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Posts Tagged ‘Strengthen & Tone’

Yoga Lab: Garudasana

For a pose named after something that flies, Garudasana, Eagle Pose, is all about staying still. It has potential energy, like that of an attentive bird about to swoop, and is a pose in which steadiness and concentration are key to not falling off your perch.

Benefits

  • Strengthens and stretches the ankles and calves
  • Stretches the thighs, hips, shoulders, and upper back
  • Improves concentration
  • Improves balance

Before You Begin

Spend time in Utkatansa, Chair Pose, to prep the hamstrings and quads, and try coming into Eagle Arms while seated, either in Sukhasana or Gomukhasana before attempting the bind while balanced one on leg.

How To Do It

Step 1: The Legs

Stand in Tadasana. Bend your knees slightly, come on to the tips of your left toes and pour weight into your right foot. Lift your left foot off the floor. Balance evenly through all four corners of your right foot and cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor and draw them back behind you. Hook the top of your foot behind your right calf.

Modification: Place the tops of the left toes on the floor if you cant hook the foot behind the right calf. 

Step 2: The Arms

Extend your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor. Palms face in and thumbs point up. Reach forward to spread your shoulder blades wide. Cross your right arm over the left and bend at the elbows. Slide your right elbow just past the crook of the left and raise your forearms so they’re perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands should be facing each other.

Modification: If wrapping the arms until the palms touch is not happening, hold on to a strap as you extend your arms forward. Keep pulling the strap ends away from each other as you cross the arms and energetically move the backs of the hands toward each other.  

Step 3: Refine the Arms 

Move your left hand to the left and your right hand to the right so you can press the fingers of the left hand into the right palm. Lift your elbows up, drop your shoulders, draw your shoulder blades together, knit your ribs in and extend your crossed elbows out away from you.

Stay for several breaths. Square the hips forward—left hip back, right hip forward—and be mindful of droopy elbows.

To come out, straighten the standing leg, unwind and return to Tadasana. Repeat on the second side.

Photos: Top image; eagle arms

Yoga Lab: The Other Warriors

Warrior I and II get a lot of air time in most asana classes, so we launched this mini series, The Other Warriors, to spread love to the rest of the fighters. We covered Humble and Reverse Warriors in our first post; today we’re tackling Warrior III. For Warrior I and II recaps, click here.

Benefits of Warrior III

  • Strengthens the legs
  • Works the core
  • Heart opener
  • Opens the sides of the rib cage for easier breathing
  • Strengthens the gluteal muscles
  • Stabilizes the low back by stretching the quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles on either side of the lumbar spine

Prep poses

  • Virasana, Hero’s Pose, to open the quads
  • Vrksasana, Tree Pose, to work on balance
  • Core work or Navasana, Boat Pose, to strengthen the abdominals
  • Salabhasana, Locust Pose, to open the heart
  • Warrior I to feel the squareness of the hips

Alignment Refinement

  • Find Tadasana, Mountain Pose, in the standing leg: Place the heel of your standing leg under the sitting bone, toes pointing forward and outer edges of the standing foot parallel to the long edges of the mat.
  • The hip point of the lifted leg will want to open. Bring your hands to your hip creases to manually lower the lifted hip point, rolling it in and down until the sacrum is level.
  • Lift the inner thigh up in an outward rotation.
  • Firm through the thighs and the glutes.
  • Imagine a pair of hands on either side of your hips, pressing the outer edges firmly toward the midline.

Use Props

  • Warrior III is an excellent pose to refine with props: Rest your hands on blocks directly under the shoulders to facilitate the lift of the torso up and away from your thighs. Your chest should be parallel to the floor.
  • With your hands on block, press into your palms to roll the shoulders down the back and away from the ears.
  • Extend your sternum forward, as you would in Locust Pose.
  • To come into the full expression, lift your arms in line with your ears. Make sure the back of your neck is long.
  • Keep rooting evenly through the standing foot and press through the sole of the lifted one.

