The key to Right Movement is balancing productive stress with recovery – moving like a pendulum between periods of exertion and periods of rest and relaxation, with proper nutrition across the board.
This dance between these two states is known as pendulation, and it creates strength in the body, supports heart rate variability and improves overall health. Without both sides of the pendulum, the productive stress of exercise can quickly become “unproductive stress.” Our recovery time must consider nutrition, hydration, quieting the mind, flexibility and stretching, breathing deeply, and a way of removing lactic acid from the body such as an epsom salts bath.
The formula doesn’t work without each piece – it really is the sum of all of its parts:
Those not as predisposed to enlivening workouts might wonder – “well what about if I just relax? Isn’t that a better way to reduce stress?” The truth is that a movement practice triggers its own wonderful bio-chemical waterfall (like endorphins – Yay!) that balances out the stress hormones (like cortisol – BOO!) that are swirling through most of our bodies on a regular basis.
But you don’t have to lift weights if that’s not your thing – or become a cardio fiend if it doesn’t call to you. The key is discovering your Right Movement – a practice that feels fun and challenging and gets the heart pumping and the muscles working in a way that is right for you. This might be walking, jogging outside or at the gym, taking a dance class, taking yoga classes, working with a trainer, dancing around your living room to an upbeat playlist for 15 minutes. Whatever it is, as Nike says, Just Do It!
The body needs proper nutrition to fuel productive workouts and to recover and regenerate after them. Crowd out processed and packaged foods with an abundance of fresh produce and a moderate amount of whole grains/legumes. Limit meat. Reduce and maybe eventually remove stimulants/drugs. Shoot for three balanced meals and snacks to support recovery. Nutritional choices account for approximately 60% of unproductive stress in the human body.
By eating consistent meals with high quality nutrition, the body no longer responds by holding onto excess weight. A diet that removes foods that cause unproductive stress in the human body (ironically they are also the foods we crave when stressed) and stimulants (also consumed as a result of stress) creates optimal conditions in the physical body.
Recovery Time Matters
Make a recovery plan and follow it: stretching, hydration, nutrition, relaxation, sleep. Alternate your movement practices to allow for recover – for example cycle one day, take a restorative yoga class the next. It’s not just the big muscles that need stretching and recovery either, it’s also the fascia and nervous system which are addressed by restorative, yin and yoga therapeutics.
Book your favorite masseuse… every week! Take epsom salts baths. Breathe deeply. Head into nature… every day! Surround yourself by flowers, your favorite essential oils, candles, soothing and/or energizing music. Practice meditation, even just 5 minutes a day.
Beyond the practice of sipping water throughout the day lies a realm of hydration that encompasses the entire body. Soak in water, nix the plastic single use bottles, and practice ancient yogic pranayama techniques that will leave you in tip top shape.
1. RIGHT NUTRITION: Sip Room Temperature Water And Warm Herbal Tea Throughout The Day
To stay hydrated, focus on assimilation rather than quantity. Drink water when you are thirsty and sip instead of chug. If you are drinking too much water at one time, you may find yourself dehydrated despite your efforts. Several trips to the restroom per hour suggest that you need to slow down. After all, our bodies can only assimilate about 2-3 cups of water per hour, or 200 ml (a little less than 1 cup) every 15 minutes.
Consuming too much water at one time causes the kidneys to overwork, placing unwanted stress on the body.
Help your body absorb water by adding chia seeds, fresh ginger, and/or a small pinch of sea salt to your water. Although too much salt in the diet is dehydrating, salt is actually essential to your body’s water absorption process. Learn more here: The Skinny on Salt
Once you are sipping instead of chugging, you can go deeper by considering our top Ayurvedic recommendations. Ayurvedic science recommends consuming only room temperature or warm beverages, which means that ice water can become an occasional indulgence rather than a regular practice. Ayurvedic practitioners also suggest consuming little or no water at mealtime. Drinking ice water and taking in too much liquid during mealtimes cools or dilutes our digestive fire (or Agni). Since so much of our health depends on healthy digestion, this is sage advice. That said, we know that leaving ice out of your beverage is not always possible… or desirable. To begin, consider applying the 70-30 rule. If 70% of the time, you are drinking room temperature water or warm tea, you are doing superb!
Last but not least, watch out for sugar and caffeine in your bevies!
If you are drinking coffee regularly, you may need to sip even more water throughout the day to make up for the dehydrating effects of caffeine. Sugar is another beast to contend with. The body converts sugar to stored fat and wreaks havoc on your insulin levels. If you find water difficult to drink, consider adding some fruit or sprigs of mint to your water to add flavor.
Here’s the summary: Drink room temperature water or tea throughout the day when you are thirsty. Pay attention to your current habits, especially around caffeine and sugar, and begin to replace old habits that no longer serve you in your life with new, healthier habits.
2. Right Movement: Flush Out The Toxins
Hydration is about balance in the body. If you are practicing yoga asanas and exercising regularly, you will help your body flush out toxins and prevent water retention.
Hydrating after yoga practice and exercise will help you to receive the full benefits of the practice. Yoga asana and exercise require adequate nutrition, including additional water post workout. Replenish your body with healthy foods and water post-movement and your body will thank you.
3. Right Relaxation: Sip and Soak Away Your Stress
As the days get longer and the weather warms up, we tend to spring into action, sometimes overextending ourselves. Taking time away from chaos and turning inwards to meditate and relax can help our bodies to absorb and assimilate the water and food we consume. Pay particular attention to relaxation during hot days and plan for sipping water or herbal tea all day long.
Consider booking some bodywork, soak in water, get some gentle exercise by taking a swim in cooling water, and head to bed early. The result? Increased energy and ojas, the Ayurvedic term for the vital essence that supports our immune systems, vitality, libido, and strength.
