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YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Rest Break: Yoga for Insomnia

Posted on Tue, Nov 05, 2013

yoga for sleepSleep is supposed to be a routine part of your life—the time when your body and mind rest and repair themselves. But, a good night’s rest can be elusive. In the U.S. alone, 70 million people suffer from insomnia, according to 2012 data from National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, that’s not counting the millions more who fall asleep but never relax into the deepest of the five sleep cycles as they toss, turn or grind their teeth.

It’s hard to point to any single cause of sleep problems. You live in a 24/7 world where your schedule is manipulated by stress, counter-intuitive eating times (think no breakfast or dinners that don’t start until 10 P.M) and technology (as in the constant glow of the monitor or the music that flows through your ear buds). So all of the internal systems connected with your fight-or-flight response are always on high alert. The adrenalin rarely ebbs, making it difficult to power down when you—and need—to.

yoga for sleepHormonal changes can lead to a lot of sleepless nights, So can environmental factors, from the obvious ones such as street noise or neighbors who leave lights on at night, to more subtle ones. Canada’s Naturopathic Medicine Profession says the accumulation of environmental toxins and synthetic chemicals can interrupt your sleep patterns, as can lack of time spent outside.

Obviously, trying to create a lifestyle that is conducive to a normal sleep cycle is important. Yogic thinking usually recommends rising before dawn to take advantage of this lighter, vata time; eating when the sun is the hottest (noon) and going to be around 10 PM.  But, sometimes, even when you have made adjustments to your schedule, shut down your electronic devices and tried to relax, you’re still counting the minutes going by while you lie awake. Preparing yourself for bed demands that you help you mind and body activate the natural responses that tell you to turn off and go to sleep.

For many people who have trouble sleeping, movement helps provide some of those cues. Because yoga isn’t aerobic, it’s a particularly good choice to help release physical tension. And, many yoga poses trigger physiological calming responses in your brain that help send the message to your body to sleep. According to doctor and yoga teacher Baxter Bell, writing in Yoga Journal, inversions help the body shift from the sympathetic nervous system that controls a fight-or-flight response to the parasympathetic one that controls a relaxation response.

Here are some poses to try in the evenings to unwind and prepare for sleep:

 

Uttanasana, Standing Forward Bend Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Benefits:  This pose can help you calm down by grounding your thoughts. How to do it: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Place your hands on your hips. On an exhale, hinge forward from your hip joints. Keeping your torso long, place your hands or fingertips on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, you can put them on a block. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then bring your hands back to your hips and come up with a straight back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle PoseSupta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

Benefits: This supine pose helps you relax your entire body while releasing tension in your hips. How to do it: Begin seated in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) with your knees bent out to the sides and the soles of your feet touching. Lean back, supporting your weight with your hands. As you get to the point where you are on your forearms, use your hands to create space in the back of your pelvis, the lie down all the way and bring your hands by your sides. Don’t try to force your knees toward the floor. If needed, you can place a block or bolster under each knee. You can also place a bolster under your shoulders or your low back for support. Stay for one minute, then release.

 

 Salamba Sarvangasana, Supported Bridge Pose

Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)

Benefits: This pose helps tell your body that it’s time to sleep. How to do it:  Fold a blanket into a one by two foot rectangle.  Lie down, placing your shoulders along the edge of the blanket so your head is on the floor. Bend your knees in and place your feet on the floor. Draw your knees in toward your chest.  Round your spine to lift your pelvis off the floor. Place your hands on your lower back.  Keep your elbows relatively close together and your upper arms on the floor. Lift your knees to the ceiling. On an inhale, stretch your legs and bring your toes toward the ceiling. Keep your neck relaxed. You can also place a block under your low back, adjusting the height until you have a comfortable level of support. Hold for 30 seconds if you are new to the pose. As you get more comfortable with it, add a few seconds until you can hold it for three minutes.

