All Entries For yoga
You know how I love my mantras.
They guide me through life:
"Lead with your heart; the rest of you will follow."
They reassure me that I've done enough:
"I did my best today. Tomorrow, I'll do better."
They remind me to take life as it happens:
"You can have it all, just not all at once."
After a recent yoga retreat with Ashtanga master teacher Kino MacGregor (seriously, check out her videos. The human body's capabilities are infinite.)
She led us through what were the most difficult practices I've experienced since I started yoga. By the time Sunday afternoon's Yoga Sutras talk began, I was exhausted.
That morning's practice had been tough. I was in the front row, next to a large window with no shade. It was 10 a.m. As sun rose higher and higher, the 50-plus students in the room breathed and progressed through their practices. The temperature rose by more than 10 degrees. Condensation appeared on water bottles scattered throughout the room, sweat dripped from every inch of my body, and the windows fogged up. Even the hardwood floor was covered in condensation. I lifted my body, stretched it, breathed all the while.
Whereas the previous day's practice had felt exhilarating--I was practicing with an incredible teacher, surrounded by close friends, and basking the energy of so many motivated Ashtanga yogis--today's felt torturous. I felt heavy, weak, defeated.
Ninety minutes later, I made it to the end of my practice. I was exhausted. I had given all I could. My muscles were shaking, my stomach growling, my body soaked in sweat.
It was over.
As I rose from our final relaxation, savasana, my mind started to wander. I was tired, but I knew that there was little break in sight. Tomorrow I would return to my studio in Cincinnati, do my practice as best I could, as I would the next day and the day after that.
When you've committed to a yoga practice, you have to practice. Even when you don't want to. You can do less, but you can't give up. You don't quit, even if you do need to take a day off because life interferes.
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Note: I'm no fitness expert--that's Coach Nicole--so please don't use this blog post as a way to diagnose or treat any injury, pain or tweak you're feeling. Listen to your body, and consult a professional if you sense anything is amiss.
Our bodies are complex systems, and even when we feel healthy and happy, they're not operating at 100% capacity or efficiency. No body is perfect, and sometimes identifying the source of a flaw can be difficult.
When you're active, aches and pains are not uncommon. I don't mean injuries; I mean some soreness or achiness. (More: Smart Ways to Soothe Sore Muscles) I don't "no pain, no gain"; I don't subscribe to that myth. (Learn to spot the signs of overtraining.) I mean the discomfort that sometimes accompanies exercise: the burn in your muscles, the stiffness in your joints, and all the other tweaks and twinges you feel in your body.
Before I started working out regularly, I don't remember having many injuries or much soreness, aside from my weak low back. In the last year, however, I've noticed an increasing number of aches and pains. I often pose this question to my yoga teacher: Is it because I'm more active, or is it because I am more aware of my body and notice even minor changes?
What's causing these ailments? Most of the time, the problem isn't my body--it's my ego. I stop listening to my body and let my ego take over.
"You can push harder--and even harder still. You can hold longer. You can run farther. You can go faster."
Then, I pay.
Maybe it's a knee that's tender, a back that's knotted up, or an elbow that feels overstretched.
What's the fix?
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If you are looking for a fun and effective yoga workout, then look no further! Bethenny’s Skinnygirl Workout will challenge you in just the right way. With this DVD, you will work your muscles in ways that you never knew you could. There is a mix of simple and difficult poses in this workout, but no matter what level you are at, you'll really feel your muscles working. The great thing about this workout though, is that you can modify as needed, and between Bethenny and Mike McArdle, the yoga teacher who leads the workout along with Bethenny, you'll see different variations for all the poses. Also, Bethenny reminds you throughout the DVD that you should go at your own pace and do what you can, but not to give up, which I found to be encouraging and genuine. Learn more about what the DVD is like!
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Knee pain can come on suddenly: a sideways blow in athletics or a nasty fall while stepping off a curb. But many knee issues creep up after years of poor alignment, which results in wear and tear and arthritis. No matter the cause, knee issues do not often exist in isolation. In other words, a "cranky" knee will often have an un-neighborly relationship with the ankle below it, and/or the hip above it.
Whatever detonated your knee pain, the tissues above and below the knee must be nurtured, strengthened and given some "KneeHab" in order for the knee to learn some new strategies for pain-free living. And don't forget the other knee, hip and ankle on the non-injured side, as it will also develop its own issues too from being "leaned on" so often. These compensation attempts inevitably lead to low back pain, neck and shoulder pain—and more yuck.
My Yoga Tune Up® Quick Fix Rx: KneeHab DVD ($19.95) provides solutions whether your knee is wonky from sports, you're recovering from meniscus surgery or you are just looking to prevent knee injury. It will show you how to help manage just about every stage of knee dysfunction and maintenance. Here are five Yoga Tune Up® moves from my DVD to keep your knees happy, healthy and pain free! Read More ›
After a large meal, such as Thanksgiving dinner, I like to take a short walk to jump-start digestion. If I've overindulged and feel a bit blah in the belly, I add in a few quick stretches to get the digestive juices flowing.