4. Right Breathing: Practice Sitali
Deep in the Himalayas, ancient sages observed and imitated the world around them in the noble attempt to master body, breath, and mind. They noticed the curve of a bird’s lower beak, a new green leaf uncurling, and the hiss of a cobra—and emulated those shapes and sounds in a practice called sitali (the cooling breath). In this pranayama, the inhalation is moistened as it passes through the curl of the tongue (alternately described as a bird’s beak and an uncurling leaf), so that you are “drinking” water-saturated air.
Sitali cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and soothes a pitta imbalance.
Besides building breath awareness, this practice is said to calm hunger and thirst and cultivate a love for solitude. Sitali also cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and, in the parlance of ayurveda, soothes a pitta imbalance, which is common in the summer months. In addition, this practice reduces fatigue, bad breath, fevers, and high blood pressure. Learn how to practice Sitali: Click Here
Did you know that the Pacific Garbage Patch and the Eastern Garbage Patch have doubled in size in the past decade? We have plastic islands out in the ocean twice the size of Texas that are made up of tiny pieces of plastic that look just like fish food (opposed to a solid mass of plastic). Animals mistake the plastic for food. Plus this toxic soup disturbs marine food webs and ecosystems. Here’s one simple thing you can do to make a difference: Nix the single-use plastic water bottles and replace these with an eco-friendly reusable water bottle. Fill the bottle with tap water and sip throughout the day to stay hydrated.
If you love swimming and are interested in deepening your pranayama practice on the mat, you are in for a wonderful surprise. Whether you swim laps or enjoy water recreationally, you probably recognize that swimming can transform the way you feel. Similar to yoga, the before and after effects are astounding! A powerful, low-impact activity, swimming can also become a incredible pranayama.
Pranayama refers to breathing exercises or breath control. Breath control is one of the very first things we learn during swim lessons by blowing bubbles into the pool. Aside from yoga practice and swimming, there are few places in life where we intentionally control our breathing. With intention and awareness, we can transform swimming into yoga.
What was that about pranayama? Most of the time, we breathe automatically. During yogic breathing exercises, we control the breath to create more energy or prana in our bodies. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga = eight limbs) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is a pathway to ultimate freedom and bliss. Although modern-day yoga is often dominated by yoga asanas or postures, breathing exercises are given equal importance in the Yoga Sutras.
How do we practice pranayama while swimming? When we swim, we hold our breath to go under water and then slowly let the air out while we propel ourselves forward or backward. When we surface, we take another big breath and continue the pattern we have started. The more rhythm we create with our breathing, the more ease we feel when swimming. In essence, we learn to coordinate our breath with movement, which is the foundational concept in a yoga vinyasa class. In fact, the word vinyasa means “a method in yoga in which movements and breath are coordinated.” Paying attention and controlling our breath during yoga practice and swimming alike has the capacity to create a vinyasa, or a moving meditation.
Swimming and pranayama are mutually beneficial.
Practicing swimming requires breath control and rhythmic breathing, which will deepen your yoga practice on the mat. And practicing pranayama on land can help to enhance your swimming techniques and lung capacity in the pool. Win-win.
That said, you may be thinking to yourself: I swim all summer and even during the other months of the year, but my mind races while I swim and I am hardly aware of how I am breathing… I am on autopilot. How is this like yoga?
Like the ease we feel peddling and balancing once we have learned to ride a bike, breath control while swimming becomes automatic. Even though we are raising our energy levels and opening energy channels in our body when we swim regardless of our intention, awareness and mindfulness gradually shifts our experience in the water.
The Yoga of Swimming = Swimming + Intention + Awareness
Without intention and awareness, yoga resembles stretching, calisthenics, sitting, or even napping. Similarly, without mindfulness, swimming is the act of moving through water. Intention and awareness transforms these movements and postures into what we call yoga. Yoga is the union or yoking of mind with spirit.
When you cultivate mindfulness and intention, swimming can become yoga, leaving you with a deep sense of inner peace, freedom, and even bliss! Ready to dive in?
Three Ways to Practice the Yoga of Swimming:
In the pool: How does your physical body feel before and after you swim? What happens to your energy before and after you swim? Do you feel pulsing, streaming or tingling sensations? How do you feel emotionally before and after your swim? Notice your state of mind before you enter the water. Then notice your state of mind at the end of your practice.
On the mat: While you are practicing yoga on your mat, imagine you are moving through water. Anytime you expand (raise your arms, lift your heart, head, or hips), inhale deeply. And anytime your contract (fold forward, root into the ground, sink your hips, lower your hands), slowly exhale. When you hold postures, create long inhalations. Imagine you are about to dive under the water at the top of your inhalation and pause. Then slowly exhale. At the bottom of your exhalation, imagine you are still under water and pause. Continue this breathing pattern. With a little intention and imagination, you can use your experience in the water to deepen your yoga on the mat.
Practice yoga by the water: Practice yoga by the water. If you are by a pool, take your standing balancing postures into the shallow end of the pool. Then, end your asana practice with savasana on a floatation device or lying down next to the water. Try meditating near water after you swim or practice yoga.
*Be sure to use safety precautions while practicing by water, especially the ocean, and have fun!
Begin your day with a simple chakra meditation to alleviate stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem and boost your overall health. Although it takes less than five minutes, this meditation goes deep, re-balancing your body, energy, emotions, intellect, and spirit.
Chakras are “wheels” or “disks” of energy concentrated in different locations throughout the body. There are seven main chakras that coincide with major organs and nerve centers located along the spine. Alongside a strong connection to the physical and energetic bodies, the chakras have psychological and spiritual significance. Each chakra is associated with a color, a location in the physical body and a deeper meaning.
This uplifting chakra meditation comes from the Nosara Yoga Institute. It’s simple. Sense each chakra and picture the coinciding light rippling outward from the energetic center in your body as you repeat the following affirmations. Begin by sensing one chakra at a time, starting at the root and working your way to the crown. At the end of the meditation, you can imagine all of the chakras lit up at once.
Root Chakra: I have the right to be here now.
Splenic Chakra: I have the right to feel all of my sensations, feelings and emotions.
Solar Plexus Chakra: I have the right to be myself.