 

Shabad KriyaShabad Kriya

Benefits: This meditation helps deepen sleep. How to do it: Sit in a comfortable pose. Focus your gaze on the end of your nose. Cross your hands in your lap, right over left, palms up. Chant “Sa Ta Na Ma” silently as you inhale, and “Wahe Guru” as you exhale. Repeat for 15 minutes.

 

Work it out. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes tiring yourself out with a vigorous practice can help you rest. Just avoid doing it within an hour of bedtime.

yoga and food, yoga and healthWatch what you eat. While avoiding caffeine or spicy, heavy food within two hours of bedtime might be an obvious “don’t,” keep in mind that fruits high in natural sugars can also be sleep disruptors. Looking for calming herbal teas can be the start of a soothing, nighttime ritual. Consider complementing that with a warm bath or shower and aromatherapy. 

All of this helps to remind yourself that nighttime is the time for rest and rejuvenation, not stress. Lying awake worrying about things won’t help you get them done. Let your to-do list go. Just as you do in your practice, use your breath to focus on what you are doing at that moment. Breathe in the world “calm,” breathe out “stress.” Or use whatever words help you feel centered, relaxed and ready for the liberation of a deep, refreshing night’s sleep.

 

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Tags: yoga poses, yoga for sleep

Taking Charge: Setting Your Intentions

Posted on Tue, Jun 25, 2013

yoga intention, yoga class, setting your intention

When you start a class or a home practice, you probably begin with some kind of intention, even if you don’t verbalize it. Maybe you are trying to improve your balance. Maybe you need to decompress after a hectic day. You might be using this time to work through an injury. Whatever it is, you use that thought as you practice and it will affect the choices you make in the poses, as well as your focus.

 intention, yoga, the present, here and nowBut, there is more to intention than that. While that’s a great place to start, making your intentions more mindful can deepen both your physical and mental yoga practice. According to Yoga Journal, the Buddhist teaching of intent is very specific. It means “volition,” or the conscious choices you make. It does mean setting goals, although that is also a healthy part of your yoga practice. When you set an intention, you are not committing to achieving a certain thing. What you are committing to is your experience of the present moment.

yoga poses, yoga pose, travel yoga posesAt their deepest, intentions are a tool for you to move closer to a right-thinking, right-doing lifestyle. If that is how you want to use your practice, you might want to try setting an intention of exploring one thing you feel you need to work on. Maybe you tend to get impatient in traffic or with coworkers who need more detailed instructions than most. So, you might set your intention as experiencing each moment fully. As you move through the class, try to keep your mind from moving ahead—to the next pose, to whatever you have to do after class or to the next day. If you are trying to be more understanding, start with yourself. Commit to only thinking more positive thoughts about yourself for the duration of the class. If you wobble in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose), think of how much stronger you are becoming, for example. Maybe you are trying to be less materialistic and orient yourself more toward inward things. You might want to try using the time in class to try not to push yourself toward the most “advanced” outward expression of a pose. Instead, let yourself find contentment where your body can go comfortably.

yoga intentionMaybe you’re not ready to go that deep today, or maybe you have a physical injury that needs attention. Even so, you can set an intention for your practice. If you have, say, a tight hamstring, your intention could be simply to breathe into the soreness throughout the practice, and maybe visualize space being created in the back of your leg. Or maybe your goal is to build strength in your core. Use the class to be aware of those muscles as you work.

Whether your intention is physical or metaphysical, it’s a great tool to help clear your mind during your practice. And, intention can come off the mat too. Try taking your intention from class out into your life. Use the time you spent in class committing to experiencing the moment in line with that affirmation to help you. And remember, there is no grade on intention. You won’t be able to make each day perfect, but as long as you are trying to express your intentions, you are moving in the right direction.

