How I Came to Understand Children’s Yoga ~ My elephantjournal.com debut!

My elephantjournal.com debut!

I am so excited about this. The community of bloggers and thoughtful people over at elephantjournal.com are a huge inspiration to me. It is one of my favorite places to hang out online and if you head on over there and look around a bit, you will see why.

I would be truly honored if you would read my very first post for elephantjournal.com and leave a comment there and even share with your friends and social networks (that would be awesome!).

My Children, My Gurus

As a mother of two, I know parenting to be one the most challenging and rewarding endeavors one can experience in life.

I am grateful to have found myself seeing the world through my children’s eyes as they explore with reckless abandon and plenty of giggles. There’s nothing quite like a big squishy hug and an “I love you, Mommy” after a long day of enforcing boundaries and worrying about their safety.

As a yoga teacher, I find sharing yoga with others to be incredibly rewarding as well. You can learn a lot by having to explain something to someone and by seeing people become empowered to participate in life mindfully and compassionately. Why it never occurred to me that combining the two (children and yoga) could be such a profound experience is beyond me.

So, it happened by chance that I stumbled upon the amazing gift of teaching yoga to children and I have my beautiful 6 year old daughter, Tobin, to thank for it. Continue reading on elephantjournal …

Thanks for your support!!

Previously published here on my blog in December 2009.

chakrasana

FAQ: Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Yoga

Okay, so you've heard about yoga, you're even thinking about trying a class, but maybe you still have some lingering questions.  Duuuhh, that's why you decided to cruise the online yoga scene.  Well, I'm glad you did.  Here is a Top 5 frequently asked questions about yoga … and whaddaya know, answers, too!  🙂

What exactly is yoga?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj," meaning "to yoke" or "to unite."  People have many different reasons for practicing yoga.  For example it can be for physical exercise, mental well being, healing an injury, relieving chronic pain or finding a deeper spiritual connection.  Hatha Yoga is the physical form of yoga where we practice a series of positions, known as asanas, designed to purify the body, increase physical strength and stamina, and restore balance to all of the body’s systems.  The benefits of practicing yoga asanas as it relates to the idea of union can be described simply as uniting our awareness of all of our physical sensations, our breath and our thoughts.  How far, and to what aspect of your life you want to apply the lessons of yoga asana is up to you.

Is yoga a religion? No.  Yoga as we know it today finds its roots in a philosophy developed in India 5000 years ago.  Sometimes yoga practice is combined with philosophies like Buddhism or Hinduism but the beauty of yoga is that it brings union within yourself and meets you where you need it most.  You can choose to focus on the physical, the mental or the spiritual aspects or any combination of the three.  It is not necessary to study any particular religion or philosophy to practice yoga.  Many people find that it compliments their religious beliefs.

Isn’t yoga just stretching? Actually, depending on the style of the yoga class, it can be a physically demanding, even aerobic, workout.  While there are more gentle classes that focus on lengthening muscles and restoring range of motion, Hatha Yoga is translated as “Forceful Yoga” whereby we willfully and intentionally work to restore balance to the body.

I am not flexible. Can I still practice yoga?  This is a common misconception.  You do not need to be flexible in order to practice yoga.  If it happens to be flexibility that your body needs, yoga can help.  You become flexible by doing yoga.  You do not have to look like the yoga models we see in magazines to benefit.  Listening to your body and finding a position that is right for you is all you have to do.

How often should I go to class? Obviously, the more you practice, the more benefits you are likely to receive.  2-3 classes (60-90 minutes long) per week is usually recommended to start.  However, just 1 hour per week will still bring wonderful, healing benefits that you will quickly notice.  Even a simple 15-20 minutes of yoga whenever you can is beneficial!

Thanks for stopping by and please feel free to post any additional questions below!

Peace out,

Lindsay

And for funsies check out my Top 5 Yoga-Related YouTube Finds!

Photo courtesy of Anna Ferguson.

ambiguousteacher

Meditation For New Yoga Teachers

FINDING YOUR CONFIDENCE

In the matter of dealing with yoga teacher jitters, confidence doesn’t always reveal itself as expected.

Certainties: You love yoga.  You know this from a deep place inside your being.  Everything about yoga practice screams a loud, ethereal “YES!”  You’ve dished out the big bucks and completed a rigorous and intensive yoga teacher training that involved some pretty deep, soul-searching work on your part.  You’ve emerged as not only a committed, lifetime student of yoga, but now a certified teacher with a vast world of possibilities before you.

