Thursday, January 19, 2017

Self-Practice Journal, Week 1

For one of my RYT classes this semester, I'm required to keep a weekly self-practice journal. This is for yoga practices I do on my own, not guided in a studio, gym, or via video. Each week I'll have a post that details at least three of my self-practices.

Week 1
Practice 1
Date: Friday, January 13 9:40p-9:55p
Intention: CALM MY BRAIN

Content: Meditation, Kneeling Moon Salutation
-Started seated on a bolster to find the breath
-Seated: neck rolls, shoulder rolls, bow and arrow (arms), gentle spinal twists
-Kneeling Prayer Pose // Anjali Mudra
-Kneeling Back Bend // Ardha Ustrasana
-Extended Child's Pose // Balasana
-Stationary Cat Pose // Marjaryasana
-Downward Dog // Adho Mukha Svanasana
-Stationary Cat Pose // Marjaryasana
-Extended Child's Pose // Balasana
-Kneeling Back Bend // Ardha Ustrasana
-Kneeling Prayer Pose // Anjali Mudra
-Supine Waterfall Pose // Viparita Karani
-Happy Baby Pose // Ananda Balasana
-Supine Bound Angle Pose // Supta Baddha Konasana
-Supine Spinal Twists
-Corpse Pose // Savasana

Reflection: I'd been stressed all day. My youngest was very needy, even when his sister came home from school and two playmates joined us. He just wanted me to watch everything he was doing and listen to everything he said... for 11 hours. I needed quality me-time at the end of the day, and also wanted to help put myself in a good state for going to bed. I've been having trouble falling asleep this week so I planned a Moon Salutation series to help calm my brain and my body.

I enjoyed moving and playing around with the poses. I didn't force myself to stick with the outline I designed, and I let my body move a little differently (like from Cat to Cow, or from Cat to lateral side bends) each time through the Moon Salutation.

The best part was Savasana. The clothes dryer was rhythmically circling in the room next to me so I let the thumps become part of the meditation. I imagined a heart beat, calming and strong and steady. With a towel over my eyes and warm slippers on my feet, I was so relaxed. All the stress of catering to the demands of my minions melted away and I wanted to roll over and go to sleep on my mat. I spent about five minutes in Savasana before coming to a comfortable seated pose and allowing for a few more deep breaths, concluding my practice.

Practice 2
Date: Friday, January 16 7:51p-8:22p
Intention: Relieve sore muscles from practice on 14th (21st Yoga)
Content: Meditation, Standing Moon Salutation
Seated Warm ups: warming breath, forward folds, bow and arrow, gathering the breath, cat-cow pose, leg extensions from hands and knees, downward facing dog.
Mountain Pose // Tadasana
Standing Half Moon Pose // Urdhva Hastasana
Goddess Pose // Utkata Konasana
Star Pose
Triangle Pose // Trikonasana
Pyramid Pose // Parsvottanasna
Low Lunge // Anjaneyasana
Side Lunge
Squat // Malasana
other side
Side Lunge
Low Lunge // Anjaneyasana
Pyramid Pose // Parsvottanasana
Triangle Pose // Trikonasana
Star Pose
Goddess Pose // Utkata Konasana
Standing Half Moon Pose // Urdhva Hastasana
Mountain Pose // Tadasana
Janu Shirshasana
Baddha Konasana
Supine Spinal Twist
5-minute guided meditation (via YouTube)

Reflection: I've been sore since the Power class I took on the night of the 14th, and wanted a gentle flow with lots of deep poses. The lunges, Goddess Pose, Triangle and Pyramid all gave me a chance to release the tension in my hips and thighs I had a result of that Power class. I haven't done a lot of Moon Salutations before now, and I enjoy using them for a short but effective practice. I like the cyclic flow. Being really new to deliberate meditations (beyond a few minutes in Savasana), I was worried it'd be difficult to sit still and focus for five minutes, even following a guided meditation. I was surprised the five minutes FLEW by and it was over before I expected. I love the opportunity to breathe more intentionally and do remind myself I'm capable of overcoming trials, both big and small. And thanks to the deep stretches in my Moon Salutations, my hips were ready to sit in meditation without complaint.

