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YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Strong and Centered: Yoga for Menopause

Posted on Tue, Oct 22, 2013

yoga nd menopauseMenopause used to be referred  to as “the change.” It’s hard not to chafe against that term. Like the other code words applied to the functioning of women’s bodies—“visits from Aunt Flo” (periods), “visits from the stork” (pregnancy), “that time of month” (PMS), it feels like one more attempt to cover up what’s really happening and put this transition/transformation behind the curtain.

But, in this case, the idea of change is far more accurate than the clinical word, menopause. Sure, change can be hard. No woman looks forward to hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, headaches and a rollercoaster ride of emotions. And, there’s a lot of introspection needed to come to grips with moving beyond your child-bearing years—especially if you have children and they’re growing up and, perhaps, moving away.

yoga and menopauseBut, as yoga demonstrates, learning to work through those tough places in order to make change happen can be truly liberating. The shift in how your body functions is powerful opportunity to reconnect with your mind, body and spirit. You are no longer tethered to a monthly cycle of weight gain, moodiness and generally feeling lousy. Nor are you any longer bound by having to serve as chauffeur, cooking midnight meals for school the next day or helping with homework.

This stage in your life offers you an opportunity to turn your focus inward. The chaos you might feel in your body demands that you step back from the rat race and take some time to figure out what works for you. What makes you feel good? What does your body need right now? When you do feel most energetic? Most ready for rest? In many ways, going through menopause, like puberty, forces you to explore your needs and wants—something a lot of women end up putting on the back burner for much of the time between the two. Jobs, houses and families leave a lot of women last on their own priority list. Now is a time to redress that balance.

yoga and menapauseIt’s challenging to keep that in mind during the process of menopause. First of all, know that you’ve got plenty of good company for this journey. Also, focus on the fact that the toll menopause takes on your body and mind isn’t something you’re just imagining or that you’re just not coping well. Over half of women feel some noticeable symptoms during menopause, ranging from mild annoyance to severe discomfort.  And, the causes of much of this discomfort are physiological. Don’t let anyone tell you this is “all in your head.”

The hormonal swings that lead up to menopause can start many of the common symptoms. As Yoga Journal  explains, the push-pull between estrogen and progesterone in your body creates that quicksilver mood shifts as your body is alternately powered up with estrogen and calmed down with progesterone.  Hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, mood swings and memory problems are all relatively “normal” issues during menopause. And, hormonal fluctuations aren’t unique to this time in your life. From puberty onward, it’s a constant in women’s lives; each month, your body goes through many of the same tensions as you go through your menstrual cycle.

Uttanasana, Standing Forward BendTo help ease the physical and mental downside of this life-affirming change, try these poses:Yoga is a good shelter from this storm. Whether you go to your mat to calm down or energize, you can practice how to focus,  how to ask yourself whether a pose is appropriate and how to determine where your “edge” really is. Twists can help you rid your body not only of toxins but tension. Breathwork is calming and clarifying. If you’re feeling rage, a powerful flow class can burn off some of those high emotions. As you exhale, you let go of the byproducts of that inner blaze. As you come to the seated posture, you might find yourself cooling down as much mentally and physically.

 

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Benefits: This pose can help relieve anxiety and irritability by making you calm down. How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Hinge forward from your hips. Place your hands on the floor in front of you or on a block. Let your head hang between your arms. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.

 

Anjaneyasana, Low Lunge

Low Lunge—Variation

Benefits: Yoga teacher Shiva Rea uses this pose to open the heart, which relieves symptoms of depression. How to do it: Begin in Low Lunge. On an inhale, lift your arms in front of you. Spread them to the sides of your body at about a 45-degree angle to your shoulders in a wide “V”. Lengthen your neck and look up toward the ceiling. Feel the expansion in your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, breathing deeply, then release.

 

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This pose helps you calm down, which also boosts memory and focus. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees should be hip width apart. On an exhale, stretch your knees and lengthen your heels toward the floor. Take a breath there, then try to stretch your heels onto the floor. Stay in the pose for one to three minutes, then release.

Relax. Letting go of tension in your body can help control hot flashes and anxiety. Yoga teacher Patricia Walden suggests trying supported backbends with props. You can also try a restorative sequence.

Stand Tall.  Your posture can affect your mood. Open your chest and roll your shoulders back. Notice how much more in control you feel. 

cool down breath, yoga breathing, yoga breathCool Down. Sit comfortably. Inhale through your nose, then shape your lips into the letter “O”. Curl your tongue (if possible,), and blow your breath out through the circle of your lips. Enjoy the almost minty coolness that remains in your mouth afterward. Typically, yoga advises breathing in and out through the noise because the air that filters into the body is warm and moist. Exhaling through the mouth sends out that warm air, leaving you feeling cooler and drier.

And, remember, how you cope with menopause is unique to you. This could be a great time to try acupuncture or Thai body work. Maybe yoga nidra would help you sleep. Or, new foods, aromatherapy or new routines could make this change easier. Whatever tools you use, embrace this new time of life.

 

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Release, Repeat: Yoga Poses to Reduce Anxiety

Posted on Sat, Oct 12, 2013

Yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stress, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety Your mind and body work together in all areas of your life. That’s pretty clear when you think about the motor control that sends nerve impulses from your brain to your feet when you walk or makes your fingers type on a computer. But, that holistic connection runs much deeper. Think about the last time you felt anxious. Your shoulders got stiff, your legs felt heavy, and your whole body was tense. You may have felt like you couldn’t breathe. Your heart was pounding. Your palms were sweaty. Your emotions aren’t just written “all over your face;” they tell their story with your entire body.

While it’s obvious that your mind can change your body, consider how much your body can change your mind. Sometimes, tackling the physical symptoms of a mental state can help you find a more positive way of looking at things.  If you suffer from anxiety (as many people do at one point or another), developing a yoga practice that dissolves the tension and helps you calm down can be a great step in feeling like you can let those feelings go.

Yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stress, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety The mere decision to put on your YogaPaws at home or go to a yoga class demonstrates just how much you believe you’re capable of taking on challenges. Yoga is always an open door. It invites you to explore, to go deeper into poses and/or deeper into your mind and spirit. Your practice offers you continual validation that you have everything you need to handle new poses, new situations, new teachers and, by extension, what else comes your way.

Overall, yoga helps you calm down, lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate, so any practice you do will help to relieve the feeling of being out of control that often comes with feeling anxious. And, you can tailor your practice to include poses that help you the most. For some people, heart opening poses are good for releasing anxiety, while other might prefer a more vigorous practice to burn off stress. Yin can also be an effective solution for learning to focus rather than fret.

Yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stress, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety Whatever sequences work for you, you’ll probably find that they help you find a more useful perspective on the issues at hand. As you calm down, your minds clears and you have more time to think productively about what is making you anxious. That, in turn, allows you might feel more empowered to take positive action to address the cause of your anxious feelings.

It’s important to recognize when your anxiety has valid causes (like a big move or a major life event) or if you are stressing out over something that you don’t have to (worrying about something you can’t control or something you have no reason to be tense about). If you have issues that you need to work through, it’s good to create a practice that helps you focus. If you are worrying unnecessarily, it’s better to find a practice that also includes poses that make you feel confident.

Keep in mind that those anxious feelings have an upside. They mean that you’re welcoming new opportunities and making changes in your life. Taking a driver’s exam may not feel life-affirming when you’re doing it, but think about that road trip you can take to celebrate or how much fun it will be to pick up a friend and check out a new restaurant. There’s no reason to feel anxious if you’re just doing the same things all the time. So, if your feel your body tensing up, embrace it and congratulate yourself for being willing to grow beyond your comfort zone.

 

Here are some poses to make you feel less anxious:

Uttana Shishosana, Extended Puppy Pose

Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Benefits: This restorative pose increases blood flow to your head, helping your body’s calming responses kick in. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. Your knees should be hip width and your hands should be under your shoulders. On an exhale, move your hips back toward your feet. You should end with your hips angled back toward your feet, but not resting on them. Let your forehead rest on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.

 

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Bridge Pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Benefits: This backbend helps you feel more open across your chest. How to do it: Begin lying face up on your mat. Bend your knees up and place your feet close to your hips, feet flat on the mat. On an exhale, lift your hips until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Keep your center strong. Keep your neck long and breathe evenly. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release gently to the ground, lowering one vertebrae at a time.

 

Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Handstand

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)

Benefits: This inversion helps you feel strong and in control, which helps counteract anxious feelings. How to do it:  Perform Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) a few inches from a wall. Place your hands shoulder width, with your fingers pointing to the wall and about four inches away from it.  Move your feet slightly closer to your hands. Kick your right leg up toward the ceiling. While it’s raised, bend your left knee and kick it up toward the wall.  Your heels should come to rest lightly on the wall. If you can’t make it up to the wall, work on kicking up. Either way, spend one minute in the pose or working on it, then release. Try kicking up with a different leg occasionally—most people find one leg easier than the other. Move into Balasana (Child’s Pose) when you’re finished and stay for a minute or more so that you don’t get dizzy when you stand up.

yoga paws, yoga poseFace it. Yoga teacher Maria Apt says in Yoga Journal that many anxious people carry tension in their faces. Try to relax not only your mouth and jaw when your practice, but let go of all muscular tightness in your face. You may not realize it, but the tension you carry (even in the muscles around your eyes) in your face can exacerbate feelings of stress or nervousness.

Let stress go. When you’re on the mat, don’t dwell on stress that may come from the poses or the practice. Instead, observe it, work out where it came from, and let it go. Imagine that it’s water in a river that is flowing by you as you watch. 

It’s also a good idea to set an intention if you are practicing yoga to help with anxiety. It doesn’t need to be about the things you’re trying to cope with. Instead, try a simple one like “I will feel calmer, more open and more in control at the end of this practice.” Use that to inform how you approach the poses. As you inhale, breathe in the word “calm;”  as you exhale, let go of the word “stress.” Keep in mind, it’s all good.

 

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Break Down the Walls: Yoga to Help You Dissolve That Trapped Feeling

Posted on Fri, Oct 04, 2013

yoga for feeling trappedEverybody catches themselves thinking “I would love to…” or “I want to have…” and then checking themselves with, “But I don’t have enough money/time/drive” or “I’m not good enough.” That can start a long cycle of feeling like you don’t have any options to go after that thing you want so much, or try to solve problems in your life.  It’s also sometimes overwhelming to try to think around one more apparent brick wall. You just don’t see the door.

When you’re in those situations, take a step back. Be prepared to do some deep digging. So often, that feeling of being trapped in a job, a relationship or a lifestyle starts with a lack of belief in yourself. It’s downright scary to think about leaving your day job to open a yoga studio or break off a relationship with a person who no longer enhances your life. It takes a lot of courage to finally indulge a wish-list goal like moving to a place you love or going back to school—with all of the attendant expense and uncertainty. But, if you’re strong enough to dream about things like these, to want something richer and deeper in your life, you’re also strong enough to make that happen.  

describe the imageFocus on silencing that inner voice that keeps telling you that you can’t achieve something, that you need to “settle” for what’s within easy reach. Make a contract with yourself (sign it if you need to) and map out one step you can take each day or each week to breaking out of the box. Okay, so maybe you can’t move to Spain. But you can enroll in a Spanish class, join a local cultural society or whip up some gazpacho soup for lunch. By incorporating steps toward your goal into your everyday life, you make the “box” bigger until you knock down the walls and step out into a brighter future.

Use your yoga practice to help you change your thinking and teach you how to look for ways to get out of physical and mental traps. You already know how much your yoga mat can be a place for you to go inside and find serenity under stress, or optimism in a bad time. You can also apply that to feeling trapped. At a basic level, many students trap themselves in their practice—thinking that poses always need to be entered into a certain way, or that they “can’t” do more the more challenging asanas. So it’s a good place to try to shed that baggage, whether it pertains to your body or your mind.

self exceptance yogaYour practice is also a prime opportunity to consider what acceptance really means. The yogic idea of acceptance doesn’t mean just shrugging your shoulders and feeling you’re destined to be limited or unfulfilled. Instead, it encourages you to embrace each moment, to learn and to explore. As you come to the mat, you fully expect that the experience will be different from the last time. By committing to the practice, you’re also saying that you believe you’re up to the challenge and that you’re ready to move beyond previous boundaries into new territory.

Within the physical confines of your yoga mat, you can direct your attention to just how many choices you do have. Even within a single pose, you can focus on a different body part, try a modification, or allow yourself to start mastering a more advanced version. Armed with this strength, balance and flexibility, you can reinforce thought patterns that tell you just how free you are to choose your life.

This sequence of variations on a single pose can help you see outside the box.

