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.

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!

Beyond Words


Written by Andy Vantrease

As someone who enjoys writing, I often think how important words are to our existence. They enable us to communicate, form relationships, adopt belief systems and complete transactions for goods that keep us alive. They’re part of how we present ourselves every day to the world; the words we choose directly affect how we connect with people. Language is woven into almost everything we do as humans, and often we view silence, or a lack of words, as awkward and uncomfortable, opening our mouths again as soon as there’s a lull in the exchange.

So, you can imagine, when I began introspective practices – meditation, yoga, Qi Gong – how perturbed I was to encounter experiences that I could not fully explain using my mother tongue. Not only was I at a loss for words, but so too were my mentors, teachers and healers after certain classes and sessions. Each time I went deeper into my heart, exploring energies and habits of the self, I tripped over explanations, because the feelings are not justified using Webster or Merriam’s accepted collections. The emotions are too … intense, complex, ephemeral (for lack of better words) to describe. I felt alive. I wanted more.

Although language, as we commonly know it in the verbal sense, is essential to our lives, it’s also limiting.

We have a sea of thoughts, feelings and energies within our bodies and throughout the natural world that is beyond words. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, practitioners use “Qi” to represent the life-force that swims through every being – humans, animals, plants, stars, the universe as a whole. The idea of Qi helps believers translate their experiences, but even that leaves room for interpretation, as all words do.

I’ve come to realize that the real work –the disintegration, the pain, the fertile field of confusion… and the growth, the re-membering… the true healing – that work is done in the realm beyond letters and words and clear explanations. Instead of looking for ways to share your experiences, focus on having those inexplicable experiences. Dig and dig and dig until you uncover feelings that rock your world and leave you speechless. Try communicating with others through a smile, a hug, a dance, eye contact. Try communicating with yourself the same way.  Sit in the silence, knowing that energy is omnipresent. Know that it’s real, despite not being able to talk to your friends about it. Know that you’re real, especially when you feel too complex for society’s boxes. Then, and only then, are you embodying your self as a human “being,” wholly and truly.

Feel more. After all, the longest journey that we all take is the one from the head to the heart.

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.”

Searching for Your Inner Voice

Written by: Andy Vantrease

I remember the first time I meditated. I sat down next to my friend in her living room, she turned on the iPhone Headspace App: Lesson One, and a calm British voice guided us through 10 minutes of meditation. I remember saying afterwards, “I’m really bad at this,” and “I couldn’t stop thinking!” I finished a full week of guided meditations and still thought, “Why can’t I stay focused? Why does my mind always wander? Why didn’t I say what I wanted to say to that person two weeks ago? Why can’t I just move on?”

You may recognize this voice. The one who loves to drag you back in time and analyze everything you’ve ever said and done, drowning your thoughts in What If’s and If Only’s. You start to visualize different outcomes based on the options you had in some recent or even distant past. Or maybe you’re better friends with the future voice, the worrier who concocts hypothetical scenarios and gets bent out of shape for something that hasn’t happened and may never happen. She’s a heavy hitter, too. How about the one who is judging you for every strange thought you have? He’s tough to please, isn’t he?

We all have many voices in our heads. We spend so much time absorbing opinions from TV, radio, magazines, friends and family, it’s tough to distinguish our own thoughts from those projected onto us from outside influences. The goal is to find the inner voice. The authentic voice. The one who guides your intuition. The one who throws out those messages to the body when something “just feels wrong” or “just feels right.” We oftentimes disregard thoughts like this and choose to second guess our instincts, only to find out we may have been better off listening to them.

My advice for finding your inner voice: stop talking and listen. You don’t have to sit on a hand-woven glorified rainbow pillow in a dark room or climb to the top of a mountain for a profound meditative experience (although both sound quite nice, eh?). The practice is about getting into your head, into your own mind and noticing the thought patterns. Facing the emotions that arise when you think about certain people and situations. Forgiving yourself for being human yet visualizing what it would look like to live to your utmost potential.  Relearning your values as you begin to see them surface over and over. What do you truly care about? What makes your heart beat faster? What kind of person do you want to be? How would you like to contribute to the world?

In a society filled with pressure to be a certain way, you have to work very hard to remain authentic and aligned with your values. Years can go by and you realize you’ve been on autopilot, living someone else’s dreams or striving to reach goals that don’t resonate with you. This is the perfect time to start the journey back to your self. Get quiet, listen closely and trust what you hear.

To Live Is To Be Vulnerable

Written by : Andy Vantrease

There are many reasons why travel is beneficial for the human spirit. It exposes you to new languages, cultures, cuisine, geography, beliefs, and struggles. You get to reinvent yourself each place you go, to be a version of yourself that you may be afraid to show at home for fear of judgment. With each new territory, your perspective changes a bit. Your eyes open to new sights, your nose to new smells and your body to new sensations. Perhaps the most rewarding, though, is the chance to open your heart, which requires putting yourself out there without knowing what you will receive in return. No guarantees. Travel requires patience, flexibility, adaptability, openness, and the willingness to be vulnerable.