Practice 3
Date: Wednesday, January 18, 8:55p-9:15p
Intention: Open the shoulders
Content: Forward Fold variations (knees bent, twists)
Plank // Chaturanga
Cobra // Bhajungasana 
Child's Pose // Balasana
Cat-Cow Pose // Marjaryasana
Downward Facing Dog // Adho Mukha Svanasana
Hero's Pose // Virasana
Child's Pose // Balasana
Repeat with deeper variations
Supine Bound Angle Pose // Baddha Konasana
Reflection: My shoulders tend to draw forward so this practice was intended to open them. I focused on opening the chest, and using my back muscles deliberately. It was rewarding to go deeper into Hero's Pose after a couple of rounds, reclining slightly, stretching my quads and chest. I always enjoy a few moments to focus on my shoulders and encourage better posture.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Avoiding Wrist Pain in Yoga - With Plank and Downward Facing Dog Variations

I have a few more suggestions today for taking unnecessary pain and pressure off the wrists in common yoga poses. Two poses I used to struggle with regularly are Plank // Chaturanga, and Downward Facing Dog // Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Pictured below are two uncomfortable versions of Plank. The body is swayed in one direction or another. This disrupts the flow of energy from the crown of the head to the heels, and that can actually affect how good or bad the pose feels. We don't want to block or lose our energy; we want to use it to be strong and balanced in a pose!

Shifting the body too far over the hands is another common misalignment in Plank. When we draw the head forward, more weight is put on the hands than the feet and that pressure is uncomfortable on the wrists. This is a transitional pose for moving from Plank to Low Plank // Chaturanga Dandasana, and is not meant to be held for extended periods of time.

To give the wrists a break, take a look at the photo below. It's not perfect, but it's a little more comfortable than those above. The weight is more evenly distributed between hands and toes, and there's a long line from the top of the head to the heels. I'm trying to get my body to look like an actual PLANK. When my weight isn't pressing too far forward over the hands, I'm able to work on lifting up away from the mat. All ten fingers are engaged and pressing into the mat, as if I could push off the mat and float into the air. Having that mindset can help this pose feel less heavy on the wrists. My heels are also actively pressing behind me, lengthening the legs and engaging the large muscles in the glutes and legs. I didn't include a photo, but Plank can be done with the knees on the mat instead of the toes, or even on the forearms and toes. These are great alternatives to allow the upper body strength to build up before doing Plank on hands and toes.

In Downward Facing Dog, common misalignment is found in the shoulders, hips and knees. If the shoulders aren't pressing back to allow a long line from the hands to the hips, we're putting extra weight on the wrists. If we don't keep the shoulder blades spread apart and the elbows rotated toward the ears, we're putting extra weight on the wrists.

If the tailbone isn't extending up toward the sky, we're putting extra weight on the wrists. If we're so focused on straight legs with heels touching the floor, we may be keeping the hips too far forward, putting extra weight on the wrists. Pictured below, you can see how far forward my upper body is, and the amount of pressure my wrists experience as a result.

When I'm in a more comfortable version of Downward Dog, I can actually lift the heels of my hands off the mat. Before I learned how to properly shift my weight, this pose hurt my wrists SO MUCH. It's called a resting posture, and is meant to be a place for catching the breath and regrouping in a sequence. But it NEVER felt like that to me. Then I learned more about it and how to make it work for my body!

I generally have tight calves, and that prevents me from connecting my heels to the mat in Downward Dog. I thought I had to make my heels touch, though, and I struggled. When I realized I could bend my knees as much as I wanted, it was a huge breakthrough for me. Bending my knees helped me lift my hips higher, which helped me lengthen my spine and drop my head and take weight off my wrists. Now I no longer dread Downward Dog.

These aren't the only ways to implement variations in poses, so if these tips don't help you find something that works for you, feel free to let me know. I'd love to explore other options and help you enjoy yoga!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Avoiding Wrist Pain in Yoga - With Upward Facing Dog Variations

I received a question in the Facebook group (Liv Namaste) about wrist pain during yoga, which is something I have personal experience with. When I first started doing yoga, my wrists hurt a LOT. Every pose that required me to be on my hands was uncomfortable.

