Category Archives: Breath

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!

Creating Abundance

“Abundance is about being rich, with or without money.”— Suze Orman

Depending on your perspective, the holidays can either be a joyful time shared with family and friends or a dismal demonstration of unrealized expectations. The choice is yours. Abundance is everywhere, if you choose to look for it.

In my annual Yoga of Thanksgiving class this past Thursday, twenty-two students and I reflected on the concept of abundance: what it means to us, how we can create more if it and how we can share it with those around us.

Our practice included over an hour of movement, but that was the least of it; meaningful  practice tugs more at the heart than the hamstrings. Today, I’d like to share some quotes, breath practices, and meditations we explored.

First Quote: “Whatever we are waiting for — peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance — it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.”—Sarah Ban Breathnach

First Breath Practice:

  1. Lengthen your inhale and exhale, making them approximately equal.
  2. Remain at that lengthened breath for several minutes. With each inhale, imagine abundance in all its forms entering your heart. With every exhale, imagine those same qualities flowing through your body and taking root in every cell.
  3. After several minutes, return your breath to a normal rhythm. Carry the energy of this breath practice to meditation.

First Meditation Question: How can I invite abundance into my life, regardless of my material wealth?

Second Quote: “The universe operates through dynamic exchange…giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe. And in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.”— Deepak Chopra

Second Breath Practice:

  1. Lengthen your inhale and exhale, making them approximately equal.
  2. After six breaths at that lengthened breath, add a two second pause after both the inhale and the exhale.
  3. Remain at this breath for several minutes. With each inhale, imagine abundance in all its forms entering your heart. In the pause after inhale, imagine abundance completely filling you. With every exhale, offer abundance back to the world. In the pause after exhale, imagine abundance both within and around you.
  4. After several minutes, release the pauses, but continue breathing with a lengthened inhale and exhale.
  5. After several more breaths, return your breath to a normal rhythm. Carry the energy of this breath practice to meditation.

Second Meditation Question: How can I create abundance in the lives of those around me?

At the end of class, each student chose a string of prosperity hens that was crafted by artisan women in India. Hens symbolize prosperity in Indian culture, because any family fortunate enough to own a hen has a continual source of nourishment. I hope the hens will remind each student to be grateful and generous in the season ahead.

I hope this practice does the same for you.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join me in our special New Year’s Yoga Celebration!

Belly Breathing for Stress and Pain Relief

This simple, relaxing breath can be used any time you want to soothe body, mind, and spirit. I taught it recently in my Yoga for Chronic Pain class, yet it reduces stress of any kind—physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Belly Breathing

  1. Lie on the floor, in bed, or any place else you can be comfortable without falling asleep.  Your knees can be bent or draped over a bolster.  If that’s not comfortable, you can also elevate your shins on a chair.  Any position is fine, as long as it’s physically comfortable and your spine is in a neutral position.
  2. Notice the sensations of your body, without labeling them as “good” or “bad.”  Just be present with those sensations. Surrender your weight into the earth and feel tension drain from your body.
  3. Place your hands on your stomach and consciously breathe as if you were breathing into your belly.  Notice how your belly gently expands with every inhale and relaxes with every exhale. Invite your mind to be in this present moment, not concerned with the past, not worried about the future. Every time your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the feeling of the breath in your belly.
  4. After a minute or two, begin to lengthen your breath. Take several breaths to deepen each inhale and exhale, focusing primarily on a slow, complete exhale. When you find a rhythm that feels deep, yet smooth and easy, continue breathing at that length. If at any point you feel a sense of strain, shorten the breath again until you find a length that feels full, yet relaxing.
  5. Continue breathing this way for approximately five minutes, and then gradually return your breath to a new, uncontrolled rhythm.  Notice the sensations of your body again, still trying not to label them as “good” or “bad.”
  6. When you’re ready to transition back to your day, begin with small movements, such as wiggling your fingers and toes or even yawning and stretching. Then roll to your side for a moment before gradually pressing up to sitting.

This simple practice is one of my favorites for soothing both physical and emotional
discomfort.  I hope you enjoy it!


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

ABCs of Yoga

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Roy Holman. Roy is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. He  can be contacted at and at

I had a chance to ask T.K.V. Desakachar a question when he was leading a workshop in Portland a few years ago: “Do you think we in the West are too asana focused?” His eyes lit up and he said,”Oh yes! By age 60 one should be doing 20% asana, 40% meditation, and 40% pranayama.” His father Krishnamacharya once said, “Nowadays, the practice of yoga stops with just asanas.”

