Anatomy of Anxiety & Stess: Interview with Erin Moon

anxiety & stress

Managing stress and anxiety has become part of the mainstreamevolving conversations concerning mental health and how to observe how we feel with more conscious awareness. The pandemic and upcoming election, not to mention the onslaught of international riots for human rights, has provoked discussions around trauma and its effects on the body’s nervous system. Studies of the anatomy and neuroscience of stress illustrate the intricate communication process between the brain and body, and the profound feedback loop initiated with every breath. 

“One of the greatest interventions that we have as yoga instructors is breath technique. Breathwork (pranayama) can be both excitatory and calming, like Kapalabhati (skull shining)or Nadi Shodhana(alternate nostril). In yoga pranayama, you’re going through a whole stress cycle; you’re asking the vagus nerve to take the brake off to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, and then you’re asking it to put the brake back on to shift into the parasympathetic nervous system. With every breath, we can practice taking the brake on and off. Every time you take a breath in, it’s excitatory. Every time you take a breath out, it’s down-regulating.”  – Erin Moon. 

This week on the podcast, we sat down with Erin Moon to talk about the anatomy of anxiety, we shared the importance of meeting yourself where you’re at, polyvagal theory, and simple tactics to manage stress. We interviewed Erin in a previous podcast on the seventh chakra; Sahasrara Chakra and Collective Consciousness. Erin is a restorative yoga and anatomy teacher living in Vancouver, BC, who co-taught a portion of the 300-hour Yoga Teacher Training through Lila Vinyasa School of Yoga. 

Highlights from our discussion are below, or, watch or listen to the full discussion. 

Resources noted by Erin in this episode:

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk – a book about somatic input in recovery from trauma and stress.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Dr. Sapolsky – a book about the neurobiology of stress.

Regarding the chakras and their alignment with the endocrine system and the subtle body anatomy, which chakra do you intuit and feel most connected to?

ErinI feel the most connected to the heart chakra, Anahata. It’s the most palpable and physical physiological feedback center. It’s easier for me to connect to the heart’s awareness because that physiological center gives a lot of external and internal feedback; you can feel your heart beat faster. 

ClaraMy third chakra, the fire center of Manipura. It’s where the warrior lives, and that’s something that I’d like to work with a lot in archetypes. 

StephanieI would say the third eye because it’s where the imagination resides and how we visualize the landscapes we want to be in and bring stories to life.

What are some of the practices to deregulate?

CThe biggest thing to deregulate is to stop, drop, and roll; stop what you’re doing, come down to the ground, and roll around with your bolster or on your mat. If I were to teach a class using this method, I’d start students standing, and then we’d come down on the ground. In terms of deregulating, I begin with simple movements, just a bit of movement to get people into their bodies before restorative poses. 

Erin’s restorative yoga classes start with movement before coming down to the ground, a moving meditation to connect to the body and breath before you arrive in stillness on your mat. I feel like this is helpful in my own body, to take a moment to move and feel my body and check-in with what I need. 

In terms of restorative poses, I’d hold each pose for several minutes and focus on breathing deep. I’d offer meditation with eyes closed or open and visualization. Picturing something that’s calming like nature is soothing for me, so I’d offer a visualization meditation to complete the practice. 

EI teach with the mindset of people who come for what they want, and they stay for what they need. What someone wants may be to downregulate, but that’s not what they need at that moment, or it’s not possible due to their current state. It’s not where they’re at, so we meet people where they’re at. If I know somebody who’s dealing with quite a bit of anxiety, I’m not going to pop them into a restorative pose right away. They may need to blow through some of the anxiety first and go for a jog or do something a bit more vigorous to then down-regulate to blow off some steam before coming to a more restful state. 

Whenever we’re talking about stress and anxiety, I think the idea is that we have to be calm right away, or we’re going to be peaceful right away. I think you’ve got to meet yourself where you are and do what serves to get into a more restful state of mind and quiet. 

CI feel like it can create more stress and anxiety for a person if they’re asked or trying to become still, and they can’t do it yet, then there’s judgment and all the stuff that arises when we’re not performing the way we ‘should’ be. 

new class:

Arise and Illuminate

This vinyasa yoga class opens with a reading of a poem by John O’Donahue to ease you into the practice with a meditative prayer. A smooth and simple sequence to start your day, you’ll connect to your rhythm of breath as you cycle through several variations of Sun Salutations. A seated spinal twist to wring out the spine, inner thigh, groin, and hamstring stretching from the floor and a passive inversion with legs up the wall in Viparita Karani (dead bug pose) complete the class. 

How does anatomy affect deregulation?

EAnytime we deregulate, we work with polyvagal theory. Stephen Porges is the author of the Polyvagal Theory, whose research revolutionized our understanding of the polyvagal nerve. The polyvagal nerve is the tenth cranial nerve that starts at the brain and speaks to all parts of the body. The polyvagal nerve speaks to your voice box, heart, tummy, guts, and other places. The communication process employed is called the vagal brake; it’s literally as if you’re putting the brake on, asking your brain to speak directly to the things that need to calm down, your heart, your lungs, your belly, or whatever needs just to chillax.

