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Category Archives: Benefits of Yoga

You are what you eat

Cliche, I know, but I remember the days of carb-loading before a race or bingeing on 64 ounces of Mountain Dew before the big game.

Now, athletes are paying greater attention to nutrition and considering food as fuel rather than just something you eat. eat-real-food

Today, I’m on day 10 of a 21-day cleanse, where I’m refusing soy, gluten, wheat, processed grains, sugar, eggs and dairy. It’s a huge departure for me and my regular diet. Where I thought I ate well was subsumed by the heavy dose of crap I ate every day.

Most of my diet, all my conscious life, revolved around the idea that I could eat whatever and just work out extra hard later. A big piece of chocolate cake? Yes, please! I’ll just run an extra 3 miles in the morning.

But that only goes so far. As I’ve aged, dealt with weight gain and injuries, I know deep down that my diet must change if I’m to stay active and healthy.

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with yoga? The way I see it, eating well has to do with truthfulness (Satya), purity (Saucha), and non-violence (Ahimsa).

I’ll break it down:

Truthfulness/Satya

With my personal practice, and what I preach when I’m teaching, is to find your truth, my truth, the clear, honest truth that our psyches really have fun hiding from us.

We get glimpses of our truth from time to time. Sometimes it feels like a sucker punch in the gut. Other times it’s like having a reunion with a long-lost friend. It’s when things finally click. When they make sense. And that can be a fleeting moment, but the more you pay attention to what’s going on inside, what’s driving you, why are you doing what you’re doing, you’ll find that kernel of truth. It’s like that line from one of my favorite childhood classics (don’t judge) Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I,”: “Keep searching, keep searching, you’ll find it.” Yeah, you know what I’m talking about, Mel Brooks nerds. 

When we are honest about our connection to the food we eat, what we put in our bodies, what we decide to feed ourselves, to nourish ourselves, we have to be also conscious about those decisions.

So, when I reach for that third piece of pizza, even though I’m already satisfied and I could benefit more from a second helping of steamed broccoli, I should be honest about that. Do I really need it? What am I trying to do when I eat this and not that?

Like when I choose to eat something like roasted beets because I know it’s good for me (and because I love them), and I know it will make me feel good inside and give won’t make me momentarily hate myself, my distended belly and my poor choices, as I would after I ate that third piece of pizza. Instant gratification over intuition? Perhaps. Maybe I’m still stuck in the belief that poor choices don’t really matter. But, indeed they do.

Be honest about your choices, and choose with consciousness and not impulse or habit.

Purity/Saucha

In these 10 days of cleansing, I have discovered a lot about my regular diet that isn’t quite so pure and simple. I eat a lot of processed sugar. I grab what’s easy and fast, like throwing a tortilla and a slice of cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds for an easy lunch. I eat granola bars and protein bars after workouts or on long rides. I have always thought of the food I eat in relation to the activity that I have done or what is coming up: Calorie intake and expenditure, rather than calorie quality and wholesomeness to optimize health.

My biggest discovery as of day 10, has been that I can still complete a strenuous workout without feeling completely spent while eating good, whole, clean food. A banana and some almond butter or a brown rice cake and bean dip give me enough oomph to finish the workout, and I feel good afterwards.

From now on, I will be rethinking the foods I use to fuel my activity, knowing that all those bars are not nearly as satisfying or nutritious as real, balanced food.

Plus, what’s all that processed crap and sugar doing to my body in the long term? I’m positive I don’t want to find out.

Non-violence/Ahimsa

This is the first tenet of yoga. Everything stems from non-violence. This applies to the outside world, but it also applies to oneself. While it may be easy to treat others with respect and compassion, it doesn’t always manifest in the way we talk or give to ourselves.

Yoga is a form of self care. A dedicated practice can seem inconvenient at times, but if you look at is as a necessity to enable productivity, kindness and compassion in the rest of your day, it can become indispensable.

Being kind to yourself can be as simple as pausing to breathe or to eat a healthy, nourishing meal. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.

 

Success with Summer of Core

Sometimes it’s hard to stick with the program. It’s hard to commit, it’s hard to keep it going.

But those times when you do, when you really stick to your guns, the outcome can be more than what you expect.

Katy Mangan

When Katy Mangan signed up to be a part of Summer of Core, she said she did so reluctantly. Though she has a dedicated yoga practice of four to five times a week, she wasn’t sure she wanted to commit more time to working on strengthening her core.