 

Virabhadrasana III, Warrior III PoseVirabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)

Benefits: This standing balance pose asks you to redefine what you think you can do. How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Hinge your body forward from your hips into a forward bend with your palms or fingertips on the floor just under your shoulders. On an exhale, bring your left leg back until your right knee forms a 90-degree angle. Engage your center. Bring your hands to your right knee, one on the outside and one on the inside. Reach your arms out to the wall ahead of you. On an exhale, stretch your right knee as you push your left foot off the floor. Be careful not to let your body go too far forward. Lock your right thigh muscles to keep yourself aligned. Check that your inner right thigh is not rolling out. Find a gazing point beneath your eyes and stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

Virabhadrasana III—Variation resized 600Virabhadrasana III—Variation One

Benefits: This variation helps you feel more stable. How to do it: From Virabhadrasana III, bring your arms out to the sides. Your palms should be facing the floor. Think about your arms as an invisible string anchoring your body to the walls. Stay there for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

Virabhadrasana III—Variation

Virabhadrasana III—Variation Two

Benefits: This pose helps you change the idea of balance from a static pose to a dynamic movement. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana III. Bring your fingertips or palms back to the floor under your shoulders. As you exhale, bend your supporting leg until you feel a comfortable stretch in your right calf. Straighten your leg as you inhale. Do this three to five times, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

Virabhadrasana III—VariationVirabhadrasana III—Variation

Virabhadrasana III—Variation Three

Benefits: Yoga teacher Sadie Nardini uses this version to help you feel more energized and empowered. How to do it: Begin in Virabhadrasana III, with your arms stretched forward alongside your ears.  Slowly bring your left knee in toward your navel. At the same time, bend your right elbow back toward your left hip. If you need to, you can place your left hand on the ground for balance. Do this five to 10 times, then switch sides.

 

Virabhadrasana III—Variation

Virabhadrasana III—Variation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virabhadrasana III—Variation Four

Benefits: This version helps you feel like you can be strong and decisive. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana III with a block in front of your right foot. Reach down and grasp the block with both hands. Exhale and lift the block until your arms are parallel to the floor. Inhale and lower it to the mat.  Repeat five to 10 times, then do the other side. 

yoga for stress, yoga for weight lossAfter you do this practice, remember the feeling of being able to endlessly shift your body into different shapes and how that affects your balance, comfort level and focus. Try to apply the same principle in your life. When you feel like you have explored all the options, challenge yourself to release your prejudices about what those options are and take a broader perspective. Meditate on being in a darkened room. See yourself standing up in the middle of the room, at first just feeling what the volume of the space might be. Then, visualize yourself moving toward a wall, touching the surface with your fingertips. Continue working around the room until you feel the outline of a door. See yourself walking through into a brilliant sunny day or a starry night. Note how you feel—from the elation of finding the door to the satisfaction or moving beyond those four walls. Chances are, you will see that when you stop holding yourself back, that trapped feeling will vanish.

 

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Be the Change: Yoga for Inspiration

Posted on Fri, Sep 27, 2013

inspirational yoga, yoga You don’t have to attend many yoga classes before you hear the word samskara. Yoga Journal defines it as a blend of two Sanskrit terms: sam (complete or joined together) and kara (action, cause, or doing). A samskara can be a repeated pattern of thinking or acting. The more you repeat those thoughts and deeds, the more ingrained they become. The end result? You find yourself in a rut. 

It’s probably a lot easier to understand how you got into these patterns than how to break them. That’s where inspiration comes in. And, inspiration starts with clarity. Before you can look up and over the rut to find a better path, you have to clear away the circular thinking that got you into these negative routines. 

yoga poses, yoga pose, travel yoga posesAs you ready yourself for practice, set an intention of practicing with a clear, focused mind. Turn your eyes inward and concentrate on seeing new possibilities for each aspect of your breath work and for each asana. Rather than directing your breath or your body, allow your physical form to “fill out” each pose—using your breath to stretch on the inhale, strengthen on the exhale. Take advantage of your teacher’s suggestions for ways to vary poses you know well and let that inspire you to try different approaches to reaching your goals.

Being creative doesn’t require a set of paints or a pen. Asking your body to do things that are unexpected, from standing on your hands to balancing sideways in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), changes your physical perspective. This can be a great way to break out of the “I can’t” mentality that comes with the frustration of feeling stuck or not finding an immediate solution to a problem.

yoga poses, yoga pose, yoga paws, travel yoga posesMany yoga poses require you to challenge your ideas of what you can and can’t do and find out just how much more capable you are than you think. When you were starting out, every pose was exciting because it was new. With each class, you built on that foundation, using the sequences as inspiration to try more, to expand and to grow. All those poses you looked at once and thought were impossible are becoming (or are) now part of your practice. Who says you can’t balance upside down? Can’t twist into Garudasana (Eagle Pose)? At some point, either within yourself or based on a suggestion from someone else, you were inspired to attempt to fly or flip your heels over your head. Recognizing and acting on that inspiration probably flipped a lot more than heels. It flipped a switch that ignited the engine of change in your thoughts and actions.

So, when you’re looking for a way to get creative or to be the change you’d like to see in the world, try these poses to help you find inspiration:

 

Camatkarasana, Wild Thing Pose

Camatkarasana (Wild Thing Pose)

Benefits: The unusual axis your body finds in this pose helps you adapt to new possibilities.  How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Shift your weight into your right hand and the outside of your right foot. Open up into a side plank. Lift your left hip toward the ceiling. On an exhale, bend your left leg and place the ball of your left foot on the mat behind you. This will pull you into a backbend. Continue reaching with your left arm toward the ground. Stay there for five to 10 breaths, then return to Adho Mukha Svanasana and repeat on the other side.

 

Dhanurasana, Bow Pose

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Benefits: This pose opens your chest, helping you open your heart.  How to do it: Begin lying on your stomach on your mat. Bend your knees in toward your hips, keeping them hip-width apart. Bring your hands back to grasp your ankles (you can grab them one at a time if you need to or use a strap).  On an inhale, lift your feet toward the ceiling to bring your thighs and upper body off the floor. Keep your breath even. Stay for 20 to 30 seconds, then release. You can do up to three repetitions of this pose. As a variation, you can pull lightly on your ankles to start a rocking motion synchronized with your breath.

 

Parighasana, Gate Pose

Parighasana (Gate Pose)

Benefits: This pose places your whole body off a linear grid, which can help your mind to do the same. How to do it: Start on your knees. Stretch your right leg out to the side and turn your leg out. Place your foot on the floor. Keep your left shoulder back. Bring your arms out to the side. Slide your right hand down to a comfortable place on your right leg. Inhale and bring your left arm over your head in a wide arc. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

describe the imagePlay Around. In your home practice, shake up the sequence of poses or try a different pose. Think about how that makes you feel. Take your Yoga Paws and find a group of like-minded yogis who’d like to practice in the park or along the river. Go deep into the woods and inhale the sweet earthy smells as you practice. On your next walk, look around as if you had never seen or smelled anything on that before.  Observe the shapes of the leaves, the contrast of the foliage with the blue sky, the fragrances around you.

