Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Simple Breath Practice: 30 Days to Change Your Life.

When most people think of yoga, the picture that comes to mind is something off the cover of Yoga Journal:  Fit people doing rubber band like postures while still appearing comfortable enough to smile at the camera.  Asanas, or the poses, are the most widely recognized tools of yoga.  But pranayama is actually the tool most of us should be practicing.   The ages of about 25 – mid 70’s are described in yoga teachings as the “midday” years.  During this stage of life, our yoga practices should center on keeping us healthy, balanced and increasing our lifespan.  The tool that helps improve health in this way is pranayama, or breath work.

Pranayama is subtle yet powerful, and generally we say is should be practiced only under the guidance of trained yoga teacher.  But there are some very simple breath practices that can be done safely and effectively on your own.  My teacher says that if you do 5 – 10 minutes of pranayama every day, it will change your life in ways you can’t possibly comprehend.  He then goes on to say, “But you’ll never know, because you’ll never do it.”

Today, I’d like to challenge you to prove him wrong.  Dedicate 10 minutes a day for the next 30 days to the breath practice below.  Keep a journal and notice the effects.  The first 5 people to share their 30 day pranayama stories with me will even get a prize!

Ramping the Breath Up and Down in the Simple Breath Practice

Here’s the practice:

  1. Come to a comfortable seated or lying position.   You can sit in a chair or on the floor, or lie on a firm surface with your knees bent.  All that matters is that you are not “slouched.”  You should be physically comfortable and your spine should be neutral.
  2. Notice how you feel before beginning to practice, in your body and in your breath.   Then notice how you feel in your thoughts and emotions.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel as you think you “should.” Just notice whatever comes to mind and be grateful for the awareness.
  3. Gradually, over 6 breaths, lengthen both your inhale and exhale.  If your lengthened exhale is longer than your lengthened inhale, great.   If your inhale is greater than your exhale, shorten it until both are equal.  The inhale should not be longer than the exhale and at no time should you strain your breath.
  4. Once you reach a lengthened breath, breathe for at least 12 breaths at this lengthened breath.
  5. Once you finish 12 or more complete breaths, take 6 or more breaths to gradually bring your breath back to a natural rhythm.
  6. Notice any changes you feel after this practice, without trying to judge them as “good” or bad.
  7. Note your experience with this practice and what you noticed before and after it in your practice journal. 

I hope to hear from many of you, and that you benefit greatly from this work.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Reducing Stress with Yoga

This week’s blog entry is written by guest author Melanie Reed.  Melanie is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s advanced 500 hour teacher training program and a teacher at Whole Life Yoga.    She can be contacted at

We become what we pay attention to.

In our modern urban life we find ourselves in many circumstances which we experience as stressful.   As a result, many of us are chronically stressed, living our lives in a state of mild to extreme exhaustion.

During periods of stress, there are three stages of physical responses:

  • An initial fight-or-flight response, mobilizing the body for immediate action.  Nerve impulses direct energy to muscles and organs needed for survival and away from processes not required for immediate survival (such as digestive and reproductive systems).  Think about what is needed to run away from a tiger…
  • In the second stage, after the initial fight-or-flight response dissipates, hormones are released (such as cortisol) which produce energy, help repair damaged cells, and reduce inflammation.  Thus the individual can continue to resist the situation which is causing the stress.
  • During the third stage, as the body becomes exhausted, large amounts of stress hormones continue to be produced.  Symptoms of persistently high levels of cortisol include anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, ulcers, immune dysfunction, and depression.

Responses to stress have served us well during our evolution as humans.  Although we rarely need to run away from a tiger, we do encounter situations which cause stress, such as:  driving on the freeway, listening to the voice of the inner critic, feeling powerless in the face of climate change, difficulties in our relationships and on and on.

For most of us, the stress triggers in our lives are not situations where our physical survival is in question; the source of the stress is psychological.  And, here is where Yoga can provide relief from stress.

One of the powerful effects of the concentrated focus on breathing in Viniyoga is it activates the part of the nervous system which supports a sense of relaxation and calm both in the body and mind.    Students may not be aware of this ‘relaxation response’ until they are resting in savasana (the period of rest at the end of a posture practice).  The peaceful effects of a yoga class can sometimes last for days.

