Winter is a time for slowing down and reflection. We naturally have less energy to burn in colder winter months; cancellations and school closings, work, and even our favorite yoga class may leave us feeling more tired and out of balance than usual. The dark, colder days and nights can be unforgiving! Take advantage of these winter days to nourish your body and mind, and give yourself permission to slow down and keep in sync with the earth’s natural cycles.
Here are some tips to practice during the winter (and year round):
Yoga Asana: Get on your mat every day. I know this may seem obvious, but increased movement especially during the winter is a great way to not only increase your energy levels, but it’s also a great way to warm-up your muscles. If a slow paced, Yin, or restorative practice is better for you, then welcome that. Turn on music that is reflective of your mood or energetic state. This creates an opportunity to get fully connected with the body, and move with the music in a very instinctual way without any desired outcome or goal. Often, we may feel pressure to complete a particular series of postures as a yoga practice, turning on some music is a way to let that go.
Just Sit: Literally. Nothing fancy, nothing forced. Just sit and be with what you notice. Thoughts, sounds, body sensations, your breath, the weather outside . . . be with it all. The best thing is there’s no right or wrong way to do this.
Eat and Drink Well: Prepare nourishing, warming foods with fresh, local ingredients. Eat slowly, with awareness. Turn off the computer and put your phone away. Drink a warm cup of tea while reading or watching the snow outside of your window. Focus on each bite or sip of food and all the sensations that accompany the moment. Savor the experience.
Practice Gratitude: Make it a practice to notice and reflect upon the positives, such as having a warm home, food to eat, clean drinking water, the relationships in your life, and the natural beauty of your surroundings. Consider extending the positive effects of this practice outward; show kindness to a stranger by saying “hello” or “good morning”. Let friendliness, compassion, and appreciative joy into your heart and see how it changes your life, as well as the lives of others.
Leave me a comment on how you apply any of these tips.
You want to start a yoga practice, or perhaps you’ve been practicing on your own at home and you don’t know how to pick a Yoga teacher. I understand, I’ve been there myself! This “CALM” check list will help you to find the right Yoga teacher for you.
The following is the “CALM check list.” This checklist is a basic criterion that your Yoga teacher should meet before you continue on to a second Yoga class with them. C.A.L.M gets its name from four main factors: Communication, Assist, Listen, and Modification. For the right Yoga teacher, you should be answering with a “yes” to all questions.
Communication: Does your Yoga teacher talk to you, and other students, in a manner of mutual respect? Can you ask a question during class time? Does your teacher show compassion for you and other students? Does your Yoga teacher take the time to lead you through a guided meditation or relaxation? Meditation and relaxation are major aspects of Yoga practice. There are Yoga teachers who just want to get “their workout” done. Beware of Yoga teachers who are so busy that they don’t have time for you. If you want to learn Yoga, you need an open line of communication with your Yoga teacher.
Assist: Does your teacher care about your form? Will your teacher give you a verbal or physical assist during your Yoga class?
Some students never have major problems with alignment and some do, but if your teacher doesn’t give verbal cues, what does that tell you?
Listen: Does your Yoga teacher take the time to listen to your feedback? Is your teacher “in the moment” with the class?
Once in a while, there is a Yoga instructor who runs, “The-it’s-all-about-me-show.” You are not going to learn anything from this type of teaching. Beginners will be put at risk, trying to keep up with a seasoned Yoga teacher who doesn’t explain anything.
Modification: Does your Yoga teacher allow modifications and props? If your teacher discourages props, you are in the wrong place.
Some students will need props, especially so for some beginners and those who have limited range of motion. Just because a teacher can do a posture without props, doesn’t mean every student can.
Some students crave “the stern, but loving parent” types. They will push you harder, but how much pushing do you really need? You want a Yoga teacher who encourages you out of your comfort zone, without being overly pushy that could cause unnecessary injuries.
Respect is a two way street, and you deserve as much respect as your Yoga teacher does. Let common sense be your guide. You should feel good after a Yoga class, and you maybe even feel muscle soreness days after a vigorous class.
