Whenever a new student takes my class I always ask them to to stay in the room, even if the class gets challenging or overwhelming. I ask this for important safety reasons: 1) I want to know students are safe, which means being able to SEE them; and 2) exercise without proper cool down, can increase the feelings of discomfort. But, there is also an important psychological factor; the sense of accomplishment that comes from sticking out a tough class, even if that means briefly taking savasana (corpse pose) or simply putting your head between your knees.
Setting a goal, and sticking to it, should feel empowering! Use physical activity to combat feelings of self-doubt and fear. Let your yoga practice, or any other exercise regime, become brain training for taking on challenges outside of the room. Recall a time when you overcame an obstacle or finished a difficult task. Boil that experience down to one word: determination, perseverance, focus, etc. Use that word as your intention each time you hit the mat or lace up your shoes. Let each session be a reminder of how mentally and physically strong you really are.
"But, jeez, admitting failure in life hurts way more than falling down in yoga! I'm so glad I have my yoga mat practice regaining control and composure after a fall - because it's a part of life."
Oops, I messed up!
I began this week feeling on top of the world. Then, by taken on to much at work, I dropped one of the balls I was juggling and let a couple people down in the process. I acknowledged my mistake and I'm working to move one. But, jeez, admitting failure in life hurts way more than falling down in yoga! I'm so glad I have my yoga mat practice regaining control and composure after a fall - because it's a part of life.
This is me in my favorite studio, my living room!
Overcoming the "Oops"
So, over the next couple days I will be challenging myself to find my edge on the mat and then honor it by going no further. If it serves you, join me in taking on this intention. Honoring your limits (which may change each time you hit the mat) is also a part of mindful movement. Explore the line between discomfort and pain, and know when to back off. This will keep you safe, and will prepare your body for the next peak. You will also be training your brain to know when you are positively challenging yourself, or simply biting off more than you can chew.
Put It Into Practice
A great pose to explore the discipline of "the edge" is in Standing Forehead to Knee Pose (Dandayamana Janushirasana). There are four expressions of the pose, and you get the benefits in each expression. But, the benefits only come if you're executing an expression correctly, and don't move on too early. Listen to the whisper of your body. Can you drop your hip back in line? Are all ten fingers (including the thumb) really bound around your foot. Your body will tell you when you're ready to move on.
I hope a regular practice helps you see your mat not simply as an exercise tool, but a safe space to rehearse for life's ups and downs. Your mat can be a place you to go for quiet meditation, or vigorous mindful, movement. Either way, whatever positive, authentic experience you cultivate on the mat will certainly help you off of it.
I would love to hear your thoughts, feelings, questions or comments. What pose offers discipline for you?
When a new student begins taking class, one of the most common concerns they share is a lack of balance/coordination. Physical instability can stimulate psychological stress, and fear that a student might look or feel awkward in class. Building confidence to allow yourself to "look weird" or fall over in class, doesn't happen overnight. That battle is fought in the mind (and I desperately want everyone to win this fight!) But, there are basic steps you can control in your body to help you build more confidence in balancing and coordination.
Balance and agility go hand-in-hand with Proprioception, or your body's ability to know where a body part is without looking at it. For most students, the primary mover muscles are plenty strong to hold their body. To encourage balance, it's about taking time to stimulate the smaller, stabilizer muscles to provide control. Balance will help improve your stride and endurance when running, and it will also help you prevent injury. So, let's begin!
Start on a flat surface. I prefer bare feet to stimulate your toes ability to grip and guide weight evenly across your feet. For purposes of these exercises, don't lock your knees. Find softness in your joints.
Find a strong stance on both feet, then align your right foot in front of the left - heel-to-toe. Send your arms long to build balance. When you feel strong here take your gaze to the right and twist to the right. Come back to center. Reverse your gaze to the left and twist left. Your arms should remain at shoulder height as you twist - like an helicopter propeller. After you have done 5 twists, reverse out your feet and repeat.
Reverse step/ Reverse lunge
Begin in a strong stance, balance weight into your left foot. Inhale, left your right foot two inches off the ground. Exhale, stimulate your core muscles and step your right foot back into a shallow lunge. Keep your gaze forward as you make this movement. Ensure that your left knee does come forward past your left toes. Once you've found stability in both legs, send weight back into the left foot again and step the right back up to meet the left. Repeat on the other side. Complete a set of 4 on each side. Gradually, you will begin to work into a full reverse lunge.
One-footed Mountain Pose
Begin in a strong stance. Inhale your arms up to Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Pull your low belly in and lift your right knee up to the height of your hip. Find three distinct 90 degree angles - at your hip joint, knee and ankle. Stay here for 5 breaths. For more stability, bring your hands to your hips. Switch out your sides and repeat on the left. Complete a set of 4 on each side.
One-footed Mountain Pose Twist
Come into your one-footed posture once again. This time, like in the original exercise, send your arms out long. Take your gaze to the right and twist. Hold for 5 breaths. Inhale back to center, switch your feet and reverse to the left. Complete static holds on each side. You can increase the challenge by moving 1 breath to 1 movement, 5 times on each side.
Overtime your wobble will disappear. Go on, give it a try!
