Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘Stress & Anxiety’

Interview with an Acupuncturist

Acupuncture, like yoga, works by tuning people back into their bodies. Just as a yoga practice connects movement and breath to mindfulness and intention, acupuncture aims to integrate mind, body, and spirit in a whole-person approach to treatment.

Oceana Baity is an acupuncturist, yoga teacher and mother of two who practices and teaches in New York City. Grounded and wise, she has a matter-of-fact approach to acupuncture that keeps the ancient practice relevant to the here and now. She was recently interviewed by Vogue on the use of essential oils in acupuncture, one of her preferred treatment methods (scroll down for the full story).

We spoke with Oceana about acupuncture myths and modalities to get a deeper understanding of the powerful and time-tested healing technique.

Q + A with Oceana Baity

How would you describe acupuncture to someone who knows nothing about it? 

Acupuncture is a ancient, holistic approach to balancing body, mind and spirit. It treats not just the symptoms of disharmony but the underlying imbalance.

Does it hurt?

I like to reframe this for patients. Yes, you might feel a sensation. It could be achy, heavy, dull or spreading. On some points you will feel a lot of sensation, on others hardly anything.

I encourage patients to move from an association of sensation as pain into a more nuanced interest in what they feel. An expanded physical and mental vocabulary will hold more options to describe the variety of the sensation. 

Any acupuncture myths or misconceptions you’d like to clear up?

There are many styles of acupuncture. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is perhaps the most commonly known style, but there are Korean and Japanese lineages, Five Element acupuncture—which focuses on underlying emotional and spirit-level imbalance—and modern approaches like Trigger Point Therapy, which is great for pain conditions.

How does an Eastern medicine philosophy differ from a Western one?

Western doctors are focusing on treating symptoms and diseases and Eastern medicine is concerned with treating the whole person. All the symptoms, even the ones that may not seem related to the primary complaint are taken into account, along with their lifestyle, diet and their daily stressors. It’s a very holistic, whole-person approach.

Can you talk about the link between acupuncture and fertility? 

Acupuncture can be very supportive in regulating a woman’s cycle. It reduces stress and addresses lifestyle issues which may be contributing to difficulty conceiving. 

When acupuncture and Chinese medicine aren’t able to help a woman conceive without medical intervention, studies report that it can increase the odds of successful IVF by 50 percent.

Oceana and her two daughters in Costa Rica.

How did you first become interested in studying acupuncture?

I had my first acupuncture treatment in San Francisco when I was 16. I can’t remember what my concern was, but I do remember distinctly how great I felt after.

Years later I was recovering from a rotator cuff injury and acupuncture greatly relieved my pain and helped speed up my healing. I was already a yoga teacher at the time, but I was interested in advancing my education and having more to offer. I dreamed of being able to provide the care and feeling of wholeness I experienced. It was an easy decision to make and I am so fulfilled by my work.

Oceana interviewed in this month’s issue of Vogue on the use of essential oils in acupuncture.

What, today, keeps you interested in or excited about acupuncture?

I’ve done multiple advanced trainings over the years so that keeps things fresh. Most recently I’ve been incorporating essential oils into my work. I use specific oils to accelerate healing and to treat kids and needle-sensitive patients. They’re also great for working with women on fertility issues, hormone balancing and stress relief.

The beauty of essential oil therapy is that its very potent, yet gentle enough for everyone (even babies with dilution), and the oils smell great. 

Visit Oceana’s website to learn more and schedule a session.

Images: Needles; treatment; Vogue article and cover courtesy of Vogue; oils; all other images courtesy of Oceana Baity. 

The Year of the Roar

For many of us, the end of the year and the start of the new can be both uplifting and exhausting. Travel, meal planning, angst over consumerism, and dark days (although they are getting lighter!) may contribute to the latter, while the feeling of working with a clean slate, having the opportunity to give to and receive from dear ones, and allowing time for introspection can give us a loving boost.

Whether we’re reveling in the fresh start or recovering from end-of-year commitments and festivities, we’ve all got stuff to clear.

Enter Lion’s BreathSimhasana.


“Stretches away tension lines in the face. Helps prevent wrinkling.”

As you can see from the bold claims on this OG poster (Yoga for no wrinkles!), Lion’s Breath has long had a reputation for relieving stress. More recently, Colleen Saidman Yee reccomended the posture for releasing trauma and anxiety in her excellent book, Yoga for Life.


Here’s How It’s Done

As a pranayama practice, Simhasana can be done in any posture. You may release the breath in heat-building poses like Utkatasana, or in a shape that exposes the throat, like Cow or Upward Facing Bow. We explored Jalandhara Bandha in a recent post, where the throat is constricted and the chin and sternum meet. Lion’s Breath is that bandha’s physical and energetic opposite. Here the focus is on expelling air forcefully through a wide-open mouth and opening the front side of the body.

