Tag: yoga

Three great yoga balancing poses

Three great yoga balancing poses

Balancing poses are an important part of a yoga practice and have many benefits. One of the primary benefits of a balancing pose is as its name implies it allows you to work on your ability to balance your body weight by improving your coordination and strength. In my daily yoga practice I perform three asanas that I find helpful in maintaining and improving my balance, and that I just enjoy doing.

Let’s start with King Dancer Pose:

Benefits of King Dancer Pose

  • Stretches the shoulders and chest
  • Stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen
  • Strengthens the legs and ankles
  • Improves balance and coordination

How to perform King Dancer Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose. Inhale, shift your weight onto your right foot, and lift your left heel toward your left buttock as you bend the knee. Press the head of your right thigh bone back, deep into the hip joint, and pull the knee cap up to keep the standing leg straight and strong. Then repeat but this time, inhale and shift your weight onto your left foot.

King Dancer (beginner)

simple variation jof king dancer pose

King Dancer (intermediate)

king dancer pose common

Another of my favorite balancing poses is Tree Pose. I’m only going to show what would be considered the intermediate version of Tree Pose or what is the most typical at least from my experience.

Benefits of Tree Pose

  • The position helps improve posture and balance
  • It strengthens calves, ankles and thighs
  • Perform this pose regularly to improve balance and overall well being
  • For me it is very calming, especially when you pick a focus point and relax your hip allowing it to open up

How to perform Tree Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose, draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor. I like to put my hands together as depicted below, but you can extend your arms over your head either hands touching or apart. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Step back to Mountain Pose with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed.

Tree Pose (intermediate)

Tree Pose Standard

 

The third balancing pose is called Warrior III. This pose is great for building strength and balance. Unlike the first two it gets your back perpedicular to the floor.

Benefits of Warrior III:

  • Strengthens the ankles and legs
  • Strengthens the shoulders and muscles of the back
  • Tones the abdomen

How to perform Warrior III Pose:

With one leg in front of the other bring your weight forward into your front foot and gently kick up your back leg. At the same time, bring the torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. Keep the neck relaxed, as if it’s the natural extension of the spine. You can either bring the arms back along your sides or bring them together in front of you as depicted below.

Warrior III (hands forward)

warrior-III

 

Use these balancing poses to help calm yourself and work on your coordination, balance, and strength. They will help you acquire the strength and balance you need to protect yourself and prevent falls and other mishaps that happen out there in the world. For me they are more calming in nature than most of the other standing poses and provide a nice transition to supine or sitting poses.

Remember the key to maintaining your balance is to pick a focal point in front of you with your eyes and focus on it allowing your body to naturally balance itself.

Namaste

The inactivity downward spiral

The inactivity downward spiral

After a somewhat exhausting weekend and not getting much sleep I decided to skip my Monday morning yoga session, and then to top it off I get home tired out and decided not to do my strength training session. I was headed in the wrong direction when it came to my workouts. Of course skipping the workouts on Monday made me feel even more lethargic and tired.  Funny how when you feel tired and do the workout anyway you begin to feel better. Maybe it is just short term memory, but you tend to forget that the workout will re-energize you even though the thought of getting started is not that appealing. When I got up on Tuesday morning I half hardheadedly did some of my usual yoga workout, and then feeling burned out from working all day I skipped my strength training workout again. Finally I got my stuff together and then on Wednesday did my strength training workout, which of course made me feel better. You can see why it is so easy to get into this inactivity downward spiral and it then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The typical excuses for missing workouts might include:

  • I didn’t get enough sleep last night
  • I’m too busy and need to do something else
  • I have an injury, however minor
  • I’ll just skip this one workout and it won’t matter
  • I’m not mentally up for it

_72632811_inactivity

All the above are not great reasons for skipping a workout.  Sure there are times when something might come up that is a higher priority event but those should be the exception. I like to build a little buffer in my strength training workout so that it can slide by a day or two and I can still accomplish it within a week. I do a 3 day split and this allows me some flexibility, but flexibility is not a license to succumb to the typical excuses stated previously. Remember inactivity begets inactivity and movement begets more movement. Don’t let your excuses prevent you from performing your workouts. The next time you say I’m too tired, or I can skip this one, drag your self off the couch and just go do it.