Energetically, Warrior III builds power and grounding in the legs—as a standing balancing posture it asks us to find our roots—while promoting lightness and outward extension through the torso and outstretched arms. Yin and Yang, rooting and growing. Enjoy and explore the dualities.

Photos: Top Warrior III; boat pose; beach warrior

Summer Shape Up

 

Recently we were asked by Hamptons Magazine to share our top tips for getting in shape for Summer. They picked just one, but we want to share all 4 with you! While it may seem like beach time is months away, NOW is the time to start working towards that bikini bod.

 

Have fun & let us know how it’s going by sharing your process and progress on our IG or FB!


1. BE FIERCE!

Top yoga asana for getting in shape fast? Warrior III. Every… singe…. day. This powerful standing posture tones legs and hips, strengthens core, works the arms, and it’s even a fat-blasting cardio-vascular challenge! Practice this total-body workout 3x on each side, holding first for 30 seconds each (about 5 long breath cycles) and working up to 60 or 90 seconds.

 

2. BELLY BLAST, FAST!

Our core muscles respond to increased attention and activity faster than any other muscle group. Even just a 10-minute routine done 5 days a week will get noticeable results, fast! Plus, hit the mat a few minutes early and do a little core work (crunches, sit ups, Boat pulses, etc.) before your regular yoga practice — your abs will be activated and firing for the rest of class in a more efficient and more effective way.

 

3. SEASONAL RIGHT NUTRITION

Besides boosting workouts to burn off any extra winter weight, let your diet help shed excess from the inside. Add bitter leafy greens like arugula, baby spinach and dandelion tea to your menu to fire up liver function, which aids in detoxification and metabolization of fats. Plus – bitter greens have been shown to reduce cravings for unhealthy foods! Add either a green salad or a green juice to your menu every day.

 

4. GO WITH THE FLOW

Between the sluggish hibernation of Winter and the body-baring days of Summer, there’s a very helpful season called Spring. In Eastern traditions, Spring is the season of “Get Up And Go!” — plants are sprouting, birds and bees are busy, and it’s the perfect time to rev back up. Spring is a time to introduce more movement, whether it’s a flowing vinyasa class, long walks, runs, biking or spinning, focus on moving rather than just muscle building and let the natural energy of the season support your fitness goals.

 

Liftoff

Earlier this month we sat deep into Utkatasana, Chair Pose, and promised we’d use it as a launching pad pose for something a little fancier: Eka Pada Galavasana, often called Flying Pigeon.

Utkatasana is that pose’s literal foundation, but there’s another important pose at play here, too, Eka (one) Pada (leg) Rajakapotasana (raja: king; kapot: pigeon), a.k.a. Pigeon. The Sanskrit changes in the flying variation and takes the name of an ancient Hindu sage, Galva, but the in-the-air shape is very clearly related to the prone one.

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Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

All of that to say: Hips, hips, hips. Eka Pada Galavasana is a hip-opening arm balance that requires the thigh-muscle strength cultivated in Chair Pose and the inner groin opening that comes from releasing the hips in Pigeon. To maintain steadiness in the shape, the knee of the lifted leg needs to parallel to the bent, standing knee. In addition to spending time in Chair, you can prep for this shape in pigeon on your belly or on your back.

Lift Off Into Flying Pigeon

  • Sweep your arms alongside your ears and bend your knees to come into Utkatasana.
  • Come onto the toes of your left foot, float the foot off the floor, and cross the ankle over the outside of your right thigh, just above the knee.
  • Flex your lifted foot to protect the knee and turn your toes toward your face.
  • On an exhale, shift your torso forward and place your hands on the floor about six inches in front of you, shoulder-length distance apart, elbows slightly bent.
  • With your weight spread evenly across your palms, lift on to your right tiptoes.
  • Continue shifting your weight forward, enough so that you can place your bent left knee high on your left tricep.
  • Hook your left toes around your right upper arm and grip. Keep your left shin parallel to your collarbones and perch on your arms like a branch.
  • Now, think Crow, just on one leg.
  • Bend your right knee, pull your chest through your arms, and lift the heel of your right foot to your right seat.

