Reblog: yoga, run, yoga

Runners, hikers, joggers and walkers of all stripe can benefit from yoga.

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I wrote a brief article for Wanderlust this summer about the best yoga to do before and after a run. There’s a lot of information available on this topic, but you’ll find my take succinct, clear, and practical. Not a runner? No problem. My suggestions here would work great for walkers and hikers, too.

Love a good run? Joggers and serious runners can benefit from the movements and deep stretches offered by yoga.

Your yoga practice doesn’t have to be about getting into the deepest, most dramatic yoga poses. Instead, look at yoga as a complement to your already-active lifestyle. Running and jogging are sports of repetitive motion; because of that, runners tend to get tight, sore, and stiff in the muscle groups that are being repeatedly taxed. (You know the feeling.)

Running has become more and more popular in recent years, with over two million people competing in half-marathons annually. And for good reason: Running is excellent exercise and fantastic cardio—and for many runners, it serves as moving meditation or deep-thinking and processing time. Read more…

 

Reblog: your feet are the seat of your practice

As you age, having healthy feet is paramount.

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I’m really enjoying writing for YOGANONYMOUS and Wanderlust. Both of these sites have large readerships, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that the thoughts I offer on yoga philosophy, healthy aging, and practice may reach people who need them. This recent post for YOGANONYMOUS was no an exception: I wrote a short article about why healthy feet are so important as you age. I included a brief overview of the best yoga poses to keep your feet healthy and I suggested a few things to add to your practice to continue to strengthen and maintain mobility in your feet. Enjoy!

How often do you think about your feet? If you’re young, worrying about your feet may never have even occurred to you. But as you age, having healthy feet is paramount: Pain-free, strong, and flexible feet mean you’re more likely to have good balance and avoid falls. Your genetics might play a role in what you can expect from your feet. The height of your arches and foot problems like bunions are genetic. Talk to your parents about their feet so you know what you may have inherited. Read more…

 

Reblog: Postnatal Core Strength

After baby comes, building core strength will make you feel better.

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38 weeks pregnant with baby S!

A few months back, I chatted with with the folks at Fit Bottomed Mamas about the best ways to regain core strength after pregnancy. This is helpful stuff for new moms, and I promise this information comes your way without the attendant “get fit now!” drumbeat behind it. Postnatally, building strength and reintegrating your core will make you feel better. But be sure to do it on your own terms and in your own time frame. When you’re ready, here are some useful tips about regaining core strength after baby.

Post-pregnancy, it’s completely normal to feel like your entire midsection is a big ball of mush. Think about it: Your muscles have been stretched farther than they’ve ever been and your pelvis has been supporting lots of extra weight. Not to mention you’ve got a little extra fat stored that has and will continue to provide for your wee babe. While you may be most concerned about looking like you did pre-pregnancy, the more important issue should be regaining your core strength and stability. Read more…

Let’s talk about your glutes

Your glutes, seat, booty: whatever you call them, the muscles that comprise your backside are a powerhouse. And you need them to be strong!

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The power for this pose resides in the seat.

Let’s talk about your glutes! The muscles that comprise your backside are a powerhouse. For good form in yoga or your sport, strength in your movements, and an injury-and-pain free body, you want these muscles functioning well. I love talking about this so much that I’m teaching a workshop on glutes strength on April 9th at 1:30 PM at Carrboro Yoga Company. You can sign up here!

First, a quick anatomy lesson: there are several muscles that comprise the glutes: gluteus maximus (the largest muscle in your body), gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Together, these muscles are responsible for the movements of your legs—extending each leg and rotating each leg outward or inward. In addition to these muscles, there are also the deep rotator muscles, a group of muscles underneath the gluteus maximus that include the piriformis. These deep rotator muscles help with external rotation—moving each leg outward.

Issues stemming from the glutes arise when the glutes are lacking strength or when the glutes don’t activate as they’re supposed to. The latter issue often gets called “gluteal amnesia” or “inhibited glutes” or —and I’m serious, y’all—”dead butt syndrome.” Yikes, right? But these crazy terms just mean that the muscles aren’t firing properly. The body’s signal to the muscles to move or contract isn’t getting where it needs to go.

