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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tip of the Week: Yoga for Happiness

You likely already know that yoga is the secret to happiness. But the following article by Angela Pirisi titled "Yogis Score High on Happiness" in Yoga Journal provides some interesting studies and great reminders to continue with your yoga practice for life-long happiness.

No matter how much we lust after worldly objects and material pleasures, in the end, we all just want to be happy. But despite our efforts, happiness often eludes us. Now the ranks of science have stepped in to help unravel the secrets of this precious state of being. And they're discovering what yogis have known all along.

Happiness, it seems, has a biological component. Groundbreaking studies conducted by University of Wisconsin psychologist Richard Davidson over the past decade have shown that people who report high rates of happy feelings have a larger and more active left prefrontal cortex than their depressed counterparts. Other studies have concluded that happiness may be a matter of genetics. A 1996 study of 1,500 pairs of twins at the University of Minnesota found that, on a self-report happiness scale, adult twins were highly matched in their scores despite variations in income, marital status, and education. 

Happiness also seems to lie outside the limits of material wealth and life events. Winning the lottery may tip the emotional scales at first, but most people return to a certain grade of happiness within three months. This is nothing new to the practitioners of yoga. As Dr. R.M. Matthijs Cornelissen of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India, explains, "In the Vedic tradition, ananda, or delight, is seen as being present in the essence of everything that exists. Happiness is thus not something that depends on what you have, but what you are." 

In fact, many studies suggest that yoga can effect positive states of mind, despite life's highs and lows. In 1993, a British team measured the effects of three relaxation techniques: chair sitting, visualization, and yoga and found that yoga resulted in the greatest increase in alertness, mental and physical energy, and lust for life. Likewise, a 1994 German study, which compared a group of women practicing hatha yoga to a second group that did not, found that the yoginis showed markedly higher scores in life satisfaction, and lower scores in aggressiveness, emotionality, and sleep problems.
"Yoga primarily changes your consciousness, which includes your way of looking at things," says Cornelissen. "In the process, many aspects of your physical functioning also change, including your brain chemistry." 

Whether we use yoga or some other self-affirming behavior, it's clear that even born-to-be-negative types can choose to cultivate happiness. Just as a bad mood can become a bad habit that perpetuates unhappiness, so can nurturing positive feelings lead to a more permanent positive state of mind.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tip of the Week: Get a Flat Stomach with Bikram Yoga

The belly is a prized area of the body for many men and women. When fat appears for various reasons, people are often led to exercise as a means to get rid of it.

Spot reduction of problem areas doesn't exist; if you only perform exercises that strengthen certain anatomical areas, you won't reduce abdominal fat. You need to eat healthy foods and perform regular aerobic exercise to lose all-over body fat. Performing the entire Bikram series will offer the overall health benefits this style of yoga provides with consistent practice, including a toned midsection.

One question that we often get from both new and old students alike is “Where are the abdominals in Bikram yoga?” It’s going to be different for each person and you certainly have to exert the effort and do the proper form to work the core (in any exercise – even crunches!). Regardless of the posture you perform, you should always engage your abdominals! What you’ll find is that Bikram is a nearly 90 minute ab workout!
  • Pranayama: in breathing, the stomach should be sucked in on both the inhale and the exhale; core strength is used to push the air out of the lungs and keeping the stomach in on the inhale helps the lungs work harder to fill, increasing your lung capacity.
  • Half moon: Half Moon pose strengthens all of the core muscles located in the abdomen and the sides of the torso and releases energy from the spine to prepare you for the rest of the Bikram series. Half Moon pose is the first pose of the Bikram series and is particularly beneficial for strengthening the abs. The first part of the pose prepares you for the backbend in the second half, which mimics the gut-busting reverse crunch, one of the top exercises used to tone the belly. With regular practice as part of a whole-body workout, expect the Half Moon to tighten your lower abs, waistline, buttocks and thighs.
  • Awkward: four times in this posture (in parts 1 and 3), the dialogue says something to the effect of “suck it in.” When you’re sucking it in that hard and trying to keep a straight spine, you can’t help but do some work in the abdominal muscles!
  • Eagle: twice here the “suck it in” revisits. Right before you sit and at the end of the posture.
  • Standing Head to Knee: another forward bend so definitely suck the stomach in before rounding down to grab your foot. Another benefit – the tighter you suck your stomach in, the easier it feels to tighten up your glute muscles and leg muscles.
  • Standing Bow: opens the diaphragm and lungs to improve circulation. When you properly engage your abs, this ordinarily difficult pose becomes easier; however, it may take several tries before you can balance successfully. When practiced regularly, this pose firms the abdominal walls, helping tone the upper and lower abdominals as part of a full-body workout.
  • Balancing Stick: every single muscle should be contracted in this posture, including the abdominal muscles!
  • Standing Separate Leg Stretching and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee are both forward bends so suck the stomach to the spine as you go into them and then challenge yourself to keep it held in the whole time. The constant trying to keep it in is a great ab workout.
  • Triangle: trims the waistline as you use your abs and constantly lift from the lower belly.
  • Toe Stand: forward bend! Suck it in!
  • The Situp: need I say more? Ok, keeping the heels on the floor helps the situp work more of the lower abdominals as well
  • Spine Strengthening Postures: We tend to let our bellies relax in most of these and focus on our spine. But a strong spine must be balanced with a strong core. Cobra, Locust, Full-Locust, and Bow are just the poses to tone your entire midsection. And remember that a "tight body is a light body". The more you tighten your core, the easier it will be to lift off the ground.
  • Half-Tortoise: Oh yah, this is where it’s at. The whole way into and out of this posture, when you’re slowly lowering your body down or slowly bringing it back up with a straight spine, the core muscles should be working HARD.
  • Rabbit: the extra dialogue in this one definitely calls for sucking it in and depressing the abdominal wall (also another forward bend).
  • Separate Leg with Stretching: a forward bend where you curve your spine; sucking the stomach in on this one really helps you get your head closer to your stomach (more compression = more medical benefit!).
  • Spine Twisting: the more you suck your stomach in, the easier it will be to twist.
  • Blowing in Firm: the dialogue clearly states that this one is good for the abdominal muscles. You should even feel a little cramping in the abs as you do this one from using them to quickly blow the air out of the lungs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tip of the Week: Let Go of the Things that No Longer Serve You

