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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

OK, I’m not saying to go caffeine crazy and drink a bunch of coffee, tea, or soft drinks. I’m also not saying down a bunch of caffeine pills, but a little bit of caffeine every now and then is actually quite useful, especially if you are going for a workout.

The only problem is that if you are a big caffeine person, then the response will be less effective versus someone who just drinks it once in a while. Once the caffeine is in the body, it’s absorbed by the GI tract and rises in the blood at 15 minutes and then peaks at 60 minutes.

This can be very helpful for creating tension during the workout and also stimulating the central nervous system by increasing alertness and decreasing drowsiness. Who knew caffeine could do all of this inside of the body?

(courtesy of google images)

An example of caffeine at it’s best would be taking it before a prolonged exercise like running because it can raise glucose levels and use fatty acid as the fuel for getting the exercise completed.


– Skylaur Morris

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

We all know that exercise does a body good but what about the brain? Exercise can improve the brain’s cognitive functioning, especially as we get older.

Many times you’ll catch someone doing crossword puzzles or jumping around to their favorite song, but what they don’t know is that they are stimulating the brain while doing it.

Mental (reading and writing) and physical (exercise and movement) activities become important stimulants for brain health. How many times have you seen people affected by a stroke? or alzheimer’s disease. Those are examples of not having good brain health, and can be prevented by doing daily doses of exercise and playing a fun game of scattergories.

The way it works:
Exercise improves the blood flow to the brain and promotes the functions of neurons. Many of these effects take place in the region of the brain that is used for memory and learning.

Hippocampus (responsible for memories and learning)

– Skylaur Morris

(Brain photo, courtesy of google images)

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

Working out takes energy away, so we must have energy to perform it. The reason why we can’t work out on an empty stomach is because our body needs to feed off something to produce enough energy for the workout. The 3 types of fuel that can be used for exercise are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Not saying, let’s go crazy and eat a bunch of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, but you need to have some in your diet in order to make progress with your workouts!!!

Fats

Using stored body fat (meaning, fat already on the body) is a great source for long periods of exercise. Usually one gram of fat has at least 9 kcals of energy and is water insoluble. The energy source is greater than proteins and carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates

Since carbohydrates are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, they are provide the fastest form of energy, although one gram of it still provides less energy than fat. Carbohydrates come in 3 forms that use simple sugars, that are made up of glucose, fructose, and sucrose. There can also be complex carbohydrates, but start of as simple carbohydrates.

Proteins

Proteins are made by using amino acids and chemical bonds. Consuming the 9 essential amino acids is a must because proteins are made up of different parts from the amino acids. Protein contributes to exercise by either directly by bioenergetics in the muscle cells or indirectly by helping synthesize glycogen to work on circulation.

– Skylaur Morris

Finally, something we all can agree that taste good and is good for you at the same time. Smoothies can become apart of your daily diet either as meals or as a quick healthy snack or dessert.

As we discussed supplements briefly in another blog, mixing them into smoothies is a great way to get all the necessary nutrients the body needs.

Fruit and vegetables are great in smoothie form and is a sure way to make something taste better that you would normally, say yuck too.

To cover all your vitamins and minerals, Here are some recipes from http://www.flowercarole.com to help create some blended healthy treats:

Banana and Mango Delish Smoothie
(serves 1)

Ingredients
2 bananas (ready to be eaten)
1 large bowen mango (any mango will do but bowens are tasty)
1/2 cup of full fat milk (2% milk is full milk is too much)

Method
Blend all ingredients together until the mixture is smooth.

Crazy Carrot Smoothie Recipe
(serves 2-3)

(courtesy of google images)

Ingredients
3/4 medium sized cup of carrot juice
3/4 medium sized cup of orange juice (or Apple Juice)
3 scoops of vanilla ice-cream (or vanilla frozen yogurt for healthier choice)
6 ice cubes

Method
Pour the carrot juice and orange juice into blender and mix gently until well combined. Add the ice cream and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the ice cubes and process until smooth.

Sweet and Healthy Smoothie

Ingredients
1 kiwi fruit peeled
1/2 banana
approx 15 red grapes
3 pineapple rings

Method
To make this free smoothie recipe, peel and dice the kiwi fruit and dice the pineapple rings. Blend together the kiwi, grapes and banana for 45 seconds then add the pineapple chunks and blend for a further minute or so.

– Skylaur Morris
(Recipes provided by http://www.flowercarole.com; images courtesy of google images)