The Top 3 Things I Want My Yoga Students To Know

There are a few things that I find myself repeating to people interested in yoga or to new students. The first thing people say to me is “I’m not flexible.” My answer to that is you don’t have to be flexible, it’s about becoming flexible. Closely related to that is “I can’t do ____ (fill in with any yoga pose).” Again, it’s not about that. I choose not to do a lot of the “tricky” poses for reasons that will be discussed later. Lastly, I hear that the teacher had them do something they didn’t like or that hurt. My response is that you don’t have to do every single pose the teacher offers. It’s your body and your practice; you know what you are comfortable doing. I tell my students they don’t get extra points for doing everything I say, except when it comes to safe alignment; outside of that, take care of your own body.

Yoga is a lifestyle practice that has been around for many, many years. There is great wisdom behind the philosophy that is not learned overnight. I do my best to explain my experience below based on my current understanding of what I have learned as I continue to study yoga.

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Photo courtesy of Chicks with Cameras

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Meditation: Transform Your Breathe

Your breath is a powerful tool. Your breath communicates what is happening in your body. What is your body telling you? What does your breath feel like? Take a minute or two to watch your breath and notice the transformation that happens. Do the following:

1) sit tall in a comfortable position.
2) feel the connection of your sit bones on your chair/ground/etc.
3) begin to find a steady, easy breath, guiding it through the nose
4) close your eyes and continue to breathe. As you breathe in notice, that you are breathing in; as you breathe out, notice you are breathing out.

What transformation did you experience?

Easy Meditation

Meditation is important to me.

For a beginner, it can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. It can be frustrating too because there’s a misconception that you won’t have any thoughts, at all. Just so you know, this is what usually happens for most of us, especially at the beginning.

Here’s the easiest way to start and how I begin every yoga class I teach.

Find a way to sit comfortable, on a chair, sitting up in bed, sitting cross-legged. We aren’t going to be concerned about form right now.

Set a timer for 5 minutes and turn the volume down to a softer level. (Or use a meditation timer app.)

Read through the following and then do at least once a day.

Take a deep inhale through your nose, exhale through the mouth.

Close your eyes.

Breath in through your nose and out through your nose.

Mantra: “As you breathe in, notice you are breathing in. As you breathe out, notice you are breathing out.”

Continue until you hear your timer.

Stop repeating the mantra.

Notice any sensations in your body.

Let your eyelids flutter open.

You are done. Easy right? YES!!

Lengthen Your Spine

“You are only as young as your spine”

“Lengthen your spine” is one of a handful of phrases you will hear in a yoga class. “Breathe,” “root down,” and “rise up” are a few others. “Lengthen your spine” has become a very important one for me because of the muscle activation that needs to happen and the safety it offers in EVERY. SINGLE. POSE. Let’s explore together. I am only beginning to learn about the spine and all its intricacies. I am not an anatomy expert (this guy is).

My current understanding: our spine is composed of discs, vertebrae, spinal fluid and cords, and muscles. It starts at the tailbone and ends at the base of the skull. It is the control system of the body, connecting the brain to everything else. You want to wiggle your toe, you need your spine to send that signal from the brain to the toe. The vertebrae are the support and protection for the spinal fluid and cords, the discs are the cushions that allow the spine to bend and move. As we age, the discs wear down, either getting smooshed or dried up (ouch!) creating stiffness and pain as a result of discs rubbing against each other, or pinching nerves.

Gravity takes a big toll on bodies and spines. We sit. We stand. We run. We hunch over. All that compression and uneven weight distribution over time weighs down the spine and squeezes the fluid out of the discs, think olives becoming oil. Except we don’t want to create oil, we want those discs to stay plump, firm and cushy.

Lengthening doesn’t happen on its own. It takes muscle activation and involvement. Those muscles are…..drum-roll….the core muscles!! “Strengthen your core” is a familiar phrase and just as important as “lengthen your spine.” The two go hand in hand, the body can’t successfully do one without the other. (See this post from Daily Bandha Lengthen torso in forward bend)

Learning what it feels like to activate those muscles is how you will learn to strengthen them. It’s easy, you can do this right now and I’ll give you the steps, just like I give in a yoga class.

  1. Come to a seated posture, legs extended out in front of you, and be lazy, let the spine round. (If you experience extreme discomfort in the low back or hamstrings, sit on the edge of a folded up blanket or small pillow.)PhotoGrid_1430102038295
  2. Place your palms flat on the ground on either side of you hips.
  3. Inhale as you press your hands into the ground and notice what happens.
  4. Release.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 until you feel something.
  6. Inhale press your hands into the ground and attempt to drag the hands back (they don’t actually move) and notice what happens. PhotoGrid_1430101845267
  7. Release.
  8. Repeat steps 6 & 7 until you feel something.

What did you notice? How did it feel?

As you placed your hands on either side of you hips, you may have noticed how you sat taller, the chest rose, the inhale was deeper, the engagement of the arms.

When you added on the pull back of the hands, you may have noticed the belly button pulling in towards the spine, shoulder blades drew down the back and together, the abs engaged.

Now do the exercise again and after step 6, keep everything engaged and just lift the hands off the floor. See if you can keep the same feeling of engagement and length.

Ta-da! You have learned how to actively lengthen and protect your spine. If you don’t currently have a yoga practice, then experience this every day, multiple times a day, especially when you feel tired or strain in the back. I’ll help you develop a yoga practice, keep coming back or leave a comment! If you do have a yoga practice, see how often you do (or don’t) engage the core muscles before you lengthen in a forward fold, or standing in your mountain pose, or anytime.

Share with me what you think. Namaste!

Complementary Forces

I took a break from blogging, about a 3 year break, by choice and by force. I felt I didn’t have anything to share because most of what was going on in my life I didn’t want to share, not with the world, a judging, harsh world. I felt if I “didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

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