Squat Like Your Ancestors

 Long before chairs were invented humans took a load off in a natural seat. Our ancestors and many people all over the world today use the resting squat as a position to rest, eat, wait, and well you know, relieve themselves. 
 
Squatting is a fundamental human position. It’s hard wired into your DNA. I love watching kids squat without even a thought or a struggle. Unfortunately many people loose the ability to squat as they grow older. Have you ever thought about why? 
 
If you guessed that one sitting in chairs is one of the reasons you were right!
 
When you sit in a chair your body stays flexed 90 degrees at the hips and knees. Some of your muscles turn off because they don’t have to work to hold you up, the chair supports you. Other muscles end up over-stressed. Over time your hips and legs
become weak and tight and you begin to lose mobility. Our society calls this aging. Too often people are willing to accept a loss in range of motion and ability to do the things they love. But it does not have to be this way!  
 
Making a squat part of your daily routine will help keep you fit, mobile, and healthy. Squatting makes you strong in your hips, legs, and feet. It also brings strength to the postural muscles that support your spine to lengthen and hold you upright. A squat asks your body to come to an end range of flexion at your knees and hips, and it demands mobility in your ankles. 
 
There is tons of research out there that praises the squat as a place to down-regulate, burn calories and fat, improve digestive health, slow down the effects of aging and much more. Sounds like a no brainer right? Why don’t you give it a try!
 
Starting with a wider base and turning your hips, legs, and feet slightly outward will give you more access and stability. Over time you may bring your feet closer to one another.
 

1. Only drop your hips as low as you can keep your heels on the ground. If your heels raise up use a blanket or a towel to support your heels. Squatting with your heels up sends your knees too far forward and puts too much pressure on your patella tendon.

2. Ask yourself if your tailbone is curled under you? If this is the case then lift up out of the squat until you can keep your tail aiming behind you. You may find raising your heels with a support helps you keep this position of your pelvis.

3. Check in with your knees and feet. Are your knees falling in and/or your inner arches of your feet collapsing down? Again, adjust the position so you can keep the knees in line with your ankles. 
 
If you need support, hold on to your kitchen sink and hang down to your end range. Stay in the pose for up to one minute, as long as you don’t experience any pain. Over time you will find your end range will improve and the position will become more comfortable.
 
Here are some previous posts and free YogaVibes videos I have made that will help you improve your squat. *Click the photos for the complete video or blog post.*
 
Roll Your Feet! It’s no secret that these days I prefer the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to the “Pinky Ball” I use in this video and I have expanded on the techniques. Nonetheless this is a great start. Did you know that 25% of the bones in your body are in  your feet? Rolling your feet gives you more access to the support and movement in your feet nature intended. In addition it helps to loosen up the tissue on the back of your legs.
 
 
Office Chair Yoga! Take a 10 minute break and use your chair to relieve the effects of sitting in it!
 
 
Six-Minutes of Yoga for Stiff Bodies! This daily routine speaks for itself. 
 
 
 

Try this supine sequence. It’s not just for when you are feeling tired, it’s a great way to increase your hip mobility!

Kitchen Sink Yoga. A great stretch while you are waiting for your tea to steep!

 

Outer Hip Relief. Another great break from sitting in your chair!

 

Yoga Anywhere! For more relief from sitting and other things that ail you, please see the free videos on my website.

 

Happy squatting! Let me know how it goes in the comment below.

Gentle Restorative Inversions

It’s Summer Solstice! As I reflect on the first half of the year these are my go to restorative poses. You can use these beneficial poses any time of the year but I have been enjoying them this last week. Both poses are comfortable enough to stay in for long periods of time. Whether you hold them for 5 or 20 minutes they are deeply restful and rejuvenating.  They have helped to recharge my batteries, balance my system, and harness the extra energy the summer sun has brought to support me through the second half of the year. Give them a try!

Straight Leg Bridge Pose:
 This pose is enough of a backbend in the upper back to open your chest and lungs. But because the legs are straight it should not pinching your lower back. And it’s an inversion because your head is lower than your heart so you get the benefits of that. 

Set up at the wall with bolsters or blocks. Let your shoulders, chest, and head waterfall off the edge of your support. Elevate your legs and feet so the rest of your torso and legs are all at the same height parallel to the floor. For maximum support and comfort strap your legs together so they don’t have to work. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Inversion: This is an easy pose that is comfortable and extremely quieting to your system. 