The polyvagal theory essentially puts a brake on the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight mode, where we feel distressed or anxious. It can be a momentary stress event or ongoing stress event that tells your body to go into a fight or flight. Your vagus nerve puts a stop to the communication process that keeps you in fight or flight; the vagus nerve is responsible, and we can strengthen our vagal brake the same way we strengthen a muscle. Working with polyvagal break asks the vagus nerve to do its fundamental job; to put on the brake and stop fight or flight to shift the body into the parasympathetic nervous system, aka rest and digest.

Part of how we strengthen the vagal tone, which is the vagus nerve’s ability to put on the brakes really well and really fast, is through breathing techniques.

One of the greatest interventions that we have as yoga instructors is breath technique. Breathwork can be both excitatory and calming, like Kapalabhati breath or Nadi Shodhana. During pranayama, you’re going through a whole stress cycle; you’re asking the vagus nerve to take the brake off to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, and then you’re asking it to put the brake back on to shift into the parasympathetic nervous system. With every breath, we’re practicing taking the brake on and off. Every time you take a breath in, it’s excitatory. Every time you take a breath out, it’s down-regulating. 

If we train the physiology to know when we request the vagal brake to come on and off, then we’re going to have a better ability to just be in the world and react to stressors. We can respond to the events that occur, but we can come back to neutral. I think a lot of the ideas around mindfulness practices and breath practices is the idea that we’re not going to be reactive. 

What’s powerful about the polyvagal brake is that we can choose to react while being highly stimulated; we have the power to decide how we respond to a stimulus and come back to ourselves. 

CYou’re never going to stop reacting to the world and the events that occur. All we can do is observe what’s happening and work on ourselves.  

The idea of vinyasa yoga specifically is that we put the body under stress for the duration of practice. This process is kind of flexing the vagus nerve to be able to handle stress and then come back to equilibrium, over and over again, so that when we’re out in the world and stress comes our way, we can do what we need to do at that moment in terms of stress. And then, once we are safe again, we can downregulate and come back to a place of homeostasis.

What are some quick, tactile practices to alleviate stress?

CThe first one that I think about is lion’s breath. In my body, I hold a lot of tension in my face and my jaw. So I need to make a sound when I’m feeling a strong emotion like frustration. I need to be loud. So lion’s breath empowers me. 

The other thing I like to do is to shake out my hands and my body. As I shake, I imagine all the negativity leaving my body. I can’t relax if I feel that strongly; I need to literally like make some noise and move very sharply before I come to rest. 

EFirst of all, breathing in and out through your nose makes a huge difference. When we breathe in and out through our mouth, it gives very different feedback to our system. A practice I would recommend is a mantra and a mudra meditation called Sa Ta Na Ma; it’s a Kundalini technique that means, I Am At Peace. You do this meditation by taking your thumbs and touching your thumb to your index finger for Sa, middle finger for Ta, ring finger for Na, and pinky finger for Ma. Repeat this over and over again, tapping the fingertips to the thumb. 

This technique uses mantra, mudra, and breath. You can say the words out loud, or in your head, I Am At Peace. This technique features bilateral stimulation using your hands and your mouth, which means I’m using both of my hands simultaneously. Bilateral stimulation is used in EMDR, which is a part of the recovery for PTSD.

About Our Guest, Erin Moon

Erin Moon IAYT 800, ERYT 500, YACEP. She has been teaching since 2005 and teaching teachers anatomy and more since 2009. She has been a teacher in Vancouver since moving here in 2014 from NYC, where she lived for 13 years via Alberta, born and raised. Erin is the Director and co-creator of the World Spine Care Yoga Project, an international NGO bringing the practices of Yoga to people suffering from spinal and musculoskeletal disorders, pain, and limited mobility, in communities around the world. She also has her Level 2 Reiki, Level 1 Thai Massage, is a C-IAYT 800 Therapist, and has her 200hr certification in Applied Positive Psychology from The Flourishing Center. She is currently teaching intro to advanced anatomy for Lila Vinaysa, Prema Yoga Institute (NYC), and Illumina Yoga (upstate NY). Erin loves learning and knows that part of living well is growing. Whenever possible, she continues to study with PT’s, OT’s, Chiropractors, Researchers, Somatic Psychotherapists, and Neurologists and to pursue her hunger for knowledge through in-depth self-study.

Her focus in public classes is embodiment and curiosity, whether she is teaching Restorative, Yin, Hatha, or Vinyasa, practicing listening to the wisdom that our mind-body connection holds. To do this, Erin believes we must start the conversation through quieting, noticing, and contemplating. This way, we may become more somatically (felt sense of the body) aware, developing greater connections within, which then translate to greater connections in our communities and the divine in all things.

anxiety and stress

Rituals to Start the Day: Morning Yoga

morning yoga

Starting the day with a morning practice—be it yoga, meditation, journaling, (insert activity of preference)—is a wonderful way to create and connect to a positive focus for the day. Morning practice celebrates the birth of the sun and the potential that the day holds; it provides a bit of quiet, reflective space to be with before the day’s busyness begins. As we transition into Autumn and the colder months ahead, establishing a ritual in the morning may bring a little brightness to your day, even as the sun continues to rise later and later.