Why does gluteal amnesia occur? When we sit too much (and most of us sit too much, even if we’re otherwise active), the hip flexors in the front of our hips get tighter, while the muscles of the glutes (particularly gluteus maximus) get overly elongated and weaker. After a while, these gluteal muscles are so stretched out and “asleep” that the body recruits “awake” muscles to the do the job of the glutes.

Essentially, when the muscles of the glutes stop working effectively, other muscles compensate—particularly the muscles that comprise the hip flexors, hamstrings, or low back. This creates imbalance, and it’s also incredibly inefficient. Remember: the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. We want that muscle doing its job! We don’t want weaker, smaller muscles trying to fill the gap.

Weak or “asleep” glutes get blamed for many issues: tight hamstrings, low back pain, IT band tightness, sciatic pain (from an overused piriformis), and “pinching” of the hip flexors (front of hips). This list is not exhaustive: a quick Google search of “glute weakness and X pain” will reveal that inhibited glutes are the suspected cause of a multitude of imbalances.

OK, OK: So what do you do about it? Try building your glutes strength with movements that isolate the gluteal muscles. Opt out of squats for the time being (although I’m sure you’ve heard they are the go-to glutes movement); instead, try simple yoga poses that get your glutes to wake up!  Here are a few that are helpful:

  • From your back, try bridge pose, lifting and lower the hips with your breath. Focus on engaging your glutes at the top of every lift into bridge pose.
  • From hands and feet, try “reverse table”: come onto hands and feet, with your belly facing upward, knees bent and thighs parallel to floor. Lift and lower your hips, focusing on glutes and core engagement at the top of every lift. (You can also do this with your legs stretched out in upward plank pose, as I’m modeling in the image above.)
  • From a belly-down position, try prone leg lifts. Focus on keeping your lower back out of the equation, by deeply engaging your core.

In time, as you work to strengthen your glutes, you’ll probably notice that your balance practice in yoga will get better, you’ll find more power when you’re walking or jogging up hills, and you’ll experience less tightness in hip flexors, hamstrings, or low back. Maintaining strong, functional glutes matters in the long-run, too; you need glute strength not just in athletic endeavors and movement practices, like yoga, but you also want to keep this important part your body strong and fluid as you get older. After all, the glutes help you keep stability and coordination in balancing and they help you rise to standing from a seated position—crucial stuff for healthy aging. All the more reason to get your glutes on!

 

The art of not wanting stuff

We’re subtly taught to believe that buying something will fix something else.

Aparigraha is fifth of the yoga yamas. The yamas constitute the ethical rules of yoga, and as the last of them, aparigraha is focused on non-attachment to stuff. Non-greediness, non-grasping, non-coveting.

When we break the word down to its Sanskrit roots, the meaning gets even clearer: the a at the beginning negates—it’s sort of like adding “not” at the beginning of a phrase. Pari means essentially from “all sides” and graha means “to take.” All together: don’t take from all sides. Don’t take more than you need. Don’t be greedy.

That’s hard, particularly in a culture that constantly sings the siren song of more is better. There’s hope though: in recent years there’s been more interest in the concept of non-attachment to stuff. There’s the Marie Kondo-inspired movement of decluttering and a focus on simple, clean living that flies in the face of the dominant culture messaging that says buy, buy, buy.

The most insidious part of that consumerist message is the advertising that encourages us to see products as a solution. We’re taught to believe that buying something will fix something else. (And we fall for this message again and again, despite the fact that the previous product—and the previous one before that—was not the fix.)

At the heart, then, of our modern-day grasping at stuff is our erroneous belief that we need to be fixed. We need something, anything. We are flawed,  broken, or problematic, and the stuff we buy can solve that. Ahem.

If that’s the message we’re fighting, then obviously just telling ourselves to be less greedy or to let go of material possessions isn’t going to do much.

We have to begin by recognizing that we are enough. We have enough. We are whole.

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You are enough. You are balanced. You are whole.

We have to begin by seeing that the pattern of need-buy-repeat doesn’t offer any solution or make life any better.

We have to begin by seeing the limitation of material goods.

Now, hang on. I like to buy stuff sometimes. Do I have to give up all shopping as enjoyment? No new lipstick? No new earrings? No new *insert your happy purchase here*?

