The Breath vs The Pose

Last week, I conducted a research project measuring the benefits of yoga asana vs the benefits of breathing. Specifically, I wanted to see which element of a yoga practice was more effective in ameliorating the symptoms of stress and anxiety in the body and mind. I compared a basic vinyasa practice to a practice that only included breathing (and no asana) to see if they were equally effective or if one was more effective than the other. Being a breath junkie myself, I hypothesized that the breath was going to emerge triumphant.

My observations were focused on changes in the experience of physical tension in specific parts of the body, as well as changes in the area of specific mental/emotional feelings and perspectives.

In regards to physical stress, each participant, in both classes, experienced improvement in their sensations of physical tension. Although the results were very close, the asana class was slightly more effective. Now, although the breath came in second,  it still says quite a bit about the power of the breath. It is amazing that, in regards to physical tension, sitting and breathing can be as almost as potent as a vinyasa practice. Let me rephrase that, breathing- without moving the arms or legs at all- can successfully release tension in the neck, jaw, low back, upper back, abdomen, chest, and ankles. Pretty freakin’ cool.

In the area of mental and emotional perceptions, both the breath group and the asana group seemed to be equally effective in improving perspectives that were already positive. However, what I find fascinating is that, in regards to improving negative perspectives, the breath practice appears to have been far more effective than the asana class. The breath class more successfully reduced feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, agitation, and weakness. Isn’t that interesting? That just sitting and breathing can reduce negativity in the mind and body!?!?  It is worth mentioning that these students were new to yoga…imagine the benefits of a regular breathing practice! Freedom is possible

So, bottom line, yoga makes life better. Whether you are sweating through a sun salutation or practicing your breathing in a supported savasana, you are healing; but, for all you Negative Nancy’s out there, if you really want to confront the negativity that has a firm grip on your psyche, take a deep breath. And then another one. And then another one.

If you want to do a little breath exploration on your own, check out the links below. They will take you to a few different site’s with instructions on how to practice some of the basic breaths we did in the research class.  If you would rather have some personal attention, set up a private session with me, via Skype or in person, and I will teach you. We can create your own personal breath practice that will send you on your way to a healthier and more positive existence.

Happy breathing…

Sama Vritti

Nadi Shodana 

See Saw Breath 

Three Part Breathing

Bees Breath 

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Q&A with Lilly….and me.

Meet Lilly Barels, my yoga partner in crime.

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And for those of you that don’t yet know me….Hello there.

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In honor of the upcoming Wanderlust Teacher Training Program, Lilly and I threw together a little Q&A style interview to help you get to know us a little better. And maybe we can entice you to come train with us in Hawaii…

 

1.If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?

LILLY: Pippi Longstocking

KATE: I would be equal parts Wonder Woman, Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) and Nancy Drew.

 

2. Why Yoga?

LILLY: Because it restores balance and harmony in a chaotic and frenetic world.  And mostly because it reminds me of what’s authentic and important.

KATE: I am pretty sure yoga saved my life. I found yoga at a time when my life was pretty rocky and my choices were far from healthy, and although it took time, practicing yoga made me a better person, a better partner, a better sister, and a better daughter. I may have stars in my eyes, but I feel like yoga has the power to change the world by changing the people in it. And I like handstands.

 

3. What song or lyrics describe you or your life perspective best?

LILLY: “Love.

It will not betray you,

dismay or enslave you,

it will set you free.”

– Mumford & Sons

KATE: This is tough…But the first one to come to mind is Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter.” It is one of my all time fave’s. It is such a great song with a great message. “It’s about forgiveness…”

 

4. What is something not many people know about you?

LILLY: I pick out my eyebrows when I get stressed or anxious.  It’s a real disorder called trichotillomania and it’s sort of embarrassing when there’s gaping holes leftover.

KATE: I won my 5th grade talent show with a rap. Yup, me and 3 childhood friends. That said, this was in a small mountain town in rural Pennsylvania, in the era of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, and I had a perm. So, rapping might not accurately describe what I was doing on stage. But we won.

 

5. Favorite asana?

LiLLY: Half Moon/Ardha Chandrasana

KATE: It changes all the time, but lately I am all about supported bridge. I usually push myself into all kinds of versions of wheel during the backbend part of a practice, but lately I have been all about support. Putting a block under my pelvis in bridge pose gives me space to invert and feel comforted at the same time. I love it.