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  • Push the floor away to broaden across your upper back. Engage your lower abdominals to support your lower back.
  • Slowly extend your right leg behind you, inner thigh lifting toward the ceiling and thigh bone drawing straight out from the hip socket.
  • Hold for a few breaths of flying time.
  • To come out of the pose, step your left leg back into and step the right leg back into Plank or Chaturanga.
  • Move through a vinyasa or push back to Downward Dog for a few breaths before repeating on the the other side.

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Eka Pada Galavasana is a wonderful hybrid of many shapes that has its own unique energy. The more time you spend with it the clearer you’ll become on which pieces you can work on individually.

Photos: Bird in flight; pigeon pose from Thoughtfully Magazine; bent leg variation from Yoga by Candace; full posture

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

Yoga 101: Uddiyana Bandha

A few weeks ago we dove into the Bandhas, a series of energetic locks in the body. We’re working from the base of the pelvis up, so read our first post for a refresher on Mula bandha, the Root Lock.

The next bandha is Uddiyana, the Navel Lock. In Sanskrit Uddiyana means to fly or rise up. On a physical level, your diaphragm, stomach and abdominal organs lift up when this bandha is engaged. Energetically, you’ll feel uplifted.

In the chakra system, Uddiyana bandha corresponds with Manipura, the third chakra; fiery and powerful, Manipura is the seat of our personal will and motivation. Picture it located at the solar pelxus and imagine the energy of fire and the sun. If you’ve ever practiced Breath of Fire you’ve connected with the third chakra and experienced an element of Uddiyana bandha. In that breath the belly contracts in and back with each exhale, a quick and less concentrated version of the abdominal engagement that occurs in Uddiyana.

How to Engage Uddiyana Bandha

Before you begin, be sure to:

  • Practice on an empty stomach after a complete exhalation.
  • Start your inquiry in a standing position. Over time, you can explore this bandha while seated.

1.

  • Stand with your feet about hips’ width distance apart.
  • Take a slight bend in the knees and rest your hands above your kneecaps.
  • Keep your arms straight but round your torso forward.

2.

  • Breathing through the nose, inhale deeply and exhale quickly and forcibly. Use your abdominal muscles to push as much air as possible out of your lungs.
  • Relax and stay empty.

3.

  • Perform a mock inhalation. Expand your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but don’t take in any air. This will pull your abdominal muscles up and hollow the belly.
  • Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest. We’ll go into this posture, Jalandhara Bandha, in more depth in our next post.

4.

  • Hold on empty until you feel any strain, tension, or tightness—anywhere from five to 15 seconds for beginners. The hold should feel effortless.
  • Slowly release the hold and inhale normally.
  • Perform several more rounds, keeping an eye on any dizziness or lightheadedness, alternating with normal breaths between each round.

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Benefits

If you’re looking to float, fly, lift, twist, or invert in your asana practice with less effort, Uddiyana bandha is key. This is a hold that’s all about rising up.

Given all the focus on the gut and its connection to the chakra in charge of digestion, it’s no surprise that Uddiyana bandha is an effective remedy for constipation, indigestion or bloating. It tones the inner abdominal muscles and serves as the yogic equivalent of crunches (i.e. flat abs). Try it when you need to beat fatigue, lethargy or stress.

Photos: How-to drawing; third chakra; floating yogini.

 

 

Yoga For Dads

Tight hamstrings don’t just plague dads or dudes. Our thigh muscles — quads in the front, hamstrings in the back — rarely get the release they need, making them an area of common complaint. In addition to over-or-underusing those muscles and not stretching accordingly, tightness or limited mobility in the hamstrings can also be a low back problem. Our sciatic nerve begins around the base of the pelvis and runs down the legs — any pressure put on that nerve sends a shock wave down the hamstrings, causing them to tighten.