But, darn it, what’s with all the nerves and anxiety? Surely, your training and passion is sufficient for the role of teacher.  Your heart is in the right place.  You truly want to share and help others because, let’s face it, we yoga teachers don’t do it for the money.  We are driven like the prototypical “starving artist”, by what seems to be a force much larger than our physical bodies, something older, wiser — the voice, the calling.  Who cares if we have to eat pinto beans and rice for a year? You’re happy doing it because it feels right and it is groovy, man.

Not-So-Certainties: Can I be successful as a yoga teacher or will I meet that dreaded f-word (yes, I am referring to failure)? Can I run a business? Will studios hire me? What if I mess up or offend someone or, lordy-heavens-almighty-in-the highest, hurt somebody? What if students hate my class?  Hate me?  What if studio finally hires me and then (the other dreaded f-word) fires me? What kind of teacher am I?

Exhausting, isn't it?

To this, I will simply say: Teaching is another form of yoga, really a practice in itself.  Not all of these questions will be answered right away just as you weren’t able to do every yoga posture in your first class (perhaps a bit presumptuous, but in regards to people that do not struggle with asanas, well, I will restrict my comments to my own mind space).  In other words, you will never “get it done.”  It’s the journey, not the destination and other such whimsical metaphors … you get it.

So, yep — been there, done that.  Here is something that helped me when I first began teaching and feeling, at times, as though I might not be successful.  A meditation of sorts, to be read before you teach a class:

Meditation for New Yoga Teachers

It is not about me.
It is not about whether they like me
or whether they are going to come back to my class.

It is not about my performance.

It is about helping people to have the best experience possible,  
helping them explore their bodies safely.
It is about empowering others to seek their potential.
It is about sharing, giving, and offering myself completely.  
And by opening up in this way,
giving others permission to do the same —
fearlessly, joyfully.

It is not about me.

So, you see, your confidence comes not from validating yourself and your credentials, or even from trying really hard to be the best teacher ever, both of which the outcomes are an intense focus on yourself (you selfish son-of-a …).  It comes from letting go and allowing your focus to be in the present moment, which when you are teaching a yoga class, is on instructing others in their postures.  When you are present and fully engaged in the moment, you are genuine.  You are not focused selfishly on your performance.  Confidence comes from that deep, intrinsic place, that voice that speaks so loudly to you, “YES!”  Let go of the chatter, the questions and insecurity.  Be honest, be genuine.  Here you will find success that really means something.

Fortunately, from experience in yoga classes, you already have the tools to make this all possible.  You have practiced letting go and being present and without judgement.  Time to practice what you teach.  Incidentally, we teach what we most need to learn.

So go on, you know you've got this.

Lindsay

If you enjoyed this post, please share with fellow newbies or yoga teacher trainees using the buttons below!

Photo courtesy of Anna Ferguson.

catcowchair

You Can Yoga In Your Chair – You Can Yoga Anywhere!

Yoga Stretches You Can Do At Your Desk

So, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time in front of my computer these days connecting with other yogis, writing and sharing.  While this is loads of fun for me, I have begun to notice its effect on my body.  My hip flexors are tightening causing compression in my low back that radiates discomfort up my spine.  This triggers a "slouch reflex" moving my shoulders  forward and putting excessive pressure on my neck — um, ouch!  Then, a silly realization came to me: "Why don't I incorporate yoga postures into my writing/web time?"  After all, yoga asana practice was in part designed to prepare the body for prolonged periods of sitting in meditation.

Here is what I have been doing — some stretches you can do right at your desk:

Begin in Mountain Pose … Sort Of

Your posture while you are working is important.  Keep both feet on the floor.  Try not to cross your legs (trust me on this one) as it can cause imbalance in your hip extensors putting unnecessary pressure on the low back.  Think of it as a Seated Tadasana.  Draw the the pelvic floor up and the navel and lower ribs inward.  Instead of hunching forward, squeeze the shoulders up towards the ears and then roll them back and down, lifting the chest.  The neck can get tweaked with the head forward as is common when focused on a computer monitor.  Bring the head back so that the crown of your head stacks on top of your tailbone.

Your workplace set up is also important.  Click here for more information on creating an ergonomic workplace.