Place a bolster or a few folded blankets under your pelvis so your hips are fully supported. This allows your heart to drop slightly lower than your hips making it a gentle inversion. Support your lower legs on the seat of a chair. Place your hips slightly forward from your knees so your thighs are at an angle. In other words, make sure your hips are not directly below your knees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, check out my article last week on the benefits of inversions and learn why they are so darn good for you!

Break Up With Stress – Part Four – Inversions For Health & Well-Being

You may have heard that inversions in yoga are good for you. But do you practice them?
 
Maybe you are a bit intimated by the thought of doing an inversion. Or you don’t think you are strong enough to hold an upside down pose long enough to reap the benefits. Or perhaps when you think of an inversion you think of headstand and another pose that seems more like a circus trick than something you see yourself doing.
 
This week I would like to demystify inversions and make them accessible to you on a daily basis.
 
Inversions revitalize your whole system. By taking the weight off your legs, they relieve strain. By turning the internal organs upside down, sluggish parts are awakened. They improve circulation, support the glandular system, and help the body and mind relax, promoting deeper sleep. 
 
What is an inversion?
Technically an inverted posture means that your head is below your heart. While most inversions take strength, stamina, and flexibility by this definition even child’s pose is an inversion.
 
In some inverted postures your legs are also above your heart. But these poses don’t have to be challenging and you don’t have to be strong to perform them. There are gentle ways to do inversions. By using props for support you can hold the pose longer and take advantage of the benefits it offers.
 
Why do inversions work?
Inversions benefit all of the systems of your body. They bolster your immune system, bring clarity and focus to your mind, and turn on your nervous system toward rest and recovery.
 
As I mentioned before in an inverted pose your head is lower than your heart so gravity naturally takes your blood toward your head. Receptors in your body detect the blood flow toward your head and signal your brain to slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and turn your nervous system to relaxation mode.
 
The lymphatic system is your body’s sewage system. Lymph moves through your body picking up toxins and bacteria along the way. Getting upside down naturally brings the lymph into your respiratory system, the place where toxins enter your body. Just five minutes in an inverted posture will help the body move fluids more efficiently through the channels both removing waste and bringing nutrients to the cells. This in itself gives your immune system a boost.
 
Inverting also gives your heart a well-deserved break. Your heart works tirelessly pumping blood toward it to be oxygenated and then carrying that fresh blood chock full of nutrients back to the rest of your body. Inversions work the way cardiovascular exercises do. You have to run, dance, or bike pretty hard to get the blood circulating down to your extremities and up your back to your brain. In an inversion gravity takes the blood to your heart and ensures that oxygenated blood makes it to your brain and sensory organs giving you clarity of mind and mental focus.
 
So what are you waiting for? Turn yourself upside down!
 
Practice Phase One: These poses are all considered inversions. If you use a prop to support your head not only do you have another limb to use for support and length, you can hold the postures a bit longer in a more relaxed way. This sequence is an excellent warm up for more vigorous inversions or another practice as well as being a great way to start or end the day. Use it as a mid-day boost instead of caffeine or sweets. 
 
Set an interval timer for one minute. Hold each pose while breathing evenly. Keep your head below your heart during your transition from pose to pose. Perform each pose once, twice, or three times. You can do the same practice below using this video I filmed on YogaVibes, it’s free. 
 
 
Balasana – Child’s Pose
Sit on your shins with your feet together and your knees apart sit your hips to your heels,
stretch your spine and arms forward. Place your forehead on the floor, a block, or a folded up towel.
 
 
 
 
Uttanasana – Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet hips width apart and bend forward at your hips. This version suggests you place a block or a few under your head. Alternatively you can use a chair seat or a coffee table. 
 
 
 
 
Prasarita Padottanasana – Wide Legged Forward Bend
Stand with your feet wide apart and bend forward at your hips. This version suggests you place a block or a few under your head. Alternatively you can use a chair seat or a coffee table. 
 
 
 
 
 Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
Place your hands at the front of your mat and step your fit to the back. Place a block (or 2) under your forehead without straining to reach it or kinking your neck too high. Stretch your arms, legs, and spine.
 
 
 
When you complete all of the cycles you plan to, return to child’s pose. 
 
Pro-Tip: If you need to lower your head to reach the block widen the distance between your feet. If you are kinking your neck and want to be higher, narrow the distance between your feet. 
 
 
Practice Phase Two: Viparita Karani
Set this pose up at the wall. Lay with your close to the wall and the soles of your feet on the wall. Push into your feet and use your legs to lift your hips. Place a block, bolster, or folded blankets under your hips. Set your hips down and tuck your shoulders underneath you opening your chest. Straighten your legs up the wall. Stay here for 5-15 minutes. When you come out lay flat for a few minutes to ease your way back to upright.
You can practice any one of these poses on their own. Turning yourself upside down, even for just a few minutes can do wonders to re-energize you and brighten your day.
 