This sequence targets the inner, central and outer muscles that make up the hamstrings. But, just like any other muscle group, the hamstrings don’t work alone. Strong quads, an engaged core and a stabilized low back are all pieces of the open hamstring pie. So if tight hamstrings are your thing — be you dad, dude or daughter — luxuriate in these good-kind-of-groan inducing stretches, but don’t forget to tune into the rest of your body.

Here are the poses:

  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
  • Down Dog
  • Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)
  • Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle)
  • Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Angle Forward Fold)
  • Paschimotanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
  • Shavasana 

First step: Use blocks! The hamstrings love them.

With feet hip-width distance apart, find an easy forward fold, knees slightly bent, hands on blocks. Lift your toes to find the four corners of your feet. Lay them down one at a time and engage from the ground up. Stay here for several breaths, slowly moving your thighs to the wall behind you, hips stacked on top of knees. After several rounds of breath, see if you can lower the blocks. You may have already created more space.

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Step back into Downward Facing Dog. Bend your knees, tilt your tailbone up to the sky, lower your heels toward the floor and straighten your legs. Hello! Take slow pulses with each leg, bending one knee and then the other.

Step your right foot between your hands and adjust your back foot for Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose). Feet are similar to Warrior One with a slightly shorter stance (or shorter still depending on the length of your hamstrings).
Parsvottanasana!!!!!

Straighten through both legs, bring your hands to your hips and hinge forward, out and over your right leg. Fold over the front leg, hands on blocks on either side of the foot. After several rounds of breath here — lengthening forward on in the inhale, releasing crown of head toward the floor on the exhale  — keep your left hand on the block and turn your belly, chest and collarbones to the right. Stack your shoulders and raise your right arm up to the ceiling for Revolved Triangle.
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Keep moving your right hip back in space. Lower the right hand down when you’re ready. Turn your right toes in, walk your hands to the left and parallel your feet, toes pointing toward the long edge of your mat.

You’re in Prasarita Padottanasana. Press down through the outer edges of your feet. You’ll most likely feel this in the inner hamstring muscles. See if you can find an outward rotation of the thighs, keeping your hips and pelvis stacked (read: don’t stick your toosh out behind you).

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Fingers are in line with toes, on the floor or your blocks. Spine and neck are long. The longer you stay, the deeper the release. When you’ve had enough turn to the back of your mat and rise up. Take Pyramid and Revolved Triangle on the left. Return to Wide Angle Forward Fold and then turn to the top of the mat. Rise up to stand and make your way to the floor.

Extend your legs out long in front of you, for Paschimotanasana (Seated Forward Fold). Flex your toes, stay active in the quads, lengthen through your spine and hinge forward, moving the top of your head toward the tops of your feet.

Option to take this pose as pictured below, with one leg extended at a time. You may find a greater stretch through the back of the extended hamstring. 

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You’ve come to the end. After your forward fold, lower down on to your back for Shavasana, Corpse Pose. Don’t skimp on this one. Use this final pose to integrate all the opening, stretching, strengthening and toning you’ve just done.

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Enjoy. You and your hamstrings deserve this. Happy Father’s Day!

Photos: Crow pose photo found here; forward fold from The Yoga Lunchbox; revolved triangle from Blissology; forward fold from Yoga Dudes; yogi dad from Do You Yoga

Yoga Lab: Ardha Chandrasana

Grounded and uplifting, Ardha Chandrasana is a standing balancing posture that’s also a hip and heart-opener. Ardha is the Sanskirt word for half, and chandra means moon. The yogi is inside the half moon: Her stacked arms create the full circle’s diameter and her outstretched leg reaches back to the curve of the moon behind her.

Astronomy bonus: The moon reached the halfway point of its cycle on Sunday, so now’s a great time to practice this asana, cosmically speaking. a0ee86aec66ff735abdcd27fc534891d

Half Moon Pose is frequently taught as part of a vinyasa flow, usually toward the middle or end of a standing sequence. As such, there’s often not a lot of time to play in it. Like any balancing posture it’s nice to have several breathes to fall in and out of equilibrium, and, as a hip opener, to find the stacking of the hips that makes the pose almost effortless.

