Category Archives: Breath

Yoga for Health Fact Sheet and Yoga Research

I haven’t written much about yoga research lately, mainly because I’ve been heads-down in the book launch events for my second novel. But recently I stumbled across a fact sheet from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health that was too good not to pass on.

The article summarizes key facts about yoga, including side effects and risks, recent scientific research, and key points to keep in mind if you are considering starting a yoga practice. As a side bonus, there’s a detailed bibliography of additional articles and links to three videos, one of which includes a list of “dos and don’ts.”

Here are some of my key takeaways:

A carefully designed yoga practice has been proven to:

  • Decrease back pain
  • Increase range of motion
  • Decrease heart rate and blood pressure
  • Relieve symptoms of both anxiety and depression
  • Improve quality of life and reduce stress
  • Reduce insomnia
  • Improve overall physical fitness, strength and flexibility
  • Be safe for healthy individuals when practiced under the guidance of a well trained-instructor

And a couple of surprises:

  • Studies done thus far have not found yoga to be helpful for asthma. (Side note: I wonder how much pranayama—if any—was included. I’d have to look at the full study to weigh in on this.)
  • The benefits of yoga for arthritis are equivocal. (Some studies find it helpful, some do not.) Future research is ongoing to see if yoga has different benefits for patients with rheumatoid arthritis versus osteoarthritis. Scientists are also trying to decide if yoga practice may be more helpful for some joints than others.

This sentence, taken directly from the article, almost made my heart sing: “Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities.” This is, of course, the hallmark of Viniyoga. How could I not agree?

Future studies are planned to determine yoga’s effects on a variety of other health conditions, including immune function, diabetes risk, PTSD, and HIV. I can’t wait to see the results!

If you’re at all interested in learning more about yoga, particularly its therapeutic effects, I highly recommend you check out this article. Lots of great information packed into eight very readable pages. Let me know what you think!

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Lithium Breathing: The Balancing Breath

This is the second of three blog posts that detail practices mentioned in A Killer Retreat.   This lovely breath practice helps balance energy.  Perfect for the holiday season.  Only three weeks until the official publication date!  Enjoy!

lithium breathing

This simple breath practice is great any time you need to balance your thoughts, energy, or emotions. Kate, the yoga teacher/sleuth in A Killer Retreat calls this practice Lithium Breathing, because like the medication for bipolar disorder, it balances energy whether it is manic or depressed.

This practice is perfect for any time of day, and the beauty about breath work is that you can do it anywhere—at home, on the bus, even in the middle of a meeting at work—and no one will think you’ve gone crazy.  😉

Lithium Breathing

  1. Come to a comfortable sitting or lying position.
  2. Notice how you feel before beginning to practice.  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, noticing the natural pause at the end of each.
  4. Maintain the breath in step 3 for at least 6 breath cycles.  Then, break the inhale portion of your breath into two equal parts, with a natural pause both between parts and at the end of the inhale.
  5. Maintain the breath in step 4 for at least 6 breath cycles.  Then, break both the inhale and exhale portions of your breath into two equal parts, with the same natural pauses in the middle and at the end.
  6. Maintain the breath in step 5  for at least 12 breath cycles.  Do not strain the breath.  If you start to feel strain, decrease the lengths of the breath segments, and then continue with that new length for the rest of the practice.
  7. Once you finish 12 or more complete breaths at step 6,  release the pauses completely and breathe for several breaths.  Then gradually allow the breath to come back to a normal rhythm.
  8. Notice any changes you feel after this practice, without trying to judge them as “good” or bad.

Give it a try and let me know how it works.


Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Breathe Before You Act

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Rene De los Santos. Rene is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program, a student in our advanced training, and a teacher at Whole Life Yoga. He can be contacted at

You may be familiar with the phrase “think before you act” or the ever popular “what were you thinking?” I heard the latter quite often during my adolescent years, although I very seldom had a chance to respond while adults conversed loudly around me.

We all know that our actions are conceived in thought, but luckily (or should I say thoughtfully) we don’t do everything we think because we (usually) think before we act.

Here’s a proposition for you and one I have set for myself; breathe before you act.

