Friday, June 22, 2018

Mutual Support in Modern Capitalist Yoga

mutual support
By Kathryn Boland

Have you experienced trials with the business of modern Western yoga? Have you seen yoga instructors facing such trials? Did you support them? Were you supported? In most locations, more yoga instructors are being trained in, and interested in, teaching than there are available teaching opportunities. The result is a market oversaturated with teachers.

Catty, self-interested competitiveness could easily emerge in such a context. Practicing yoga doesn’t mean that you’ve perfected yogic values - it only means that you’re practicing them (at very varied potential capacities and consistencies). On the other hand, I personally have only seen neutrality or overt support from fellow yoga instructors in this matter. I’ve seen fellow instructors give other instructors teaching tips, offer subbing and leads for longer-term work. Other instructors certainly might have a different experience with this.

When we trust that what is ultimately best for us will occur, we will not feel defensive and self-protective. This is a practice of non-grasping (aparigraha). Drastic competitiveness can result in action of stealing what should be others’ - if we think of connections and opportunities as capital for building yoga teacher careers, they’re definitely things we can say can be stolen. The opposite would be non-stealing, or asteya.

As mentioned, I personally have never heard of it happening, but I can imagine teachers engaging in gossip and starting rumors to try and undercut other instructors. These sorts of actions can result from jealousy, insecurity, and/or feeling threatened. Most perpetrators of such actions don’t feel good after doing them. It certainly doesn’t feel good for the person who is the target.

On the other end of the spectrum, we can support each other, recognizing each other’s struggles and do what we can to ease them. This takes open communication. If we see instructor friends struggling, we can ask how they are - opening up space for them to confide in us about their struggles. If we are struggling, we can communicate that. In fact, I’d like to share a story about myself doing this that ended up in me feeling more supported in my teaching work.

A few months ago I connected with a teacher who came back to Boston from Vienna, on Facebook. I was a bit frustrated to see her getting a lot of work quite quickly, and also have the availability to travel and cook delicious, healthy meals. I felt some jealousy rising up within me, and also just confusion about how she wasn't struggling more - considering how long it took myself and others I know to make connections and get teaching work in this city.

I’m not proud of these reactions - I only want to be transparent about them. Then she posted that she was subbing a class at a studio where I had tried to get work, and got absolutely nowhere. I just had to say something - but I was committed to doing so politely. I asked her if she minded me asking how she ended up subbing there. I also described some of my frustrations with certain turns in my teaching career.

She explained that it was through a sale/acquisition of another studio where she’d been subbing. She also opened up that she struggles financially, lives with her boyfriend (who through that is helping her out with housing expenses), works another job, and has to “really hussle”. She agreed that more real conversations about the way instructors are treated, and the values the yoga world lives and works by, are needed.

I had to notice how I jumped to conclusions about how she was really doing. I was entirely susceptible to the positive messages of social media, rather than keeping in mind that people often don’t share the deeper and harder things. I was glad I reached out, checking my underlying jealousy and annoyance to speak diplomatically and kindly. We could agree, and both feel heard. Now, we share opportunities with each other when possible. It seems like we’re in each other’s corner.

Even without that practical support, I can’t speak for her, but I know that I felt validated. It felt better to not hold those thoughts and feelings to myself. Perhaps more individual dialogues of these types of conversations would lead to wider conversations that could bring positive change to the yoga world. Even without that, individual instructors could be in a better place to go forth serving in their work.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Power up with Plank Pose

By Kathryn Boland 

Do you ever guide your students in refining Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana), a fundamental asana? Would you like to learn more about it, so that you could do that with more fluency and effectiveness? Plank can add a good amount of versatility to Vinyasa and related asana forms. With it and through it are modifications to “up-level", “down-level", to add more vigor or ease practice. Read on for tips. 

Plank Pose Basics 

Spin your biceps forward, spreading your fingers wide and grounding through every part of your hand. If you need to spin your hands slightly out in order to make those happen concurrently, go ahead and do that. Fix your drishti on a diagonal forward and down. Feel your tailbone draw to your heels, and your belly scoop into your spine. Power up through your quads and hamstrings as well. 

