Take 5 Deep Breaths

Recently I was at Costco struggling to pull one of the super-sized carts from the other 20 carts crammed together in a row, when I faintly heard, “take five deep breaths”. I thought I was hearing things and yanked the cart out and started walking into the store. “Hey, Stacy McCarthy, I know you heard that…” I turned around and it was a yoga student I hadn’t seen in a very long time, but he remembered my common breath cue stemming from my roots in Ashtanga Yoga. It was a sweet reminder of taking the power of our breath off the mat and out into our day. Breathing is massively practical. It’s meditation for people who think they can’t meditate.
Yogis use a wide variety of breath control techniques called pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. As a way to reach enlightenment, Buddha advocated breath- meditation. Science is just beginning to provide evidence to what yogis have known for centuries, that the benefits of a breathing practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and attention deficit disorder.
How controlled breathing promotes healing remains a source of scientific study. Dr. Richard Brown, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University wrote the following in his book, ‘ The Healing Power of the Breath’.
“One theory is that controlled breathing can change the response of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious processes such as heart rate and digestion as well as the body’s stress response.”
“Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol.”
Try it yourself. Take a 4 count breath in, hold four counts, exhale four counts and hold four counts. Repeat five times. This practice is so simple and yet so profound.
Next time you feel yourself anxious or stressed, just like I remind my students, who catch me off my mat and in return remind me, Take Five Deep Breaths.
Namaste ~ Stacy
The main objective of Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) are not merely to arrange for a copious supply of blood to the head and upper body but also to slow down the respiratory rate. When Sirsasana has been sufficiently mastered, the breathing rate which normally is about 15-18 a minute, automatically comes down to four a minute. The aim should be to reduce it to, two per minute. Thus at this rate, 24 rounds of breathing in Sirsasana will take 12 minutes”. Krishnamacharya 

The Magic Number of Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama and Astrology

Over the past couple of weeks, the number 108 has been everywhere in my life. I just returned from leading a yoga retreat in Bali and brought back some Mala necklaces consisting of 108 beads. I also hosted an astrology event with Leslie McGuirk of Lucky Stars Astrology and began researching how the number 108, astrology, yoga, pranayama, chakras and meditation all intertwine.

If you’ve ever wondered why this number is considered holy and auspicious in many cultures, the following are a few points of interest for you to ponder.

Yoga: Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga has 54 letters. Each has masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti). 54 X 2 = 108

Mala Necklaces: Sometimes referred to as prayer garlands during meditation, the beads of the mala are used to count the number of repetitions of a mantra, 100 are Mala beadscounted as completed. The remaining are said to cover errors or omissions. The 8 are also said to be an offering to God and Guru. At the end of the necklace is a larger bead, called a meru that is not part of the 108. It is not tied in the sequence of the other beads. It is considered a guiding bead that marks the beginning and end of the mala.

Chakras: In the subtle anatomy of the body, the chakras are energy lines. The heart ( Anahata) chakra which is considered the fulcrum point where the physical body meets the spiritual body is said to have a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.

Lucky Stars: Astrology is based on the planets and stars, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108. There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole. In relation to the sun and earth, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. In relation to the moon, The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.

Meditation and Enlightenment: In a state of deep peace that occurs when the mind is silent, if you are able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.

Pranayama: In the art of yoga breathing, Hatha Yoga estimates the average number of breaths per day at 21,600, of which 10,800 are solar (Surya) energy, and 10,800 are lunar (Chandra) energy. Multiplying 108 by 100 is 10,800. Multiplying 2 x 10,800 equals 21,600.

There are many other auspicious meanings of the number 108, showing up in chemistry, math, religions and even Pop Culture. I’m reading a book called The Martien by Andy Weir, about a space odyssey. I discovered that a Soviet cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin manned the first space flight on April 12th, 1961. Guess how long the flight lasted? 108 minutes.