 Namaste

More Yoga – working around pain

More Yoga – working around pain

As you may have guessed I am not in my twenties. With age comes a phenomena called something always hurts. Now I’m not whining, and it isn’t the can’t get out of bed type of pain, but instead you always seem to be nursing some sort of muscle pull or strain. If I decided to take the day off from my yoga or strength training routine every time I had something that hurt I probably wouldn’t get too many workouts in, so I am going to suggest there are ways to work around these nagging pains you might be experiencing.

Let’s take my yoga practice, something I really love doing, but there are times when I need to be smart about what poses I undertake when nursing one of those minor injuries. Recently I had what appeared to be some form of a pulled muscle around the rib cage, so one of the poses I do is APANASANA Knee to Chest with a supine twist which is where one leg is bent and essentially goes over the other leg that is straight (see picture below) had to be temporarily eliminated. As you know there are a number of asanas where twisting around the spine is par for the course, so I also stopped doing things like MARICHYASANA III Seated Twist (below). About a week later the pain around the rib cage subsided and I was able to resume those poses that caused the most pain, while still maintaining my practice.

Apanasana supine twist
APANASANA Knee to Chest Post (supine twist)
marichyasana III
MARICHYASANA III

I’m not advocating you eliminate all asanas where you feel a bit of pain, just those where you know you are making the injury worse and probably compromising a speedy recovery. I don’t care if you are 20 or 60 you will encounter muscle strain and pulls from time to time, or if you are like me you will always have some nagging pain to deal with, but don’t let that stop you from maintaining your practice. Be smart and work around those injuries, and get what you can out of your yoga practice; remember you can modify many of the poses to work around that injury. So when I was dealing with the pain around my rib cage I opted to do a simple APANASANA bringing the knee to the chest without the supine twist until I had healed my body. Look for those opportunities to make modifications or temporarily eliminate certain asanas, but don’t stop practicing.

Namaste

How does Yoga make you feel?

How does Yoga make you feel?

There are times that I get up around 5:00 a.m. and think should I skip my yoga practice this morning, somewhat dreading those first couple of Sun Salutations as my back is stiff from laying in bed. Instead I finish my cup of coffee, let the dogs out and back in then take my socks off, unroll the mat and here we go. The funny thing is just like many forms of physical activity, once you get started all those thoughts about skipping it just fade away. You start to remember why you like yoga so much as you go from pose to pose and work to control your breathing, and 30 or 40 minutes later you are done.

yoga-inspiration

So how do you feel after your practice?

For me I feel:

  • relaxed
  • loose in the hamstrings, back, and hips
  • calm
  • happy
  • like I achieved something
  • alive
  • focused on the present
  • ready to do it again tomorrow

 

Namaste

More……..Yoga

ashtanga yoga

More…………………….Yoga!

Fortunately I have been able to stick with my yoga practice in the Ashtanga tradition of six days a week.  I was doing this at night but during the last two weeks have switched to mornings so that I could resume my strength training in the evenings. After somewhat mastering some pretty fundamental asanas I have added the Ashtanga version of the Sun Salutation to the beginning of my practice. The Sun Salutation is done 5 times, and then I move on to standing and balancing poses, then to supine and floor poses. The whole routine/practice looks something like this:

Sun Salutation

Sun Salutation repeat 5 times

  • Standing Pose (Mountain pose with feet together)
  • Standing Pose (hands together above head)
  • Standing forward bend
  • Standing forward preparing for staff pose
  • Chaturanga Dandasana – Plank
  • Upward facing dog (cobra)
  • Downward facing dog
  • Standing forward preparing for staff pose
  • Standing forward bend
  • Standing Pose (hands together above head)
  • Standing Pose (Mountain pose with feet together)