 

6. What is something you would do if you weren’t held back by fear?

LILLY: Sky Dive

KATE: Its a toss up between taking improv comedy lessons or learning to fly a plane.

 

7. Favorite word used when teaching yoga?

LILLY: Breathe

KATE: Harmony

 

8. Teaching Pet Peeve: 

LILLY: When a teacher forgets to do a pose on the second side

KATE: I get a little annoyed when teachers get overly creative with language….when they sound like they have been studying a thesaurus to find a new and unique way to say “stretch.” But I get it, I do. I just think it is more important to be yourself than it is to be unique.

 

9. Why work with each other?

LILLY: Kate and I are like peanut butter and jelly–We are perfect together.  Kate is a real, consistent, wise woman and she is my role model.  There is no one else I’d rather work with and no one else I admire as much.

KATE: Lilly is my soul sister. We have this sort of natural “harmony” when we work together and it feels completely effortless. Our teaching styles are so compatible, but at the same time we are very different…..which makes us a fantastic team. And, on another note,  she is probably the coolest person I know. I feel very, very lucky.

 

Beyond these questions I will add that both Lilly and I are incredibly passionate about teaching yoga and empowering new teachers with the confidence and tools to go out there and make a difference. Facilitating change fuels us both and cracks our hearts wide open…

 

For more info on the upcoming Wanderlust Teacher Training, click here.

For more info on Lilly, visit her site lillyyoga.com

 

 

 

My Latest Playlist…

Here is my latest sound vehicle to 75 minutes of Groovy Vinyasa Bliss….

Canyon Reverie, R.Carlos Nakai

Holocene, Bon Iver

Get the Party Started, Damian Rice

Under Your Hat, DJ Vadim

I’ve Got This Friend, The Civil Wars

Sons Gonna Rise, Citizen Cope

Madness, Muse

Electric Feel, MGMT

Blood Bank, Holocene

The Boys of Summer, KT Tunstall

Heartbeats, Jose Gonzalez

The World Keeps Turnin, Trevor Hall

The Boxer, Mumford and Sons

I Got You, Jack Johnson

All We Are, Matt Nathanson

Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard

I’m Gonna be 500 Miles, Sleeping at Last

Be There, John Cruz

Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Jake Shimobukuru

 

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Easy Meditation with a Gratitude Twist

I came across a meditation early in my yoga journey, and it has proven to be quite useful in my personal healing and growth. I come back to it frequently, and it continues to be helpful in maintaining peace and harmony in my life, especially in my relationships.

 

The practice is simple, imagine that every single person in the world has been enlightened already. Yup…. everyone but you. You are the very last one. Each and every person has been sent back from The Land of Enlightenment to serve a purpose in the evolution of your consciousness. This includes your loved ones, your past loved ones, and even the checkout guy at Whole Foods. It doesn’t matter how significant or insignificant a person might seem, the interaction can serve a purpose. Take a few moments and explore how the relationships in your life are contributing to your growth, and to your healing, and to the shape of your character. Perhaps make a list of people in your life, past and present, and acknowledge how they have contributed to making you who you are. There is usually a beautiful lesson available from those who have delivered pain…so be open to exploring those experiences and refrain from allowing only negativity to blossom out of suffering.

 

At some point along the way I added a practice of gratitude to the meditation, offering an energetic thanks to the people in my life who have most certainly served as my teachers. In honor of Thanksgiving, I am shifting my energetic gratitude into a very clear, semi-public delivery of my heart on a plate, in an effort to thank and acknowledge those that have shaped my life and my character up to now.

 

A Huge, Ginormous, Heartfelt Mahalo to the following people…

 

My father, for teaching me how to be tough, how to forgive, how to be brave, and how to face challenge and eventually death with strength and grace.

My Mother, for being a constant example of kindness, for showing me what perseverance looks like, and for teaching me how to keep going when I think I can’t.

My sister, for never compromising what she wanted out of life, and for preserving our sense of family and tradition after it all fell apart. And for showing me what it looks like to stand up to someone or something…because my DNA didn’t include a backbone.