Heart Chakra: I have the right to love and be loved.
Throat Chakra: I have the right to speak my truth. I have a voice!
Third Eye Chakra: I am guided by my own internal wisdom.
Crown Chakra: I surrender to the divine flow of the universe.
Leaves blanket the ground creating an artful display of fall colors. Hearty root crops and winter squash are abundant at the farmer’s market. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, autumn is the vata season, known for its cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic qualities. There is incredible momentum, movement, and vitality that occurs with when the wild vata winds blow, generating transformation. And yet, we can also find ourselves forced to stop in our tracks as colds and the flu spread through schools and workplaces like wildfire during this time of year. To go forth with steady confidence and healthy bodies, favor a vata pacifying lifestyle which boosts the immune system and brings the body, mind, and spirit into balance. Check out these four tips to be well and stay calm.
One: Begin to see food as medicine.
Incorporate a vata pacifying diet this fall, which consists of foods that are warm, moist, smooth, and nourishing. Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.
Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. Minimize stress and support easy digestion by consuming lightly cooked foods that are warming and soothing. Sip ginger tea with meals to aid digestion, or make a healing, anti-inflammatory turmeric-honey tea to support the immune system. Go deeper with this recipe from 101 Cookbooks.
Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.
Food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.
Two: Wake up before sunrise and create a morning routine.
Routine balances the vata dosha. The early morning hours before sunrise are the vata time of day, inspiring movement and energy. Practice pranayama, sun salutations, yoga postures, and meditation first thing in the morning to stimulate your body’s cleansing systems and set the tone for your day. Sip room temperature or lukewarm water with lemon first thing to stimulate and balance your digestive tract.
Poses that work on the colon (the bodily seat of vata), intestines, pelvis, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac balance vata by bringing energy back down into the base of the torso. Spinal twists and inversions of all kinds soothe this dosha. Sitting and standing forward bends are choice poses, particularly for insomnia; boat, plank, staff, and plow are also powerful vata-reducers. To support grounding, work with standing poses such as mountain, triangle, warrior, and tree. Avoid back bends, such as bow, cobra, pigeon, and arch, which increase vata, or hold them briefly. If you enjoy vinyasa, do sun salutations S-L-O-W-L-Y. Let child’s pose lead you back to your innate innocence and trust. End your practice with a long Savasana (20–30 minutes); it is really okay to do NOTHING for a while.
A self-massage with warming sesame oil may provide the moisturizing nourishment your skin needs to maintain its healthy glow this fall. Plus self-massage boosts the immune system, improves circulation, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and mind. Follow the sesame-oil massage with a relaxing bath or shower. For more information on balancing your skin and body, check out Five Pillars’ recent article by Erika: Defeating Fall Dryness.
Four: Practice alternate nostril breathing.
Alternate nostril breathing is very balancing year-round, but particularly supportive during the vata season. Check out this video to go deeper:
Acupuncture, like yoga, works by tuning people back into their bodies. Just as a yoga practice connects movement and breath to mindfulness and intention, acupuncture aims to integrate mind, body, and spirit in a whole-person approach to treatment.
Oceana Baity is an acupuncturist, yoga teacher and mother of two who practices and teaches in New York City. Grounded and wise, she has a matter-of-fact approach to acupuncture that keeps the ancient practice relevant to the here and now. She was recently interviewed by Vogue on the use of essential oils in acupuncture, one of her preferred treatment methods (scroll down for the full story).
We spoke with Oceana about acupuncture myths and modalities to get a deeper understanding of the powerful and time-tested healing technique.
Q + A with Oceana Baity
How would you describe acupuncture to someone who knows nothing about it?
Acupuncture is a ancient, holistic approach to balancing body, mind and spirit. It treats not just the symptoms of disharmony but the underlying imbalance.
Does it hurt?
I like to reframe this for patients. Yes, you might feel a sensation. It could be achy, heavy, dull or spreading. On some points you will feel a lot of sensation, on others hardly anything.
I encourage patients to move from an association of sensation as pain into a more nuanced interest in what they feel. An expanded physical and mental vocabulary will hold more options to describe the variety of the sensation.
Any acupuncture myths or misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
There are many styles of acupuncture. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is perhaps the most commonly known style, but there are Korean and Japanese lineages, Five Element acupuncture—which focuses on underlying emotional and spirit-level imbalance—and modern approaches like Trigger Point Therapy, which is great for pain conditions.
How does an Eastern medicine philosophy differ from a Western one?
Western doctors are focusing on treating symptoms and diseases and Eastern medicine is concerned with treating the whole person. All the symptoms, even the ones that may not seem related to the primary complaint are taken into account, along with their lifestyle, diet and their daily stressors. It’s a very holistic, whole-person approach.
Can you talk about the link between acupuncture and fertility?
Acupuncture can be very supportive in regulating a woman’s cycle. It reduces stress and addresses lifestyle issues which may be contributing to difficulty conceiving.
When acupuncture and Chinese medicine aren’t able to help a woman conceive without medical intervention, studies report that it can increase the odds of successful IVF by 50 percent.
Oceana and her two daughters in Costa Rica.
How did you first become interested in studying acupuncture?
I had my first acupuncture treatment in San Francisco when I was 16. I can’t remember what my concern was, but I do remember distinctly how great I felt after.
Years later I was recovering from a rotator cuff injury and acupuncture greatly relieved my pain and helped speed up my healing. I was already a yoga teacher at the time, but I was interested in advancing my education and having more to offer. I dreamed of being able to provide the care and feeling of wholeness I experienced. It was an easy decision to make and I am so fulfilled by my work.
Oceana interviewed in this month’s issue of Vogue on the use of essential oils in acupuncture.
What, today, keeps you interested in or excited about acupuncture?
I’ve done multiple advanced trainings over the years so that keeps things fresh. Most recently I’ve been incorporating essential oils into my work. I use specific oils to accelerate healing and to treat kids and needle-sensitive patients. They’re also great for working with women on fertility issues, hormone balancing and stress relief.
