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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tip of the Week: Best Postures for Balancing Hormones

All of your feelings and emotions are a result of chemical reactions taking place in the body.

These reactions are responsible for making you feel negative emotions, like anger and sadness, as well as positive emotions, from hormones like endorphins of love and happiness.

Endorphins and serotonin are two of the six main neurotransmitters produced naturally by the brain. They are responsible for regulating mood and brain chemistry. At high levels, they prevent pain and sadness, while low levels tend to inhibit positive feelings.

The pitutary gland produces endorphins, while the thyroid  gland produces serotonin; production of the two chemicals is often related so that elevating endorphin levels can produce a natural rise in serotonin levels.

While both endorphins and serotonin are known for enhancing emotions, serotonin produces a milder effect, causing happiness and feelings of security. Endorphins, on the other hand, are a more intense form of pleasure, sparking more extreme feelings such as euphoria and ecstasy, through to relaxation and joy, similar to those produced by serotonin.
The amounts of endorphins and serotonin in circulation in the body are different for everyone. Research shows that these feel good ‘happy hormones’ are significantly impacted by physical activity.

Regular exercise like Bikram Yoga, not only helps keep the heart healthy and gets oxygen into the body, but it helps in the reduction of stress hormones and increases mood-enhancing chemicals (endorphins), which help us cope better with stress.

Bikram Yoga’s twenty-six posture and 2 breathing exercises systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fiber, restoring all systems to healthy working order. Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class is designed to scientifically warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons, in the specific order in which they should be stretched. The result is not only a health body, but also a health mind.

As Bikram yoga helps regulate the endocrine system, the hormone powerhouse of the body, it is the perfect activity to help reduce stress and increasing general wellbeing.
Every posture in Bikram has its benefits, each working together to re balance the body to optimum health. Below are a few of our favourites for hormone regulation along with the other benefits of these poses.

Seperate Leg Stretching Pose
  • Regulates thyroxin hormone production in the thyroid gland; flushes the pituitary, hypothalamus and thymus glands
  • Helps relieve depression, memory loss
  • Increases circulation to the brain and adrenal glands
  • Improves flexibility of hips, ankles and last five vertebrae of the spine; cures and prevents sciatica pain
  • Helps functioning of the internal abdominal organs (especially large and small intestines). Relieves constipation


  • Works the pineal and thyroid glands; improves metabolism
  • Helps maintain good blood sugar balance
  • Improves blood circulation; improves memory; helps manic depression
  • Stretches, tones and decongests the spinal column and nervous system
  • Massages the pancreas, liver, gall-bladder, spleen, intestines, gonads, urinary bladder and kidneys
  • Helps hyperacidity, diabetes, constipation, dyspepsia and hemorrhoids
  • Helps with colds, sinus problems, migraines and the entire immune system
  • Benefits the muscular, skeletal, endocrine, digestive and reproductive systems
  • Opens hips and lower spine; strengthens the abdomen

Halt Tortoise

  • Boosts the endocrine system; regulating hormones. Beneficial for Diabetic patients
  • Provides maximum relaxation; helping with stress, anemia, anxiety and sleep disorders
  • Cures indigestion, constipation, IBS and flatulence
  • Increases blood flow to the brain; bringing mental clarity and good memory
  • Massages internal organs, lungs, heart and coronary arteries
  • Stretches the spine; helps to prevent herniation

  • Regulates hormones. Stimulates the central nervous system, parathyroid and thyroid glands
  • Cervical spondylosis, bronchial spasms and high blood pressure
  • Opens the chest; strengthens the muscles of the back and shoulders
  • Produces maximum compression of the spine; relieving backaches, herniated discs; helping kypho-scolitic deformities
  • Brings fresh blood to the kidneys; eliminates toxins from the body; improves memory and mental clarity
  • Cures vertigo and dizziness; is good for osteoporosis, diabetes, constipation and fermentive dyspepsia
  • Posture opens your body to encourage the release of trapped emotions
  • Improves flexibility of the neck and spine. Trims the waist-line by stretching the abdomen and fat cell storage

Rabbit Pose
  • Nurtures the nervous system and regulates hormones. Brings blood to the brain; regulating the thalamus and hypothalamus
  • Stretches the entire spine from top to bottom, also improves neck and shoulder flexibility
  • Keeps the chest cavity flexible; improving bone density and balance
  • Beneficial for low mood or depression, diabetes, colds, sinus problems, throat diseases, headaches and insomnia
  • Stimulates all glands and organs.

