During the course of your yoga practice you might have heard the term mula bandha. What is this and why is it helpful?
If you study or have knowledge of the chakras, the first one is called the muladhara chakra. In Sanskrit, mula means base, so the reference is to the base or root chakra. The term bandha means lock. So does this mean to lock your root? Not exactly, but it does refer to the perineum, and it can be a very useful tool to help strengthen this area. For men these are the muscles around the perineal body which lie midway between the anus and genitals. For women, the contraction is felt in the area surrounding the cervix. Using the heel of the foot, a soft object, or a specially designed cushion helps to contract these muscles.
Contracting these muscles takes practice, particularly because when you tense one muscle, many more follow. Start by sitting in a comfortable, cross legged position. Concentrate on the breath and you breathe in and out through the nose. Keep the breath following smoothly until you feel the body relax. Squeeze the entire perineal region, being careful not to also stop the breath flow in the ribcage. Repeat until you feel comfortable activating this area.
Next, contract the perineal region, maintaining a steady breath, and hold the contraction for about 8-10 breaths. Think of the area as an open purse, and when you are contracting the muscle, you are drawing the strings closed on the purse. With practice, you will be able to contract this area without engaging the anal muscles. Don't rush it. A few minutes of practice a day will do it.
Once you can hold the contraction without also holding your breath, you are ready to engage in the mula bandha lock for your meditation and breath work (Pranayama). Ideally, the mula bandha should be held during the entire yoga class to "lock" in energy and allowing you to hold a pose for its maximum benefits. NOTE: Sorry, this is not for pregnant women!
Why is engaging the mula bandha important? For women, it helps menstrual and menopausal maladies, nourishing this area and providing blood flow and circulation. For men and women, it helps to regulate breathing and lower blood pressure and also increases digestion. For all yogis, bringing your attention the the root area, helps you feel grounded and supported physically, mentally, and spiritually.
January is the time that many people are looking to get started in a fitness regimen. Cardio and weight training used to be the norm, but in the last few years, more people are asking me about yoga to meet their fitness goals. I am happy to see the spread of yoga into the mainstream, but since the practice of yoga has been westernized and commercialized, there are some misconceptions out there that I'd like to address.
First, there are many types of yoga and you need to find the tradition that suits your personality and fitness goals. If you are looking for a vigorous workout, try a vinyasa flow or a power yoga class. If you are recovering from an injury, look at hot yoga or restorative yoga. If you like routine, try a bikram class. If you are looking to deepen your practice with meditation involved, go for hatha or anusara.
Second, find a class with trained instructors. Looking good in leggings and sporting an "ohm" tattoo does not a good instructor make. Investigate by asking for recommendations; look at an instructor's reviews on their website, Facebook, or Thumbtack; and check out the directory at www.yogaalliance.org which is the premiere certifying organization for yoga professionals.
Thirdly, realize that the movement (asana) is just one facet of yoga. If that is your main goal, then you probably can find a yoga class at your local gym or Y. But if you are looking to incorporate the deeper practice of a yoga lifestyle, than you would be better served in a Center that specializes in yoga.
Finally, realize that nothing in yoga should ever hurt or make you feel uncomfortable. Choosing the yoga practice that reasonates with you might take some time, but it is so worth it. I have had students who have started with me go on to other practices and then loyal students who have been with me for years. I cherish both because their experiences make me a better instructor.
I hope that you consider adding yoga as part of a healthy lifestyle and find the practice that enhances your enjoyment and quality of life. It is so worth it!
Sometimes it is good to be a fish out of water! Here's how to do Fish Pose:
- From a sitting position with your legs extended (Staff Pose), walk back about two steps and come down on your forearms.
- Look towards your feet. As you inhale expand the chest towards the ceiling. As you exhale, let the head drop back as little or as much as you would like.
- When you are ready to come out of the pose, look towards your feet, and walk your hand forward towards the hips.
Fish Pose is beneficial to stretching and strengthening the upper back, opening the throat, stretching the hip flexors and abdominals.
Thanks to Patrick, Nikki and Patti for posing!