Standing & Balancing Poses

  • Half Moon Pose
  • Chair Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Warrior 2 Pose
  • Side Angle Pose
  • Standing Knee to Chest (or knee back)
  • Tree Pose

Supine & Seated Poses

  • Two Legged Platform
  • Knee to Chest Pose
  • Bridge Pose
  • Both Knees to Chest Pose
  • Supine Leg Stretch (leg up with strap)
  • The Sunbird Cat Stretch
  • Child’s Pose
  • Hero Pose (knees bent sitting on legs)
  • Easy Seated Pose
  • Butterfly (feet together)
  • Staff Pose
  • Head to Knee Pose (use strap, hurdlers stretch)
  • Seated Twist

I like to follow up the yoga practice with 5 – 10 minutes of meditation, which helps me prepare the for the day ahead, which is one of the reasons I switched to doing yoga in the morning as yoga and meditation seem to work so well together. I’m a long ways from moving into the Primary Series asanas as I am still mastering the Sun Salutation and other fundamental poses mentioned above, but everyone needs to start somewhere. The results so far have been outstanding as I am gaining flexibility, my back is feeling better, and am starting to become a bit calmer. I would love to hear about your yoga journey and follow your blogging related to this topic.

Namaste

Grateful on a Monday

grateful for this day

There probably is no more important time to count your blessings if you will than on Monday morning. Many of us struggle with the thought of going back to the rigor of a job after a nice weekend, others have no issue with it. I’m the former most of the time, so I have taken it upon myself to not suffer the transition from weekend to work week as some type of burden or weekly negative event.  Instead of starting the week out with some whiny negative attitude, the whole paradigm needs to shift. Here is my recommendation, start your Monday morning with a bit of exercise, which might be running, yoga, Pilates, walking, or chasing your significant other around the house, whatever gets you heart beating and breathing hard.  The intent here is to burn off some energy and get into a state of relaxation.  The next thing to do is sit down on the floor, close your eyes and meditate on the following:

  • Give thanks to (God, Mohamed, Buddha, or Yourself) for being alive and healthy
  • Think about the positive ways you will interact with everyone today
  • Be thankful for what you have (look around it is all relative)

As you are focusing on these few thoughts take deep breaths inhaling and exhaling through your nose and try to drown out the noise in your head that is wanting you to think about To Do’s.  See what happens when you get off the floor, get ready and drive into work.

Are you calmer?

Do you have a more positive outlook on the day?

Can you smile without faking it?

If you can say Yes to these three questions you have found a way to start out your Monday, and any other day of the week in the best possible state of mind.

What are you grateful for today

Namaste

 

 

Observations of switching to a full body routine

full body routine

Now I have always been an advocate of using split routines for strength training so that I could keep my workouts short and focus on limited muscle groups.  I also kind of dreaded trying to work my whole body in a single workout, so maybe there was a bit of laziness on my part.  A couple months ago I began to study yoga and started practicing 6 days a week in the evenings when I would normally do my weight training.  Now I wasn’t about to give up weight (strength) training so I consolidated my routines into a single day that would accommodate my yoga practice on the other 6 days a week.  I thought that I was going to lose strength and conditioning as I did need to trim some exercises and sets out of my strength training program to fit everything in to one session and not kill myself.  In reality the loss of strength or conditioning has not occurred, so I am going to hypothesize that there are several reasons including:

