Standing Forward Bend: Stand with your feet three to four feet apart. Turn your toes slightly inward (pigeon toed). Lean forward from your hips. Cradle your elbows in each other and let gravity hold you. When you stand up, engage your core and leg muscles strongly before hinging up from your waist.
  • Standing Forward Bend: Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. Hinge forward at the waist and let your arms hang toward the floor. If you are less flexible, letting your weight rest on your thighs is a good starting place.
  • Downward Dog: From hands and knees, push into your widespread palms and lift your knees away from the floor, sending your tailbone up and back. Lengthen your tailbone up and away, lifting your sitting bones toward the ceiling as your body takes a triangle shape. Keep a soft bend in the elbows and knees as you work to draw your shoulder blades down your back.

Photos via

Yoga with Heidi on Flickr

 and 

Yoga Journal

.

  • Seated Forward Bend: Sit on the floor or on a folded blanket with your legs stretched out in front of you. Sit tall on your sitting bones, spine straight into the air. Reach your arms overhead and slowly bend forward, keeping your spine long. With each exhale, fall a little deeper into the pose. With each inhale, picture your body becoming more still.
  • Reclining Bound Angle: Think of this as doing a butterfly stretch while you are laying on the ground. Start in bound angle pose (seated). Sit with your legs out in front of you (add a blanket if your hips are tight). Exhale, bend your knees, pulling your heels toward your hips as you drop your knees to the sides and press your soles of your feet together. Now place your elbows on the floor and lower yourself all the way down onto your lower back. You can place blankets under your knees or a bolster under your torso for added support.
  • Crocodile: Lay on your stomach with your arms above your head, bending at the elbows so that you stack your forearms on each other. Rest your forehead and take slow, deep breaths, letting the floor hold you and melt away tension.

Photos via

Gaiam

,

Hearts Expanding

 and

Yoga Mama

on Flickr.

  • Legs Up the Wall: Start with your hips about 4-5 inches away from a wall. If you like, you can place a bolster or rolled up towel under your low back for extra support. Sit sideways on the end of the support, or just on the floor, and swing your legs up onto the wall. Lay your shoulders and head down on the floor. Keep your legs steady and your gaze soft. For info on alignment in this posture, see Yoga Journal's post.
  • Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet parallel on the floor next to each other and pulled in as far as is comfortable. Press into all four corners of your feet (feeling pressure in your big toes) and exhale as you lift your hips slightly off the ground. Scoot your arms under the body, interlinking fingers and pressing down with your forearms.  Feel your weight grounded in your shoulders as you arch your low back. Strength in this pose comes from the inner thighs and arms, not the buttocks. And be sure to keep your knees from splaying out or coming close together.
  • Shoulderstand: Lay on your back with your arms alongside your body. Bend your knees and set your feet parallel on the floor, heels close to sitting bones. Exhale, pushing with your arms to raise your knees up into the air and toward your face. Stretch your legs into the air, and your arms along the floor. Press down through the arms, then bend the elbows so you can walk your hands up the back for support. For details on getting into this pose safely, check out Yoga Journal's post.

Here are a few short-term sleep aids to try in addition to yoga:

  • Taking a low dose of melatonin. It's a naturally-occurring compound that can help regulate sleep cycles and has been used to treat a variety of disorders, including insomnia. Melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement (you can find it in the vitamin section at Whole Foods). Please be sure to consult your doctor before beginning use of melatonin, and of course follow the instructions about its use (large doses can be counterproductive).
  • Use lavender lotion or hair conditioner before bed.
  • Drink a mug of warm milk or chamomile tea as you wind down. I also recommend Yogi Tea in the Calming or Relaxed Mind flavors.

Sleep well, yogis! xoxo

Meditation Escape

Photos via Honestly...WTF.

When you meditate, you can go anywhere you like. The next time I sit down for a few minutes of peace and quiet, I think I'd like to visit this incredible lodge in southern Chile. 

It's a structure with a waterfall at the top, moss and vine-covered rooms, and hot tubs carved from tree trunks. Plus you have to walk across a little monkey bridge to get to it! :) 

A perfect little summer or winter escape, don't you think?





Here's another meditation escape to try.

Winter Comfort Food (A Beef Stroganoff Recipe)

All photos via Pinterest.

Do you wake up lately and want to stay cuddled under the covers all day? Me too :)


On these gray mornings, I find myself wanting a few more minutes under our jersey sheets, or to enjoy a mug of hot coconut chai tea on the couch with a big cozy blanket wrapped around me.


