As the days become colder and shorter, everything in nature becomes quieter and more dormant. Winter can be a wonderful time for soul-searching; a time to reflect and reset our own energy. Winter can be a time to recharge our energy before the onset of Spring. This cooler and quieter energy is also related to Yin energy in the traditional Taoist philosophy. If this calming Yin-style energy is left unbalanced, it can lead to lack of motivation, lack of energy, and lethargy. To balance this energy, we can incorporate its opposite energy, Yang-style or warmer asanas, which heat up the body and mind during these cold Winter days. Here are a few of tips to help warm and energize your body and mind:
Practice a Warming Yoga Sequence
To begin asanas for wintertime, warm-up with a few rounds of Sun Salutations to heat up the body. Make sure to end your yoga practice with some restorative, calming asanas(poses) that allow time for you to reflect and recharge your energy levels. Some asanas to practice are supine and stretching asanas that are held for longer periods of time, such as: Savasana, Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana), Extended Puppy pose (Uttana Shishosana), Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana), Plow pose (Halasana), and the Sage’s pose (Marichyasana C). When practicing yoga in the winter at home, make sure not leave your home (or studio) to quickly after a practice. Cooling down too quickly can tighten muscles and reduce circulation, which can put you at risk for muscle injuries. Waiting 5-10 minutes before going outside, and bundling up when you do, should be sufficient to allow for a proper cool-down.
Practice Breath Retention (Kumbhaka Pranayama)
In this gentle, beginner-level Kumbhaka Pranayama, we are working to heat the body. Kumbhaka is traditionally practiced holding the breath for 10 seconds, but keep in mind that this length is recommended only for advanced students. In this practice, begin with holding the breath for 2-3 seconds.
To begin, come sit in a comfortable seated position. Take a big inhale in, fully inflating the lungs. Next, hold the breath for 2 or 3 seconds. Slowly exhale out all the air from the lungs. Repeat for up to 10 minutes or longer.
Cold and gloomy weather can certainly affect your mood and disposition; don’t let the weather outside get you down. Be mindful of the benefits that yoga (and meditation) offer. Just a few minutes of daily yoga can set the overall tone for your day! Reading and studying books on yoga or going to a class can help boost your motivation. Can’t get out because of snow or ice? YouTube has some fantastic yoga classes!
Snow, ice, and freezing temperatures can be an excuse for avoiding all kinds of tasks. But don’t put your yoga practice aside, the overall benefits are wonderful for your mind, body, and spirit.
Chair Pose, or Utkatasana is not just a beginner pose, but it is also part of the Sun Salutations and is often used as a transitional pose. It can also be practiced on its own to build strength and stamina throughout the whole body.
Utkatasana comes from the Sanskrit words utkata meaning powerful or fierce and asana meaning pose. Many yogis may skip this pose or they will not hold it for long because it can feels tiresome, and it is not the most “glamorous” of postures. However, practicing Chair Pose is good for you, not only because of its physical benefits, but because it advances your practice physically as well as, emotionally.
Modifications & Variations
Utkatasana can be an excellent full-body strengthener when practiced correctly. It can take time to build enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Take it slowly and be careful not to over-stress your knees or shoulders. To deepen or modify the pose, try these variations:
Utkatasana can build a lot of strength and stamina throughout the body when it’s done with correct alignment:
Maintain a slight arch in your back.
Squeeze your thighs as close together as possible.
Bring your thighs as parallel to the floor as possible.
Draw your chest back and up, instead of reaching your torso forward.
Keep your weight evenly distributed in your heels. Shifting the weight forward can over-stress your knees..
Remember to breathe evenly throughout the pose! If your breath becomes strained, come out of the pose until you can breathe deeply again.
Yoga is one of the best practices for improving health both in body and in mind. Most practitioners have more energy, a greater ability to deal with stress, and a better outlook on life. Yoga goes beyond simple stretching exercises in countless ways. Here are some ways you can enhance your experience and make your yoga practice more meaningful.
Create a music playlist to enhance your yoga. Many people prefer peaceful, meditative music, but that does not mean you should limit yourself to this specifically; for example, a lot of Flow/Vinyasa yoga has music that is more upbeat, whereas, some Yin classes play more serene music.
2. Yoga Clothing
Your yoga clothes can be designed especially for yoga, or they can simply be comfortable clothing that you feel good about wearing. When you put on your yoga clothing, your subconscious mind will soon see this as a cue that you are about to step into a different state of consciousness for a while.