Use a mantra. As you practice yoga, remind yourself that there are more options than you think. A mantra like “I can see choices” or “I am inspired” might be good ones.

As with so much in yoga, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how you can get insired. But, taking a different approach, even to a familiar practice, can help you find your muse. You are the artist of your own life and your canvas is yours to paint as you will.

 

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Steady On: Yoga Poses to Fight Nervousness

Posted on Fri, Sep 13, 2013

yoga paws, yoga, yoga sox, toesox, yogitoesYou’ve just found a new hot yoga studio you can’t wait to try. Or maybe you’ve finally crossed the bridge from wanting to try yoga or doing a home practice to taking your first class. You can’t wait to dive into that new experience. Then comes that moment when you open the studio door, see all of the other mats and walk to your place. Suddenly, your monkey mind is chattering about whether you’ll be able to take the heat, whether you can “keep up” with the class or whether your sweaty palms will be able to grip the mat. (YogaPaws!! :) Being nervous before a new experience, a test, a presentation or even a difficult conversation is just part of being human. Still, it’s not one of the more fun parts.

yoga class, yoga loveBefore you begin to use yogic tools for addressing nervousness, it’s important to accept that you’re going to feel nervous in certain situations. Where yoga comes in is in helping you find ways to calm your nerves, stop being reactive and embrace the challenge at hand with clear thinking.

When you can keep things in proportion, a small amount of stressing over performance-based tasks (think a presentation at work or school, or a long race) can actually help you do better. What’s not helpful is when that need to do well becomes a loop in your mind that makes you feel like you can’t possibly succeed. Renowned yoga teacher Dr. Timothy McCall points out in Yoga Journal that most of the things that make you nervous aren’t as dire as you think. As a reality check, think about how many times you feel you’ve fallen short of the mark only to have friends or colleagues come up to after the event or class and tell you that you rocked it!

yoga for stress, yoga for nervusnessAs McCall points out, as soon as a stressful thought becomes a negative habit, it’s not helping you. If you keep worrying at the same ideas and you aren’t getting anywhere, let go of them. Write them down and then visualize them leaving your head.

Get to the root of the issue. If your nervousness tends to be triggered by specific sets of circumstances—a particular activity, place or people—it might help to create a list of five to 10 mantras for yourself. Try ones like, “I can handle this situation calmly” or “I am capable of doing this well.” Repeating those sayings can help break the cycle of nervousness. Stand in front a mirror and repeat your mantras. Adjust your body language to reflect your words. When you say “calm,” relax your shoulders, for example. Or, as you say “capable,” square your shoulders, exhale and bring your core back to your spine and stand tall.

yoga paws, yoga love, yoga for nervousness If you tend to get nervous about things in general, you may benefit from a combination of mantras and meditation. Create a visualization of yourself successfully navigating a day, a goal or a year in your life. Explore the idea of Sankalpa (resolve). Try to virtually live in the body, the job, the future you want. So, think about how you feel as you shut off the alarm and get out of bed. See yourself reaching for the clothing you’ve always wanted to wear. Picture yourself doing your dream job. Enjoy the feeling of lifting off into an arm balance or stretching into an inversion. The next time you feel nervous, remind yourself that you are that person. 

Hitting your mat also helps you find a confident, stable place. Besides yoga’s general calming effects and the benefits of any kind of exercise for your mental state, you will likely find that the empowerment of a yoga practice helps you refocus on your abilities, not your fears. In a class, you have the added the connection of the people around you—who are sharing both your nervousness and your joy!

 

Here are some poses to try.

pm legs up the wall 300x261 resized 600Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose)

Benefits: This supported inversion helps you let go of tension. How to do it: You need a support for this pose. Either grab a bolster or roll a blanket into a thick, firm cylinder. Set it five to six inches away from a wall or other vertical surface (you may need to experiment with exactly how far away works for you). Sit down with your dominant side against the wall and your hips on one end of your bolster or blanket. On an exhale, turn to the wall and rotate your legs up the wall at the same time you put your head and shoulders on the floor. This might take some practice. Once you are lying in the pose, make sure your hips are dropping toward the floor between your support and the wall. Relax your body. Hold the pose for five to 15 minutes, then remove your support and turn onto your side to release.

 

fish pose

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

Benefits: The opening of your front body in this pose serves as a physical reminder to open up and calm down.  How to do it: Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees. Raise your pelvis slightly and place your hands, palms on the floor, under your hips. Keep your arms close to your sides and don’t lift your body off your hands. On an inhale, press into your arms to lift your head and chest off the floor. Exhale and lower the crown of your head back to the floor, leaving your chest lifted. Press your backs of your arms into the floor to keep weight off your neck. Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and hug your knees into your chest.

 

Garudasana, Eagle PoseGarudasana (Eagle Pose)

Benefits: This balancing pose helps you to defeat nervousness by letting go of worries about the future.  How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). With a slight bend in your knees, lift your right foot and cross your right leg over your left. If possible, place your right toes around the back of your left lower leg (if not, leave your right toes outside of our left leg near the chin or on the floor). Extend your arms forward, then place your left arm on top of the right. Bend your arms so that they form a 90-degree angle. Turn your hands so that your palms face each other and press them into each as much as you can. Reach your fingers toward the ceiling. Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

Take charge. There’ s a tendency to put off things that make you nervous, or to create chaos around them. Try to resist that urge. If you have a big assignment in your work pile, tackle it first. If you’re nervous about a meeting, get there early. As you start to work on the task at hand, you will find your anxiety lessening.

Let go. As counterintuitive as it seems, sometimes it helps to envision what would happen if the thing you are nervous about doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped. How would you cope? Then, remind yourself how unlikely that worst-case scenario really is. And, also focus on what even that negative outcome would really mean.

Oftentimes, not getting the result you want can point to a need to assess your situation. Do you really want that promotion? Are you making a speech about something you really believe in? Every “performance” or new experience brings a benefit, whether new thinking or additional skills. In yogic terms, there are no mistakes—just steps in learning. Everything you do is simply part of your success in self-realization.

