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Posts Tagged ‘Empower!’

Holiday Survival Sequence

The frosty chill in the air marks a transition from Fall to Winter, as well as the holiday season, which can be a time for slowing down and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Perhaps more than any other time of year, the holidays are a time to celebrate giving as well as receiving. They are a time of cherished exchange.

For many of us, however, holidays can bring up mixed emotions. More often than not, we find ourselves overstretched providing for others, accommodating the crowd, and filled to the brim with rich holiday food, not to mention the challenges many people face reuniting with relatives absent from our lives until this special time of year. We tend to hold this tension in our bodies.

A regular yoga practice can provide tremendous relief amongst the cheer and chaos of the holiday season. Remembering the core values of holiday spirit and slowing down enough to enjoy the experience is easier said than done. The following short sequence can support digestive and emotional balance in the upcoming weeks, helping you to ride the waves of the season.

~ Begin with a short warm-up. You can practice 3-5 sun salutations, take a brisk walk or jog, and/or practice 3 rounds of kapalabhati breathing to prepare the body for the postures.

~ When you feel warm, move into the following sequence, holding each posture for five deep breaths, or until your body tells you to move onto the next side or into the next posture. Be gentle with yourself.


 

The sequence

  1. Eagle for stability 

  2. Squat for strength 

  3. Seated Spinal Twist for digestion 

  4. Reclined Spinal Twist for relaxation


 

Eagle pose    Squat TwistReclining Twist



Simple? Yes.

Powerful? Absolutely.

Each of these asanas will give your body and mind a different gift that we are certain you deserve this season! And for those who think they don’t have time, here’s a gentle but firm reminder to chuck out any excuses, slow down and practice some self care.


Go Deep @ YogaJournal.com!

If you’re more drawn to a restorative practice, check out their restorative sequence for holiday survival! 

And if belly health is your top priority, they’ve got a more active sequence to support digestion. 

Strengthening the Muscle of Empathy

If we’re lucky, moving through the holiday season usually means more time spent with friends or family – we spend time catching up on all the highs and lows in our loved ones’ lives. There are many moments of joyful connection, and probably many moments where we feel our buttons being pushed! The holiday season is more of a marathon than a sprint – we need to keep calm, open hearted, compassionate and patient as we interact with others over the next six (long) weeks or so.

To run a marathon you might need to train with a coach. Enter Brené Brown.

If you haven’t already hear of her, Brené Brown is a researcher, storyteller, scholar, PhD, and author of NYT bestselling books Daring Greatly (2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). She is a calm and illuminating voice on the subjects of vulnerability, shame, and courage, delivering powerful and applicable tools to use in our interactions with others, and in our own self-development.

Her defining Ted Talk really elevated the discussion of the strength in vulnerability to the next level. And now a sweet, simple and informative video is circulating on another important distinction: the difference between sympathy and empathy.

 

 

~ Some of us feel like “fixers” and that it’s our responsibility to weigh in on other’s choices and help them “do better” in the world.

~ For some of us, it’s easy to get defensive when a loved one is sharing something that has upset them.

~ Or we might get judgmental when we hear about a conflict in their life.

~ I admit I’ve often experienced all of the above and more: I’ve tried to help find the silver lining of a situation, assuring a struggling friend that “it’s not all bad.” I was surprised to see how even this common response isn’t really empathy!

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According to Brown, we can all strengthen our muscle of empathy, lending an ear or a shoulder to cry on in a constructive way. This three minute video points out a couple of simple yet critical differences between empathy and sympathy, ultimately revealing a path to true connection that isn’t that complicated!

Give it a try and let us know how it goes via Facebook

Learn more at PsychologyToday.com

 

Sit With It

Chair Pose, Fierce Pose, Lightning Bolt Pose, Awkward Pose—Utkatasana has many names.

And it has a reputation for being kind of awful. It’s challenging, often uncomfortable, and a true test of grit. If the pose could talk it might ask: How do you deal with discomfort?