3. Uninterrupted Time
It is often best to set a specific time each day for yoga practice. The reason for this is similar to the reasons for choosing designated yoga clothes. When your schedule won’t allow it, then find another time and make sure it is uninterrupted time. It can be difficult to bring relaxation and focus to your yoga routine if you worry about interruptions. Your yoga will be far more meaningful if you are able to give yourself over to the poses and movements.
4. Setting an Intention
Setting an intention before each practice offers purpose to routines. For example, if you have been struggling with a problem, your intention could be to resolve that issue. Nothing needs to be changed about the routine itself, unless you feel led to make changes. Setting an intention prior to practice gives the brain a specific task, and some of the energy that arises during yoga will be directed towards your intention.
5. Essential Oils
The scents around us influence our emotions and state of being. Essential oils can uplift the spirits or calm the body, and they are a natural way to enhance the space where you practice yoga. Using oil on your body or placing essential oils in a diffuser adds scents to the room. Lavender oil is great for calming.
6. Creating the Space
Whether you do your routine in your living room, bedroom or basement, simple additions can set the space apart as your yoga area. Add a wall tapestry, a throw rug, and a small statue or other meaningful art, and leave plenty of room in the center for your yoga mat. At the beginning of each yoga routine, light a candle and some incense or your essential oil diffuser to increase the effect of setting the space. Even if the room you practice in is used for other things at other times, adding meaningful items such as these helps keep you on task with your yoga.
As you continue with yoga, your preferences for music, scent and other additions may change. Yoga can be a spark for personal growth, and it is best to remain flexible to new insights regarding even these simple things. By incorporating some or all of these tips into your yoga practice, it can become more meaningful.
Arm balances seem and look really impressive. They are a great addition to any yoga practice since they build stability and core strength. Arm balances do more than help you build physical strength, they also help you learn to persevere and not take your yoga practice too seriously. You will fall, and probably stumble a few times, but once you master an arm balance, your strength, stability, coordination, and confidence will all improve.
Here are 5 tips for practicing arm balances:
1. Be aware of where you are in your practice
You will have much more success with arm balances if you are realistic about where you are as a yogi. Some arm balances are good for beginners, while others are more advanced. If you’re a beginner, go ahead and try Scorpion, but don’t be surprised if it’s just a bit out of reach. Conversely, if you’re an advanced yogi and have been practicing Mayurasana (Peacock Pose) for a while, consider trying something a bit harder like Dragonfly or Koundinyasana (Sage Kaundinya's) pose. You won’t improve as a yogi if you don’t push more, find your edge and try something new.
2. Find your drishti
Just like finding your gaze (drishti) in balancing standing poses, finding a gaze in arm balances is essential. Find a stationary focal point a comfortable distance out in front of you. If it’s too far away or too close, it will be hard for you to focus.
3. Don’t push too hard too fast
It’s easy to rush into arm balances, even if you’ve been practicing yoga for months; it’s important to make sure you’re moving into the balance slowly and with intention. When you rush, or push yourself too fast and too hard, you end up frustrated, disappointed, or injured. Practicing arm balances regularly you begin to see improvements over time.
4. Warm up
Before you attempt to practice any arm balance, make sure you have warmed up your body beforehand. Practice a few rounds of Sun Salutations. It’s much harder to nail an arm balance if you’re going into it cold.
5. Press Down
In order to lift up, you have to press down through your hands. Make sure to press evenly through your hand, and engage your fingertips. Try to avoid putting all the pressure on the base of your palm as this will lead to wrist injuries.
We spend a lot of time on our computers and on our cell phones. But since the likelihood of us getting along without our cell phones or laptops is probably not going to change in the near future, we have to take necessary precautions to ensure that our bodies stay strong as we work more and incorporate these tech gadgets into our daily lives.
Just as sitting too long at our office desks makes us more stiff in our shoulders and hips, keeping our hands positioned over the keyboard can have the same effects. Injuries or pains that result from repetitive movements whether it’s typing, texting, playing tennis or knitting are called Repetitive Stress Injuries, or RSI for short. They occur because the repetitious motion pulls on the muscles and tendons that surround the joint. In the case of computers, our wrists become overused and often mild to severe forms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can manifest. But there is hope for your sore and achy wrists. A study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine showed that a yoga-based routine was more effective at reducing the symptoms associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than wearing a splint or receiving no treatment at all.