 

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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for stress, yoga for advanced students, yoga to fight nervousness, yoga for nervousness, yoga for anxiety, yoga for calming, yoga to relax, yoga to calm your nerves

Injuries, Injuries, injure me

Posted on Thu, Aug 29, 2013

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaSo after three months of arduous second series Ashtanga training in Maui, dedicatedly practicing everyday except for the moon days, managing to remain unscarred, I return to the UK and within 2 weeks put out my shoulder pulling a stupidly designed wheelie suitcase! Hard core Ashtangi injured by luggage! After months of Pinchamayurasana’s, Karandavasana’s and handstands where my shoulders have remained strong, I am defeated by a small hand luggage sized case, a walk, a bus and the London underground’s many steps, stairs and ‘mind the gap’s.

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaMy osteopath explained that they really are a silly design; they pull your shoulder out of its socket and twist your spine. You are pulling a heavy weight with your arm in a vulnerable position. The shoulder is at its weakest point and then you are demanding it to bear a load.

“It's much better to push than to pull, or a rucksack distributes the weight evenly over both shoulders which is also better as long as you don’t over pack it.”

Noted for next time.

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaAs for this time… my shoulder was knocked out of sorts. Resulting in a lot of pain aches and niggles. Also as I was determined to carry on practicing at the level that I had become accustomed to in Maui at the House of Ashtanga and Zen with Nancy Gilgoff. I pushed on with my 4 x second series practices a week regardless. Stupidly I practiced outside on the grass one day, which is not the most ideal of places to practice the 7 headstands at the end of the sequence… as realised when I lost my balance on the uneven ground and toppled over my bad shoulder.

I woke up with neck lock. I couldn’t move it. I couldn’t turn my head. I couldn’t sleep properly. It throbbed. It ached. It hurt… a lot. I flew back to my Osteopath knowing that he was the only one could to fix me time and time again.

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaRest he said.

“What?? I don’t understand what you are saying… I am an Ashtangi – I don’t rest”

“You need to rest it. NO if’s, no buts, no maybe’s. Rest”

“I’ll try”

And so I tried to rest . I didn’t stop practicing – I just practiced more gently.

I instantly fell into the mental trap of feeling like a failure. Feeling like I wasn’t very good. Feeling like I wasn’t very strong.

I battled with the desire to practice and the guilt of not practicing. I rested. I felt bad. I practiced. I hurt. I rested, I felt bad, I practiced, and I hurt.

I knew it was a lesson in letting go of our so-called yogic ‘achievements’. Its not about what you can ‘do’. It’s not about what pose you can get to. I know that, but when your practice goes backwards (or feels like it does) it is really hard to not beat yourself up. I could almost do Karandvasana on my own a few weeks ago…. And now I am struggling to get through primary. “I am a rubbish yogini….”

I beat myself up. My internal dialogue turned sour.

I had been working so hard at being nice to myself and then suddenly BAM a little baddie shoulder and all that loving kindness towards oneself disappears! BAM another blow from the self-defeating stick of doom!

What is all that about? We work so hard at cultivating a warm and compassionate attitude towards ourselves and then with a minor injury BAM back to step one.

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaIt is the journey, not the destination.

It doesn’t matter how many times we go backwards, we are still moving forwards. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s the scenic route right?

It’s ok. Its no reason to start being nasty to yourself all over again….but as long as you recognise that and you see yourself doing it then you are not really going backwards at all… Because now it is conscious. Before it was blind.

So that it an improvement right?

Two steps forward, one step back. Learn to enjoy each step regardless of the direction that you are going!

So, as with all of my yogic lessons, I tried to see how this was reflected off the mat. Every lesson is the same on or off the mat. I looked at the last time that I injured my heart. Now I am super sensitive to rejection (as we all are) and also to being ignored or not paid due attention to. This is something that I have become more aware of through my practice. The more I became aware, the more I could resolve. I slowly came to realise that it was because of my father. Long story short I resolved my differences with my father, but when it came to actually creating a new behavioural pattern within myself…. Well that’s a bit harder. Behavioural patterns are built into us by subconscious self-protecting mechanisms and once they are in place they are hard to shift. (Not impossible…. Anything is possible if sputa kurmasana is right?).

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaAs with all of these things, first come consciousness. Once we realise that we are doing something and we recognise that pattern then and only then can we start to go about changing it, but it doesn’t happen first time around.

With matters of the heart, things are often fragile and easily shattered.  So we have to tread carefully. I looked at the last time that my heart got injured and I realised that I do the same thing as when I am physically injured. I start to beat myself up. I list all the faults within myself. I blame myself; I hit myself with the ‘I am not good enough stick’.

Just as I do when my body is injured.

Same same.                                        

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaSurely when we are injured, either emotionally or physically we should be extra especially nice to ourselves. We should take care of ourselves more: not less. We should spend longer in the bath, we should enjoy the comfort from loved ones, we should feed ourselves well and mentally we should whisper nothing but sweet nothings into our ears to make ourselves feel better from the inside out.

“Don’t let the behaviour of others disturb your inner peace”

This is one of my favourite Buddhist mantras. When we are injured we must take extra care to maintain our inner peace. We should take comfort in the knowledge that whatever it is: it will pass. The broken shoulder will heal, the broken heart will mend, the broken person will fix…. and not only that but will become stronger from it.

yoga injuries, yoga related injuries, injuries from yoga, laura grace ford, ashtanga yogaI realised that with my new heightened sensitivity from my shoulder injury I have become more aware of movements that I was doing that possibly caused me to break in the first place. I noticed the parts of my practice where I need to pay more attention to my alignment, postures that I have been working but maybe not in the best position to avoid injury, where my shoulder has been weak and not strong. I have highlighted ways of improving.  I quietly thanked my shoulder for bringing me this new awareness.

In matters of the heart, again, the injury has made me reflect upon behaviours that I displayed that maybe did not put my best self forward.  Situations that if I found myself in again, maybe I would handle differently. Self-defeating behaviours that I displayed that were not necessary or attractive (to myself or others). I can observe them but without judging them. Once more use them as a tool to improve myself. Softly. Gently. In a nurturing way. I can recognise patterns and hopefully next time, choose a different, more positive one.

self loveAgain, I quietly thanked the person that had injured my little heart for giving me the insight into myself; and the opportunity to see what I still needed to work on within me.

Not in a self-destructive manner. Not in a beat yourself with the same stick a hundred times manner…. But in a self reflective, self improving manner…… while soaking in the bath and reminding myself of how amazing I am for going that one step forward…

 

~Laura Grace Ford

Tags: ashtanga yoga, laura grace ford, Injuries

Looking Up: Yoga for Depression

Posted on Tue, Aug 20, 2013

yoga for depressionEverybody wants to be happy--everyday, all year round, all their life long. Okay, a few challenges are still good, but nothing more daunting than those little motivators. That’s the wish list. The reality is that your life path probably has had more than its share of bumps, twists and turns already and that, at least in the back of your mind, you’re perfectly aware that you’ll continue to explore the long smooth stretches along with some rough patches.