Many of us get into yoga for Exercise reasons, which is fine. We may begin yoga for physical reasons–perhaps to help heal an injury–and stick with yoga for other reasons; perhaps we become more centered or peaceful. Some of us may even begin yoga for the other E word: Ego. We may wish to impress people with our fancy poses or even sexy body. As Yoga Sutra scholar Chip Hartranft puts it, “In fact, hatha yoga practice may initially be driven to some extent by narcissism.  After all, hatha yoga can appeal to us because of the powerful way it addresses some of the self’s most cherished preoccupations–health, attractiveness, sexual energy, and longevity.”

There are four letters that precede E that may get ignored.

A might stand for Awareness (not just asana).  Our practice begins and ends with awareness. We can begin to notice what draws us to the mat (or away from the mat). Awareness involves no judgment, just noticing how we feel in each pose, what draws us to certain styles of yoga and to which teachers. What is our motivation? What are our patterns? Additionally, A also stands for Ahimsa (nonviolence), the most important “yama.”

B is for Breath. Connecting the breath to the movement, to me, draws me out of the head and deep into the body and the yoga practice. I begin to lose  myself and find my Self. Breath seems to bridge body to spirit. Pranayama–breath regulation–is a profound but underappreciated limb of yoga.

C is for Compassion and ties into ahimsa mentioned above. We are often so tough on ourselves. Can we accept where we are?  Can we have compassion for ourselves even if we realize that, due to our low self esteem, we indeed practice partially because of the egoist reasons mentioned earlier? Can we have compassion for ourselves when we find ourselves
comparing ourselves to other students or judging the teacher?

D is for Devotion and Divine.  While reading about the great Krishnamacharya’s life and practice, it struck me how dedicated and devotional a yogi he was. He once said,  “…the reason for learning yogasana is not just for good physique but to obtain atmajnana (spiritual progress.)” Yoga teacher Dharma Mittra, known for his ability to do thousands of incredible poses, said,  “The postures mean absolutely nothing, no matter how adept one is with them, if they’re not done is a spirit of devotion.”

When I studied at Oneness University in India, there was a big focus on devotion to the Divine.  It was humbling for me to see that I was really  more into ego and control than surrender, trust and a devotion to the Divine.

Whether you define this devotion as one to your Higher Self, God, Universal Intelligence or whatever, I suppose that all paths eventually lead there even with our egoist detours. Indeed, we need look no further for the Divine than within our most sacred, essential Selves.

E also stands for Enjoy, so let’s enjoy this beautiful yoga journey together!


Yoga in the Peace Corps: Khotso and Namaste

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Barbara Meyer. Barbara is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She  can be contacted at

For thirty years, I’ve wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer. One year ago, my dream came true—my husband and I received our invitations to serve as Peace Corps volunteers. After several months of preparations and clearing 30 years of accumulated possessions out of our home, we departed for Philadelphia to meet our fellow volunteers. Three days later, we were in southern Africa’s Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Khotso is a common greeting here, meaning peace in Sesotho. Our host families greeted us with wild ululation, song and dancing and dozens of people pressed against usas we walked to our home for training—a traditional thatched roof rondavel with no electricity or running water. Among the items that made the final cut into my two suitcases were my yoga chimes, a golden silk shawl from India and a travel yoga mat.

During three months of training,I was able to use yoga for stress reduction when things got rough. Since moving to my work site (for two years), I’ve been practicing yoga three to four days per week. We live in a studio (half of a duplex) set in a garden with an amazing view of the mountains. Despite the cramped space, my husband agreed that we needed to preserve the space by the window for yoga.

The Peace Corps ads say it’s “The hardest job you’ll ever love.” One of the hard parts is daily uncertainty about so many aspects of life. Aside from creating my own job on a daily basis, I’m learning a new language (Sesotho), a new culture (Basotho), meeting many new people and trying to figure out how pretty much everything works.

Yoga has become more precious to me since becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. The challenge of cross cultural living in a poor country brings some strain. Children often knock on our door in groups of three or four and say, “I am asking for bread.” Or they may ask for candy, money or a job. When walking through the village, similar requests are made by children and adults alike. The struggle is that we have the means to help some but not all. How do we decide when to respond and when to pass by? In contrast, at our work site, a hospital, many Basotho are extremely well educated with good professional jobs. Life in a developing country is complex. The HIV rate is 23% among adults and many children have lost one or both parents to HIV. Unemployment is nearly 50%. There is so much to think about! And have I mentioned that we live on $250 per month in a town with no restaurant? In fact, no store where you can buy cheese or chocolate! For this reluctant cook, starting from scratch (e.g. make own tortillas and injera) on a daily basis has been a test of my self discipline.

