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Yoga straps. Courtesy of Google images

Yoga straps. Courtesy of Google images

Summer has officially hit here in Central New York — the muggy, warm days are here to prove it.

Feeling groggy after a day at Untied, I debated if I wanted to go to yoga or go home drink a cool beverage, relax, and maybe get a little shut-eye.

The latter definitely sounded better, but I decided to stick to my quest for mental clarity and trudged to yoga. It was restorative, so I figured some light stretching and meditation would probably do me some good.

And it did.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to skip out on yoga. There were only two other people in the class. My teacher commented that summer had begun because people were out enjoying the weather rather than coming to yoga.

I was instantly glad I came because classes with fewer people are always more relaxing.

Slowly turning inward and focusing on only my breath, I instantly cooled down.

Here’s a great heart opener and shoulder stretch that we did today:

1. Sit cross legged with your back straight.

2.Take a band, yoga strap, or some sort of material you can hold on both ends. Make it taut by pulling it with your arms, which should be separated a little wider than your shoulders.

An example of wide your arms should be. Courtesy of Google images

An example of wide your arms should be. Courtesy of Google images

3. Take a deep breath in, and on the exhale pull the arms (holding whatever strap you choose) behind your head and hold the stretch, as well as the breath.

4. On the inhale, pull your arms slowly back over the head.

5. Lean forward, placing your head on your arms, and breathe in supported child pose.

6. Sit slowly back up, repeat the shoulder stretch, and this time do one extra rep of pulling the arms back over the head.

7. Repeat as much you as like.

Yoga high: 4.0

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Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

I’m a religious person, thus I go to church every Sunday and belt it out with the choir.

Singing is sometimes the part of mass I enjoy the most. It’s therapeutic to sing as loud as you can and not care who hears.

I’m Catholic, but went to a soul church for a while because I enjoy singing that much. Their mass was three hours long, and they dedicated the first hour to solely singing with many chorus interludes thereafter. Women, men, and children got up sporadically and started dancing when they felt the music.

I loved it. I’m tone deaf and a horrible singer, but there’s no judgment in church. It’s the one place where I sing in public.

There’s something spiritual about singing and there’s something spiritual about yoga.

I feel a different kind of spirituality at yoga, than I do at church. I am most at peace when I practice faith and yoga routinely.

So, today at yoga we sang. It was blissful.

We sang a yoga psalm. I didn’t know the words and was out of sync with the group a lot,  but it was extremely peaceful.

Singing and yoga is a form of meditation, and actually strengthens your practice. Some studies show that singers and yoga actually require similar skill and focus.

I got my strongest yoga high of my practices thus far. I highly recommend going to a quite space, looking up some yoga psalms, and singing your heart out for 20 minutes or so — you’ll feel extremely refreshed after.

Yoga high: 4.0

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

Most people think they aren’t flexible enough for yoga.

They’re wrong. You don’t need flexibility to go to yoga — that’s what the practice is there for: to stretch and improve your malleability.

Some think they’re too old to do yoga.

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

They’re wrong too. There are yogis in my classes that are in their 70s and far better than me.

And there are others who think they don’t have a body meant for yoga.

Guess what? They’re wrong as well.

Yoga is for anyone — there are no age, characterstic, or size limitations.

Yoga is meant for any body shape and plus size yoga studios recently popped up across the nation.

Plus size yoga modifies regular poses for gals that might have a little trouble bending and moving as someone smaller than them.

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

There are even plus size yoga clothing lines and plus size yoga DVDs.

Pregnant yoginis can even practice yoga. There’s prenatal yoga or poses can easily be modified as well.

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

One of my instructors is pregnant and always jokes that if she can do it, we can do it.

And with a five inch belly on her, it’s true. (Although, she’s surprisingly still a lot more advanced than me).

There’s no excuse not to hop on a yoga mat. It’s truly a practice for everyone.

Yoga high:0

Today’s practice was about surrendering.

Surrendering to those things you cannot control and being OK with giving up some of your own control. It’s a hard feat for many, myself included.

