Energizing Breath (Invigorating for Kapha)

You can invigorate your body and mind with the breathing technique known as bhastrika or “bellows breath”, or Kapalabhati, “shining breath”. These exercises cleanse your lungs while increasing the oxygen flow to your cells and tissues. These techniques also help with motivation and are known to increase lung capacity, improve circulation, boost metabolism, tone abdominal muscles and improve digestion and elimination.

To perform bhastrika, sit comfortably with your spine upright and close your eyes. Exhale all the air from your lungs. Then begin deep in and out breathing through your nose silently using the mantras, “So” on the inflow and “hum” on the outflow. For the first twenty breaths take two-second slow forceful inhalations and two second slow forceful exhalations. It is easiest to keep track of the number of breaths by counting on your fingers.

The next twenty breaths are performed faster with approximately one-second inhalations and one second exhalations. These are also preformed through the nose while thinking “So” on the in-breath and “hum” on the out-breath.

Finally, perform twenty rapid bhastrika breaths, approximately one-half second inhalations and one- half second exhalations. After the twenty rapid breaths, perform one more slow deep breath and then simply feel the sensations in your body. You will notice that your mind is clear and quiet while your body is energized.

Do not hyperventilate to the point where you are feeling lightheaded or dizzy. The breath movement is almost entirely abdominal, using your diaphragm to move air. Your head and shoulders should be relaxed and mostly still. Use bhastrika when you are feeling a little sluggish and need a quick replenishment of energy. It is also beneficial prior to your afternoon meditation to clear away drowsiness before you start your practice.

Another variation of the bellows breath is Kapalabhati, or “shining breath”. This particular breathing technique involves forceful exhalation followed by passive inhalation.

Sitting comfortably with your spine in an upright posture, forcefully expel all the air from your lungs, then allow them to fill passively. The primary movement is from your diaphragm. Perform this movement ten times, and then allow your breathing to return to normal and observe the sensations in your body.

Repeat these cycles of ten movements three to four times. Like Bhastrika, Kapalabhati is a cleansing and invigorating pranayama.

Ujayi – Soothing Breath (Soothing for Pitta)

The soothing breath technique known as Ujayi can be used to settle your mind and body when you are feeling frustrated or irritated. When performed correctly it creates a cooling effect at the back of the throat and has a stabilizing influence on the cardiorespiratory system.

To perform Ujayi breath, take a slightly deeper than normal inhalation. On the exhalation, slightly constrict your throat muscles so it sounds as if you are snoring. Your out-breath is through your nose with your mouth closed. Another way to get the hang of this practice is to first exhale, “Haaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar motion with your mouth closed. This will result in the desired breathy snoring sound. Once you have mastered it on the outflow, perform the same procedure on inflow. The result is that you sound a little like Darth Vader from Star Wars.

When you find yourself becoming aggravated or upset, shift into Ujayi breath and you will notice a prompt soothing influence. You can also use this when performing yoga postures and while exercising at a moderate level. Practicing this soothing breath technique will reduce wear and tear on your physiology and slow aging.

Nadi Shodhana -Relaxing Breath (Relaxing for Vata)

You can calm your mind with the breathing technique known as Nadi Shodhana. In English this means, “clearing the channels.” Nadi Shodhana is very beneficial when you are having a lot of anxious thoughts, and when you are trying to quiet your mind. It requires the use of your right hand to alternately close your right, then left nostril. Hold your hand so you thumb, index finger and remaining fingers are separated. You use your thumb to close your right nostril and your third and fourth finger to close your left.

Take a slow moderately deep breath, and then close off your right nasal passage with your thumb. Exhale slowly through your left nostril, then inhale slowly through your left nostril, then close off your left nostril with your third and fourth fingers. Exhale through your right nostril, inhale through your right nostril and then again close your right nasal passage, exhaling through your left. Continue with this pattern for five to ten minutes alternating the nostril after each inhalation. After just a few cycles you will experience your mind calming and your body relaxing.

Use these practices throughout the day to balance your mind and body. Pranayama can energize you without the need for caffeine, relax you without the need for tranquilizers and soothe you without the need for alcohol. These natural techniques help to balance and nourish the field of energy, transformation and intelligence commonly known as your body/mind.


Self-AbhyNourish your body with a daily self-massage.