These actions taken together help create a long, strong line (sloping upwards) from the heels to the head. For Side Plank (shifted to one hand, the other rising up to the sky, and torso facing in the same direction as the raised arm), feel the top hip coming forward. It will want to fall back, potentially leading to loss of stable balance as well as even minor muscle strain. Find a small lift higher with the hips, as they also want to drop downwards. 

Ensure that the bottom shoulder stays in line with its wrist, just as it was in Plank, with the top arm riding out of its shoulder. There’s a tendency for it to slip back behind the shoulder - try not to let it. Keep the belly scooping into the spine and the tailbone drawing towards the heels. Feel the feet flexing hard, such that they stay in the same shape they were in during Plank. Enjoy the feeling of a powerful and dynamic balance here, one that involves the entire body! 


There may be numerous circumstances in which you might want to make Plank Pose less physically rigorous - including having students with limited physical capacity (from injury, advanced age, youth, et cetera), or teaching a more gentle class format that still includes Vinyasa-like elements (such as “Slow Flow” or “Gentle Flow"). A classic way to do this is to take Plank on the knees. Instruct students to make sure they’re resting just above or below the kneecaps (versus directly on them). 
To take this modified Plank into a transitional flow, rather than through Chaturanga, drop the chest in between the thumbs. Allow the bum to go high. Then slide the heart forward and let the bum drop, to take Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Then push back through Tabletop Pose to Downward-Facing Dog. It’s also possible to modify Side Plank - from modified Plank, spin one foot behind the same-side knee. Then stack the hips to face the opposite side, with the arms the same as in traditional Side Plank. 

Another modified version of Plank Pose is to do it on a wall. This can work well in private lessons or smaller classes that can provide wall space for each student, as well as those with a style and flow that will not be problematically interrupted by having students move to a wall. Have them place palms flat on a wall at shoulder height and shoulder-distance apart. Bend elbows to bring the torso closer to the wall - aiming for all the way, but any degree will help build strength, awareness, and integration. Feel the tailbone heavy and the chin slightly lifting, just like in Mountain Pose. In the case of wrist injury, an option is Dolphin Plank - which takes pressure off the wrists by distributing weight all throughout the hands, wrists, and forearms. It can feel more strenuous than traditional Plank Pose, such as in requiring more core engagement, because being lower to the ground creates a greater need to resist gravity (simply by the laws of physics). All of these versions do require core, arm, and leg strength, but in their own ways certainly less physically strenuous than a full Plank Pose (then perhaps also flowing into Chaturanga). Just as knees-down Plank Pose, it’s a smart way to “down-level" the pose, when indicated. 


At other times, you’ll have students who will benefit from challenges added on to Plank. These include “Mountain Climbers” - taking a knee towards the chest and stepping the foot back, nothing else moving (not even the hips), and the same on the other leg, switching back and forth a few times. Feel the belly scoop into the spine for stability and strength building. 

Another variation is the knee crossing the body towards the other elbow, or towards the same elbow. A sequence could be same elbow, center, opposite elbow, all again in reverse. Another option is to transition from Downward Facing Dog into any or all of the above. It can also be fun to transition from Plank to Downward-Facing Dog, with no other additions. Cue your students to roll through a Cat Pose back on the way up and down, for additional strengthening and sensing of spinal movement.  
This is all some serious core strength work! To ensure that you’re not overdoing it in what you’re cueing, watch students for signs of fatigue and the lax alignment that can result (which becomes a safety issue). Make it fully clear to them that they are free to take rest whenever they need. And all of the above done with the given that these students understand, and consistently execute, safe and strong alignment. Otherwise, it’s not yet time for these additions. It’s time to step back to square one. Wishing safe, strong, harmonious practice to all! 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Sunday, April 08, 2018

Working with Yoga Students Who Have Hip Replacements

yoga students who have hip replacements
By Bhavan Kumar 

Any posture has some degree of risk. The picture of Virasana brings to mind the contraindications regarding knees and pre-existing knee conditions. What does this have to do with hip replacements? Just getting to the floor after a hip replacement presents some degree of risk and physicians  may differ regarding postures they approve.

