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All posts by Andrea Ferretti

Pranayama Ninja

viloma pranayama breathing | How to Practice Pranayama | Jason Crandell Yoga Method

Hey everyone!

I have been so busy working on the Yogaland Podcast in the past year that I haven’t had much time to blog. I miss it and I miss you! I have grand plans to get back to it and to create more content this year that will serve you.

For today, I’m going to share something straight-up and simple that’s transpiring for me lately. Here goes: As the working mom of a preschooler with a husband who travels constantly, I can say that unequivocally, it’s my practice that keeps me sane and balanced. (Can I get an “Amen!”)

And so. I am making this commitment to myself and to ALL OF YOU(!) that this year I am NOT completely tossing my practice aside during those times when my schedule becomes excessively wacko or “I don’t have enough time.” I’m gonna try to be a self-care ninja and craftily fit it in where I can.

Lately, I have been surviving on pranayama. When things are going well in my life, a standalone breathing practice is the first thing I toss out the window. It’s not conscious — it’s simply that I’m breathing mindfully during asana and calming my mind during my meditations. So, it seems like it’s all covered.

But when things get exceptionally busy (and I won’t bore you with the details but I’ll just say that a kitchen leak has kept us out of our house for SEVEN WEEKS), pranayama breathing is a godsend. It feels like the perfect bridge between asana and meditation. It channels the prana through my body (like asana) and it settles my energy and thoughts (like meditation). It feels so familiar — because after all, we breathe all day long! But it also feels so special to just take a few minutes to witness this simple act that keeps us alive and ticking.

Here’s the other thing: It’s so portable. I have done pranayama practice during long meetings! Alone in my cubicle! During tense dinners with family! On boring dates! But, admittedly, if you’re just starting out, it’s best to set aside 5 minutes of ideally quiet, alone time to practice.

Lately, pranayama breathing has given me an energy buzz when I need it, a sense of warmth in my heart when I feel cold and paralyzed, or space between thoughts when I’m anxious. There are SO MANY pranayama breathing practices – some are more energizing (like kapalabhati) and others more soothing (nadi shodana). For me Viloma, aka Stop-Action Breath is my go-to to cultivate evenness and balance.

See also 5 Ways to (Re)Inspire Your Yoga Practice

When you do Viloma, you either inhale in three parts and exhale completely. Or do the opposite: You inhale completely and exhale in three parts. (You can also inhale and exhale in three parts.) It might sound confusing, but in practice it’s incredibly simple and soothing. I prefer to start with the latter approach because it’s easier to access and it tends to be more grounding. Here’s how:

PRANAYAMA BREATHING FOR BUSY PEOPLE

1. Set a timer (that’s not too loud) for 5-6 minutes.

2. Find a comfortable seat – either cross-legged on the floor or on a chair with both feet touching the ground. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart.

3. Take a minute to deepen your inhalations and exhalations and to just “warm up” your breath.

4. Then inhale completely, feeling your belly, diaphragm, and ribs expand.

5. Now exhale one third of your breath. Pause. Exhale two-thirds. Pause. Exhale completely.

6. Repeat this cycle until your timer rings.

THE APPROACH
As you inhale, try not to force the breath. Make each part of the exercise light and easy. Feel the beauty and simplicity of the life force in your body. As you exhale, imagine a sense of grounding and rooting through your tailbone into the earth. If you feel strain at any point, return to simply watching your breath.

For some people, it helps to retain the breath for just a few seconds before the exhalation. I tend to do this in the last few minutes, when I’ve warmed up a bit. It’s definitely not something to force. Ideally, when your alarm sounds at five minutes you’re breathing a little more deeply and feeling more clear, grounded, and energized.

Hope this makes your day a little better. And I’d love to hear what your go-to pranayama breathing practice is in the comments below!

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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I am a reformed pastry fiend. I distinctly remember having my first croissant as a child during a family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. It was unforgettable and I was forever hooked. The problem is, I am no longer a string bean of a girl, growing taller by the day. And simple carbs leave me feeling hungry 40 minutes later.

These days, I love baking with almond flour or coconut flour. They’ve got more protein, fewer carbs, and they feel dense (in a good way). This recipe is based on the Almond Muffin Mania recipe from nutritionist and chef Rebecca Katz. Sofia and I have made them several times and Jason loves them so much, they’re gone within 24 hours! They’re also refined sugar-free.