Why do it? Well, Ardha Chandrasana

  • Works the whole core (front to back)
  • Strengthens the ankles, knees, thighs and bum
  • Tones the intercostal muscles
  • Stretches the inner groin muscles, hamstrings and calves
  • Opens the shoulders, chest and heart
  • Increases spinal flexibility
  • Improves coordination, focus and balance
  • Regulates kidney function, helping to improving digestion and relieve constipation

It also feels a little bit like flying.

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Here’s how to get into it. 

Make sure your hips and groin are open and affable before you begin. Consider spending a few minutes in Baddha Konasana, Bound Angle Pose, with the soles of your feet together, knees opening out to the sides. Allow the inner groins to relax and press the feet together so the thighs can roll out and away from each other.

Next, stack and open the hips with a three-legged down dog. Lift one leg, bend the knee and point it up toward the ceiling. Lengthen through the side body, and let gravity pull the foot of your lifted leg toward the floor behind you. Stay for several breathes, and repeat on the other side.

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When your hips feel awake, take a wide stance front-to-back on your mat, setting up for Utthita Trikonasana, Extended Triangle Pose. (For more on Triangle check out our Yoga Labs on the original and the revolved version.)

We’ll start on the right side. Align your front heel with your back arch. Ground down through the feet and press firmly into the outer edges to allow the inner thighs to outwardly rotate, away from the midline of your body. Extend your arms from your shoulders and hinge forward, bringing your right hand to rest on your right shin or on the floor. Moving on, bend the front knee gently and walk your fingertips out in front of you, past the edge of your mat. Advanced option: Place a block under your hand. (It is the truly wise yogi who knows when to seek support.)

Bring your left hand to your left hip crease and slowly lift your left leg up behind you, pouring weight into your right foot and fingertips as you come forward. With the left leg extended behind you, make sure your foot is in the same line as your hip socket, foot flexed, toes facing in.

Use your left hand to manually open your left hip up, stacking left hip on top of right. Stay here, or straighten your left arm up to the ceiling, making one long arm from your extended left fingertips to your grounded right hand. If it feels okay in your neck, shift your gaze to your left hand.

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Continue to stack the hips and shoulders. Tip your heart up to the sky. Engage through both feet. Stay awhile. Then float on down and take it on the second side.

Photos: Top watercolor illustration available here; moon phase watercolor by tigermilk; first quarter moon photo by Priya Kumar; Triangle Pose illustration by Minne; photo from Whole Living 

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

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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

A Good Kind of Stress?

How many of us use the phrase “I’m stressed out” on a regular basis?  And how many of us focus on exercise or vigorous yoga as a healthy way to rid ourselves of stress? Thought we can’t exactly explain it, we might feel like “when I work out, I feel better.”

 

Good news, exercise is a wonderful way to balance our stress levels – it can even be considered “Productive Stress,” when approached holistically.

 

The key 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:

 

Movement Matters

Movement

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!

 

 

Nutrition Matters

Nutrition

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

Recovery

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.

 

Relaxation Matters

relaxationBook 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.

 

 

If you’d like to discuss an overall game plan, we at Five Pillars are here to help. Feel free to contact us and set up a time to explore the lifestyle formula that will work best for YOU.

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.

Yoga Lab: Tree Pose

Tree Pose is often among the first standing, balancing postures we learn in yoga. It is practiced in many, many classes, and eventually can become like an old friend: Reliable, predictable, welcoming. And just like with an old friend, the more comfortable we are, the more casual or haphazard we might get. It’s easy, over time, to get kind of bored with Tree Pose.

Autumn is just the time to fall in love with Vrikshasana all over again.

Like the glorious maples, oaks and beech trees that will soon display brilliant fall foliage, Vrksasana (pronounced vrick-sha-sana) evokes rooted strength and grace. The kind of strength that — because it is firmly planted — will last through the hardship of winter, along with the grace to bend in the breeze, but not break. These are quite a powerful collection of attributes that could be applied in all areas of life.