If your life is in balance, the difficulties you encounter may seem frustrating or limiting at first. But, with a clear mind, it doesn’t take long to see why those obstacles are in your path. They help you grow as you learn to navigate around them or integrate them into new solutions. If nothing else, they force you to question what you really need to be happy. Armed with that information and new-found strength, you often find yourself striding forward into new territory in your life.


yoga for depression, yoga for happiness, yoga to be happySometimes, there are a lot of rocks on the road—so many that you feel you’re just stumbling all of the time. It can become more and more challenging to find the balance and to see a way beyond the immediate problems. Maybe you feel stuck in a situation that is eroding your self-esteem or restricting your ability to express your skills. Or maybe you feel like you’re back-sliding, getting farther away from the things you need to be happy and fulfilled. Or, maybe, you just don’t feel at all. Grief, disappointment and isolation may have created a silo around your heart.


yoga for depression, yoga to be happy, do yoga be happyFirst of all, know that you’re not alone. Nobody is so Teflon that they can just sail through life. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 10% of Americans are affected with depression yearly. But, notes Dr. Timothy McCall in Yoga Journal, not everyone feels depression in the same way. Some suffer from a depression that leaves them lethargic and not wanting to get out of bed, while others may feel restless and angry as well as sad.

To turn your face toward the sun and regain your balance, first consider whether you are just feeling blue today, whether there is a specific cause for feeling down or whether your depression has become a persistent problem in your life—one that may be affecting your ability to hold down a job, sustain a relationship or keep your mind, body and spirit care for and yoga for depression, yoga for health, yoga for happiness,healthy. Clinical depression, which McCall defines in his article as, “a persistently sad, hopeless, and sometimes agitated state that profoundly lowers the quality of life and that, if untreated, can result in suicide” may require advice from a yoga therapist or other expert.

Regardless of the level depression, yoga can help you out of that grayness. While any physical exercise is a good anti-depressant, yoga’s mind-body connection makes it especially effective for lifting you up. Yoga’s philosophy, says McCall, is that everyone is entitled to a happy life. Because of that, yoga teaches you ways to find self-esteem and balance. McCall suggests, for example, that depression can be fueled by negative samskaras (habits) like negative self-talk. 


yoga for depressionWorking to identify and change those habits can be a powerful tool to lift depression. He suggests starting with a gratitude list, sitting down and writing out a list of all the things you are grateful for. The physical practice of yoga also has specific benefits for depression. A vigorous practice can help quiet your mind by bringing you into the present. It’s hard to bring depression with you when you are focused on keeping your balance in Garudasana (Eagle Pose) or trying to keep your arms strong through the umpteenth Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). And, the backbends that are an integral part of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salution) help open your perspective and feel less burdened.

 yoga for depression, affirmations, yoga affirmations The simple action of stepping onto your mat is a bold affirmation that you believe you have the power to create change. Stretching strengthening and balancing might seem pretty overwhelming when your self-esteem account is already nearly overdrawn. But, yoga is one of the best tools you have for resetting the needle of self-worth and empowerment. As you work toward new poses, you feel that “eureka” experience as your muscles stretch a little further or you catch a balance.

Every practice is about possibility. By the time you roll up your mat, you will always have had some experiences that show you that you are progressing, learning, succeeding. You feel the satisfaction of knowing that you can handle any challenge, learn from it and use it to get closer to your goals. You have proven to yourself that, however lofty or far away the goal seems, if you keep your focus, you’ll get there.

Here are some poses to rekindle your optimism:

camel pose, Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

Benefits: This active backbend helps energize you and makes you feel more lifted. How to do it: Begin in a kneeling position. Keep your knees hip-width apart. Turn your thighs in slightly. Place your hands, fingers down, on your lower spine. Firm your shoulder blades and your buttocks. Then lean back into that foundation, keeping your spine long. Lift your pelvis toward your ribs and let your neck remain neutral. Remain in this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then inhale and release. As a variation, cartwheel your left hand back to your left heel. Raise your right arm to the ceiling, creating a seal between your index finger and thumb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adho Mukha Svanasana(Downward-Facing Dog Pose)Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: Regularly practiced as part of Surya Namaskara, this poses helps you feel strong and balanced as your arms and legs engage to hold you up. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position. Make sure your knees are hip-width apart and your hands are slightly in front of your shoulders. Exhale and press into your hands to lift your knees off the floor. Inhale, then, on the next exhale, lengthen your heels to or toward the floor. Remain in the pose for one to three minutes, then exhale and release.

 

bridge poseSetu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) 

Benefits: This restorative backbend is a great way to relax your body and mind, bringing fresh blood flow to your brain.  How to do it: Begin lying on your back. Draw your knees up and place the soles of your feet hip-width apart near your buttocks. Exhale and lift your pelvis. Think about lifting both your front and back body. Keep your neck long and relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and roll down one vertebra at a time.

yoga for depression

Keep it consistent. Even if you can only do a few minutes of yoga every day, establishing a yoga routine can be a useful tool for lifting yourself out of depression. It might also help to try to keep it at the same time every day, so you have something to look forward to. Think about taking a regular class. The in-studio connection with other students and your teacher is a compelling reminder that you’re part of the human community—an important part.

yoga for depressionMake it fun. Whatever works for you—turning on your favorite music, picking a favorite pose--do something to make the practice feel special. It’s also a good idea to try to beautify your environment when you practice. Try lighting scented candles or incense for an instant sensory boost. Take your Yoga-Paws and move your practice outside. Fresh air makes movement feel even more natural. It’s a lot easier to feel limitless under a beautiful blue sky, in a forest or at the beach.

And remember, this practice is for you. No matter what else is going on in your life, this is your time to do what you need. Think of your time on the mat as a chance to focus on the good things—what your body can do (you’ll be happily surprised, as many students are), the calm of being able to narrow your focus to the moment, and the wonderful feeling you get from watching yourself get stronger and more flexible, mind, body and spirit.