Yoga is an ancient science that aims to create a balance between the body, mind and spirit, thereby curing physical mental and spiritual disorders that are caused by this imbalance. In common language, yoga means union; it’s a union of the individual consciousness with the super-consciousness. To be exact, yoga aims at reminding us of this union that already exists and has merely been forgotten. To put it simply, yoga is experiencing and knowing what already exists, not inventing anything new.
At the physical level, yoga can create a balance and harmony among the various organs and systems of the body, allowing the healing powers inherent in the body to work and cure physical ailments. At the mental level, yoga is the harmony between mind, heart and hands or between thought, speech and action. At the spiritual level, yoga aims to destroy the individual ego that stands between the individual and the cosmos, thus attaining the ultimate truth.
Yoga is essentially a set of systematically devised physical exercises that place emphasis on balance and posture. Combined with breathing exercises they have the capacity to cure almost any ailment of the body and mind. The underlying concept of yoga is to create the situation in which the human body can function at optimum capacity.
Yoga asanas or poses are simple and effective body movements that massage the muscles lubricate the joints and tone the whole body. Yoga poses help to keep the body healthy and the mind peaceful. Asanas exercise the nerves, glands, ligaments, and muscles. These exercises increase flexibility and balance in the body. Yoga poses refer to the sequence of exercises which is extremely important to get the best results. They are scientifically graded to move from the simple to the complex, to cure the body first and then move on to mental and spiritual goals.
Although you can start a yoga practice under the guidance of a yoga teacher, you can also learn to practice at home with the help of yoga videos online. Once you have learned the basic poses you can make yoga a part of your daily routine. It’s best to have a regular time and place for practicing yoga so that you can reap the benefits from it. After some time you will see a change in yourself. Your body will become strong, more flexible and healthy; you will have a positive attitude and your worldview on life will become beautiful; thus creating unification between mind, body, and spirit.
Most human problems and every stumbling block along the path to spiritual fulfillment are the result of one thing: clinging to attachments. For example, rather than seeing anger as a simple temporary feeling that will pass, we cling to it and don’t let go. It can quickly consume our entire lives, blocking the way to any type of peace or enlightenment. We consider desire to be an internal desire that must be acted upon, rather than seeing it as a simple feeling or thought that will pass if we only let it go. All of our thoughts and reactions to feelings become serious burdens, and we wrap ourselves totally up in those things, in essence making them part of ourselves. When we can't let go of these attachments, we become them.
In order to achieve spiritual freedom, you muѕt let go of everything that you consider to be part of yourself, especially the negative things. One of the greatest benefits of non-clinging is that even early in your path, you will recognize partial results and accomplishments. Learning not to internally identify with just a few emotions or thoughts will allow you to experience a little bit of lightness of foot, more joy and freedom walking through your life. Non-clinging will soon become its own reward, when you realize the benefits it affords.
However, be careful not to confuse non-attachment with detachment. Non-attachment is the opposite of detachment, because you muѕt consciously focus on a thought or emotion in order to release the attachment you have to it. Through non-attachment you can be free to love others, to be completely engaged in your life, your friends, your family, and your career. Through non-attachment you can detach yourself from the barriers in place that separate you from others and from the things that will complete you and fulfill you. By comparison, detachment serves to strengthen the cold, unfeeling barriers that separate you from your life.
If you feel hurt or slighted in some way, an entire army of emotions and negative thoughts may arise and persist for hours or even days. If you stop and observe your reactions to those thoughts, you will quickly see how you cling to them and how they affect your life. Through that observation you will be able to release the hold your reactions have on you by releasing your grip on them, and then they will go away all on their own. You will breathe easier, and you will feel free to respond or not respond do the situation that led to the thoughts in the first place. Your energies will be saved for more productive uses, such as seeking joy and nurturing mindfulness.
According to the Buddha, non-clinging is very valuable to all stages of achieving spiritual depth - the beginning, the middle, and the end of the path. The single price you have to pay to be fully unconditioned, open to the presence of God, is to give up all the things we are clinging to. We may actually catch a glimpse, if even for a moment, of the Divine power that can complete uѕ - if we are able to relinquish our attachments to things that do not matter.