So, as I surrendered to my thoughts, feelings, and life, I began my surrender to my practice. I focused on being OK with the things I couldn’t do today (I was a little stiff) and to challenge myself to my comfortable edge.

And of course, the teacher today challenged us by introducing partner downward facing dog.

I don’t like partner poses because:

1. You have to interact and touch with strangers and,

2. I’m always afraid they’ll judge how good (or bad) you are at yoga. The rest of the class usually feels the same as everyone’s face drops or goes white when we hear we have to do partner poses.

And double downward facing dog is a do-sy because you have to put your feet up on your partner (who is in downward facing dog) and rest on top of them.

It looks like something you’d see in a yoga competition — yes, they do exist and people can contort themselves in unimaginable ways. (See image below).

Courtesy of UnderdogNation.com

Courtesy of UnderdogNation.com

The purpose: to get you used to pushing back and root your hands into the ground.

Often in downward facing dog, the palm of the hands lift or you aren’t lifting your hips and pushing back enough. With a partner on top of you, you don’t have a choice.

It was an interesting sensation, and surprsingly, you can’t even feel the person on top of you nor did anyone get hurt.

I must admit, I couldn’t get myself to surrender completely to the pose and get all the way up.

But I’m working on it. I did my best for the day and that’s all I can ask for.

Yoga high: 2.5

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

After 14 classes and some of my own practice, my mat is starting to smell a little foul.

At first I couldn’t put my finger on the odd aroma that was wafting past my nose as I walked home from yoga, mat in arm and then I realized — I hadn’t cleaned my yoga mat at all since I’ve rejoined yoga. When I used to practice, I sprayed my mat after practice, wiped it down, and often set it outside to air.

Now, I just quickly roll it up and keep it that way until my next practice. I fell into bad yoga hygiene.

Surfing the NY Times for the latest yoga news, I found this article about how my uncleanly mat manners could turn into some nasty foot issues.

I am a born again clean yogi and promised myself that I will wash my mat as devoutly as I practice.

There are a few different ways to clean your mat:

Yoga wipes – Commercial wipes are available for a quick-and-easy mat cleaning. This is probably the simplest, most hassle free solution. Jo-Sha wipes also can be used to freshen yourself after class. They are recyclable, come in different scents — lavender, eucalyptus, and tangerine  to name a few –, and can be bought online or in stores.

Spray it down – Usually yoga studios have a spray that you can use — just ask your teacher. The studios that I have gone to with spray usually have herb-scented relaxing smelling scents. If your studio doesn’t have spray for you, you can always use a regular household cleaning product like Lysol, baking soda and water, or another cleanser that has a smell you enjoy. Spray your mat lightly and wipe down with a wash cloth, sponge, or paper towel.

Throw it in the washer – This is something you should do if your mat is in bad shape (something I’m considering). You have to make sure that your mat’s material is washing machine-safe. If it is, toss it in. If not, get a large tub of warm water, cleanser of your choice, and let it soak. Air dry.

You can even get creative, and make your own spray. And it’s always good to let your mat lie flat in some fresh air for a while — keeping it coiled up in a tight roll just makes it smellier.

Yoga high: 0

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

Today’s yoga session was about being in the present.

So often we are in the future or holding in the past. This was the crux of a passage my instructor read from The Secret of the Yamas by John McAfee.

And it’s too true that one moment we are thinking about what’s next to check off our to-do list, what’s for dinner, or how we need to pick up the dry cleaning next Monday. Then we are thinking about the weekend (wishing we could go back to it), how your sister pissed you off the last time you talked on the phone, and how mad you are you never got that top back that she borrowed.

Our minds are rarely in the present, and that is why I started yoga — to overcome my mental chatter that prevents me from just being.

So I made an honest effort — and the best attempt in my practices thus far — to shut it all out. I didn’t worry about what I’d be doing after yoga, the previous day’s work, or what tomorrow held.

I was present in my practice, and boy did it pay off.

I hold a lot of stress in my shoulders, and thus have some major knots in the neck area. (I constantly wish I had a Swedish masseur with me at all times — giving me neck rubs while I sit at the computer, ooh, sounds so good.)