My nieces and nephews for bringing infinite amounts of joy into my life and for unlocking my ability to love unconditionally. There is nothing I love more than these 3 little ones.

My extended family in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, for showing me that despite our total wackiness and at times certifiable insanity, fitting out is way cooler than fitting in.

Terry, for teaching me how to let my guard down, how to be equal in a partnership, how to abandon self consciousness, and most importantly for always believing in me.

Aaron for teaching me how to be a grown up, for introducing me to love as well as every other emotion available to the human experience, and for teaching me how to let go.

My wonderful friends that have remained friends through thick and thin, thank you for showing me what it feels like to be in true friendship. I cannot adequately express how much this means to me.

The Berkeley clan, for introducing me to a lifestyle that strongly influenced who I am today.

The Homcys, for being an amazing, endless sources of inspiration and love. Endless.

Emi, Lauren, Liz, and Ishita, during our brief time together you helped remove my fear and unknowingly healed some significant damage from my past.

Lilly, for being my yoga soul sister, and for being a cheerleader and an endless source of confidence.

Bridget, for your infinite support and love. You are unlike any other being I have ever met, and you have influenced me more than you will ever know. I wish everyone could be exposed to a roll model like you.

My friends and neighbors on Harding Avenue and in Haleiwa, for shaping my idea of what real community looks and feels like. I will never settle for less.

The True Union Teacher Trainers and Trainees, for exposing me to dedication and vulnerability unparalleled by anything else I have ever been a part of. You have taught me how to be silly, how to lead, how to nurture, and how to support. Our memories together continue to be a source of infinite joy, and I am forever grateful. Really.

and thanks to every single yoga student I have ever taught, for reminding me that we are all unique, yet we are all the same. You have each contributed to the philosophy I live by every day, and for that I am forever grateful.

and to all the other yogis who have crossed my path for shaping my interpretation of yoga, and giving me permission to be less than perfect, and for teaching me that imperfection is perfection.

And everyone else I have not mentioned, thank you for being you. You have influenced me somehow in some way. We all influence each other, many times unaware of the impact we are making in the moment. There is a line in the Jackson Browne song, “For A Dancer” that I love and hold true to my heart, it goes like this:

“And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive but you’ll never know”

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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A Moment on my Soap Box and a Lovely Wrist Stretch.

I am loving living in LA for one fairly obvious reason: yoga. It is everywhere. And although it has required me to stretch my definition of yoga a bit, I am really enjoying being a student. While living out in the country on Oahu, I was left to my personal practice much of the time, and truth be told, what I ask of myself is usually a bit lighter than what a class asks of me, so it feels really good to be told what to do. A heartfelt Mahalo to all the teachers out there who manage to gently, and sometimes not so gently, push me outside of my comfort zone.

 

That being said, I took a class the other day that started with what felt like 5 minutes in plank, and then followed with repetitive side planks, pushups, chaturanga holds, and then more plank….and all that happened before our first sun salute. Yes, I was sweating and breathing deeply if that was the point, but my wrists hurt. The sequencing was asking slightly more than my wrists wanted to give in the first 10 minutes of class. Maybe I am just old(er), and my body isn’t the same as it used to be, that is certainly an accurate statement, but as I peeked into my peripheral vision a bit, other students seemed to be feeling wrist stress too. So I found myself questioning the intention of the teacher, and I found myself resisting through pretty much the entire class. My ability to trust and go with the flow was overruled by intuition and doubt, harnessing me to my thoughts and removing all the joy out of the experience. Waah. I actually found myself missing Bikram yoga for a moment, which is a funny thought for me considering I stopped practicing Birkram a long time ago. For those of you that don’t know, Bikram consists of a 90 minute heated asana sequence, none of which is spent in weight bearing wrist flexion:-) There is certainly some wisdom there.

