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Tag Archives: Mind and Body

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

 

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Summer of Core Day 18: Core Everywhere

Happy Saturday!

Today’s core exercises is less an exercise and more an act of awareness. Saturdays can be busy, I know mine is, and it doesn’t always leave room for a regular yoga practice.Strong-Core-2

So for today, your goal is to be aware of your core throughout the day. That means, while you’re out doing your shopping, watching your kid’s soccer game, having drinks with friends, pause to mentally check in with your core.

As yourself:

  • Am I standing up tall with an engaged core?
  • When I’m sitting am I slumping or keeping my core strong?
  • Can I walk tall with my abs pulled in and up?

These are things to notice today. No self-judgment, no body shaming, no self-deprecation, just awareness of how you’re holding yourself and how you can use your core to improve your posture and stay strong throughout the day.

And if you do find some extra minutes to get in some deep core work, take another stab at your plank.

Have a great day!

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 16: Side Plank T-Flows

I made this one up. Well, I’m sure I picked some of it up somewhere. But I certainly made up the name. It’s not so much side plank as it is a chance to utilize your obliques in a new way.

Here’s Katy for a second day in a row demonstrating the move.

Thanks again Katy for being a wonderful model and dedicated student!

Let’s Do It

  • Begin in kneeling side plank with your right knee down and left arm to the sky.
  • Inhale, lift from your left arm so your right arm lifts off the ground and both arms form a “T”, palms facing down, arms out to the sides, torso stacked over hips.
  • Exhale, float your left hand to your left thigh. Reach your right arm straight up.
  • Inhale, extend toward the sky, stretching from your right knee through the whole right side of your body up to your finger tips.
  • Exhale, float your right arm back to the ground with control, left arm to the sky, returning to side plank.
  • Repeat this flow five to ten times. Switch sides.

Alignment Tune-Up

  • In kneeling side plank, make sure your bottom arm is stacked beneath your shoulders, so there’s a long, straight line running from your bottom hand through your chest and shoulders and up your lifted arm.
  • Bring your bottom knee directly under your bottom hip for optimal stability.
  • Extend your top leg straight out so the foot is in line with your bottom knee. You should feel like your body is in one singular plane.
  • Engage your extended thigh and keep your top hip lifted, core engaged.

Why Flow?

We primarily practice vinyasa yoga, meaning yoga that flows with the breath. It becomes a moving meditation, which can be very effective in clearing the mind and reducing stress from our hectic, daily lives.

“The Western world has become a seated society, which is why vinyasa yoga is so important: its orientation is breath and movement, and research shows that increased movement in a seated society is absolutely essential for health. Vinyasa yoga gets us moving.” ~ Eddie Modestini, renowned yoga instructor and student of BKS Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

I hope that this flow and yesterday’s flow will get you moving today and you’ll find some joy and freedom in the practice.

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 14: Spinal Balance

Today’s pose, spinal balance, is one that takes core strength in the back muscles as well as the front for stability.


Spinal balance, dandayamna bharmasana in Sanskrit, is also known as balancing table in some yoga circles. It’s often called a beginner’s pose, but in my experience, it takes a lot of body awareness and control to execute and can be a challenge to hold.

I love using it as a warm-up, because it helps you get a feel for elongating your body while connecting to your core. In my classes I often incorporate it into a flow to get the breath linked to movement. But today, we are going to break down this pose and get into proper alignment for optimum benefit.

Let’s Do It

  • From hands and knees (use a blanket or a doubled-up mat under your knees if they’re sensitive), bring your belly button in towards your spine to firm your abs and flatten your back.
  • Keep your gaze at the ground and draw your shoulders away from your ears for length in your neck.
  • Extend your left leg behind you, keeping toes on the ground.
  • Press through your heel to strengthen your thigh and feel strong from hip to heel.
  • Inhale, lift your leg to hip height.
  • Extend your right arm forward, turning your palm to face in, your thumb to the sky.
  • Work to keep your hips level and your abs turned on as you breathe.
  • Hold for three to five breaths. Switch sides.

Options

  • Lift your leg only, not your arm if you feel unstable or wobbly. Work on your balance and strength from here.
  • If your wrists bother you, use fists for wrists or come to your forearms.

Fine-Tune the Alignment

In class, I often see students with concave backs, their bellies dipping toward the ground and their leg and arm coming higher than shoulder or hip height. To maximize the benefits of this pose:

  • Try to keep your leg at hip level.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged to support your back and keep it flat.
  • Lift your arm just to shoulder height.
  • Think about reaching out and back, creating length rather than height.
  • Keep your gaze at the ground, your neck long.

It can be helpful to have someone watch you and tell you when you are in proper alignment or to do this in front of a full-length mirror, though you may know my thoughts on mirrors and yoga.

As always, let me know if you have any questions, if anything’s not clear or if you just want to say hi!

Have a great time with this one. Come see me in class today at 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.!

~ Shoshana

 

 

Take a Good Listen

The weather is great, days are long…it’s training season! Runs may be getting longer, bike rides more intense and effort levels all around are probably increasing if you’re preparing for an endurance event this summer.