Practices such as pranayama (breath practices), Yoga Nidra, and meditation can help us work directly with our energy, emotions, and the mind to ‘re-pattern’ responses to circumstances which habitually trigger stress.  By consciously choosing to focus our mind on the breath, an affirming word(s) or image, or object (e.g. the flame of a candle), we support the process of transforming our habitual patterns of awareness.  Over time, as we replace a focus on negative reactions with contentment, calm, and relaxation – the flow of our thoughts will become more positive and our behavior toward ourselves and others more appropriate.  In other words, the circumstances which trigger the stress will have less effect on us.

Reacting to situations in our daily lives with fear, frustration, and anger can trigger stress and over time, these kinds of reactions will not only have a detrimental effect on our health, but are also not useful – they do not usually lead to the effect we really want.  With the support of yoga practices we are able to turn our attention to positive qualities and as we practice over time, the positive qualities can become dominant. 

To experience this for yourself, try this simple exploration: in a quiet room, sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.  Bring your focus to your breath, allowing it to slow down.  After several breaths, as you begin to feel internally calm and settled, focus your awareness on an object of your choice, such as a tree (to invoke groundedness), a bear (to invoke strength), the ocean (to invoke a sense contentment and/or going with the flow), an image of your grandmother (to invoke unconditional love) – anything you are drawn to.  Meditate on the object of your choice for several minutes and then, notice how you feel. 

… you become what you pay attention to.

Melanie Reed

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

How Often Should I Practice Yoga?

This is a question students often ask me, whether they are trying to improve their physical endurance or help heal from the loss of a loved one.  It’s hard for me to give a definitive answer.  When my teacher is asked that question he answers, without hesitation, “every day.”    But I tend to use Viniyoga’s  standard answer to every question: “It depends.”  It depends on your goals, your lifestyle, and even more importantly how you define yoga practice. 

Let’s start by assuming you define yoga practice as asana, or movement.

In that case, Gary’s answer of “every day”  seems really overwhelming to me.  He equates a daily practice to flossing your  teeth;  something you do  consistently, gently, daily, for overall health.   But to be completely honest, there are days I don’t get around to flossing, either.  (Don’t tell my dentist!)

And I do avoid sharing that information with my dentist.   Because when he asks, I know the answer he wants to hear.  I don’t lie to him, but I always feel guilty, even though the answer is almost every day.  Likewise, if we think the goal of yoga is to practice asana every day, anything less than that feels like a failure.    And if we fail, we are more likely to give up on yoga altogether. 

So I never tell students to practice asana “every day.”   Don’t get me wrong.  I believe strongly in the benefits of a consistent  asana practice.  It can help improve everything from emotional stress  to low back pain.  I’ve found that the “sweet spot” for my clients, however, is usually practicing around three days a week.  More than that is likely a bit better.  Less than that will very often bring results, just not as dramatically or as quickly. 

If you can come to class three times a week, awesome!  Our early morning yoga immersion students can attest to the benefits they receive from practicing at the studio that often.   If you can’t, however,  I recommend one class with a teacher each week.  The other two practices can be shorter (15 to 20 minutes is surprisingly effective) and done at home.   Many of the series we offer, such as Yoga for Healthy Backs and Yoga for Real People offer home practices as part of the series, for that specific reason.

But the above still only addresses the question if you define yoga as a physical practice. In fact, it is so much more than that.   It is a set of tools that encompasses meditation, sound, movement, breath work, and ritual.  Beyond even that, it is a system of living that fosters connection, compassion, and presence.  It’s about cherishing the relationships of your life, and striving to better understand the people within those relationships.  Those are components of yoga I try to practice every day–even on those days the dental floss doesn’t make it out of the bathroom drawer.    It’s not just a daily practice, but hopefully a continual one.


Tracy  Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

A Crazy Idea a Decade Later—The Birth of Whole Life Yoga

Whole Life Yoga under construction prior to opening

Whole Life Yoga’s grand opening celebration was October 13, 2001:  10 years ago this week.  Although I taught under the business name “Whole Life Yoga” at various venues before then, I’ll always think of the studio grand opening as Whole Life Yoga’s beginning.

I’ve been reflecting this past week on this beginning, and I’d like to share some of my memories with you.  Hopefully Whole Life’s story will inspire you to take a risk on something you believe in.

Whole Life Yoga was birthed from a meditation practice I did about 2 years after I started practicing yoga.   On New Year’s day, 1999, I attended a class in which the teacher asked us to reflect on what we wanted to create in our lives.  A clear and somewhat surprising answer came back. “A place for healing and growth.”   For some reason I was sure that meant opening a yoga studio.  It seemed like a good idea, so I went home from class and told my husband.