 

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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga poses, yoga intentions, yoga and concentration

Loving Where You Are: Acceptance in Yoga

Posted on Thu, Jun 20, 2013

yoga poses, yoga pose, yoga paws, travel yoga poses, yoga classWhen your teacher offers options to deepen a pose, he or she will probably say something along the lines of  “try this if it’s available to you today.”  Sometimes, it’s not that easy to look over at the next student, see them doing the “harder” variation and not want to copy that, even if you know you shouldn’t. Resisting that urge is probably the most familiar aspect of acceptance you explore in your practice. You learn how to tell yourself to close your eyes to the rest of the room and tune into what feels good for your body, right now.


yoga poses, yoga pose, travel yoga posesThe first vital thing to realize about acceptance is that you shouldn’t feel like it translates to an awareness of your limitations. Instead, it means opening your eyes, mind and heart to celebrating all the things you can do, on or off the mat. For example, if you are attempting Bakasana (Crane or Crow Pose) and you can only lift one foot off the mat, channel your energy away from worrying about whether you can ever get both feet up. Instead, feel the strength in your arms and core as you push your hands down into the floor. Or maybe you end up having to use a strap in Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Don’t channel your experience of the pose into an attempt to grasp your feet. Put gentle but firm pressure on the strap as you lengthen your back forward.  Realize how deeply your back and hamstrings feel released in the pose. As you move through your class, relish the way your body feels as you work respectfully.

 

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But, appreciating your current capabilities doesn’t mean that your limits are set in stone. Acceptance means not only embracing where you are now, but where you can possibly go in the future. You will fly in Bakasana someday. Your body will stretch as you continue to practice. Where are now isn’t where you will always be, it’s just one stop on your yogic journey. Make it a fun one.

 

yoga for everyoneTelling yourself that you are good enough is much easier said than done sometimes. If that’s the case for you, it might be helpful to use your next yoga practice or meditation session to visualize yourself practicing. Try to see yourself as you would see another student. Think about what that other perspective would look like. You’ll probably find that the outsider’s view of you is much more favorable that your usual perspective. Then, recognize two or three things you do well in your practice. The next time you come to the mat or put on your YogaPaws, try to bring that with you.

 

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Tags: yoga for beginners, advanced yoga poses, yoga poses, Yoga for acceptance, yoga and modifications, yoga for confidence

One for the Road: Yoga for Travel

Posted on Fri, May 31, 2013

travel yoga, yoga while traveling, airport yoga, The weather is warming up, school’s out and it’s time for your vacation. If you are like most yoga students, you can’t wait to get away and have fun. But, you can most definitely wait for the process of getting there—long hours cramped in a car or plane—and the upheaval of being away from your usual yoga studio, teacher and home practice.

But, you don't have to abandon your practice when you travel. For most car trips, you can bring your YogaPaws with a few yoga DVDs or your computer and have a ready-made home practice when you arrive. Or, if you are flying, be sure to bring your YogaPaws in your carryon.  Airports are even starting to have designated areas for yoga in between flights!!  Even if its just in the corner at an abandoned gate, you will likely find that even a short practice helps you feel more grounded.

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-Facing DogBut, sometimes you need your yoga most when you are farthest away from your mat. The frustrations of transport, from flight delays to getting lost, can leave you yearning for a good Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) right at that moment. That’s not always an option, though.

The most important thing to remember is that your yoga practice is a state of mind as much as a physical pose. The same patience you cultivate holding your Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) serves you well if you are stuck in traffic.  Take a deep breath, and try to find your focus.

 

That said, there are times when you need the physical release as well. Here are some  poses to try without even taking your shoes off.

Vrksasana, Tree PoseVrksasana (Tree Pose)

Benefits: This balance pose can help you feel more in control during a long trip. How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight to your left foot. Reach down and clasp your right ankle, bringing your right foot up to your inner left thigh if possible (if not, resting your foot on your shin is fine). Engage your core to bring your pelvis into alignment. Raise your hands above your head, palms facing each other. Focus on something four or five feet in front of you and hold for 30 seconds to one minute. Release and repeat on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Tadasana, Mountain Pose Namaste

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Benefits: This basic standing pose will help you get grounded.  How to do it: Stand with your feet together, big toes touching. Turn your palms to face forward. Stack your pelvis over your ankles and your chin above your feet. Look forward and relax your face and neck. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.