Today I worked  out my own kinks though with these awesome shoulder stretches.

Standing shoulder stretch

1. Stand in mountain pose: straight spine, feet shoulder with apart, arms down by your side.

2. Clasp your arms behind your back. Keep arms and spine straight. (Keeping your spine straight ensures the breath gets total access to your body.

3. Bend forward, bringing arms over head to your comfortable edge. (Don’t overdo it — especially if you have extremely tight shoulders. If you have shoulder problems, this may not be for you.)

4. Hold this pose and breathe.

5. Come out slowly — the exact same way you came in.

Floor shoulder stretch

1. Lie on the floor in savasana and bring arms out the side to be in a straight line with your shoulders.

2. Roll to your right side, bringing your left arm into your chest, and making sure your right arm stays in line with your right shoulder. Stack your legs on top of each other, keeping your body in a straight line. To go into a deeper shoulder stretch, bend your left leg behind your right knee. To go even deeper into the pose, bend both legs.

3. Hold and breathe.

4. Roll out slowly. Repeat on your left side.

Just by focusing and being completely in the right here, right now, I was able to ward off my shoulder pain and transcend into a more peaceful state.

Yoga high: 3.5

Courtesy of Google images  

Courtesy of Google images

Going to yoga alone, but want to meet a yogi partner in crime? (And you don’t want your yoga buddy to be a pup, but an actual human?)

Try singles yoga

Yes, that’s right meeting people and a little stretching is a two-in-one combo now — multi-tasking for the busy lady. 

I first came across this phenomena through an article tweeted on the Untied Twitter page .

It’s becoming a trend to find your match at meditation. 

You do a little yoga, get to know one another, and sometimes even go out after — that’s the itinerary at Singles Yoga.

Meeting people with similar hobbies is always a good start for a gal on the prowl, Fitness Singles claims to have the largest community of single yogis and has groups for many different sports — hiking, running, biking, etc. 

I’ve always enjoyed meeting people who love yoga, so I see the similar interests and community aspect of singles yoga, but I’m not sure if you could clear your mind while scouting out a post-yoga dinner date. 

Focusing on impressing someone — while sweating and in workout clothes — seems like more of a challenge than the actual practice. And it would distract you from concentrating on the poses. 

Clearing your head doesn’t seem possible, which is my main goal for practicing yoga. Looking for your soulmate and improving the self doesn’t seem to be a feasible match. 

More power to ya though, if it’s something you’d like to try to master — it seems like it would make the yoga conquest that much more difficult. 

Yoga high: 0

Courtesy of Dogadog.com

Courtesy of Dogadog.com

So you want to bring a pal with you to do yoga? And your best bud is your four legged canine?

No problem. Suit the little pupsy up in yoga pants, grab the leash, and head to yoga.

All are welcome at yoga — even dogs.

You aren’t alone if you want to do yoga with your Jack Russell terrier around your neck — trust me, I thought you would have been, but after I read this NYT article I realized going to practice with your dog is more popular than you would think. It’s a new trend.

It’s called doga, ladies, and it’s stretching and massaging for your dog — and you.

Dogadog.com says you can actually learn from your dogs. Doga DVDs have already hit the stands (and Internet) — you and your pup don’t even have to leave the house. Books are also available if you want to read up and do a little DIY doga.

Classes at the East Yoga studio in NYC are about 45 minutes long, so it’s a typical class time.

It’s different way to exercise with your dog, other than a walk in the park. The doga practice is offered outdoors at some studios if you want to keep quality time with your canine outside — dodo bags are still needed though.

So while you become a yogi, your pooch can become a dogi — the two you of you mastering relaxation poses and achieving a higher mental state.

Don’t have a dog, but love cats? Yoga with kitties exists too, and it’s purrrrrr-fect.

Yoga high: 0

Today’s asana, or what we devoted our practice to, was acceptance.

Letting go of the things you cannot control and changing the way you approach them. My instructor wisely said that half the battle is not pushing away what you think is bad and pulling in what you think is good. You must accept the things that come your way, no matter how frustrating or problematic they may seem.

This hit home after another long day at Untied, a project that definitely throws its curveballs at me on a daily basis.