Are you holding on to things that no longer serve you? Ideas, expectations, desires, bad habits, false beliefs, unhealthy relationships, old injuries, judgements about your ability, self doubt? Many of these things carry over into your Bikram practice and hold you back from your true potential. The person who walked into the yoga studio today is not the same person who walked in yesterday. Every day, every moment presents an opportunity to create ourselves anew, to shrug off the baggage of the past, open ourselves up to the possibility of the moment and take action to create an incredible future. 

Are the things you're doing in your life making you healthier, stronger, happier and more powerful? Believe in yourself. Believe that holding on does nothing in fact but hold you back from becoming your best self. The following is an email we received from one of our students Sara Rodriguez who has learned the lesson of letting go. Sara is a regular student who recently had to take some time off from practicing due to some injuries from ballet dancing.

"I have every intention of getting back into the hot room as soon as possible. I can't even explain how difficult it has been to be away from all of you, to feel so separated from the practice that I have come to love as the better part of me. It's been a tough mental and emotional adjustment more than anything, as Bikram Yoga SLC has become my happy place--your beautiful studio full of such beautiful people showed me how to let go of everything that happens externally, for the internal journey is all that really is. I was able to take that from the hot room to the rest of my life, and it changed me for the better. I have struggled for the past month with not being able to fulfill that desire for inner peace through my physical practice. Even more so, I miss the energy at Bikram Yoga SLC--the way that each of you has a sincere love and appreciation for every person who walks through your doors inspires me on so many levels. This positive energy gives me the beautiful change of pace that I crave every day.

We all have a story; I truly believe that every one of us has this element of our past that comes with us wherever we go from there. Bikram has helped me learn how to channel that energy into something positive, no matter how negative the past may have seemed when it was the present. It has given me the hope that is vital to turning things around, the notion that one really never is too broken to begin again and discover the deepest potential for beauty. We can acknowledge the past, take it for what it is, and let go of the parts that don't serve us--that's what I am still trying to do every time I practice: do I really need to hold onto that muscle to achieve this asana? What can I let go to make this pose exactly what I need it to be? These questions apply in every situation: do I really need to hold onto that feeling or that event to be better, or will letting it go give me more room to grow?

As for my story, this is only another beginning. There are no ends, really. You are so right--this balance is the beauty of bikram, playing between holding on and letting go, because that's life."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tip of the Week: 50 Awesome Flavored Water Ideas

As Bikram yogis we know that we should be drinking water frequently throughout the day to stay hydrated during our practice. The following are some awesome ideas from for flavoring your water if you need a little tasty alternative to unhealthy sugary drinks.

The Health Education Council has launched the Rethink Your Drink campaign. They are encouraging healthy drink choices, like replacing sugar-sweetened beverages (think soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks) with water. Their goal is to read 8,000 pledges by the end of September.

As someone who constantly carries around a water bottle, I am on board with this campaign and immediately pledged to drink water instead of sugary drinks for the next 30 days. I know that for most other people, this would be a tough challenge. Many people drink soda everyday, or don’t think twice about picking up a Red Bull or a mocha. It’s shocking how much sugar is in pretty much any drink you can get at Starbucks. I don’t want to spoil your annual pumpkin spice latte, but seriously check it out and think about making it homemade or opting for water instead.