This is where yoga comes in. Three or four mornings a week, my first activity of the day is to clear my yoga space and lay out the mat and clean towels on the floor. I face the river valley with mountains beyond and lengthen my breath. As I proceed through the asana practice, I feel the slowing down and calming that yoga movement brings. Through pranayama breath practices, I have to let other thoughts go as I focus on the counting or the technique for the day. That brings me to meditation. I have chosen three qualities that I want to enhance in myself, qualities that I need on a daily basis here and sometimes find in short supply. I like to end with a short chant that we used to close each class during yoga teacher training. Chanting helps me to visualize the support of the community of people I have met through Whole Life Yoga. It is easy to feel alone in the Peace Corps! Because of my practice, I carry these friendships with me through my day. I end my practice with three chimes. Folding up my travel mat (thanks for the tip, Suzanne Stephens!), I feel calm, peaceful and happy. I am ready to face the uncertainties of the day with some equanimity.

One year into my Peace Corps service, things have become easier. We are building relationships with people here and our work is starting to show results. Maintaining a sense of non-attachment is so useful. Things have a way of moving forward then backward often at a very, very slow pace. One project that I abandoned as a lost cause resurrected itself months later. Someone came up and asked me to get a replacement for a stamp that had been designed for the outpatient department months earlier. I didn’t even realize that they had started to use it again!

Another gift I received from one of my teacher training colleagues was a really useful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

In my Peace Corps service, regular yoga practice is as necessary as food. The emotional grounding that comes from yoga practice has helped me immensely to meet the challenges I face. Thank you so much, Tracy and the Whole Life Community for all of your support.

If you are interested in reading more about our adventures in Lesotho, our blog is



More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.





More Research on the Benefits of Viniyoga–Viniyoga Reduces Workplace Stress!

I know from personal experience that Viniyoga is an amazing tool for reducing workplace stress—that’s what hooked me on it almost fifteen years ago, when I still worked at Microsoft.  But now, research proves it!

Aetna, inc. recently studied methods of stress reduction in the workplace. The results were published in the online version of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The study evaluated the effectiveness of Mindfulness Meditation (a specific type of meditation) and Viniyoga on both perceived levels of stress and biological markers of stress. The Viniyoga intervention used in the study was designed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. The study participants included 239 Aetna employees located in California and Connecticut who were split into three groups:  the Mindfulness Meditation group, the Viniyoga group, and a control.

The results were encouraging.  Both the Mindfulness Meditation and the Viniyoga interventions saw over a 30% reduction in perceived stress levels. Participants also showed significant improvements in several heart rate measurements, suggesting that their bodies were better able to manage stress.  Even better, both Viniyoga and Mindfulness Meditation worked in about half the time as other commonly used mind-body interventions.

The Viniyoga intervention included a twelve-week yoga program that used physical yoga postures, breathing techniques, and guided relaxation. Participants met in class once a week and received practice handouts to use at home and in the office. Which just goes to prove what I’ve said all along—a well-conceived home practice gets results!

For more details on the study, check out the article on Aetna’s web site.

Be well, and come see me in class soon to reduce your stress!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out our Series on Yoga to Ease Stress!

Measuring Progress in a Viniyoga Class—Response to a Student Question

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

Hayden, a Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate asks:  A student asked me today how he could measure his progress in my drop-in classes, since they vary so much week to week.  He mentioned, in particular, other yoga classes that always contain sun salutations, and how, if you do them regularly, you can tell that you are getting stronger. But since I don’t want to do regular sun salutations with my class, how can I design drop in classes so that my students are experiencing growth and can see it?  This seems easier to do in a series.

Hi Hayden!  As is usually the case, I don’t have any quick and easy answers to this question.  Gary (my teacher) always says that real progress in yoga practice can best be measured by your relationships.  If your relationships get more stable, your yoga practice is working, and vice–versa.   He also often says that if he were forced to measure the “accomplishments” of his teacher training graduates, he’d evaluate the level of their neuroses.  Remember, according to the sutras, physical prowess was never the intent of yoga practice.  The intent was clarifying and calming the mind.


Viniyoga is multi-faceted.  It can have an orientation that is developmental (Siksana), like my Energize and Strengthen series, therapeutic (Cikitsa), like Yoga for Healthy Backs, or spiritual (Adhyatmika), like my New Years Day workshop.

Physical practice is indeed easier to measure in series classes, as you have the same students over and over again throughout a defined time period. A drop-in practice is trickier, as it’s designed each week based on the students present in class. But drop-in students can still pay attention to how they feel in common poses over time.   There’s absolutely nothing magical about sun salutations.  They are simply a series of specific postures done in a flowing manner. You can measure physical changes in any posture that is taught over and over again.