Winter weather is a great time to enjoy comfort food. One of my favorite recipes to make is this quick and easy beef stroganoff. All you need is some leftover roast made in the crockpot a day or two beforehand, plus a few extra ingredients. Enjoy!



Leftover Beef Stroganoff
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 lb leftover roast beef (you can use up to 1lb)
  • 1 package dried onion soup mix (you can also make your own, and avoid any MSG!)
  • 1 10-oz can mushrooms, undrained 
  • 1/2 c water
  • 8 oz egg noodles
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 onion, chopped thin
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Directions:
For the crockpot roast beef, buy a 1-2 lb. piece of beef (chuck, brisket, top or bottom round). Season with salt, pepper, garlic and any other seasoning mixes you like. Cook on low for 4-5 hours.

The next day, to make the stroganoff: chop leftover roast beef into 1-inch pieces. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a pan. Cook the beef over medium heat. Stir in the soup mix and add 1/2 cup water and the mushrooms and juice. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

In a separate pot, boil water and cook noodles according to their package.

Mix the sour cream in with the meat, and stir gently. Toss the noodles with a bit of butter and parsley, and serve beef mixture over top. Mmmmm!

Note: yes, I'll admit the photo above is from Pinterest and is not my own. This has nothing to do with the quality of the recipe, but rather with the fact that beef stroganoff can sometimes look unappealing. Don't let this fool you -- it tastes amazing! I didn't want to dissuade you from trying the recipe by posting a photo that doesn't do this dinner justice :)

Curious Yoga Beginners (What Questions Are You Asking on the Mat?)

Photos via Urban Yoga Girl on Tumblr. 

As a beginner, yoga leaves you asking a lot of questions.


They can range from questions about your physical practice to deeper emotional or mental insights.

Photo via Urban Yoga Girl on Tumblr.


Am I doing this right?
How's my alignment in this posture?
Why does it hurt? Does this hurt too much?
Am I capable of trying this posture? How can I do yoga if I am not flexible?
Will I lose weight if I keep up with yoga?
Are there other people staring at me?


Photo via Miss Fit Bliss.

Why am I here?
What is my intention for practicing yoga today?
What can I let go of?


Introspection is at the heart of yoga. The key is learning how to question without judgment, and remembering to enjoy the journey, the process of yoga, instead of focusing on any difficulty within a present moment. 


You begin to learn that as you are patient with yourself and your body, and as you are open to what is true for you in the present, the answers will come.


Photo via Hearts Expanding

Which questions have you found yourself asking on the mat?


Do you have questions about a specific style of yoga? Here are a few links to some FAQ and general info pages to help you find answers:

Yoga for Immunity

Photo via Pinterest.

Now that cooler temperatures are here to stay, cold and flu season are coming soon. Today I bring you a few tips on how to use your yoga practice to boost your immune system. 

Tip #1: Work your backbends and twists.
  
Photos via Gaiam.

Backbends are great for stretching the spine, opening your chest and improving breathing. They also allow you to drain lymph from your system, and promote the movement of lymphocytes (germ-fighting white blood cells) in your body. Try a strong bridge pose while holding your ankles, or a deep twist in chair pose. Sadie Nardini's tips on the postures are here. And check out this post by Yoga Journal for some thoughts on how to do compassionate backbends. Be good to your spine!

Tip #2: Try a little downdog and tortoise.
Photo via Pinterest.
Photo via Seva Yoga.

Both downward dog and tortoise pose allow you to breathe more deeply and circulate fresh, oxygenated blood throughout your body... which means you flush your body with a detoxifying effect.

Tip #3: Breathe deeply. (Pranayama is your friend!)

Bikram yogis, you know this for sure: there's something powerful about starting your practice with standing deep breathing. Not only does it work as a preventative measure to avoid respiratory problems, but it can also protect you against something as yucky as bronchitis. Deep, slow, full breathing is one of the best ways to detoxify your body -- and you can bring this practice with you wherever you are! Try it at the office, while you're waiting for the train, or in your living room.

Tip #4: Set aside some time to rest.
Photo via Pinterest

Chances are, the last time you came down with a bad cold or the flu, you were busy, stressed, and/or not getting enough sleep. Taking the time to relax can greatly improve not only your outlook on life, but also your health down to the cellular level. So go ahead: schedule yourself a massage or take a rejuvenating hot bath. Meditate. Have a retreat day.  You deserve a break, and your body will thank you.

Tip #5: Try these foods. 
Photo via Pinterest.

To boost your immunity, eat yogurt, ginger, mushrooms, sweet potato, elderberry, and garlic. I find a hot cup of lemon ginger tea is an easy way to unwind at the end of a long day, and it leaves your sinuses feeling clear and bright.