 

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Tags: yoga for depression, yoga for anxiety

New Moves: Enter into the Dance of Yoga

Posted on Mon, Aug 12, 2013

yoga and dance, yoga and movement, yoga trace dance, yoga movesFinding stillness is a major draw for many people who practice yoga. While practicing, holding a pose, it’s not just the monkey mind that stops. The world seems to slow down. Ask anyone who’s held a Plank pose for 90 seconds. That kind of downshift away from life at light speed is a big reason why 20.4 million Americans (that’s 8.7% of the adult population) study yoga (according to the 2012 “Yoga in America” survey by Yoga Journal).

But, as with all things relating to yoga, there is also another side to consider. The classically linear approach to asana practice is just one tool for finding balance and unity. Even the most loyal Hatha practioner can benefit from the occasional class that jumps off the grid and starts everyone moving. After all, you started your life rocking and rolling inside your mother. Think back to your childhood. Were you ever still? And, when you were, didn’t you long to get up and get outside, play a sport or walk to your favorite “secret place”? You didn’t have to work at bringing together mind/body/spirit; you didn’t know any other way of life.  (below photo credit http://bmacstudio.com/   Dan Schmidt)

yoga dance, yoga love, love yoga, beautiful yoga imagesYoga that moves can help you get reconnected with that physical joy.  More and more studios are offering dance-infused yoga classes that invite students to let go of their expectations about perfect form and get in touch with their bodies. You can’t compare yourself to anyone else because every student hears the music a little differently and responds in his or her unique way. To get some inspiration, watch any of Shiva Rea’s trance dance sequences. No one cares whether the person next to him or her is swaying faster or has arms that are more extended. Each student has gone deeply within and let that inner dancer take over.

crow pose, Bakasana, Crow PoseAdding an element of dance into your practice can be a fun way to explore the carefree side of yoga. The poses build on what you’ve put so much time into mastering, but there’s a twist. Where you might be used to just holding a pose in yoga, the dance element means you are constantly moving through many of those positions, creating a fluid flow with your body. Your body instinctively starts to move with the music. And, as you relax into that rhythm, your muscles warm up, loosen up and may open up poses you couldn’t access from a more contracted foundation. Since you don’t know what to expect, you’ll go into the class without the usual metrics in your mind of how close your head is to the floor or whether today is the day you’ll fly in Bakasana (Crow Pose).

This practice is also a great release for your mind. You might find yourself feeling awkward or self-conscious as you circle your body and isolate your rib cage in a side-to-side slide. As you practice, consciously let go of that negativity. Learn from your body’s wisdom. In most of these poses, you will feel balanced and secure if you are using correct alignment. Let that guide you.

Here are some poses to try as you start to enter into the dance:

 

Plank Pose

 

Plank Pose—Variation

Benefits: This sinuous version of the staple pose lets you experiment with controlling and releasing your body at the same time. How to do it: Come to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). On an inhale, bring your body forward so that your hands are under your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Keeping your core engaged, slowly make a circle with your hips, starting by bringing your hips to the right and down. Complete one circle, then reverse. Repeat three times in each direction.

 

 Vrksasana, Tree PoseVrksasana (Tree pose)--Variation

Benefits: Moving your arms in this balance pose helps you learn to stabilize one part of your body while freeing another. How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight onto your left foot, making sure all four corners of your left foot are equally engaged. Lift your right leg and turn it out from the hip. Place your right foot on your inner left thigh (you can reach down to clasp it and pull it up if needed). Raise your arms above your head. On an exhale, start to sway your hands from side to side. After a few breaths, gradually involve your arms and shoulders. Continue this for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

 

 


 

 

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)—Variation 

Benefits: This flowing version of the pose lets you stretch muscles around your hip cradle that often get tense during daily life and practice. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. On an exhale, stretch your knees away from the floor and shift your weight back slightly. Inhale here. On the next exhale, stretch your heels onto or toward the floor. Inhale and on your next exhale, circle your hips to the right and then to the left. Make sure you articulate the side part of the circle. Repeat three times on each side, then release.

yoga for abs, core yoga, yoga for your core, yoga absEngage your core. Even when you are moving your hips, holding your center and back engaged will help you stay on balance. Staying strong in your center allows you move your limbs more freely as well. But, don’t confuse engagement with holding yourself rigid. Still let your body move. For fun, the next time you’re sitting on your mat or on the floor, just start lightly twisting your torso from side to side, slowly raising your arms with each twist until they meet above your head with your palms sealed.

Coordinate Your Movement and Breath. In this kind of practice, your breath provides the metronome for the flows in each pose.  Keep your breath calm and steady.  Try to visualize that the beginning of each movement starts with your breath and flows outward from the center of your body. 

And, remember, there is no exact “right” way to do any of the poses listed here. Let your body move and find out how you feel best. Maybe you tend to move in smaller, more controlled ways. Maybe you like to let yourself flow through big, bold shapes. It’s all good. And, yes, do try this at home!

 

 

 

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Tags: Beginning Yoga Poses, advanced yoga

Shh: The Power of Silence in Yoga

Posted on Tue, Aug 06, 2013

quite yoga, yoga peace, peace from yoga, yoga love

It’s a noisy world. Sometimes all that sound is welcome. What would the day be without conversation, without music, without the rush of the wind or the rippling of waves? At other times, the swirl of voices, microwave beeps and cell phone reminders gets so loud that it’s hard to tune out. No wonder more and more people are using their vacation time for 10-day meditation retreats during which students cannot talk, text, access a computer or, in some program, read.

peace and quiet, quiet yoga, peace yoga Not everyone can get away for a week-and-a-half of silent self-study, nor would everyone want it. Your yoga practice can be a portal to that experience in a way that easily works within your lifestyle. When you walk into a yoga studio, take your first step toward stillness by keeping your conversation in the changing room or welcome area. Or, when you begin a home practice, let your family, room mates and even your pets know that you need some alone time while you’re practicing. Take a cue from some hot practices and enter into Savasana (Corpse Pose) for 10 to 15 minutes before you take your first asana. If you need to stretch a little before starting your practice, do so gently.

If you’re in a class, try to let the teacher’s voice and the music pass through your mind rather than holding onto them—processing every nuance. 

peace yoga, love yoga, yoga and health, yoga for stress, yoga for stress relief

Allow your body to respond to the rhythm without over-thinking it. Invite your brain to take its own time-out while your breath and body move in unison. Try to let go of the thoughts that crowd in about whether you’re doing the pose right, whether you can reach the floor or kick up to the ceiling.

The idea of a quiet mind isn’t just for Savasana. It’s something that needs to guide the entire practice. In that calm place, it’s easier to find the discernment needed to determine whether you should be seeking your edge in Hanumanasana (Splits) or whether your ego is tempting you to stretch beyond what’s 100 percent for your hamstrings in this moment.