The beauty of essential oil therapy is that its very potent, yet gentle enough for everyone (even babies with dilution), and the oils smell great.
Visit Oceana’s website to learn more and schedule a session.
Images: Needles; treatment; Vogue article and cover courtesy of Vogue; oils; all other images courtesy of Oceana Baity.
Spring has sprung and, as the wind blows in warmer weather and the sun begins to shine, we literally begin to spring into action. Despite the days being longer, so many of us still feel like we are short on time.
Taking time to practice yoga becomes even more important as our calendars begin to overflow with activity and plans. This is, of course, a perfect time to prioritize regular yoga classes. On the days when yoga class just won’t fit into your schedule, set aside a couple minutes to listen to our May playlist and move through your favorite yoga asanas.
During yoga class, the teacher’s voice and their playlist can help you to go deep into your practice. This May Mantra Playlist offers a gentle rhythm to support you in your personal practice.
So when you need a little extra calm in your life, slow down and turn on these tunes, featuring three of our fav yoga artists. Listen on your commute to work, play these mantras as you practice at home, or allow these healing sounds to help you let down as you drift off to sleep at the end of the day.
You’ll find this playlist helps you to breathe deeply, with a steady, gentle rhythm designed to invoke a sense of inner peace… so allow your breath to be deep and rhythmic… and just follow the guidance of your own body.
Ever since the Autumnal Equinox two weeks ago the days have been getting shorter and the nights longer. Before the equinox we wrote about preparing for Vata season, a time associated with the untethered elements of Air and Space and the mutable energy of the wind; these outside shifts can easily cause anxiety can rise: We have as much to do, but seemingly less time to do it in.
Any change in the seasons is naturally disruptive to our sleep cycles, and this shift from summer to fall — from Pitta to Vata — really requires a conscious tuning in and slowing down on our parts. If you have trouble sleeping you’re not alone: the sound loop of a box fan has been streamed more than 5 million times on Spotify, one of many wildly popular white noise sounds you can put yourself sleep to.
Need more than a fan on a loop to help you sleep? Yoga’s got your back. These six poses are ideal for winding down and combatting insomnia. You can put them together in a simple posture flow before bed or pick one or two to spend more time in. Either way, give yourself at least two minutes in each shape, inviting your internal metronome to slow and your mind to stop chit-chatting.
It goes without saying that the more serene and relaxed an environment you can do these poses in the better, but just focusing on your breath in these shapes — despite what may be going on around you — will improve your chances for deeper sleep.
More sleep tips: No screens before bed; no screens in the bed; and keep the lights low. Try a simple, seated meditation to tune inward before getting under the covers or lead yourself through a guided relaxation once you’re already there.
Use a bolster or a blanket or a pillow from your bed to give your chest maximum support.
Giving the head and neck a chance to relax in a Standing Forward Bend sends a subtle message to the brain to chill out. If need be, bend the knees.
Same deal in Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend. Forward folds are great for reducing anxiety and insomnia and relieving headaches. Put the crown of your head on a block for super comfortable support.
Literally turn the gaze inward in a Seated Forward Bend. A successful night’s sleep means disengaging from the activities of the outside world. This is a great shape to practice Pratyahara in.
Supta Baddha Konasana
As with all of these pre-bedtime poses, props of all sorts are encouraged. A serene and supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose stretches major muscle groups and gives the spine, a.k.a command center for the Central Nervous System, a chance to relax.
Legs-up-the-Wall takes all of the benefits of an inversion and delivers them to you while you lie on the floor doing absolutely nothing. Heaven.
One of the primary goals of Five Pillars Yoga is to support the heath and vitality of our community. “Off the mat” we can pursue Right Relaxation by working with exceptional practitioners in the fields of medicine, nutrition, body work, acupuncture and so on.
Neil Runyon, the founder of Carnegie Hill Massage, is one of these exceptional practitioners that we simply couldn’t keep secret.
Neil has extensive training in numerous modalities — including Swedish and Deep Tissue massage, trigger point therapy, myofascial release, and neuromuscular therapy — and has been working his magic for over seven years. He has been reviewed as one of the most knowledgeable and skilled massage therapists around, as well as being intuitive, caring and compassionate. After a treatment with Neil this summer I can second all of these raves!
If you’d like to experience the magic, he is currently offering Five Pillars students a 10% discount on sessions!
Carnegie Hill Massage can be found in a converted garden studio that is sweet, peaceful and utterly convenient – it’s located just two blocks down from Five Pillars on 92nd between Park & Lex. Soft linens filter the light and pale wood and ivory walls create a tranquil atmosphere. Classical music sets the tone for a massage that felt just as precision as an orchestral arrangement. In fact “massage” is too minimal a word.
As Neil applied a combination of techniques specific to my issues (including trigger point and myofacial release) he spoke about the relationships and mechanics of my muscles and connective tissue the way an astronomer might speak of constellations.
His understanding of body mechanics, of anatomy and of modern human afflictions was staggering. He’s perfectly happy to let people drift off into Right Relaxation “la la land” during treatments, but, being the curious yogi that I am, I asked question after question and left feeling like I had taken a master class in my own physiology.
As for my body – the work he did that day was deep, targeted and corrective. I have been working with some issues in the low back and also upper shoulders and once my body had integrated his work, I’d say around 36 hours later, I felt like a whole new woman.
Neil has the skills and the intuition to give us each what we might need – one day might be just a relaxing slow Swedish indulgence, another day he might spend an hour working on just one hip. If you have specific issues you’re working with, he can help not only on the table, but also might recommend certain stretches or practices to help.