Working on pranayama assignments in the yoga teacher training over the last few weeks has made me think a lot about the breath and lengthening the breath; conscious breathing.  A question that came up for me was “What is the point?”  This question continued to plague me until it occurred to me that I was practicing without intention. I must confess now that this revelation did not drop on my head from heaven; it was a part of a discussion we had in the teacher training–my big AH HA moment of the evening. That’s what’s missing: intention!

Because we have been discussing obstacles over the past few weeks, I decided to set my intention on seeing things more clearly so that obstacles could be recognized as they appeared. The breath work and meditating on Yoga Sutras 2.10 & 2.11 helped me set my intention and enhance my experience (not every pranayama practice should suck, right?)

In his book Reflections on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, TKV Desikachar comments on Sutra 2.11 “Any means that will help us free ourselves from the consequences of these obstacles is acceptable.”

Here’s a thought: if we think before we act (theoretically changing the outcome) what will change if we take some time to breathe before we act? Not a long pranayama practice; just take a minute or two to notice your breath, notice the pauses and quality.

Of course, a successful practice takes more than a couple of minutes, but what if we just noticed the breath throughout the day…and what would happen if we took a minute or two to just breathe before we acted?  I remember being in a Q&A session with Desikachar several years ago and noted how he always takes a couple of deep breaths before answering a question. He was breathing before acting whereas I tend to say the first thing that pops into my head.

How different would our day be if we could step outside every now and then, take a few deep breaths and let the sun shine on us for a minute or two?


Rene De los Santos

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

The Last Breath

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Sarah Smith. Sarah is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program and a student in our advanced training. She can be contacted at

As we all know, the breath is the most important and powerful part of yoga.  There are times when a breath can give us a spiritual experience, such as the first breath of a newborn, the breath that brings someone back to life from a traumatic situation, or even a powerful yoga class.  And then there is the last breath…

On Dec. 15th during our 5 hr. Sunday clinic I heard the thought that my mother is passing away.  Those words kept repeating all through the day and into the next day.

In the past year, my 92 yr. old mother had been experiencing a lot of dizziness, sleeping more and eating less.  We could see that she was disconnecting from life a bit.  In the last few months she was falling more, but never injuring herself.  My 98 yr. old dad was becoming afraid to leave her alone.  My sister Joan lives nearby in So. Cal.

On Friday, Dec. 13th, Mom fell, injuring her arm and head.  The paramedics were called, bandaged her arm and found her head to be fine.  After this incident,  Joan wanted her to move into the downstairs den to make it easier on my dad to take care of her.  Mom can be very resistant to change.  Joan tried bringing visiting nurses in, but Mom cancelled them after one visit.  She was upset that the paramedics had come.

Trying to get her to move downstairs, Joan’s husband Michael had a loving, honest talk with Mom the next day.  Michael has been care taking his mom for 10 yrs. now.  He explained the toll this is taking on Dad.  Mom has never wanted to be a burden on anyone. After this talk she refused to eat or drink water.

On Monday, Dec. 16th, with the help of hospice Mom was moved into a hospital bed in the dining room.  Joan called me that afternoon and I arrived the next morning along with my sister Beth, who lives in Issaquah.  Driving to the airport I told my husband that I felt  she was leaving on Thursday or Friday.

Mom didn’t want to be confined to the bed and was very agitated.  She would try to get up. Hospice showed us how to administer morphine to keep her relaxed.  When the morphine would wear off, she would become agitated.  At those times I gave her another dose and would stroke her forehead, telling her I loved her and that she couldn’t get up, her body was too weak to safely hold her.

For two nights I slept on the couch in the living room watching over her, keeping her relaxed with morphine every two hours.  She always woke up agitated and wanting to get up.  At 2 am on Thurs. I sensed Mom was awake and went in to check on her.  She asked me very calmly, what happened, did I fall?  Yes, you fell and you are in the process of passing away, I told her.  We are giving you your wish to stay in your beautiful house with only family around you.  She replied, you are so kind.

Around 1 pm on Thursday, Joan laid on the couch in the living room, Dad went into the den, Beth went upstairs.  I was also about to go lay down  when I had a feeling.  I grabbed my book and sat with Mom.  40 minutes. later I felt a shift in the room.  I set my book down and watched her.  After about 10 minutes her breathing changed.  It was shallower and there were longer spaces between breaths.  I went and told Joan, this is it.  We gathered around Mom.  At 2:10 pm Dad kissed Mom on her forehead and then she took her last breath.  She had a little smile on her face and she was glowing.  The room was vibrating with such joy and peace that we  just sat there taking it all in, whispering what we were feeling and witnessing.  I said that Mom is teaching us how to die.  Dad said that this is exactly how he wants to go and we promised him we would give him the same experience.


Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

“Dog Breath” or Kukkura Pranayama

Amber with dog small_edited-1

Today’s guest author  is yoga teacher Amber Polo who writes dog-shifter fantasy to relax readers. “Recovered” (The Shapeshifters’ Library Book 3) is her latest in the series. She’s also known for Relaxing the Writer, a book filled with suggestions to keep your writing and your life in a healthy balance and Relaxing the Writer Relaxation a CD (or MP3 download) a how-to-do in 20-minute relaxation.  She can be contacted at and

As a yoga teacher who specializes in relaxation techniques I’ve taught Kapalabhati, Viloma, Ujjayi, and my favorite Alternate Nostril Breathing (which will help you survive many crises).

As a dog lover I know dogs are great relaxation aids and enrich body, mind, and spirit.

Walk a dog to get your body moving.

Sit and pet a dog to calm you.

Play with a dog to create joy

Here are instructions for a Dog Petting Breathing Technique – Kukkura Pranayama

  • Find a quiet comfortable spot
  • Place hand on dog’s head
  • Inhale
  • Begin to Exhale.
  • Slowly move your hand down the dog’s neck and back while silently counting to three
  • When you reach the end of the dog begin the inhale
  • Repeat

It may take a few breaths to settle the dog and to find your pace. Breathe in with the inhale and out with the exhale. Begin to lengthen both the exhale and the inhale to at least a count of three for each. Let your belly move with your breath. Close your eyes if you wish. Continue as long as necessary.

Your dog will enjoy these breathing practice timeouts as much as treats.


Adapting for the size of the dog – Breathing with a Chihuahua will differ from breathing with a Great Dane. For tiny dogs the movement has to be very, very slow. Or alternatively experiment with more than one petting movement on the exhale. Exceptionally large dogs may take more than one breath to complete the journey.

No dog? Borrow one or use this practice with cats, horses, and other warm blooded pets (or a human friend.).

Enjoy and Keep Petting!

Amber Polo

Find RECOVERED on Amazon! 


Research Proves It! Yoga Helps Lower Fatigue and Inflammation in Breast Cancer Survivors

I doubt many of you know this, but before I opened Whole Life Yoga, I taught yoga classes to women in all stages of cancer recovery through Team Survivor Northwest.  Some of my classes were taught in English; others through a Spanish language interpreter.  Some of my students were currently undergoing treatment; others had been cancer-free for years. But in all cases I was impressed by the resiliency, joy, and courage I saw in my students.

I knew, deep down inside, that yoga helped my students. Now I have research to back me up. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser—professer of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University—followed two hundred breast cancer survivors. Some of the women participated in ninety-minute Hatha yoga classes two times a week for twelve weeks.  The rest (the control group) were wait-listed for the same class.  All participants were new to yoga, and students were encouraged to practice with DVDs at home.

The practitioners were diverse. Participants ranged in age from twenty-seven to seventy-six, were diagnosed with breast cancer staged 0 – 3A, and were two months to three years past their latest treatment.  The results were impressive:

  • Yoga practitioners had fifty-seven percent less fatigue than the non-yoga group.
  • Inflammation-related blood proteins were twenty percent lower in the yoga group than the non-yoga group.

The researchers were surprised, because similar results have not been seen with studies of other types of exercise.  They now believe that the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga are especially impactful, which is great news for Viniyoga practitioners.  Viniyoga focuses on the connection of body, breath and mind, making it especially breath and meditation-focused. 

The researchers believe that yoga might have similar benefits with other groups of people who suffer from fatigue and inflammation, including patients suffering from coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

All of this just goes to show what I’ve known all along. Yoga works!


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Nine Tips for a Successful Home Yoga Practice

Let’s face it. We all live busy lives. Most of us can barely carve out one hour once a week for yoga class, let alone several. Unfortunately, yoga practiced that infrequently is unlikely to yield long-term benefits. The solution? Supplement your studio practice with yoga at home. Below are some hints to get you started.

