Category

Yoga

Functional Foot Fitness

By Wellness, YogaNo Comments

Yoga can and should be a tool to better many aspects of wellness. Flexibility, endurance, strength, balance—and functional fitness. Functional fitness is just what it sounds like: Working towards achieving and sustaining a level of fitness that serves functional purposes in your life. As we age, we naturally lose functional fitness to varying degrees. If you’re a westerner, your lifestyle has probably drastically stunted your innate functional fitness, too. Desk jobs, Netflix binges on couches or in bed, western-style toilets, and wearing comfy socks and shoes destroy functional fitness.

A popular doctor’s test for a patient 55+ is to ask them to stand up from a seated position on the ground without using their hands or arms. A lot of people can’t do it, and you certainly don’t need to be in your golden years to fall into this camp! It’s a simple test that can tell you so much. However, it’s just one example of functional fitness that we lose.

You don’t want to be unable to get up from the ground without using your hands. You don’t want to be traveling in Asia and find yourself incapable of using a Turkish toilet (especially if said toilet is in a bar with unmentionable liquids surrounding it … trust me). You don’t want to have poor balance simply because you wore socks (or as I like to call them: foot mittens) and shoes for so many years that your toes have atrophied and stick together.

Function. It’s our job to practice it and keep it.

Putting the “Fun” in Functional

Okay, that was a pun I couldn’t resist thanks to the writer in me (and general love of puns). Still, functional fitness pairs perfectly with yoga and is ideally a part of every practice. A synonym of “functionality” is “purpose,” and that’s exactly what we all need more of in our life. A life of purpose is one that helps you thrive.

One of my favorite asanas (poses) for functional fitness is prayer squat. Work towards getting your heels to touch the floor if they don’t already. And if they don’t, know that it may never happen. Every body is different, and prayer squat can be especially challenging for distance runners who need those tight hamstrings to stay safe.

I also like to earmark part of every practice for foot fitness. Your feet have 52 bones, which is one quarter of all the bones in your body! Each foot also has 19 muscles and tendons, 107 ligaments and 33 joints. They were designed to move and flex (in both directions) a lot. Toes should be able to separate, flex, and lift individually (seriously!) just like our fingers. Think they don’t move as much as fingers because they’re so short? That’s just not true. Children’s fingers are very short, and our thumbs are relatively short, yet we know just how strong and flexible they are regardless of length.

Get a Foot Fetish

During each yoga practice, and at least once a day regardless, dedicate a few minutes to working out your feet. Try to lift and spread all toes while keeping the rest of your foot squarely on the floor with equal weight distribution. Practice lifting each toe individually. This might take a lifetime of practice and you’ll never fully get there, but you will certainly get better with practice.

More importantly, embrace the barefoot lifestyle whenever you can. Go without shoes, no matter how “good for you” marketers claim them to be. All shoes, even the Vibram five-finger shoes, are no match for barefoot. Ditch the socks, too, which gently squish your toes together. Recognize that in the western world, we’re very spoiled when it comes to surface areas. We walk on pavement, hardwoods, and carpets, which all weaken our foot and ankle bones that are begging for a challenge. Go off course, walk on trails, take a hike, and trust the lowest part of your body to find balance on uneven ground.

Finding balance. It’s a goal that we never fully achieve for more than a few brief seconds. It’s really the journey where the magic happens. The destination? Well, it doesn’t really exist, so allow yourself to fall in love with the ups and downs, those peaks and valleys.

Building Spinal Strength from Cobra Pose to Upward Facing Dog

By Yoga, Yoga PosesNo Comments

In vinyasa yoga, Cobra Pose is usually considered a basic posture for beginners. Alternately, Upward Facing Dog, an intermediate pose, is regularly taught in a vinyasa sequence. In vinyasa, either of the poses can be used interchangeably during transition, though they are distinctly different. Due to the quickened nature of a vinyasa practice, these poses are usually held only for the length of an inhalation. Because of this, many vinyasa students have not experienced a full range of extension in Cobra Pose, nor have they properly aligned their Upward Facing Dog. However, when practiced regularly and correctly, both Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog build spinal strength and flexibility, allowing students of all levels to participate in flow-style vinyasa practices.

Vinyasa yoga has its roots in Ashtanga yoga; a style of practice developed by K. Pattabhi Jois in the mid-twentieth century, which is considered to be the backbone of modern Western yoga. Ashtanga yoga’s formulated sequence of poses is preformed in a specific order, whereas vinyasa yoga is a freeform practice with limitless variations. Both styles are energetic, dynamic, and steadily paced. The term vinyasa is a linkage of two Sanskrit words: nyasa, meaning “to place”, and vi, “in sacred accord.” To vinyasa, therefore, is to preform poses in accordance to the breath, each transition synchronized with either an inhalation or exhalation.

While a vinyasa style class known for its flowing sequences, its claim to fame is the transition of Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog to Downward Facing Dog. In the heighted pace of a one-breath-one-pose setting, learning the mechanics of a proper Upward Facing Dog often requires a greater length of time then allotted for in a general vinyasa practice. Due to the highly mobile structure of the hand, elbow, and shoulder, an improperly aligned Upward Facing Dog places the practitioner at a physical disadvantage. Because we often misuse our hands and arms in computer-related activities, it is essential that we execute the vinyasa transition, particularly Upward Facing Dog, with precision and awareness. Because the vinyasa transition can occur with frequency, taking the time to learn proper alignment, and to build the supportive muscles of the spine, is important to prevent injury. To this end, Cobra Pose offers a well-suited alternative to Upward Facing Dog, and prepares the body for the rigors of vinyasa.