 

Seated Cat-Cow

A great stretch to help combat slouching.  On an inhale, arch the back, lift the chest and look up toward the ceiling.  Try not to bring your shoulders up close to your ears but rather roll them back and down toward your hips and continue to lift the chest.  On the exhale, draw the navel inward, round the spine, chin toward the chest, and let your head hang forward.  Repeat, coordinating this movement with slow, deep, rhythmic breathing for 3-5 breaths (or whatever amount feels yummy to you).

 

Neck Rolls, Because They Feel So Good

Again beginning with your feet flat on the floor, bring your chin to your chest first.  Roll your shoulders back and down.  Slowly roll your head around to the right bringing your right ear to the top of the right shoulder.  Then, head goes back and slowly over to the left with the left ear coming to the left shoulder.  Bring your chin back to your chest.  Repeat this motion moving slowly and noticing at what point you feel tension and want to move through it a little faster.  Move extra slowly at these places, breathing through the tension.  After 3-5 repetitions, move the head in the other direction for another 3-5 reps.

 

Wrist Stretching Good Times

With your arms outstretched and palms facing down, flex the fingers of one hand up and back so that your palm faces away from you.  You can use the other hand to move your fingers toward your face, deepening the stretch on the bottom of the wrist.  Hold for 1-2 slow breaths.  Then bring your fingers down, bending the wrist in the opposite direction so that the palm is now facing your body, stretching the top of the wrist and forearm.  Repeat with the other arm.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Your already sitting down.  Why not add some pelvic floor exercises (also known as Kegels) to your computer time?  You don't even have to stop typing to do these.  Pelvic floor support is not only useful in yoga class (also known as mula bandha), helping you get a little higher in crow pose or hold a steady headstand, it also has many health benefits if practiced regularly.  A strong pelvic floor is helpful when dealing with incontinence and also supports the bladder, bowel and reproductive organs, preventing prolapse.  Click here for more information on pelvic floor muscles and exercises to help strengthen them.

 

Perched Eagle Pose

Extend your arms out to either side and then bring them in front of you, crossing the right arm under the left, hooking your elbows and crossing your wrists in order to bring your palms facing each other with thumbs towards you.  If you are not able to bring your palms together, simply bring them as close as you can or grab your left thumb with your right fingers.  From here you can play with the stretch, moving your elbows up and down slowly.  I like to bring my elbows down so that my fingertips line up with my eyebrows and I feel a nice stretch on the tops of my shoulders and arms.  Once you've settled into a comfortable arm position, you can add the leg/hip stretch (optional).  Bring the right leg to cross on top of the left thigh and cross the right foot behind the left calf if you are able to.  If not, simply point the right knee to the left and work with the stretching sensation in the right hip.  Hold for 3-5 breaths and then switch the cross of the arms and legs and hold the other side for another 3-5 breaths.

 

Your Chair With A Twist

Seated with both feet flat on the floor, knees and feet are parallel and facing forward. Maintain this position with your lower body and begin to rotate your upper body to the right on an exhale. You can use the outside of your right thigh and back of your chair as leverage to help you twist a little more.  Repeat, this time twisting to the left.

Eye Asanas

That's right – yoga for your eyes.  Staring at a computer monitor for prolonged periods creates a great deal of strain for your eyes.  In order to prevent future eye-related problems and maintain optimal function, perform these exercises regularly, especially if you are going to be at the computer for any length of time.  I would even recommend taking a break ever thirty minutes to do this.  Begin by rubbing your hands together briskly until you generate enough heat to really warm your hands.  Then quickly place your palms over your closed eyes.  Take slow, deep breaths and relax for a minute or two.  This relaxes the eyes and surrounding face muscles and is very soothing to the optic nerve.  Also, it's helpful in relieving tension headaches.  Next, perform these basic eyes exercises.  With the same seated position,  back and neck straight, keep your head perfectly still as you lift your eye gaze and look as high as possible.  Then shift your gaze and look down.  Repeat this 10 times and then close your eyes for about 30 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.  When you are ready, open your eyes wide and look as far to the right as possible, and then to the left.  Repeat this 10 times, then close and rest the eyes for 30 seconds.  Last one, make wide circles with your eyes by rolling them clockwise.  Perform at least 10 circles and then repeat going counter-clockwise.  Close and relax the eyes.