  1. The yoga is actually helping me retain my strength.  If you have ever performed yoga poses you know that they take a great deal of strength, so not only are you taking the opportunity to stretch but you are also using your muscles to balance and hold poses.
  2. It turns out that even though I had to cut out some sets to fit everything into a single strength training session, the fact that I was using supporting muscle groups going from chest to triceps, to biceps and shoulders, to legs and to back.  When I was doing a split routine I would work a muscle group and that was it, with a full body routine that same muscle group gets utilized just minutes later to support the focus on another.  For example after working out my shoulders, I would later do some back work which would again engage my shoulders in a supporting role.
  3. It turns out that at my age I might not need to torch my muscles with weights multiple times in the same week.  So my recovery period is longer and this might actually work to my advantage.
  4. One last thing, when you know you are only going to lift weights once during the week you make sure it counts, and you are less likely to miss a workout.  When I was doing a split routine I would occasionally slack off and just skip a day and my schedule would begin to slide.

I’m not advocating that you drop you split routine, and for myself I would have stayed the course if it were not for the demands of my yoga practice, but to my surprise the full body routine has its advantages.  Maybe another epiphany here is that you don’t have to give up weight training because you love yoga or Pilates or running or some other form of training.  You can find a way to adjust your schedule and still get the benefits that these multiple disciplines provide.

dumbells on a rack

Namaste

More Yoga Really?

kino-crescent-lunge

As I may have mentioned in a previous post I have hopped, jumped, thrown myself on the yoga bandwagon, and thought I would give you a few reasons why.  I started reading “The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace” by Kino MacGregor someone who studied under Jois the person who devoted his life to teaching Ashtanga yoga.  One thing Kino talks about in the book is the importance of regular practice, meaning 6 days a week.  The reason being is that if you attend a yoga class, and maybe practice yourself another day in the week you will not progress.  I’m not saying you will not benefit from practicing two days a week, but you probably will not increase your flexibility or really gain the peace of mind that comes with daily practice.

Last week I performed my yoga practice of about 30 asana’s six days in a row, and it was amazing how my hamstrings and back are beginning to show signs of increased flexibility.  This is actually becoming very addictive as I am practicing at night after work, and look forward to it all day.  Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t practice yoga one, two, or three days a week; if nothing else it is a wonderful form of exercise.  I think the reason Kino advocates 6 days a week is that the body needs more frequent exposure to the poses before it begins to transform the muscles and tendons to allow you a greater range of motion.  As for myself I am still working on some pretty basic poses in preparation for embarking on the Ashtanga primary series expounded upon in the “The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace”, but we all have to start somewhere.

Yoga

Well my journey continues, and in a couple of weeks I will embark on the Ashtanga primary series, and give you and update.  I would recommend if you want to learn more about Ashtanga yoga that you read Kino MacGregor’s book, it is extremely well written and easy to understand.  The book is only $14.95 at Amazon and is 240 pages with great photography of Kino performing the poses.

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace

Some other good sources for learning more about yoga include:

Yoga Basics – lots of great information, how to, meditation, etc.

Yoga.com – very cool stories and videos

Yoga Journal – probably the most popular yoga magazine

 

Namaste

Definition of Namaste: In Sanskrit the word is namah + te = namaste which means “I bow to you” – my greetings, salutations or prostration to you. The word ‘namaha’ can also be literally interpreted as “na ma” (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one’s ego in the presence of another.

Ashtanga Yoga

As promised I wanted to spend a little time writing about Ashtanga Yoga.  Ashtanga Yoga most often refers to the system taught by Indian yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, and is sometimes called Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.  

8LimbsTree-300x283

Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Asana [posture]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses]
Dharana [concentration]
Dhyana [meditation]
Samadhi [enlightenment]

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is different from many yoga classes in the west in that the order of asanas is completely predefined. A practice will comprise four main parts:

  • an “opening sequence” Sun salutations
  • one of the six main “series”
  • a back-bending sequence
  • a set of inverted asanas, referred to as the “finishing sequence”

This type of yoga is not trivial and can have 75 or more asanas taking 1  to 2 hours to complete.  The main series actually has 6 different levels if you will from:

  • Primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa
  • Intermediate or second series is called Nadi Shodana
  • four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga

Those performing Ashtanga yoga are encouraged to practice 6 days a week, preferably in the morning, and to take rest on Saturdays as well as the days of the full and new moon (commonly referred to as moon days by ashtanga practitioners).  This form of yoga is very athletic and challenging so be prepared to work hard to complete your sessions.  You will not only build flexibility but also strength, which are a couple of reasons why Ashtanga yoga is so popular.

