Monthly Archives: June 2011

Breath and Movement: A Powerful Union

People new to Viniyoga often tell me they are surprised at the effects of class.  Although class feels gentle while they practice, they often feel “good” muscle soreness the next day.   They are also surprised that although the first class or two may seem easy, the more they practice the more challenging it becomes.  I believe this is completely due to the distinctive way Viniyoga uses the breath.

Viniyoga uses breath in a subtle, yet powerful way.  In asana (movement) practice, we breathe as we do each movement in a way that maximizes the effect of the breath on the spine and the muscles that support it.   Therefore opening, lifting and extending movements are typically done on inhale, whereas bending, compressing and twisting movements are typically done on exhale.

But it’s not as simple as moving with the breath.  Rather, the breath informs, guides and fully surrounds the movement, like a blanket wraps your body on a chilly winter evening.   The breath begins before the movement starts and ends after the movement completes.   This is often called “envelope breathing.”

This integration of breath and movement requires mindful attention and is the key reason viniyoga is so powerful at connecting body, breath and mind.  Only by completely focusing the mind can the movement and breath link together in this elegant dance.  Furthermore, this connection doesn’t stop when the movement ends.  Even when “staying” in a pose, subtle breath focused movement continues.  The student consciously lengthens her spine on inhale and engages and strengthens the muscles of her core on exhale, creating a delicious dance of “micro-movement” that deepens the posture with every successive breath.

So the next time you take a yoga class, pay attention to each breath you take and mindfully allow the breath to guide your movement.   You might be surprised at the profound impact this relatively simple change will have on your practice.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

How Yoga Helped Me “Get” Mindfulness

This week’s blog entry is written by guest author Jayde Pryzgoda.  Jayde is a 200-hour graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program.    She can be contacted at

Yoga is mindfulness.

Long before I encountered teachings on mindfulness meditation, I found yoga.  My first classes were seemingly magical experiences where my worried mind and tense body became focused, strengthened, and relaxed.  By the end of class I was transformed:  lighter and freer from my daily burdens.

Four years later, I was sitting in a graduate school class, my eyes closed, attempting to observe and “label” my thoughts.  This, I was told, is a form of mindfulness: the art of paying attention to present experiences (body sensations, emotions, thoughts, surroundings, people, etc) without judgment and without immediate reaction. This was hard, and frustrating, and I didn’t feel lighter or freer from anything! And yet the more I learned about mindfulness, the more I found a sense of vibrancy  and liveliness that is only found in the present moment (never in getting lost in the past or spinning your mind over what has yet to come).

But there were and are obstacles (both in mind and body):  restlessness, agitation, sleepiness.  You see, while this “art of paying attention,” is something you can bring to everything you do (from washing the dishes to laughing with friends), training in mindfulness often takes the form of quiet, seated meditation.  And if you’ve ever tried quiet, seated mediation, you know that it can be everything but quiet inside!

Heading back to yoga school, I learned that “yoga” means “to yoke” or “to unite;” sometimes interpreted as the union of body, breath, and mind.   And this union requires dedication to practicing various methods for quieting the mind and body.   Methods such as asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation all work together to help us “unify” our body, breath, and mind in this present moment. What could be more mindful?

I also learned that there are traditions of yoga, including Viniyoga, that encourage the use of asana and breathing as preparation for more formal seated meditation.   And sure enough, I’ve found that starting with movement, and incorporating breath with my movement not only prepares me for seated mindfulness meditation, it is a form of mindfulness in its own right.  Practicing bringing my full attention to my breath and body, focusing my attention on feeling the interaction of breath and movement:  these are the best ways I have found so far to gently encourage my mind to stay in the present moment with my body.  Meditation still comes with obstacles, but with mindful yoga, I feel more prepared to meet them.


Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

The Essence of Gratitude

I recently read an essay from one of my yoga teacher training students, in which she discussed how she continually practices being grateful, even when things don’t go her way.  It reminded me how easy it is to let the circumstances of life dictate how we feel.  You can clearly see it in the sun starved faces of Seattleites these past few weeks.  When it’s sunny and warm, we feel joyous and energized.  When it’s rainy and cold, we feel lethargic and depressed.

One goal of yoga is to learn how to find internal peace, so that regardless of the “weather” in our internal or external worlds, our mind is calm, centered and content.  The teachings tell us that we cannot control what happens in the world around us.  But we can control how we react to it.

I once listened to a wonderful recording by Joan Borysenko, in which she discussed practices of gratitude.  I can’t remember the title anymore, but I adapted a practice from it that I use to keep myself connected to the joy and beauty of my life, even when I feel down and things seem to spin out of control.  This practice reminds me that no matter how “awful” things seem at any given moment, there are always many, many things for which to be grateful.

Like many important things in life, the practice is simple, yet powerful.  Each night, before falling asleep, I recount at least 10 things that I was grateful for in that day.

To be completely honest, some days it’s  harder than others.  But I can always do it, even on days that have been truly challenging on every level.  And the practice makes me pay attention and seek out the small joys I might otherwise miss each day.  It doesn’t matter how big or how small, every day brings gifts that make me smile.

For example, today I am grateful for:

  • The cool breeze wafting through my living room window.
  • The purple color in the center of the orchids next to the studio fountain.
  • The soft, silky spot behind my dog’s ears
  • The sound of the neighborhood woodpecker as he drills on our metal chimney top.
  • The white breasted bird that sat on the line outside my window this morning.
  • Reconnecting with my 82 year old Aunt on Facebook.
  • Chocolate.
  • The seemingly endless support of my husband, even when I’m doing something he doesn’t agree with or want me to do.
  • The yummy taste of Blackthorn cider.
  • The delightful E-card I just received from a dear friend as I typed this blog entry.

The essence of gratitude resides in things both big and small.  This practice keeps me connected to all that is wonderful in my world on a daily basis.  I hope you try it and benefit from it as much as I have!

Namaste and may you have many things for which to be grateful.

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Safely Practicing Yoga when Injured–Response to a Student Question

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

Barbara asked:  “I have been experiencing a variety of aches and pains and am concerned yoga might make them worse.    What suggestions do you have?”

Your concerns are very valid, Barbara.  An effective yoga practice can help decrease pain and increase function in a variety of structural issues.   However, the “wrong” practice for your body or situation can, indeed, aggravate symptoms.

There are three important elements in developing  an effective yoga practice:

  • Finding the right class or teacher for you.
  • Openly sharing your concerns and issues with that teacher both before, during and after class.
  • Listening to your body and not pushing beyond what feels safe and effective for you.

In Viniyoga, we can almost always adapt poses to the individual to make the practice work for them.  The trick is finding the right class for the student and teaching him or her to listen to their body when practicing.   In the West, we are used to a “no pain no gain” mentality, which is completely counter to the philosophy of yoga.  In yoga, the goal is always to work within a pain free range of motion, with the goal of increasing that pain free range of motion over time. Some of my hardest, yet most rewarding work as a teacher is to help students get in tune with their bodies so they learn how to move in a pain free way, both during practice and out in their daily lives.

As for choosing the right class–At Whole Life Yoga several of our series are designed for people with injuries and limitations including:

We also offer gentler drop in classes that work great for people with common aches and pains.  “Yoga for Relaxation” and “Yoga over 50” are great options!

Group classes aren’t appropriate for every student, however.  If the injury is acute or more severe and chronic, a student may need to start with private instruction.  When you work privately with a teacher, they can design the practice specifically to your body.  During their one on one time with you, they can devote all of their attention to observing you and completely customizing the yoga to your needs in a way that isn’t possible in a group class.  Many students start off privately, then transition to group classes when they and the instructor feel confident that their bodies are ready for a group class environment.  More information can be found at our web site:  Private yoga therapy at Whole Life Yoga.

I  hope this helps!  Thank you for the question!

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!