Cobra Pose is a fundamental posture within a solid asana practice. As a floor pose, it is both accessible to beginners and well suited for daily practitioners. Cobra Pose can be used during a vinyasa sequence as a substitute for Upward Facing Dog without breaking the flow, offering a variation that is gentler on the back, shoulders, neck, and wrists. To practice Cobra Pose, lie down on the floor with the stomach downward. Press the hands flat on the floor on either side of the ribcage, just below armpit level. Curl the toes under, and while keeping the ankles together, pull the heels of the feet back, lifting the knees from the ground. With an inhalation, lift the chest and upper back upwards. With an exhalation, roll the shoulders back and downwards. Keep the entire abdominal sheath on the floor while pressing the chest forwards, creating traction by firmly pressing the palms down and pulling the elbows back and in. When done correctly, Cobra Pose stretches and strengthens the upper back, chest, and shoulders, while also developing the musculature of the upper, middle, and lower back, as well as the upper arms. To fully experience the benefits of this pose, it should be practiced daily to build strength, flexibility, and the habit of good alignment.

Building from Cobra Pose, Upward Facing Dog strengthens the entire spine, deepens flexibility, and is incredibly rejuvenating. When practiced properly, Upward Facing Dog can elevate spinal stiffness, aches, and pains. To practice Upward Facing Dog, lie on the floor with the stomach downward. Press the hands on the floor on either side of the ribcage, just below armpit level. Push the hands down and straighten the elbows, lifting the body off of the floor, leaving only the tops of the feet and the palms of the hands on the mat. Engage the muscles of the legs; lift the chest forward and up, drawing the shoulders and upper back downward. Look forward, or upward, if it causes no tension. Press the pelvis forward, and the back of the knees upward as much as possible. Because all of the body’s weight rests in the hands and on the tops of the feet, avoid sinking into the joints of the shoulders and lower back by actively lifting forward and up. Engage the muscles of the legs and arms as much as possible, and avoid bending the knees or leaving them on the floor to prevent injury or soreness in the lower back.

While it might seem that established practitioners of vinyasa yoga prefer Upward Facing Dog as the gold standard of backbends, Cobra Pose is a viable alternative that builds strength, flexibility, and healthy alignment. Far from being a simplified variation of Upward Facing Dog, Cobra Pose offers tremendous benefits both physically and subjectively, especially with daily practice. When properly preformed, both Upward Facing Dog and Cobra Pose are fundamental components of a healthy asana practice. It is important, therefore, to take the time to learn proper application and alignment of these poses, especially in vinyasa practices where the length of time spent in the pose may only be a breath. When the alignment becomes second nature, and the breath is steady, both Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog can be preformed smoothly, and used interchangeably as needed.

 

By Holly Beck

Crow’s Game

By Gaming, YogaNo Comments

It took me six years of consistent practice before I managed to lift off my toes in bhakasana. The first time I came into the pose I was practicing yoga on the cement walkway in my backyard. Previously, I had always tried to pick my toes off the mat purposefully. On this day, however, I decided to track a little ant making its way towards the top of my mat with my nose. I leaned forward over my flat hands, covering the ant with the shadow of my head, causing it to speed forward towards the sun. I leaned forward more, and… POP! My toes pulled right off the ground, just as I looked up to see the ant trekking along in the sun, about 10 inches above my mat. Did I breathe? Did I balance long? The only lingering memory is the elation of having lifted into bhakasana for the first time, and the eagerness to do it again.

So, I play a little game with myself every time I practice Crow. Midway through my asana practice, I set up for Crow and tell my feet, “Hey toes, don’t come off the ground.” In my mind, in my voice, I say those words to myself, “Hey toes, whatever you do…don’t come off the ground!” Its playful, it’s silly. After all, crows are the pranksters of the animal kingdom. Crows caw in a way that’s practically a laugh out loud. They delight in shiny objects and trinkets, and won’t hesitate to swoop down and grab a bobble right off your picnic table in front of your face. This pose is all about fun. I’d been too serious in my earlier attempts at Crow. In the spirit of jest, I say, “TOES! Do not lift off the floor!” And, POP! There they go again! Toes up and at ‘em, Crow in motion, I smile and look up to see not an ant, but the smiling faces of my yoga students as I play my little game aloud while teaching class.

Crow is contagious. You know, they rarely fly alone. When one person “gets it,” or masters the pose, and can explain the how-to, crows begin to pop up on yoga mats throughout the class, throughout the entire yoga studio, even. Bhakasana practice is so beneficial; especially to build upper-body strength, even if the toes, truly, do not come off the ground. And that is fine! Maybe it’ll take you six years to “get it,” like me. But, nah! I did those years of groundwork as a service to all of us. If you’re ready lift off into Crow, play the game the little ant taught me! You’ll gain Crow pose, and so much more…but let me not get ahead of myself!

OBJECTIVE:

Bhakasana

SET UP:

Spend five to ten breaths in malasana, squat pose, while practicing mulabhandha. Mulabhandha is a concentrated contraction of perineum muscle applied on the exhale. This engagement feels similar to withholding the flow of urine. Release mulabhandha on inhale, drawing the breath down the length of the spine. Apply this same breath technique throughout the practice of Crow.

Now, position yourself: Flatten your palms on the ground shoulder distance apart with spread fingers. The elbows should bent inward, towards the ribcage, with the upper arms parallel to the floor. Lift the hips high, lift the heels up, and place the knees on the upper arms. Use the upper arms like tables to support the knees.