I’m not a monster, you guys.

We have to examine our intentions around buying and collecting and owning, not cease to do these things altogether.

When the impulse to buy something arises, look at it closely. If it’s an honest need or a healthy desire, you’ll know if you look closely and stay with that desire for a few moments. But if the desire to buy is there because you think on some subtle level that the purchase and ownership of this item will bring it all together, make it all okay, solve it all… well, then, it’s probably time to go to your mat and breathe and settle into a mantra like I am whole.

You are whole. Nothing else needed.

 

Have 20 minutes? Do some yoga!

Balance Your Body and Your Mind and Twist It All Away Sequence

  • Begin on hands and knees (Table) and move through Cat-Cow for 3-5 breaths.
  • From Table, move to Thread the Needle, beginning with the right arm. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Repeat Thread the Needle, beginning with the left arm. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Return to Table and on an Exhale, move to Downward-Facing Dog. Move arouna dn squirm in Down-Dog for 10-15 breaths.
  • From Downward-Facing Dog, walk your way to the front of the mat.
  • Inhale, rise into Mountain Pose. Exhale to arrive.
  • Inhale and raise your arms overhead.
  • Exhale and bend your knees to Fierce / Chair Pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Inhale and draw your hands to your heart center.
  • Exhale and twist right, hook your left elbow on the outside of your right knee, if possible. This is Revolved Fierce Pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Inhale and draw your hands back to heart center.
  • Exhale and twist left, hook your right elbow on the outside of your left knee, if possible. This is Revolved Fierce Pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Inhale and draw your hands back to heart center. Exhale to land.
  • Inhale, reach your arms overhead, returning to Fierce Pose.
  • Exhale, straighten your legs and release your arms and return to Mountain Pose.
  • Move into Tree Pose, balancing on right foot. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Move into Tree Pose, balancing on left foot. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Return to Mountain Pose.
  • Step into Warrior 2 with your right foot forward. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Return to Mountain Pose and shift weight into your right foot.
  • Move into Eagle Pose, balancing on your right foot. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Return to Mountain Pose.
  • Step into Warrior 2 with your left foot forward. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Return to Mountain Pose and shift weight into your left foot.
  • Move into Eagle Pose, balancing on your left foot. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Come to your back on the mat and bend your knees. Drop your knees to the right. Hold for 30 breaths. Drop your knees to the left. Hope for 30 breaths.
  • Rest in Savasana for 5-10 minutes.

 

Ahimsa: compassion starts within

Ahimsa is the yogic notion of non-violence. Even when our actions are non-violent, we might feel violence in our hearts.

Ahimsa is the yogic notion of non-violence or non-harming. It’s the first of the Yamas, the yogic ethical precepts that suggest the right path for a yogi.

When I teach the concept of ahimsa, I often joke that it’s an obvious one: if you’ve showed up in a yoga class, you’re probably not a violent person. You’re probably already on a path toward kindness. You’re probably already seeking to be more compassionate in your actions toward others.

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Open your heart! Even when it’s cold and snowy, open your heart!

But while external manifestations of violence certainly belie a violent heart, the reverse is not always true. We think of violence as grandiose, but internal violence can be quite subtle: we might be walking around with a lot of violence in our hearts—resentment, guilt, anger, fear, shame.  That internal violence may never manifest as an outward expression. That’s a good thing, of course, but it doesn’t mean we should leave that internal violence to rage on without check or change.

Indeed, it’s only by ceasing to struggle internally that we can cease to struggle externally—as individuals and as a collective society. That’s the true teaching of ahimsa: non-harming, non-violence starting internally. Starting with ourselves. Moving from the internal to the external. True compassion for ourselves to true compassion for others.

This is where the practice of yoga comes in: yoga allows us to acknowledge, confront, and address inner brutality. The practice of arriving in your body, moving with grace, accepting your body’s limitations; this is the practice of compassion. Being present with discomfort, being honest about your thoughts, being aware of what you’re feeling; this is the practice of compassion. Accepting yourself as you are: the most radical practice of compassion. Accepting others as they are. Even more radical, I know.