Warrior II or Virabhadrasana II is a standing pose for strengthening and stretching. Once you are set up and in alignment, the hardest thing about this pose is holding your arms steady. Here's how to do it:
- Start by standing lengthwise on your mat, with your front toes pointing forward towards the short end. Your back foot is turned about 90 degrees. Align your front heel with your back instep.
- Place your hands on your shoulder blades to push them down away from your ears. Extend the arms out, turning the palms down.
- Turn you head towards your front fingertips focusing on your middle finger. Bend the front knee, peeking down to make sure you can still see your front toe. Make sure your knee is not hyperextended or flopped over to one side or the other. If you want to go deeper into your pose, move the back foot to widen the stance.
- Press into both feet, keeping your legs strong. Activate the muscles even further by pressing into the feet and move them towards each other without lifting them from the mat. Let your hips sink down towards the floor and extend through the crown of the head to lengthen the spine.
- You can hold this pose in a static position or go into a vinyasa flow inhaling as you move the arms up by the ears, pointing towards the ceiling, and exhaling as you sink back into the pose.
- Release when ready and repeat on the other side.
Warrior II strengthens the legs, hips and knees. It helps to lengthen the spine and improve concentration. It helps with balance, stamina, and circulation. It can also help you to open the lungs, improve circulation, and provides energy for tired limbs.
Toothbrush? Yes. Swim suit? Yes. Pajamas? Maybe. Yoga? Of course! Packing for your vacation does not have to weigh you down and neither should your workout. Consider adding a select group of yoga poses to your daily routine. Here's how!
Start with visualization
Vacations are meant to be relaxing but perhaps you are combining it with a family event which could be anything but! Before you even start your trip, set an intention to find peace and renewal away from your daily routine. Visualize a happy, content, and smiling you. Couple that with your intention ( i.e. I will take pleasure in..) as you take deep breaths.
Master Mountain Pose
2 hour delays during checkin? You won' t be bothered in Mountain Pose. Stand tall, feet about hip width apart. Roll your shoulders up, around,and down. Let you hands fall loosely by your sides as you fully inhale and exhale. This is a pose of strength, which you will need lugging your carry on baggage through security.
Sitting during long plane or car rides won't bother you if you get up and stretch at regular intervals. Every twenty minutes or so,add a seated twist as well. Start by sitting up tall in your seat, feet flat on the floor. Inhale as you lengthen the spine, exhale as you turn your torso to the right. If you have room, stretch your arms overhead and let them fall to the right as well. Staying on the right side, inhale and use your exhalations to go even deeper into your twist. Your head can be eye level, or looking down if you need to stretch your neck. Repeat on the other side.
Staying hydrated is important anyway, but especially as you might be changing time zones, or consuming items not in your usual daily diet. Visualize the water refreshing and cleansing your body with each sip.
Start and End your day with 5 minutes of your favorite poses.
Your morning routine could consist of a few rounds of sun salutation, or a brisk mindful walk in your vacation environment. Literally stop to smell the roses, walk barefoot through grass or sand, or anything else you do not take the time to do at home. Take mental snapshots and add captions such as "Feeling the morning dew on my toes", "Frolicking in the waves", "Enjoying the sunset".
Remember this is your vacation! Yes, you might have to do some compromising with your partner or family if you are not traveling alone, but be sure to set aside time to do the things you enjoy. In yoga this is called ahimsa, or speaking the truth.
Keep the vacation going by incorporating yoga into your daily life. A few minutes a day is all it takes!
Whether you toil alone in a cubicle or interact with customers on a continual basis, everyone at work has to verbally communicate at some time or other. Even in these days of hiding behind emails and tweets, verbal communication and those who master it are assets to any organization. Here are some yoga breathing techniques to help enhance your verbal communication.
The first breathing exercise to try is traditional nose breathing. In this exercise, you simply inhale and exhale through the nose. Let’s try it now while you are reading:
- Let’s start with four counts. Inhale through the nose, counting slowly to four.
- Hold the breathe inside your body for two counts.
- Completely exhale through the nose for four counts.
How easy it that? You’ve just controlled your breathing! You thought about it (which is called being mindful) and you directed your breath. And though you don’t realize it, all these wonderful things are going on inside your body when you do that-like lowering your blood pressure and relaxing some muscles.