This week we featured the Morning Practice Series, with classes and content that captures the beauty and benefit of rising early to do your spiritual practice. On the podcast, Clara shared some of the reasons we practice in the morning, what’s included in her morning yoga intensives, and the poses and pranayama to do earlier. 

Highlights are below, listen or watch the full discussion.

The Spiritual History of a Morning Practice

A lot of meditation, yoga, and spiritual practices generally happen between 4-6 AM. It’s said that the veil between what can be seen and what cannot be seen, so that which is divine or spiritual, the veil is very thin in the early morning. So we practice in the morning to connect to the spiritual, or the Divine.

The other reason we practice in the morning is that the events in our day do not bog us down. We’re generally more clear-headed and able to concentrate on the practice and feel the experience in a more embodied way. 

The other thing I love about practicing in the morning is when everyone else is still sleeping; the world is quiet, and we connect to that quiet time. As the sun begins to rise, it’s like we’re connecting to the day’s potential.

In terms of the Hatha Yoga tradition, we do Surya Namaskars first thing in the morning. “Surya” means sun, and “Namaskar” means the day. With Surya Namaskars, we recognize and honor the start of a new day. As the sun rises, we take Surya Namaskars to celebrate the cycle and the beginning of the day. One of my teacher friends says that the sun represents the Divine and the light and possibility in the world, but it also reflects the ball of light inside us. 

The sun is the key or seed that lives inside us that connects us to the divine and provides inspiration. 

morning yoga

new class: 

Sweet Surrender

A yin yoga class featuring six poses opens the heart and upper back, brings ease to the morning or gently unwinds the day. Each pose is supported by props, allowing the body to relax and stretch the deep connective tissues between the muscles to provide better circulation and support to the joints. Chest, shoulder, back, and side waist opening allow spaciousness around the heart to breathe with more ease. As you linger in each pose, elongate your exhales to deepen your state of calm. 

Beneficial Poses for a Morning Practice

Generally, you want to do more back bending in the morning because you’re trying to stimulate yourself to wake up, and backbends stimulate the adrenals. Backbending is very energizing, so if you do backbends in the evening, you want to be mindful of how close it is to bedtime. If you do backbends in the evening practice, add a longer cooldown to allow the body time to settle and ground. 

The other reason I include a lot of back bending in the morning is to open the shoulders and chest. Especially for those who work at desks, drive, or rock children all day, opening the chest in the morning to stretch all the muscles across the front of the chest feels excellent. 

In terms of morning pranayama practices, I would offer Kapalbhati, otherwise known as skull shining breath. Kapalbhati is very stimulating and excitatory; it generates heat, enhances circulation and digestion, and improves the function of the liver and kidneys. 

Introduction to Clara’s Morning Intensives

I’ve been teaching my morning intensives for about fourteen years. The morning intensives have changed over time, but it’s essentially a two-hour practice in the early morning, from 6-8AM, for five days. I include mantra, meditation, and the asana practice to create a well-rounded experience. I also anchor each of the intensives with a book and provide journaling questions for students to chew on post-practice. 

Leaving students with a journaling question provides the opportunity to write and reflect. It takes the practice one step deeper into the philosophical component of yoga practice. Most people come to yoga for the asana, but we (hopefully) begin to ask more significant questions as we do more yoga. The idea with the journaling questions is to get people to go beyond the physical and dig a little deeper into how they feel. Why am I here? What is divinity? How do I connect to other people? 

I love building together, and we don’t get the same progression and feedback in a drop-in studio class. The intensive is a way to drop-in to the physical practice and learn philosophy. The week’s theme builds around the book I’ve chosen, so it’s fun to discuss how each morning went and bits from the book we enjoyed and wish to discuss. 

Launching the morning intensives, I wanted to build more community; it’s an opportunity to be together and learn together and build community. 

The Four Pillars of Indian Philosophy

All Indian philosophy is based on these four aspects of life Kama, Artha, Dharma, and Moksha, to provide the basis for existing in harmony. These are an example of philosophical prompts I bring up in the morning intensives. 

Kama represents pleasure, how you find pleasure in life, and what brings you joy.
Artha is how you make money, wealth, and live in the material world.
Dharma is how you contribute to your community and what you bring to humanity, such as artwork.
Moksha is spiritual liberation, which is what we celebrate in the practice of yoga.

Clara’s Key Learnings Leading an Online YTT

I gave everybody offline homework to do, to go out into the world, and interact with nature or people. I wanted to provide less screen time to counter all the time we spent on Zoom; it’s asking a lot to be online like that all day long. I wanted to be mindful of how much screen time we were having together because we’re not sure of the long term effects of what all the screentime is doing in terms of anxiety and depression. I made the days together a lot shorter and provided more reading and interactive homework that asked students to write poems, call a friend, and dance to their favorite music. 