 

Tree Pose teaches us to:

Stand firmly and find our roots, so that we may not easily be diminished or knocked over
Establish a solid foundation that will nourish us and support all our endeavors
Bend but not break, learning to be supple, yielding where necessary so as not to “snap”
Cultivate balance, standing on one foot, which is increasingly important as we age
Develop the muscle of our attention; balancing postures require resolute focus, which comes in handy at work, at home, with family, in conversations and during all sorts of tasks

 

Physically, Tree Pose stretches and strengthens at the same time. Muscles are gently but effectively toned in the calves, thighs and back, while the chest, shoulders and groin are stretched. Plus, Vrikshasana has been shown to relieve sciatica!


So the next time you’re in class and it’s time for tree pose, greet this asana like an old friend you’re thrilled to see again!


Here are a few tips, tricks or modifications to greet Vrksasana with enthusiasm and curiosity:

Feet: Remember to always place the lifted foot either above or below your knee – never right on the knee. Gentle pressure from the sole of the foot into the leg, and the leg right back into the sole of the foot. If you’re used to practicing with the foot above the knee, try placing it against the calf for a change… you may find it’s harder than you think!
Hips: Check out your hip points and try to level them, making sure one isn’t hitched up much higher than the other
Balance: Find a Drishti or focal point that isn’t moving on the wall ahead of you or ahead and slightly above. Using this point to focus on might improve your balance. Once you feel steady, challenge yourself by trying to close your eyes
Arms: Begin with Anjali mudra (prayer hands) and when you feel stead and ready, extend the arms up to the variation that’s comfortable for you. Again, once you’re steady have a bit of fun… imagine a breeze blowing and gently sway with it. Now imagine a storm….



Go Deeper with these two articles…

 

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Click Above – If you’d like to go Back to Basics with Tree Pose, check out Yoga Journal’s step-by-step instructions

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Click Above – If you’d like to Go Deep into the mythology of this asana, explore this lyrical essay at Yoga International

Yoga Lab: Heart Openers

The transition from summer to fall calls to mind incredible harvests, warm evenings and lovely weekends under the sun enjoying our favorite outdoor activities. This time of year also marks the return back to school, work and commitments, which can lead to an influx of stress as life speeds up and new routines take shape. A thoughtful high school teacher who came to yoga class recently put it so well: “Summer was a time where I was learning to be with myself in a healthy way… now my challenge is to be with other people again and this is when my yoga practice is really important.”

 

One way to create a graceful transition as life speeds up is to practice heart opening postures. During practice, we can allow the mantra love and be loved to be our guide. The way we relate to other people reflects our relationship with ourselves… so the practice of opening our hearts and cultivating nonjudgmental self-awareness during yoga practice can support healthy relationships off the mat.

 

Heart openers, also known as front extensions and more commonly referred to as backbends, support both psychological and physical health. Iyengar recommended heart opening postures to alleviate depression and anxiety, because these postures relieve the tension that builds up around the heart and they stimulate the thyroid and pituitary glands, energizing and balancing the entire body. Heart openers stretch across the shoulders and the chest, while opening the hip flexors. They also strengthen and tone the muscles in the back, arms and legs.

 

As you move into heart opening postures, imagine lifting and opening your heart, expanding across the chest, rather than bending over backwards. Like many postures in yoga, this offers a wonderful metaphor to support life. On a very practical level, this prevents over-stretching (and crunching) the flexible part of the lower back.

 

Three Tips For Heart Opening Postures:

 

  1. Warm up before moving into heart opening postures.
  2. Lift through the chest to avoid crunching the lower back: think “front extension” rather than “backbend.”
  3. If you have back or neck injuries, some heart openers can be helpful, but other postures should be avoided. Research individual postures with yoga journal’s step by step instructions to learn more and prevent injury. And check out this additional article by yoga journal to protect yourself in backbends.

 

The art and science of yoga invites you to learn from your direct experience and observe the effects in your body. To maintain inner peace and allow your loving heart to guide the way in life, check out this heart opening sequence by yoga journal.

 

Go deeper with this video: