Your Spine & Backbends

A healthy spine is the key to a vibrant life. Yogis, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, and many doctors agree that you are as young as your spine is flexible. Unfortunately, back pain has become an epidemic in our culture. This is mainly due to poor posture, weak back musculature, and limited movement in the spine.

The spine has a few critical functions. First, it is your central column of support. It stabilizes your body and holds you up against gravity. Building strength in the muscles that sleeve your spine is important to support good posture, keep you powerful during life’s activities, and prevent injury.

Your spine also houses your spinal cord. Think of it this way – your brain is not just in your head. You have so much brain that it flows all the way down your spine. Nerve endings exit from every one of your spinal bones called vertebras. This system, called your central nervous system, is the highway that carries information to every cell, muscle fiber, and organ in your body. A fluid spine is key for a clear road of communication throughout your body – an open pathway for oxygen and nutrients to flow.

But these days, many people’s spines are rigid, posture is rounded forward, and core is weak. I have good news for you – backbends are one of the antidotes! When you have back pain, it seems counterintuitive to do a backbend. But in reality, it is backbends that will help you strengthen your back muscles, improve the mobility of the bones of your spine, and promote the health of the discs that lie between each spinal vertebra. It is the opposite of the way you spend most of your day. Of course, like anything else, backbends need to be done correctly to be beneficial.

Let’s take a look at your spine. You may notice that you have the most mobility in your lower back (lumbar spine) and your neck (cervical spine). Interestingly enough these are the places you may commonly experience pain. Pain is often a symptom of lack of stability.

Your lumbar spine is meant to be stable and 
carry the load of your body as you move through the world. In general we move too much in the lower back simply because we have more access to it. It doesn’t have all those ribs attached to it! The lumbar spine relies on support from deeper postural core muscles like transverse abdominis and multifidus to create stability. These crucial postural muscles tend to be weak.

Your middle back, called the thoracic spine, is meant to move in many directions: forward, backwards, laterally, and it rotates. Unfortunately it is often locked down and doesn’t move enough. A rounded upper back and forward head position is common because life happens in front of you: sitting in front of a computer, behind the wheel, cooking, caring for children, you name it, most things in life are a culprit.

BENEFITS OF BACKBENDS:

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens back muscles
  • Opens chest and shoulders
  • Stretches respiratory diaphragm
  • Helps you breathe better
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Counters depression
  • Clears mind and opens heart
  • Boosts energy
  • Alleviates fear
  • Aids in overcoming emotional challenges

Please consider joining me for my next workshop, Build A Healthy and Strong Backbend.

Backbends are empowering! All backbends are rooted in Bhujangasana, Cobra Pose. Learning to skillfully perform a deeper cobra, with strength and support first, is the key to bending evenly and feeling better in your backbends. This is where the fancier poses begin.

If you are intimidated by backbends, this will be a great opportunity for you to focus on your spine and improve your posture. It’s more about YOU and less about any of the poses! If you already backbend with ease, this workshop will help you refine your backbends. You will learn to stabilize your spine where you move too much, and mobilize the places where you don’t move enough.

For everyone, this will help you create a sustainable practice to last throughout your lifetime. And who knows, once you learn the basics, you may just get into that advanced backbend you have been struggling with. 

 

 

 

 

 

Manage Your Stress

The word on the street is that yoga can help to reduce stress in your life. But stress is a complex topic, and there are a lot of different kinds of yoga out there. So you may wonder, how does it all work? 
 
Stress is caused by the release of a hormone in your body called cortisol. 
 
When life circumstances become difficult to manage, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in and releases cortisol to heighten your awareness, pump blood to your limbs, and focus your brain to get the task done. Later your parasympathetic nervous system (PSN) is supposed to help you recover by bringing you back to a state a relaxation. If you spend a lot of time in a state of stress, it is common for the PNS not switch on, and when you don’t fully recover stress is compounded.
 
To find the most effective tool to manage stress and triumph in your life you don’t have to look any further than your breath. Each inhalation is inherently up-regulating while each exhalation is down-regulating. When your heart-rate differs on inhalation vs. exhalation it shows you have a more flexible nervous system that can more easily go from an energized state to a relaxed state.
 