The biggest piece that I would give in terms of training is to be okay with the silence. Because you ask a question and sometimes it takes up to a few minutes before someone responds. I liked how there was a pause before anyone spoke, like hitting the ‘unmute’ button on Zoom made each of us think; it added an extra step before speaking. I appreciated that piece, and I would invite everyone to get comfortable with those moments of silence, the pause before the next person hits ‘unmute’ to speak. I also highly recommend using Zoom’s breakout because it allows people to talk and interact more than in the larger group. 

When we talk to each other, we’re more invested in what we’re learning; the more we talk, the more we engage within the content and connect with the concepts.

Ajna Chakra: Trust Your Intuition


The third-eye center or Ajna chakra is where we connect our wisdom and intuition. The sixth of the seven chakras, Ajna, translates from Sanskrit as ‘command’ or ‘perceive.’ The third-eye symbolizes our ability to transcend the ego and move to a higher consciousness where trust, intuition, acceptance, and clairvoyance guide our actions. At the third-eye, we practice listening to our intuition through meditation practices and coming to stillness to allow the answers to arise naturally. Ajna chakra reminds us that we can balance self-doubt and questioning with a deep appreciation for honoring our instincts and trust in our process. When we become still and silent, we create the space to sit with our discomfort and receive our body’s messages. The body does not lie. The practice of yoga may be a tool to cleanse and purge the physical, mental, and emotional tensions so we can come to meditation and listen to what we need. 

When Ajna chakra is balanced, we see things as they are. We can step back and examine more than just the objects in front of us; we might step back to take in the full room and explore each item’s relationship. When Ajna chakra is out of balance, we live in Maya, the illusion, and can be disconnected from the truth. This chakra asks us to deepen our understanding and acceptance for the world precisely as it is, so we might see how we belong and interact within the world around us. 

This week on the podcast, we discussed the third-eye center, Ajna, and its themes, blockages, and imbalances. We also discussed how we might connect to inner wisdom and intuition and explored Patanjali’s Sutra 11.6 in terms of falsely identifying with the ego over our truth. Read the highlights below, or get the full episode on Practice with Clara or Spotify

Ajna Themes, Blockages, and Imbalances

Clara: The sixth chakra is at the third eye center. If you were to draw a line from one temple to the other and then from the middle of your forehead to the back of your head where those two lines intersect is where the third eye center is. The third eye center has a lot to do with intuition, wisdom and clairvoyance, beyond reason into a more profound knowledge. When we connect to our third eye, we see the bigger picture, step outside of our experience, and look at the world from an objective point of view versus a subjective point of view.

Ways of connecting to the third eye chakra and creating harmony would be meditation. Another way you could connect to the sixth chakra would be through jiva bandha. If you’re doing a yoga practice, you take the tip of your tongue and place it to the roof of your mouth, where the top pallet meets the back of your front teeth. It creates a soft opening of the jaw, but it also may activate the third eye center.

When there’s an imbalance, you’re generally not grounded and lose all sense of who you are and get lost in the ether. That’s a person who doesn’t know what’s going on. 

The blockage around the sixth chakra is that you can’t hear or feel your wisdom. And so in that way, you’re running around in your ego, meaning the survival part of yourself. And you don’t know. What it is that you need. Another way a blockage would be expressed around the sixth chakra is when it’s closed is that you can’t see the bigger picture.

Watts talks about this being like the bug’s eye view versus the bird’s eye view. The bugs I view is the idea that all you can see is what’s directly in front of you. You can’t see the bigger picture and kind of an idea. And when we’re in a bug’s eye view, we can’t see all the things. We can only see the stuff directly in front of us. So that would be a blockage. 

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: A Guide for Meditation

False-identification is confusing the nature of the seer or Self with the nature of the instrument of perception. In other words, false identification happens when we mistake the mind, body, or senses for the true Self. – Sutra 11.6

Clara: The yoga sutras are one of India’s oldest texts written by a person called Patanjali. It’s a how-to for meditation in order to connect with your higher self or your inner wisdom. The sutras are a guide on how to meditate, how to connect to self.

The yoga sutras are ways to break free of the Maya, meaning the illusion we live in So, a large part of the practice is this idea of connecting to our consciousness or the space that actually lives in the third eye center.

The third-eye and the concept of truth versus ignorance make me think of the Matrix, and the moment Neo must choose between the blue pill (to see the truth) and the red pill (remain in ignorance). The thing is, if you take the blue pill, you can never come back. You can never unsee what it is that you saw. So the question around Ajna chakra is, do I want to stay ignorant, or do I want to go deeper? – Clara Roberts-Oss

It’s because we live in illusion, and we do not see the truth for the way that it is, meaning that we’re hanging out with the red pill and not the blue pill. (If we’re going back to the Matrix metaphor). This idea of false identification. 

A lot of the yogis believe that we are not our minds, bodies, or emotions because they are always in flux. We’re looking to connect with a part of ourselves that is unchanging: the higher consciousness or collective consciousness. The bigger ‘S’ self is the higher consciousness, and the lower ‘s’ self is the ego. The ego in this definition is who we think we are, our thoughts, our emotions, our bodies. If we don’t stay connected to our bigger ‘S’ self, our consciousness, we’re in reaction mode versus response mode, meaning we’re not connecting to the greater wisdom that lives inside. We’re constantly in survival mode and living in the ego that’s always changing. 