PLAY THE GAME:

Now you’re ready to play! Crows are flyers! Let your eyes follow an upward path, look up as much as you can, and begin to lean your body’s weight forward into your hands, arms and shoulders. Look up! You’re a bird! Just move forward and look to your trajectory. Now, in your mind, say, “Hey toes! Don’t pick up off the floor!” HA HA HA! Laughing like a crow, how silly you are, talking to your toes! Try it again, “Hey toes! Whatever you do, don’t come off the floor!” Its no big deal, this isn’t about our toes, or our legs, we are using our arms and our eyes to fly! Lean forward! Look up! Breath! Apply mulabhandha on exhale, lifting your hips up to the sky.

HOW TO WIN:

Play Crow pose for five breaths, three times a week, for one month.

Dare to play? There is only one winner in this game, and that is the one who plays it. Crow is such a lighthearted pose, after all, how can you fly weighted down? Put a smile on your face, and learn the lesson of the little ant. Look forward, look up, chase the sun, and keep going! Many asana poses are named after animals. There is a sort of childlike magic we can tap into when we embody the energy of the animals the poses are named for, as if they lend their characteristics to the shape. All we have to do is animate those shapes with our breath. Animals teach us to not be so serious, to live in the moment, and just go about the business of being exactly what we are.

The beauty of Crow is that it unlocks a pantheon of inversion postures. Crow pose is more about upward motion and steady balance than it is about strength. The dynamic upward lift of the posture is not conducive to force. No matter how much we try to lift our toes up, feet up, legs up, until we are balanced on the edge of flight, we’re earthbound. However, at some point, weightless occurs within bhakasana. Once you “have it,” Crow sets the foundation for handstands, forearm stands, and crazy fun animal poses like titibhasana, Firefly pose, urdhva kukutasana, Upward Rooster pose, and pincha mayurasana, Peacock Feather pose. All the flying animals come out to play once Crow takes flight! Have some fun on your mat, and play this little game with yourself. You just may find you’re no longer a busy ant trekking along your way, but a heralding Crow, calling in the power of flight.

 

By Holly Beck

10 Reasons To Make Time For Yin Yoga

By Yin Yoga, YogaNo Comments

Yin yoga is considered an introspective practice that gives students the chance to turn inward and nurture a calm, quiet state of mind that lives within all of us. It’s a practice in stillness, patience, and non-reactivity. Through yin yoga we become better listeners by learning to tune in, wiser as we get to know ourselves from the inside out, and more curious about our own inner world.

Some of the popular benefits of yin yoga include:

  • Reduces stress
  • Balances our yang energy
  • Relieves tension
  • Improves flexibility
  • Helps us learn to handle stress
  • Encourages mindfulness and meditation

Keep reading to learn more reasons why you should take time to add a yin yoga practice to your day.

 

The Stillness Of Yin Yoga Prepares Us For Meditation.

The yin practice sets us up to tap into a meditation mindset. Our daily cloud of thoughts and distractions tend to block us from being able to dive deeply into our consciousness. When we find space for physical stillness in a yin practice, we create conditions for the brain to become clear.

 

Yin Yoga Helps Us Learn Balance.

Finding balance within our lives is a juggling act — we have jobs, family, friends, responsibilities, and hobbies. If you look at the yin/yang symbol you’ll notice that the white and black sections are in perfect balance. Many of us live very active lives and leave little or no time to bathe in the quiet, introspective side. Over time this can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Through a yin yoga practice we can restore balance so that both sides have equal and necessary attention.

 

A Yin Yoga Practice Allows Us To Slow Down.

The long holds in yin yoga poses provide a chance to bathe in stillness. There is a shift that occurs while holding a yin posture. Time opens up for us — deadlines, pressing matters, and to-do lists fade away and open up space for rest and renewal.

 

You Can Learn Self-compassion Through Yin Yoga.

Taking care of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self is crucial to our wellbeing. A yin practice offers us the chance to observe, nurture, and calm ourselves. Carefully moving into a  posture and focusing on your body’s specific needs is a form of self-care.

 

Handle Stress Better With Yin Yoga.

Holding a pose for several minutes can provoke anxiety. But when we approach it with tenderness, the body acclimates. Surrender is a common theme in yin yoga, and giving up the need to control a situation is a lesson that we can carry with us into our day-to-day lives. The ability to adapt to the ups and downs of life and to manage change with grace can lessen our predisposition to stress.

 

Yin Practice Can Restore Range Of Motion.

A healthy range of motion requires our layers of connective tissue to allow for the muscles to glide over each other. But injury, poor posture, and aging (among other factors) can tighten the connective tissues and create ‘adhesions’ and restrict the movement between the sliding surfaces of the muscles. Adhesions block the flow of nutrients and energy, (think of a traffic jam) causing pain and limiting range of motion. When we hold poses that gently and safely lengthen the muscles and connective tissues, it helps break up adhesions. Applying mild stress to joints and connective tissues can also increase their range of motion.

 

Yin Yoga Rejuvenates The Body.

Our body’s tissues can experience a revival of sorts with a long soak the same way that an old, stiff sponge can. As you hold a yin pose, the slow release that takes you deeper into the pose is the tissues lengthening, hydrating, and becoming more pliable. Many times you even can sense the tissues being stretched, squeezed, twisted, and compressed if you really focus your attention on the physical body. A yin practice has the potential to leave you feeling as though you’ve had a massage.

 

A Yin Yoga Practice Creates The Opportunity To Sit With Emotions.

Our bodies store emotions, so from time to time our thoughts, feelings, and memories can bubble to the surface during a yoga practice. Yin teaches us how to be gentle, patient, and nonreactive. When emotions bubble to the surface, the conditions are safe for us to explore them.

 

Yin Yoga Taps Into The Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Belly breathing, (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) is a powerful way to induce the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system is good for us. It helps alleviate stress, tension, blood pressure and aids in better sleep, digestion, and immune function. Most of our time is spent stuck in the sympathetic nervous system because we live busy, active lives.