A daily self-massage with aromatherapy massage oils, known in Ayurveda as an Abhyanga (or self-Abhy), is one of the most important tools in Ayurveda to activate your inner pharmacy and slow the aging process. Massage nourishes the tissues, stimulates the skin to release health-promoting chemicals, enhances circulation, increases alertness, facilitates detoxification and improves immunity. Your massage technique should be gentle or more vigorous depending on your body type.

Benefits of massage:

  • Releases built up stress in the body
  • Relaxes the muscles
  • Feels great–who doesn’t love to be touched?
  • Leaves a thin, moisturizing layer on the body(protective and nourishing)
  • Enhances the natural beauty of the skin

How to perform a self-Abhy

Begin by running some hot water over the bottle to gently warm the oil. Pour a tablespoon of warm oil onto your scalp and vigorously work in the oil. Using your fingertips vigorously massage your head and scalp with small circular strokes, as if you are shampooing.

Move to your face and ears, massaging more gently. Using an open hand to create friction, massage both the front and back of the neck.

Vigorously massage your arms, using a circular motion at the shoulders and elbows, and back-and-forth motions on the upper arms and forearms.

When massaging your chest and stomach, use a gentle clock-wise circular motion and a straight up-and-down motion over the breastbone.

After applying a bit of oil to both hands, gently reach around to the back and spine and massage them as well as you can without straining.

Vigorously massage your legs as you did your arms, using circular motions at the ankles and knees, back-and-forth motions on the long parts.

After massaging your legs, spend extra time on your feet. Using the open part of your hand, massage vigorously back and forth over the soles of the feet and message the toes individually.

Wash with warm, not hot water, keeping a thin, almost imperceptible film of oil on the body is considered very beneficial for toning the skin and warming the muscles throughout the day.

If you don’t have time to do a full-body massage, a short one is still much better than none at all.
The head and feet are the most important parts of the body to cover, and this can be accomplished in a very short time. The mini Self-Abhy can be done with two tablespoons of Abhy Oil.

Mini Self-Abhy

Rub one tablespoon of warm oil into your scalp, using the small, circular motions described above.
Massage your forehead from side to side using the palm of your hand.
Gently massage your temples, using circular motions, and then lightly rub your ears.
Spend a few moments massaging the back and front of your neck.
With a second tablespoon of oil, massage both feet using the flats of your hands.
Work the oil around the toes with your fingertips, and then vigorously massage the soles of your feet with brisk back-and-forth motions of the palms.

Sit quietly for a few seconds to relax and let the oil soak in, and then bathe as usual.


Winter is the coldest season, but on the subtle level it’s a time of rest, peace, inner focus, stillness, and reflection. You will gain a lot by focusing your meditation on these values. The flow of life naturally slows down and turns inward in this season, and it strains the physiology to resist this rhythm. Thoreau put it beautifully: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

In practical terms this means favoring warmer, heartier, nourishing foods in winter. This is a season where the cold can increase Vata dosha in everyone and make your body vulnerable to disorders due to Vata imbalance, particularly colds and flu. Balance is always the key, and the deepest, most profound source of balance for all three doshas comes in your daily meditation.

Silent meditation is the perfect vehicle for attuning yourself to the rhythm of every season, including winter. You will know you’re attuned in winter when you notice the following:

– You find the cold bracing and invigorating.
– You feel more inward in wintertime with enjoyment of the extra rest you give yourself.
– Your body feels warm and nourished.
– You have sharp perceptions (a sign of healthy Vata).
– You find your sleep naturally extends a little more than usual.

The holiday season occurs in winter for good reason, because winter is about consolidating your inner values and core strength. Where the other seasons send you off to go your separate ways—your energy wants to go outward the rest of the year—festive meals of the holidays and family gathering are a time of drawing together.

You don’t have to dwell on these things in your meditation, which is about deep silence. By having them in mind, however, you are subtly asking your awareness to adapt itself a certain way.

Draw Inward to Improve Your Outer Life

Silence is productive; it’s here to enhance your outer life, too. One of the most productive things it can do for you is to correct some of the problems that people typically encounter in winter, especially in colder climates. These include:

– Feeling heavy, sluggish, or dull.
– Becoming depressed.
– Finding it hard to be motivated.
– Associating the holidays with loneliness or family conflicts.
– Feeling stressed by holiday crowds, particularly when the weather turns.

For many people, these things merge amorphously into the “winter blues,” but in reality they are separate issues. Each should be approached in the spirit of healing. Healing occurs when you bring the level of the solution up to the surface rather than letting issues fester at the level of the problem.