 

High Lunge, VariationHigh Lunge Pose

Benefits: This modification of Virabhadrasana I helps release your hip flexors, which are often tight after long trips. How to do it: Start in Tadasana. Step your right foot back about three and a half to four feet. Bend into your left knee until it is in line with your ankle. Lift your arms overhead. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release, come back to Tadasana and repeat on the other side.

 

 

 

Use your head. Whenever you can, let your eyes soften their focus and look around. Try not to concentrate on any one object.

Move it. During any break in a trip, stand up and walk around. Even if you can’t get a practice in, any movement will help make you feel less stiff and confined.

And, don’t forget to breathe. After the stuffiness of planes and cars, any air feels good. When you get out, take a deep breath and visualize the air you’re breathing in cleaning the “gunk” of the trip out of your body.

 

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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for stress, yoga poses, yoga for vacations, yoga for travel, yoga for summer

Five Yoga Poses to Open Your Horizons

Posted on Tue, Apr 24, 2012
inspirational yoga, inspiration, yoga inspirationIt’s a common feeling on the mat—the teacher tells you to lengthen your back and soften deeper in Uttanasana (Forward Bend) or loosen your hamstrings in Hanumanasana (splits). But, your body feels like it’s already been pushed to its limits and demands that you stop looking for a deeper pose. It’s a sense of physical deadlock that can go on for what seems like forever, until you’ve labeled yourself the student who can’t touch her nose to her knees or will never get into a split. Then, one day, you’re a little more warmed up, a little less stressed, or a little more courageous in your practice. Suddenly, your “challenge” poses seem doable. Your hips slide down that pesky last bit until you feel like you’re straddling two continents or your head gently yoga paws, inspirational yoga, yoga inspirationmakes contact with your knees. You realize that you can do the thing you thought you couldn’t. Sometimes you also need to stop and apply the same thinking to your life.

 

Westerners live in an impatient society that might reward achievement of a long-sought goal, but often doesn’t encourage taking the time needed to meet that challenge. So, if you don’t succeed the first time, you often end up thinking you’re not good enough. You want
inspirational yoga
to grow and change, whether the goal is a starting a business, changing your body, making time for meditation, learning a language or mastering an advanced pose. But, you’re afraid you can’t succeed, so you stop trying. It’s a natural response—like most people, you want to be goodat everything, after all. But that thinking isn’t going to get you to your goals. The process of learning and growing is an organic one that you can’t always force to happen when you want to accomplish something.

 

So, try these poses and visualize yourself as you want to be. Feel your body entering into the fully realized shape you want it to take.  Don’t wait until the final result to cheer yourself on—each step is a celebration of the process of mastering them:

 

 

 

 

 

Upavistha KonasanaUpavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)

 Benefits: This pose releases your hamstrings and allows you to gently stretch your legs farther outward as you progress.

 How to do it: Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Place your hands under your hips and lean back slightly to open your legs into a right angle. Put your hands in front of you and open your legs slightly wider if you can. Focus on rotating your legs outward and begin to walk your hands forward, keeping your torso long and moving from your hips. Deepen the stretch until you feel a comfortable stretch in your hamstrings. Hold the pose for one minute, then come up on an inhale.

 

 

Chaturanga DandasanaChaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Benefits: This asana can be challenging, especially if upper-body strength is an issue. But you can feel your body strengthening and going deeper each time you practice. 

How to do it: Begin in Plank  Pose. Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, bend your arms until they are in line with your torso. Engage and lift your front body. Remain in the pose for 10 to 30 seconds, then push back into Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose).

 

 

NatarajasanaNatarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)

Benefits: This standing backbend demands both strength and flexibility, so you’ll improve each time you practice it.

How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight onto your right leg. Lift your left leg to the back and reach back to grasp it with your left hand. If you can’t reach, use a strap. Raise your left hand and foot, lifting your navel toward your ribs to lengthen the lower back. Stay in the pose for 20 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

lotus posePadmasana (Lotus Pose)

Benefits: The pose is a challenge for a lot of students, but your hips will open as you work on it.

