Stressed out? Muscles in knots? Stuck in a job or relationship you don't want? You need to discover what yoga can do for you! Practicing yoga can:
Improve you physically
- Develops a strong and flexible body
- Increases balance, body awareness, and coordination
- Improves digestion, circulation, and elimination
Improve you mentally
- Calms and clears the mind
- Relieves tension and stress
- Promotes thinking and memory
- Reduces stress and anxiety
Improve you spiritually
- Builds confidence and self-esteem
- Develops discipline and self-control
- Encourages social awareness and responsibility
- Inspires respect for self and others
All in just a few minutes a day. (Don't believe me? See my book, Yogaminute!)
This is a picture of Ganesha, a Hindu deity known as Lord of the Hosts. Ganesha is very recognizable as the elephant headed god. He is often pictured with a spade or pitchfork in order to prod humans back to the right path. With his long, strong trunks he is renown for being the remover of obstacles.
Is there something that might be holding you back from reaching your goals and full potential? Perhaps incorporating the chant to Ganesha might be just what you need.
MANTRA TO REMOVE OBSTACLES
Gum Ganapatayei Namaha
( Guhm Guh-nuh-puh-tah-yei Nah-mah-hah)
Gum is Ganesha's seed sound. Gana means power or group. Pathi indicates spouse. Ganapatayei is the spouse of power and the group. Yei is the shanti activating sound. (From Thomas Ahley-Farrand, author of Healing Mantras and Chakra Mantas)
This is mantra can be incorporated into your yoga practice during meditation or as you are setting your daily intention. Chant at least three times. Be sure to begin and end with the peaceful sound of Ohm.
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer-Nat King Cole
The dog days of summer actually refer to the bright star that rise and sets with the sun, Sirius, or Alpha Canis Majoris. In yoga it conjures up our most recognizable poses, Updog and Downdog. This month let's also throw in One Legged Downward Facing Dog as well!
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
1. Lie prone on the floor. Inhale and lengthen through the neck and crown. Exhale. Roll the shoulders back.
2.Place the palms on the mat about shoulder width apart. Push down through the palms as you straighten the arms, lifting the chest. Try to keep the thighs firm.
3. Press your tailbone toward the pubis, adjust the head if you feel too much strain the in the back. Keep the neck lengthened. Look straight ahead or slightly upward. Hold the pose for about 5 breaths.
1. From Upward Facing Dog, curls the toes under to lift the hips. The arms should be stretched forward, fingers spread, weight on the palms. The forehead is as close to the mat as possible.
2. Rise up on the toes to lift the hips even further, then gradually let the heels come to the mat. You should look like and upside down "A".
3. Take 5 long deep breaths in this pose, as you release tension, and continually modify to get the best stretch for your body.
4. To come out of the pose, relax into Child's Pose, go into One-Legged Downward Facing Dog or continue your Sun Salutation series.
One-Legged Downward Facing Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)
1. From Downward Facing dog, lift your right leg off the mat and extend straight back. Keep the foot flexed and try to lift from the quadricep.
2. Continue lifting the extended leg towards the ceiling, but avoid twisting the torso and hips. There should be a long straight line from your right fingertips to the right heel.
3. Hold and breathe for about 5 counts, pressing through the extended heel. Lower the leg.
4. Repeat on the left side. When finished relax into Child's Pose.
Benefits of all 3 poses:
- Quiets the mind
- Stretches the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors
- Develops confidence that you can balance
- Brings blood flow to the bran area. Helps to relieve headache and depression.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Tree pose (Vrksasana) is a classic yoga pose for strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. These are the benefits for the body, but what about the mind? Can you find balance in tree pose?
1. Stand in Mountain pose, arms down by your side. Start to move your weight to your left foot as you slowly inch your right foot close to the left leg.
2. Turn the right foot so that the instep is resting on your ankle, with the toes remaining on the floor.
3. Visualize your left leg as the tree trunk, making it strong and "rooted" into the floor or mat.
4. Keeping the eyes looking down, slowly start to move the right foot up the left leg. Pause at any point that you need to stay stay comfortable and balanced.
5. When you feel balanced, start to lift the eyes, center the head, and start to raise the arms to heart center. Pause here or continue to lift the arms overhead.
6. Like a real tree, you will sway and move. Relax! Feel free to lower the leg and/or arms and try again. A big hint is to not look at someone or something that is also moving.
7. When you are ready to release, lower the arms then leg, and repeat on the other side.
Now for the mind-it is very easy to become discouraged in tree pose when you can't balance as long as you'd like or at all. Remember, every time you come to the mat, your body is different. Don't judge yourself. Yoga is not a competitive sport, either with others or with yourself. If you are finding this pose difficult physically, use the wall or a chair to help you. If you have a cold or inner ear infection that will also make this pose difficult.
Mental balance is something else. What is blocking you from being balanced? An unresolved conflict? Problems at work or at home? Too many demands on your time and energy? Acknowledging these situations and taking steps to resolve these disturbances will help bring balance to your body as well as your mind.
Have you heard this old joke?