Today I'm sharing two of my favorites.
While I usually wouldn't advocate practicing yoga on a full stomach, this is one time I break that rule, for these specific, beneficial poses.
About the pose:
Yes, this pose does exactly what you think it does. It helps relieve gas and bloating because, by bringing the right knee into the chest, we apply pressure on the ascending colon, which helps aid digestion. Make sure you're doing this with only the right knee in. If you bring in the left leg, it applies pressure to the descending colon, making it harder for digestion to occur. Read More ›
Over the last few years, yoga has evolved from a relaxing fitness pursuit to a passion and way of life for me. I practice daily in some form, I teach classes, and I live my life by the principles of the practice.
I emphasized "in some form" because while I don't spend hours on my mat every day, I do practice yoga daily. Whether it's a few minutes spent meditating or doing breathing exercises in the morning, some mindful stretching before bed, or an actual full asana (physical) practice, I am doing yoga.
"Do or do not do, there is no try."
Though most of us know those words from the sage Yoda in the "Star Wars" movies, I hear them most often in yoga classes. The woman who trained me repeated those words, which she heard from her teachers, throughout our practices. Do a pose or don't do it--whether your pose looks like it should be on a Yoga Journal cover, whether you hold it for five breaths or a fraction of one, whether you modify or take it a step further--it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're doing it. Trying it gives you an out, carte blanche to give up or quit.
When I stopped trying to do things and just started doing them, much of the guilt that my Type A perfectionist personality imparted upon my practice vanished.
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New to yoga? Try these basic yoga poses to get stronger and more flexible.
- Stand tall with feet together, shoulders relaxed, weight evenly distributed through your soles, arms at sides.
- Take a deep breath and raise your hands overhead, palms facing each other with arms straight. Reach up toward the sky with your fingertips.
Throughout much of my teens and 20s, I was restless. I felt off-center, anxious, askew. I took medication for anxiety, wasted countless hours worrying, and generally didn't enjoy my life nearly as much as I do now.
Today, I am genuinely happy, well-adjusted, and relatively calmer. The difference now is that my boundless energy is positive rather than anxious.
What changed? Several things.
As I aged and experienced more of life, I learned how to cope better. I didn't need to freak out if something "bad" happened. I didn't need to take on other people's drama as my own. And I didn't need to allow negative energy free access to me.
I realized that life is just that: life. Ups, downs, good, bad, it's all just life. It all balances out, and letting every little bump in the road sideline me is no way to live.
My senior year of college, a dear friend of mine shared a quotation with me: "The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." --Henry Miller.
Then, its meaning escaped me. Now, it's one of my guiding mantras.
Recently, I emailed an old friend who lives on the other side of the country. "I feel so centered and strong," I wrote. My friend asked me to clarify what I meant by "centered." To explain, I retraced my steps over the last couple of years. Many of the changes I've made were solidified by my 30th birthday trip to Honduras, a week spent with no contact with anyone back home, lots of yoga, and the infinite beauty of nature. There, amid days of reflection, I made a list of what has worked to help me feel calmer, more centered, and happier with my life. Read More ›
For years celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston have attributed their lean physiques and flexibility to yoga, an activity that has been practiced for thousands of years. Even SparkPeople's own dailySpark.com editor, Stepfanie Romine, practices as well as teaches yoga to students in the Cincinnati area.
Many athletes from runners, to gymnasts to even professional football players have embraced yoga as a means to help with flexibility, balance and posture alignment. It is also a great activity to help manage stress and with that middle age spread many of us are plagued with as we reach that time in our lives. Read More ›
After my thwarted attempt at running a marathon this spring, I gave up on running for awhile. I walked, I practiced yoga, and I rode my bike. I wanted nothing to do with running.
That lasted less than two months. I missed the exhilarating feeling of flying down a hill, the sense of accomplishment when you reach the top of one, and the sound of my breath, deep and even, as I jogged through my neighborhood and let my troubles blow away.
I was slow to return, and I didn't set any goals. I started from scratch with a mile here and there. When I felt better, I slowly added mileage. With no pressure, no race deadlines and no plans in mind, I felt free. I fell back in love with the sport.
I did something else, too.
I started to listen to my body a bit more. Remember that quote I love and continue to share with all of you? "We don’t have to make such a big deal about ourselves, our enemies, our lovers, and the whole show." --Pema Chödrön
I started to apply it to running. I started leaving my music at home sometimes, setting out with no course or destination in mind, with no distance to reach. I ran at a pace that felt comfortable, until I felt like walking or going home. Sometimes I ran for 10 minutes, sometimes an hour--though that length of time came much later.
I stopped looking at abbreviated runs as failures. I stopped thinking of runs in terms of miles logged or calories burned. I stopped scheduling them, too.
I found that I started looking forward to my runs more. They weren't a chore, they weren't something to check off my to-do list. They were a treat, a respite from my overly scheduled, jam-packed, grown-up life.