Belly breathing can change this.

As you move deeper into your yin practice, the breath slows down significantly, pulling you deeper and deeper into this parasympathetic, or relaxation, state. This is where the internal organs get a chance to catch up on their to-do list (digest, eliminate toxins, heal, repair).

 

Yin Creates An Opportunity To Cultivate Gratitude For Our Bodies

Yin yoga allows us to return to our bodies and to see just how remarkable we are. Diving deeper into the layers of ourselves, we learn about our inner workings, connecting to respiratory and circulatory functions, internal organs, and sensations within the muscles and joints. This heightened awareness of the body brings us closer to santosha, or contentment.

The more you practice Yin Yoga, the more you will embrace the act of slowing down and connecting to yourself. As Bernie Clark said, “Completeness, wholeness often requires a rebalancing and a returning to the center where I can see my energies and care for my soul.”

 

Interested in becoming a yin yoga teacher? Learn about our Yin Yoga Teacher Training and contact us to learn more!

How Yoga Can Help With Anxiety Symptoms

By Wellness, YogaNo Comments

Panic attacks and anxiety impacts our life in many ways, but there are a ton of coping tools available. However, during this time of the COVID-19 crisis, it might feel harder to utilize the tools that tend to be so widely available. For instance, gyms and yoga studios are closed, you might have lost some income, and we should be staying inside to help lessen the spread of this virus. This has created not only a lot of sudden change, but also much more anxiety, even in people who don’t struggle with anxiety on a regular basis.

Despite the challenges of panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms, there are many self-help strategies that can assist you in coping with these feelings. Activities such as breathing and other relaxation techniques are available to help you feel more calm, peaceful, and in control. Some of the most common strategies include breathing exercises, visualization work, and yoga. These techniques have been found to reduce anxiety and may even help panic attacks.

Yoga happens to be an activity that actually has all many relaxation techniques. Plus, yoga has been known to help ease stress, reduce feelings of nervousness, and enhance mindfulness. For these reasons, yoga can be a great tool during this time where many things are changing at once and feelings of anxiety can be extreme.

A small but intriguing study done at the University of Utah provided some insight into the effect of yoga on the stress response by looking at the participants’ responses to pain. The researchers noted that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.

 

Benefits of Yoga for Anxiety

Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone, especially if you are dealing with mental and physical anxiety.

For people dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga can be a great way to better manage symptoms. The scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental & physical health are not just closely related, but are essentially deeply connected. Evidence is starting to prove that most yoga practices are a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

In 2011, Harvard published an analysis of data from a sample of people and found that 3% (the equivalent of nearly 6.4 million Americans) had been advised by their health care practitioners to use mind-body therapies like yoga and meditation — and more than a third of those patients had a diagnosis of anxiety.

“We’ve seen a significant uptick in referrals from psychologists, especially for patients with anxiety,” says Steve Hickman, PsyD, executive director of the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness, where health care practitioners — including psychologists — conduct mindfulness research and offer classes for patients. “Therapists and doctors are rethinking their attitudes toward meditative approaches largely because there’s a persuasive body of evidence showing that [these modalities] can help with stress and mood disorders.”

 

The Science Behind Yoga for Anxiety

The science in hundreds of studies have looked at the benefits of meditation for calming the mind, but possibly the most definitive paper was published in the journal of JAMA Internal Medicine. In the review, researchers at Johns Hopkins University analyzed 47 studies on meditation programs that involved at least four hours of training. “We found consistent evidence that mindfulness meditation reduced the symptoms of anxiety to some degree across studies,” said Madhav Goyal, MD, lead author and assistant professor of medicine. “When you’re anxious, your mind can get carried away with worrying about things that might happen, and that actually makes you feel worse and can cause other symptoms, like insomnia. Meditation teaches people certain skills that can help counteract that tendency, like staying in the moment, recognizing worried thoughts when they’re happening, and preventing them from getting worse.”

In the research, about 20 to 30 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation — a specific type that aims to cultivate awareness of present-moment thoughts, feelings, and experiences — showed the most promise. But there’s evidence that many other meditation types can be effective, as well. Based on his team’s findings, Goyal, a practicing internist, now recommends meditation not only to his patients with anxiety but also to those who are depressed and in physical pain — the two other conditions for which the study found the practice to be effective. “It works and it’s safe, and that’s a good combination,” he says.

 

Morgan Gertler received her 200HR RYT certification in 2014 from highly esteemed Kripalu teachers and then continued her learning in 2017 by completing her 300HR RYT certification with teachers from Yogamaya and the Iyengar Institute in NYC. Morgan also completed her Yin Level 1 & 2 trainings and loves being able to teach both sides, the yin & yang, of the yoga practice. Morgan views yoga as a vehicle to get back to yourself – through movement and breath-work, we learn how to live a more authentically happy & content life and meet all situations with confidence. When not teaching or practicing yoga, Morgan can be found writing, walking around town with her two dogs, Jagger and Bowie or browsing Sephora for more make up she doesn’t need. Morgan is also a regular content contributor for YogaRenew.

 

 

Cozy At Home Yoga Sequence

By Yoga, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

While staying at home, it can be easy to feel lazy, unmotivated to exercise, eager to eat more than usual or even overwhelmed and stressed about current events. In addition to stress, the weather is cold which lures you into your warm bed, often unwilling to physically challenge yourself in your practice. What if I told you that you can incorporate a slow-paced, restorative yoga sequence into your daily routine which will leave you relaxed and refreshed instead of sore and tired? Restorative yoga sequences usually consist of only a few asanas that are held for a minimum of 5 minutes in order to supply the full benefits of each asana. The following sequence provides a wonderful way to wind down during stressful times and treat your body without feeling exhausted.