My words were something like: “Guess what!  I’m going to quit Microsoft, learn to teach yoga and open a yoga studio.  You’ll probably have to support us.”  Being the wonderful person he is, he said something like “If that’s what you want.”   Little did he know how much work there was for him in all of this.  😉  Now all I had to do was take a yoga teacher training and figure out how to build a business.   Easy, right?

Fast forward about 18 months.   I’ll never forget the day I sat down with my accountant to set up the business bookkeeping system and review my financial projections.  Business plan laid out, marketing and financial plans in place, I was excited and ready to sign a lease.  She studied my plans for awhile, not saying much.  She then sat back, looked me directly in the eye and said,  “This is a bad idea.  Go back to Microsoft.”

If all you looked at were the numbers, she was right.  We continued to debate the merits of starting this business until I left to use the bathroom.  While I was there, she perused the titles on my bookshelves.  Texts on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness crowded the shelves.  I didn’t own a single book on software development.  When I came back to the office she said “I’ve been looking at your books.   I guess sometimes you just have to do things that don’t make sense.”

So, on we went.  She, convinced I was committing financial suicide.  I, convinced it would all work out in the end.  In some ways, we were both right.

Honestly, those first two years were brutal.   My father, who lived in Montana, suffered  a stroke a few weeks before we opened.  I literally had to plan the studio’s opening sitting by my father’s bedside, trusting that the building owner understood my plans and would turn the cavern in the picture above into my vision of a healing space.

Most people who knew me thought I’d finally gone off the deep end.  A rumor even started that I had developed a brain tumor!  But it always just seemed like the right thing to me.   I wondered, but really never asked, what my family thought.  They were quite religious and I wasn’t at all sure they understood yoga.   At my father’s funeral, the minister told me something my father never told me in life.  That he was proud that I had left the corporate world  behind to open Whole Life, because I’d be spending my time helping people.  If I had any lingering doubts, that erased them.

We opened about 2 weeks after his death to a much smaller group of students than I anticipated.  I’m sure my accountant had to bite her tongue several times over the next two years to keep from saying “I told you so.”  But slowly the trickle of people through the door became a steady stream.  Our offerings grew, as did our student base.  Now, 10 years later, we’re offering more classes than ever.  We’ve served approximately 9000 yogis and trained almost 200 aspiring yoga teachers.  I hope we’ve helped all of them in some way, be it large or small.   I hope I’ve done my father proud.

As for the future, who knows what the next 10 years will bring?  I sure don’t, and in a way I’m glad.  Not knowing where the path of life will take you makes the journey that much more fun.  But I hope that Whole Life Yoga will still be here, standing strong, continuing to serve you all.


Tracy Weber

Please join us in celebrating our 10th birthday on October 30th. .Free yoga and birthday cake!   Details at

A Yoga Picnic

This week’s blog entry is written by guest author Leo Dunbar. Leo is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program  and the founder of YogaVan.      He  can be contacted at

Have you ever been on a yoga picnic?  You pack a light meal, grab your yoga mat and blanket, then you head to a nearby Seattle park to practice yoga before enjoying a light lunch or dinner.  “…Yoga outside?  You’ve got to be kidding.  …Maybe a picnic – but not yoga.  And besides, it’s too cold for a picnic; summer is over, or haven’t you noticed.  What are you thinking?”   That’s the conversation that ran through my mind when I first thought of having a yoga picnic, but a yoga picnic is my way of saying good-bye to summer and hello, to fall.

I’m sad to have to say good-bye to the warm sunny days of summer, especially when there seemed to be so few of them this year, but some of our most beautiful days may still be ahead of us.  Call me an optimist, but Seattle has had some exquisite October and November weather in the past.

By the way, you can’t plan a yoga picnic in Seattle, due to our weather, so you just have to be ready to head out the door when you see that little spark of sunshine peak out from behind the cloud.  You know the cloud I’m talking about; it’s the one that seems to sit over us for the next eight months or so.  Sure it travels around a bit during the week days, but it always finds its way back here during our weekends off.

I know the temperatures are a little cooler, and the days are starting to get progressively and noticeably shorter.  Looking around me, I see that some of us seem as reluctant as I am to let the days of summer go.  Some people are still wearing shorts, but they’ve started to pull on their sweaters; socks are being worn with sandals; and soon, the hats we wore to keep the sun out of our eyes will be replaced by the hats that keep our heads warm.  All are signs that summer is over, but that doesn’t mean that all of our outdoor activities have to end.

Go on a yoga picnic.  Bring closure to your loss of Seattle’s summer sun, and give a warm welcome to the blazing new colors of fall.


Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!