Ajna: Ego versus Inner Wisdom

Stephanie: When have you felt your ego push up against your inner wisdom and went against your gut instinct?  

Clara: The most recent, the most recent event that happened would be around my child last week. When I breastfeed or when I pump, I do a lot of Googling. Google is not necessarily the best Oracle as we like to call it. And so I was Googling about breastfeeding, and then I was Googling about sleep training because she’s coming into her four months, and I felt like I needed to figure out about sleep training. Suddenly, I got into my head about the fact that I’m not doing what all these things are telling me to do, like what I’m supposed to be doing. And then I got into my head that I couldn’t put my daughter down properly and couldn’t feed her properly. I couldn’t because I was so in my head about what I thought I should be doing. And from being in my head, I couldn’t Intuit. I couldn’t tell what it was my daughter needed. I ignored my intuition.

I texted a friend of mine, and she was like, stop reading, you know what to do. For the past four months, I’ve put her down when she needs to go down. I fed her when she needs food. But all of a sudden, after reading my ego took over and made me question what I should be doing. I stopped connecting to my wisdom.

We need to listen, but there’s still so much space for a moment of self-doubt. Doubt is a good attribute to have. One thing I love about the Jewish faith is that they ask you to doubt. They ask you to question. It’s essential to ask questions because when you doubt, it solidifies what you believe.

To connect to our sixth chakra, we need to get quiet. I generally need to get still or meditate, or some people like to do some repetitive movement. You need to turn your brain off and just listen. 

That is the most direct way to connect to our intuition, connect to our wisdom, and connect to our innate knowing. Listen. Whenever I start to get too busy that’s an indication that I’m not connecting to my inner wisdom, I’m lower down in my first chakra where there’s fear. So I need to stop, be still, and listen. That’s the ego’s job to keep you alive and protect you, but we need to observe what else is there and listen to what arises to honor our inner wisdom.  

Ajna Chakra Podcast

Purification Through Air: The Power of Pranayama

Air is soft, spacious, and all-pervading. Air gives us life, it has no boundaries or limitations, and travels beyond what the naked eye can see. Air reminds us of our inner expansiveness, our ability to grow beyond what we think we’re capable of, and represents a lofty intelligence spoken from the heart. Subtle, vulnerable, and asking nothing in return, air creates an environment of belonging by accepting all beings. 

Air is one of the five elements in the body that we discover in the natural world. Each of the elements rely on each other and require balance to restore harmony: fire needs air to thrive as water needs earth to provide a container. The air we breathe also feeds the plants and soil. When we breathe air into our body, cells are revitalized through the deliverance of fresh oxygen to the lungs, blood, organs, and tissues. Energetically, air is a purifier to cleanse the mind and body of hyper-active or static states of energy.

In a previous #PracticeWithClara podcast, Clara shared tips and tools to understand the subtle body, which is profoundly affected by how we breathe. The breath is key to understanding the relationship between the mind and body, as well as our relationship with ourselves and the rest of the world. A teacher of meditation and yoga for over a decade, Clara’s classes on the Practice With Clara Site are peppered with pranayama techniques to open the inner body and develop a stronger connection to the life force within. 

This article captures the symbolic quality of air in our everyday lives and the importance of recognizing the elements in our day-to-day interactions. It also shares a few of the powerful pranayama practices and kundalini kriyas to purify the mind and body to create spaciousness within so you might interact with more compassion and calm. 

Air as Giving and Sustaining Life

Just like we need air to keep our bodies alive, we need compassion to stay connected to each other and the natural environment. Without air, our organs, brain, cells, and tissues die. Without love, we lack the bond of belonging. Air is essential to our physical survival as love is essential to our emotional survival. 

We’re connected to nature and all species through the action of breathing, inhaling and exhaling to sustain and give life to each other. We’ve a reciprocal relationship with nature based on the process of inspiration and respiration: trees absorb air and take in the carbon dioxide, then, with help from the sun, oxygen is released back into the atmosphere. 

Air is symbolic of our relationship to all that is around us, animals and plants, and the people in our communities. Our love has no boundaries, no limitations, like the air we breathe. Separation, judgement, and rejection of others and our love is as unnatural as stopping the flow of breath in the body. We cannot function without the flow of life moving through us, be it air or compassion. 

Air and Anahata Chakra

Our heart center is how we connect to others and live with a sense of lightness and compassion. In a previous post on Anahata Chakra, I shared practices and techniques to bring awareness to the heart space. Air is the element for Anahata. Each of the chakras are associated with an element to tap into the energies of the natural world that are reflected within the body. When we’re out of alignment in our physical body, this affects our mental and emotional states. Practices for the heart to open the shoulders, lengthen the side waist, and strengthen the back body, provide a sense of spaciousness inside that’s reflected in our interactions with others. When we feel space and lightness within, we’re better equipped to interact with these qualities and ways that inspire compassion and love. 

The Power of Pranayama

The fourth limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Pranayama is the mastery of breath-control and recognition of the relationship between the breath, body, and mind. Prana means life force. Pranayama is control or constriction of life force. It’s the energetic current created in the body we control by bringing awareness to the breath. Focused pranayama brings a state of calm to the body and mind, influencing the body’s central nervous system to have an effect on the hormones released, thereby shifting our emotions and how we feel. 