"In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself." ~Deepak Chopra
Everything in life eventually ends. Our bodies, and the bodies of people we love, grow older, grow ill, slowly age, and eventually die. All of our material possessions are ultimately consumed by time. By the same token, passing emotions and situations that cause them will be entirely forgotten eventually. However, equanimity opens up our minds to timelessness, where there iѕ no death. Equanimity is created by our contact with the part of our soul that exists outside the time constraint. The peace that exists outside the world of time helps uѕ to embrace the world without the constraints of time.
Life itself can help you learn to release attachments and stop clinging. For example, when anger takes control of your mind, take the time to identify it, consider why you are angry, become aware of how much control it has over you, and simply let it go. Doing so can be extremely hard, and especially so when the anger iѕ great, but firmly taking control and releasing your hold on the emotion iѕ necessary if your goal is to free yourself and approach the Divine. Letting go of clinging to anger, fear, and greed iѕ an essential part of respecting yourself. Non-clinging is a spiritual practice that allows you to relax the ties that drag you down, relax your attitude, and release your grip on the bottom in order to reach for the top.
A home practice is a great way to go deeper into your yoga practice as well as build your understanding and knowledge of yoga. Home practice can be defined as your own yoga practice outside the class setting, without a teacher guiding you. You essentially become your own teacher when you learn yoga at home.
Developing your own yoga practice at home can be challenging and even scary! It forces you to be comfortable in your own skin. Many people find it difficult not having someone guide you through it. This is the beauty of it, to create and develop it yourself and make it your own. We tell ourselves that we don’t have the time or don’t know what to do for our home yoga practice.
Here are my personal tips for practicing yoga at home:
1. Listen To Your Body
During the course of my yoga practice at home, I have learned how to listen to my body. In order to maintain a consistent practice, I needed to start practicing at home. But, my first few times were not easy. I would push myself into poses that either I was not ready for or that I “thought” I could do because I saw someone else do it. I never took time to really listen to my body and what it was saying. I know better these days and I’ve learned to be in-tune with what it’s telling me.
2. Clear The Clutter
This may seem like a challenge at first, clearing out a spot in your home for your yoga practice. I remember laying down my mat in my apartment, where my only space to practice was the perimeter of my yoga mat. After the first Sun Salutation, I was looking around my room, searching for things to pick up because I hadn’t cleared out a space just for my yoga practice. I knew I needed an area that needed to be free from clutter to avoid any kind of distractions. The area you choose doesn’t have to be large, just a spot for you and your yoga that’s clear of clutter and junk.
3. Withdraw The Senses
At a yoga studio, you are asked to put away your belongings so you’re not distracted by your personal possessions so you can give yourself your undivided attention. This is not easy at home when you have things to do or people there to distract you. In Yoga, we practice Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses. It took me a while to feel unaffected by my home environment and to remain focused in my practice.
4. Embrace The Challenge
Ask yourself, “When am I feeling compelled to step off my mat?” “When do I give up?” The answer is simple…when the practice becomes challenging. As soon as I began practicing Ashtanga yoga, I began to feel the challenge that I was searching for. Not just the asanas, but the deeper connection I felt towards my inner self. I realized over time, that I was limiting my potential to grow. By giving up on other asanas earlier and losing will power, I realized that this might probably be the way I approach different challenges off the mat as well.
5. Be Consistent
There are mornings that I just don’t feel like getting up at 5:30; I just want to hit the snooze button on my alarm and sleep! I practice every day because I know yoga requires the consistency to keep at it, to keep it a habit. I know that yoga makes me feel better, that I literally need it in my life, that it resets my days and all those reasons are enough to keep up with my practice. However, sometimes I think it would be a struggle to get going if it wasn’t a habit, my yoga would probably be much more sporadic. Consistency is key, even if you only practice 10 minutes a day!
The Rewards Of Home Practice
While it may take time to develop the discipline for a continuous session of yoga at home, it can be very rich and rewarding. You can try new things and have the freedom to explore your own creative movement. If you’re just getting started or experiencing some of these similar challenges, keep going, stay committed. Make yourself and your practice a priority. You will not regret it! Just know that a practice is anything you need that day. A quick break, a deep breath, and a little bit of patience is all you need to get yourself going. Enjoy!