She started getting the emails and dutifully carried out each day’s exercise, and soon she began to notice an improvement not only in her abs and arms but in her attitude. “I feel stronger, so I feel more confident,” she said, sitting outside of Soul Yoga after class.

“Now I can really begin to realign my poses. Like in Warrior I and II, I can work on fine-tuning it,” she said. “Because I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve noticed I don’t have [the poses] down.”

Katy said her balance has also improved as her core strength has grown. She also feels proud of herself that she stuck with the program. In fact, she said, holding plank has become quite enjoyable.

“Plank now is a very reassuring pose for me, instead of being difficult,” she said. “It’s obviously what I need.”

 

Summer of Core Day 25: Plank Till You Drop

The other day in class, I said “Ok, this plank is until failure.” I got some chuckles and groans, and later, reflecting on my language I realized that “failure” is not something we say in yoga class very often.

But it’s worth exploring a little bit. The “until failure” directive I must have picked up from my CrossFit friends talking about their WODs (Workout of the Day). And what it means is until you can’t do any more, that you are so tired, your muscles so fatigued, that another rep, another pushup, another pull up, or whatever the exercise, is not an option. That is totally CrossFit culture. Not so much in yoga.

In yoga we say, “listen to your body,” and “come to your edge.” That edge is when your body tells you that you are working to your limit but not going beyond it in a way that will cause your body harm. You are pushing yourself, but not falling over the cliff, so to speak. This is a way of taking care of yourself, feeling good about where you are, building body awareness and trying to avoid injury. These are all good things, and as someone who is as capable as the next person to practice negative self talk, being kind to myself and allowing myself to back off when I need to is empowering.

That said, planking “until failure” is another way of building empowerment. Testing how long you can hold your body in this challenging position while maintaining good form, strong breath and a keen awareness of the moment.

We’ve been going on this Summer of Core journey now for almost an entire month. If you’re practicing regularly, you should be feeling quite strong. The weekly plank test is one way to gauge your increased strength.

So today, we will plank until we drop, until our form falls apart and we need to rest. Maybe you’ll feel your shoulders sag, or your belly sink toward the ground. Maybe your arms will begin to tremble, or your breathing will become too labored to go on. Or maybe you’ll lose the engagement in your lower abs. Pay attention to all of this, and when it’s time to come out, come out and be proud of yourself for your hard work and dedication.

Now, go do your plank with a time, and let me know how it goes!

Happy planking!

~ Shoshana

 

Summer of Core Day 24: Mointain Pose/ Pelvic Floor Awareness

Happy Saturday (again)! Our last Saturday of Summer of Core!

Is it me, or has this month flown by? I hope that however fast August seems to have gone by for you that your core, at least, has been feeling like it’s been putting in some long hours!

Today, similar to last Saturday, we are going to be doing an exercise that can be done anywhere at any time: Mountain Pose, tadasana in Sanskrit.

For those of you who have been to my class, you know that I like to go through a long series of body awareness to get into a full Mountain Pose. After finding the feet and strength in the legs, we travel right up into our pelvic floor. But what is the pelvic floor?

pelvic_floor

Here’s an illustration of a female body, identifying the pelvic floor. Men have pelvic floor too!

In short, it’s the muscle that keeps everything from falling out.

Finding the pelvic floor, however, can be difficult. But there are a couple of ways:

  • Imagine you’re zipping up a tight pair of pants. Feel your low abs pull up and in, as if you’re lifting from the ground up.
  • Imagine wading into cold water. When it gets to your pelvic area, you cinch up.
  • It’s a similar feeling to retaining urine, though with less urgency!
  • Kegels! Kegels are a contraction and relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles. If you’ve done Kegel exercises before, you have worked your pelvic floor! To keep the pelvic floor engaged, don’t release, but continue to contract gently, feeling a subtle lift.

Hopefully, one of these ways will work for you. Remember that this is a subtle move. You should be able to keep your pelvic floor lifted and engaged while breathing, even with deep, yogic breath.