That said, there is much power in our perception. If you always come into Chair Pose thinking I hate this pose! then you will most likely never learn to love it or soften into it enough to learn from it. So while the gym maxim No Pain No Gain may apply to this posture, consider approaching it from a different angle. When muscles are firing and sweat is dripping, try to find a moment of gratitude for the incredible machine that is your body and the fact that you get to play with it in this way. Really, that’s very cool.

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Physical Benefits

  • Strengthens thigh and foot muscles
  • Increases mobility in the ankle joints
  • Tones the core
  • Works the triceps and biceps
  • Opens the heart
  • Increases awareness in the pelvic floor and movement of the tailbone
  • Presents an opportunity to practice Mula Bandha

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How to Do It

  1. Stand with your feet together, big toes touching, and find Tadasana through the soles of the feet. Shift your weight until you feel it distributed evenly between the bases of the big and little toe and the center of the heel.

  2. With your hands on your hips, exhale deeply as you bend your knees and lower your seat toward the floor. Use the image of descending into an imaginary chair.

  3. Stop the descent when your base becomes unstable and you shift your weight to the inner or outer edges of the feet instead of balancing on your triangle of support.

  4. Look down at your knees. If you can’t see your big toes peeking out from underneath them draw your hips back until they come into view. You may have to straighten the legs a little to do so.

  5. Squeeze an imaginary (or real*) block between the upper thighs and energetically draw your outer hip points in.

  6. Lenghten your arms out in front of you and raise them overhead, palms facing each other and pinkies rotating toward the midline.

  7. Think Cat Pose in the tailbone and draw it underneath you, as if tucking your tail between your legs. Be mindful of overarching through the low back. Knit your ribs in to stay stable through the torso.

  8. Engage the muscles of the upper arms and soften the shoulder blades down the back, creating a subtle heart opening.

  9. Stay.

  10. Practice gratitude.

  11. To come out, anchor firmly through the soles of your feet to lengthen your legs, and then release your arms down by your sides.

*If you’re working with a block, start the pose with the feet hips-width distance.

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Prep pose: Use a block and the wall to strengthen your hamstrings and quadriceps.

The more comfrortable you get in chair pose the more you can use it as a base for other postures, like Twisted Chair, Figure-Four Pose, Side Crow, or, the pose we’ll explore next, Eka Pada Galavasana. Until then, sit deeply.

Photos: @nikksnow in Chair Pose; exercise class; chair prep against the wall

The Year of the Roar

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

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

Enter Lion’s BreathSimhasana.

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

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

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Here’s How It’s Done

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

The classic posture with breath is taken like this:

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

    9a07224464cad7377c0d1125c436b54bThe Gaze

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

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

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

Make Your Practice Count

Who can imagine a world without elephants?


These magnificent creatures embody wisdom, connection and graceful strength. They form deep bonds, display complex social behaviors, rituals and communal care. Elephants can communicate at a frequency below human hearing and this vibration can travel for miles, coordinating group activities such as courtship or mourning the death of a herd member. They teach, they play, they love.

The global demand for their ivory has fed a brutal slaughter, which claims the lives of 96 elephants every day.

Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society


Let us not be the generation that sees the extinction of Elephants due to illegal ivory trade, poaching and greed. Let us join together with the Wildlife Conservation Society for the 96Elephants Campaign and raise awareness and funds to combat this brutal violence.

 

This Summer Solstice join Yogis around the world who are dedicating their practice to Elephants. As elephant activist Seane Corn says, let your body be a prayer, a prayer of support and education. Participate on Social Media to raise awareness but don’t stop there. DONATE. Get involved. Check out the resources on 96Elephants and become an Elephant Hero.

 

Pose. Challenge. Donate.
Make Your Practice Count.

96Elephants is inviting yogis to strike Elephant Trunk Pose, Eka Hasta Bhujasana, share the photo and tag three friends to spread the word and spread the love.

Follow us on Instagram to see our teachers and join our community in striking a pose!

There are great variations for beginners and advanced practitioners – check out these instructive videos to take your Elephant pose to the next level!