Iyengar Yoga is a system of hatha yoga developed by B.K.S. Iyengar; it is rooted in the traditional eight limbs of yoga as explained by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. Iyengar who was also direct disciple of T. Krishnamacharya with Patabbhi Jois (who developed Ashtanga Yoga) were responsible for bringing the practice of modern yoga (as we know it now) to the West.
As a widely practiced style, Iyengar Yoga continues to provide benefits to all practitioners. Although there are numerous reasons to practice Iyengar yoga, here are 4 reasons to give this practice a try:
1. It can be adapted for beginners
Iyengar Yoga offers a balanced and progressive method to Hatha yoga through its emphasis on sequencing asanas (yoga postures). Unlike classes in other styles, a typical Iyengar Yoga class for beginners always starts with basic standing poses as the grounding element. The legs and arms are part of the “karmendriya,” or organs of action. They provide the structural foundation for the rest of the body. Forward-bending and lateral twisting poses are also introduced to continuing beginners. They prepare students for inversions, backbends, and arm-balancing poses. In a class, poses are organized to improve flexibility, strength and to prepare the mind and body for pranayama (yogic breathing) and dhyana (meditation).
2. It creates a greater sense of body awareness
The practice of Iyengar Yoga helps practitioners develop body awareness through focus on postural alignment. The emphasis on alignment is the basis of the practice. Instructions on how to do the poses direct attention and awareness to different parts of the body. This awareness allows one to understand different “koshas,” or layers of the material body, like muscles, joints, organs and nadis (energy channels). This enhances a smooth flow of energy throughout the body and mind.
3. It’s totally safe practice
Iyengar Yoga offers a flexible and safe instruction, suited to the student’s needs through the use of props. Iyengar adopted the use of props to get students to move deeper into a pose. For students with physical or mental limitations, props provide invaluable support and feedback. The use of props builds flexibility and endurance. For example, in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose), feet are on blocks to lift the pelvis and create more length in the lower back.
4. Like other styles of yoga, it’s universal
Iyengar Yoga is for everyone, at all ages and physical levels. Iyengar was the first modern yoga master to conduct “group classes.” Young or old, fit or weak, athletic or injured, people are drawn to Iyengar Yoga for its accessibility. Iyengar Yoga is available for all in their healing and rehabilitative process. In this sense, Iyengar Yoga clearly offers more benefits than just physical fitness. It is a holistic lifestyle of self-care and well-being.
In Hatha yoga, Sun Salutations warm-up the body. This Hatha yoga sequence gives the body time to settle into the posture and the mind a chance to go inward. Sun Salutation has twelve postures or asanas in it. Surya in Sanskrit means Sun and Namaskar means to bow down. Sun Salutation is one of the most powerful sequences in yoga; it is our basic source of energy and is one of the pranic forces (life forces, chi) that keep us alive. Classical Hatha Yoga has its own Sun Salutation system, which differs from the traditional Ashtanga Yoga Sun Salutation method. The main difference between the two sun salutation methods are the postures and the order of sequence they are in. There are many benefits in the daily practice of Sun Salutations. It strengthens the digestive system and improves the functioning of the whole body. The whole process purifies the blood and improves blood circulation throughout the entire body.
This sequence of twelve classical yoga postures flow into each other and works almost every muscle in the body. Each movement is accompanied by either an inhalation and an exhalation and it is important for the rhythm of the breath to match the rhythm of the movement as not to become breathless and tired. The yoga breath (ujjayi breath) is essential to this practice. Attempt to keep your breathing as long and as even as possible. This sequence should be done in an even flowing manner. If you have never practiced this sequence before, then start off by only doing one round. This would mean that you do the sequence twice: the first time taking the right leg back and then doing the sequence again, taking the left leg back.