In the last two weeks I've started coaching a group of yogis, leading a healthy eating challenge, started a new personal training certification, and launched this website and blog - while continuing to work at my 40+ hour per week job. Needless to say, I haven't been practicing balance.
But, my "lap dog" Niko has take on the role of guru today by encouraging me, in his own subtle way, to slow down. I felt like going to a grinding yoga-sculpt class today before heading to work. Niko had other plans. Instead we enjoyed a long winter's walk around the neighborhood and an extended cuddle session. When it was decided that I would miss class, I thought I would instead take to the mat at home. Niko splayed across it. No home practice today.
And now, as I write, he's curled up, half on my lap. Moving to occupy a new task is impossible without disturbing his peace. So, I am forced to enjoy stillness. Niko, has made it so.
One Legged King Pigeon - or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana - is a pose that reminds me of how strong you must be to have an open heart.
In this posture, patiently opening up the hip flexors, shoulders, IT band and chest is critical to coming into the first phases of the posture. However, strengthening the spine to facilitate the front body opening while still supporting the spinal column is where full expression is found.
To begin, warm the body with 4-6 full sun salutations both A & B. Spend a few breaths in both up and down dog. Incorporate core work, focusing on the traverse and low abdominals, and gentle your spine into some easy back-bends like modified anuvittasana with goal-post arms (standing back-bend) and bhujangasana (low cobra). Malasana, garland pose, is another great prep for the hips - bring your feet out wide, then bend into your hips like you're sitting like a frog; keep the feet fully planted on the floor.
When your body is warm, begin in downward facing dog, sweep the right leg straight back, with hips squared (3-legged down dog). Then, guide the right knee to the right wrist and lay the right shin across the mat. Balancing weight between both hips, guide the pelvis to the floor and extend the left leg straight back. To find flexibility in the IT band, stay upright in this position and work towards squaring your right shin to the front of the mat. This may mean that your right hip will lift off the floor to remain balanced in the hips. That's ok; even your weight through your palms, and use a block or rolled towel as a prop to support the right hip.
When your IT band feels open and you are ready to move on, begin in the same down dog position. This time when bringing the knee forward to the wrist, keep the foot tucked into the groin, creating an acute angle in the right leg (Yogi Tip: try a pointed toe to protect the knee joint in acute angles, and a flexed toe in right angles.)
From a narrow angle right leg position, and bend the left leg at the knee and support your body between both hips and your left hand for balance. Extend up with your heart and begin to bend back, guiding your right hand to the left foot. It may not touch. You can use a strap around your left foot to encourage the connection. When you can comfortably bring the foot towards the foreheard, begin to ease the left hand away from the floor and up to the foot. In full expression, both hands have grasped the foot and there is a connection between the sole of the foot and the crown of the head.
Words of caution: if at any and point a twingy, painful feeling enters your spine, knees or hips, back off. This is a posture that increases flexibility in the cervical spine. Often students, especially women, come into it too quickly, relying on the flexibility of their hips and low spine. However, without properly strengthening the upper back and your core, you may be leaving your low spine vulnerable to injury.
Be strong. Open your heart!
Ancient folks didn't need scientists from Harvard or Yale or graduated doctors of psychology to tell them when something was good for you. They relied on their senses. I'll admit it. Personally, I feel that mine have been a bit dulled.
So, to bring some spark back into my sensory experience at home, I turned to Vatsu - the ancient Indian wisdom of space design. The goal is to create a space that encourages positive energy, and combats negative - or worse neutral - energy. (For the skeptic: Check out this article discussing patient welfare at hospitals that have reevaluated the design of their patient rooms. Positive, warm, energy-enhancing design statistically supports patient well-being.)
One primary component of Vatsu is the incorporation of nature in the home. Being a person that likes to break things into baby steps, this is where I started. I brought into my home a few new house plants, including an aloe plant with a punkish "hair-do." These little guys have personality and have brought renewed energy to our apartment. Even my boyfriend, and housemate, Tim has begun saying, "Hello!" to our new additions.
To all my friends battling through the Chicago winter like me, I suggest you buy a houseplant and see how quickly your new green friend will turn your frown upside down.
This is the second blog I've started. I'm reminded of an Office episode in which Ryan exclaims, "Blogs are out, but people are texting each other, 'No more animals' ..." Yes, I guess I'm already dated and, I'm in my twenties. So, how did that happen? But, since a entrepreneur to become I am, write a blog I will (Yoda.) After all, Richard Branson keeps a blog and that's good enough for me.
But, being in my twenties and already worrying about falling behind? How fast is this world? Most days, it feels too fast for me. How fast does it feel for you? When was the last time you sat cross-legged, closed your eyes and breathed deep? Try it now. Close your eyes, and breath. Open your eyes. Maybe the world looks brighter now. At the very least, your lungs say, "Thank you."
Truthfully, when I think about what I like to do and why I do it, much of it is in the service of SLOWING DOWN. Yoga, breath slow. Events, savor every moment. Dogs, well you have to stop everything you're doing and pick up their poop. Is that slow enough? We're all craving a time-out. We've run too fast for too long to know how to do it properly. That's why I'm here to help. I'm here to craft moments you should savor.
Sweet places my writing has been featured ...
Bend Into Shape
For people who love dogs, yoga, good food and/or great parties ... that covers everyone right?