Some people are overwhelmed by stress and have the tendency to shut down and disconnect when life gets stressful. Disengagement and avoidance can lead to depression. For someone like this to combat stress, they need to develop the energy to tackle the situation and the mental stamina to stay present with it. 
 
Other people get stuck in an activated state which can lead to anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and other difficulties. This person needs to train their PSN to put the brakes on stress. They can learn how to down-regulate by relaxing, letting go, and quieting the mind to bring balance back.
 
Do you know which is your tendency?
 
Your respiratory diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing. It works automatically, but you also have control over it and can regulate it. Yoga practices that work with the breath are called Pranayama, which has to do with regulating and expanding your life force energy.
 

I am a big advocate of stretching and strengthening your diaphragm, just like you would any other muscle in your yoga practice. This gives you access to a healthy breathing pattern. You can start by resetting your breath. It is your first tool to manage stress. I have created a 3-minute video to help do just that.

In addition, a regular yoga practice can help you manage stress further. Here’s how it works.

When you perform an asana (yoga pose), it is meant to take you out of your comfort zone. It becomes the stressor. You can’t ignore or escape it; you have to be with it, breathe in it. And with your breath mechanism working properly, over time the uncomfortable spot becomes more bearable, until maybe you actually even enjoy the pose! 

It’s important to realize that I am not just talking about twisted pretzel shapes here. You may find laying still in Savasana (relaxation pose) is the most uncomfortable pose! Either way a regular yoga practice prepares you to meet any stressor your day may unexpectedly bring, with skill and grace.

So here’s what you do: Study yourself. Pay attention to which poses bring on the most discomfort. Then, don’t try to fight yourself there, find your edge. Focus and use your breath to both expand your boundaries and learn to let go. Before long you will see an increase in your ability to manage stress.
 

Fall Equinox Sequence for Balance

Happy Equinox. The transition between summer and autumn can be the most challenging time to maintain balance. As we head in to the final quarter of the year, it’s a great time to slow down, check in with your goals and intentions for the year, and nurture your well-being.

This week I have put together a little practice for you to stay healthy and grounded. I know you can’t always make it to class, but you if can find 10-30 minutes in your day to come to your yoga mat I am confident you will be able to maintain vibrant health as we transition to the darker half of the year.

 

Use this as a springboard for practice by either practicing the whole sequence or portions of it as time allows.


childspose Balasana / Child’s Pose

Come to your mat and take 5-10 breaths in child’s pose to prepare for your practice.

dog Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog

Ground your hands and stretch long through all the limbs of your body, including your spine. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths.

uttanasana Uttanasana / Standing Forward Bend

Step forward into standing forward bend. Engage the muscles of your legs and lift your belly.  Let gravity release your spine, neck, and head toward the floor. Take 5-10 long deep breaths.

crescent Indudalasana / Standing Crescent

Stand up with an inhalation and stretch your arms overhead. Catch hold of your right wrist and exhale side bend to your left. Take a few breaths here then inhale to center and repeat on the second side.

utkatasana Utkatasana /  Chair Pose

Sit back into Utkatasana/Chair pose. Widen your sitting bones, ground your heels, and lift your lower belly while lengthening up through your spine. Breath evenly.

plank Phalankasana / Plank Pose

Step back to plank pose and hold for a few breaths toning all the muscles in your body. Resist lowering down as you bend your elbows and lower to the earth.

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Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose

Lift your spine into a little backbend. Move each part of your spine from the lowest part up. Don’t let your head move faster than everything else.

Stretch back to downward dog for a few breaths then step forward into Uttanasana.

CRW_0277 Vrksasana / Tree Pose

Stand balancing on one leg with the other foot pressing against the inner standing leg. Stretch your arms up or keep them in prayer.

Challenge your balance by looking to the right and back to center. Then to the left and back to center.

Can you hold this pose for 60 seconds?

v2 Virabhadrasana Two / Warrior Two

Step back into warrior two for 5 breaths. Straighten the front leg to move into the next pose, Trikonasana.

trikonasana Trikonasana / Triangle Pose

From warrior two straighten the front leg and take your hand to a block or the floor.

Repeat the two standing poses on the second side.

 v3prep Warrior Three Preparation

 From Uttanasana stretch your right leg behind you. Square your hips and stretch your legs straight and strong. Use blocks to touch the floor if you can’t reach.