In time, I learned it was largely related to my alignment as well as my strength. When our muscles aren't yet developed to provide enough strength to hold us in a pose, we often end up relying on our joints. We sink into the wrists, the shoulders, the hips, the knees, etc... and let those bones do the work for our muscles. So I had to work on accepting variations of poses and understanding that doing so didn't mean I wasn't good at yoga. It meant I was honoring my body and helping it take a step forward on my yoga journey.

Today I'm sharing a few pictures to show some alternatives to Upward Facing Dog // Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana to help relieve pain and fatigue in the wrists. These are great choices as you continue to develop upper body strength. Pictured above is Baby Cobra, or Bhujangasana. There's barely any pressure on the hands, and the lift comes from the abdominals. Pictured below is Sphinx, or Salamba Bhujangasana

Sphinx puts the weight in the forearms rather than directly on the wrists, and it's a great way to open the chest a little more without going into full Upward Facing Dog or full Cobra. Now, if you're ready for full Upward Facing Dog, that's great! Pictured below is uncomfortable vs comfortable alignment for it. In the top photo the shoulders are hunched, the back is dipping, the legs are heavy, and weight is pressing down on the hands. This puts stress in the wrists and doesn't feel good. In the lower of the two photos, notice the elongation of the neck, the space between the shoulders and the head. There's also a subtle, perhaps imperceptible shift of the chest; try drawing it forward without bringing the shoulders beyond the hands.

The goal of upward poses like this isn't to gaze up at the ceiling. These heart-openers are meant to draw the lines of energy through the chest, and allow the body to inhale. In a well-aligned Upward Facing Dog, there's lift out of the hands and and the tops of the feet. There's extension through the spine although there is a slight back bend. The thighs are lifted off the mat. Watch a dog do this stretch and you'll see it's about reaching the hind legs and creating length in the whole body.

Hopefully this helps you make adjustments. Don't be afraid to have someone snap a pic of you in a pose so you can be more aware of what you look like. Mirrors are great, but sometimes just turning our heads to see ourselves can change how we were actually holding the pose. Please let me know if you have more questions about these poses or others! I'll have more variations coming to the blog/Facebook group later this week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yoga for Beginners

A friend recently asked for advice regarding getting better at yoga. She was wondering how it can get easier for her, and how often she should do it. My response is based on my own experiences with yoga, as well as the training I'm undergoing for my 200-hour RYT certification.

As a beginner, it can feel overwhelming and exhausting to practice yoga. My first suggestion is to set a goal for how many times a week you'd like to do yoga, and not to worry about how often you think you should do it. For me, I have delayed onset muscle soreness (which basically means I feel sore TWO days after working out, and not the day immediately after), so doing an every-other-day schedule for my exercise works well. It means I can pay attention to the muscles that are telling me they're sore or tired and target them with specific yoga poses. But that's my maximum; I don't actually do yoga every other day because I'm lazy. And I took advantage of my winter break between semesters to focus on other things before school starts again and I have to do a lot more yoga. Right now I'm doing once practice a week for myself.

To get started, maybe you'd like to do one practice a week. That's awesome! To feel successful, find someone, or a video (mine coming soon, I promise!), or a gym, or studio that caters to beginners. Many facilities have schedules available online and make mention of whether or not a class is good for all levels. Or make it known that you're a beginner so the instructor can give you lots of options to help you feel comfortably challenged instead of frustrated.

I also recommend starting with the basics, like Sun Salutations or Moon Salutations. By themselves, they're a great warm up and workout. You don't have to do a long, complicated practice to benefit from yoga. Especially if you're just starting out! Get your body and mind familiar with the poses; learn the rhythm of your breath; find confidence in the repetition. If you do the same series of poses each week (whether once a week or multiple times) you'll see and feel the changes being made in your body. There are a lot of variations, too, so you can increase the difficulty in just the Salutations when you're ready.
Warrior II variation // Side Angle variation // Triangle variation
In general, poses can be adjusted with a couple of changes. Standing poses like Warrior (I and II) or Side Angle can feel less strenuous if the lunging leg is kept more elevated. Don't go as deeply into the bend. Instead of extending the arms, keep the hands at heart center. In a pose like Triangle, invite the body to stay more upright rather than trying to reach the leg, or foot in the side bend. For Standing Forward Fold or Downward Facing Dog, keep the knees significantly bent. In all my years of yoga, I still keep my knees bent in almost every Downward Dog I do. It just works better for my body. There's no rule that says you have to go 100% into a pose every single time in order for it to be successful. Yoga is a journey, and I like to think every practice you're starting from the beginning.

