The Power of Pranayama


Written by Andy Vantrease >> Inspired by studies with Therese Jornlin and J. Brown.

In any given yoga class, you’ll hear a myriad of cues for where to place your body parts: lift your right leg high, bring it through to your hands; elbow to your knee and twist your body to the right; knee over ankle, legs engaged.

For the most part, we’re not short on guidance when it comes to the physical practice. Moving your body into and out of certain poses builds strength, balance and flexibility as well as expands your body awareness and allows you to explore how you move in time and space. (All undoubtedly helpful for living well.)

What you may not know is that, traditionally, the asanas—and any physical movement for that matter—are meant to serve a lesser-celebrated source of health: your breath.

Why the breath comes first

Your breath is the force that met you when you were first born, and it’s the force that will guide you out of the experience of this particular life. It’s always there, cycling quietly amidst every emotion, feeling, thought and movement. Yet, how often are you aware of its presence? Of its capacities? Of its role in your practices and your life?

Fun fact: The respiratory system is the only system in the body that is both involuntary and voluntary, meaning it’s on when you’re not thinking about it, and you can decide to consciously control it whenever you want, using the power of your mind.

Think about it this way: You can’t decide on a whim to change your heart rate or your metabolism or your digestion simply by focusing on it. But at any given moment, you can decide to alter your breath—which actually creates a cascade of effects in the body that CAN change the aforementioned systems.

In yoga, practices that harness the mind to control the breath are called pranayamas—“prana” can be translated to lifeforce, breath or energy and “ayama” means extending or stretching. Thus, pranayama practices help to lengthen lifeforce (and improve the quality of life).

Perhaps you’ve heard of ujjayi, alternate nostril, four-part breathing or breath-of-fire techniques. These are just a few of hundreds of pranayamas, all helpful to reach different states of being. Breath can shift you from fight-flight-freeze (sympathetic nervous system) to rest-and-restore (parasympathetic nervous system). Breath practices can generate energy first thing in the morning and ease you to sleep at night. Breath can even change the patterns of your mind and physically rewire your brain.

Breath-led movement

Convinced of the importance of the breath yet? If so, make it the focus of your yoga practice. Let it lead your movements and be aware of how you’re breathing during each pose. If you’re struggling to breath fully, slow your movements until you can regain a natural flow.

Try this:

Instead of shooting your arms into the air, begin your inhale—then allow your arms to float upward with your breath as it rises. Your body does not move until the breath begins and the movement ends before the breath ends. Think of the breath as a bookend to your movement.
When your body is ready to exhale, begin the exhale—then allow your arms to relax down to your sides, finishing your exhale after your arms have landed. The full movement exists within the natural cycle of the breath—instead of forcing your body to move while you struggle to make your breath cycles keep up with an unnatural pace.

Syncing your movements with your natural breath cycle may require you to drastically slow your movements, which can be challenging for the ego. But remember, this practice is putting your body and mind in right relationship: the brain serving the biology. After all, the body does not betray us.

Experiment with these ideas and share your experience with us at Truly Yoga Studio!

Ease into Spring with a Gentle Cleanse

Written by: Andy Vantrease

Seasonal transitions can be harder on your body than you may think. During the dark, cold days of winter, our immune systems are focused on preserving energy and warding off bacteria that lurks in enclosed spaces. We sleep more, eat more and generally move slower than other times of the year.

As the weather shifts to welcome in Spring, we’re bombarded with pollen, busier schedules and hours of extra sunlight. The pulse of life quickens and energy bursts forth around us as plants, flowers and animals emerge from hibernation. Nature makes it look graceful, but we humans have to take extra care during this transition—and we usually pay for it if we don’t (hello allergies and classic warm-weather colds!).

Ayurveda—the sister-science to Yoga—recommends participating in a gentle cleanse each Spring to shed the stagnant, heavy energy of winter and prepare for brighter, longer days ahead. In addition to asana, pranayama and meditation, it’s helpful to add foods to your diet that can be classified as light, dry and warming. Think: More steamed veggies and soupy broths and less fried foods and heavy dairy products. The goal is to mirror and move with the energy of nature as the seasons change.

For support during this transition, consider a 3-5 day kitchari cleanse to reset your immune system.

What the heck is kitchari?