 

Beginner

 

Intermediate

 

Advanced

Yoga Lab: Warrior What?

Aside from Down Dog, Virabhadrasana I and II are some of the most commonly practiced asanas in a yoga class. This doesn’t mean they’re easy. In my mind, Virabhadrasana I is one of the most challenging postures out there — it’s a potpourri blend of stability, balance, flexibility, alignment, strength and grace. Try embodying all of those things in just one inhale and exhale before dropping to the floor for chaturanga. That’s not to say that these poses aren’t great in a flow, but it’s important to break them down first, and really understand how they feel in your body, before throwing them into the vinyasa mix.

Warrior One

warrior one

Feet: Hip-width distance (or wider) apart. The common analogy here is a train track. Place your feet wide, one on each track, to allow your hips to square to the front of the mat. If your hipbones had headlights, they’d be beaming out straight in front of you. Pro tip: If coming into this posture from downward facing dog, place your right foot to the outside of your right hand (or left foot, left hand) before coming to stand. That way you’re already starting the pose with a wide base.

Back foot: Toes angled in, toward the top corner of your mat, at a roughly 45-degree angle. The outer edge (pinkie toe-side) of the foot is pressing into the mat.

Legs: Front-knee bent at a ninety-degree angle, knee over ankle. To ensure your knee isn’t collapsing in, look down and make sure you can smile at your front big toe. The back leg is really where it’s at in this posture. The inner seam of the leg is going to want to sink toward the floor. Resist the temptation and press up from the inner arch. Take a tiny bend in the back knee to avoid locking it, and think about turning the kneecap and the inner thigh flesh up and out, away from the opposite leg.

Hips: Square! Or with the intention of square. They may never get there, and that’s okay.

Upper body: Arms raised, shoulders down the back, gaze at your thumbs. Angels sing.

Warrior Two 

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Feet: Get off the train tracks and find a tightrope. Here the feet are in one line: The heel of the front foot bisects the arch of the back, which means you’ll have to do a little shuffle to get your feet into position if coming into Warrior Two from Warrior One. The angle of the back toes is the same as in Warrior One.

Legs: Back leg is long and strong. Play with increasing the distance between your feet, from the top of the mat to the back. You may be able to bend a little bit more deeply into the front knee. Check out your first few toes.

Hips: Warrior Two is a hip opener, and the action comes from allowing your thighs to open out and away from each other. A strong foundation in the legs will allow you to sink safely into the hips. Tuck your tailbone underneath you instead of letting your butt poke out behind you, and again, ensure that your bent knee isn’t collapsing inward.

Upper Body: The shoulders love to creep up to the ears in this pose. Drop ’em! Float your shoulders over your hips, draw your shoulder blades together, and open through the collarbones. It’s also common for the torso to creep forward as the front hand reaches. Explore centering your body right above your hips

Arms: Think about making one long arm from the tips of your front fingers to the tips of your back fingers. The back hand likes to go a little wonky here, so sneak a peek and see that it’s extending out evenly from the wrist. Turn your gaze back to your front hand and ask yourself, “What is my life’s purpose!?”

 

And, a little yoga PSA: Remember Right Movement! What makes it “right” is that it’s right for you. Always feel free, in any class, to slow down and come into right alignment, even if the teacher is urging you on. Finding these poses in your own body is more important than finding them in someone else’s flow. Namaste.

Photos: Reposted from the awesome Instagram account Where Is My Mat

6 Quick Tips to Turn Presence Into Charisma

Last week the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley published an article outlining the ways a mindful practice can lead to people viewing you as more charismatic.

Great leaders in politics, media, and even within our personal network of friends tend to share a charisma that separates them from others. They radiate an energy and charm that is attractive and garners respect. Research now shows that you don’t have to be born with this star-like power to be successful, but rather you can harness the tenants of a mindful practice to be more present with others, and cultivate a charisma within yourself.

“Charismatic people are often described as having the ability to make you feel as if you are the only person in the room.”