During the times when you have your students, as a teacher, it's your job to care for them in a way that supports their physical health. Many students attend yoga for benefits far beyond the physical. However, the physical benefits can't be denied. If you have a student who has dealt with a hip replacement surgery, it's important to handle them with care. Remember the following points when a student walks into your studio with a hip replacement. 

Length of Time 

When a yoga student comes in and tells you that they've had a hip replacement, one of the first questions, you need to find out how long ago the hip replacement surgery was. The difference in length of time is major. If they had hip replacement surgery two months prior, they'll have a different experience than they would if the surgery happened six months prior. Typically, it's not the greatest idea to begin a yoga practice within six months of surgery. It also depends on the type of hip replacement surgery they had. Once you gain clarity on how long it's bee since they had the surgery, you'll be able to get a better assessment of how to move forward. 

Doctor's Orders

When a student has walked into your studio and tells you they've had a hip replacement surgery, it's also important to find out if they've received their doctor's permission. You have to think about it from a business perspective as well. You don't want to be held liable for an injury you could've helped to prevent. If you're not familiar with the details of hip replacement surgeries, it's also a good idea to establish a certain precedent. 

If a student wants to practice and they've had surgery, they need to bring a doctor's note that gives them clearance to go ahead and participate in the class. If they don't have clearance, they can't join in. When it comes to insurance and liabilities, you don't want to get yourself in trouble. It's wise to lean more on the safe side and see a note from a doctor's office. Even when you get the doctor's note, it's still important to be careful throughout the practice. 

Pose Modifications 

One of the best ways to be careful involves pose modifications. Some of the poses a student might've loved doing are impossible shortly after a hip surgery. This isn't to say that those poses will remain impossible. It's just important to remember that it'll take some time and practice to find a new normal within the body. A simple pose like Child's Pose is very comforting for most. However, someone with a hip replacement can dislocate their hip with this move. For child's pose, a student sits on their knees and feet. They lean their body forward toward the floor. 

That process of moving the upper body to the floor can be catastrophic. In this case, the proper modification involves sitting upright and staying there. Eagle Pose is another popular pose in a yoga practice. With this pose, a student stands up and wraps one leg around the other while the knees are slightly bent. After a hip replacement surgery, this move can be quite challenging and painful to execute. Instead, provide a modification where the student doesn't rotate their leg around at the usual angle. They can still do the move, but not at the full rotation. 

Educational Research

Since you're a yoga teacher, it's very important to educate yourself on the types of injuries your students can potentially deal with. When you're knowledgeable, you can confidently help your students experience the restoration they desire as they ease back into their beloved yoga practice. Read books, attend seminars and keep a few medical professionals on speed dial for those times when you have questions. The more you know, the more powerful you'll be in the studio.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Saturday, April 07, 2018

Standing Out From the Yoga Instructor Crowd

yoga instruction field
By Kathryn Boland

Have you noticed the amount of competition in the yoga instruction field? What have you done to “stand out” from those competing for the same jobs? Or to reconcile with competition in tension with true yogic values?  
Some instructors may teach one to a few classes a week, volunteer with their teaching, or do sessions for friends and family in a private context. Those things considered, there are still many, many teachers out there looking for teaching work to fully supply or significantly supplement their income (and, of course, experience all of the other wonderful things about the work) - outpacing the steady rise of yoga’s popularity in the West. 
A question arises from all of this - who sinks and who swims?  It feels harsh to talk about living, feeling people in these ways, but that’s how capitalism does. We need be in a certain amount of alignment with the capitalist system in which we operate. Employers are largely in control of decisions that will lead to who succeeds and who struggles. By and large, they make their choices based upon what they believe is best for their businesses.