How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee into your arms, moving it back and forth a few times to explore movement in your hip joint. Then place your right foot on your left thigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SalabhasanaSalabhasana (Locust Pose)

Benefits: This pose is only bounded by your sense of its limits, so as you increase your strength and flexibility you will feel the rewards.

How to do it: Begin lying face down on your mat. Lift your head, upper back and legs off the mat. Bring your arms back parallel toward your body. Focus on your head and feet lifting toward the ceiling. Remain in the pose for one to two minutes, then release. You can repeat this pose once or twice more if you want.

 

Once you learn to feel the joy in the process of mastery, you’ll start to experience your practice as a journey. Next time you hit the mat, think about how you’re going to challenge yourself and visualize that success.

 

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Tags: advanced yoga poses, home yoga, yoga poses, how to do yoga

Three Partner Yoga Poses to Bring You Closer to your Valentine

Posted on Tue, Feb 14, 2012

partner yogaMost of the time you spend doing your yoga practice is all about you. And it should be. Self-love is essential to becoming truly self-less. By taking care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually, you build a wholeness that makes you strong enough to support yourself in your journey toward your own goals. That same strength is what enables you to say an authentic “yes” to others who need or want your help and support as they travel their own paths.

 

 

partner yogaBut, every so often, the mat starts to feel more like a desert island than a sanctuary. You end up missing out on one of yoga’s central principles: unity. The Sanskrit word yoga means “yoke,” not in the sense of a burden but in the sense of joining together. You might feel isolated from those you perceive to be the “better” students or that you are pretty much alone in a crowd. Or, you just may want to share the calm and peace that a satisfying class or home practice delivers.

 

 

 

partner yogaThat’s why partner yoga can provide a fresh perspective. Whether you are practicing with your honey or your best friend, working with another person helps you change preconceptions about what you can and can’t do. You will have to open your heart and your body to work with someone else. You will have to trust that the person working alongside you will work with you, direct you, support you—and that you will be there to do the same for him or her. And, with the power of two, you can take your practice to places you might have had the confidence to find on your own.

 

Valentine’s Day is the perfect invitation to share your yoga love—and reap some benefits for yourself and your special someone.

 

Here are some poses to try together:

 

partner VrksasanaVrksasana (Tree Pose). Stand next to your partner in Tadasana ( Mountain Pose). Shift your weight onto your inside foot (the one closest to your partner). Clasp your outside ankle with your outside hand. Gently pull your outside foot up until the sole of your foot rests against your thigh. Align your pelvis over your supporting foot. Find your focus about four to five feet in front of you. Wrap your inside arm around your partner’s back and have them do the same for you. Bring your outside arm into Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) in front of your heart, or grasp your partner’s outside hand. Remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Release into Tadasana and repeat on the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

Partner SukhasanaSukhasana (Easy Pose) with a Twist. Start sitting back to back with your partner. Begin with your legs straight out in front of you. Cross your legs and open your knees out to the side. Leave a comfortable space between your hips and your feet. Place your left hand on your right knee and reach your right hand around to your partner’s left knee. Have your partner do the same. Stay in the pose for a least one minute and switch your legs, reaching around with the left hand.

 

 

 

Partner BalasanaBalasana (Child’s Pose). Kneel on the floor. Spread your knees hip-width apart. Sit back and lay your torso between or on your thighs. Place your hands by your sides, palms facing the ceiling. Have your partner sit back to back with you, extend his/her legs straight out from the hips and gently drape his/her back over your back on your exhale. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch partners’ positions.

 

Poses like this are just the beginning of the opportunities to explore yoga as a way of deepening connection—and just sharing some fun! More studios offer workshops for partnered yoga and, for the more adventuresome, acro-yoga. Also consider a couples massage. Massage isn’t just for athletes and celebrities. It’s an important tool for detoxifying the body and stimulating the metabolism.

 

So before you head out for a heart-warming meal or savor some deep, dark chocolate, go heart-to-heart on your mats and celebrate what love is really all about.

 

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