Acknowledging that inner violence exists is not the same as expressing that violence. When we act from a space of violence we cause violence to others. The destructive cycle continues. But when we acknowledge the pain in our heart, we are often amazed to see how quickly it melts away and how easily we become free of it. And more: we see then how big and full and beautiful the heart can be when the little thorn of himsa (violence) is removed.

 

Have 20 minutes? Do some yoga!

Heart-Opening and Super-Stretchy Seated Pose Sequence

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose; move your spine and stretch your body, finding what feels good
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Move back to Table Pose and slide onto your belly for Sphinx Pose; stay in Sphinx Pose for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slide onto your belly and as you inhale float into Locust Pose; stay in Locust Pose for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Transition to hands and knees in Table position and stretch your spine with Cat-Cow for a breath or two
  • Sit down and move to Seated Forward Fold; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Cross your legs into Cow-Faced Pose; stay here for 3-5 breaths; switch the cross of your legs; stay for 3-5 breaths
  • Draw your feet together for Bound Angle Pose; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Lower onto your back and practice Bridge Pose 3 times; hold each pose 3-5 breaths; rest in between
  • Rest in Corpse Pose for 5-10 minutes

Hungry for emotional popcorn?

Emotions pop up as quickly as a kernel of popcorn goes from inedible to fluffy goodness.

Every day, all day we’re inundated by emotional responses. Some of these are groovy, sweet emotions and some of these are lame, annoying emotions. (And sometimes all the lame emotions flood in at once, like when you’re on one of those customer service phone calls from hell. Just the worst.)

These little jabs of feeling? I like to think of them as emotional popcorn. Yep.

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I ate all of that. Every bite.

I really like popcorn. At least once a week, I make it on the stove the old-fashioned way: in a pan with salt and oil. It’s a pretty fun snack to eat, and it’s just as much fun to cook. The kernels heat up, the sizzling starts, and then anticipation builds until ping! pop!—the popping begins.

Emotions often come over us as quickly as a kernel of corn goes from inedible to fluffy goodness. Ping! Anger. Pop! Frustration. Ping! Anxiety. Ping! Pop! Pop! When we feel the emotions start to pop up, we get to make a choice: are we going to eat the popcorn?

Much of the practice of yoga centers on this idea—noticing that there IS actually space between provocation and reaction. You can feel an emotion (anger, for instance) and not eat that emotional popcorn. You can feel it and see it and choose not to engage it at the moment. The starting point is to be aware. To notice. To feel the emotion begin and then choose whether or not you’re going to shove it in your mouth. (Sometimes it’s just too damn tempting. Sometimes you eat a big bowl of popcorn, handful after handful. And that’s okay, too.)

But that space? That pause? That path between action and reaction? That comes from breathing while you move. From staying in a pose a smidge longer than your quads want you to. That comes from being present, even in challenging poses. And then really letting go in savasana. Your practice on the mat is a microcosm for your life.

So this week, whether you’re on your mat or on the phone call with Time Warner, just notice. Just notice the pop of emotion. And see what happens next.

Have 10 minutes? Do some yoga:

Simple Yoga Sequence for Waking Up the Body

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose; play in Cat-Cow: move your spine and stretch your body, finding what feels good
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; squirm around in this pose, and stay here for 5-10 breaths
  • Move back to Table Pose
  • Rest in Child’s Pose
  • Move to standing and come to Mountain Pose
  • Inhale, lift arms overhead; exhale, clasp your hands and lean to one side. Take 3 breaths. Inhale through center and exhale, lean to the other side. Take 3 more breaths. Inhale through center and exhale, release your arms to your side.
  • Inhale, lift arms overhead; exhale, fold forward
  • Inhale, lift halfway (hands can come to shins or higher; lengthen your spine); exhale, fold forward
  • With your next inhalation return to Mountain Pose
  • Inhale, step your left foot back and move to Warrior I; stay in Warrior I for 3-5 breaths
  • Shift to Warrior II; stay in Warrior II for 3-5 breaths
  • Return to Mountain Pose and repeat Warrior I and II, this time stepping your right foot back
  • Return to Downward-Facing Dog and and move your spine again, stretching any places that still need to stretch, 5-10 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose or transition to Resting Pose (Savasana Pose) for at least 2 minutes.