“Opening my own private practice has allowed me develop longer term personal relationships with clients who value the role massage therapy can play in their wellness regimens. My approach is a holistic one – I do believe that our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives express themselves in our bodies…”
Neil meets each client with skill and compassion and seeks to treat the whole person. His specialties include:
Low Back, Hip and Pelvic Imbalances
Shoulder Girdle, Neck and Head Imbalances
Post Surgical/Injury Rehabilitation
Depression and Stress Related Disorders
Certified Pre and Post-Natal Massage
Neil books books both 90-minute and two hour sessions. Do yourself a favor and book the longer session. While he can work wonders in an hour and a half, with that extra time he can really #GoDeep, sussing out a few of your particular source issues and giving them the time and attention they need to begin to rebalance.
Whether you’ve got something specific that needs work or you just crave a little Right Relaxation, take advantage of Neil’s exclusive 10% discount offer for the Five Pillars community. For a limited time only.
In anticipation of all of those blissful, unscheduled self-care hours you’ve set aside for yourself this year (right?), here are a few yoga-ish books to nourish your soul.
The Goddess Pose. This fascinating account of a globetrotting, Russian cabaret performer who charms her way into Krishnamacharya’s studio in India and brings his teachings to Western starlets like Greta Garbo is all the more enticing for being true. Michelle Goldberg’s biography of Indra Devi, née Eugenia Peterson, is as good as any Netflix binge.
Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar. All of Iyengar’s books are worth a read, but this one is the culmination of his many, many years of devoted practice and self-inquiry. And it is full of quotable gems: “Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.”
Autobiography of a Yogi. Spiritual seeker Paramahansa Yogananda shares his inspiring story with plenty of humor, deep insight and guest appearances from some of the 20th century’s spiritual illuminati.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Even if you haven’t read Marie Kondo’s minimalist manifesto, you probably know the drill: Throw out everything. Okay, not really, but Kondo insists our items pass the joy test — Do these socks spark joy? — or else send them packing. Decluttering is a practice, and the quote below is proof enough that Kondo’s a yogi:
“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
Siddhartha. Hermann Hesse’s tale of a young man on the path of self-discovery is a classic. Set in ancient India, Hesse’s hero renounces his possessions, wanders as a beggar, meditates intensely and finds his spiritual teacher. But he’s not satisfied! With meta questions still looming, Siddhartha reenters the world and continues his spiritual quest. Adventures await.
How To Eat. One in a series of Mindfulness Essentials by beloved Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, How To Eat is a travel-sized — and beautifully illustrated — compendium of short meditations designed to enhance and unclutter our relationship with food, from growing it to cleaning up after eating it.
Last summer we wrote about three very essential oils to keep on hand to stay cool and daisy-fresh when temperatures are anything but. This summer with that triumvirate — lavender, peppermint and sandalwood — already in our bag, we’re playing with new oils and season-specific blends to treat everything from sunburn to bug bites.
Since summer can be such a dehydrating time, a water-based face and body mist is a simple way to give your skin a drink. Bonus: You will smell effortlessly lovely and look positively dewy. As noted above and in our earlier post, lavender, peppermint and sandalwood are aces for beating the heat. This blend, below, uses rose water and witch hazel, natural oil-removing astringents, to relieve hot faces and keep pores unclogged. Rose, a noted heart opener, is especially nice to breathe in if the heat has got you down.
Lavender + Peppermint Cooling Mist and Compress
Combine equal parts clean drinking water, witch hazel and rose water in a 2oz spray bottle. Leave a little room at the top. Add 12 drops lavender essential oiland 8 drops peppermint essential oil. Seal the bottle, shake, and spray away.
To cool down at home try an old-fashioned washcloth to the head. Use the same oils as above and mix with about 4 cups of cool, clean water. Of course, play with any of these oil proportions to your liking. If it smells good, you’re doing it right.
More hours in the day = more parties, appointments, deadlines and plans, right? With the sun out late and up early, sleep can get short shrift; excessive heat, especially for the Pitta among us, is another potential irritant. These oils have got your (sweaty) back:
Vetiver: Tranquil and grounding, this is a stabilizing tonic for the nervous system.
Ylang Ylang: Calming and uplifting. Smelling it may induce cheerfulness.
Lavender: There is nothing this oil can’t do. Breathe in and find yourself in southern France.
Frankincense: Earthy and sweet without inducing drowsiness.
Chamomile: As soothing as a cup of tea.
Stay sun safe:
Coconut oil has a natural SPF, making it a perfect carrier oil for summer sun protection. Most conventional sunscreens are loaded with chemicals that may do more harm to your skin than the sun, so I like to mix a zinc-oxide based one (like one of theses) with coconut oil and a few drops of lavender, a natural skin soother, or eucalyptus, a cleanser and relaxer. In addition to adding a SPF boost, coconut oil makes chalky sunscreen go on smooth, saving you from looking like a ghost or an old-school lifeguard.
There are some oils to keep out of the sun. Citrus-based oils are photosensitive, making you more susceptible to sunburn if you wear them for prolonged periods outside. Here’s the list:
We’ve all been there. If you are feeling the burn, hydrate, stay out of the sun and mix a few drops of one of the following essential oils with aloe vera (keep it in the fridge for maximum relief):
Try this for a potent after-sun balm:
10 drops frankincense essential oil
10 drops helichrysum essential oil
3/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons shea butter
Combine in a glass jar and place in a saucepan with a few inches of water over medium to low heat. Stir until combined.
Stay bug free:
Most bug bites are just a nuisance, but ticks, bees and mosquitoes can be potentially harmful. Mom approved warning: Prevention is the first step of treatment. Skip the DEET. Use these:
If bugs just really like you and you’re bound to get bit, trusty lavender is there for you. Tea Tree, Basil, Peppermint, and Eucalyptus will also do the trick when you can’t stop scratching.
The feet are gateways to our internal organs and, when stimulated, can aid in a powerful detoxification. They also withstand a lot of pressure throughout the day. They are our literal foundation and, be it through unsupportive footwear or unforgiving pavement, often take a lot of abuse. Last month we posted a guide to simple and profound self care practices in honor of Mother’s Day; this month, when summer officially begins and our feet are on display — and withstand hot sand, sweaty shoes and wedding dance floors — we put together a foot-specific treatment plan in the same vein of loving-kindness.
