I am so excited to have my great friend, Sarah Reese, with me on the podcast! Sarah is all about yoga, astrology, nutrition and holistic health.
Sarah and I talk about the importance of proper breath work not only in your yoga practice but also to help remedy stress. Stress is something that affects all of us in one way or another. We do not usually recognize the level of stress we are actually under until we are able to put things in perspective.
When we can put things in perspective and be grateful for not just the positive things in your life, but also the obstacles, we are able to open ourselves up to so much more in the world. Equally important, is learning how to be present through your breath. Sarah goes through a breathing exercise that I challenge you to do every day for the next week. It will really help decrease your stress, put things in perspective and give you a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for each day.
Sarah is a yoga teacher and teaches astrology, nutrition and holistic health to her clients. She has been teaching for 15 years and is based out of Southern California.
Erica: I have my lovely friend Sarah Reese with me for this episode! She is based out of Southern California and teaches yoga, astrology, nutrition and holistic health. In this episode, we are going to talk about yoga and breath work. But before we get into that, I would love for you, Sarah, to share with everyone how you got started.
Sarah: I was really introduced to yoga through my sister in Santa Cruz when I was 16; she took me to a yoga class. At the time, I was competitively swimming and really into modern ballet, so I was already feeling the injuries and fatigue that dance can really have on the body at a young age. My sister dragged me to a yoga class and during the class, I have never felt more present in my body. I was immediately drawn to it. Two years later when I was at UC Irvine studying dance, I started practicing yoga with a teacher there and always felt a deep connection to it. It really started to heal a lot of the injuries that I had as a little girl. After graduation, I ended up in New York City dancing with different modern dance companies. I was really feeling the beating my body was taken from the constant rehearsing. I was 25 and could barely get out of bed. I didn’t really understand health and wellness at this point or the demand that I was putting on my body.
I stumbled on Ohm Yoga in New York which is where I really started learning the yoga lifestyle. I didn’t realize the stress I was putting on my body and how it was literally making me sick. According to the Heart Association, “Stress is creating heart disease”. The mystery of stress manifests in the body in a variety of ways and can creep up and bite you in the tush when you least expect it. We don’t usually recognize the level of stress we are under until much, much later when we have what’s called perspective. Perspective is a tricky thing. We can’t have perspective unless we have the objectivity of who we are and how we manage ourselves in the world.
What I found on my journey as a yoga student and then eventually a teacher, was that yoga provided me the objectivity that I really didn’t have. You go through this journey of coming into your physical body. I have many students that I say, “lift your right arm up,” and they move their left leg because they’re so disconnected from their physical body. The yoga practice and breath work on the physical side give us that very first rudimentary platform to know that we have a body. It is interesting because once you understand what it means to harmonize the body and embrace the fact that you can live a full life without disease, it is life changing.
Erica: I am so glad you said that because that is so important as it ties back into stress. I think a lot of times, people don’t realize or understand stress because doctors don’t talk about it. When we take a more holistic approach it is quite amazing what we are capable of doing with our bodies.
Sarah: Yes! I have clients that are working with certain diseases or autoimmune disorders and the first step in tackling these diseases with a more holistic approach is being extremely grateful. I always talk to my clients and explain my story because, without my Crohn’s disease diagnosis, I would not have woken myself up and dove into studying the way I did. I wanted to study life; I wanted to have a different life practice. It really woke me up and I think this is a common story for people who have survived illness or survived anything in life that really shook them would agree. It really wakes you up and moves you into that positive vibration around gratitude.
Erica: I think this is such a great thing. As you know, I had a lot of knee pain growing up and someone asked me recently if I had any resentment with all the pain I had as a child and my early adult years. And after thinking about it I thought, no, never once have I had any resentment towards it because it was just part of who I was and my life’s journey and purpose. I feel like I am on this journey of discovering new things every day with myself, my clients and with others and it is amazing.