Moving into Mountain

  • Standing with your feet hip-width apart, close your eyes.
  • Imagine your feet rooting into the ground, forming your foundation.
  • Allow the ground to push up into your feet, drawing that energy up your legs.
  • Lift your kneecaps, engage your thighs.
  • And now lift the pelvic floor!
  • Feel your low, deep abs engage and lift, followed by a lifting throughout your entire spine.
  • Reach to the sky from the crown of your head.
  • Relax your shoulders down and back, away from your ears.
  • Stretch your arms long, reaching through your fingers, palms forward.
  • Draw your ears back in line with your shoulders.
  • Soften the muscles in your face, your jaw, your throat.
  • Pause and breathe.

Foundation for Everything

Mountain pose is a fundamental pose for all standing postures, and I like to bring a reminder into my classes to think about your posture and engagement in mountain pose in many other positions. It’s especially helpful in balancing positions, as the act of lifting from your center, getting long and stable, engaging your core and standing tall will give you a stronger ability to hold a balancing pose.

Do It All Day Long

So today, and for the rest of the weekend, take time to check in with your pelvic floor, while you’re washing dishes, or watching TV or reading a book, or sitting at a baseball game (which I will be doing later). Get used to that feeling and give yourself permission to bring it into a daily practice.

See you on Monday for our last three days of Summer of Core!

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 21: Dolphin Push-Ups

Today we continue to build on our strong forearm plank with Dolphin Push-ups. You may have done some of these in class with me, or maybe you’ve done them somewhere else. If you have, you know that these not only target the abs, they really work your shoulders as well.

For me, breath is key to this move, as I use it to flow between Dolphin and Forearm Plank.

Watch the lovely and talented Susan Leslie demonstrate below.

Susan teaches at 4:30 today at Soul! Check out her class…maybe she’ll do some Dolphin Push-ups?

Let’s Do It

  • Come to your strong forearm plank, knees lifted.
  • Walk your feet in a little bit to get your hips high, but not all the way into a full Dolphin pose.
  • Inhale.
  • Exhale, begin to lower your body, stretching your nose over your wrists, landing in forearm plank.
  • Inhale, lift your hips, pressing your forearms into the ground.
  • Repeat five to 10 rounds.
  • Rest in child’s pose.

Keep in Mind

  • Keep your core engaged throughout, belly pulled to spine.
  • Move slowly with your breath, full inhale, full exhale.
  • Drop your hips low enough so you are flat in your forearm plank.
  • Don’t let your shoulders come farther forward than your elbows.

This move is in no way easy, but it’s such a great one for building strength that will come in handy for the rest of your yoga practice, and whatever other activities you do. I find that when I’m spending a lot of time on my bike, especially my triathlon bike with its aero bars, Dolphin push-ups help me build the stability in my shoulder girdle and core I need to maintain good form.

Hope you have fun doing this one!

~ Shoshana

 

Summer of Core Day 20: Sphinx Roll Up

This move is one of my all-time favorite core exercises because you can go slowly and deliberately and really feel what’s going on. Plus, you get a really nice chest and shoulder opener in the process.

If you’ve never done this one before, make sure to go slowly and methodically for maximum benefit.

Let’s Do It

  • From forearm plank, come onto your belly. Keep your elbows under your shoulders and your forearms extended on the ground, palms flat on the ground.
  • Roll your shoulders back and extend your chest forward into sphinx pose.
  • Gaze straight ahead.
  • Inhale and expand more in your chest, feel your belly button.
  • Slowly exhale, start to drop your gaze toward your belly. As you do, lift your belly off the ground, then your hips and then your thighs until you’re in a kneeling forearm plank.
  • For an extra challenge, tuck your toes under and lift your knees into full forearm plank.
  • Inhale in forearm plank.
  • Exhale, begin to slowly roll down onto your thighs, hips, belly, lifting your gaze and returning to sphinx.
  • Continue through three to five rounds, moving slowly with your breath and feeling the articulation of your spine the whole way up and down.

Here’s Susan Leslie giving a fantastic demonstration of Sphinx Roll Up for us. Susan is a gifted kids yoga and vinyasa yoga instructor. She teaches at Soul Wednesdays at 4:30 and a kids class at Barre Energy on Thursdays at 4 p.m. If you have elementary-aged kids, Susan’s class is a wonderful way to immerse your kids in a playful yoga practice.

I hope you’re having fun with this month of core! I certainly am enjoying it. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, ideas. I love to hear your feedback! Come to Soul at 9 a.m. and/or 4:30 and practice with me!

~ Shoshana