Bikram Yoga is designed to systematically work the entire body. The complete sequence practiced regularly will improve wellbeing and as a result enhance that ‘happy hormone’ high we all love.

Article by Jade Hall on

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tip of the Week: How to Avoid Yoga Injuries

The following article on has some important advice for avoiding yoga injuries. Although some of the postures described aren't practiced in the Bikram series, much of the information can still be applied to your Bikram practice. For example, spreading your fingers wide in Locust Pose will help to avoid wrist injuries. Keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides will help prevent undue stress to your wrists and elbows in Cobra Pose.

 Illustration by Bob Al-Greene

The Most Common Yoga Injuries and How to Avoid Them

More than 20 million people are down-dogging across the U.S. these days, pressing heels to mats in an attempt to reap yoga’s much-touted health benefits. Among them: improved strength and flexibility, reduced tension, anxiety, and stress, and maybe even lower blood pressure . Research has also found that yoga can improve respiration, heart rate, and metabolism and help reduce pain . But this doesn’t mean that yoga, if performed incorrectly, can’t also cause harm.


Pain in the Asana — The Need-to-Know

While most yoga injuries aren’t severe and go unreported, more serious issues do occur, including strains and sprains, fractures, dislocations, and, in rare cases, bone spurs, sciatic nerve damage, and stroke. But according to yoga experts, injuries can happen any time, in any sport, or even walking down the sidewalk — and scary injuries are rare. Most yoga injuries develop gradually over years of consistent over-stretching and misalignment . As with any physical activity, the safest approach to yoga is to learn how to practice the poses correctly and stay in tune with your body to avoid overdoing it.

To get the lowdown on the most common yoga injuries and some specific tips for addressing them, Greatist spoke to yoga instructors Steven Cheng of Yoga Union in New York, Julie Skaarup of Sol Yoga in Frederick, Maryland, and Jeni Livingston of Body Space Fitness in New York. Read on for their injury RX — from head to toe.