Kitchari (pronounced kich-uh-ree) is the traditional cleansing food of Ayurveda. It’s a cooked combination of split mung beans or lentils and white basmati rice with plenty of spices. When cleansing, it’s recommended to eat a satisfying portion of kitchari three times per day with no snacks between meals.

Amidst all of the modern diet trends happening today, this might seem like an unusual cleansing food, but it’s actually delicious and efficient for several reasons:

·     It’s a complete protein
·     It’s easy to digest
·     It’s nourishing enough to get you through the day
·     It loosens toxins and helps you flush toxic buildup
·     It’s gentle, which (generally) means less detox symptoms

*Rest as much as possible and be gentle with yourself physically, mentally and emotionally during any cleanse.

Curious? Here’s a simple recipe from Happy Spring!


1 cup basmati rice
1 cup mung dal or split yellow lentils
6 cups (approx.) water (may need to add more as kitchari cooks down)
1/2 to 1 inch ginger root, chopped or grated
1/4 tsp. mineral salt
2 tsp. ghee or coconut oil
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
Handful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 and 1/2 cups assorted vegetables (options such as zucchini, asparagus, sweet potato)


Carefully pick over rice and dal to remove any stones. Wash each separately in at least 2 changes of water. Add the 6 cups of water to the rice and dal and cook covered until it becomes soft, about 20 minutes.

While that is cooking, prepare any vegetables that suit your constitution. Cut them into smallish pieces. Add the vegetables to the cooked rice and dal mixture and cook 10 minutes longer.

In a separate saucepan, sauté the seeds in the ghee until they pop. Then add the other spices. Stir together to release the flavors. Stir the sautéed spices into the cooked dal, rice, and vegetable mixture. Add the mineral salt and chopped fresh cilantro and serve.



By Andy Vantrease

“It’s none of your business how you get there. But getting there — and being there — is your business.”– Hilary Booker, PhD, The Institute for Earth-Based Living

With the winter solstice behind us, the days are growing longer ever so slowly and we are steadily emerging back into the light. It’s easy to hunker down, hold your breath and wait for spring. Or rush through the season, filling your schedule with holiday parties, long work hours and bottomless cocktails. Make no mistake, though — winter is a time to rest. To reflect on where we’ve been and where we want to go. A time of meditation, clarification and rejuvenation.

This week, in particular, is a time to set intentions, focusing on what you want to manifest in the coming year, the coming season, the coming weeks. It’s a time to assess all that you’ve learned and decide how you will take those lessons with you. It’s a time for nourishment, perhaps leaning even further toward slow, inward practices than you usually do.

Light a candle, burn some sage, turn on your favorite slow jams, and sit quietly, feeling into your body. Imagine what your life will be like when you achieve your goals. Ask yourself how you will feel when you reach them.

“What do I feel like when I value my gifts and use them to serve the world?”

“What does it feel like to be in healthy relationships with others?”

“What do I feel like when I embrace my feminine warrior?”

“What does it feel like to accept the unknown?”

More than the goals themselves, the feeling of reaching them is the focus. Write it down, act it out, do some interpretive dance, make up a yoga pose that depicts how you feel internally when you envision your ideal life. What does your heart feel like, your bones, your spirit, your energy? FEEL IT.

Then… don’t lose your mind trying to figure out how you’re going to get there. In fact, it’s none of your business (or anyone else’s) how you get there. This isn’t to say sit back and do nothing while your life passes you by. It means having faith in your own unfolding and choosing not to obsess over the details along the way. It means living day by day, not worrying about what will happen next week or next month.

Do what you need to do today — and today only — to make you feel the answers to your questions. Wake up and start again tomorrow. The magic will follow. The universe will support you. And before you know it, you’ll be living the answers in your mind, in your body and in your spirit.

Winding Down…Yoga For Better Sleep

Written by: Sarah Wnenchak

Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)

Calms the mind; releases and stretches the legs; relieves the back

–       Lie flat on the floor with your legs up the wall

–       Your glutes can be a couple inches from the base of the wall or farther from the wall if too intense.

–       You can use a rolled up blanket, block or bolster for extra support under the lower back.

