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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tip of the Week: Yoga vs Calisthenics

Calisthenics is a form of exercise involving a number of rhythmical movements and stretches, generally without using equipment or apparatus. It is intended to increase body strength and flexibility with movements using only one’s body weight for resistance.  When performed vigorously and with variety, calisthenics can benefit both muscular and cardiovascular fitness, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility and coordination.

So what's the difference between calisthenics and yoga? 

As Tom explained in class the other night, yoga differs from calisthenics in that you go into each posture slowly, you find your max, breathe, then come out of the posture more slowly than you went in.

Think about this carefully the next time you are coming out of a posture. In Standing Head to Knee Pose, for example, you will hear the teacher tell you to reverse each step as you come out of it. Take the time to come out of each step of the posture as slowly and carefully as you went in.

Once you've reached your max through breathing and touching your forehead to the floor in Standing Separate Leg Stretching and it's time to come out of the posture, think about raising your forehead off of the floor even more slowly than when you tried touching it to the floor.

One of the fundamental things that takes yoga beyond what calisthenics offers is the focus on the breath. In yoga, the breath is constantly and consciously moving in and out slowly through the nose. The breath is what links the mind with body. Move your breath to find your max in a posture, and move your breath to come out of a posture.

Remember to keep your focus on your breath, and always come out of the postures slowly.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Tip of the Week: Don't Do the Half Moon Crunch

Half Moon Pose is NOT just a bend to the side.

Instead of focusing on only bending the upper body to the  side, focus more on pushing the hips in the opposite direction. If you only bring your upper body down to the side and leave your hips directly over your feet, you are crunching your side instead of creating a nice open C-shape.

Once you reach alignment with your hips square to the mirror, only focus on moving your hips to the side. You want to push your hips so much that they go further out past the sides of your feet.  If you only think about bending more at the waist you are not opening up the intervertebral discs. By focusing on moving your hips further out past your feet, you continue to lengthen and open up the body, giving more space between the vertebrae.  This will make the opposite side compress more and bring your upper body down naturally. Your arms and hips will pulling in opposite directions.

The “push, and push” at the end of Half Moon is intended to make the hips push out, not just push the body down more. By pushing the hips out, the body automatically has more room to bend while maintaining core strength.


In the photo below, she is mostly trying to bend her upper body to the side, and isn't pushing her hips in the opposite direction. She isn't able to fully lengthen and open up her body.  (As a side note, her arms also aren't touching her ears, and her feet aren't together. For more info on alignment in Half Moon, click "here".)

 

The photo above shows nice alignment with the hips pushing far to his left, further out past his feet, causing a nice open C-curve in his entire body.
(photo from Bikram Yoga Los Angeles)



Monday, June 15, 2015

Tip of the Week: What to Eat Before Class




Do you know what works best in your body before class? The following by Kat at Food for Yoga helps to answer this important question of what you should eat in order to boost your energy while still feeling nice and light in the belly.

Many people really don’t know what – if anything – they should eat before practice. If you fall into this category, ask yourself the following:

Should I Eat At All?

Not everyone needs to eat before class. In fact – for many of us – we’ll get more out of our practice on an empty belly. The question of whether to eat may depend on the time of day. If you’ve been awake for only an hour or so, it’s best to hold off on the food. Food in your belly during class will drain you of energy. This is because you’re body must focus first and foremost on digestion. That pretty much puts a stop to reaching any new limits with your postures, and you may even make yourself feel quite ill. For the same reason, regardless of the time of day, I’d generally cease eating at least 90 minutes before class. There are some exceptions, and I’ll get to that.

If you’ve eaten a large meal on the day in question, I’d leave a good 3 hours before practicing and avoid ‘eyes-bigger-than-stomach’ snacking until after class (if at all!) This may be difficult to adapt to initially, but I promise that you will ultimately feel much better for holding out, and your body will thank you for leaving your system free to focus on going the extra mile in class.

But What If I Just Can’t Get By With an Empty Belly?

Those of you who ‘love food and live to eat’ as opposed to ‘eat to live’ may need to eat something small, even if it’s quite close to class. This is mainly for morning classes. Not sure if you fall into this category? If you wake up ravenous most days, seem to digest most foods within an hour or two, and generally have a good idea of what your next few meals will entail, then I’m talking about you.

But even if this is not you, three hours is still a little too long if you haven’t laid a good foundation. For example – if you ate dinner quite early, went to bed hungry, and then didn’t eat more than a light breakfast and a salad for lunch, you may find it pretty tough to hold out through 6pm class until late dinnertime. If you’re not sure whether you need to eat, think back to your last 3 meals. Were they a ‘solid’ meal or just a light snack? If you’ve eaten 3 solid meals within the past 16-24 hours, you should be okay to hold out. If you’ve been skipping meals or grazing, I’d suggest eating something light around 90 minutes before class.