Pranayama

In addition to these yoga stretches and exercises, pranayama (yogic breathing) can be practiced from a seated position.  Alternate Nostril Breathe is a wonderful exercise to bring focus and clarity and it helps to reduce symptoms of stress in the body.  Here's how you do it: From your comfortable seated position, place the thumb of your right hand over the right nostril and the ring finger of the same hand over the left nostril, keeping your left nostril closed with the ring finger.  Inhale slowly through the right nostril for 5-10 counts (gradually increasing the duration with continued practice).  Then, hold both nostrils closed for the same mount of time as your inhale. Next, release the ring finger and exhale through the left nostril for the same duration of the inhale.  Your next inhale will be through the left nostril and your next exhale through the right nostril so that you are switching open nostrils on the exhale.  Perform 3-5 cycles (or more over time).

Thanks for reading!  Feel free to share and comment below.  I would love to hear about what you do to combat "desk posture."

Keep on rockin'!

Lindsay

Yoga Foundations: Mountain Pose Basics and Benefits

Mountain Pose
Tadasana

This is the starting position for many standing postures and is also used as a transitional position between standing postures.  It is easy to bypass this posture in your practice, however it is a posture and even on its own has many benefits. 

My tip: try to stay present and fully connect in Tadasana.  You will quickly notice how this awareness of subtleties benefits your practice as a whole.

Instructions:

  • Stand with your feet parallel to each other and maybe touching the inside of the big toes and heals together.  Lift the toes and then spread them wide including the connecting bones in the front half of the foot.  With your feet stretching and widening, return the toes to the mat and lift the arches of the feet by pulling the muscles of the inner ankle gently upward.
  • With your weight evenly distributed across both feet, engage your thigh muscles just enough to pull the knee caps up.  Inner thighs are also active and rotate inward slightly.
  • Activate the muscles of the pelvic floor and core, drawing the navel towards the spine while at the same time scooping the tailbone in a subtle movement, visualizing your tailbone rooting downward.
  • From this rooted position, visualize your vertebrae stacking one on top of the other, following the natural s-curve of the spine, all the while the muscles of the abdomen and back are supporting you.
  • Roll your shoulders down and back, opening and lifting the chest slightly.
  • Feel your head balancing lightly on top, chin parallel with the floor, and the crown of the head is centered over your hips.
  • Hands are positioned by your side, palms facing outward in a nice, open and anatomical position for the shoulders.  Alternately, you can bring your palms together in the center of your chest, a position known as anjali mudra (mudras are symbolic gestures or positions of the hands), namaskar, namaste or prayer position.

Benefits:

  • Improves posture.
  • Strengthens core muscles – pelvic floor, abdomen and back.
  • Therapeutic for flat feet, backaches and sciatica.
  • Strengthens thighs, knees and ankles.

 

“Mountain pose teaches us, literally, how to stand on our own two feet…. teaching us to root ourselves into the earth…. Our bodies become a connection between heaven and earth.”  ~Carol Krucoff

 

 

 

Rock Your Tadasana

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this information, please share using the buttons below.  As always, I welcome any questions or comments!

Namaste

Lindsay

Original photo courtesy of Anna Ferguson with addition design & magic by Adam Fields.

supta

Yoga Class Etiquette

Here are some basic yoga dos and don’ts to help you feel comfortable attending a class if you are new to yoga, or perhaps as a refresher for more seasoned practitioners. These simple tips can help create an enjoyable, productive experience for everyone. Be on time. Try to arrive 10-15 minutes early for class. This will allow time for registration and payment and help the teacher to start class on time for everyone. Also, arriving early will help you prepare for class by finding your spot in the room and beginning to get centered and relaxed. If you do arrive a little late, that’s okay. Most teachers are very understanding. Just try to enter the yoga room as respectfully as possible as others have already begun to relax and prepare for class. Try to scope out an open spot first then move carefully through the room and unroll your mat quietly. Turn your cell phone off. A phone ringing can be very distracting to both teacher and students. If you are on call, you can let the teacher know before class begins and set your phone or pager to vibrate. Also, if you have a watch or an iPod that beeps, leave it outside the yoga room or set to silent. Take your shoes off. Most studios have a place outside the yoga room to keep your shoes. You will spend a lot of time on the floor and practice in bare feet. Removing your shoes helps to keep the floor clean for everyone. Refrain from wearing perfume or scented lotions. This is out of consideration for others. Some people have sensitivities to fragrances. Even natural essential oils can be too much for some people, especially when breathing deeply as we do in a yoga class. Keep talking to a minimum. Comments and loud conversations can distract others from their experience in class. If you have a specific question about something as it occurs in class, you can feel free to ask the teacher (not another student) at the time. It is likely that another student has the same question. Just keep it to a minimum and not too chatty or lengthy. Also, try to refrain or to at least speak quietly just before and after class as people are relaxing or meditating. You can have your conversations outside of the yoga room. Final relaxation is part of class too! This is so important. This is the part of class, arguably the most important part, where we integrate the benefits of the body work, the breath work and focus of the yoga class. If you absolutely have to leave early, let the teacher know before class, position yourself near the exit and leave as quietly as possible. Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this post (we could all use a reminder now and again), please share using the buttons below. Namaste, Lindsay Photo courtesy of Anna Ferguson.