Break Up With Stress – Part Three – Release Tension & Relax

Pandiculation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and Guided Savasana:
 
Besides being a new word you can impress your friends with, pandiculation is good for you! It’s like nature’s reset button to relax your muscles and reboot your brain. I imagine you have seen a cat or a dog jump off the couch and do what looks like a full body yawn. It’s a simple move that we humans and nearly all animals have been doing since the beginning of time. It results in more relaxed muscles while having greater muscle control and coordination.
 

There are three steps to pandiculation:
 

1. a voluntary contraction

2. a slow lengthening

3. complete relaxation

 
 
 
So what does this do? It resets the length of your muscles, not just in the muscle fibers but also at the level of your brain. It’s different from stretching because it is active, not passive. Lengthening a contracted muscle sends a message to your sensory motor cortex to release accumulated tension. This helps you with proprioception (feeling and sensing your body) and gives you access to fuller range of motion.
 
Active vs. Passive Stretching:
When you stretch a muscle passively the sensory organs in the tissue send a signal to the brain that the fibers are being stretched. Once you get to your end range the message registers in the brain as dangerous. It says, “STOP! HOLD ON! CONTRACT!”
 
In an active stretch the muscle is contracted as it is lengthening. This overrides the STOP message and replaces it with a message that tells the nervous system, “it’s okay, I am in control.”
 
When you are in control you are communicating with your brain which enables a change in the nervous system. It’s this type of change that makes a lasting difference. And it is the very reason I teach you to engage your muscles when you stretch them in my yoga classes.
 
Learning to relax your muscles is an important skill. The more you practice relaxing the more aware you are of when and where you are holding tension in your body. Over time you will notice the stress response immediately and will be able to relax before the tension can accumulate. And you will have more control over all of your muscles.
 
Yawning:
Yawning is a type of pandiculation. It is an indication that you are bored, hungry, or fatigued. The act of yawning engages many of your body parts. Your mouth opens wide and your jaw drops so you can inhale as much air as possible. Your lungs fill, your abdominal muscles flex, and your diaphragm is pushed down. 
 
Interesting facts about yawning:
1. yawning gives you energy and makes you more alert. 
2. yawning is triggered by a rise in brain temperature and actually cools the brain.
3. yawning circulates cerebral spinal fluid and flushes out sleep-inducing molecules.
4. yawns are contagious! When a friend or relative mirrors your yawn or vice versa it is a sign of empathy. 
 
Practice:
You can do pandiculation and progressive relaxation anywhere, laying on the floor, the couch, or your bed, or even sitting in a chair or even standing. For this practice I will have you lying on the floor. Follow the instructions below
or listen along with THIS VIDEO I have created for you. 
 
Step One: Pandiculation
Lay on the floor and do a few rounds of breath. Inhale through  your nostrils and fill your belly. Exhale out of your mouth and let yourself let go.
 
Once you are present join your legs together and your arms over head. As you inhale tense everything like you are squeezing your body into a tube. Then slowly lengthen everything away from center as if you were an arrow. Exhale, drop and completely relax. Repeat this whole body pandiculation three times.
 
Step Two: Progressive Relaxation
One limb or body part at a time tense the muscles for 5-10 seconds. Then slowly lengthen and stretch them out. Finally completely drop them and relax. Repeat on the next limb or body part until you move through your whole body.  
 
When you have completed your entire body take a moment to scan with your awareness. Repeat any part that does not completely let go.
 
Step Three: Savasana:
Allow yourself to continue to lay still and relax for 5-20 minutes. You can use a guided Savasana audio or a visualization if you prefer.
 
To complete, deepen your breath, begin to move in familiar ways, and slowly return to a seated position. You will either be ready for a good night’s sleep, or drink a glass of water and carry on with your day!
 
Tune in next week for one more way to break up with stress.

Break Up With Stress – Part Two – Abdominal Breathing

Break Up With Stress Week Two, Abdominal Breathing:
In order to release stress you must turn on your parasympathetic nervous system so your body can down-regulate. This is often referred to as “rest and digest.”  There are several ways to dump stress, this week we cover one of them, abdominal breathing.
 
These days most people live with their system on overdrive. One reason is the tendency toward quick, shallow breathing, primarily in the chest area. This elicits a “fight or flight” response. You can you learn to use your diaphragm to slow down and deepen your breath and stimulate the “rest and digest” response.
 