For more reading on how you can fight toxins with yoga, check out this post from Lexi Yoga or this one from Yoga Xoga

Photo via 365 Days Yoga.

Be well, my lovely readers... and sniffles and sneezes, be gone! :)

Simple Home Practice



If you only have time to spend 10 minutes on your mat tonight, try this practice.


First, ask yourself: which asana embodies how I am feeling right now? What posture does my body need?




Take five minutes to be with yourself, the way you are in this moment.


Next, do a posture that lets you live out a way you'd like to be, asking: how would I like to become?


End your practice with a deep falling out breath.




Photos via Liliezencoach, Flickr and my lovely lady Elizabeth Grothe.

Doing the Dishes

Photos by me.

Lately I find meditation moments are available anytime.

I can be doing the dishes, my mind wandering, and then suddenly... I'm present only to the sensation of the sunlight coming in through the window, the beauty of a Roman coliseum, the sound of birds chirping out the window.


My breath moving in and out.

Present to the life I'm living.

All there is.


You don't need a special space or a ton of time in order to meditate. Allow yourself to be open to it even while you're doing something as mundane as the dishes.

I Believe I Can Fly: A Documentary to Make Your Heart Leap


Seb Montaz's work is not for the faint of heart. His newest documentary, I Believe I Can Fly, just came out this week and it is stunning! If you're an adrenaline junkie, you'll enjoy watching these Europeans while they are skylining -- a cross between base jumping, slacklining and tightrope walking. Incredible! 


One of my favorite quotes from the film:


"You have to put fear to one side -- it will always be there... but you have to follow your path. It's all possible if you put enough energy into it."

For more posts on balance, check out my toe stand poem or this lovely video from PrAna. And if you'd like to feel fearless, try this meditation.

An Energy Muse Jewelry Giveaway from Hearts Expanding

Photos via Hearts Expanding.

Hearts Expanding is one of my favorite yoga blogs. April teaches vinyasa flow and keeps up a beautiful Anusara practice.

She's currently offering a lovely bracelet giveaway with the compassion bracelet by Energy Muse. Don't you think it would make a fun gift for your sister or yoga friend, or even a little reminder to yourself to live compassionately?

Go visit April's blog and enter! Namaste.

  

YMX Winter Yoga Wear Giveaway (Closed)

Photos by me.

Wind whips through the alleyway. A pile of leaves gathers along the sidewalk. A flurry of snowflakes drifts through the air... and yet, I'm smiling:


...because I've found the coolest yoga wear for a wintertime practice. Check out this tank and leggings set from YMX!


Their high-performance gear is made with lightweight MadKool fabrics and detailed, original prints, which means you stay cool, dry and comfortable throughout a workout. I found the outfit to be inspiring for a good stretch, a few intense rounds of yoga supersets to get my sweat on, and a relaxing cool-down.




YMX offers a wide variety of winter sport wear for yogis, runners, cyclists and skiers alike. For something a little cozier, I suggest a turtleneck or hoodie.


To win this tank and pair of leggings, please check out YMX and leave a comment below about your winter workout routine.

Feel the Yoga Burn with Sadie Nardini's Yoga Supersets

Photo via the Gaiam Blog.

Are you ready to kick your yoga practice into high gear? Looking for a workout that you can use to burn through all the calories of the holiday season?

Or maybe you are just in need of a way to escape your latest yoga plateau.

Check out Sadie Nardini's supersets. She's got three wonderful circuits that will have your muscles buzzing and your blood flowing in no time. The best part about these simple exercises  is that if you keep them up, you'll start to notice an increase in your strength, endurance and power during class, too!

Sadie suggests that if you regularly practice yoga three times a week, adding in three days of supersets on your off days is a great way to go. You can alternate them, giving your different muscle groups the chance to rebuild tissue on your rest days.

Superset 1 will have your biceps, triceps and abs glowing as you do Chaturanga Knee-Down Pushups, Cobra Waves, and Core Curls.

Photo via LilieZenCoach.

Superset 2 will help you build strength in your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and side abs as you kick into Downdog Splits, bend into Knee-Bent Lunges, and do Navasana Twists.


Photo via LilieZenCoach.

And once you've been doing Superset 3 for little while, you'll be ready for a handstand or two! This set strengthens the chest, back and low abs as you do Shakti Kicks, Swimming Locust and Crossed Kicks.  
Photo via Pinterest.

I was pleased to find that after only two days of practicing #3, I already felt stronger in my pecs and core. The Shakti Kicks were significantly easier, and I could feel myself start to gain the balance I'll need for handstand. It's quite empowering!

Photo via Pinterest.