While lamenting the distortions that my Kindle Fire HD has introduced in my reading habits, I did managed to finish a book this past week. In fact, I recommend that you buy a print copy because it comes with an audio CD that may be helpful in getting the knack for a breathing technique.
The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotionsby Doctors Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg (Shambhala, 2012) is a useful primer on why you should develop a breathing practice even if you are not into yoga. It reviews the scientific research on the use of breath work in improving resilience to stress as well as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and trauma-induced emotions and behaviors. Brown and Gerbarg recommend a simple technique that slows your breathing to five breaths per minute, combined with simple visualizations of moving energy along the spine or from the head to the soles of the feet. They call it Coherent Breathing, and it can be modified to resemble the ujjayi (Darth Vader) Resistance Breathing that most yoga practitioners already know. I’ve used the technique to slow my mind down before going to bed or while seated on a train or waiting in line.
The key is to slow down the pace, and that can be harder than you’d expect. For instance, with my sudarshan kriya practice, the tendency is to speed up the pace and make it energizing. After working with the practice for a while, you’ll catch on to the pace and it will become second nature. The slower pace makes it easier to slip into a meditative mindset.
The CD contains a half dozen instructional takes on breathing techniques, and then it moves into a full 15-minute session, plus a short body scan.
More information is available on their website. There are also some audio files of radio interviews, podcasts and other material. Additional information can be found at Coherence, which goes into science behind the technique.
Since early August, I’ve been taking been taking classes at different times, days and types, doing more at Thrive Yoga in Rockville than at Flow Yoga in DC. At one point during my forced vacation/downtime, I went to classes seven days in a row, as taking an afternoon workshop. Even when I went back to work, I stepped up my frequency of going to class.
I used to be really finicky about selecting my teacher and, consequently, the class that I took. In part, I liked the teaching style of Andrea Franchini, but since she was troubled this year by some health problems and is now abandoning Washington for Peru and eventually the West Coast, I’ve had to loosen my loyalties.
Another issue with teachers was that I wanted to feel comfortable with them, especially since I feared that my depression might somehow manifest itself in class. Aside from some tears during savasana, that never came out. But being at ease was definitely a prerequisite since my loose connection to my stiff, middle-aged body kept me from doing a lot of poses. I felt like I stuck out in class — in most cases, I was the oldest (or only) guy in the group.
But now I don’t care who the teacher is, or whether it’s a Level I or II, or whether it’s Anusara or Ashtanga or vinyasa. Because I trust both center managements, I’m sure that I will get a qualified teacher who challenges, but also nurtures. I am more attuned to my inner teacher. I know where my practice is weak and try to focus on improving those areas. I find the Level I classes just as demanding physically as the intermediate classes because I tend to take the poses deeper. I probably feel a lot more comfortable with myself so I feel less self-conscious about the teacher’s watching eye.
Unless there’s a major breaking news story on Friday, June 17, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition program will broadcast a special report on the topic of — well, I’m not entirely sure — yoga, depression, fatherhood — and me, I think.
Last Wednesday, I spent four hours with an NPR reporter, Allison Aubrey who covers the consumer health front, talking about how I got involved in yoga, how it’s helped me deal with my depression, how I share my yoga experience with my daughter, Stephanie, and wife, Teresa. She recorded my Wednesday class, talked to my instructor, then we chatted until 10 at night. Well, Stephanie and I said lots of stuff during 4 hours of recording so I have no idea what the final product will be like. Allison was originally looking to do something on “male baby boomers who belatedly get into yoga” (that’s me), and my yoga studio put us in contact.
Allison came by on Monday to record me doing my breathwork routine, and ask a few more questions. She said that the story looks firm, being pegged to Father’s Day, June 19. I have more information about the exact time, which can probably vary because NPR is broadcast by local stations. I will try to post a link here so that those who can’t listen to NPR can get the story on the Web. Since the story does not fit into a neat news niche, I don’t know if it will appear on the Health and Science page. I will post the link once it become available. Last Friday, there was an interesting piece on cutting, called The History and Mentality of Self-Mutilation, which might give an idea of the style for laid-back end-of-week features.