You've heard the drill: it's important to reduce stress, stress isn't healthy, stress is a risk factor for heart disease, cancer, even the flu. And maybe, like many of my clients, you've grown numb to such warnings, thinkings something like, "Oh sure, I'll get rid of stress, I'll quit my job, stop worrying about my responsibilities like kids, parents, mortgage, school, work, voting and groceries. That'll work out greeeeeeeaaat."
Of course trading the stress of broke for the stress of responsibility is no choice at all. But this is a misunderstanding of how stress damages us, of what stress reduction really calls for. The Stress Management Society's website defines stress as, "... primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action."
Stress is any condition that provokes a response. Some stress is necessary for simply maintaining structure - bones are modeled and remodeled according to patterns of stress. Some stress can actually strengthen. Too much provocation is what switches the body to fight or flight (or sympathetic nervous system activation); that one more rude interaction than you can handle gracefully, one more request, one more close call in traffic - the one more than simply strengthens you.
The reason those stress hormones - adrenaline, cortisol, norepi - are deleterious is that they are built from the same building blocks all your good life hormones are built from. If you only experience this once in a while and the reaction is limited, you probably won't suffer from lack of the good stuff. But if you have a close call or provoking interaction every day, or even more, you have no time to recover, nor does your hormonal balance. You begin to make so much of the stress hormones you don't have the raw material for everything else you need.
But the body has a built in brake, if you know how to pull it: the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system). There are straight forward techniques of breathing, posture and imagery that can invoke your relaxation response. But you have to practice to have them available when you need them, and if your balance is already off, you need extra doses to bring the system back into balance.
Yoga is chock full of these practices and techniques for invoking your relaxation response and reducing cortisol already in the body. A daily practice gives you the familiarity to remember a helpful thing or two instead of giving in to the rapid retort or knee jerk response in alcohol, smoking, food or whatever your vice of the moment is.
Restorative yoga is like the reverse of a hard day at the office. Every so often you need a little extra bump of restorative: maybe a little every night or an hour every week. My favorite combo for nearly nightly, pre-bed reset? Queens Pose (Supta Buddha Konasana) + Legs Up the Wall, 5-15 minutes each.
You have an opportunity for a nearly total reset on Saturday, May 7th, 2016 from 12-2:30pm: Restorative Yoga with Reiki treatments from a master in an experiential workshop at Badlands Yoga. Know anyone who could use a real break? A grad or a mom, or maybe even you. Click the link and reserve one of the last spots today. You'll be happy you did.
Can't make it? Keep stopping by this blog for tips on how to include more yoga in your day, more restorative practices, more on strong practices to stoke your awesome and meditation to keep you in the zone. Leave a comment below about what stresses you the most and what helps you reset. One person will receive a personally designed weekly practice template to inspire their #HYP!
During September 2015 we'll be focusing on forward folds. Poses referred to as forward folds in yoga are poses in which your femur, or upper leg bone, is closer to your torso than 90 degrees.
When we focus on a particular class of poses - like forward folds - we focus on the actions of all the poses we do that involve this action. For instance, Downward Facing Dog has forward fold actions in the hips and backbend actions in the shoulders: we'll focus mostly on the hips this month. In Warrior I, instead of focusing primarily on shoulder actions, we'll focus on the leg strengthening action in the forward leg.
Forward folds both require and create strong, flexible core muscles - both the deep core and the vanity abs - to support a long, aligned spine with all its natural curves.
Hamstrings are a major focus during folds because the action of rotating the pelvis forward lifts the sitting bones from which the hamstrings originate. Since they attach to the bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) and cross the knee, keeping the knees bent while you flex at the hip with your core supporting your spine is the best way to enter forward folds form the majority of people - even very flexible ones. This allows you to create the container of the pose, focus on aligning with your breath and then to feel into the lengthening of the hamstrings as you straighten your legs, lengthening the hamstrings. Only go as far as you stay connected to your breath and your low back stays in great alignment; if the hamstrings are pulled down because they're not yet flexible and strong enough to cross the back of the leg fully extended, they'll pull your pelvis back toward its upright position and this will round your lower back. Rounding your lower back in forward folds puts you at risk for disk injury and generally compromises the fullness of your breath as low back rounding leads to shoulder and rib cage rounding. Bent knees allow you to stay connected through the entire body and create the strength you'll need when you're flexible enough to extend fully.