 

I feel like I am breaking some unwritten rule of yoga teachers by publicly expressing my apprehension with this particular teacher’s sequential choices.  I used to feel like all yoga was good yoga, and that as teachers we needed to support each other with compassion and trust. I believed that everything served a purpose to the point that I was almost numb in my ability to respond to life as it happened around me. I just allowed purpose to be served, which it very much was, and I remained an ever grateful student with stars in my eyes and love in my heart. Booooorrrrriiing. When I think about it, I totally get where some non-yogis think that we drink some weird koolaid, or that there is some kind of brainwashing happening. We look similar, we dress the same (which drives me completely nuts), and apparently now we are also circus acrobats…. Which is cool, I guess….I mean I am on that train, too… But really?  I can’t keep up. Modern yoga is about to pass me by, if it hasn’t already.

 

Ok, I am rambling. I will make my point… not all yoga is good yoga, not all yoga is healthy. Not when we are setting up students for injury.  Not when we are putting ourselves and our creative expression in front of the health and wellbeing of the students. I have heard some suggest karma comes in to play on the mat, and I am sure it does, but I would prefer not to personally deliver a karmic injury to a student. I am in no way ok with that. I understand that as teachers we are learning too, especially as new teachers, and we all make mistakes, but it is crucial that we are aware of our responsibilities. Ahimsa (nonviolence) is the first Yama, the first and most important guideline on the path of yoga. Everything comes after nonviolence. If we don’t teach with ahimsa in our hearts, are we even teaching yoga at all? Think about my experience for example, many people spend their entire day typing away at a computer, and they show up in class with wrists that are already tired and stressed. Is plank the very first thing needed, let alone sustained plank as a heat builder? If you want to build heat, try the breath. Or chair. Or how about an old fashioned sun salutation, it wouldn’t be the first time. When did being a yoga teacher evolve into choreography? When did creative expression lead us to abandon sequencing that wasn’t broken in the first place? Can’t we aim for creative expression that honors the body? I understand that like everything, yoga will evolve…but at what cost?  Whether you are a student or a teacher, a good question to continue to ask yourself is, “What is your intention with yoga” or “Why do you practice?” or “Why do you teach?” There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but your answer will give you some insight into who is driving your life….your Ego, or your Heart. Be honest.

 

Anyway, point is, my wrists hurt. Maybe I will be stronger tomorrow because of it, but today, in this moment, I am sore because of it. And I am whining to you about it. So, in light of my recent experience…..here is one of my very favorite wrist stretches. And for those of you typing away on your computer, this is good for you too. And it is so freaking easy. And if you are lazy/busy, you don’t even have to leave your chair:

 

1.  Push your chair away from your desk. Make sure you are stable, if your chair has wheels you might want to do this on the floor. 

2. Remain seated and put your feet up on the chair.  If you are on the floor, bend your legs, pull your knees into your chest, and put the feet on the floor. 

3. Wrap your arms around your bent legs. 

4. Take your right hand and wrap it around your left wrist at the base of the hand. Hold loosely but firmly.

5. Put energy into your legs and pull your legs away from each other, pressing your legs into your arms.

6. Maintain the grip on your wrist allowing for a decompression in the joint. Hold the stretch, and maybe wiggle the fingers a little if it feels good. 

7. Switch wrists. 

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Yoga Reflections from Beyond the Surface…

In a time where there are countless interpretations and expressions of yoga being practiced across the globe, I am grateful for any and all yoga moments when I am reminded of what matters most……and for me it’s not found in a handstand, although handstands are fun, what matters most is found in the heart. A recent experience I had in India while filming Beyond the Surface offered me the perfect yoga moment, and it reminded me of why I embraced the practice in the first place.

As part of the film project we spent a few days exploring fellow team member, Emi Koch, and her involvement with the local Kerala community. We spent some time with a group of children involved in an outreach project called SISP. SISP stands for Sebastian India Social Projects, and here is a little more info about the organization:

“SISP is a small Indian Non-Governmental Organization (a charity) operating in the southern state of Kerala in India. SISP aims to raise the quality of life of the poorest of the poor. We work to provide free education, social care and other benefits to the most socially disadvantaged people from Vizhinjam, a fishing village in Kerala, south India, and the surrounding area, regardless of sex, caste, politics or religion.”  ~ borrowed from the SISP website

 

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(** Side note:  A heart-wrenching fact, but one worth sharing, is that upon meeting the children I assumed most of them were 8 or 9 years old based on their size and appearance. My assumption was incorrect. Many of the kids were actually teenagers, but malnourishment had contributed to a major delay in their physical development. Needless to say, the kids we met had not been dealt an easy hand, yet somehow, even through their hardships, their spirits remained bright and strong. Even without words they managed to teach me about life, and I hope their faces will remain with me forever.)