Sidenote: I did a podcast with Katz about cancer-fighting foods that you can listen to here. This recipe is from her cookbook, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 24 mini muffins
A quick note: I’ve tried these with pumpkin puree and also with canned pumpkin. I try to steer clear of cans because there are often traces of BPA found in cans, but I was able to find one that said it was a BPA free liner. (Let’s hope it was the truth!) The canned pumpkin has a better consistency for this recipe. If you use pumpkin puree, I suggest straining some of the liquid out and omitting the milk.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup canned organic pumpkin or organic pumpkin puree
1/4 cup organic milk, almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup unrefined virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup chocolate chips (I use TCHO disks 66% baking drops roughly chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a mini muffin tin by generously oiling each cup.

Combine the almond meal, spelt four, baking powder, coconut palm sugar, and salt in a bowl and stir with a whisk until very well combined. Separately, combine the pumpkin, milk, eggs, oil, vanilla, and spices and whisk until smooth. Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix well with a rubber spatula. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups filling each about three quarters full. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until muffin springs back when touched in the center. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then gently run a knife round the sides of the muffins to loosen them before turning them out.

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Mid-Morning Pick-Me-Up Smoothie

Pick-Me-Up Smoothie

Coffee seems to be one of those foods that’s either vilified or celebrated in the media. Since having my daughter, I am on Team Celebrate Coffee, but it seems most important to determine what works for your personal constitution. I talk about this on my podcast with nutritionist and chef Rebecca Katz (episode 15, Nourish Yourself with Cancer-Fighting Foods). You can certainly make this smoothie without the coffee component. Between the coffee, the raw cacao, and the cinnamon, this is a smoothie that’s packed with antioxidants.

Pick-Me-Up Smoothie Recipe
Makes 1 serving
I love a great protein-packed smoothie for after a yoga practice or workout. This is not one of those — this is more of an, “I’ve been playing with my daughter for 5 hours and it’s 10am,” or, “I have to dive into this Excel spreadsheet for four hours and I need an energy boost,” type of smoothie.

I have a Nespresso machine, so it’s easy for me to take a quick shot of espresso. If you don’t have espresso at your fingertips, you can substitute with a small amount of French-press, Aeropress, or whatever type of regular coffee you brew. Just start with a little bit and add more to taste so it’s not too strong!

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 banana
1 shot of espresso
1 1/2 teaspoons raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup of ice
optional: 1/2-1 teaspoon maple syrup

Blend everything together in a blender and enjoy.

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Spotlight on: Headstand

Kipp_Summit

Said in my deepest, most convincing movie-trailer voiceover actor voice:

Imagine a world where yoga is a required subject in public elementary schools

Imagine a world where kids learn to enjoy having a body instead of feeling critical about themselves or only engaging their bodies in competition.

Imagine a world where kids can recognize and cope with their emotions without resorting to violence or drugs.

And where kids have tools to help deal with the stresses and anxieties of growing up.

This is exactly what nonprofit organization Headstand has been working toward for the past eight years. Founded by a longtime yogini and schoolteacher, Katherine Priore, Headstand offers yoga and mindfulness curriculum to kids at low-income in the Bay Area.

Katherine is a friend of ours and a student of Jason’s and I wrote about Headstand for Yoga Journal a few years ago. (You can read the story here.) Last week, I went to a class in a San Francisco elementary school to help support Headstand as they raise funds during their Mindful May Challenge.

There I met second-grader Sasha Chan and her teacher Hope Van Sciver and I was reinspired to help spread the word about Headstand. If you’d like to support Headstand, you can either donate directly to their Mindful May Challenge — just a dollar a day in May provides yoga for one month for a student like Sasha.

The other option is to become a fundraiser. Fundraisers who raise more than $2500 will be entered in a random drawing to win a free YogaWorks teacher training in Northern California. (Ahem: Mr. Jason Crandell still has a few spots left in his July YogaWorks teacher training module.)

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun for you to meet Sasha (photographed below) and to hear some tips from Hope on teaching yoga to kids!

Sasha Chan in Wheel Pose

Meet Sasha Chan

Age: 8
Grade: 2
Favorite pose: Wheel
Least favorite pose: Crow Pose
Favorite class: Science
Favorite book: Thirteen Story Treehouse
Favorite color: Pink
Why she likes yoga: “I like really challenging stuff that I want to learn.”
How yoga helps with her schoolwork: “It calms me down.”
What she does to stay calm: Bubble Breath, where you sweep your arms out and clap them together overhead, like you’re popping a bubble. Then bring them together at your heart.