–       Hold for 5-10 minutes


Child’s pose (Balasana)

Calm’s the nervous system; stretches hips, thighs, back, ankles; physically and emotionally grounding

–       Come to a kneeling position on the floor with knees either together or apart

–       Big toes touching

–       Sit back towards your ankles

–       Arms can either be extended in front of you with palms down or by your sides with palms up

–       Forehead comes down to the floor or you can place a block or a rolled up towel underneath of it

–       Hold for 5-10 breaths


Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

Relieves stress; stretches inner thighs, groin; hips; stimulates abdominal organs

–       Lie on your back with the bottoms of your feet touching and your knees splayed open

–       If there is discomfort in the hips, you can place blocks or bolsters under your thighs

–       Arm are out wide with palms up (if another arm position is more comfortable, feel free to switch positioning)

–       Hold for 3-5 minutes


Do one or all three of these postures before bed and then move in to the best form of Savasana aka sleep! Happy Dreaming!

A Beautiful Dance

Written by Andy Vantrease

“Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge”. – Dalai Lama

I used to think that being healthy meant never getting sick, having a bottomless reserve of energy and wearing smiles all day. Especially in today’s landscape of social media perfection and pharmaceutical commercials, we’re made to think if we aren’t beaming with happiness or bouncing off the walls, there is something wrong with us. Oh, and here, a pill can fix it all.

Health is not the absence of illness, but the conscious decision to support your body, your mind, your soul – day in and day out. It’s understanding that there will be days when you will cry, eat ice cream and not leave your bed. There will be days when you are so angry that you could scream, drive far away and never look back. There will be days that you are exhausted beyond belief and can’t fathom another minute of work. You don’t know how you will make it through.

But then the sun comes out, and a new sense of self emerges. Perhaps it’s a new moon with endless possibilities, goals and ambitions, or a full moon when you feel the release of energy that is no longer serving your greater good. A day will come when you can’t stop smiling even if you tried, and you will go around shouting, “Can’t rain on my parade!” You’ll have days when you are radiating love and your body feels young and vibrant with no aches and pains.

And guess what? Those feelings will also fade, back into the cycle, around and around. Everything is temporary and we can’t avoid the darkness no matter how we try. It all belongs – beauty, pain, heartache, ecstasy, love, death, rebirth. It all belongs in our lives because we can’t have one without the other.

The trick, as I see it, is to learn to enjoy the dance.

Let go of expectations and know that each moment is a chance to learn something new. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. You’ll surely trip over your feet many, many times as you’re being spun around and pulled in by different people, experiences and places, all while attempting to remain independent, to find your own rhythm. It’s such a fine line between worlds – staying in your body while simultaneously experiencing everyone and everything. The point is to keep practicing, keep dancing, keep working toward the best version of you.

We’re humans and we’re born with the ability to feel so much (SO MUCH), but we know that pain doesn’t last forever, sickness doesn’t last forever and life in this form doesn’t even last forever. It’s all part of a beautiful dance, and despite what happens, the best thing to do is always come back for one more song.


Water World

Written by Andy Vantrease

Our entire lives revolve around water. We can’t survive without it for more than a few days, as it makes up nearly 60% of our bodies. The same holds true for the planet as a whole; water covers about 70% of the earth’s surface. It’s no secret that Water is Life. Physically, there’s no denying its importance. In ancient myth and legend, water is a powerful force that teaches lesson after lesson to those (everyone and everything) it comes in contact with.

It’s seen as a cleansing agent, with the capacity to renew the spirit; ever taken a shower or bath to ‘wash away’ negativity or a stressful day? It’s seen as a divine space holder, able to house and release prayers that may be too heavy for the human heart. It has the strength to create and destroy – too much is just as dangerous as too little. It teaches us balance, patience, cycles, and how to flow through the world with the ability to adapt and continue on.

We are reminded of the extraordinary power of water during rainstorms, hurricanes, and floods, while staring in awe at waterfalls or looking down at rivers that shape entire plots of land. We learn of its transient nature when we heat it to vapor during the cold months to create moisture in our inhabited spaces, or freeze it during hot months to cool down our internal temperatures. Water molecules transform depending on their surroundings and circumstances, adapting and metamorphosing.

We know of its gentle, life-giving capabilities when a woman’s body instinctively protects and nurtures her baby in a perfect ecosystem for nine months before birth. When we float in the ocean with our ears underwater and hear the crackles of sea life down below, and scuba dive to discover Nemo and all his friends exist in their own world beneath the surface.

The more we think about water and the interdependence of all species, the easier it is to connect the dots – we’re all connected dots. Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author and researcher, believed that water is deeply connected to our individual and collective consciousness, and his famous work features photographs of water molecules that have been exposed to certain words, prayers, feelings, thoughts, and vibrations then frozen to show their differences. Emoto’s Messages from Water installations and book series shows that water not only reflects the physical world around it, but the consciousness of the beings surrounding it. Now do you feel important?