Also, use props. I talk about it in my videos, but I'll give you a little tip here: props can be anything you have on hand that helps make a pose more enjoyable. A towel can be used as a strap to extend your reach; a pillow can be used to elevate the legs in a seated hamstring stretch; a wall, table or chair can provide stability in balance poses, folds, lunges and more. Embrace variations! I used to smugly think props were for people who weren't able to do the "real" version of a pose. But that's not true at all. Props help us learn what our bodies are capable of, and they can keep us better aligned in our poses, which affects the circulation of breath, blood and energy in the body.
Forward Fold variation // Downward Facing Dog variation
I will have a video that breaks down some of the most-used poses, as well as an entire practice that uses props so you can see how beneficial they are. There's also a practice that goes slowly through each pose, allowing for variations and adjustments. I include Sun Salutations at the beginning of each practice, and my producers and I have discussed eventually making bonus videos that include multiple variations of Salutations that can be a stand-alone practice or a warm up.

I believe yoga is for every BODY, from kids to seniors, able-bodied to differently-abled. I wish I could give everyone a personal yoga session to show how many options are available. Hopefully if you're local you can attend one of my free classes; if not, thanks for being patient while we work on preparing my videos for release!

PS Thanks to my 6-year-old for snapping photos of me this week ;)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Downward Facing Dog with variation // Ardho Mukha Svanasana

I've never been a fan of Down Dog. It used to hurt my wrists a lot until I gained more upper-body strength to support me in the pose. After all my years of practice, my heels still don't touch the ground unless I bend my knees significantly. It almost never feels like a resting pose to me (which it is supposed to be).

But that's okay. Sometimes a pose will never be easy. But it is still worth it.

To help me deal with being "stuck" in Down Dog for a few breaths between vinyasas, I like to add variations. Whether it's the twist (pictured above), or pedaling the feet or moving from Down Dog to Plank, or trying Three-Legged Dog... it doesn't really matter. Just as long as I have options when my Down Dog isn't feeling awesome.

You can take a look at THIS Yoga Journal video (it's only a couple of minutes) if you're unsure just how your Downward Facing Dog is supposed to look.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crow pose // Bakasana

This is a wonderful arm-balance pose that also encourages core strength. Believe it or not, it's the abdominals that really rock this posture.

If you're nervous about face-planting, then practice this pose on the carpet, or with a pillow under your head. Although, you're already so close to the ground that it doesn't hurt too much when you fall out of it... I know this from lots of personal experience.

Now that I'm comfortable holding my crow pose for a few breaths, I like to try variations. You can turn your legs to one side and do a twisted crow, and from there you can even try extending the legs through the twist. When I master that one I'll be sure to share a photo; for now just picture me falling down a lot.

For a good video to get you started with tradition crow, visit DoYouYoga's day 7 video HERE.

And even if you never get your feet off the ground, this is still a wonderful pose for targeting the core and the arms. I remember being so excited when I finally learned to do this pose (and then Kev just up and did it without any effort at all because he's awesome like that), but there are still some days when I'm not feeling it. Let me know how it works for you!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Renewing Yoga

I remember watching the instructor float down in her chaturanga, seemingly weightless. She would transition between postures without skipping a beat. Meanwhile, I was struggling to understand how I could get the feeling of pushing away from my mat when all I wanted to do was lay down on it and give up. Now I find myself offering similar suggestions to practitioners in my classes; I encourage them to inhale and imagine inflating and lifting right up off the ground. I let them know that a few years ago I was struggling with the same pose, and although I may be comfortable with it now, there are still countless others I'm working on. There is so much growth available in Yoga, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. It's been so rewarding to tackle new postures and revisit the old, familiar ones with renewed commitment. Having friends over to practice has given me just the boost I need to try bringing my practice back to the level it was at before moving from Ogden. What have you been working on lately?
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