warriors

What is Hot Yoga and How Is It Different from Other Yoga Styles?

I am simply amazed at the popularity of yoga these days.

With so many styles and talented teachers out there, it is relatively easy to find a style that is right for you, but what is "Hot Yoga" exactly?  A common misconception is that Hot Yoga is synonymous with Bikram Yoga.  While Bikram Yoga is a type of Hot Yoga, there is so much more to this wonderful lineage from Calcutta.  Here is  a brief description of Hot Yoga, its origin and evolution.

I like to think of Hot Yoga as a noun, not simply an adjective describing any style of yoga practiced in a heated room.  It has a very distinct lineage which incorporates alignment principles and subtle variations to the ancient practice of yoga asanas (yoga postures) that differ from other styles of yoga.  These innovations help increase a posture’s efficiency to be more rehabilitative and fitness oriented.

Hot Yoga is a branch of Hatha Yoga (the physical form of yoga).  The goal of Hatha Yoga, or “Forceful Yoga,” is to purify and remove blockages in the body and the mind in order to free oneself from limitations and live a fuller, richer life.

Two basic branches of Hatha Yoga today:

Yoga of Krishnamacharya – Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is referred to as "the father of modern yoga”  and credited as the yogi who brought yoga into the mainstream.  This is probably the most common branch of yoga with offshoots such as Iyengar Yoga, developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, and the Ashtanga Yoga discipline of Pattabhi Jois.

Hot Yoga of Bishnu Ghosh – Bishnu Ghosh was introduced to the healing benefits of Hatha Yoga by his brother Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi).  He is credited with then bringing what he learned to the common people, that is, people other than sages and holy men like Yogananda.  A Pioneer in the study of yoga asana, Bishnu Ghosh founded Ghosh's Yoga College in 1923 and helped numerous people heal their various ailments.  His student,  Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, then brought this wonderful healing modality to the United States.

Styles of Hot Yoga

Here are four popular styles from the Hot Yoga lineage:

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Choudhury, as I mentioned, is a direct student of Bishnu Gosh and responsible for bringing Hot Yoga to the United States.  Bikram shattered his knee in an accident and with the aid of his teacher, he embarked on a vigorous yoga rehabilitation that led him to design his own style of yoga known as Bikram Yoga.  Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class is a series of twenty-six postures and two pranayama breathing exercises performed in a specific order, two sets of each, and in a roomed heated to 105 degrees or greater.  It is designed to be rehabilitative, restoring all systems of the body to healthy working order.

Barkan Method Hot Yoga

Created by Jimmy Barkan, The Barkan Method is built on the teachings and principles of Bikram Choudhury and Bishnu Ghosh, but also incorporates postures from other styles of yoga.  Jimmy, who was once given the title of Bikram’s Senior Most Teacher, found that “even though consistency is important to measure results, daily variations are necessary to challenge, excite and help students become unlimited in their practice.”  Jimmy has also developed a Hot Vinyasa (series of postures and movement coordinated with the breath) sequence based on Hot Yoga postures and philosophies.  The Barkan Method has a large network of teachers and studios all over the world.

Moksha Yoga

Founded by Ted Grand and Jessica Robertson, Moksha Yoga is based in Toronto with locations and affiliated studios worldwide.  It is a fundamental sequence of postures practiced in a heated room.  While it incorporates principles of Hot Yoga, Moksha Yoga also integrates the opinions of a wide range of experts and peers in the yoga community.  True to Hatha Yoga tradition, the series works to stretch and strengthen muscles while detoxifying the body and calming the mind.