The body is made up of energy lines called nadis, which affect the body’s subtle energy. There are three main nadis in the body: sushumna, ida and pingala. Sushumna is the central channel that travels from the base of the spine to the crown of the head and the source for each of the seven chakras. Ida is the channel that travels along the left side of the body, and pingala is the channel that travels along the right side of the body. The aim of pranayama is to understand the flow of breath by gaining awareness of how the breath lights up the nadis, shifts our subtle energy, and overall transforms how we think and feel. Pranayama is the key to inner transformation and one of the most accessible tools for yoga alchemy. 

Moving Meditation for Purification

In this short Moving Meditation class with Clara, you’ll move through a variety of kriyas to purify the mind and body, pranayama to open and expand the lungs, and meditation to relieve stress and connect to silence. Pranayama and kriyas have the power to shift our energy, from feeling anxious to grounded or stagnant to uplifted, these breathing techniques have the power to transform. 

4-Part Breathing

This pranayama provides a sense of grounding and creates stillness in the body and mind. Great to practice if you have high-energy and want to calm down.
4-part breath is also known as Sama Vritti. In Sanskrit, sama means ‘equal’ and vritti means ‘flow’. This technique balances the breath by breathing in/out and retaining the breath to calm the heart-rate and nervous system.

How To
Inhale for the count of four
Hold at the top for the count of four
Exhale for the count of four
Hold at the bottom for the count of four

Repeat several cycles and then sit in meditation to be in how you feel. 

Kundalini Mudra 

A clearing technique to purge excess energy by sharply exhaling through the mouth. This technique keeps the energy moving and high. Great to practice if you want to stay elevated and awake but still purge any excess stress or tension. 

How To
Inhale sharply through the nose and make a fist with your hands
Exhale sharply through the mouth and sparkle out your fingers

Repeat several cycles speeding up or slowing down as necessary. 

Sufi Grinds

This moving meditation relieves tension in the low back and brings flexion/extension to the spine. Sufi Grinds draws the energy upwards from the root of the spine to the crown of the head. Great to balance any nervous energy and clear away static energy.

How To 
Inhale through the nose and arch the spine as you lean forward
Exhale through the nose and round the back as you shift backward

Stay seated and draw circles with your body by rotating the torso. Create larger and smaller circles and imagine drawing energy upwards from the pelvis to the crown of the head. Root down at the seat to feel grounded as you move. 

Lions Breath

Lion’s Breath connects you to your inner child, creating a space for play to rid the body of amassed stress. It relieves tension, improves circulation, and opens the front of the chest, neck, and throat. 

How To
Exhale sharply out the mouth and stick out your tongue with your fingers anchored on the ground. Add a growl or any sounds, including laughter, as you exhale.

Air: A Reminder to Keep Things Moving

The flow of life is all around us. Nature reminds us that stagnation is not possible. The seasons express the cycles of change we move through and undergo. From the sunflower seed to the strike of thunder, we’re surrounded by signs that capture the eternal connection of creation and destruction. 

Our bodies provide a tangible contact with the world and a means to connect to others as we establish relationships, build community, and feel the flow of love that arises as a result. When we feel the pulse of life in our bodies by bringing awareness to the breath and engaging in physical activity, we break-up any stagnant and/or stuck energy and release anxieties that threaten to dismantle our connection with the universe and inherent love. 

In the new class this week, Keep It Moving, the idea is to move with the flow of your breath, create rhythm with your body, and connect to the environment around you. 

Keep It Moving

Keep It Moving 

Keep it moving with Clara and the students of Lila Vinyasa Yoga in this air-inspired yoga class that stimulates and frees the body with quick and subtle movement. As you move, focus on the ujjayi breath and ask yourself: how does this movement feel and how does my breath correspond? The element air is associated with curiosity, intuition, motion, light, and quick-wittedness; keep this in-mind as you breathe.

Interested in more classes from #PracticeWIthClara? 

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108 meaning

The Mystic Meaning of the Number 108

Throughout history, the number 108 has held a multi-dimensional meaning.  In geometric terms it is a natural division of circle (108=36+72=9 X 12). In the Eastern part of the world, different traditions talk about the108 navamsas.  The Shiva malas, or rosaries, both Tantric and Tibetan are composed by 108 beads. The number 108 is also one of great significance inside of the Rosicrucian order, since it exemplifies the time frame of some of their cycles. Interestingly enough, a leap year displays 366 days and 3 x 6 x 6 gives 108.

The number 108 is considered sacred in many Eastern religions and traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and connected yoga and dharma based practices. Even the pre-historic monument Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter.  108 is a number known to be referring to spiritual completion, and it is no surprise that the early Vedic sages were renowned mathematicians and in fact invented our number system. 108 is a Harshad Number, an integer divisible by the sum of its digits. Harshad in Sanskrit means “joy-giver”. 108 was the number of choice for this simple reason: 108 represent the whole of existence. There are said to be 108 types of meditation. Some say there are 108 paths to God. Indian traditions have 108 dance forms.