How Your Brain Responds to Negative Input

Your tactic with any problem should focus on input and output to your brain. Your brain has connections, neural networks, and patterns of activity for every conditioned habit you experience, whether it’s physical or mental. Depression, for example, is so intricate and personal that every person is depressed in their own way, once you examine what is happening in the brain and even through the expression of genes.

This fact gives us an opening to change the old conditioning, which means altering the input into the brain in order to experience different output. This sounds abstract, I know, but your brain changes with every experience. If you go Christmas shopping when you’re on the verge of catching a cold, fighting the crowds at the mall, driving on slippery icy roads, and parking miles away on the fringes of the parking lot, each of these experiences registers in your brain. The brain recognizes only negative input and positive input. Everything I’ve described is negative input.

If you have conditioned yourself to put up with negative input and keep reinforcing it time and again, your brain will adapt to the input you’ve provided. That’s why, if you look at your responses objectively, you’ll see yourself responding to winter this year much the same way you did last year, with a familiar pattern of emotions and attitudes. In a word, you are letting your brain dictate to you when you should be the author of your own life, down to each moment of the day.

How to Send Positive Signals to Your Brain

What can you do to change? Sit down with a piece of paper and list three qualities about winter, as you experience them, which you want to change. The following possibilities are common:

– Heavy
– Dull
– Sad
– Depressed
– Gloomy
– Cold
– Exhausted

Pick basic qualities that persist rather than generalizations like “sick of my relatives at Christmas” or “hate holiday shopping.” We want to get at the kind of basic input you are sending to your brain.

Now, take the first quality you want to change—say, “dull.” Under this word, list the kind of input that makes your life dull in winter. The following might come up:

– I’m stuck inside and can’t get out enough.
– There’s nothing to do but sit around.
– I eat too much.
– I’m bored—watching TV and being on the computer don’t help.
– The cold slows me down too much.
– People around me seem sluggish.
– It’s bleak and uninviting outside.
– The same people surround me every day.

Each of these complaints involves some kind of input that gets repeated. This creates a feedback loop—the more you tell yourself you’re bored, the more bored you get. The more you complain about being stuck indoors, the more stifling it feels. These are all interpretations rooted in your perception, after all, some people are delighted to be indoors more than usual and welcome seeing their family more.

Now bring the solution to the surface. When you finish meditating and feel centered, look at your list of complaints. In a calm, self-possessed frame of mind, create new inputs. Don’t let your old conditioning distract you. If negative thoughts crop up, take a deep breath until you feel centered, and continue.

The whole point here is to prove to yourself that consciousness is more powerful than the brain.

Your brain can’t think of new input, only your mind can. Your list of new inputs might contain the following:

– Walk in the sunshine for 10 minutes every day it’s sunny.
– Walk in a really cheerful place when it’s cloudy, such as a park of arboretum where the trees are majestic in winter.
– Spend regular time with the most cheerful people I know.
– Take up a light recreational sport at the community center.
– Mentor a young person.
– Plan a dream vacation in every detail, living it through beautiful photos and magazine articles so that it feels as real as possible.
– Turn quiet time alone into something inspiring by reading spiritual books or poetry.
– Write letters, making each as entertaining as possible to the recipient.

These are all energizing options, the very opposite of dull. And that’s the key. Find inputs that are complete opposites of the conditioning that keeps you stuck in a negative situation.

Meditation, then, is the key to moving outward, not just inward. You go to the source of creativity, bliss, and intelligence when you meditate. They are productive qualities of consciousness, and they support you when you call upon them. Calling upon them happens in outer life. In a beautiful way, winter is the best time of year to learn how productive inner silence can be, because it’s the time of year when nature gathers itself inwardly. Follow its rhythm, not passively, but as an avenue to deepening your life experience.

by: Deepak Chopra, M.D.
– See more at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/wisdom-for-the-winter-season?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=ccl%20newsletter%20141217&utm_campaign=December#sthash.Dmid5gzP.dpuf

Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress- related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

James Carmody of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the co-authors of the study, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the British Broadcasting Company, and the Mind and Life Institute. For more information on the work of Lazar’s team.

By Sue McGreevey
MGH Communications
Harvard Gazette
Meditation study shows changes associated with awareness, stress

Valencia Porter, MD, MPH March 2014

Telomeres, the protective end-caps on our chromosomes, and telomerase, the enzyme which helps to build up those end-caps, are important to prevent chromosomal damage and degradation and have been proposed as a marker of “biological aging.” Studies have related shorter telomeres to higher risk of some age-related chronic diseases and higher mortality in general, and since their discovery there has been a flurry of research to understand their function and what factors contribute to their activity.