Forward folds are more contemplative, in general, than the mood elevating forward folds, and are great for calming anxiety, preparing for sleep and soothing your worried mind.
Look for forward folding focus in all my hatha, yin and restorative classes and explore the strength and flexibility that will allow you to rock your world from a place of calm and stability.
Questions about forward folds, hamstrings, home practice or yoga? Comment and get your answers here!
February's YinYasaTive classes could be called "Heart Opening," for Valentine's Day, Heart Month and Candelmas (half way through winter!), but I wanted to focus specifically on the theme of "connection." Connection is the theme of this year's retreats because it is vital to integrity.
When we move from connection - as opposed to isolation - we move with both sensation and awareness of the body as a whole. Often we're moving with such focus on a body part or an idea that other body parts nearly go limp.
We're using the isometric pull back of the arms often used in Sphinx pose to activate many of the less sensed and often missing muscles of the torso this month. You can try it now in a modified Warrior I, or even Mountain.
Remember to always end with your restoration pose when you're practicing on your own! One of the most integrative experiences you can have. Leave a comment here if you use these ideas in your practice this month - you'll encourage others and create even more connection!
"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny." - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
A brand new, fresh year. Someone told me yesterday that they love January because everything seems so possible for him. Here in the deep, dark of winter we make time for one last hurrah on New Year's Eve (even if that's just watching a ball drop or clinking glasses with sparkling water before going to bed at 10pm) and then wipe the proverbial slate clean as we awaken the next morning.
But what slate? What's changed? People make resolutions every year and a dismal number are still connected to them just 6 weeks later at Valentines.
Often we imagine that by saying something, maybe buying a new pair of shoes or equipment, we can squeeze our eyes shut real tight, ball up our fists and click our heels three times to arrive where we said we wanted to go.
But what if we had more important places to go? What if the thing we chose was really just the tip of the ice berg - or even a distraction from the root of what we intended to change? More importantly,
What if you're already whole and complete?
If you're already whole (spoiler alert: you are.) then the best thing you can do is connect to your deepest driving desire, your heartfelt desire, and plant that seed in the nurturing soil of your embodied consciousness, visit it often and allow for organic transformation over time. A year is a good span to live with.
You have a two step plan to get started, but don't worry, you'll enjoy these steps. You can rinse and repeat often over time, and here's the kicker: you'll want to.
Step One: Practice Yoga Nidra 61 points relaxation with enough time after to rest and listen to your heart, body, wisdom, journal if that's your thing. The deepest driving desire, your heartfelt truth may arise as a feeling, words, images. Just listen. Whatever you come up with - and if it seems like nothing, that's okay - you can't do this wrong - state it positively. Whatever is true "I am whole." "I am relaxed and open to new experience." "I am listening." These are simply examples, the possibilities are endless.
Step Two: Come back another time, remembering your expression of your heartfelt truth. Repeat Yoga Nidra 61 points and silently repeat your heartfelt truth in the stillness you've created through the practice.
A Sankalpa is more than a wish, a resolution or a petition. Rather than imposing a goal on your life, you allow a deep longing, heartfelt truth, to arise and then you actually pay attention to it. In listening, you commit to taking actions that this longing calls you to.
The heart center - the place where people rest their hand organically when making a decision, where joy can sometimes be felt as a leap and loss can feel like an actual cavern - is called "Anahata" in Sanskrit: unstruck. Like a bell. Like your original nature before the ups and downs of this life gave you habits and grooves, armor and vices. Like you.
Connecting to this sense of original self, a self without agendas or pretensions, is a matter of peeling back layers, in yoga and Sanskrit called "Koshas." Think of these as layers of how we learn to relate to ourselves. In Sanskrit, from the first to connect to to the final, here's what they're called and what it means:
You can turn them into questions to guide your practice and, in Yoga Nidra, you can bring them into awareness and learn how to deeply listen for your deepest driving desire, your heartfelt truth, that thing that lies under all the other things. In January we'll be working with the questions in classes, they're very simple and you can use them at home and in other activities:
Yoga Nidra can be practiced alone or after practice and we'll be approaching it in Savasana often this month through the 61 points practice. Technically, Yoga Nidra is the state of mind and the practice is a method for creating it, though people often use the term "Yoga Nidra" to refer to the practices that can lead to it.