1. Child’s Pose


Begin in Child’s Pose, sitting back on your heels with your knees spread apart. Extend your arms in front of you and allow your forehead to rest on the mat. Take a deep inhale and with every exhale, stretch your fingertips even further and let your hips sink down toward the mat. This asana is ideal to practice at the beginning and end of a restorative sequence as it provides a gentle stretch in the lower body while relaxing the upper body and releasing tension. After a few minutes of holding this asana, feel free to try variations. For instance, you can stretch your arms to either side or thread one arm under your torso toward the other side with the other arm extended forward for a deep shoulder stretch.

2. Happy Baby Pose


After you’ve relaxed in Child’s Pose for several minutes, slowly transition to Happy Baby Pose. To do this, walk your fingers toward your torso as you lift your upper body from the mat. Then, untuck your feet from beneath your sit bones and lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Bring your knees into your chest and grip the outsides of your feet or your big tones with your hands. Gently pull your feet outwards so that your knees open wide and you feel a deep stretch in your hips. You can choose to rock side to side for an even deeper release in the groin area or simply find stillness in this asana for a few minutes. With every exhale, allow your knees to drop closer towards the mat and focus on letting go of stress and tensions as you continue to breathe through this deep stretch.

3. Reclining Bound Angle Pose


From the previous asana, release your legs onto the mat with your knees still bent and opened outwards to each side. Make sure to position your feet close to your pelvis Bring the soles of your feet to touch. Remain lying down and allow your arms to rest by your side or on your abdomen. Close your eyes and focus on taking deep breaths for up to 5 minutes in this classic, restorative asana. The benefits include stimulation of the abdominal organs, circulation, and heart as well as a gentle stretch of the thighs and knees.

4. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Transitioning from Reclining Bound Angle Pose, position yourself close to a wall and facing the wall, extend your legs up against it. Your back should remain straight and horizontal with your arms resting wherever they are comfortable. In this asana, your sit bones should be either touching the wall or close to it while supporting your legs and your body should be creating a 90 degree angle. Remain in this position for at least 5 minutes as you continue to breathe deeply and steadily. The benefits of this asana include increased circulation, a deep stretch in the lower back and hamstrings, stress relief, and relaxation of the pelvic floor. To exit this pose, slowly bend your knees and shift them to one side as you come to a seated position.

Step 5. Seated Forward Fold

Begin by sitting on the mat with a straight back and your legs extended in front of you. Feel free to sit on a folded blanket or a bolster for additional support. As you inhale, reach your arms up towards the sky and with a deep exhale, fold your body from your hips as you attempt to reach your knees, feet, or even toes. A key thing to remember is that the goal is not to force your fingertips to your toes; instead, focus on bringing your chest to your thighs, nose to your knees, and forehead to your legs during this stretch. With every exhale, allow tension to be released from your body and surrender even further in this asana. Some benefits of Seated Forward Fold include stress relief, a deep stretch in the shoulders and spine, and improve digestion.

Step 6. Corpse or Savasana Pose

Let’s end this sequence with a mindful asana to eliminate any meaningless thoughts and ground yourself. Keep your legs extended in front of you on the mat with your arms resting by your sides with your palms facing up. Make sure that your back is straight and there is no arch in your lower back as you lie flat on the mat. Close your eyes and feel your body sink as it becomes heavier with every breath. Corpse Pose is a favorite asana for many people due to its restorative nature. Corpse Pose is a pose of total relaxation which requires remaining in a neutral position, often a challenging task. The purpose of corpse pose is to consciously calm the mind which in turn, calms the nervous system and lowers blood pressure resulting in a state of ultimate serenity. The duration of this asana depends on your preference, however 10-20 minutes are recommended.

Don’t let the stress or being at home hinder your yoga practice and instead, let it nourish it! There’s nothing wrong with leaving hatha and ashtanga yoga aside during this time and focusing on restorative poses to feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and at peace.

 

​Savasana: The Crown Jewel of Yoga Asana

By Yoga, Yoga PosesNo Comments

Though we follow different traditions of yoga asana, most all lead us to the final destination of relaxation, savasana. The practice of asana prepares our students’ minds and bodies for deeper awareness, by which savasana is the gateway. Savasana is subtle, a practice that builds the foundation for meditation and pratyahara. As yoga teachers, we can prepare our students for a deep savasana practice once we comprehend why we do it, and how.

Savasana integrates asana and ujjayi breathing on a deep level. It also serves as a transition from the formal practice of yoga into the outside world. Many students fall asleep during savasana, which is normal, but not the intent of the practice. The body becomes fatigued from the work of a balanced asana practice, while the mind becomes focused and calm through concentrated breathing. In savasana, the needs of the body and mind are transcended, and true relaxation and release can take place.

In savasana, some yogis may experience a dreamlike state, not quite like sleep, but unconscious nonetheless. Others may simply lose themselves, remembering nothing but the lingering stillness after the practice is complete. And some may have experiences beyond the mind and body that defy explanation. Because of the subtle nature of savasana, it is best to let whatever comes come, and to speak little of the inward nature of the practice. To articulate into words what cannot be perceived by the intellect bypasses the mysterious nature of our connection to the unknown. Just like yoga asana, some sessions are difficult, and some come with gentle ease, but in the end, savasana is a practice– a process to apply again and again.