Guidelines for a Successful Home Yoga Practice

  • Short and simple beats long and complex every time. Why wait until you have a spare hour? Three twenty-minute practices each week will yield significantly better results than a single sixty minute one.
  • Yoga is more than asana. Only have five minutes?  Try a simple breath or meditation session. The mental and emotional benefits from ten minutes of deep breathing can be profound.
  • Make your practice place special. Most people don’t have a yoga room in their home, but you can turn any room into a sacred practice space. Dim the lights; light a few candles; ring a pair of Tibetan chimes. Create a ritual that signals the transition from daily life to practice.
  • Celebrate success. Give yourself a mental high-five each time you practice, whether it’s for sixty seconds or sixty minutes. If you chastise yourself for not practicing, you never will. Instead, celebrate each and every time your feet land on your mat.
  • Integrate or distract kids and pets. Pets love interrupting yoga practice, so give them something else to do instead. Feed Fluffy some tuna; give Fido a chew toy; pop a Looney Tunes DVD in the player for the kids. And if you can’t distract them, have them join you. Yoga with the kids might become your favorite part of the day.
  • The best time to practice is when you’ll actually do it. Be honest with yourself. If you’re more likely to win Lotto than get up fifteen minutes early, don’t plan to practice at 5:00 AM.  Morning, lunch time, evening, before bed….Any time is yoga time.
  • When you get discouraged—keep going!   There will be days that you don’t want to practice. Days that you don’t have time to practice. Practice anyway. Remind yourself what you love about yoga. If that doesn’t work, take the advice of dog trainers everywhere and treat yourself for practicing. I understand chocolate is particularly effective. 😉
  • Schedule practice time on your calendar—in ink! If you practice whenever you can squeeze it in, you’ll never unroll your mat. Choose a consistent time, write it down, and set up a reminder system.  Make your practice a priority.
  • Above all else, enjoy yourself!  Yoga is truly a gift.  Treasure it!

What has worked for you? Please let me know by leaving a comment.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available January 8, 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Breathing in Asana: The Anatomical Breath

Some yoga teachers describe breathing as filling a bucket of water, asking students to breathe from the bottom up, as if they were breathing into their bellies.  This would make sense if air were a liquid; it’s not. 

Air is a gas, and the lungs act more like balloons than buckets, inflating from the top down and creating specific effects on the spine. In Viniyoga, we breathe in a way that magnifies those effects. This breath is called anatomical breathing. How you breathe in asana may seem insignificant, but the results are powerful. Anatomical breathing provides the core stability required to do asana safely and effectively.

The Natural Breath

The natural inhale is a process of muscle contraction. 

  • The intercostal muscles (the muscles between the ribs) contract, causing the ribs to lift and the rib cage to widen.
  • The diaphragm (a dome-shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage) contracts and flattens, pressing the internal organs into the belly. This causes the belly to expand.
  • The collar bones and rib cage elevate, the spine extends, and the thoracic curve flattens.
  • Space inside the chest increases, creating a vacuum.  Air flows into the lungs.

The natural exhale, on the other hand, is a process of relaxation.

  • The intercostal muscles relax, allowing the chest to lower and narrow.
  • The diaphragm relaxes to its original dome-shaped position.
  • The lower back curve naturally flattens.
  • Space inside the chest decreases. Pressure inside the chest becomes higher than the pressure outside it. Air is pushed out of the lungs. 

So what does this have to do with asana?  

In asana, we utilize the natural breath and magnify its effects on the spine. Our goal on inhale is to increase the spaces between the vertebrae. On exhale we contract the abdominal muscles, thereby flattening the lumbar curve and stabilizing the low back and pelvis.

Using Anatomical Breathing in Asana:

On inhale: 

  • Imagine a downward flow of breath starting at your collar bones and moving down to your belly.
  • Consciously extend your entire spine as you feel your rib cage expand.
  • In the last 1/3 of your breath, allow your belly to soften.

On exhale: 

  • Maintain length in the spine.
  • Progressively contract the abdominal muscles, first from the pubic bone to the navel, then from the navel to the bottom ribs.
  • Keep the belly pulled in during the first half of the following inhale.

By breathing this way, we magnify the benefits of breath while minimizing the risks of movement.  Over time, our spines get longer; our bellies grow stronger; our backs and pelvises become more stable. 

Give it a shot. You might be surprised how sore your belly is the next day.  And the next time your yoga teacher tells you to pull in your belly as you exhale, you’ll know why!