Another interesting example, Hindu deities have 108 names, whilst in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there are 108 gopis of Vrindavan. Recital of these names, often accompanied by the counting of the 108-beaded Mala, is considered sacred and often done during religious ceremonies. The recital is called namajapa. Accordingly, a mala usually has beads for 108 repetitions of a mantra.

In some schools of Buddhism, it is believed that there are 108 defilements. In Japan, at the end of the year, a bell is chimed 108 times in Buddhist temples to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. Likewise, Zen priests wear juzu, a ring of prayer beads, around their wrists, which consists of 108 beads. The Lankavatara Sutra has a section where the Bodhisattva Mahamati asks Buddha 108 questions.

In modern Gnosticism, through the teachings of Samael Aun Weor, it is believed that  an individual has 108 chances, or lifetimes, to eliminate his egos and transcend the material world before “devolving” and having the egos forcefully removed in the infradimensions. In other words, each one of us carries the reminiscent memory cells of at least 108 previous incarnations, which constitutes the body of our incarnational selves. Inside of this essentially holographic template is stored the repository of the emotional and spiritual involvements that your Soul may have experienced and have retained the impression of, but that needed to be cleansed and  integrated in order to continue the spiritual evolution.

The Buddhism tradition talks about the 108 earthly desires in mortals, 108 lies humans tell and 108 human delusions.

The esoteric presence of the number 108 can be seen in various spiritual practices and theories: In Kriya Yoga, the maximum number of repetitions allowed to be practiced in one sitting is 108. Also, 108 Sun Salutations in yoga practice is often used to honor change, for example the change of seasons, or at a time of tragedy to bring peace, respect and understanding. It is said that if one can be so calm in meditation practicing pranayama to have only 108 breaths a day that enlightenment will come.

Energy Point

There are said to be 108 energy lines, or nadis, converging to form the heart chakra. Marma points are like Chakras, or intersection of energy, with fewer converging energy lines. On Sri Yantra, the Marmas have 54 intersecting energy lines where three lines intersect. Each has feminine, or shakti, and masculine, or shiva, qualities. 54 X 2 = 108. Therefore there are 108 points that define the human body and the Sri Yantra or the Yantra of Creation. The same rule is observed in the Sanskrit language, with its 54 letters, both representing the two genders and they are also called Shiva and Shakti respectively; again, 54 X 2= 108.

Importance in Astronomy and Astrology

The earth cycle is supposed to be of 2160 years = 20 x 108. The distance between the Earth and Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance between the Earth and Moon is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. The universe is made up of 108 elements according to ancient texts. The current periodic table claims a few more than 108.

There are 12 constellation and 9 arc segments. 9 times 12 equal 108. The 9 planets travelling through the 12 signs constitute the whole of existence. 9 x 12 = 108. The 27 nakshatras or lunar constellations spread over the 4 elements – fire, earth, air, water or the 4 directions – north, south, east, and west. This also constitutes the whole of existence. 27 x 4 = 108.


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Yantra Meditation

Yandra meditation

I came across this and wanted to share it with you…


Yantra Meditation

As you look at the yantra, allow your eyes to focus on its center. This dot in the center is called the Bindu, which represents the unity that underlies all the diversity of the physical world.

Now allow your eyes to see the triangle that encloses the bindu. The downward pointing triangle represents the feminine creative power, while the upward facing triangle represents male energy.

Allow your vision to expand to include the circles outside of the triangles. They represent the cycles of cosmic rhythms. The image of the circle embodies the notion that time has no beginning and no end. The farthest region of space and the innermost nucleus of an atom both pulsate with the same rhythmic energy of creation. That rhythm is within you and without you.
Bring your awareness to lotus petals outside the circle. Notice that they are pointing outwards, as if opening. They illustrate the unfolding of our understanding. The lotus also represents the heart, the seat of the Self. When the heart opens, understanding comes.

The square at the outside of the yantra represents the world of form, the material world that our senses show us, the illusion of separateness, of well defined edges and boundaries. At the periphery of the figure are four T-shaped portals, or gateways. Notice that they point toward the interior of the yantra, the inner spaces of life. They represent our earthly passage from the external and material to the internal and sacred.

Now take a moment to gaze into the yantra, letting the different shapes and patterns emerge naturally, allowing your eyes to be held loosely in focus. Gaze at the center of the yantra on the page. Without moving your eyes, gradually begin to expand your field of vision. Continue expanding your vision until you are taking in information from greater than 180 degrees. Notice that all this information was there all along, you just became aware of it. Now slowly reverse the process by re-focusing back to the center of the yantra. Now gently close your eyes. You may still see the yantra in your mind’s eye. The patterns of creativity represented by these primordial shapes express the fundamental forces of nature. They govern the world and they govern you.



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Bhavana mindfulness

In different religions, there are different concepts of how to be closer to the divine power or look into yourself to find your soul and comfort your heart. In Buddhism, the concept of Bhavana is very common. If literally translated, it means development or producing. The aim of Bhavana is to clear your mind and induce calmness inside the body, which reflects in your words, thoughts and actions.