After a great deal of research, I made the transition to minimalist running shoes (mine are the Merrell Barefoot Pace Gloves). (I'm no expert, so please know that this blog reflects choices that are right for me--I'm not offering advice. Please consult with an expert before you make any major changes to your fitness routine.) I also read the book that so many fellow runners have cited as a major influence on their running philosophy: Born to Run. Footwear aside, the Tarahumara Indians and the American ultra runners featured in the book inspired me. They run to run, and many of them embrace the simple, tread-gently-on-the-Earth lifestyle that I value.
I'll switch back to regular shoes if this barefoot lifestyle proves not to be right for me. Until then, I'm very slowly and cautiously increasing my mileage and easing back into running. In shifting my focus from prepping for a race to just running to run, I've gleaned four lessons, just from listening to my body: Read More ›
I recently read that more doctors are prescribing yoga, meditation and other mind-body therapies to their patients. As a yoga teacher and student, this thrills me. Though I came to yoga on my own (actually at the urging of a friend), I think it's great that health-care professionals are recommending it for their patients. I believe that everyone, young and old, regardless of weight, can benefit from yoga and meditation.
br>When I was plagued with lower back trouble in my early 20s, I was "prescribed" Pilates--not quite an alternative treatment or a mind-body therapy, but it definitely felt nontraditional to me at the time. I'm so grateful that my doctor suggested it. I still enjoy Pilates, and the exercises are a great supplement to yoga.
These days about 1 in 30 Americans use prescribed mind-body therapies, which surprised researchers.
You can read the whole story here, and in the meantime, I want to know:
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In January, I started teaching a new yoga class. Many of my students are athletes, particularly runners and cyclists. My boyfriend, who co-founded a local competitive cycling team, is also a yoga teacher, and the two of us firmly believe that athletes should integrate yoga into their fitness routine. When I teach yoga classes for runners, I like to focus on the hips and hamstrings, which tend to be tight for runners. We also work on building strength. For cyclists, who spend a great deal of time leaning over the handlebars, we also focus on opening the chest and shoulders, undoing all those hours of being hunched over. Both groups of athletes rely on their feet and ankles to perform, but these areas of the body are often overlooked when it comes to stretching. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite stretches for the feet and ankles. Add these to your post-workout repertoire. These stretches can feel quite intense at first, and that's normal. Take your time, use props when needed, and remember to BREATHE! Read More ›
This series of yoga poses will help you open your hips, stretch your hamstrings and energize your body. Designed for someone with a basic knowledge of yoga, use these poses to strengthen and lengthen.
You'll need a yoga mat for this practice, along with a block, if you use one. The photos here show the sequence on the left side of the body. Hold each pose for at least five breaths, and repeat on the other side.
Be sure to warm up, either with some cardio or a few sun salutations.
Before you begin, remember these precautions:
- Do not start a yoga routine or any other workout without clearance from your doctor.
- These poses are not suitable for pregnant women.
- Each pose should be done in a slow and controlled manner, without bouncing or forcing, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of “mild discomfort.” If you are stretching to the point of pain, you have stretched too far. Learn to "respect your edge"--never go beyond it.
- A breath is one full inhalation and one full exhalation through the nose. Hold each pose for five breaths, or longer if you'd like.
Today's giveaway is great for anyone who travels often, has limited mobility or spends a good deal of time sitting. (That's pretty much everyone, right?) We're giving away two sets of Yoga for Small Spaces cards (a $19.99 value)!
We say: Yoga is great for loosening up the body after a hours spent sitting at a desk, in a car, or on a plane. I have been known to stretch in cars, on trains, at my desk, and even in line at the supermarket. These poses are great for beginners, and the illustrations are fun and helpful for newbies. (You can find more seated yoga poses here.)
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For my students, breathing is the topic in yoga that prompts the most questions: How do you breathe in yoga? Should it be loud? How do I make that "noise" when I breathe? When the poses get too hard, I become out of breath. How can I keep breathing?
Breathing is one of the most important elements--some would argue that it's the most important element--of a yoga practice, but for many of us, it is among the hardest to master. We focus on the stretch, the strength or the balance that is required to get into a pose, and we neglect the breath. I was guilty of that same attitude when I started practicing yoga.
What did it matter if my breath was short or long, shallow or deep, through the nose or the mouth?
As it turns out, it mattered greatly. If your breathing isn't relaxed, your body can't relax into the poses. If your body isn't relaxed, your mind can't relax. And if your mind isn't relaxed, you can't draw the full benefits from your yoga practice. Proper breathing and control, known as pranayama, is one of the eight "limbs" of the philosophy of yoga; asana, which is the physical practice most of us know as "yoga," is another of the limbs.
Practically speaking, breathing slowly can lower your heart rate. It also brings fresh oxygen to the lungs, and in turn, the rest of the body.
In yoga, we use a type of breath called ujjayi (ooh-JAH-ee), which means "victorious" in Sanskrit. To summarize, I tell my classes their breath should be slow, deep, and even. The breath is meant to simultaneously relax and energize the body. In flowing yoga classes, the breath sets the rhythm for the practice. Each movement is linked to a breath. Inhale, you move into pose, exhale you move out of it. The breath, I tell my students, is your metronome. In, out, in, out. The body matches the breath.
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