Show your soles some love with an aromatic foot soak and massage. It’s a simple way to recharge from the ground up. Here’s how:
For a cooling soak, fill a foot tub with cool water and a handful of dried lavender and rose petals. If you don’t have fresh herbs and flowers on hand, essential oils work just as well; peppermint is another cooling, calming option.
For a warming soak, use hot water, powdered or fresh ginger (sliced), and a few tablespoons of Epsom salt. The body will absorb the magnesium in the salt, helping to reduce inflammation, and the ginger will increase circulation.
Soak your feet for at least 10 minutes. Resist the urge to scroll through Instagram or answer emails. Use this as a chance to meditate or simply recharge.
After patting your feet dry, rub them with a generous helping of sesame, almond or coconut oil. Use oil liberally throughout — the skin, our largest organ, needs hydration any way it can get it, and oil on the skin helps it retain water. Give your toes, ball mounds, arches, and Achilles tendons lots of love and attention. Be intuitive and apply as much pressure as you can handle.
Here are a few ways to get started:
Cross your ankle over your knee and, using both hands, move your ankle in slowly widening circles. Take the circles in one direction and then the other.
Press your foot between your palms and rub back and forth, toe to heel, moving quickly to stimulate circulation and warm up cold toes or slowly to calm the nervous system.
Join your thumbs at the base of the sole and and press up and out toward the ball mound, just below the toes. After several sweeps, move to the toes, pressing all five back and forth at once, like the hinge of door. Then, massage each toe individually, spending time at the base, on each knuckle and at the nail bed.
Take a cue from Reflexology:
Our kidney point is located in the very center of the sole of each foot. An acupuncturist once described the kidneys to me as our bodies’ battery packs: they are what keep us charged. Anyone dealing with stress, fatigue, the stimulation of an urban environment, or general loss of “me” time will experience imbalance and strain on the kidneys. In Chinese medicine the name for this point, Kidney 1, is Yongquan, Bubbling Spring. I love the image of an eternally replenished stream, bubbling up and over, never losing energy or flow.
Locate and massage this point to bring your own spring back into action. The benefits associated with stimulating and caring for the kidneys, via the feet, are a grounding down of energy; the alleviation of dizziness, headaches and insomnia; and increased fertility and vitality.
For more opening, consider wearing yogi toe separators before your soak, and around the house in general. They stretch the toes, contribute to a general awareness of how we stand, and make it easier to find “the four corners of the feet” yoga teachers are always talking about; they are absolutely goofy and totally worth it.
Photos: Top photo found here; herb photo found here; Reflexology chart courtesy of BuzzFeed;
From praise and tough love to life and dinner, moms are the original givers. But moms, and all others in giving roles (because you don’t have to be a mom to be selfless), often aren’t getting back what they’re putting out. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, take a moment to notice where you’re expending your energy. What are you getting back in return? Just as moms aren’t the only ones capable of selfless giving, all of us have had moments of feeling depleted and out of touch with our own needs.
In Ayurveda the counter to this is dinacharya. the intentional practice of self-love and self-care (reflected on in more depth here). A vital part of right and balanced living, dinacharya feels especially important as we celebrate the givers in our life and as we move into late spring with its seductive pull of long nights and warm days.
Practicing dinacharya doesn’t have to be physical, but, as yogis, taking care of our bodies can feel like an imperative. One of the paradoxes of a yoga practice is that as we open and release through stretching and dynamic breath, we become more aware of places of tightness and holding. Muscle soreness, instead of being a condition we live with, suddenly feels more acute. Coming into alignment means we know when we’re out of alignment; increased awareness of our whole organism means increased sensitivity to its aches and pains.
In Sanskrit the word sneha can mean both “oil” and “love,” and in Ayurveda, Abhyanga is the practicing of anointing and massaging yourself with warm oil. Here’s how:
Heat a carrier oil like sesame or almond until it’s warm but not hot to the touch.
Which oil? Choose your oil by dosha. Light and airy Vata types will like a heavier oil like almond, while fiery Pittas would benefit from the cooling properties of coconut oil. Kapha types can try sesame.
Pro tip: Heat the oil by placing the bottle in a bowl of hot, but not boiling, water.
Stand undressed in a warm room (your bathroom is ideal), and apply oil to the crown of your head. Move out from the crown in circles, applying firm but gentle pressure to wake up your scalp.
Second pro tip: If you’d rather not get oil everywhere, lay a towel you don’t mind getting oily down in your empty bathtub, climb in and apply the oil from there.
Next massage your forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw, and ear lobes (the site of many nerve endings). Use an upward motion. Don’t be afraid of the oil.
As you continue moving down the body, pause at the places that might be calling out for more attention — tender knees, tight shoulders, clenched jaw, constricted low back. You know better than anyone where you need a little extra love, so don’t feel like you’re interrupting the flow if you spend more time in one place or come back to it later.
Wake up your arms, legs and joints with long sweeping motions in the direction of your heart.
Come back to your abdomen and chest. Make broad, clockwise circles to help the oil absorb. Trace your large intestine to stimulate digestion: move up on the right side of your abdomen, across, and then down the left side.
End at your feet, spending as many minutes on them as you can.
If you can, let the oil absorb for up to 15 minutes. Take a warm bath or shower, letting the oil sink in instead of scrubbing it away. The heat from the water helps the oil permeate the skin and sink deep into the muscles.
Afterwards, towel dry gently, keeping the skin as hydrated as possible.
Nourishes and hydrates the entire body
Stimulates muscles, tissues and internal organs
Lubricates the joints
Aids in elimination of toxins by stimulating the lymph node
Calms the nerves
Results in better sleep
Softens and smoothens skin
As with any self-care practice, intention setting and space creation is key (read about creating sacred space here). Set aside time for Abhyanga daily, weekly, or monthly and consider it as important as eating well and exercising. Self-care doesn’t have to be reserved for holidays.