Understanding Bhavana

Most of the times, Bhavana is not used alone but in conjunction with another concept. There is citta-Bhawana which refers to the development of mind. This concept deals with the cultivation of thoughts, positive attitude and ideas in your mind. On the other hand, metta-bhavana is the development of kindness. This concept deals with cultivating love and kindness in your heart. Different parts of your body are doing different things and they can all be developed in the right way to produce positivity and goodness. Panna-bhavana refers to the development of wisdom, which is very important throughout your whole life. Samadhi-bhavana is the development of concentration. You will not be able to excel at anything or understand anything until you develop a certain level of concentration. Kaya-bhavana is the development of the body, which is inevitable and very important. There are different compounds made by different Theravada teachers. Bhavana is the name of spiritual cultivation, whether it is of the heart, mind or the body.

Etymology of Bhavana

Bhavana comes from Bhava which means ‘becoming’. To understand it better, you can think of it as the arousal of the state of mind. According to Glen Wallis, a farmer does Bhavana when he prepares his field for planting seeds. He says that Buddha chose this specific word because of its connection with the earth. While other words like meditation are devoid of a connection, Bhavana is connected to the Earth. It is ordinary and natural, yet serene and earthly in its own way. Bhavana also represents hope. It cultivates a sense of hope in people that no matter how damaged a field is, it is not barren. This means that no matter how damaged your heart or mind is, there is still hope that it can be cultivated and developed. As a result, the end of the season will see a nourishing harvest. One might think of Bhavana as meditation but it is much more than that. It brings attention to detail and makes meditation a calming activity rather than a mechanical one. Claude Marechal explains it perfectly in the article ‘Teachings’.

From the article ‘Teachings’ by CLAUDE MARECHAL.

I thought this was an eloquent way to describe Bhavana.

“Bhavana is a mental attitude, the intention that allows the student to maintain his/her attention during the execution of postures and of pranayama. This psychological orientation stops the practice from becoming mechanical, it amplifies its effects and improves self-knowledge.

Bhavana aims to make the mind very clear, very calm, to improve physical and mental health and to induce a state of meditation or of prayer.”



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While there are many treatments for physical treating your body, you need to meditate to train your mind. Just like you do exercise for your body’s wellness, you have to meditate to keep your brain healthy and well. According to Buddhist traditions, meditation is as important as sports are in the US. Meditation is not just one thing. It is a collection of different activities that are done to train the mind. As a beginner, it would be very difficult for you to sit in one place and keep your mind empty. This is very hard to do since we always have something on our mind, even if it is not relevant. There are a lot of tools for beginners such as beginner meditation DVDs that beginners can use to focus on their breathing and empty their minds.

Concentration is one of the most important aspects of meditation. In this kind of meditation, you have to focus on one point. It could be a single word, image or your own breath. Some people focus on a candle flame while others listen to one song on repeat. No matter what you are doing, your whole focus has to be on one thing. As a beginner, this could be challenging as your brain would drift from that one focal point but this gets better with time. Meditation is a great way to improve your concentration as you let go of any random thoughts and fixate your mind on one thing.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation makes you more aware of yourself and your thoughts. Instead of getting involved with every thought that comes to your mind, you just have to acknowledge its presence. The aim of this technique is to see the pattern of your thoughts. With time, you will notice how you perceive thoughts and what kind of thoughts commonly drift through your brain. If you continue doing this, you will reach a point where you will be able to balance your thoughts.

Sometimes, different meditation techniques are joint together to have a full-blown effect. For example, concentration and mindfulness can be joined together to create a stillness of mind for scanning through one’s thoughts.

Aim of Meditation

The aim of meditation has been very precisely explained by Chogyan Trungpa who says that meditation is for attaining blissfulness of mind and soul. It is a method for you to become a better person and be more aware of who you are.

‘Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss or tranquility, nor is it attempting to become a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. We provide space through the simple discipline of doing nothing…The basic practice is to be present, right here. The goal is also the technique. Precisely being in this moment, neither suppressing nor wildly letting go, but being precisely aware of what you are. Breath, like bodily existence, is a neutral process that has no ‘spiritual’ connotations’.

Chogyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom




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One of my favorite pranayams to help wake up the senses, focus the mind and anyone can do it.

It’s a cross between deep Ujayi breathing and cat cow.

As you inhale deeply, lift your sternum. As you exhale, knit the front ribs towards the back body and engage Mula Bandha (lift the pelvic floor). You inhale and exhale evenly and very deeply. Find a rhythm and stay with it. I’ve been taught to do it in 3 rounds, first one for 9, second for 7, third for 5. After your last exhale in each round, retain the breath on the exhale and engage Maha Bandha (All 3 bandhas-mula, uddiyana and jalandhara) for as long as it feels comfortable in your own body.

If you are on the first three days of your moon/pregnant, do Bhastrika slower. Do not retain kumbacha for too long with pregnancy without engaging the bandhas). If on your moon,  you can retain but do not engage uddiyana bandha as it draws the energy up and you’re flow is trying to move downwards.

What are Bandhas?

I found this to be a great explanation….



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