More and more often today we hear the expression "being mindful" being used in general conversation. For those of us that have meditation and/or yoga practices this term is very much a part of our vocabulary but are we really comfortable with what it means for us in our day to day living. Mindfulness means being in the "moment", a conscious awareness of what is in our minds before we say or do anything. Not only being aware but of then examining those thoughts and deciding if they are negative in any way to ourselves or others.
"Before you speak, think - Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence". - Sri Sathya Sai Baba
Hurting ourselves or others through our words, actions or inaction's, brings negative energy into the lives of all affected. Even if what we are saying is true we have to ask ourselves what is the probable outcome of telling this truth. By withholding a truth are we saving someone from an unnecessary hurt or will their life be better in the long run? However, we also have to ask ourselves if we have enough real information on which to base our decision and if the answer is "no" or we are in doubt then we should withhold our comment. This is being mindful.
Even if someone has done something you consider careless - let it go. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes. We have no way of knowing what’s going on in a person's life that may have contributed to the perceived infraction. Take a deep breath and let go of any physical tension that has started to take hold of your body. Mindfulness exercises come from thousands of years of traditions and Eastern practices of meditation. By practicing mindfulness exercises, we can learn to focus our awareness/consciousness on the present moment without judging the thoughts that come in our mind. It's about letting the present become a reality in total consciousness and total awareness.
In yoga practice we learn to distinguish between when our bodies and our minds are in a state of tension/anxiety and when they are relaxed and we feel in control. Being mindful of what is happening to us and how we feel, allows us to lead a more organized and fulfilling life as we can direct our energies, both physical and mental towards being positive and productive.
Uttanasana, or intense forward-bending pose, is a component of Sun Salutes and vinyasa, as well as, a dynamic part of the transition between standing and Chaturanga Dandasana. In Sanskrit, Ut means Intense, Tana means stretched and Asana means a yogic pose.
Uttasana is often dismissed as an uninteresting and basic pose; yet it offers a wealth of opportunities to develop muscle actions that support other standing poses like Warriors and Pyramid Pose. Practicing this foundation pose brings numerous benefits. Uttasana is also an inversion. Albeit a much more accessible inversion than head stand or handstand but with many of the usual benefits and more. Personally, I lovepracticing Uttansana because the weight of the head hanging heavy is enough to give my neck a gentle stretch. The stretch decompresses the spinal joints allowing a little stretch of the muscles and ligaments as well as a burst of nourishment.
Beginner’s Tip: If you cannot touch the ground, hold onto the backs of the legs wherever the hands fall (except for the knees) or cross the arms in front of the body holding onto the elbows. Let the head hang with gravity. If this is still too intense, take tension off the hamstrings and low back by bending the knees. Working with the breath, try “inhaling, bending”, “exhaling, straightening”. Deepen the Uttanasana pose to increase the stretch on the backs of the legs, stand in the forward bend with the balls of your feet elevated an inch or more off the floor on a sand bag or thick book or lean slightly forward and lift up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis, and then, from the height of the groins, lengthen your heels back onto the floor.
Caution: Uttanasana requires patience and practice. It can take a while to reach the deepest variation of the pose. Those with back injuries can practice this pose with bent knees, use a block for support under the hands, or substitute Half Forward Bend instead.
The holidays can a time of high stress for many people; between family gatherings, shopping, office parties, and travel, it’s no wonder so many people become stressed out and rundown this time of year.
In order to deal with this stressful time of year, a lot of people turn to unhealthy habits. The good news is you don’t have to indulge in unhealthy behavior to make it through the season. Studies have shown yoga reduces stress and makes people feel calmer.
With all the celebration, the cooking, the shopping, fake smiling and the over played Christmas music, it can all make even the most cheery person think about clobbering Santa🎅 Luckily, you won’t have to take those drastic measures! Above are 6 yoga poses that can be practiced at any time you begin to feel overwhelmed and stressed during the holiday season.
These restorative poses allow the body to drop into the parasympathetic nervous system inducing a state of relaxation; it can also address the effects of stress on the internal organs as well. To make the poses even more restorative, use yoga blocks, bolsters, pillows and even blankets! These poses are best done for 5-10 minutes followed by another of my favorite stress antidotes: meditation. 😉
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