The trick is to teach the same posture over time and ask students to pay attention to how their body responds to that pose.  For flexibility, seated postures work well. They block escape valves so progress can be more directly seen.  The lateral adaptation of janu sirsansa, deep twists, or regular old pascimatanasana work well for this.  For strength, poses such as plank, caturanga, half squats, arm balances, or all of those lovely prone postures work well.  Progress in those poses would be measured in how many repetitions a student can do or how long they can stay in the pose while maintaining a smooth breath.  For endurance, any flow done repeatedly over time works well.  Breath adaptations in asana and pranayama practices provide effective measurements of breath development.

But the bigger question, I guess, is why is the student practicing?  What do they hope to gain?  And why are they so concerned about measuring themselves? Remember, external measurements are really antithetical to the goals of yoga practice.

Finally, as a teacher, you need to decide who your audience is.  Each class you teach must meet the individual needs of the students present.  This is no easy task–believe me, I know. You may find over time that you need to segment your students into levels, such as beginning, intermediate, and advanced.  Otherwise you won’t be able to adequately meet the needs of anyone.

But above all, please remember, that emotional stability is much more important that any external physical measure.  External measures are more about ego than real growth.

I hope that helps!



More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.

Sitting Pretty—and Comfortably—in Yoga Class

Whenever I see students struggling to sit comfortably in yoga class, I’m reminded of that old Alanis Morissette song—isn’t it ironic that we come to yoga class to decrease pain, then sit uncomfortably on the floor with our backs screaming in agony.

Sitting is notoriously painful for people with back pain; sitting on the floor, crossed legged, without back support, is even worse.  Of course, that’s what most of us tend to do in every yoga class.  There are many better alternatives. A few of my favorites are below.

First, if you do choose to sit cross-legged, look down at your knees.  If your knees are above your hips, then your spine is not in neutral alignment, which will lead to back discomfort.  This problem can easily be fixed by elevating your hips.  Fold a blanket or two and place them under your sitz bones (or ischial tuberosities, for you anatomy geeks.) These are the bony prominences between the tops of your thighs and the bottoms of your hips.  Add blankets until your knees are below your hips, as in the photo below.

For people without knee issues, the sitting posture below is my favorite.  This is how I sit when I teach.  In the first photo, the student is sitting on a block, which elevates her hips to put less pressure on her knees.  In the second, she is sitting on a meditation bench.  My favorite benches are sold at East West Bookshop.  They can be a little pricey, but they last forever.  I’ve had the one in the photo for over 11 years.

We have plenty of blocks and blankets at the studio, and we also have four meditation benches.  So feel free to experiment and find what is most comfortable for you.

Finally, you can always lie down.  There’s nothing magic at all about achieving that perfect lotus pose.  Our goal is to connect the body, breath, and mind. To do that, the spine should be neutral. A neutral spine can be found sitting, kneeling, lying, or standing for that matter. While it’s true that the breath is subtly blocked in a lying position, for most people the effect is minor. If lying gets you out of pain, I say go for it!

Generally, the most neutral supine position lying with the knees bent, feet on the floor, as in the photo below.

The biggest risk in this position is falling asleep.  So try to keep your mind alert, and if you come with a friend, tell them to nudge you if you start snoring!

I look forward to seeing you at the studio soon!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

New Viniyoga Videos for Anxiety and Depression

Like many viniyoga teachers, I’m not a huge fan of yoga videos, as the video format doesn’t allow for the customization and adaptation to the individual that is such a hallmark of this rich lineage.  Still, as much as I’d like everyone to experience yoga first hand at Whole Life Yoga or work with me privately, I know that for many students, videos provide a much more convenient and accessible connection to a consistent yoga practice.  Who knows…maybe someday I’ll even create a video of my own!  😉

Until then, two new viniyoga videos have recently been released by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, on topics that are personally important to me:  Yoga for Anxiety and Yoga for Depression. I’ve suffered from both conditions off and on throughout my life, and yoga has been an incredible powerful tool in helping me manage my symptoms. I may have come to yoga to overcome back pain, but by far the first and most important thing to heal was my heart.

Gary’s new products introduce the viniyoga therapy approach to anxiety and depression.  They are a bit different than typical videos, in that he provides cognitive learning in addition to yoga practice.  Each video contains approximately an hour of lecture on yoga therapy and its applications for anxiety and depression, along with two practices: one that is a bit over thirty minutes and one that is closer to an hour.  Even more unusual, the practices aren’t just asana, or movement.  They contain multiple facets of the rich and dynamic viniyoga lineage:  Asana (movement), Pranayama (breath work), Meditation, and Chanting.

I sell both of these at the studio, along with a few other viniyoga videos.  But they can also be purchased at and via other on line sellers.  Of course, I’d much rather see your bright shining faces at the studio, but these videos may provide a nice addition to your collection and to your practice.  Let me know what you think!


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!