There are many recordings you can use to guide you in the 61 points practice and sustaining awareness in the stillness it creates. You'll receive a free Yoga Nidra Guided Imagery Meditation when you sign up for the newsletter at the top right and you can use this to get started. We'll use this during New Year's Day YinYasative Celebration as well as the Restorative Workshop on Saturday, when we'll have plenty of time to take this journey twice in a restful, supported, even pampered environment. We'll practice a version at the end of most January classes.
Leave a comment and share how your experience with 61 Points Practice or Yoga Nidra and inspire others!
Restorative Yoga class for December 2014 combines Pranayama, Simple Yin Postures, Figure 8 Sacral Pump, Chi Kung and Fully Restorative Yoga Poses with Guided Meditations for a powerfully enlivening, relaxing, fire up your digestion class.
We digest not only the food we take in (and maybe a little extra over holiday time!), but also our experiences, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. The aim of yoga practice is to clarify the body, breath and mind so much that we process all of these varieties of experience as efficiently and effectively as possible, to release their energy and integrate their wisdom into every way we interact with and serve in our lives.
This class combines simple twists, powerful but simple chi kung and deeply restorative postures to invoke the parasympathetic nervous system - colloquially referred to as the "feed and breed" system, since in this relaxed but awake state our body sends circulation and nutrients to the core of the body, supporting these everyday processes of life. This is distinguished from (though interacts with) the more commonly known "fight or flight" - sympathetic - nervous response, which in the extreme shunts circulation and nutrients to the larger muscles of locomotion and away from digestion and reproduction.
Use this sequence to stoke your digestion of all you take in and share it with your family! One recent student experienced the relief of leg and low back pain she'd experienced for years after 3 classes:
"Thank you for Restorative Yoga class. My leg and feels better than it has in a long time, as well as my low back. After only three sessions it was a tremendous improvement in the leg that has been tight for a couple years." ~Chava"
Effective digestion of experience doesn't require reliving trauma or even necessarily knowing the exact cause. Chava reported no specific provoking factor or discrete injury, though she'd recently had a long car trip that seemed to aggravate the pain. Effective digestion does require bringing the body's sensation into the field of your awareness while integrating the breath. This sequence allows you bring those sensations gently to awareness, breathe and let go.
What are you digesting in your practice? What do want to digest on the mat? Do you ever surprise yourself with what comes up on the mat? Or what is resolved by your yoga practice? Share your experience here and let us know when you try this sequence or if you have any questions about how to follow it. Your practice - that's what this website is all about.
Pratyahara means sense withdrawal, and goodness knows we could all use some during the holidays. By attending to internal sounds you powerfully engage your relaxation response and give your nervous system a welcome break.
Bumble Bee Breath can be done reclining or sitting up and can be as simple as humming while you exhale with your eyes closed. The vibration in your body is a focal point for attention and letting go. You can add a mudra that emphasizes the internalizing of the senses, too - just listen to this short audio instruction and let me know how it goes for you.
Music in the background by Bill Bruedigam of Taos Winds - "Green Tara," with permission.
In our ongoing Wednesday "Hip Health: from Hip Pain to Living in Hip Harmony" Series, I thought we'd look at why a home yoga practice can be so healing for individuals with hip pain, injury, healing and recovery.
In Home Yoga Practice (HYP), you are the container for your practice. Which is both a philosophical and a practical advantage. You are the awareness in which your practice is held, so the practice is authentically your own and not a modification of your teacher's practice (which has its place as well). But you also get to choose: Is today a 15 minute Legs Up the Wall day to reduce inflammation and restore your inner cruise? Or is today one on which you want to explore new ways to step forward in Sun Salutations because the standard foot placement isn't working any longer? Is today a day for gentle Crow Walking and Toe Tapping, wrapped up with a Bridge before Savasana? Or do you want to explore range of motion with Figure 8s?