 

women-shaking-handsHere are six common traits that you can practice to cultivate charisma:

  1. Empathy
  2. Full listening
  3. Eye contact
  4. Enthusiasm  
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Skillful speaking

 

All of these tips boil down to being present with the people you interact with.

“One research study showed that the mere presence of a cell phone impaired the sense of connection in a face-to-face conversation.”

Social media creates the illusion that getting one hundred likes on a Facebook post can be equated with real-life influence and respect. However, this is not always true, and as a result, creating and maintaining meaningful relationships that extend beyond the digital sphere is more important than ever. 

Slowing down to breathe and be present with the person you’re talking to does not decrease the productivity of your day. On the contrary, it allows you to get more from the interaction: a deeper connection with the person, a better understanding of the information you exchange, and (as this article notes) a greater chance of happiness and success within your personal and professional networks. 

So go ahead and #GoDeep

Sweet & Sensible Indulgences

With the holidays past, many of us turn to New Year’s resolutions – and who’s kidding who? Most resolutions center on food and exercise. Well, after a whirlwind of indulgence and activity, it’s a great idea to get centered and ground into some healthful practices. Bringing attention back to Right Movement by reinstating your exercise and yoga practice is a great place to start, as is inviting balance back to your Right Nutrition. It’s relatively easy to choose a hearty soup instead of a big steak, or have salad for lunch instead of a piece of pizza. But what to do about dessert? If you’ve got a sweet tooth it can be much tougher to work towards your goals.

 

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Right Nutrition can and should include the delicious flavors of your favorite desserts. Here are a few twists on traditional recipes that transform a potential regret into a worthy, healthy indulgence.

 

 

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Frozen Hot Chocolate from Chocolate Covered Katie

A vegan spin on the delicious Serendipity standard, this playful treat is almost TOO easy to make


 


 

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Peach Crisp from Martha Stewart

This recipe brightens up  grey winter days with the bright summery flavor of peaches. Swapping out the butter cuts saturated fat, and you can try using coconut oil for an even healthier boost.


 

FruitCompote


Dried Fruit Compote with Ginger Syrup from Epicurious

This compote is great over ice cream or shortbread for dessert – and we love it over yogurt in the morning. Dried fruit is perfect for the season, as is ginger, which supports digestion and warms up the body.

Bottoms Up: Herbal Infusions for Modern Health

In the last five years, New York City streets have transformed. Where once there was only Jamba Juice, serving sugar-filled smoothies, there are now Organic Avenues and Juice Press stores every few blocks. We could not be happier about the cultural shift towards drinking healthier, but amidst all the fancy juice names and even fancier storefronts, how do you know which drink is worth your buck?

Well, look no further — the next wave of health beverages is here.

Here at Five Pillars we’re juicing veterans, and no health drink has excited us more than Goldthread Herbal Elixirs — a newly-launched line of delicious herbal infusions, each expertly formulated to support different health goals. Given the power of plants, from ginseng to goji berries and turmeric to good-old-fashioned chamomile, it seems obvious that the answer to restoring balance to the modern diet lies in the ancient practice of consuming medicinal herbs. When enjoyed regularly, Goldthread Elixirs function much like a super-charged multivitamin, delivering the micronutrients necessary to maintain proper digestion, hormone balance, immune health and positive energy flow.

Goldthread is a small, grassroots company helmed by William Siff, an acupuncturist, herbalist and long-time herbal farmer, headquartered in Western Massachusetts. His work begins with a key belief:

“health is more than just the absence of disease, it is also the capacity to maintain balance, adaptability, and grace amidst the continuous demands and shifting currents of modern life.”

This idea perfectly complements the ethos of Right Nutrition, and the mindfulness lifestyle we strive to embody at Five Pillars Yoga. Luckily for us, Goldthread’s artful blend of herbs, spices, citrus, fruit, roots & berries doesn’t force us to sacrifice taste for health! These light and flavorful teas allow you to fully enjoy nourishing your mind, body and spirit. Also worth Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 10.26.31 AMnoting, unlike most “healthy” beverages, they do not contain honey, sugar, agave, maple syrup or artificial sweeteners. Goldthread Elixirs are gently sweetened by the incredible Asian monk fruit — a fruit whose sweetness comes not from fructose but from natural mogrosides (yes, we’re getting technical here) that not only have zero calories but also doesn’t elevate insulin or blood sugar levels.