A regular yoga practice is scientifically proven to balance our modern-day lifestyle by reducing stress, slowing the aging process, and calming the fluctuations of the mind. The stress and chaos of modern-day life may be the very thing that led us to seek out our first yoga class. And, once we find an inviting studio and skillful teachers (like our incredible, knowledgeable teachers here at Five Pillars), we experience the benefits of a yoga practice. We know in our minds, bodies, and spirits that yoga works.
But when chaos ensues in our everyday life — our nerves get frayed, our patience gets short, our exhaustion runs high — and we find ourselves desperate for a yoga practice… well, this is also usually the precise moment when we all of a sudden can’t find the time to head to the studio! Which of course can lead to even more stress and anxiety!
When you feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water, throw yourself a life preserver!
If you have five minutes, practice this one posture for just five minutes… as if your life depends on it. Keep it simple and restorative. And breathe deep! fjdskfhkdsj
Viparita Karani – The Five Minute “Legs Up the Wall” Practice fdjfkhdskjf
According to Dr. Andrew Weil: The Legs Up the Wall Pose is an inversion pose in which you lie on the floor next to a wall and place your legs together vertically against the wall. The Sanskrit name, Viparita Karani, comes from viparita meaning reversed or inverted and karani meaning action. The pose is a restorative and relaxing pose as it inverts the typical actions that happen in our bodies as we sit and stand.
* It provides stress and anxiety relief * as well as reducing menstrual symptoms and back pain
* It is also good for leg swelling for varicose veins.
The pose is simple and can be performed for extended periods of time
Step One: Choose and/or setup your environment
Find a peaceful place where there is a wall at work or home where you can listen to soothing music, sounds of nature, and lie down.You can even do it in bed! Rub a drop or two of a calming essential oil such as lavender, ylang ylang, or frankincense (the King of Oils) between your hands and take in the relaxing smell. Gather any props (a yoga mat, blanket, bolster, sandbag, eye pillow) that support your practice. Please note that you do not need any props for this pose, but they can add benefits to the experience.
Step Two: Notice the layers of your being (the koshas) as you begin your practice
~ Pay attention to your physical body, including your muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones.
~ Notice your energy. Are you high or low or somewhere in between?
~ Sense your emotional body. How do you feel?
~ Sitting in the seat of your witness self, begin to observe the fluctuations of your mind, as thoughts rise and fall like ocean waves.
Step Three: Send your legs up the wall for 3-5 minutes
Legs up the wall asana is exactly as it sounds. Make sure you edge up close to the wall, so your sitz bones are pressing against it. Your legs and torso are perpendicular. Feel free to bend your knees to relieve tight hamstrings. If you experience strain in your low back, try supporting yourself with a blanket or bolster. Bring your hands by your side, or opened into a capital “T” shape, palms face up. Allow your eyes to close and simply focus on breathing into your belly.
* This pose can be modified to be even more gentle – lying on your back with your legs on a chair, or simply propping your legs in a slanted position with pillows on your bed.
* This pose can be practiced for 3-5 minutes or longer… if it feels good, stay! Some yogis restore in this pose for up to 20 minutes!
Step Four: Take a moment in savasana and notice the effects of your practice
Bend your knees and gently roll onto one side. Make your way onto your back and set yourself up for savasana.
~ Tune into your physical body, including your muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones.
~ Notice any pulsing, streaming, or tingling sensations in your body. Paying attention to your energy, check in with yourself and sense if you high or low or somewhere in between.
~ Notice how you feel.
~ Continuing to sit in the seat of your witness self, observe the fluctuations of your mind, as thoughts rise and fall like ocean waves. Notice if your mind is racing or if your yoga practice worked to calm the fluctuations of the mind.
~ Thank yourself for grabbing onto the life preserver! Though this practice consists of only one pose, for just a few minutes, be assured the benefits run deep.
Some people think of massage as a luxury, and while it certainly is an indulgent experience, I consider body work to be more of a necessity when it comes to whole-body health.
Thankfully the Mayo Clinic, the Wall Street Journal and others back me up! From easing tension and anxiety to improving circulation, and boosting immune function to reducing inflammation, more and more research shows the broad range of health benefits massage delivers.
Then there’s the part where it feels amazing. Especially when performed by a truly transcendental massage therapist. It’s easy to find a good massage, but tough to find something truly special. Lucky for you, we’ve done the legwork.
Soho Sanctuary is exactly what the name describes — a haven for relaxation in the middle of downtown’s bustling, upscale shopping district.
Occupying two stories in a historic loft building, overlooking Mercer’s picturesque cobblestones, Soho Sanctuary is a true retreat for the body and mind.
Here you’ll find a full suite of body and beauty services, along with a small, specialized fitness studio, all exclusively for women. Spend an hour or spend the day, and we promise you’ll leave feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world (even the Barney’s warehouse sale).
The gracious loft-like space is airy and quiet with whitewashed brick and light hardwood throughout, the perfect atmosphere to unwind and recharge.
Among the services we love are the Organic Herbal Scrub and the Thai Yoga Massage. Booked together these offer a lovely blend of detoxification, deep relaxation and ultimately rejuvenation — sloughing off the old, and clearing the flow of energy within and without.
But, at Soho Sanctuary, the real draw isn’t a service, it’s a person: Regine Rousseau
Simply put, Regine will change your life. Just ask any of the attendees of our Summer Wellness Retreat, each of whom experienced a signature massage with this goddess. Besides massage therapy, Regine’s education and training spans East to West, from Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese healing, to orthopedic massage and medicine, and all the way back to the yogic Chakra systems. She channels all of this into sessions with clients, delivering a massage that is integrative and deeply therapeutic. Oh, and she’s strong!
The good news is, that all of Soho Sanctuary’s other therapists are highly skilled, so whatever your pleasure, you’ll be in good hands. Soho Sanctuary also offers an extensive selection of pre- and post-natal services designed to keep mothers (and mamas-to-be!) glowing and at their best. In between treatments, detoxify in the aromatherapy steam room or snack on dried fruit and herbal tea in the relaxation lounge. If you’re heading right from the spa to an event, stop by the Beauty Loft for a manicure, pedicure, wax, lash tint or makeup application. Services like these might not make the WSJ health report, but they certainly contribute in their own ways!