As I settled into today’s yoga practice of acceptance, I took a deep breath and let go of any tension I was carrying — I could feel the tightness of my muscles relax as I finally took a breather.

I had to accept that today I was feeling a little more rigid — it’s probably the awfulness of “hump day” — and that I wouldn’t be able to move as deep in the poses as I usually do. And that’s OK. You never want to force or push yourself in yoga. You want to be at a comfortable edge, where you can feel the pose, but aren’t overdoing it.

Today’s main pose was triangle, a well-known and difficult pose to do correctly. It’s a pose where a lot of people push themselves to overdo it, and end up sitting in the pose incorrectly — which can hurt you.

Here’s how to do triangle — or Trikonasana correctly:

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

1. Stand lengthwise on your yoga mat, spreading your legs about a leg’s width apart, and root firmly into the ground.

2. Turn your left foot to the side and your right foot in at a 45 degree angle. Make sure both are in a straight line.

3. Adjust your right hip by turning the top of your thigh inwards — almost like it is in a diagonal line with the inside of your left foot. Keep your left leg from drawing inward.

4. Inhale your arms up to your sides, making sure they are in a straight line as well. Your goal is to be perfectly straight — in alignment — in this pose.

5. Reach over your toes and windmill your right arm up and your left arm down with palms facing out, keeping your spine straight. You don’t have to touch the floor or even your knee. You can keep your left hand on the top of your thigh. It is important to keep your spine straight. As soon as you arch it, you’re not feeling the full effects of the pose.

6. Breathe. Hold for a couple of minutes or until you can no longer.

7. To get out of the pose, reach the arms up and to the sides again, bring your feet front to be in a stationery middle position again.

8. Repeat on the right side.


Yoga high: 3.0

 

Courtesy of Google images

Courtesy of Google images

After a long, fun-filled weekend of eating out, celebrating, and relaxing, it was hard to get back to the grind. 

With the grueling work week, weekends are a time to be gluttonous in doing the things you want. By the end of the weekend, a daily work routine is hard to get back into. It seems like it would just be easier not to fall out of it.

It makes you realize everything is better in moderation. I pondered this on my walk to yoga after what seemed like an eternal day at Untied, and fittingly enough the day’s practice was dedicated to the yama (the ethical teaching about restraint) brahmacharya, which translates movement to the Lord and is about practicing moderation to direct one’s energy to growth and transformation.

To achieve brahmacharya, a balanced lifestyle including moderation in diet, relationships, you time, and even the breath is in order.

I have touched on the importance of being conscious of the breath before, so here are some different yoga breaths that can help oxygenate and rejuvenate the body by getting new energy to flow into the body. 

Ohm: What we start each class doing. Take a deep inhale in and on the exhale say “Ahhh-Ohhhh-Mmmm.” Humming the last “m” part. Do this slowly and try for a long, full exhale.

Lion’s breath: Take a deep inhale and on the exhale open the mouth wide, stick out the tongue, and make a roar sound. Don’t be shy — you’ll be surprised at how good it will feel to let it all out.

For an extended version of this breath. Sit on your knees or comfortably fold the legs, close the mouth, breath in and out by pushing the lungs in on the exhale. All you really need to do is focus on the exhale — the inhale will come naturally. 

Pranayam: A little more complicated breath. It is very important to focus only on the breath here, and feel it coming in and down your body.

1. Sit in a cross legged position, back straight. Take the left hand, touch your index and thumb fingers together, and place it on your knee.

2. Take your right hand, bring it up to your nostrils. Put your thumb by your right nostril and your pinky and ring fingers by your left. 

3. Cover your left nostril with your pinky and ring finger. Inhale through your right nostril. 

4. Cover your right nostril with your thumb. Hold the breath and feel it move down your body.

5. Lift your fingers off your left nostril and exhale.

6. Inhale through the left nostril this time, cover, and exhale through the right.

7. Repeat. Continue for five minutes or however long you can handle it.  

You should feel relaxed and clear headed after these breathing reps — you’ll probably even get a little yoga high.

Yoga high: 1.5