The classic posture with breath is taken like this:

  • Sit on your knees and cross the front of one ankle over the back of the other, letting the feet splay out to the sides. Gently snuggle the perineum onto the top heel.
  • Flatten your palms against your knees, fingers spread wide—think lion’s paw. Press down firmly to lenghten and straighten you arms.
  • Breathe deeply through the nose. Pause at the top and open your mouth wide; stretch your tongue out, tip curling toward the chin; lift your brows to widen your eyes; contract the muscles in the front of your throat, and exhale out the mouth with an audible “HAAAAA.”
  • Repeat two or three times before changing the cross of the legs and roaring for the same number of times with the other heel on top.

    9a07224464cad7377c0d1125c436b54bThe Gaze

There are two options for where to set the drishti in this posture. One is right between the eyebrows, gazing up toward the third eye. This technique, Bhrumadhya Drishti, means “mid-brow gazing”–bhru is Sanskrit for brow while madhya means middle–and is often used in meditation to acheive dharana. Another possibility is to focus the gaze at the tip of the nose in Nasikagra Drishti, another common gaze for meditators looking to go deep; here nasa means nose and agra meas the foremost point, which, in this case, is the tip of the nose.


However you sit or wherever you choose to gaze, use Simhasana to move energy, clear what feels stuck, or as practice for saying what it is you want to say. A hallmark of this pose is that you will look fiercely ridiculous while doing it; you could also think of yourself as looking ridiculously fierce.

Photos: Lion; vintage yoga photos; Colleen Saidman Yee shot by Johanna Yee; awesome illustration by Miriam Castillo

Yoga 101: Uddiyana Bandha

A few weeks ago we dove into the Bandhas, a series of energetic locks in the body. We’re working from the base of the pelvis up, so read our first post for a refresher on Mula bandha, the Root Lock.

The next bandha is Uddiyana, the Navel Lock. In Sanskrit Uddiyana means to fly or rise up. On a physical level, your diaphragm, stomach and abdominal organs lift up when this bandha is engaged. Energetically, you’ll feel uplifted.

In the chakra system, Uddiyana bandha corresponds with Manipura, the third chakra; fiery and powerful, Manipura is the seat of our personal will and motivation. Picture it located at the solar pelxus and imagine the energy of fire and the sun. If you’ve ever practiced Breath of Fire you’ve connected with the third chakra and experienced an element of Uddiyana bandha. In that breath the belly contracts in and back with each exhale, a quick and less concentrated version of the abdominal engagement that occurs in Uddiyana.

How to Engage Uddiyana Bandha

Before you begin, be sure to:

  • Practice on an empty stomach after a complete exhalation.
  • Start your inquiry in a standing position. Over time, you can explore this bandha while seated.


  • Stand with your feet about hips’ width distance apart.
  • Take a slight bend in the knees and rest your hands above your kneecaps.
  • Keep your arms straight but round your torso forward.


  • Breathing through the nose, inhale deeply and exhale quickly and forcibly. Use your abdominal muscles to push as much air as possible out of your lungs.
  • Relax and stay empty.


  • Perform a mock inhalation. Expand your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but don’t take in any air. This will pull your abdominal muscles up and hollow the belly.
  • Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest. We’ll go into this posture, Jalandhara Bandha, in more depth in our next post.


  • Hold on empty until you feel any strain, tension, or tightness—anywhere from five to 15 seconds for beginners. The hold should feel effortless.
  • Slowly release the hold and inhale normally.
  • Perform several more rounds, keeping an eye on any dizziness or lightheadedness, alternating with normal breaths between each round.



If you’re looking to float, fly, lift, twist, or invert in your asana practice with less effort, Uddiyana bandha is key. This is a hold that’s all about rising up.

Given all the focus on the gut and its connection to the chakra in charge of digestion, it’s no surprise that Uddiyana bandha is an effective remedy for constipation, indigestion or bloating. It tones the inner abdominal muscles and serves as the yogic equivalent of crunches (i.e. flat abs). Try it when you need to beat fatigue, lethargy or stress.

Photos: How-to drawing; third chakra; floating yogini.



From the Mouths of Babes

As adults most of us move through modern life as efficiently as possible – faster, more streamlined, less fluff around the edges.
We may gain an advantage in the workplace, or find the time to cross another item of our to do list. Which is great! And what is lost?
Sometimes it’s simply the moment of pause – the moment of choice – a moment of reflection that is compromised for the sake of speed.


As the momentum of the day goes on, our mood might also begin to race creating anxiety and a short fuse. The line for coffee might be a bit long, traffic might be thwarting your best laid plans, a little expectation isn’t met at home, at work, at school.