Getting out there and going strong is fine, but be sure to check in with your body, take a listen and understand what it is telling you.

As you increase distance and intensity, it’s important to figure out how the body is responding. Most of the time the body will follow along and get you where you need to go. But sometimes it will send you little signals that you need to slow down, back up or take a little break. It might even tell you to push a little harder.

This is where yoga comes in handy.

Athletics and yoga go together, and you can use yoga to improve your athletic performance.” — Kent Katich, yoga coach for the LA Clippers and former college basketball player

In yoga practice, we pay a lot of attention to tuning into the body so we can hear what it is telling us. When we are in the pose, we listen and feel, trying to understand where we feel tight, where we feel good and how deep into the pose we should go.

Many of these body cues are subtle, and you may have felt them as a little twinge, pinch or tightness that arises. Maybe you’ve felt a joint, tendon or muscle act up a little during a workout. It was not a good pain, like the kind of muscle fatigue that makes us stronger. It was a pain sensation that tells us something is not quite right. What did you do when you felt this? Did you back off or did you work through the pain?

It’s easy to do, and you wouldn’t be the first to do it.

However, when we choose to push through pain and continue to go for it, we are heading for trouble.

Take time to nurture your body, because we all know it’s no fun to be injured and put on the sidelines for a season, or even just for a race we were looking forward to.

Next time you’re in yoga class, close your eyes in mountain pose and get a sense of how the body is truly feeling at that moment. And as you move through the practice maintain that awareness and continually check in with how the body feels in each pose.

Remember that in each moment of each day the body is different. Don’t expect to be at the same place you were a week ago or even a day ago. Allowing the body to be right where it is at that moment and not pushing it somewhere it doesn’t want to go is the first step toward taking good care of your body.

Making that mind-body connection is the key to protecting yourself from a debilitating injury or strain. Your body will reward you by performing well and staying healthy.

~Namaste~

On Flexibility and Other Matters

At least once a week, a person, upon finding out I teach yoga, says something like “Oh, I can’t do yoga. I am not flexible.”Flex1

I chuckle, then promptly assure that doubtful person that yoga is not about being flexible or inflexible. Like anything—reading, writing, walking, riding a bike—flexibility takes practice, patience and time. But, staying away from yoga because of a perceived inflexibility issue shows this person is not just stiff in the body, but also stiff in the mind.

Take the runner. When someone decides to begin a running program, maybe with the goal of getting in shape or just losing weight, they are not going to go from zero miles to 20 miles in one day, or even one week. They may never even get to a 20 mile run, but that’s OK. That’s not the point. They are putting on their shoes, heading out the door and working toward something positive for their body.

Same with yoga. Grabbing your yoga mat and heading to class, or even just taking a few minutes after a workout to stretch out and calm the mind and relax the body, provides great benefit, and yes, will make you more flexible. Over time.Flex2

I read once that each person is born with a certain amount of flexibility, which gradually decreases as they age. Some people are naturally more flexible than others. Some are drawn to yoga because they can easily bend and contort into pretzel-like poses. And good for them, but most people will never touch the soles of their feet to the crown of their head in cobra pose.

But also, people who are super flexible might not have the strength they need to sustain those twists and backbends. Yoga provides that strengthening, too.

For athletes, tight muscles not only cause pain and discomfort, but can also lead to injury. So it’s important to stretch and to keep limber. The other night, a weight lifter said he couldn’t do yoga because he couldn’t reach his toes. He bent over to demonstrate. I said, bend your knees. Bend them more. More. More.  Then he touched his toes.

So be strong. But don’t forget to be flexible. In body and spirit.

 

Why does yoga feel so good?

You know that feeling at the end of yoga class, when you’re blissed out and and calm and content? Everything is in balance. Yoga BlissEverything is at peace.

Why does this happen? What is this magic in yoga that makes us feel so good?

There are several answers to this question. Some are scientific. Some are spiritual. I like to think about it as taking time to connect with your core self, to be free from distractions and to truly be in the present moment.

Yogis strive to achieve complete awareness of body, mind and spirit. That awareness comes in various forms, and is different for every single person, but coming into contact with the core self—the authentic self—is a practice in being truly conscious and alive.

When it comes to athletes, yoga is a perfect way to decompress and release the body from the constraints of training and other athletic pursuits. It’s a time to be quiet and completely focus on the body and the breath—those things that keep us running, and biking and swimming and swinging at balls, chasing Frisbees or doing whatever it is we do.

Taking time to nurture the body that works so hard for us is important. How many children grow up without support and love? How many vegetable and flower gardens will provide a bounty without tending and care? The body is the same way.

Use yoga to care for your body. Let it unravel. Let it decompress. At the same time, allow it to become strong and supple. Your mind will find that same strength and flexibility with a regular yoga practice.

Next time you’re at the end of yoga practice, harness that feeling of calmness and relaxation and take it off the mat and into your day. Try maintain that feeling as long as you can. And begin to pay attention to when that feeling begins to slip away and what causes it to do so. This might lead to a greater awareness of aspects of your life that you need to change or avoid.

Then come back to your practice and reunite with yourself. Find your bliss. Find your core self.

-Namaste