But it starts with gratitude. If we hold things against people, it is hard to move forward and much harder to learn from them. We should always be grateful for experiences and the amazing things that we do have today. And we need to always be looking forward and having gratitude toward things coming our way in the future as well.
So, Sarah, I would love for you to talk to everyone through just a simple breath practice that I think is powerful.
Sarah: Anytime I go back to my yoga teacher, she always says “You are where your breath is”. So, wherever you are, you have your breath. To me, that is a reminder to be present wherever I am. You can do this anywhere. It is not a rigorous practice, it is just vitality. It is your energy, your chi or your life force. When we practice pranayama breathing, we are trying our best to keep the energy resources in the confines of the body. So preferably, if you could do this while sitting in a chair or on the ground or wherever is comfortable for you where you can sit tall in your spine. Take a moment to close your eyes so you can use the gift of just picturing yourself or that internal eye as I call it, and just placing your chest and head right above your pelvis. This is so important as we move into breath work because we want to create a container or a vessel that we can breathe deeply in.
When we sit tall, we don’t compress into the diaphragm and lungs. We want to create a nice open rib space for the diaphragm to move up and down to allow space for the lungs to move and widen across the back. Place your feet on the earth, roll your hips down onto the ground and lift your spine tall letting your head float right above your shoulders letting your eyes close. If you feel anxiety when you close your eyes, you can draw your eyes down onto your cheekbones. Allow your palms to face down onto your knees or thighs. Take a moment to just inhale and exhale through your nose. The reason we breathe out of the nose is that we are going to create a partial restriction in our throat, creating the sound of the ujjayi breath.
During ujjayi breathing, we partially close the throat and drag the breath across the base of the throat which sounds like what I call Darth Vader’s baby. You can always YouTube ujjayi breathing if you are not able to hear it accurately through the podcast. What happens when you inhale is you create a little vibration in your throat. The vibration is vibrating against a big, powerful nerve called the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your gut. That vibration sends a signal to our nervous system telling it to relax. As you sit tall, we are going to inhale for the count of three and exhale for the count of three. Inhale, one, two three. Exhale, one, two, three.
We want to practice exercising the musculature and function of our respiratory system to inhale first because you need to know how to empty your cup first before you fill it up. If the three count was easy for you, you can move into inhaling for three counts and exhaling for five counts. If you start to feel stress or strain or your heart rate increase, go back and try the three-count breathing again.
Erica: One thing I notice when I begin my breath work and what I see in my clients is how restricted we get in our mid-back due to sitting so much throughout the day, especially if we are not using the best posture. I find that this practice of breathing can really help you become more aware of what is going on in your body, especially your mid-back.
Sarah: When we don’t use it, we lose it. As children, we naturally diaphragmatically breathe. We breathe deep and low into our tummies. The reason is that babies haven’t experienced that stress yet. They haven’t had those years or stress that really make the belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing turn into stress breathing which is short, shallow breaths. Remember, the lungs are behind the heart. Gil Hedley describes the lungs and how they work in unison with the heart as the heart dance.
When we become more in tune with our breath, our movement becomes fuller and we have greater range. This means we can become stronger and let ourselves go deeper. I recommend taking three to five minutes before bed every night where you just sit, consciously watching and timing yourself inhaling and exhaling. Even if it feels foreign at first, it will make you feel a lot better.
Erica: When we begin to breathe better and improve our diaphragm expanding it can help your hips, back, pelvic floor function and so much more because the way we breathe dramatically affects the function of our pelvis. The first step in anything is just becoming aware; the second step is to practice. It does get better and takes time to develop so keep at it!
Sarah: Absolutely! It’s an exercise just like you are exercising your hamstring.
Erica: I am so grateful for you sharing a part of your wisdom and knowledge with us. I hope everyone here feels they can breathe a little bit better and will be a little more aware of their practice. Thank you, Sarah, and everyone for listening.
The material contained within is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician before beginning a new regiment or purchasing any product(s).