 

** Goldthread Elixirs are currently available at the Yoga Shop and will be coming soon to a Whole Foods near you. You can also stock up online at Goldthread’s Online Store

 

Here are a few of our favorite flavors, each one crafted to prevent the winter blues from taking root in your mind and body.

El Sol: This bright and invigorating recipe is your source of sunlight during the gloomy winter months. El Sol is a perfect way to kick-start your day, activate your metabolism, support digestion, and get maximum energy and vitality from your day’s foods.

Formula highlights: ginger root, lemongrass, cardamom.

 

Schizaam: Schizaam provides a healthy alternative to sugar and caffeine during the busy holiday season when you need a boost of energy. This powerful elixir will restore harmony in your body, and provide the endurance you need to help get everything done, just in time.

Formula highlights: gogi berry, rose petal, orange peel.

 

Forcefield: An immune enhancing powerhouse! This tangy-sweet flavor is a favorite with kids, and is perfect for warding off coughs and colds! Drink Forcefield when traveling for the holidays, or begin the New Year by packing sweet protection into your child’s lunchbox!

Formula Highlights: elderberry, hibiscus, rose hips.

 

 

 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Beyond…

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, shining a light on a health problem that knows no boundaries of ethnicity, geography or socio-economic status. We’re talking about an equal-opportunity disease that will effect one in eight women in their lifetimes, adding up to an estimated 220,000+ women each year in the U.S.A.

The good news is, awareness is growing, as is the number of women taking proactive steps towards prevention and regular screenings. Furthermore, fatalities have been on the decline since 1990 due to greater rates of early detection and continuous improvements in treatment options.

And by the way, it isn’t just women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. So men, please read on and consider incorporating the information below.

 

Is this a serious issue? You’re damn right it is. Is there anything we can do about it? You’re damn right we can.

Each of us is unique, with our individual health challenges and concerns. Our genes are distinct, our risks are distinct, and our strengths are distinct. There are certain factors that cannot be changed, but there are others known as Avoidable Risk Factors where we can have an impact.

It should come as no surprise that most recommendations for prevention fall under the diet and lifestyle categories, including:

~ Reducing Alcohol Consumption

~ Eating a healthy diet – specifically, higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in saturated fat

~ Scheduling regular screenings and regular mammograms once you hit 40

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So where does Yoga Fit in? A regular yoga practice can play a significant role in both Breast Cancer Prevention and Healing & Recovery

 

Yoga For Prevention & Health

~ Lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle have been shown to increase risk of developing breast cancer.

~ Being overweight or obese can increase your risk as well

~ A regular yoga practice contributes to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight

~ An active Yoga practice typically includes both strength building and also cardiovascular exercise, both of which boost immune function and have been shown to balance levels of estrogen and insulin.

 

Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors & Recovery

~ Restorative yoga has been shown to support the healing process by diminishing levels of cortisol in the body and facilitating the “rest and regenerate” actions of the body

~ Active or Vinyasa Yoga has been shown to enhance the flow of the lymphatic system, which not only flushes toxins away from healthy cells, but also helps deliver disease-fighting cells to areas of the body that are under attack

~ Perhaps most importantly, new studies are now showing a dramatic influence on quality of life for patients undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. There is often a significant psychological and/or physiological impact from these processes, and yoga has been shown to balance energy, support healthy sleep habits, alleviate anxiety and depression and boost overall mood.

 

YBC_Cover_HighIf you’d like to Go Deep on the subject, we recommend the book Yoga for Breast Care: What Every Woman Needs to Know by Bobby Clennell.

The book is information rich and highly practical, covering information on the many conditions women can encounter as well as yoga postures and breathing practices with specific healing applications. Plus, information on women’s health, menstruation, pregnancy, nursing and broader lifestyle recommendations.