Anatomy of the Breath:
Your diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that lives in the base or your rib structure. It separates your heart and lungs from your internal abdominal organs. When you inhale your diaphragm is supposed to move down into your abdomen. This causes the abdominal region to swell. The diaphragm draws air into your lungs like a vacuum. When you exhale the diaphragm moves back up into its resting place pressing the air out and deflating your lungs.
 
Did you get that? Your respiratory diaphragm is a muscle! When you do yoga or work out you think of strengthening and stretching your muscles. But have you ever thought about stretching or strengthening your diaphragm? 
 
Interesting facts about your diaphragm:
1. it is both under conscious and autonomic control. 
2. its movement influences your nervous system by stimulating and sending nerve impulses to your brain.
3. it moves in harmony (or not) with your pelvic floor muscles.
4. its fibers connect to your lumbar vertebra, psoas and quadratus lumborum, and your rib structure therefore it can effect posture and even be responsible for back pain.
 
Step One: Receptive Core
Start by laying down on your back in constructive rest posture. You can bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, or you can place a bolster or some pillows under your knees.
 
Watch your breath. Where in your body you are breathing. Slow your breath down. Invite your belly to relax and be open to receive your breath.
 
If you tend to hold in your belly then it may take some time to let it go. I myself am a recovering “tummy tucker!” Practice allowing your belly to rise when you inhale, and fall when you exhale with as little effort as possible.
 
This type a breathing turns on your parasympathetic nervous system and begins to help you nurse your diaphragm back to good health. By allowing your belly to swell you are literally allowing your diaphragm to do its job which is to move down into your belly. Conversely, if you tend to hold your tummy in you are restricting the movement of your diaphragm and the depth of your breath.
 
Once you are skillful at relaxing into a passive, receptive breath you can work with two variations:
1. make your exhalation longer than your inhalation
2. gently pause after your exhalation and retaining for a moment on empty, before you inhale again. Here is a video to help you: http://namastacey.com/yoga-anywhere-reset-your-breath/
 
Step Two: Give Your Diaphragm a Workout
 
Start by watching your native breath. Slow your heart rate down with abdominal breathing. Now you can begin working with some active breathing practices.
 
When you get to the top of your inhale give the breath a little help, take in a little more breath.
 
Then exhale very actively using your abdominal muscles to help squeeze the air out. Even when you think you have released all the air, give it an extra nudge to press the rest of the air out.
 
Pause. Relax. Wait. Let the next inhale and exhale be completely passive.
 
Repeat an active round followed by a passive round five times.
 
Then continue with your passive, receptive core breathing. Notice if you have more breathing room, are more rested, or even have a little burst of energy.
 
Step Three: Stretch and Strengthen Your Diaphragm:
 
As I mentioned above your diaphragm is a muscle and it’s beneficial to learn how to stretch and strengthen it. Sandbag breathing is a great way to start.
 
At the yoga studio we have 10 pound sandbags. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, instead use a bag of rice or beans, or even pet food! 5 pounds should be enough.
 
Once you have down-regulated your system using the instructions from step one place the weight across your abdomen. Continue to breath normally. The weight will cause your diaphragm to work harder when you inhale. When you exhale the weight will create a bit of a stretch for your diaphragm.
 
Here are two variations to play with:
1. At the top of your inhale hold the weight up for a few seconds. Relax and let the weight help do the exhaling for you.
2. After holding the weight up actively exhale using your muscles to squeeze the air out. Then relax completely with the weight in your belly on empty breath. This will give your diaphragm a stretch.
Once complete remove the weight and return to passive, receptive breath. Notice you have more breathing room and that you are more relaxed.

Whichever of these breathing practices you do, I bet you will sleep well tonight!!!

Tune in next week for more ways to break up with stress.

Break Up with Stress – Part One – Soften Your Eyes

Did you know that your body responds to stress involuntarily by tensing your muscles?
 
Over time tightness builds up, restricts your movement, and causes you not to feel free in your body. Holding on to that stress around for a while starts to wear on your nervous system. It’a a heavy load for your body-mind to carry around. It affects your breathing pattern, your mind’s ability to focus, and your ability to sleep soundly. All these things inhibit your health and well-being.
 
The good news is that you can teach your body to unwelcome stress from sticking.
 
Welcome to my four part series, “Break Up With Stress.” Each week I will share techniques you can use to discard stress and improve your health and well-being.
 
This newsletter series leads up to my annual Summer Solstice workshop, Dynamic Rejuvenation. Join me for a practice of active restorative poses on Sunday, June 18. Here you will learn how to slow down, unwind stress, and relax deeply.
 