From the outset, savasana appears to be simple and defined. Lie down, close your eyes, do nothing. However, for yoga teachers to hold space for our students to enter this deep state of relaxation, we require technical know-how, practice, and attentiveness. If your students are restless in savasana– fidgeting, coughing, or are lying with their eyes open, implementing the following techniques will help you to prepare them for deeper restoration. First, a balanced asana practice, with both rigor and cool down, is essential. The body must be worked in order to access the mind, and that work must be released in order to fully relax. Offering a cooling sequence about 10 minutes long is effective, especially if the final poses are done on the back, such as jathara parivattanasana, Revolved Belly Pose. Next, allow for 5 minutes of deep ujjayi breathing, either lying down or sitting up. Smoothly transitioning your students from the dynamic practice of asana into meditative breathing will prepare them to relax and will support the integrative process of savasana.

Creating a calming environment during the cool down portion of your class will subconsciously prepare your students for savasana. Dim the lights if possible, or turn them off completely. Slowly lower the volume of your regular music until it is mute prior to beginning your breath exercises. Similarly, begin to soften your instructional voice and slow your cadence as you bring your students into their final postures. I find that using the same words to guide my students to the floor, class after class, signals a state of relaxation, with each instruction slower and quieter than the last. Encourage your students to lie down quietly with minimal movement. Instruct them, practice after practice, to relax, to be still, and to let go. Finally, play a rhythmic selection of music especially reserved for savasana, ideally, without words that the mind can grab ahold of.

While your students are journeying inward, it is important for you, as the teacher, to reinforce the subtle work of their practice. Savasana is not a time for a teacher to check their phone, to leave the room and socialize in the reception area of the studio, or any number of things that might pull attention away from the students. Savasana is a time for you to go inward, as well. During savasana, you can sit in silent introspection, chant mantra in your mind, or lie down quietly. Be present in the subtly of the practice, for this space is our forum of learning, as much as it is for our teaching.

Allow your students to remain in savasana for at least 5 minutes, and then slowly, softly, and quietly draw them out of their inner space by bringing awareness back to the breath. Take several breaths yourself and give ample silence between your cueing in allowance for the deep state your students are coming out of. Encourage gentle movements before the greater motion of turning to a side. Patiently guide them to a seated position, and end your class as appropriate. In this way, the effects of the entire practice of asana, ujjayi, and savasana will stay with your students long after they leave the studio space. In the end, savasana is the crowning jewel of an asana practice, one that can touch the heart and souls of all who practice it.

 

 

Holly Beck is an experienced, advanced yoga instructor with nearly twenty years of teaching and mentoring experience. Classically trained in the tradition of the Sri Vidya lineage, Holly’s class promises an authentic yoga experience for practitioners of all levels with steady pacing, a continuous meditation on breath, and masterful sequencing. While she enjoys all levels of yoga, Holly’s true gift is working with pregnant women. Holly’s specialized prenatal yoga practice, The Yoga Of Birth, has prepared hundreds of women for empowered birthing experiences. Holly holds degrees in English and the Science of Health and Wellness from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been featured in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, and she is recognized by the Doula Association of Southern California as a leader in prenatal education. Holly is currently developing a sustainable, rural retreat center for conscientious living in Costa Rica. For more information, please visit www.seedsofloveproject.org. Holly also regularly writes content for YogaRenew Teacher Training.

 

How to Do Headstand (Sirsasana): 6 Tips to Master the Pose

By Yoga, Yoga PosesNo Comments

How to Do Headstand (Sirsasana): 6 Tips to Master the Pose

In case you haven’t noticed, headstands have been plastered all over social media lately, along with many other beautiful and intricate inversions. Being upside-down provides many benefits apart from looking graceful; the positioning of your heart above your head relieves stress, strengthens the core, increases blood circulation, gives a boost of energy, and helps to decrease leg swelling. If you are a beginner and new to inversions, attempting a headstand is the way to get started because there is more surface to balance on. From my experience and advice that I have received, here are some tips to help you navigate headstand and master this asana in no time!

 

1. Practice against a wall

As a beginner, with any inversion, the wall is a great place to start. Going upside down for the first time can be intimidating and since the most common concern is falling, using a wall can eliminate most of that fear. By practicing against a wall, you can slowly learn where your center of balance is which eventually will come naturally. Although the wall is a great form of assistance, try not to rely on it and slowly move away from it as you progress in your practice. For instance, begin in a tabletop position on the mat and lower yourself onto your forearms keeping them shoulder-distance apart. Interlace your fingers and create a cushion to support the crown of your head. Next, with your hands touching the wall, place your head onto your hands and start walking your toes closer to your torso while allowing your weight to be supported by your arms. Once your hips are above your head, try lifting one foot at a time off the mat and hugging it into your chest. When you feel comfortable and stable enough, try hugging both feet into your chest and with control, extending them up towards the sky. Practicing this while facing the wall will make you feel safer since you know it will catch you if you lose your balance.

2. Don’t kick up

If you’ve noticed in my previous instructions on how to get into a headstand, there is no kicking involved. Many beginners kick up to get into this inversion but I recommended trying to achieve this asana with control and slower movement. As you might imagine, kicking up can also increase your chances of falling. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you rely too much on kicking up into this pose against the wall, once the wall is taken away, you will continue practicing with too much momentum and might end up hurting yourself. By slowly tucking your feet into your chest, your body is still relatively close to the mat so that falling wouldn’t be as harmful. Slowly pushing up into headstand also strengthens your core and engages your entire body which provides a full-body workout. The bottom line is, you try kicking up a few times, in the beginning, to see how it feels being upside down, but try not to make it a habit and learn how to lift your body with control and intention.