Sometimes those decisions are wise, and sometimes they’re not. They’re human beings who make mistakes. Either way, often there are people involved who have to be disappointed, sometimes hurt. None of us want to see fellow instructors disappointed or hurt. We of course also need to be of service to others; our practice, and simply being a decent person in the world, calls for it. 
Yet if everyone were to put others completely before themselves, with a result of self-harm, would anybody really be better off? We must care for ourselves so that we can care for others. As long as we act with integrity, honesty, and kindness, we do not have to feel guilty for our success - by yoga’s moral code or that of any other way of living. 
There is always a slightly uncomfortable tension between true yoga and the business of yoga in a capitalist society. In my view, if operating within a capitalist framework is what it takes to make yoga accessible to people in these culture, then certain compromises are worth it. Again, as long as we act by our values, we aren’t compromising yoga’s truest, deepest essence. Go ahead and seeks out as many opportunities as you desire and can feasibly be granted.

Audition with all your heart and soul. Let yourself be joyful when you are granted opportunities. Also be joyful for others when they are granted opportunities! Let yourself experience natural sadness when an opportunity doesn’t work out, and be there to comfort others when they experience that sadness. This is the kind of connection with authentic self that will also help you to stand out from the crowd of other instructors. 
No one is better at being you than you! A common mistake of young instructors is to imitate their favorite teachers. You’re not as good at being someone else as you are at being you! People can smell inauthenticity from a mile away, so to speak. It’s not compelling or enjoyable. It won’t get you jobs or people in your classes. No one else is you, as well, so that right there sets you apart to at least some degree! 

Second, be the best you you can be. Keep up with continuing education, refine your sequences, and seek feedback about your teaching. Practice regularly. Attend to your self-care. Maintain strong social ties and connection to things apart from yoga that light you up. Seek to offer your students the most whole, healthy, and capable version of yourself. 
That being said, you will make mistakes. You won’t be perfect. Another myth about yoga instructors out there is that we are always morally upstanding, and always make the healthiest choices. If that were true, we wouldn’t need yoga. We would have reached Samadhi. By and large, we do our bests to practice what we preach. But we’re human! Any expectation, from ourselves or from others, to always act in perfect adherence to yogic values is unfair and unrealistic. 

Another way to stand out from the yoga instructor crowd is to leverage your unique experience. No resume nor life story is the same. Do you have training in math and science? Pique your students’ interest in the physics, geometry, and anatomy involved with yoga. A trained musician or singer? Offer your students live music or singing to open and close classes. 
Are you a dancer/choreographer? Use your sense of movement and the body to craft enjoyable and intriguing sequences for your students. Office/management experience? Be great at organizing and promoting your business, as well as connecting with other businesses and clients. The point is to offer yourself in the fullness of who you are. By the reasoning of Deepak Chopra’s Law of Attraction, the opportunities that align with that fullness will come your way. If you focus on the goal, rather than the competition in the way of reaching it, they’ll be nothing stopping that Attraction. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Revenge of the Trolls Invades Your Yoga Studio

invades your yoga studio
By Sanjeev Patel, CYT 500

Maybe I'm weird, but I loved trolls in folklore and literature. They were not so good looking, they didn't smell good, lived in caves or under a bridge, and sometimes, they ate the local farmer's goats. Snoopy used to laugh about rabbits while reading in the library, and as a kid, I laughed about trolls. Now, the Internet has the 21st century troll who antagonizes everyone. Suddenly, it has become popular to be a public troll on commuter trains, during traffic jams, and places around town.

How would you know a troll?

He might try to hide in your closets without signing up for a class. He'll definitely refuse to sign your waiver form and he might say things like: "Believe me! Political correctness is killing this studio!"

When most people enter a yoga studio, they long to experience a zen-like feeling and uplift their spirits. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for everyone. There are some people who like to stir up drama and contention. Just like there are trolls that invade the Internet and the government, trolls can roam anywhere. This includes a yoga studio. When you, yoga practitioners and yoga students are trying to be on one accord and have a great session, trolls will do their best to make sure this doesn't happen. However, there are ways to handle the situation. 

1. Be introspective. 

You don't want to be in this space for too long. However, you do want to go inward for a second to consider the other person. You need to have a momentary dialogue with yourself to communicate and translate what's happening on the deepest level. At the core, when you're dealing with a troll, you're dealing with someone who's carrying a significant amount of hurt. Their behavior is just a manifestation of what's happening on the inside. When a person has peace, they have no desire to cause a scene and disturb others. 