Don’t be surprised if you find the silence “difficult” or “empty.” Even if you are a longtime yoga student, it can take quite a bit of adjusting to. If you have had a stressful day, or are feeling like you are “stuck” in your yoga practice, sometimes you might feel like it is altogether too easy to use the quiet space to let all the inner negative voices have a shouting match inside your head. You might even wish that somebody would talk to you, just so you had to concentrate on something else. That’s a perfectly normal reaction, and also one of the reasons why silence is an important way yoga teaches you about yourself.

peace from yoga, quite from yoga, yoga for stress relief, help for stress

The quiet of a yoga class is designed to help you filter out peripheral, sensory distractions. Not having the radio or your iPod cranked up makes it easier to listen, not to the external sounds, but to your own thoughts and instincts. Not having other peoples’ conversations in your ears might make it easier to have one with yourself.

Becoming more than tolerant of the quiet starts with trusting your mind to guide you to positive, productive places and also to have the discernment in the physical practice to tell yourself where to go. The inner dialogue you create deepens your practice mentally and physically.

Start working on using the silence to guide your intention in and out of class. At first, take a few minutes at the beginning and end of your day to practice directing your focus away from any mental clutter. Think of the quiet in the room as a curtain you can close against any chaotic thoughts or “monkey mind” moments.

yoga peace, yoga and health, yoga for stress relief, yoga for anxiety Bring your awareness into the present moment. If you find it hard to empty your mind, choose two or three concepts, images or ideas (maybe you want to devote that class to ahimsa, or maybe you want to hold an image of the goddess Kali in your mind) and hang on to those. Then, try to explore some aspect of those things more deeply.

Play with these techniques to help you learn to embrace the lack of words in class and in your life. And, remember, just because you aren’t talking doesn’t mean you aren’t communicating. You are still using your whole body to express yourself. And, when you do speak, your words will be clearer, more meaningful and more fully a reflection of the real you.

 

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Tags: yoga for stress relief

Your Yoga Workshop: Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose)

Posted on Fri, Jul 26, 2013

yoga poses, yoga pose, travel yoga posesLike arm strength and balance, flexibility might be the subject for a lot of stories you tell yourself.  Thoughts patterns like, “I’ve always been so tight” or “My hamstrings just don’t stretch” can become unwelcome mantras every time you come to your mat. Let those thoughts go. If you talk with other students, you’ll find most of them want to be more flexible. Like you, unless they trained as dancers or gymnasts, they’ve spent most of their lives with their bodies in contraction—driving, sitting at a desk, standing in the grocery store, working out by running or cycling. Some of the “bendy” types will be able to stretch out all of those contracted muscles more easily than students with denser musculature. But no body type has a monopoly on flexibility. Yoga provides an overflowing tool kit for softening and extending muscles and allowing everyone to take their “bendiness” to new lengths.

Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose) might seem as far as away as Sri Lanka looked to the Hindu deity Hanuman standing at the tip of southern India before his heroic leap. Fortunately, your journey can begin at your own pace and you can look forward to enjoying each step along the way. 

Starting out on the journey to flexibility begins with a change in your attitude. And that starts with leaving your ego outside of the door to your practice space. Forget the past; focus on what your body is telling you. Listen to your body’s signals about where your edge is. Pushing, straining, powering past that point could lead to a pulled hamstring (which takes six months or more to fully heal) and a lot unnecessary frustration. Commit to going with the flow.

Rather than forcing your body when you stretch, think about softening. Visualize the muscles like flowing rivers that are liquid, flowing, supple. And, don’t expect it to happen overnight. The ability to split your legs requires flexibility not only in obvious ways, such as your hamstrings, but also in most of the muscles and tendons around your hips, including your hip flexors. Even your low back comes into play.

 Each of the poses below will help you lengthen one or more of those muscle groups:

High Lunge, Variation

High Lunge, Variation

Benefits: This pose helps release your hip flexors, which are often tight after sitting or sports that require running. How to do it: Begin in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Bring your right leg to the back of your mat with the ball of your right foot on your mat and your heel off the ground. Your left knee should be over your left ankle. On an exhale, bring your torso forward over your left leg. Keep your back knee stretched. Take a few breaths here, then come to Plank Pose on an exhale and change sides.

 

 

 

 

head to knee, Janu Sirsasana resized 600

Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Forward Bend)

Benefits: This pose provides a hamstring stretch that prepares you for a full split.  How to do it: Start sitting on a folded blanket. On an inhale, turn your left foot out and bring the sole of your left foot to rest gently against your right inner thigh. Put your left hand on your left hip where it joins your thigh and your right hand on the floor. On an exhale, twist slightly to your right so that the midline of your body lines up with your right thigh. Place your left hand on your right foot. If that’s not available to you, use a strap and loop it around your right foot. You can use your right hand to twist further to the right as you lean over your right foot. Keep your torso long. Stay for one to three minutes, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

Hanumanasanam, Monkey Pose

Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose)

Benefits: The full version of this pose provides a deep release in your groins, hamstrings and hip flexors. How to do it: Start by kneeling on your mat. Put your right leg out ahead of you and turn it out slightly. On an exhale, lean forward and begin to stretch your left leg out. As you come close to reaching the limit of your stretch, lower toward the floor with both legs. If you can get all the way to the splits, you can bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) or overhead. Stay for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.   

Modification to help ease you into Hanumanasana.  Place a bolster
under your pelvis when you try the splits. Stay there with your hands on
the bolster for a few breaths, then try removing your hands from the
bolster for a few breaths, then release.

heated yogaHeat it. Don’t stretch cold. Try a few rounds of Sun Salutations before working into deep extensions like these. This will make you less likely to hurt yourself, and it will make stretching easier.

Breathe. As you stretch, keep your breath long and smooth. Bringing oxygen to your muscles will help them release and will help you feel less sore.

Keep in mind that the final pose isn’t the goal in itself. As you work toward replicating the monkey god’s famous leap (according to the Ramayana, he was retrieving a jewel for his mistress), enjoy the benefits in the rest of your practice. Feel the length in your legs in poses like Virabhadrasana I, for example. And take this intention into your day. Instead of squatting to pick up something, do a forward fold. Take a break from watching TV and enter into a seated forward bend of your choice. Bend at the knees, move one leg forward and ground your heel. Then sit back into your hips for a hamstring/hip flexor stretch that you can do anywhere.

Staying flexible in your thinking is important to building physical flexibility. Allow the poses to unfold, using your breath—not your control freak side—to fill out each movement. Enjoy the experience and explore just how limitless you can be.

 

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