Move directly into the next pose, half moon.

ardhachandrasana Ardha Chandrasana / Half Moon Pose

From warrior 3 prep open your top hip and your top arm for half moon pose. Make sure to keep your standing foot steady and the hip wrapping underneath you. Lengthen in all directions.

dolphin Dolphin Pose

Put your elbows on the floor and clasp your hands. Reach the outer edges of your lower arms and hands into the floor. Press your chest toward your thighs. Keep your knees bent if you need to.

This pose is a great way to open your chest and upper back.

malasanaforward Malasana / Squat

If your heels come up place a rolled up mat or blanket underneath them. Keep your arches lifted and your knees and your toes pointing in the same direction.

navasana Navasana / Boat Pose

Find the support of all of your muscles while balancing in this pose. You can use your fingertips on the floor or work with bent knees while you are learning.

supinechilds Ananda Balasana / Supine Child’s Pose

Lay on your back and hug your knees in as wide as your torso. Keep a curve in your lumbar spine.

apana Apanasana / Wind Relieving Pose

Draw one leg in deeper and straighten the opposite leg. Hold up to 60 seconds. Repeat on both sides.

suptap Supta Padangusthasana A / Leg Stretch

You can practice this one either directly from the above pose or after. Simply straighten the leg and hold the back of your thigh. It is extra grounding to have your bottom foot pushing against the wall.

Hold 60-90 seconds.

bridge Setu Bandhasana / Bridge Pose

Lift your hips up to stretch the front of your pelvis and thighs. Ground your heels, engage your hamstrings, and gently tone your glutes. Breath into your open chest.

viparitakarani Viparita Karani / Legs Up Posture

Let your legs rest against the wall. You can place a block, bolster, or blanket under your sacrum at any height or don’t use a height at all.

Stay here for 8-10 minutes.

savasana Savasana / Corpse Pose

Lay back and give yourself permission to relax
completely. Stay 5-10 minutes.

DSCN1626.JPG Pranayama / Breathwork

Sit comfortably and practice with Sama Vritti or equal breath.

Inhale for 4 counts.
Hold at the top for 4 counts.
Exhale for 4 counts.
Hold empty for 4 counts.

Like a square repeat for several rounds.

15 Things You Can Do To Make Earth Day EVERYDAY

  1. Turn off the water while brushing you teeth, shaving, or another time-consuming task.
  2. Bring your own grocery bags to shop for food and other items.
  3. Ditch plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups.
  4. Choose to buy items with little or no packaging.
  5. Reduce the amount of take out food you consume. Even one less meal per week makes a difference in the trash you make.
  6. Refill containers of laundry soap, dish soap, etc at a place like Rainbow Grocery or Green 11.
  7. If you live where there is a place that carries bulk, commit to filling bottles rather than buying new. In the Bay Area you can get cooking oils, vinegars, syrup, honey, nut butters, dry foods, and much more.
  8. Use cloth napkins instead of paper.
  9. Bring your own cutlery instead of using disposable.
  10. Buy local and close to home whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint.
  11. Switch all of your bills and statements paperless and pay your bills online.
  12. Compost your food scraps.
  13. Recycle paper and packaging.
  14. Make your own cleaning supplies. Vinegar, tea tree oil, baking soda are great cleaners.
  15. If you drive bundle your errands and carpool whenever possible.

Please share your additional ideas in the comments below. Thank you!

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Radiant Wellness Speaker Series

Four Keys To Living Better In Your Body
with Stacey Rosenberg

I recently spoke with my friend Patricia Becker on her speaker series, Radiant Wellness for Men and Women Who Want to Feel Better and Develop New Habits. It was the first time I have talked about one of my new passions – the respiratory diaphragm. And it was so much fun!

The diaphragm, your primary breathing muscle, has a powerful impact on your health and well-being. Click the play button below to listen to my talk for FREE. Find out how this muscle and your ability to breathe efficiently impacts your posture and your ability to relax. You will learn tools and techniques you can use instantly to release tightness, breath better, and relax.

If you are interested in the whole series you can purchase all 13 talks here. Don’t forget to let her know I sent you!

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Four Keys to Well-Being

In teaching yoga my goal is to help you to to be your best self. That means educating you about your body, helping you to listen more deeply, and empowering you to make choices for your body and your life that are healing and promote well-being.

This is achieved through some basic physical things that all my classes, workshops, and other programming are planned around. Here are four things that I have come to believe are the most important to your health and what I hope you gain from your regular yoga practice:

1. Better, more effective breathing.
Breath is life. Many of us live with dis-functional breathing patterns because of tight muscles, poor posture, and stress. Releasing the muscles of respiration and creating better breathing habits are crucial to the body’s overall health.

2. The ability to shift from states of stress to states of relaxation.
There is no doubt that life is busy. But how effective is your ability to turn off the switch? Being able to down regulate your nervous system to a rest and recovery state is a key to quality sleep and improved health. It also reduces anxiety, improves concentration, slows the aging process, and much more.

3. Improved posture
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Your posture follows you into everything you do. Most people don’t pay much attention to how they are standing, sitting, waiting in line, sleeping etc. But your form impacts how you breathe and is a baseline for all of your movement. ​ Bringing mindfulness to your posture and learning to hold yourself in a more beneficial position affects all aspects of your life.

4. More efficient movement patterns.
Conscious movement is the fastest way to get out of pain. Restricted range of motion (ROM) is usually caused by weakness, instability, and tight muscles. Learning to move with good biomechanics results in less pain, more range of motion, and improved performance in everything you do such as carrying your child, playing a sport or an instrument, or practicing yoga.

How would you rate your ability in each of these four areas?  Join me for any of my offerings to expand these capacities and live more vibrantly.

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Yoga, Stress, and the Vagus Nerve

I have a confession to make. When I hear science confirming what yogis have known for a long time, or at least what I know to be true from my experience, I get really happy inside!

Fortunately, this happens a lot these days since much more research is being done about the benefits of yoga. And that science shows that yoga practice works in ways other kinds of exercise does not.

Things we do in every yoga class such as asana, pranayama, and chanting soothe and tone an important nerve in the body called the Vagus Nerve. Scientists are beginning to understand this fascinating cranial nerve which travels throughout the body and responsible for the relaxation response.

When you are in constant stress your sympathetic nervous system never has a chance to switch off. This creates low vagal tone and brings depletion to your body making it feel like life is more difficult to manage. But healthy vagal tone stimulates the relaxation response, regulates the nervous system, and ultimately allows our bodies and mind to be more resilient under stress.

When the vagus nerve is functioning properly, your digestion improves, your heart functions better, and your moods stabilize. You get better at managing the constant changes that life brings. And, it is even believed that strong vagus function can prevent chronic disease. With a greater sense of ease and increased energy you are more likely to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Here are three ways to tone the vagus nerve that you can do on your own:

1. Ujjayi breath or sound of the ocean breathing.

2. Chant the sound AUM ॐ out loud  or simply hum.

3. Reset Your Breath with this video.

And, for even more vagal toning, join me on the mat, or on the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls and Coregeous® Ball soon!

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Vagus Nerve: The Wandering Nerve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:
http://drarielleschwartz.com/natural-vagus-nerve-stimulation-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.V9bYy5MrLCN
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201302/the-neurobiology-grace-under-pressure

Yoga Is “Sensational”

I have been using the word “sensational” in class a lot lately. Not in the traditional meaning of “very good or great” – well that is partly true. When I say “sensational” I mean “lots of sensation” which IS actually great. Even when you perceive the sensation as uncomfortable.

Let me explain. The body can have sensory motor amnesia. That means that some muscles forget how to work. This often results in using another muscle too much or inefficiently. In many cases this bio-mechanic disfunction is the cause of chronic pain.

Pain is actually a great tool. Its purpose is to help you and let you know that something is not right. As a yoga practitioner it’s helpful to learn to discern injurious pain, which your don’t want, from the beneficial pain of strengthening, stretching, or waking something up from this amnesia.

I dislike the word “pain” for that beneficial sensation you get from your yoga practice. So now you can call the intensity from an exercise or posture “sensational!”

Truth be told, there is no way around sensation in yoga. I like to put it on a scale of 1-10. One being not much sensation and ten being a lot of sensation. When you can breathe, relax, and work in an aligned way, while holding a posture for 30-45 seconds, at a sensation level of 7-8, you will make a lasting change in your body. This is how you snuggle up to your boundary with respect and grow.

Please throw out the meme “no pain no gain.” If you are experiencing a 10+ it’s just too much, back off. That much sensation only creates more binding and new compensatory patterns that are NOT helpful.

New science suggests that yoga practice increases the gray matter in your brain and helps reduce chronic pain. Yoga also helps increase proprioception which is a fancy word for mapping your body or turning on your internal GPS. Proprioception is the ability to feel your parts and know where they are in space.

I am especially excited about the work I have been doing with the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls to reduce pain and increase proprioception. Check out my upcoming workshops, Unglue Your Stuck Spots, to experience this sensational work.

Unglue-Trio

 

Yoga, Your Brain, and Stress

The research keeps pouring in about yoga and why it has such profound benefits on your health. Here are the cliff notes about yoga, your brain, and stress.


You have two parts of your brain that deal with stress. There is the emotional part and the cognitive part. The emotional brain triggers stress and turns on the fight or flight response. But the cognitive brain has the capacity to turn off the stress switch.


When you hold a yoga posture you are busy concentrating and trying to balance. This turns on the cognitive brain and switches off the stress response. Some postures naturally activate the cognitive brain and turn on relaxation. While other postures actually turn on the stress response, you know the one’s that are difficult and leave you feeling anxious.


Because you are focused on practice the difficult postures simply provide a challenge for your cognitive brain to work extra hard to overcome the stress signal. Like a muscle the cognitive brain gets stronger over time and it gets better at turning off stress. Remember the poses that were once a challenge but you can find more ease in now?


You can see from this short explanation that a yoga practice is not just a workout for your body but also for your brain. Over time you actually rewire your brain! This new circuitry helps you to channel the feelings you want and not dwell in feelings of stress and anxiety. Pretty cool, huh?


Take 3-minutes to “Turn Stress to Rest” with this video. And please watch for my new offerings to help you step up your self-care.



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Slower Is Stronger

I was ecstatic last week when the blog post, “The Slow Yoga Revolution” went viral in the yoga community. Ecstatic because it made a point I’ve felt for a long time.

Modern life has an unsustainable fast pace. Busy schedules, the constant pinging of email and social media, commuting, and other demands all put immense stress on the body. This stress provokes a fight or flight response, as if you are always running away from the tiger that is chasing you.

So it has always baffled me why one would want to rush through their yoga practice. Fast-paced yoga, with the music blaring and the heat on has become the norm in Western yoga culture. And while this type of practice might have benefits, I believe yoga should be a counterbalance to the fast-paced, outwardly focused life we live.

Yoga can offer you a much-needed reprieve from a hectic lifestyle and help your nervous system rest and recover. Practice is an opportunity to bring your body, mind, and spirit into greater harmony.

Whether you are working on strength or flexibility, there are many benefits to moving slow. To increase the length of a muscle you must maintain a stretch, even if it is slightly uncomfortable, for 30-60 seconds. For better results, contract the muscle while stretching it. And increase the contraction at the end range. That will make a lasting change.

Also, since yoga is an integrated practice, strength is important too. Engagement of the muscles protects the joints and the ligaments from over stretching. Sometimes lack of flexibility is caused by a lack of strength somewhere else. For example, tight hamstrings may be a result of core instability. When you practice slower there is time to nuance the alignment, notice your weak spots, and become aware of the places you bypass. Slow yoga is more vigorous, will give you access to your deep power, and create a more sustainable practice.

A disciplined and focused practice is something ‘you do with yourself not to yourself’ as the author of the blog wisely noted. A slower yoga practice will:
1. Teach you how your body works, because lets face it, we don’t come with an owner’s manual.
2. Help you sit with discomfort, because the truth is sometimes life is uncomfortable.
3. Refine the way you work to open and strengthen your body because that is what it takes to live in balance.
When I practice, my goal is to become my best self. Each day I seek to become better at being me!

I consider myself an educator. Each time you come to my class my intention is to educate and inspire you. To offer you the tools you need to empower you to transform your life. It is my hope that you walk away with a gem you can take into everything else you do.

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