2. Control your emotions. 

This is a perfect time to think and meditate on your feet. As you approach the situation, take some time to do some deep breathing exercises. As you breathe in and out, the body will have a better opportunity to get rid of any negative emotion and toxic energy. You don't want to absorb the other party's aura. Intentionally control your emotions, with breathing techniques and a thoughtful perspective on what's happening in front of you. 

3. Calmly communicate. 

When you're dealing with a person who's snappy and intentionally causing problems, they probably aren't communicating rationally. They might be really rude, confrontational and disrespectful. Don't return evil for evil. You need to respond in a calm manner. When you remain calm, you'll have a better chance of diffusing the situation. It also does a great job of disempowering the person. If the other person's voice rises in volume, don't try to match it. Stay at a consistent tone of voice as you communicate. Many people communicate soft-spoken language with weakness, but it can be the most powerful tone in a conversation. 

4. Refuse to emotionally engage. 

When a person is giving off toxic energy, it tends to throw other people off. When a person is screaming and carrying on with a bad attitude, to most people, it feels natural to go to that same emotional space as well. However, that is exactly what a troll wants. Since trolls are dealing with such emotional turmoil, they get pleasure from their ability to control the emotions of others. Don't engage on an emotional level. Don't try to reason with them. You should communicate, but understand that they might try to engage in conversation in order to completely waste your time.  You could catch him red-handed taking photos of students in your class and he'll respond: "I have tremendous respect for yoga." You're thinking: "Seriously!"

5. Think of solutions. 

It's important to be solution-driven. Most parents with small children understand the need for a contingency plan. While many days may go as planned, this isn't the case for every single day. When you have irate students and troublemakers, it's wise to think of solutions to handle their temper tantrums. If it's disrupting the class, it's good to have someone in place to handle their complaints, such as an administrator or customer service representative. 

6. Call in reinforcements. 

Unfortunately, there might be a time or two when a person becomes so disruptive that it threatens the safety and integrity of the people in the studio. In that case, it's best to call for reinforcements. Reinforcements might include security and the police. You never want to be in a position where your safety is at risk. Always have a way to manage the situation so that it can be quickly handled. Be prepared for him to give one last parting shot, such as: "I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers."

As you are closing the door on him for the last time, he says your school is really boring. Don't say a word, close the door now and take a deep breath - the troll is gone.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Help! My Yoga Students are Yelping Me!

negative reviews
By Bhavan Kumar

As a yoga teacher, you are your own brand. You might be stationed at a specific studio, but students can opt to attend your class. As a result, it's not uncommon for many teachers to build a strong fan base and following. After taking this into account, it's important to recognize that your students might leave a review on about you. After first, this can seem a little nerve-wracking. However, there are a few good ways to handle this reality. 

One of the parts that gets most people concerned is the negative review. Just by nature, people want to hear really good remarks about who they are and what they bring to the world. It can be really challenging to hear negative feedback. On top of this, it can be really challenging to read negative feedback on a public platform. This means that other people can see it. Furthermore, the feedback will influence a person's desire to work with a specific teacher. So, a good or bad remark can make the difference in whether or not you receive a sale. This can be understandably challenging. So, there are a few ways to approach this ordeal. 

1. Take note of the criticism. 

While it can be tough to read negative reviews of your service, it's best to use those uncomfortable experiences and allow them to refine you. Use the negative reviews as notes on how you can improve. Run the reviews past a few of your most trusted colleagues and friends. If they are able to agree with the sentiments in a gentler way, it's time to step your game up. Keep in mind that you'll always continue to learn and grow. Knowing this, don't get too hard on yourself. Come up with an action plan to help you become proactive about improving. As you learn more about the process, you can shift your mindset and look at the criticism as a great way to become the best yoga professional you can be. 