 

CorePower Yoga

Based in Denver with locations throughout the United States, CorePower Yoga is built on the premise that yoga should be accessible to everyone.  CorePwer studios offer classes at varying levels and varying temperatures ranging from 80-100 degrees.  Classes they offer such as Hot Yoga, Hot Power Fusion and CorePower Yoga, combine a heated environment with the flowing style of Vinyasa and a focus on core strengthening.  They also offer Yoga-Pilates and Yoga Sculpt allowing students to find a practice that is truly right for them.

Related reading:

What to Expect at Your First Hot Yoga Class

Hot Yoga: So, Why the Heat Anyway?

Thanks for reading! I'd love to here from you. Please leave a comment below with any thoughts or questions.

Namaste,

Lindsay

Colourvinyl_Burn the asylum_wikimediacommons

Try Something Different: Music To Make Yoga To

I love practicing yoga to music.  Mantra and kirtan (chanting with musical accompaniment) are wonderful and can add so much to the transcendental aspect of a meditative yoga class.  However, much like individual people, there is so much music out there, all so varied and beautiful.

“Music is what feelings sound like.”

In conjunction with the physical movement of a yoga class, music can provide an incredible emotional release.  We tend to store a lot of emotions within our physical body (example: notice what happens to your neck and shoulders when you’re feeling stressed).  The power of practicing yoga postures is the way in which it strengthens our body-mind connection.  The power that music has is its ability to get you out of an analytical, thinking state and into a more intuitive, feeling state. The two combined can be quite effective for releasing emotional “stuck” places.  Music also has the ability to inspire a frame of mind open to creativity and joy.  Think about a song that, every time you hear it, you feel different, you feel like moving and dancing, simply for the fun of it!

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without” -Confucius

Mix it up. A universal language, there is truly music for everyone and for every experience.  I recommend trying something a little different next time you practice.  Try making a playlist of your favorite songs, no matter the genre or if it might seem totally wrong at first.  Try music that moves you – to tears, to laughter, joy, excitement, rage, anything.  Experiment with this.  Play around and above all, have FUN with it.  By the way, it is also perfectly acceptable to sing and dance in a yoga class.  In fact, I recommend it.

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul”-Plato

Upbeat and Uplifting. Here are some examples of music that is GREAT for a yoga class, music that I enjoy playing on occasion:

  • The Beatles pretty much any song
  • Coldplay Viva la Vida, God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
  • Jason Mraz I’m Yours
  • Jem It’s Amazing, Keep On Walking
  • Gnarls Barkley Going On, Smiley Faces
  • Justin Timberlake My Love feat. T.I. and Timbaland
  • MIA Pull Up the People, Sunshowers, Paper Planes
  • Bitter:Sweet Don’t Forget To Breathe
  • Goldfrapp Beautiful
  • Feist I Feel It All
  • OK Go Invincible, Do What You Want
  • Vampire Weekend M79, Bryn, The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance

Yoga and music dork that I am, I could go on and on ….. and on.  Hopefully, you get the idea but if you happen to be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”  It’s okay.  Emotional reactions to music are completely subjective.  Like I said, try some of YOUR favorite music and see what happens.

Namaste and Rock On with Your Funky Self ……

Lindsay

Please share an example of your favorite music to “make yoga” to below!

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.”

Yoga for Depression

How is a yoga practice beneficial for someone with a history of depression?

Here is what I think, or at least what I have noticed in my personal experience.

First of all, depression is defined as experiencing feelings such as worthlessness, hopelessness, lethargy or an overall feeling of sadness that lasts more than two weeks.  Most of us feel down from time to time, but clinical depression is a completely different animal and is very serious.  I am not suggesting that yoga replace medical care for clinical depression.  I am simply acknowledging how yoga has helped me personally as someone with a history of depression and that yoga can prove very helpful as a preventive measure.

When you exercise, as in a yoga class, your body releases chemicals called endorphins.  These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.  This can help ease anxiety and feelings of depression.  Regular exercise has also been proven to reduce stress, boost self esteem, improve sleep, and increase energy levels.