We need water and water needs us. Cherish the relationship. Be grateful for it. We are water. We are one. Happy World Water Day!

Yoga Off The Mat

Written by Andy Vantrease

A funny thing happens when you commit to a yoga practice. Yes, the physical benefits are phenomenal and you’ll be sore in places you didn’t know existed prior to your new exercise routine. But, here and now, I’m talking about the kind of yoga that sneaks into your mind ever so quietly and redecorates the whole damn place without ever setting off the alarm.

The shifts are subtle at first and may seem coincidental if each one were to happen in isolation. However, collectively, they’re powerful, and before you know it, you may not even recognize the former furnishings.

As you allow yourself to deepen your practice, you inevitably bring lessons and curiosities off the mat with you. Your decisions are more mindful, and you’re aware of how those decisions affect others. Perhaps you incorporate more whole foods into your diet because your body craves nutrients after a week of challenging classes. Then you’re wondering where those vegetables are grown and who is responsible for planting and sowing them. How do the farmers live and work? Let’s meet them on Sunday at the market. What are their business practices and standards? Do the companies you buy from take care of their employees and care about the environment?

You begin to practice your Pranayama breath work while sitting in traffic, while in a meeting, while studying for final exams. You realize that you hold the key to remaining calm in stressful situations and that a slow, consistent inhale and exhale keeps your fight-or-flight emotions in proper function.

And now that you’re thinking about it, when was the last time you even got road rage or said things you didn’t mean out of anger to someone you love? You no longer sweat the small stuff because compassion has built a sturdy bridge for you to safely cross into the world. Your social anxiety has subsided, and since you’re comfortable in your own skin, you’ve learned to accept others for who they are.

You walk outside and could cry at the beauty of a sunset that a few months ago, you may not have even noticed. Man, this full moon really elevates your energy, and it feels good to be in tune with the cycles of the natural world. Speaking of nature, can we talk about how we’re going to stop the icebergs from melting?

A funny thing happens when you commit to yoga: you begin to care. Like, a lot. About many different things. Your mind can’t help but to expand, with loving-kindness reaching from your heart to all living beings. And although this may seem like as challenging a time as any to have faith in changing the world… we need you. The world needs more yogis, on and off the mat.

Holiday Presence

Holiday Presents Presence

Written by Andy Vantrease

The holiday season usually means preparing for cultural traditions, cooking, gift giving, lighting candles, saying prayers, celebrating history, and spending time with family and friends. However, for many, it’s also a time of high stress due to end-of-year work deadlines, financial burdens, familial relations, and pressure to buy more and more material things that the ads swear will bring joy and happiness.

Consumerism has swept the Western world, and it’s easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest products this time of year.

I don’t know about you, but when it feels like much of the world is in disrepair, I can’t be convinced that a heated lotion dispenser is really what would make me happy. And at the end of the day, is it really important that you add a 25th scarf to your collection?

Make the holidays about appreciation, gratitude and presence.

*Teach your kids the importance of spending time with their relatives, listening to the wisdom of their grandparents and elders. There’s so much to learn from our ancestors; don’t wait until they’re gone to realize their power.

*Schedule meetings and work responsibilities in advance so you’re not cutting into plans with loved ones. Lead by example & act on your values, showing your friends and family how much they mean to you.

*Turn off the TV. Really! Stop watching commercials featuring families who look a certain way, act a certain way, and make you feel like what you have isn’t enough. It is enough, and it will always be enough. If you have love, you have the perfect family. If you have love, you have all the gifts you need.

*Take a trip together, have a potluck style dinner (and sit at the table without phones), bundle up and go for a trail walk, start a tradition that is based on quality time rather than making the holidays all about presents. Cling to memories, not materials.

*Most importantly, be present. Be present in mind and body during the holidays, with your intentions and your energy pouring into those that need it most. Open your heart to the here and now, because, baby, that’s a greater gift than any tangible toy out there.

Fear Belongs in the Backseat

Written by Andy Vantrease

Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, or guiding principles, of yoga. Translating to “nonviolence,” Ahimsa promotes physical, mental and emotional compassion towards others and the self. This idea encompasses all relationships and interactions – reactions to events, judgments, criticisms, disagreements and even your opinions toward your own thoughts and actions. By practicing Ahimsa, you’re being guided by compassion and love, rather than by hatred, violence and fear.