From the impeccable personalized service to the fluffy robes, every detail contributes to the healing experience. Soho Sanctuary’s founder wanted to create an escape from “the pressures of work, family, and the city’s dizzying pace of life,” and lucky for us, we can attest to her success.
Do you hear the word “detox” and imagine yourself starving for a day while you dream about chocolate cake? Or do you picture yourself quickly dropping annoying pounds that your body has been holding onto for years? The concept of detoxification, which used to be reserved for overcoming drug and alcohol addiction, has been hijacked by the diet industry. It’s time to reclaim this incredible practice and invite some wellness back into our lives. In today’s world, the idea of “detoxing” can quickly be misconstrued as another extreme fad diet. However, the practice of inviting in more plant-based foods, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, removing stimulants, breathing deeply (practicing pranayama), and setting aside time for adequate relaxation supports the body in doing its incredibly intricate job of maintaining balance.
Our bodies have incredibly sophisticated, built-in detoxification systems (liver, kidneys, colon, lungs, lymph and skin) that provide the ongoing daily cleansing that keeps us healthy and energized. And yet, we live in a world where we eat food that looks nothing like the plant from which it originated. We drink sugar, caffeine and alcohol to boost our energy or alter our state of mind. We breathe smoggy air and the skin (the largest organ of our body) is exposed to many different chemicals and hormones on a daily basis (some even found in our water supply). Not to mention our workday has become longer and longer, often requiring us to sit in front of a computer for long hours.
Planning a detox can be an act of self-love, particularly if you reclaim the practice and take a multidimensional approach.
Nutrition matters. Plant-based foods are where it’s at… For inspiration, check out these fun & engaging food blogs with recipes that nourish your body with an abundance of macronutrients (vitamins, minerals, water, protein, carbs, fat) that will energize you from the inside-out. Add simple practices like sipping lemon juice with water and apple cider vinegar drinks, which have an alkalizing effect on the body reducing inflammation and restore natural balance. Rather than deprive yourself of foods you love, create a sense of abundance around food by preparing plenty of fresh options and eating when you are hungry… and stopping when you have had enough.
Body matters. Plan rejuvenating and relaxing activities: yin and restorative yoga at the studio, walking in nature, bathing with epsom salts and essential oils, dry brushing, and getting to bed early will all support the detox process. A long exhale is perhaps the most effective detox there is. Add some pranayama into your yoga routine; experience spinal twists to wring out the organs and try some restorative postures to let go on the cellular, muscular and fascial levels.
Mind matters. Digital detox anyone? Fasting from technology may be almost unimaginable in this day and age, but it is well worth the experiment. Let’s be real… we are all so hooked to our devices… Sometimes we have no idea what to do with the time and space between conversation and activities. Take a break from technology and say YES to your mental health. What to do instead? Take time to meditate or practice simple mindfulness practices (like this mindful eating activity with chocolate!). This will help to create a sense of inner calm, awareness, and non-judgment that you can carry into the rest of your life.
Heart matters. Treat yourself with loving kindness and allow for healthy connections with people in your life by using affirmations. This will rejuvenate and restore your entire being, encouraging a sense of abundance and peace in your detox process. The mantra for the heart chakra is “love and be loved,” or “I have the right to love and be loved.” Schedule time out to reflect on matters of love and the heart, what works and what doesn’t work for us, and practice letting go of what no longer serves us.. if only for this moment.
Spirit matters. Take time to remove the layers of clutter that dim your inner light or bury your true self by communing with nature, experiencing sacred spaces, listening to beautiful music, letting go of effort and hard work, entering flow, and taking time to become interested in your inner world. This will, without a doubt, support the process of aligning all parts of your being with the calling of your soul.
Any or all of these practices will support a renewal in all parts of your life… so this weekend take some time to truly detoxify in the way that is right for you.
Many of us take time out of our busy schedules to show up to yoga class. We begin our practice on our mats, observing our thoughts as they dwell in the past or race toward the future until we hear the soothing sound of the teacher’s voice inviting us back into the room, and into present moment. We move through the postures, stretch our bodies and discover new capacities to be with ourselves in a strong, kind, loving way.
We leave our comfort zones and step into our learning zones.
Our energy moves, shifts, rises and falls. At the end of class, we enter savasana or “corpse pose” where we let go of all effort and receive the benefits of the practice. Or where we’re invited to let go. For many modern urbanites, it’s just not that easy.
As a newbie to yoga, I did not understand why we would just lie on our backs at the end of yoga. I was all about the movement and the workout! In stillness, my mind would wander into the past and the future. I admit, I often used savasana to plan the rest of my day.
Looking back, I can see I held the belief that relaxation was the equivalent of laziness.
Students have shared that it’s very difficult for them to quiet the mind… that they are already thinking about the To Do list waiting for them on the other side of the studio door. Others have shared they feel they aren’t “allowed” to just relax. Even for just a precious few minutes.
As B.K.S. Iyengar has said, “It’s much harder to keep the mind still than the body. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.”
If you are having trouble letting go in savasana, the first thing you can try, is stop trying. You can just let it be whatever it is. You can also focus your mind on a body scan or listen to all the sounds in the room, just outside the door and farther away. If you’d like to practice savasana at home, this video provides a wonderful guided meditation
I did not arrive at my first yoga class with the intention of calming my mind — for me it was more about a healthy body — but over time something started to happen. I began to truly let go of all effort in Savasana. I stopped trying to “do” savasana and then really did access an inner calm.
So, while I began yoga for the workout, I continued my practice so I could maintain my inner peace, watch the fluctuations of my mind, and surrender into the feeling of “emptiness” or “clarity” I receive in savasana. Savasana has become my favorite posture. I can now see that this final resting pose is, in fact, the most advanced posture there is