So Which Foods Are Best If I AM Eating Before Class?

We all have different ‘types’ when it comes to which foods work best. To put it very simply, some people function, feel and look their best on a (good quality) high protein/high fat diet while others do better on carbohydrates. I’m definitely a protein person. When I eat predominantly protein and fat, with most of my carbs from vegetables, I’m like a well-oiled machine, and I stay in good shape. If I eat a high-carb diet (even if it’s ‘healthy’) I start feeling and looking awful. But my Mum is exactly the opposite. Long story short – what you should eat before class, and indeed in general, is a very individual matter. The best approach is to eat a light meal with both protein/fat and carbohydrate represented. For example:

  • A soft-boiled egg with a little spinach and feta
  • Some natural plain yogurt with half a banana
If you choose carbs alone (fruit, cereal, salad) you may find you feel great initially and then you slump. Choose protein without carbs and you it’s likely you’ll experience a heavy feeling in your gut which will slow you down during class. Combine both and you have a recipe for success.
 

Why not record what you do or do not eat before your next three classes, and track your response. Pay attention to the way your stomach feels, your physical energy, and your mental focus. A 'tick' in all three areas is usually a sign that you're doing things right. 

Kat's blog can be found by clicking "here". 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tip of the Week: Yoga for Insomnia


Maybe it's indigestion, something you ate that now torments your stomach and keeps you tossing and turning. Maybe it's overstimulation from drinking caffeine during the day, or just the garden-variety stress of 21st-century life--mental indigestion--that's got you up at night. All of these reasons add up to more than 35 million prescriptions a year in the United States for sleep medications.

Throw away those pills with their risk of dependency and bizarre side effects. Did you know that some people actually get up in their drugged sleep and eat like pigs or even drive their cars while they're on these medicines? Now that's a nightmare.

Yoga is the natural, effective prescription for insomnia. How does yoga prevent insomnia?

  • Yoga calms the sympathetic nervous system, which generates adrenaline (and the fight-or-flight response). With less of this hormone coursing through your veins, you can take your rest in peace. Since yoga asanas were originally designed to calm the body and quiet the mind, this makes complete sense.
  • Yoga stimulates circulation, including sending more blood to the sleep center of the brain.
  • Pranayama, or breathing exercises, also have a calming effect on the brain, reducing anxiety and arousal, and thus promoting sleep. In a study at the Harvard Medical School by Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, insomniacs practiced daily meditative pranayama at home for eight weeks. After that, all of the subjects reported improvements in how long it took them to fall asleep, how often they woke up during the night, and their ability to get back to sleep.
  • You may actually need less sleep when you practice yoga due to the elimination of toxins from the body, which gives you more high-octane gas for your engine. Your mileage may vary, but it will definitely be improved. Take me: I barely sleep at all and I have more energy than anyone in the world! Ask anyone who knows me; it's true.

Rabbit pose is especially good for insomnia; however, your overall comprehensive practice is the best cure for any and all sleep disorders. Besides all the scientific reasons I cite above, giving your best effort in my heated Torture Chamber will definitely kick your butt! After that, you will definitely sleep. Sweet dreams, my friend.

From Bikram Choudhury's book "Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tip of the Week: Backbend During Standing Bow Pulling




In Standing Bow Pulling Pose, you are trying to create a BACKBEND. As the name implies, you are trying to create a "bow" shape, much like in the floor Bow Pose.
 
Oftentimes when students go into this posture, they bring their chest and abdomen straight down, making their back straight. In fact it pretty much looks like Balancing Stick with a leg up in the air.
What you have to do first and foremost is work on the biggest deepest backbend you can muster.

1) After holding your leg in your hand bring your knees back together. Your shoulder will drift a little behind you
2) Bring up the other arm straight and strong, palm facing forward
3) Your hips are square and your shoulders are already starting to orient themselves one behind the other
4) Inhale stretch up as high and as strongly as you can, and on the exhale…
5) Kick the foot back into your hand, kick your knee up to the ceiling AND
6) DO NOT move your arm or body one little bit. They will move by themselves as you kick. But let the kick drive the pose. Let the shoulder get pulled back by the force of the kicking leg.
7) The whole time try to touch the ceiling with your front arm. You won’t be able to of course, but the action of this will help you create a better backbend.
8) Your back stays up. As you kick up your belly will come down all by itself. But try to keep the chest up as high as possible. 


For more tips on Standing Bow Pulling Pose, click "here"