We were given a tour of the facility and I found myself deeply moved by the commitment and dedication I witnessed in everyone involved in the program…from the cooks, to the teachers, to the kids. SISP is a well oiled machine driven by love and service, and we could all learn from their efforts.  

 

Beautiful SISP chef  Photo by Crystal Thronburg Homcy

Beautiful SISP Teacher
Photo by Crystal Thornburg Homcy

 

One of the benefits these kids receive through SISP is that they practice yoga 3-5 times a week. They have an outstanding teacher, Prem, who leads them through a really fun and playful yoga class which serves as a respite from the more traditional school related studies. We were lucky enough to jump in and practice with Prem and the kids, and this experience will remain one of my favorites from the trip. Outside it was about 95 degrees with no wind and high humidity, and inside it was even hotter. We were pretty much drenched in sweat before class even started, but the room was all smiles. Any physical discomfort quickly disappeared the moment we were surrounded by such happy and cheerful kids. Prem lead us through a series of postures, and everyone participated with enthusiasm. We saluted the sun, we stretched, we balanced on our arms, and we balanced on our legs. The room was filled with giggles, curiosity and joy. It was a perfect class.

 

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The energy calmed at the end when we all took some time in a brief meditation followed by savasana, which also served as nap time for some of the kids. The icing on the cake was when the boy next to me reached over to hold my hand during his nap… so sweet. It is reassuring to know that these kids are learning healthy ways to take care of themselves while simultaneously and subconsciously developing tools to handle life’s challenges. These are great byproducts of practicing yoga… you get tools for life, and these kids could really use some tools.

 

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In some ways this was just a simple yoga class, nothing more. A teacher led us through some postures, guided us through meditation and offered up some relaxation at the end. These are the bones of pretty much any yoga session. But this was more than a simple yoga class because it was delivered in love and in service. This shouldn’t stand out as special, because love and service lie at the very roots of yoga, but through evolution it seems that certain areas of the ancient practice have gotten a little muddied. In the West, I find that occasionally teachers perform more than they teach, and I am sure I have fallen into that behavior a time or two. There is a certain celebrity-dom that has somehow been infused into the role of teaching yoga, and I find it can absolutely take away from the authenticity of the experience. And then, add in the social pressures from other students and even the media’s definition and interpretation of yoga…. it doesn’t always feel like the safest, purest of environments.

In this case, Prem wasn’t acting…he was there for one reason…that reason being the kids. And these kids weren’t competing, they were playing. In this class there was only laughter, breath, an occasional “shhh”, and lots of joy. And above all that, without any spoken words, there was pure, human connection. I don’t think it gets much better that that. This is the very essence of  yoga…to me: when the human spirit can free itself from all the pressures of life, be they 1st world pressures or 3rd world pressures, and it can then experience love in its purest of forms.

Thank you SISP, and Prem, and the little boy who took my hand, for reminding me of what matters.

 

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To learn more about SISP, check out their website here

To stay connected with more Beyond the Surface news, check out the Beyond the Surface Blog!

 

 

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Foot Love

Considering that our feet provide a foundation for our entire body, if we are working with less than healthy alignment from our heels to our toes, our frame can be thrown off balance leading to poor postural habits, eventually pain and possibly injury. Whether you stuff your feet into shoes for the sake of fashion, or you rely on them to carry you through many miles of impact while running or walking, it is time to consider how much your feet do for you and how much you actually do for them. Even those of you who resist fashion and running altogether, but have been plagued with some unfortunate foot DNA, these tips will help you, too. With just a little bit of effort, these 5 simple exercises will increase flexibility, improve circulation, and fine tune your balance, ultimately bringing a little more health into your life and joy into your feet.

 

Basic Weight Distribution 

There are two common instructions when it comes to weight distribution in the feet: the four corners and the triangle. Both are correct, it is just a matter of which instruction resonates best with you. If you aren’t familiar with one or the other try them both and see what fits.

1. Start standing with your feet parallel to each other and hip width apart.

2. To try out the Four Corners method, start by establishing an even distribution of weight between the inner and outer heel, the little toe pad, and the big toe pad.