Another method of breathing in yoga is called the Ujjayi Breath. With this method, you breathe in through the nose and exhale through the throat, making a sound in the back of the throat. It produces a sound similar to an ocean wave or like Darth Vader in his big, black helmet. Usually this type of breathing is used when doing a strenuous pose or when you need a cleansing breath. Visualize your children tracking mud onto your nice clean kitchen floor that you just spent time sweeping, mopping and polishing and you get the idea. Practice your counting system, gradually increasing the amount of counts for inhalation, holding, and exhalation.
Is your boss giving you grief? Has a driver just cut you off or pulled another equally idiotic driving maneuver? Here’s the yogic breath for you!
- Start by rolling your tongue into a tube. Breathe through this tube and feel the cool, calming air.
- Move your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Open the lips and keep the teeth together. (Think insincere, phony smile).
- Now exhale through your clenched teeth, with an audible hissing sound. Exhale long and hard getting out all that built up tension and aggravation with your breath. Repeat. (See a short video on this one here.)
It's spring and that leads me to one of my favorite poses-Rabbit (Sasangasana). Here's how to do it:
- Start on your knees (you can cushion them with a folded blanket). Place your forehead on your mat.
- Inhale as you reach back toward your feet. If you can, touch your heels, if not, then place them by your calves.
- Exhale as you bring your chin towards your chest and roll forward placing the crown of your head on your mat.
- Breathe normally as you raise your buttocks towards the ceiling. Maintain your chin on your chest.
- Stay in this position for 3-5 breaths. Release the buttocks towards your heels.
Follow this pose with Child's Pose.
Rabbit Pose helps to lengthen the spine and stretch the back, arms, and shoulders while stimulating the immune and endocrine systems.
Winter is not quite over yet! Here are my top poses to get you through the rest of it. Download your free ebook here.
Love to do yoga? How about sharing it with your spouse or your significant other? We all know how beneficial yoga can be for your body, your mind, and your spirit-now, think of that times two! Here are some ideas to get you motivated to try yoga as a duo!
1.Set a Time
As a couple, you can set a time to be together. Put it on your calendar and send a reminder text letting your honey know you are spending this special time just with him/her!
2. Set a place
If you are beginners, go to a studio to get the proper instruction, but practice at home together. The bedroom is a great place to do yoga. The final pose is savasana after all, and what better way to do this pose than in bed!
3. Set an Intention
Meditation is a big part of your yoga practice and setting an intention lays the groundwork for a deeper, more concentrated practice. Establishing a mutual intention with your partner creates a shared goal and lasting bond.
What poses should you do as a couple? The field is wide open if you are an experienced yogi and using each other as a "prop" allows for deeper stretching. However, unless you are a trained professional, I wouldn't recommend hands on assists or over stretching. Also it important to refrain from giving "advice" to your partner during yoga, which could lead to physical injury and discord within the relationship. Start by developing a mutual breathing pattern and choosing a set of poses that you know. Always start with a warmup and end with your final resting pose. In yoga, as with most things, quality is always more important than quantity.
You will find as you progress through your shared yoga practice, a greater appreciation for the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits will follow. This can lead to a more fulfilling, intimate relationship. Yoga is good for one; fantastic for two! Give it a try today!
Yoga has long been regarded as a great way to improve health. The physical benefits include developing and improving flexibility, strength, and range of motion as well as aiding digestion and circulation. Having a healthy body is conducive to employee productivity. But employers and employees also should investigate the use of yoga in the work place for its other benefits as well.
- Calm and clear the mind
- Relieve tension and stress
- Promote thinking and memory
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Build confidence and self-esteem
Starting a practice at work does not have to be complicated. Some employers might opt to bring in an instructor and provide a space for before work, after work, or lunch time classes. A trained, certified instructor will carry liability insurance and can set up and administer the whole program for the employer. Alternately, a trained professional can teach employees how to incorporate yoga breaks. Yoga does not require special clothing, lots of time or space. It can be as simple as learning breathing techniques for instant stress relief or learning a series of poses that can be done in a chair or using a wall.
The use of yoga in the work place is mutually beneficial. Why not try it in your work place for 2016?