Triangle Pose

Hope’s Tips for Teaching Yoga to Kids

1.Tailor Your Class According to Age and Ability

For her Kindergartners, Hope uses lots of animal names for poses and won’t hold Planks or Side Planks like she would with her older kids. But she finds that kids of any age can learn breathing exercises — and they benefit from them!

2. If Kids are Fidgety, Have a Go-To Pose Combo

Hope notices that jumping from Mountain to Star to Mountain to Star is a great way to help kids burn off energy and settle down. (Star is when you stand with your legs wide apart and arms oustretched). It’s something that kids of any age can do.

3. Try Breathing Buddies

Breathing Buddies are small, colorful puffballs (beanbag animals work, too). Priore started using them when she noticed that kids would suck their bellies in when you told them to inhale. When you place the Breathing Buddies on their bellies during Savasana, they can watch them move up as they breathe in and down as they breathe out.

4. Engage All Of Their Senses

Along with the Breathing Buddies, Hope brings a singing bowl and a “peaceful spray,” which is just a small spray bottle full of water and a tiny drop of eucalyptus oil. The kids know that once they’re calm in Savasana, she’ll spray just a little bit around them.

5. Figure Out Ways to Let Kids Participate

On days when focus is hard-won, it can be helpful to let kids choose a pose or two. Partner poses also work well for kids and you can make them fun — try having them sit in Upavistha Konasana with their feet touching. Then they can hold hands and act like they’re mixing up a mixing bowl. Or even simple self-inquiry engages kids — ask them to notice how they feel after doing a pose and make sure they know that it’s safe for them to have any answer.

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A Smart Yoga Flow for Hamstrings

Downward-Facing Dog | Yoga for Tight Hamstrings | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

I am a vinyasa flow girl through and through. I believe that spending time studying alignment is vital to a lifelong yoga practice — whether in the form of Iyengar classes/workshops or with a flow teacher like Jason who occasionally slows things down. When you learn to understand and tune into the details of alignment you not only stave off potential injuries, you truly learn the skill of connecting your body and mind.

But after years of studying, I find that most days I want to flow. I like to begin and end practice with postures that are close to the ground because these poses simultaneously help me settle in and open up. And in between, I like to move. Moderately-paced movements help me build heat and keep my busy mind focused. And when I repeat poses — as opposed to doing long, static holds — I give myself the opportunity to slowly open up into a pose.

See also Sequencing Solutions: Strengthen your Hamstrings

The yoga for tight hamstrings sequence is a simple, forward bending flow that I love. Here are some notes on how to do the practice:

Poses 1-3: Half Happy Baby, Supta Padangusthasana A and Supta Padangusthasana B

Warming up your hamstrings on your back is a gentle, grounding way to begin. Be sure to keep a natural lumbar curve — don’t press your low back down into the ground. Do each of these poses for five breaths on both sides.

Poses 4 & 5: Downward-Facing Dog Pose and Uttanasana

From Supta Padangusthasana, draw your knees into your chest and rock back and forth on your spine. Keep rocking until you can place your hands on the floor in front of you and step back into Downward-Dog. Use this Down Dog to shake off the cobwebs. Feel free to pedal your feet and move and groove. Stay for 5-8 breaths.

Walk your feet to your hands and come into a very relaxed Uttanasana. Some people call this version Ragdoll. I’d like to coin the name, “Chill Uttanasana.” Do you think that will catch on? The point is: Bend your knees. Press down through your feet and try to gain length in your spine. After 5-8 deep, full breaths, roll up to standing.

Poses 6-10: Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Parsvottanasana, Prasarita Paddotanasana

Yahoo, it’s time to flow! Jump your feet wide and face sideways on your mat for poses 6-10. Repeat these poses on the second side. (If you know how, you can incorporate this section into Sun Salutations and repeat it twice on each side.)

Poses 11-14: Upavistha Konasana, Janu Sirsasana, Paschimottanasana, Savasana

Move into your seated postures remembering that the goal of a forward bending practice isn’t to slam your torso against your thighs. The goal is to stretch the whole back side of your body in a way that works for you!

In each of these poses press the tops of your thighbones down as you lengthen your spine into the forward bend. Stay for 5 breaths each (do Janu Sirsasana on both sides) before taking a 5-minute Savasana.

Sorry: Preschooler in a tutu not included. But feel free to incorporate your own, or your dog, your cat, your bird, your guinea pig…

Yoga for Tight Hamstrings | Yoga Sequence for Hamstrings | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

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