Q. If April Showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?
In my yoga practice, April, rather than January, seems to be the month of yoga pilgrims. Perhaps it is because I live in the cold Northeast, and winter seems to make everyone but the hardy hibernate but April is my highest month of new students, many of whom are trying yoga for the first time. These new students, like pilgrims, are seekers. Some are seeking the physical-flexibility, relief from pain, or a low impact workout. Others are seeking the spiritual-calm, peace, tranquility, or enlightenment. Some are looking to follow the latest fad (yes, yoga is now main streamed), some think they'll meet a hot guy (or girl) in class. Here's what you can expect should you decide to start a yoga practice:
- Overall health and vitality in a non-competitive atmosphere, that doesn't care what you look like, where you come from, or how fit you are or aren't
- A healthful practice that should never, ever, hurt you
- Better sleep, better sex, better digestion
- Increased sense of confidence and self control
- A glowing outer and inner you
If this sounds good to you, contact your nearest, certified yoga instructor and make that pilgrimage to yoga today. Your body, your mind, your friends and family will thank you!
When new students first start taking yoga, I tell them the hardest thing about the class is sitting still. Of all the poses in yoga, sitting still in sukasana (easy pose) or relaxing in savasana (corpe pose) is the hardest to master. Why? Because you have to give yourself permission to be quiet! Quieting the body might be achievable but quieting the mind? Even with the best of intentions, all these thoughts start to intrude, the mind starts replaying the day's events (in yoga it's actually called the monkey mind) chattering endlessly on and on until the last thing you want to do is be sitting in yoga class! How do we quiet the mind as well as the body?
The simplest answer to that is to breathe. By concentrating on your breath, even counting the breaths to yourself as you inhale and exhale, helps you to refocus. Repeating a simple phrase or a non sensical humming sound also helps. For instance, if you are of the Kundalini tradition, you would know to chant Sat Nam or Sat Ta Na Ma as part of your meditation. Other yoga traditions have certain chants, hums, or sounds as well. However, it is not necessary to devote yourself to learning these unless you have a keen interest in the spiritual aspect of your practice Simply cleansing the mind by breathing, focusing on a concentration point , or closing the eyes, is enough for most.
Another thing to try is the use of an eye pillow, especially if the pillow contains the soothing herb lavender. Imagine being covered head to toe with a comfy blanket and then having a pillow resting on your eyes. Instant relaxation! I personally use the essential oil and place a few drops on my wet hair. It just sets the tone for your entire day.
In this frantic, hectic, overloaded world, having the tools to be calm and relaxed are essential. You owe it to yourself and the people around you.
USTRASANA (CAMEL POSE)
Looking for something to improve your posture, strengthen the back muscles, and stretch the entire front of the body? Then this pose is for you! Here's how to do it:
1. Kneeling on your mat, bring your knees hip width apart. Cushion your legs with a blanket if you feel soreness.
2. Place your hands on your lower back with the palms towards the back and the finger tips pointed down.
3. Inhale, as you lift and expand the chest and slowly start to let the palms slide down the back. Keep you chin up to start.
4. Your goal is to reach the backs of your heels. Use blocks or straps to help if this is new to you. You can also adjust the tilt of your thighs to help you reach down as well.
5. When you have reached your maximum extent, (wherever that may be today), adjust your head placement. You may stay in neutral (keeping the head centered) or tilt backward.
6. Stay in this pose for at least 30 seconds and then release by placing your hands at the starting position on your lower back to help you straighten the spine. Do a pose such as Child's Pose as a counter stretch and to relax.
Beginner's Tip: Besides using blocks or straps to help you in this pose, you may also make use of the wall. To do this have your back facing the wall when you are kneeling and start to lean back. Place your hand on your lower back, as described above, and as you inch your hands down toward the heels the chest lifts, and the crown of the head is supported by the wall.
PARIVRTTA NATARAJASANA (Shiva Twist)
Let's start off the new year by incorporating a pose that not only helps you detoxify from all those holiday goodies, it also helps with your balance, focus, and concentration.
- From Mountain pose with hands on your hips, bend the right knee shifting all the weight into the left leg. Slowly inhale and lift the right knee up as high as you can.
- Look down at the floor and stare at one point. Slowly bring the arms out to your sides with the elbows bent and palms facing forward.
- Keep your legs where they are at as you exhale and twist your torso to the right. Quickly find a new focal point on the floor. Reach the left elbow towards the right knee, keep the left leg straight and strong.
- Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths.
- To release: slowly exhale the arms down to your hips and then release the legs back into mountain.
- Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Shiva twist increases balance, focus, memory and concentration and strengthens the ankles and knees.
Here is my holiday gift to you: a podcast entitled Centering for Yoga. Use it anywhere, any time to feel refreshed, renewed, and uplifted. May you enjoy peace and blessings this holiday season and in the new year!
Child's Pose or Balasana is a simple resting posture yet some people have difficulties with it. Here are some helpful tips:
How to do it:
Kneeling on your mat, bring your bottom back towards your heals. Extend your arms forward and let your forehead rest on the mat.
If you find your forehead does not reach the floor, use a block or stack your fists one on top of the other to rest on them instead.
If your have pain in your knees, use a blanket or double stack your mat for an extra cushion.
If you are uncomfortable constricting the abdomen, widen your knees to create more space.
If you do not like extending your arms forward, bring them back towards the heals instead.
Take the time to breathe fully and relax. It is a good time to reconnect with your practice intention or set a new one.
Child's Pose is used in between other strenuous poses or on its own. This pose helps to calm the brain, relieve stress, and reduce fatigue. It also helps to stretch your back, hips, and thighs. Talk to your yoga teacher before doing it while pregnant or if you have knee problems.