Without that moment — that pause – that choice point — it’s easy to be reactionary – to be curt with our child or a coworker, glib with a friend or partner.


We’ve placed such emphasis on teaching kids emotional regulation to navigate their schooldays. Perhaps we need to be reminded from the sage little people just how simple it can be.


The video below will not only reaffirm just how special our youth is, but see if it can also function as a mindfulness exercise in itself…

We dare you to actually take the 3minutes and 41seconds required to be present with the video (almost a lifetime in todays short-attention span culture) and try this:


Watch the pace of the video and watch the pace of your energy as it swells and then ebbs. Do you notice your mood or stress level higher or lower at the beginning or end? Thoughts perhaps settling like glitter in the bottom of a jar of water.


Stress got you down? Legs up!

A regular yoga practice is scientifically proven to balance our modern-day lifestyle by reducing stress, slowing the aging process, and calming the fluctuations of the mind. The stress and chaos of modern-day life may be the very thing that led us to seek out our first yoga class. And, once we find an inviting studio and skillful teachers (like our incredible, knowledgeable teachers here at Five Pillars), we experience the benefits of a yoga practice. We know in our minds, bodies, and spirits that yoga works.

But when chaos ensues in our everyday life — our nerves get frayed, our patience gets short, our exhaustion runs high — and we find ourselves desperate for a yoga practice… well, this is also usually the precise moment when we all of a sudden can’t find the time to head to the studio! Which of course can lead to even more stress and anxiety!

When you feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water, throw yourself a life preserver!

If you have five minutes, practice this one posture for just five minutes… as if your life depends on it. Keep it simple and restorative. And breathe deep!

Viparita Karani – The Five Minute “Legs Up the Wall” Practice

According to Dr. Andrew Weil: The Legs Up the Wall Pose is an inversion pose in which you lie on the floor next to a wall and place your legs together vertically against the wall. The Sanskrit name, Viparita Karani, comes from viparita meaning reversed or inverted and karani meaning action. The pose is a restorative and relaxing pose as it inverts the typical actions that happen in our bodies as we sit and stand.

* It provides stress and anxiety relief
* as well as reducing menstrual symptoms and back pain
* It is also good for leg swelling for
varicose veins.

The pose is simple and can be performed for extended periods of time

Step One: Choose and/or setup your environment

Find a peaceful place where there is a wall at work or home where you can listen to soothing music, sounds of nature, and lie down.You can even do it in bed! Rub a drop or two of a calming Legs up theWallessential oil such as lavender, ylang ylang, or frankincense (the King of Oils) between your hands and take in the relaxing smell. Gather any props (a yoga mat, blanket, bolster, sandbag, eye pillow) that support your practice. Please note that you do not need any props for this pose, but they can add benefits to the experience.

Step Two: Notice the layers of your being (the koshas) as you begin your practice

  • ~ Pay attention to your physical body, including your muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones.
  • ~ Notice your energy. Are you high or low or somewhere in between?
  • ~ Sense your emotional body. How do you feel?
  • ~ Sitting in the seat of your witness self, begin to observe the fluctuations of your mind, as thoughts rise and fall like ocean waves.

Step Three: Send your legs up the wall for 3-5 minutes

yoga_legs_up_the_wall_ARTLegs up the wall asana is exactly as it sounds. Make sure you edge up close to the wall, so your sitz bones are pressing against it. Your legs and torso are perpendicular. Feel free to bend your knees to relieve tight hamstrings. If you experience strain in your low back, try supporting yourself with a blanket or bolster. Bring your hands by your side, or opened into a capital “T” shape, palms face up. Allow your eyes to close and simply focus on breathing into your belly.

*You can time yourself with by playing a 3-5 minute song (here’s one of our favorites) or setting a timer with a soothing alarm.

* This pose can be modified to be even more gentle – lying on your back with your legs on a chair, or simply propping your legs in a slanted position with pillows on your bed.

* This pose can be practiced for 3-5 minutes or longer… if it feels good, stay! Some yogis restore in this pose for up to 20 minutes!

Step Four: Take a moment in savasana and notice the effects of your practice

Bend your knees and gently roll onto one side. Make your way onto your back and set yourself up for savasana.

  • ~ Tune into your physical body, including your muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones.
  • ~ Notice any pulsing, streaming, or tingling sensations in your body. Paying attention to your energy, check in with yourself and sense if you high or low or somewhere in between.
  • ~ Notice how you feel.
  • ~ Continuing to sit in the seat of your witness self, observe the fluctuations of your mind, as thoughts rise and fall like ocean waves. Notice if your mind is racing or if your yoga practice worked to calm the fluctuations of the mind.
  • ~ Thank yourself for grabbing onto the life preserver! Though this practice consists of only one pose, for just a few minutes, be assured the benefits run deep.