In addition to the physical benefits and the boost to your self esteem beginning an exercise regimen brings, there are more subtle ways in which yoga might help with depression.  The mind-body connection is something which most people agree exists.  The most immediate way of expressing emotion and communicating is through our body.  The term “body language” refers to how we react physically to our emotions.  I believe this to be at the root of yoga’s benefits for assisting in overcoming depression.  Many yoga postures (asanas) place your body in positions which open the front side of the body.  Take a backward bend like Ustrasana, Camel Pose, for example.  This position with the chest lifted and arms extended is the physical expression of joy and gratitude.  Practicing this posture will trigger an emotional response which, as you might imagine, can bring immediate hope and relief to someone experiencing a depressed state.

There is another way yoga might prove useful.  Something I also consider to be a key element in yoga’s ability to ease depression is the way in which yoga practice reveals to us how we treat ourselves.  Listening to that internal dialogue can be extremely helpful.  Are we accepting of our self?  Are we critical?  Is this thought or this way of thinking useful to me?  One of my favorite yoga quotes really sums this up:

“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” -Jason Crandell

Yoga eliminates hiding from yourself by bringing forth confrontation of both physical and emotional blockages during asana practice.  While the physical blockages may seem obvious (the tight hamstrings, shoulders, etc.), the emotional experience in your yoga classes might be confusing at first.  You may find yourself feeling angry, scared, or disappointed during class, and sometimes it may seem completely out of place.  Great!  Take this as an opportunity to acknowledge, accept and feel your emotions completely.  Allow yourself to be curious and to practice not judging yourself.  Simply ask yourself, “I wonder where that came from?” and let the healing begin.  For once you ask the question, or perhaps it is simply the act of asking the question, your mind is opened and your heart is opened as well.  Yoga class can offer such wonderful and much needed emotional release.

So please, take these 60-90 minute classes and get to know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself and heal yourself.

Namaste,

Lindsay Fields

 

 

janushirsasana

Hot Yoga Benefits: The Rounded Spine Position

In postures such as Dandayamana-Janushirsasana (Standing Head-to-Knee Pose), Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirsasana (Standing Separate Leg Head-to-Knee Pose), Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose), Janushirsasana (Seated Head-to-Knee Pose), we engage our perineum and belly muscles (mula and uddyana bandhas), tuck our chin to our chest (jalandhara bandha), and round and curl our spine forward as much as possible, a position unique to the Hot Yoga lineage.

I am sure you have heard many times in Hot Yoga classes something to the effect of, “It is more important to keep your forehead in contact with your knee than it is to straighten your leg,” or “Engage all three bandhas or locks as you round and curl in.” You hear these things all of the time, but for heaven’s sake why?  Well, there is a method to the madness.  There is, in fact, a reason we tuck the chin and round the spine.  It is so very good for you!  Here are a few examples as to why:

  • -Increased flexibility of the sciatic nerves, tendons, hip joints, and the last five vertebrate of the spine.  The rounded spine position of Janshirsasana helps make the lower back and hamstring quite flexible as well as provides relief from joint pain in the hips.
  • -Improves  mobility and elasticity of the spine and increases flexibility of the back, neck and shoulder muscles.  This unique position gives maximum extension and stretch to the spine allowing the nervous system to receive proper nutrition.
  • -It aids in digestion by improving and even increasing circulation to the internal organs and bowels.  Practicing these asanas regularly will prove beneficial for those who suffer from constipation and indigestion.
  • -By stretching the muscles across the internal organs, we help to resolve kidney problems, aid in the proper functioning of the pancreas, liver and spleen thus strengthening the immune system.
  • -Tucking the chin to the chest provides a massage and increased circulation to the thyroid and parathyroid glands which are responsible for our body’s ability to properly absorb calcium and other essential minerals, regulating our sleep/wake cycle and metabolism, and also aiding in weight loss.
  • -These asanas which incorporate the rounded spine, engaged pelvic floor and belly muscles are also helpful in reducing flab and toning the abdominals and hips.

So, as you can see, there are many benefits to receive by practicing these asanas with a rounded spine and your chin tucked to your chest.  This is just one of the myriad ways Hot Yoga heals and restores vital balance to the body and why I am so excited to share and teach this wonderful, curative and therapeutic system!

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this post, please comment or share (buttons below).

Namaste Hot Yogis,

Lindsay

photo courtesy of Hot Yogi