Whether you deal with hip pain, another locus of pain or simply want to explore your practice on your own, HYP offers you options to tailor your practice to your life that aren't possible in classes or even private lessons. As little as 5 minutes a day at first can radically change your quality of life, as well as of your yoga on and off the mat. Give it a try; comment below to share your experience and even request suggestions. See you on the mat!
I've been hearing from more and more people who have dealt with hip pain and undergone hip replacement surgeries, so I thought I'd start a series on how to cope with, ameliorate and even transcend hip pain. This is the first of a series of Wednesday posts on hip pain. I do not advocate yoga as a substitute for surgery when necessary and I do advocate rest in the acute phase of injury. Yoga has its place in healing and experiencing your wholeness, despite any stage of debilitation, injury or pain. Yoga can heal many things. Yoga does not fix everything. Yoga always helps you as a whole human being.
Hip pain has so many possible causes that if you experience it you absolutely must consult a doctor about determining its cause and get options for treatment. What I'll write about here are the things I did to endure and relieve pain, to deal with post operative re-starting of my engine and to recover from my anterior hip replacement.
If you'd like to read more about that experience you can read this post - I highly recommend it if you're considering or recovering from a hip replacement. Not because of my writing or story, but because of the courageous and generous people who have commented on that post, sharing their knowledge, experience and heart.
For today.... an exercise that helped and still helps me endlessly. Crow Walking. I have no idea why this is called Crow Walking, exactly, but it is genius for creating gentle hip mobility and maintaining range of motion and lubricating the joint even when it hurts. As I say over on YogaGuide, this was my secret weapon leading up to my hip replacement, when the pain and disability was at its worst.
Re-post from my old YogaGuide Blog on WordPress:
" One of my secret weapons before the hip replacement was a version of “windshield wipers” that I learned in Pre-Natal certification from Jacci Reynolds that she called "Crow Walking."
Read more here....
I get it. You're falling in love with yoga and you want to make sure you have everything you're going to need, and maybe a few shiny things to spare.
Truth is, though, there's not much gear to get set up.
One of the many beauties of yoga.
Most folks practice with a mat and though even this is optional, you'll probably want one. If you come to OMA to practice with me, you may use a borrowed mat and block, but having your own for ongoing practice is advisable and usually quite affordable. They are portable ways to create a special space and get your attention focused on yoga.
Learning to practice sans mat is equally useful as having the option to use one. You'll discover a whole new level of core engagement and realize how much the mat really does. As you become more connected and stronger you'll discover exactly how to provide the same stability for yourself. Sometimes you'll find yourself without a mat, though, when you really want to break into a Down Dog or Cobra. Maybe you forgot to stash your mat in the trunk, which you realize on the way to class or it's in a suitcase that gets behind. You just don't always have a mat when you need to have some yoga.
Blocks are also optional, but make for a much more aligned seated posture for the grand majority of people. Blankets do just as well as blocks if you prefer them. The idea is to elevate your sitting bones - the bony projections on the bottom of your pelvis - so they are able to point straight down instead of forward due to tight hamstrings, inner thighs or even just bony anatomy. You always want your knees lower than your hips in seated postures.
Cushions, bolsters, eye pillows and blankets are helpful for optimal sitting position, feeling muscular engagement in poses, assisting with balance and setting up restorative and meditative postures. Straps are useful for connecting hands behind the back, for connecting hands to feet in balance postures while maintaining healthy alignment and also some restorative postures.
You may not always have Mom around to be your bolster in restorative backbends:
So here are some options to get you started. I'm not affiliated with any of these companies, but they are companies I source my own gear through.
REI has great mats you can get your hands on, if there's one in your area. They carry my personal fave (though it's the spendiest, too): Manduka Pro and Prolite. This is the mat I've practiced on for 11 years. There've been others along the way, but I always come back for comfort, no-nonsense surface, a little cushion and unparalleled durability. (The lifetime guarantee is no joke.) It's adjustable shoulder strapped carrying case with a little zip pocket is a welcome bonus, especially when hiking.
The best deals that I've found are on YogaDirect where I buy supplies for teaching and you can buy just one of anything.
Start with little things and remember its about how you feel and what you can feel, how you live in your body. What are your favorite sources and props? How do you use them? Leave a comment below and be entered into a drawing for a Half Hour Private Yoga Lesson at the end of August!