3. To try out the Triangle instruction, distribute your weight evenly between the center of the heel, the little toe pad, and the big toe pad.

4. Now, press down through the 3 points or 4 corners, and lift through the very center of the foot to engage the arch. If this is tough and your arches are unresponsive, lift and spread the toes and the arches should activate. Try to set the toes back down. If the arches disengage as you release the toes, keep the toes lifted for a few moments to begin training the arches to stay involved. Practice a little everyday and you should see some improvement rather quickly.

**This may seem pretty elementary for some of you yogis out there, but how much do you check in with your feet when you are off the mat? Try to establish even distribution of weight as often as you can….when you are washing dishes, when you are folding laundry, when you are waiting to cross the street. There are infinite opportunities to work on this simple instruction, and the more it becomes our default standing alignment, the healthier we will be.

 

Toe Piano…This is one of my faves. 

1. Find a lunge position and lower the back knee to the floor. Put padding under the back knee if it is sensitive.

2. Establish an even weight distribution in the front foot leaving the toes free from any gripping.

3. Slowly peel your toes from the mat one toe at a time…little toe first, then the fourth toe, then the middle and so on. The key here is to go slow, so you can start to develop strength in each toe separately instead of grouping them together as a whole.

4. Now, try to set them back down on the mat one at a time. Slowly.

5. Repeat a few times.

** For an extra challenge, try and see if you can peel the toes up and set them down in a different order. Egad! Keep trying, it gets a little easier. Hopefully.

 

Arch stretch

1. Start on an all fours. If you have sensitive knees put a blanket under them to provide some padding.

2. Adjust the feet to parallel and tuck the toes under so the toes are flat and the heels are lifted. Try to tuck all five of the toes if its possible, even the little guy.

3. Start to sit your hips back on your heels. If it’s helpful, keep some weight in the hands. If your knees become sensitive as you bend them, put a blanket or pillow behind them to maintain space between your hamstrings and your calves. If there is still discomfort, don’t sit back.

4. Hold the arch stretch for at least 30 seconds. Release.

**If you get a cramp, drink more water. Word on the street is that most of those awful cramps we get in our feet are a result of dehydration.

 

Heel Lift.

1. Stand with the outer edges of your feet parallel to each other, and set your feet hip width apart.

2. Set a focus point for you eyes to help your balance. Keep your gaze still.

3. As you Inhale to a count of 5, slowly lift your heels off of the floor. Try to lift the heels as high as possible.

4. As you exhale to a count of 5, lower the heels to the floor.

5. Repeat for a minute or so, and keep the breath very slow. Try to pause after each inhale and balance with the heels off the ground.

**To help with balance, you can raise the arms in front of you, shoulder height, shoulder width, palms down. If you do lift the arms, however, make sure the shoulders stay down and away from the ears. You want to keep the neck tension free. If your balance is still a little shaky, stand with your hand on a wall for support.

 

Give your self a foot massage

A trip to the spa for a pedicure is a great idea, but we can also provide some relief to our feet without having to pay a penny.

1. Take a seat on the floor or in a chair and rest your right ankle on your left knee

2. Interlace the fingers of your left hand with the toes of the right foot.

3. Take hold of the right ankle with the right hand, and with the left hand start to wind the foot into ankle circles.

4. Switch directions.

5. Release the toes and take holds of the sides of the foot with both hands. Twist the foot in both directions.

6. Squeeze the foot. Squeeze each toe.

7. Set the foot flat on the ground. Take your fingers and rub in between each of the tendons on the top of the foot.

8. Massage around the achilles tendon and the bottom of the calf muscle.

9. Switch feet and repeat.

**Don’t think too much about doing it right, just do what feels good. Listen to your intuition.

 

***Food for thought… Our toes are connected to our diaphragm. Yup, it’s true. By way of the fascia. Fascia is a thin, slightly mysterious layer of fibrous connective tissue that wraps around muscles and tissues providing a structural integrity to our bodies as it holds everything in it’s proper place. A very gentle tug on the little toe would travel through the body eventually reaching the lower lobe of the diaphragm. Kinda crazy but true. So, if it is in fact connected, can tension in our feet affect our breath? Hmm….