Yoga, like travel, allows you this same platform. (Okay, maybe you’re not eating shawarma and tandoori chicken each time you attend class – although if you are, tell me where this is happening and sign me up!) But, when you step on your mat, you are arriving to a new place in your mind, one that you only you can create. We’re not talking time-travel here, but we are talking mind-travel. You’ve made the conscious decision to dedicate time to practice, to show gratitude, to explore new space, to breathe air into tight corners, to locate negative thoughts and repopulate with positive. You step on your mat, and you can be anyone you want to be.

A yoga practice begins with inward reflection, a place to face your fears, your decisions, your feelings, your strengths and areas for growth. It allows you to open up to your true self, who you are at your deepest, most cellular level. Then, you continuously work to bring that person out into the world, to show him or her to others.

To live is to be vulnerable and to find the courage to be imperfect and authentic. With the pressures of the world swirling violently around us, it takes courage to follow the path you feel is truly right for you. There are many roadblocks, many who will doubt you and many, many instances when following your heart will be much harder than following the crowd. And in the midst of wanting to be accepted, connect with others, succeed in your job and your relationships, being vulnerable is terrifying. But it’s necessary.

There is no true connection without authenticity, no compassion for others without first being kind to yourself. Keep going. Keep opening. Keep looking within and find the courage to expose your deepest self to others. Be real. Be true. Be yourself. Be vulnerable. And let others do the same.

“Vulnerability is at the core of our darkest emotions- shame, fear and struggle for worthiness – but it’s also the birthplace of every positive emotion we have in our lives: love, belonging, joy, empathy, and compassion.” – Brené Brown

Body Love: Learning How to Treat Yourself


Written by: Andy Vantrease

If you’re like me, a MindBodyGreen addict and seeker of information on how to live a more vibrant, passion-filled life, you have undoubtedly come across several buzz words and phrases more than once: self-love, self-talk, be kind to your body, listen to your body (wait, eating only when hungry is actually possible?)

It’s tough to discern helpful information from marketing, and oftentimes we find ourselves reading so much into our topics of choice that the number of contradictory tips to reaching our goals can be overwhelming. However, when you find a consistent idea among the hundreds or thousands of different expert opinions out there, it’s worth trying.

For me, this is the idea of developing nonjudgmental, loving relationships with our own bodies.

This is no easy feat, especially if you’re suffering from chronic debilitating health problems. Chances are, you’re not happy with how your body is performing, and if this downward spiral persists, you start to see changes in your body that bring you further and further from the images of men and women you see on TV and in magazines. And, we all know that in order to be happy, we have to push ourselves to look more like them, right?


Our bodies are designed to keep the blood pumping, the heart beating, the limbs moving, the brain buzzing. They are not our enemies, and in fact, our bodies are our closest allies. Every body needs certain things to function – food, water, sleep, movement, stimulation – and every day, your body sends you signals, attempting to communicate these basic needs. It’s when we ignore the signals and feed into consumerism that we find ourselves in trouble. “I’ll be happier when I lose 10 pounds,” or “I will look so much better if I get rid of the bags under my eyes.” That inflammation is your body’s way of protecting itself and simultaneously getting your attention. But, instead of sleeping or eating more fruits and vegetables, the advertised solution is to reach for the latest under-eye cream and fad diet concoction.

One trick to developing body love is to view the relationship you have with your body as just that – a relationship. Talk to yourself as if you were talking to your spouse, best friend, mother, son, whomever you love most in this world. And yes, I really do mean talk to yourself because not only is this not crazy, it’s actually extremely effective. Create space in your day to remind yourself, “I love you, I trust you, I forgive you,” and “I accept you, unconditionally, right now.”

Care for your bodies the way you care for others: feed them, make them feel loved, shower them with positive affirmations, be kind and support them, ask them what they need and listen to their answers. View your body as an entity capable of telling you what it needs then try to deliver. Be in tune with your body’s desires, and you will be amazed at the way it rewards you. Learning how to interpret your body’s language– hunger, thirst, aching muscles, dizziness, shortness of breath, exhaustion – is paramount to your longevity and overall health. Do not push these signals to the side and barrel through on empty.

What would happen to a relationship if your significant other constantly ignored every single thing you tried to tell them, physically and emotionally abused you, starved you, tried to silence you when you spoke up? Does that sound like an ideal relationship?

Loving ourselves the way we are taught to love others is the first step in living a more balanced, healthy life. Look in the mirror. Instead of seeing wrinkles and sun spots, look into your eyes, and find that sparkle that shows when you look at your loved ones. Watch how your nostrils flare and your shoulders rise as you breathe. You’re alive.

No matter what you do to your body, it is there for you, forgiving you for every mistake you’ve ever made, walking beside you and picking up the pieces, turning on the lights every morning and saying, “We can do this again.” This love is unconditional, people. Allow yourself to return the favor. Work together toward the common goal of a longer, healthier life. In sickness and in health, till death do you part.