3. Push your shoulders away from your ears

The way that your shoulders and arms wrap around your head in this asana is intended to protect and head and neck while balancing upside down. The important thing to remember is to always push firmly into the mat with your forearms and hands so that your upper body doesn’t sink into your shoulders which can lead to injury. Many beginners tend to do this and bring their shoulders close to their ears but this does not provide a safe and solid foundation for headstand. Instead, remember to push your shoulders away from your ears and press into the mat with your forearms because your entire body is relying on this base. If you’re still not sure if your alignment is correct, ask a yoga instructor to correct you during a class or film yourself and use the footage to correct yourself.

4. Engage your core

Generally speaking, most yoga poses require and help to develop a strong core as well as prevent injury. It’s needless to say that in headstand, your core plays a very important role. If I were to practice a headstand right now, with my core engaged versus relaxed, there would be a significant difference in the duration and alignment of the pose. That said, headstands are a major core workout and you’ll have to rely on a strong core to maintain a straight and stable headstand. Practicing core strengthening workouts before even attempting this inversion will help you significantly. Try practicing Boat Pose, plank, and side plank regularly to tighten and strengthen your abdominal muscles.

5. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart

Coming back to establishing a strong foundation, your arms are a very important aspect of headstand. Before placing your arms onto the mat, make sure that they are shoulder-width apart. One way to ensure correct alignment is by extended your arms in front of you and grabbing opposite elbows with each hand. This is exactly the distance that your arms should be from each other when placed on the mat.

6. Exit the pose safely

Before even getting up into headstand, a key thing to remember is how to exit the asana safely and with control. Usually the best way to get out of a yoga pose is the same way you got into it; in this case, slowly bend your knees and bring them into your chest with your toes pointed and your core engaged. Allow one foot to touch the mat at a time until both feet are firmly planted on the mat. Next, gently walk your toes away from your torso and rest in Child’s Pose. Try to avoid kicking down from headstand and making any harsh movements which could lead to injury.

Headstands take time and lots of practice to master but hopefully, the tips above will prevent injury, help to avoid unwanted errors, and assist with your progress. Remember to prioritize safety and practice with intention.

 

 


Stella Versteeg was exposed to yoga early in life from her father – traveling to India to practice yoga with her family. Living in ashrams and being surrounded by the beautiful and intricate Indian culture, from a young age, Stella was able appreciate and learn about the origin of yoga as well as meditation. Stella received her 200 HR yoga training from YogaRenew in 2018. She currently runs a blog, Ride Your Wave Yoga, which shares yoga tips, poses, nutrition, travel and mindfulness. Her goal is to spread honesty, love and awareness about a yogic lifestyle through her blog posts as well as create a supportive, inspired community. She aspires to share as much information as possible about the wonderful lifestyle that yoga has to offer and continuously evolve in her personal own practice.

 

5 Physical Benefits Of Yoga Practice

By Yoga, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

The benefits of yoga can be categorized into a group of three components: physical, emotional and spiritual. Although all are important to maintain a healthy balance, this piece focuses on the physical and the benefits and of a regular asana practice. Some of the main physical benefits of yoga are increased strength, improved flexibility, better body posture, stronger spinal stability and a greater command of the breath.

 

1. Increased Strength

Asana, otherwise known as the physical practice of yoga, is only one of eight facets of yoga. Through asana practice, we achieve control of the body by positioning ourselves into different postures that strengthen and tone our muscles and organs. In every pose, we focus on engaging the bandhas, or energy centers in the body. Tapping into uddiyana bandha, for example, requires us to pull the belly in and up, toning and strengthening everything around the abdomen, including the abdominal muscles and organs nearby. By flowing through and repeating yoga poses, the body learns to hold these postures more comfortably and creates muscle memory for the next time we practice. The more we practice, the stronger the physical body becomes.

2. Improved Flexibility

In addition to becoming stronger, we become more flexible with a regular practice. Most yoga postures can be categorized into one of the following: standing, balancing, forward fold, backbend, and hip opening postures. Each one of these categories focuses on lengthening different areas of the body, and therefore increasing the flexibility of the muscles around those areas. Backbends, for instance, improve the flexibility of the front body (quads, abdomen, front of the neck). On the flipside, forward folds lengthen the back body (hamstrings, spinal erectors, calf muscles). Similar to how the body becomes stronger and better at performing a movement the more we repeat it, the same applies to the flexibility of a muscle group. The more we position our bodies into a certain position that stretches a particular muscle group, the more comfortable and deeper we can settle in that position.

3. Better Body Posture

In addition, having a strong and flexible body help contribute to healthy body posture. The spine is comprised of 33 vertebrae. This collection of bones is stabilized by muscles that help keep the upper body straight up. Sometimes after sitting for long periods of time or when our muscles grow tired, these spinal stabilizers don’t do a very good job at securing the spine and we either slouch or rely on the strength of the neck muscles to hold us up. Overtime, poor body posture can produce chronic pain or nerve impingements, like sciatica. Therefore, it’s critical for the spinal stabilizers to be strong and healthy to stay pain free.

4. Stronger Spine

Proper body posture throughout the practice of yoga is important to maintaining a strong spine. Through constant practice, the body learns how to shift its center of gravity to hold different poses. For each pose, the spine is lifting, flexing, extending or rotating. Each of these movements strengthen the different muscles that support the spine helping prevent compressed discs and maintaining the necessary space between each vertebrae. A strong spine is key to preventing many types of injuries, particularly spinal injuries. However, ankle, wrist, knee and hip injuries can also be prevented by maintaining a strong and flexible spine, naturally developed with a regular yoga practice.