Yoga postures that relieve wrist pain also strengthen and elongate the supporting muscles of the hand making them more flexible and stronger to handle the constant motions of clicking away at the keyboard.
Get in the habit of doing these exercises every day as your computer warms up and even throughout the day when you need to take a break. But if your pain persists for more than a week, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out a more serious injury.
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.
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!
We use our wrists every day, but the majority of us have no idea what they are constructed of, or how to prevent long-term damage and pain. Without the mobility of our wrists our range of motion would be limited, thus understanding their complexity and learning about the anatomy of our wrists is crucial in order to protect them and provide them with strength, support and flexibility; especially during yoga practice.
Yoga can help in the healing process, however the kind of yoga you practice and how you practice it is important. If you are experiencing pain, make sure you talk to your yoga teacher and if necessary, your physician for their advice. It is key to proactively think about your weight distribution and the alignment of your body for poses that put pressure on your wrists.
The use of props to modify poses can also aid in wrist recovery. Certain yoga styles demand a lot out of our wrists and quick movements do not allow time for modification. Until you heal, you may want to consider finding a different yoga style that does not put as much pressure on your wrists. Some styles of yoga to consider are Yin, Gentle and even Restorative yoga; return to your usual practice once your wrists feel better.
Prior to your yoga practice make sure you warm-up: circle your wrists left and right in both directions which helps with blood flow. Below are some postures to help you modify your practice. Making a few simple modifications can be enough for your practice to receive the same benefits while being careful in regards to your injury.
Here are some poses to consider for modifications:
Downward-Facing Dog Pose – with the arms and torso parallel to the floor
Downward-Facing Dog Pose – while bending your knees, so you avoid pressure on the wrists but the weight is evenly distributed
Shalabhasana – Locust Pose allows blood flow to flourish throughout the elbows and wrists while straighten them and helping to get rid of scar tissue. Do this posture cautiously!
Modified plank - Elbow plank is a great alternative to full plank and also has the added benefit of working your core muscles. Press your inner forearms and elbows onto the floor - hands can be flat on the floor or fingers interlaced. Firm your shoulder blades against your back by pressing the elbows into the floor, lengthen your tailbone towards the heels and press the tops of the thighs towards the ceiling.
It is important to be aware of how fatigued you get while doing any weight bearing on the hands and to give yourself enough rest between poses. Good wrist strength is essential to our everyday activities and yoga can be a great tool to teach us more about how to take care of our wrists.
Caution: For those suffering from acute arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it’s advisable to avoid practicing weight-bearing yoga poses entirely until the acute phase has passed. Always consult with your healthcare professional if you have any questions.
Using a yoga mat for yoga may seem to be a necessity, but is this true? The yoga mat developed from the practice originally taking place on grass, then using animal skins for cushioning and grip. However, yoga mats as we know them now were created by a yoga teacher named Angela Farmer in 1967 when she used a piece of foam carpeting underlay to aid her while practicing and teaching. The idea was shared with the underlay manufacturer and developed from there.
Is a yoga mat necessary?
The answer to this question is both yes and no, however it is by no means required as to whether you use a yoga mat or not and the decision is yours. Some people believe the mat’s sticky texture that helps to grip could lead to sprains or other injuries in the joints and over flexibility without sufficient muscle protection. Due to the grip the mat provides, the leg and arm muscles aren’t having to work as hard to keep you balanced which may feel easier initially, however if muscles supporting joints are not strengthened and maintained, this could leave you more susceptible to injury.
Should I use a yoga mat?
It is of course your choice, there are benefits of using a yoga mat. Aside from providing a sticky surface, the foam texture cushions and insulates your body when practicing on solid, wooden floors, like the ones in most yoga studios. This alleviates any harmful and uncomfortable pressure on the knees as well as, helps your body regulate it’s temperature to avoid injury. To many yogis a yoga mat is our personal space; our yoga mat gives us control over the space we occupy during a yoga class and keeps others outside of that space during class. A yoga mat makes us feel ready for practice, it’s part of our ritual to unroll the mat. The choice of design, color and material we choose for our yoga mats is much like our choice of clothing we practice in. Just be sure to do your research when shopping and choosing a yoga mat. Find a yoga mat that will be best suited for you and your needs.
Yoga mats are not mandatory for a yoga practice, but they can make your practice more comfortable than using the floor alone. However, if you practice yoga at home, a carpeted floor can provide cushioning with slightly less grip than a mat, alternatively, you can take your practice outside, and use a grassy area or the beach for a cushioned experience.
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