This is by no means a comprehensive explanation of Ashtanga yoga, and I would encourage you to do some additional research.  What I determined is that this is not appropriate for those of you who have very limited time to devote to a yoga practice, but at the same time it can be done by a novice and is something that you can grow into because it does have different levels.  Probably the best way to get started is to seek out a yoga studio that teaches Ashtanga and talk to a teacher, and you can also check out books or DVD’s at Amazon who seem to have a pretty extensive offering to choose from.

A quick update, I just purchased this book from Amazon because it addressed the Primary series and because it was rated so high.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Power-Ashtanga-Yoga-Peace–Includes/dp/1611800056/

Namaste

Yoga Sunset

History of Yoga

history of yoga

I’ve been doing some reading to find out just how yoga came into being, and the answer is not clear.  A number of sources claim that yoga predates the written word and is over 5,000 years old.  The evidence of this comes from archaeological dig sites where yoga poses have been found.  There is some conjecture that yoga evolved from Hinduism but Hinduism’s religions structures  were developed much later and incorporated yoga but did not create it.  Initially yoga was passed down from teacher to student through oral instruction and by demonstration.

One of the earliest texts on yoga came from a scholar named Patanjali, who created a book named Yoga Sutras anywhere from the 1st or 2nd century B.C. to as late as the 5th century A.D.  Patanjali wrote about a system called “Ashtanga Yoga,” or the eight limbs of yoga.  There are many (hundreds) schools, styles, and types of yoga but some of the more common include:

  • Hatha Yoga: The physical movements and postures, plus breathing techniques. This is what most people associate with Yoga practice.
  • Ashtanga Yoga: The system is based on six series of asanas which increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. In class, you’ll be led nonstop through one or more of the series. There’s no time for adjustments—you’ll be encouraged to breathe as you move from pose to pose.
  • Bikram Yoga: This method of staying healthy from the inside out was designed by Bikram Choudhury, who sequenced a series of 26 traditional hatha postures to address the proper functioning of every bodily system.  Usually this form of yoga is done at temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the idea is that you will sweat out the toxins in your body.
  • Raja Yoga: Called the “royal road,” because it incorporates exercise and breathing practice with meditation and study, producing a well-rounded individual.  Raja yoga was first described as an eightfold or eight-limbed (aṣṭanga, ashtanga) path in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.
  • Jnana Yoga: The path of wisdom; considered the most difficult path.
  • Bhakti Yoga: The practice of extreme devotion in one-pointed concentration upon one’s concept of God.
  • Karma Yoga: Of the four paths to realization, karma yoga is the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is derived from the spiritual life. Karma yoga is said to be the most authentic way to progress in the spiritual life. Found in the Bhagavad Gita karma yoga is a part of nature. Karma yoga is taught by teachers of zen who promote tranquility.
  • Other styles include: Iyengar, Power Yoga, White Lotus, Kali Ray TriYoga, Jivamukti, Viniyoga, and on and on and on.

downward facing dog

Even by these definitions one can see that it is difficult to separate the exercise component of yoga from the meditative aspect.  The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” bringing the body and mind together into one harmonious experience.  The system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation; all three components must be in harmony to properly practice yoga.  My next post will begin to focus in on Ashtanga one of the forms of yoga mentioned above in more detail.  Remember you can make up your own sequence of asana’s for your practice, but understanding a few of the more popular disciplines will help you gravitate to what suits your personality and desires.

Namaste

Namaste