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

The Balancing Breath

There are literally thousands of breath techniques used in yoga, but the most simple are also often most profoundly effective.

Krama pranayama is a breathing technique that most of my yoga students—even those who don’t normally like pranayama—love. The word krama simply means segmented. Krama Pranayama segments portions of the breath—the inhale, the exhale, or both—into parts. Segmenting the inhale has an energizing effect; segmenting the exhale has a relaxing effect. If, on the other hand, both the inhale and the exhale are segmented, the effect is balancing.

The breath practice below can be used to bring balance to your energy system, whether it is stressed, anxious, exhausted, or depressed. I hope you enjoy it.

Two Part Krama Pranayama

  1. Sit comfortably, with your spine neutral and the crown of your head extending up toward the ceiling.
  2. Take at least six breaths to lengthen both your inhale and your exhale, trying to make them approximately equal. Then remain at that lengthened breath for at least six breaths.
  3. Break your inhale into two equal parts with a one to two second pause in between each part. Maintain that breathing pattern for at least six breaths.
  4. After several breaths, also break your exhale into two equal parts with the same one to two second pause in between each part. Maintain this breathing pattern for at least 12 breaths.
  5. After at least 12 breaths, begin to ramp the breath back down. First delete the pauses in the middle of the inhale and exhale, but continue breathing at a lengthened rate for at least six breaths.
  6. Then take at least six breaths to return your breath to a new normal rhythm. Notice the new length and fullness of your breath and the effects of this practice on your body, breath, and mind.

I hope you enjoy this breath practice, and that it invites balance to your body, your energy system, and your life.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my Tracy Weber author mailing list for updates on my hopefully soon-to-be-published yoga mystery!

Fitness, Yoga Style

Students often ask me if yoga is sufficient to develop overall fitness. Put more directly, if I practice yoga, can I cancel my gym membership?  I always cringe a little before answering. As a yoga studio owner, the answer that would benefit me most is an enthusiastic, unqualified yes.

Unfortunately, the true answer is probably not. Yoga is a valuable tool. It builds muscular strength, flexibility, and emotional wellness. It also develops an important component of fitness often overlooked in the West: respiratory fitness.

That seems like a lot, and it is. All of the above are necessary. But they are not the complete fitness picture. Western forms of exercise provide an important and missing piece: cardiovascular–also known as aerobic–fitness, which is an essential component of heart health.

Cardiovascular Fitness versus Respiratory Fitness

The cardiovascular and respiratory systems are separate yet closely related.

Respiratory Fitness (Pranayama, Asana, Respiratory Therapy)

  • Increases the respiratory system’s ability to oxygenate cells
  • Improves respiration rate, profusion rate and oxygen utilization at a cellular level

Asana and pranayama are excellent tools for impacting this–much better than Western aerobic exercises.

Cardiovascular Fitness (Jogging, Cycling, Zumba)

  • Raises the pulse rate
  • Strengthens the heart muscle and increases circulation

Yoga tools, including asana and pranayama, are not as well suited for this type of fitness as Western aerobic exercises.

Students often seem disappointed to learn this.  After all, the ancient yogis used yoga (almost exclusively) to develop health and mental wellbeing.  But those yogis lived in a different time, with completely different lifestyles.  They lived very physical lives, practiced yoga, pranayama, and chant daily, and ate whole foods that were much less likely to cause heart disease than the overly-processed foods we consume now.

The typical American yogi, on the other hand is likely to work eight or more hours at her desk job, park as close as possible to yoga class, then go home to binge on potato chips while watching someone else chant on American Idol.  Heart disease is epidemic in our culture. Frankly, we’d be delusional to compare our lifestyles to those of yogis thousands of years ago.

All that said, yoga is an important part of mental and physical wellness.  I’d be the last one to minimize its benefits.  Just ask my grandmother who died of emphysema, my friends with asthma, or my clients with anxiety and depression.  Breathing is as important as life itself. In fact, breath is the essence of life,

Nonetheless, I still ride an exercise bike three times a week, and I wouldn’t consider giving it up, in spite of my yoga practice.  I’ve never claimed that yoga is a panacea able to cure all ills—but it can do a lot.  Not just for the body, but also for the mind. I hope you’ll make it part of your wellness routine.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!