Chronic inflammation and chronic physical and psychological stress have been among the factors that may contribute to telomere shortening and may be part of the reason why those with unhealthy lifestyles (smoking, obesity, physical inactivity) have relatively shortened telomeres. Recent studies have shown improvements in telomerase activity with physical activity and meditation. Currently there is limited data on the influence of herbs and nutrients on telomere length and telomerase activity, however, several studies have indicated that mechanisms that can modulate chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (antioxidant-rich foods, vital nutrients, and traditional herbal medicines) affect telomere length. Below are some of the findings.

– In an epidemiological study of healthy sisters of breast cancer patients, use of multivitamins in general was associated with longer telomere length. This same study found that vitamin B-12 supplement users had longer telomere length than did nonusers. Although micronutrient intake from foods (as measured by food-frequency questionnaires) was generally not related to telomere length in this study, higher dietary response manner even after adjustment for multivitamin use. Among women who did not use multivitamins, higher dietary intakes of beta-carotene, folate, magnesium, and vitamins C, E, and A were each associated with longer telomere length. While consuming nutrient-rich foods and vitamins may play a role, individuals who do these things are also more likely to follow a healthy lifestyle.
Adequate micronutrients such as niacin, selenium, vitamin B12, and folate are needed for genomic stability including proper functioning of telomerase. Experimentally, selenium increased telomerase activity

– A separate study found that in women, vegetable intake was associated with longer telomere length. And men consuming the lowest amounts of butter and highest amounts of fruits had longer telomeres than those consuming the most butter and least fruits. Total fat and saturated fatty acid intake were inversely associated with telomere length in men.

– On the contrary, a study looking at dietary patterns and telomere length found that consumption of processed meats
(i.e. hot dogs, lunch meats, sausage, etc) was associated
with shortened telomeres. Another study looking at consumption of red and white meat also found an association with shortened telomeres, however the effect was reduced with the presence of dietary fiber.

– Related to diet, physical activity and stress level, obesity has been inversely associated with telomere length, and weight loss in obese individuals is associated with increases in telomere length.

– A study of omega-3 supplementation in healthy sedentary overweight middle-aged or older adults did not show any significant changes in telomere length. However, telomere length increase with decreasing omega-6 to omega-3 plasma fatty acid ratios which are known to affect inflammation.

– Another study looking at dietary intake of certain fatty acids in postmenopausal women found an inverse relationship of telomere length to intake of short-to-medium-chain saturated fatty acids (major sources include: nonskid milk, butter, and whole-milk cheese). 

– A study of 2006 elderly Chinese examining food groups and telomere length found that in men, Chinese tea consumption was significantly associated with telomere length. In women, intake of fats and oils was borderline and negatively associated with telomere length.

– In mouse models, Astragalus membranaceus extract and purslane were found to increase telomere length.

The overactivity of telomerase in cancer cells has also been the target of research. In cancer cell research the following have been found to reduce telomerase activity in certain cancer cell lines: ginger extract, curcumin, from turmeric, diosgenin from fenugreek, silibinin from milk thistle, apigenin found in many fruits and vegetables such as parsley, celery and chamomile tea, ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom), cordyceps militaris, phyllanthus urinaria, Atractylis lancea (Chinese herb), Australian bush fruit Illawarra plum. Asian Gleditsia sinensis (Traditional Herbal medicine), Sarcandra glabra (Chinese herb), cucurbitacin B extracted from Trichosanthes cucumerina L (Thai herb), Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge (traditional herbal medicine).

In two different studies, higher plasma levels of vitamin D has been associated with longer telomeres, with the association impacted by calcium intake. A study of Vitamin D supplementation in overweight African Americans did show significant increase in telomerase activity.
Other measurements of nutrients related to metabolism have also been associated with telomere length including plasma homocysteine (which was associated with shorter telomere length) and plasma folate (which was associated with longer telomere length).

Human cell models have showed increased telomerase activity from resveratrol, ginkgo biloba extract, and ginsenoside from ginseng

These studies are just the start of the exploration into factors which can modify telomere length and thus play a role in healthy aging, but likely it will pan out that living a healthy lifestyle and consuming nutrient-rich foods, including super foods and herbs which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are an integral part.

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