I came across this eye-opening photo online. I think it’s particularly important to watch what our children are drinking and eating. Do they need all that sugar in sweetened chocolate milk or soda? Instead, let’s encourage them to have water.

I know, I know. Water is boring. I hear people say that all the time. Well, not anymore! You can add tons of different fruits, veggies, and herbs to make water taste better. Fill up a pitcher, toss in some combination from below, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours (the longer you let it steep, the more flavor you’ll get, but you can also enjoy it immediately).

Without further ado, 50 awesome flavored water ideas. I hope this gets you thinking outside the box and trying out more water.

    1. Watermelon
    2. Cucumber
    3. Lemon
    4. Cantaloupe
    5. Orange
    6. Cherries
    7. Lime
    8. Grapefruit
    9. Basil
    10. Mint
    11. Grapes
    12. Blood orange
    13. Rosemary
    14. Lavender
    15. Strawberries
    16. Blackberries
    17. Raspberries
    18. Pineapple
    19. Kiwi
    20. Papaya
    21. Honeydew melon
    22. Fresh ginger root
    23. Mango                                                                                       And don’t forget fun combinations of the ingredients above! Get creative and combine them so it never gets dull. The possibilities are endless but here are some of my favorites:
    24. Watermelon and mint (pictured above)
    25. Cucumber and mint
    26. Lemon and mint
    27. Cherry and lime
    28. Watermelon and cucumber
    29. Ginger and lemon
    30. Orange and pineapple
    31. Lemon and lavender
    32. Lime and mint
    33. Cucumber and lime
    34. Lemon and basil
    35. Strawberry and mint
    36. Blackberry and ginger
    37. Lemon and blueberry
    38. Thyme and blackberries
    39. Cucumber and rosemary
    40. Cantaloupe and watermelon
    41. Cucumber, lemon, and mint
    42. Lemon and lime
    43. Strawberry and basil
    44. Cranberry juice and lemon (use a capful of unsweetened cranberry juice)
    45. Ginger and lime
    46. Pineapple and mango
    47. Strawberries and lime
    48. Orange, lime, and lemon
    49. Lemon and a pinch of cayenne
    50. Papaya and mango

…and I could keep going. Seriously, there are so many potential combos!
For the herbs, crush or chop them up to get the best flavor. Similarly, squeeze citrus wedges, slice or cube melons, and crush berries.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

30 Days of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a buzz word lately; current research shows that it is an effective treatment for chronic pain and in my work as a mental health counselor, there are quite a few new evidence based therapies that have their roots in the concept of mindfulness. Clients know to ask to work with someone who "incorporates mindfulness" into their practice.  But so often, these same clients ask, "what exactly is mindfulness?"  

I am able to most easily understand mindfulness by narrowing it down to its three basic components; being present, aware, and non-judgmental. Acknowledging, and naming in a kind way, simply "what is".   It is the idea that when we attune to the present moment, we can find peace in the now; letting longing or sadness about the past and anxiety and stress about the future slip away.  Often, mindfulness techniques are taught through body awareness and breath work, as being present to the sensations of the body is one of the most accessible ways of being mindful.  Yoga is a mindfulness practice; being present to the body, aware of the breath, and non-judgmental about the asanas, the mind chatter, the instructor's voice...

easier said than done, right? 

A friend of mine recently did an experiment he called, "30 days of mindfulness".  The experiment entailed finding a book, quote, or image on a daily basis that for him invoked the spirit of mindfulness and he 'journaled' this experiment via Facebook.   He was amazed to find that his experiment not only had profound effects him, but also on those around him.  In talking with him about his experiment, I thought about my own practice of mindfulness; and those sacred moments where I find myself present, aware and non-judgmental.  Those moments that can feel so rare in the daily grind, but I savor in my yoga practice. Admittedly, I struggle the most with the concept of being non-judgmental.  If I were only able to let go of my prevalent self-criticism throughout my day...well, that just sounds downright heavenly.
What have you noticed about your own yoga practice? Which component of mindfulness is your area for growth?  Grab your mat, come into the studio, and do your own experiment; practice being present, aware, and non-judgmental.  See how this not only affects your asanas, but endeavor to take these qualities out of the studio, and see how it may have a profound effect on your daily life.


Special shout outs go to our students who have recently completed their 30 Day Challenges:
Isiah Iroz
Jessica Hawks
Kim Babka
Jeny Lee
Kelly MacArthur
Chris Van Oijen

60 Day Challenge:
Donna Mirabelli