5. Control of the Breath

Most importantly, one of the main physical benefits of practicing yoga is mastering a greater command of the breath. It has been said that if you can control the breath, you can control the mind. It’s one of the tools that connects the body to the mind. This connection allows us to access a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of fight or flight. Practicing yoga helps us control our breath by putting us in a position where we must hold poses, some rather uncomfortable at times, and simply breathe. In Ashtanga yoga, for example, each posture is held for five slow breaths. Not only does each exhale allow us to better access a posture, but the awareness of the breath also brings us to the present moment, which can be difficult to achieve throughout the rest of our day-to-day. By mastering better command of the breath, we achieve a better control of our bodies and minds.

 

In short…

The physical practice of yoga is incredibly beneficial to the human body. The more we practice, the stronger and more flexible we become, contributing to healthy body posture, a stronger spine and better breathing mechanics. These physical benefits allow us to keep up with our daily activities pain free.

 


Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances. Her goal is to continue to learn as much as possible to be able to help people move better, feel better, and stay inspired.

 

7 Reasons To Do Yoga Teacher Training

By Yoga, Yoga TeachersNo Comments

7 Reasons To Do Yoga Teacher Training

Why do most people enroll in yoga teacher training? People who want to become yoga instructors, right? Well, that’s only one aspect of what teacher training has to offer. There are many benefits and outcomes of becoming certified such as discovering yourself on a deeper level, gaining confidence in your practice, learning how to prevent injuries, building friendships, learning how to meditate, learning about yoga theory, and advancing your own personal practice. Apart from having the tools to teach others, through yoga teacher training, you can also learn a lot about yourself and further advance in yoga. Let’s dive into these reasons of why you should complete yoga teacher training and how it can improve your personal practice.

1. Discover Yourself on a Deeper Level

Completing yoga teacher training truly transforms the way that you view yourself while enhancing your self-esteem, skills, and self-knowledge. Due to the challenges that you might face during teacher training, you will doubt yourself at times. Being surrounded by a supportive community and guidance, however, will encourage you to rise above any kind of self-doubt and become stronger from within. Believe it or not, yoga teacher training will transform you by providing inner strength, balance, self-compassion, and inner peace. Overall, through perseverance, self-discipline, and intention, you will get to know yourself on a much deeper level.

2. Gain Confidence in Your Practice

I think it’s needless to say that knowledge is positively associated with confidence, right? Think about it… the more you know about a topic or a field, the more confident you feel about it. Completing yoga teacher training offers a significant amount of knowledge about the origin, philosophy, theory, history and of course, practice of yoga that will you give you more confidence in your own practice. Perhaps you are practicing inversions or following a structured routine on a daily basis; yoga teacher training will enrich those aspects of your practice by adding knowledge about modifications, adjustments, ideas about new sequences, and information about each yoga pose. Through yoga teacher training, your confidence will grow while your practice advances and perhaps this will inspire you to teach and guide others in the future.

3. Learn How to Prevent Injuries

Injuries in yoga are more common than you think; beginners as well as intermediate and advanced yogis get injured while practicing and some of these injuries can be immediate or gradual and go unnoticed. By completing yoga teacher training, you can learn exactly how to prevent yoga injuries and decrease the chance of this happening in your own practice. Learning about injury is also very important if you are considering to teach classes because practicing an asana incorrectly can be dangerous. This becomes even more important regarding inversions because your weight needs to be distributed in a certain way otherwise injuries can occur. Therefore, apart from protecting others, this is also a safety measure for yourself in your practice.

4. Build Friendships with Likeminded Individuals

Most yoga teacher trainings allow you to meet other likeminded individuals who are interested in yoga, meditation, teaching, etc. who can inspire you, guide you, and support you through the training. Developing a social circle through training is wonderful because you won’t be experiencing the journey alone and you will hopefully maintain some long-lasting friendships. If you are completing yoga teacher training online, don’t worry, you can also build these friendships. With YogaRenew 200HR Teacher Training, you will have access to a Facebook group where you can post about your journey, ask questions. share thoughts and ideas, and listen to others. Regardless of whether you are attending in person or online, take advantage of the people completing this training with you.

5. Learn How To Meditate

Meditation is sometimes separated from yoga as a different practice, however, I believe that a yoga practice isn’t reaching its full potential without including meditation. Considering that yoga is a practice for the mind and body, incorporating meditation allows you to focus solely on your movements and your breath which will amplify the calmness that you experience. Through yoga teacher training, you will learn various meditation techniques and breathing techniques that you can practice independently or with yoga. The physical, psychological, and mental benefits of meditation are multitudinous and there is a lot to learn.

6. Delve Into Yoga Theory

Many people jump right into their yoga practice and implement everything they know about the physical yoga poses and sequences without thinking much about the theory. Learning about the basic principles, origin, and meaning of yoga is a critical aspect of building your practice. Although asanas are the main focus of yoga in the West, there is so much more to this ancient practice. The history and philosophy of yoga are incredibly rich and this knowledge will add depth and intention to your practice. The great Pattabhi Jois once said, “Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice”. Although rolling out your mat and practicing yoga is the main objective compared to theory, having context about where yoga comes from, what it truly means, and what the philosophy entails will definitely add another layer to your practice.

7. Advance Your Personal Practice

Throughout this post, I have been emphasizing the importance of yoga teacher training in your own personal practice. We all know that aspiring teachers complete training because they are planning to be responsible for an entire class but what about the rest of us who might not aspire to teach? Consuming the valuable body of knowledge that yoga teacher training offers not only prepares you to lead a class but it gives you confidence, skills, connections, and a deeper insight into your own practice. Having a yoga practice that is purely physical and is not supported by a deeper understanding of its origin, philosophy, history, and techniques is doing a disservice to you. If you are unsure about enrolling, I suggest going for it and seeing where this beautiful journey will take you.