Fear, my friends, is a force to be reckoned with. But, luckily, so is love.

As humans, we are wired to be wary of the unknown. It’s an innate survival instinct, to fear what we cannot see, touch or hear. For thousands of years, our fight or flight mechanisms have helped us distinguish between danger and safety, friend and foe. The unknown sometimes meant the threat of a power shift or death, and in many parts of the world, we are still fleeing life-threatening circumstances. In other parts, we are suffering through deplorable jobs but we fear we may not find another if we quit. We’re in toxic, abusive relationships but we fear we won’t meet someone better if we leave. We aren’t happy with our health but we are stuck in revolving habits for fear of failure. We see molded media stories and begin to fear entire populations.

Living in fear typically coincides with hundreds of “what ifs?” What if I don’t find another job? What if I don’t meet someone who will treat me better? Here’s an option: WHAT IF we associated the unknown with positive opportunities and possibilities, instead of inevitable negative outcome? What if you followed your passion to your dream career? What if you left the abusive relationship and found your life partner? What if you befriended someone and found out you share common interests and values?

When it comes down to it, humans are emotional creatures who crave community, love and acceptance. We all want what is best for our families and ourselves. We want to be supported and provide support for others. We want to feel needed in our relationships and our work. We want to be appreciated. When we look on the surface, we’re met with physical differences. When we look deeper, those differences fade very quickly.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, suggests having a conversation with your fear. In whatever words you see fit, put fear in the backseat. “Sure, Fear, you can be a passenger on this road trip we call life. Without you, I may not make it out of certain situations alive, and I’m grateful for that. With that said, you will not touch the wheel on this trip. You will not navigate, you will not hold the map, you will be in the backseat –and we do not tolerate backseat drivers! You will not keep me from my dreams and ambitions, and you will not turn me against my fellow man. We are driving into the unknown, hopeful and joyful, and there is nothing you can do to stop us.”

Smooth Transitions

Written By: Andy Vantrease

As we transition to autumn, most of us will try to hang on to the summer heat, memories of vacation sunsets, the daily dose of berries and melons, and the freshly caught seafood cuisine. Others look forward to a break from the sticky, humid days and the insects that come as a package deal. Despite your seasonal preference, there’s one thing for certain: Mother Nature is on her own schedule.

In the natural world, autumn means readying for winter, when everything will become darker and quieter for a while. Animals prepare burrows for hibernation, birds round up their flocks and head south, and humans, well, most of us here in the Mid-Atlantic know that we’ll need to get out the scarf collection and remember where we packed our heavy coats. Modern life begs for long working hours and the same commitment to extracurricular events year round. But what if we took a hint from our surrounding earth?

After a season of pool parties, sporting events, summer camps, and saying “yes” to every invitation as an excuse to get out in the sun, our bodies are ready for some down time. This transition phase is an opportunity to review the way you’re living and adjust it to fit your needs as they fluctuate with the forecast.

Use the extended darkness to develop an evening routine for an earlier bedtime (and in turn, an earlier waking hour), don’t bite off more than you can chew – literally and metaphorically speaking – and make time for yourself outside of the necessary daily responsibilities. Buy and prepare local produce, focusing on root vegetables for soups and stews that will ground your airy energy, and drink more warm beverages, especially to start and end your day.

Keep your blinds open and rise earlier with the natural sunlight, nurturing your circadian rhythm and leaving time to relax and gather your thoughts before the To-Do list takes over. Instead of running out into frigid morning air with an ice-cold smoothie in hand, perhaps reach for a warm cup of lemon water to heat your insides, jumpstart your digestive system and begin the cells’ detox process.

Listen to your body as it asks for gentle movement to fire up cold muscles. Practice poses that will internalize your energy as we move from carefree summer to grounded winter: Balasana (Child’s pose) and Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) guide your energy inward towards the body, while Savasana (Corpse pose) allows your masses to sink into the earth, finding stability and comfort.

Focus on gliding through this transition phase with awareness. Awareness of the physical changes taking place in the environment around you – the colors of leaves, drop in temperature, length of sunlight, as well as the changes taking place in your own body– dry skin and hair, cold extremities, and a hearty appetite. Notice these changes and nourish them. Be kind to yourself and those around you as you drift smoothly into nature’s next beautiful season.