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My Latest Playlist…Enjoy

1. Glorious Sun, The Laya Project

2. Well I say, Trevor Hall

3. Somebody That I Used to Know, Gotye

4. War/No More Trouble, Playing for Change

5. Boy with a Coin, Iron and Wine

6. Cry Cry Cry, Ziggy Marley

7. Country Road, Jack Johnson and Paula Fuga

8. Holocene (Dosh Remix), Bon Iver

9. Hey Ya, Obadiah Parker

10. Poison and Wine, The Civil Wars

11. Love Song #2, The White Buffalo

12. Samadhi, Shaman’s Dream

 

 

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Chaturanga Dandasana

It seems only fitting that I start the low down series with Chaturanga Dandasana…Ive been told I need an official badge. Chaturanga is a posture that can build strength in the entire body if done in a healthy way. If done in an unhealthy way, it can tax our shoulders, wrists and elbows leaving us vulnerable to injury.

First…the wrists. A “normal” range of motion in wrist extension is around 80 degrees. If we are to line the elbows up exactly over the wrists, this would require a 90 degree range of motion which could ask more from our wrists then they have been designed to give. This isn’t a problem for many of us, but if it causes any pain in the joint, back off enough to alleviate the discomfort.

Second….the shoulders. In my opinion, the most important instruction with this complex joint is to make sure you don’t drop your shoulders below the line of the elbows. Period. Dipping in the shoulders closes the chest, taxes the rotator cuff, puts extra tension in the neck and can lead to a slew of other alignment issues. Even if it doesn’t feel bad, dipping the shoulders can build unhealthy habits that will no doubt show up in other areas of your yoga practice. Think about it…If you are in a vinyasa class you can do anywhere between 10 and 100 chaturangas in one session. Maybe more. If you are doing this pose over and over with poor alignment, your body is going to adapt to the way you are doing it. This is the very nature of repetition. So, bottom line…A healthy chaturanga creates healthy alignment habits, and unhealthy chaturanga creates unhealthy alignment habits.

Leslie Kaminoff has some great imagery here on his site…

http://yogaanatomy.net/chaturanga-dandasana/

Want to decide for yourself? Check out these sites….

http://yogaanatomy.net/chaturanga-dandasana/

http://www.yogajournal.com/health/2528

http://www.yoganonymous.com/yoga-tune-up-maura-barclay-chaturange-article-yoga-practice-tips/

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See Saw Breath

Why practice breath work? Well, we all have a natural breath pattern that we have developed as a byproduct of our life experience…past and present. Any stressors, pains or traumas we have experienced in our lives play a significant role in the patterns we end up with as adults. In a nutshell, breathing practices introduce new patterns to break through old patterns. Plain and simple.  And when we start to break through the patterns that have been restricting the potential fullness of our breath, we can begin to let stuff go… Emotional, mental and physical stuff. Pretty simple, right? I’ll say it again….when you break through the current breath pattern you are stuck in…you will feel better.

 

My latest breath play of choice has been the “See Saw” Breath. Students like it, I like it. It quite possibly has another more traditional name somewhere in the yoga vocab, but I quite like See Saw… It implies simplicity. And it is simple…yet the results can be profound.

 

How to do the See Saw Breath:

First, read through the instructions so it makes sense. Then lie down, find a comfortable position and actually do the practice.

Start by Identifying the 2 main cavities of your upper body. Your chest cavity, and Your abdominal Cavity.
Find and settle into a comfortable breathing rhythm. Observe where your breath naturally goes, and which cavity naturally changes shape. Just observe.

Now, as you inhale, allow the abdominal cavity to change shape and expand while keeping the chest cavity still. Exhale.

On the next inhale, allow the abdominal cavity/belly to remain still while allowing the shape change to occur in the chest cavity. Exhale.

On the next inhale, Switch the breath back to the belly while keeping the chest still…

Switch.

Switch again.

And so on.

Continue for 5 minutes or so, and then return to a natural breath. Observe the experience. Maybe you will be able feel as you let stuff go, or maybe the stuff that comes up will sneak quietly out the back door. Both processes are fine. No need to search for an experience, just have the one you are having. And Breathe. Easy day.

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