2. Be responsive on Yelp. 

Whether the review is positive or negative, make sure to leave a comment. It helps users realize that you see their feedback and have a desire to be responsive. Attentiveness is very important. When a brand lets anything go unchecked online, it's bad for optics. Instead, sign up for Google Alerts or another service that notifies you when someone leaves a new comment or review. Promptly respond to it. If it's a positive review, make sure to express gratitude to the person who left it. If it's a negative review, it might be a good idea to approach it in a different way. A negative review might cause you to have a similar reaction. Your response can make a big difference in whether or not other reviewers are attracted to your brand. Apologize for the person's experience. Offer an opportunity to connect offline so that you can learn more about what they would've wanted to experience. In some cases, the reviewer might not even respond. However, if they do, they'll appreciate the fact that you were responsive to their experience. In many cases, negative reviewers want to be heard and understood. 

3. Make it a part of the narrative.

Whether you like it or not, you're living in the digital age. Social media and the internet are here to stay. Additionally, there are so many ways people benefit from these entities, so embrace the fact. Instead of fighting against it, adopt the narrative and make it work in your favor. At the beginning of each class, make sure to introduce yourself. At the end of the class, reintroduce yourself and encourage students to leave a review of how the course went for them. In this case, you get to welcome and encourage positive reviews. It's all about making the experience work for you!

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Teaching Yoga Classes that Dissolve Anger: Relaxation Breath

Dissolve Anger
By Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Although it is snowing today, the spring season is one week away and with the advent of a new season; many Yoga practitioners and teachers will be starting new projects, courses and various training programs. As the pace of life begins to shift from season to season, many of us can easily become overwhelmed with the increased number of items on our to-do list. As anxiety levels begin to escalate with the increased pace of life and number of daily obligations, irritation and even angry feelings may begin to arise.

When this happens, many people find that they are holding quite a bit of stress and tension in their bodies, including breathing in a shallow manner. By offering your Yoga students a balanced and comprehensive practice of postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, you will help them to maintain an inner state of equilibrium. The more physically challenging and vigorous forms of Yoga is wonderful for relieving stress and tension from the body and increasing the flow of vital life force energy throughout the entire body-mind complex.

Some of the more vigorous forms of asanas that help to wring deeply held muscular tension out of the body are the Ashtanga and Power Yoga systems. These systems are based on linking the postures together by continually flowing through a series of Sun Salutations.

This long, dance-like flow, which usually that lasts up to an hour or longer, leaves little room in the body or mind for holding onto physical tension or focusing on distressing thoughts in the mind. Flowing, vinyasa-based Yoga practices are especially powerful when they are performed in conjunction with pranayama exercises.

During the physically active portion of a power or vinyasa Yoga class, the postures are usually performed in tandem with Ujjayi Pranayama. This ocean-sounding breath is both energizing and relaxing. It also effectively stokes the inner fire that nourishes our vital life force energy. At the end of a Yoga class, a very effective breathing exercise for promoting deep rest is the Relaxation Breath.  Essentially, the Relaxation Breath shifts the body from being propelled by the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is also known as the fight or flight nervous system. Yoga practitioners as high levels of adrenalin and intense activity often experience this. For instance, imagine that you have just enjoyed a double espresso at your favorite coffee shop. As you start to feel the caffeine elevate your mood and your energy level, you probably feel like you could take on the world! This is the more positive side of the sympathetic nervous system. However, this heightened level of energy can also quickly swing into impatience, irritation and anger, which is the less attractive aspect of the “double-edge sword” of the sympathetic nervous system.

In order to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems during the course of your classes, it is important to guide your students through a comprehensive practice of both active and relaxing Yoga postures, as well a few well-placed breathing exercises. The Relaxation Breath is a very simple breathing exercise that is optimally practiced during the final portion of a Yoga class.

Practicing this calming pranayama technique is a wonderful way to lead your students into a deeply restorative Shavasana. When you are ready to teach Relaxation Breath, ask your students to sit in a comfortable seated position or to lie down in Shavasana.

You may wish to offer your students Yoga bolsters to place underneath their knees if they are resting in Corpse Pose. This additional support will help to relieve any accumulated tension in the lower back. When your students are ready, have them breath in for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight. Continue the practice of Relaxation Breath for several minutes in a continuous fashion. By elongating the exhalation, the body naturally shifts from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, which will allow anxiety, impatience and anger to naturally dissolve from the body and mind.

© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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