But for now, try this… 
 

Break Up With Stress, Week One, Trataka:

Your eyes are one of the most complex organs in your body and arguably the most powerful of the sense organs. In addition, they have a direct connection with your brain. Because your mind is often busy there are micro-movements in the eyes. Erratic eye movements limit the ability to focus. This can increase the feeling of stress and overwhelm and turn on your fight or flight response.
 
Interesting facts:
1. over half of your brain is dedicated to vision and seeing.
2. 80% of the sensory data you process is taken in through your vision.
 
Western medical science shows that your mental health and well-being, your eye movements, and your breathing patterns are all connected. That means you can work with your eyes to influence your mind. When you still your eyes, you still your mind.
 
Yogic texts that compile the practices of Hatha Yoga, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita, instruct a concentration/meditation practice called Trataka. This practice involves gazing at an external point to induce a quieting of the mind.
A candle flame is the most common item to gaze at but you can also use an image such as a yantra, a blank wall, or even a black dot.
 
Most of the research on this is anecdotal. But here are some of the proclaimed benefits: improved concentration and memory, clears and calms the mind, soothes the cranial nerves, balances the right and left brain hemispheres, strengthens the eyes, and improves eye sight. Personally, I find this practice helps to get my mind off something that is agitating me. And it is calming and deeply relaxing.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here’s how you do it: First choose your point of focus. Gaze on the point for 1-3 minutes. Your eyes will get tired and may even tear up. If this happens close your eyes and let them rest then do another round. Practice for up to 10 minutes then rinse your eyes with cool water.
 
Over time this practice this becomes internal and you no longer need to use an external object. Instead you will be able to stare at the void within.
 
A few important tips: Make sure the object is directly in front of you at eye level, don’t strain, blink when you need to, relax your eyes as much as possible, practice in a dimly lit or dark room – especially if you are using a candle flame.
 
Let me know how this practice goes for you and watch your inbox next Tuesday for another tip on how to break up with stress.

Relieve Stress Daily For Optimal Health

It’s impossible to completely escape stress in your daily life. You may not know this, but not all stress is conscious. Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls all of your bodily functions. And it is constantly running under some level of stress.
 
To achieve optimal health your body, mind, and nervous system need to dump stress every day. If you don’t download your stress, it accumulates and causes more complex issues over time.
 
Stress can manifest in a variety of ways. It’s common to show up as tension and tightness in your body. Do you wake up tired or feeling sore and stiff? Maybe you think it’s caused by your busy schedule, your yoga practice, or another workout.
 
It may be true that you are sore from exercise and that your  job is stressful. You have deadlines, responsibilities, and spend long hours sitting at the computer. But I have good news for you, you don’t have to feel this way. You can shift this pattern without spending a month on a deserted island or in a cabin in the woods! You can learn to bring yourself relief.
 
Become a Roll Model® and learn self-massage with the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls.
 
These body friendly rubber balls are grippy and pliable. Not only do they help you treat your tight muscles, they are also tools that reduce stress. The therapy balls are designed to stick to your skin so they traction and shear the tissue. Rolling stimulates the nerve endings in your fascia that turn off the pain signals in your body. Activating these sensory receptors induces relaxation and allows for tension to subside. Over time this creates lasting change in your ANS.
 
You may be saying, “I don’t have time for another thing!”
 
I know your time is valuable. All you need is 10 minutes a day. Each day target a different area in your body where you hold stress and tension. Every so often treat yourself to a longer session. After rolling you are sure feel better in your body. Your posture improves, stiffness decreases, and you move more optimally.
 
Like anything else in life, it requires regularity. Taking time to unwind your body, mind, and nervous system each day will train your system to unwelcome stress and tension from sticking. In the time it may take you to wind down and fall asleep you can roll your way to a sound slumber and wake up feeling refreshed.
 
To get started, learn the Yoga Tune Up® and Roll Model Method® Techniques with me, or another certified practitioner.
 
And for those of you who already roll, When is the last time you spent 2-hours treating yourself? Join me for my next guided self-massage. I am always creating new sequences and sharing different moves.
 
ROLL-ief: Guided Self-Massage
with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls
Sundays:
May 7, Sept 10, Nov 5
1:30-3:30
Yoga Tree Hayes
 
Yoga Tune Up® Self-Care
Every Monday, 4:45-6:00pm
Yoga Tree Hayes
 
Explore Your Core: Three Part Series
Sundays, Sept 24, Oct 22, Nov 19
1:15-4:15
Yoga Tree Hayes

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.

cobra

 

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.