  • Wrists: When it comes to the wrists, it’s all about leverage. Placing all of the body’s weight in the wrists when the hands are on the mat can lead to muscle and joint injuries. Find relief: When in doubt, spread ‘em. In any pose where weight is placed on the hands (such as down dog), distribute the body’s weight through both hands by spreading them wide and pressing through the fingers. In down dog, push the hips back to decrease the angle of the wrists to the floor. In arm balances, such as crow pose, look to see that the elbows are stacked directly over the wrists, Cheng says.
  • Elbows: Joint pain in the elbows can result from bending them out to the sides in poses like chaturanga. While it may be easier to execute, lowering down with outward-pointing elbows can stress the joint and can also put undue stresses on the wrists. Tuck and lower: When bending the elbows in a pose (particularly plank or chaturanga), keep the elbows tucked alongside the ribs as you bend them, and make sure the elbows’ creases face forward, Cheng says. If this is difficult (yes, it's a serious test of triceps strength!), begin with the knees on the floor. Remember, you can always work up to the unmodified version through regular practice.
  • Shoulders: Beware the shrug. By raising the shoulders up toward the ears (like when moving into up dog), yogis stop using the supporting muscles in the arms, shoulders, and neck. Shrugging also compresses the shoulders, which can cause muscle injuries, Cheng says. Even worse: It's easy to injure the shoulder girdle or rotator cuff (and even dislocate the joint) by over-extending or over-stretching. Let go: Be careful not to pull too hard on the shoulders in stretches, and always keep the shoulders held back and down away from the ears, yoga teacher and personal trainer Jeni Livingston says.
  • Ribs: Twists are awesome for releasing tension, but if done improperly they can overextend or bruise the intercostal muscles (the muscles in between the ribs). Twist, don’t shout: Lengthen upwards through the spine before twisting. Imagine that someone has a string attached to the crown of your head and is very gently pulling you up toward the ceiling. Twist to the point of feeling a stretch but not past it, even if you’re flexible, Cheng says.
  • Lower back: Lower back pain is the most frequently cited yoga injury, and teachers speculate that it’s likely the result of rounding through the spine in poses like forward folds and down dog. Rounding causes the spine to flex the opposite way that it’s supposed to, Livingston says, which can cause disc problems in addition to that achy feeling post-class. Soothe the spine: Before bending, imagine lengthening the spine up and away from the hips to avoid rounding. Still struggling to stay on the straight and narrow? Try bending the knees in poses like forward folds and down dog, Livingston says, since the culprit could be tight hamstrings. During seated forward folds, try sitting on a blanket or block to take pressure off the lower back.
  • Hamstrings: Spend most days sitting in front of the computer, in class, or in the car? Guilty as charged. As a result, many of us have tight hamstrings, so it’s easy to pull or over-stretch them in poses like forward bends, Cheng says. Hamper pain: Down dog and lunges are great ways to stretch the hamstrings (just remember to go slowly and work at your own pace). If you have any kind of hamstring injury, try laying off poses that extend through the back of the body and legs until the injury heals.
  • Hips: It’s easy to over-extend the hips’ range of motion in splits, warrior poses, and wide-legged forward folds, Cheng says, which might tear the muscles of the inner groin or inner thighs. Get hip (to proper form): A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the toes are pointed forward in any pose where the hips are squared off in the same direction (think: warrior I). Imagine there are headlights attached to the front of the hips and that you’re trying to keep the area straight ahead of you illuminated at all times.
  • Knee: Knee issues can plague even experienced yogis well after class . A common culprit of pain is the cross-legged position, Livingston says. Flexibility carries from the hips first; if the hips are tight in the pose, the knees will be the first place to feel pain or tension. Prevent the pain: For those regularly bothered by knee pain, avoid sitting in cross-legged position or full lotus for long periods unless the hips are already very flexible, Livingston says. Placing a block or rolled-up blanket under the knees in cross-legged positions can also help reduce strain. Any time the knee is bent in a standing pose (such as warriors I and II), look to see that there’s a vertical line from the bent knee to the heel, Cheng says — this ensures that the body is bearing weight properly.
  • Neck: Head and shoulder stands can be the worst culprits for neck pain and injury, says yoga teacher Julie Skaarup. Repeatedly and incorrectly placing pressure on the neck in poses such as shoulder stand and headstand can compress the neck and put pressure on the cervical vertebrae, resulting in joint issues and, in some cases, loss of neck flexion. Prop it up: Have chronic neck or shoulder issues? It might be best to avoid full inversions all together, Cheng says (or attempt them only with close supervision and using props that elevate the neck away from the floor). For those who already practice the pose without props, make sure the shoulder blades are drawn down and back so they’re safely supporting the body. Most importantly, never jerk the head once you’re up in the pose, Skaarup says, because it can destabilize the body, possibly causing a fall.

Turn “Ouch!” into Ommm — Your Action Plan

Proper alignment in poses is key, but it’s not the only factor in a safe yoga practice. To stay blissed out instead of stressed out over injury, follow the basic guidelines below.

  • Leave ego outside. It can be tempting to rush into more advanced poses (how tough can handstands be, right?), but pushing our bodies before they’re ready is a recipe for injury. Yoga is “about finding where you are,” Skaarup says, “not trying to push to a place where your body may never be able to go.”
  • Warm up. It’s an important part of any physical activity, and yoga is no exception. Basic stretches (like neck and shoulder rolls and gentle twists) help prepare the body for more challenging poses later on in a sequence, Cheng says. And remember to give the mind a chance to warm up to the practice: Take a few breaths to get centered at the beginning of class, or establish a pre-flow ritual (such as chanting some Oms) to get grounded.
  • Ease in. No one would expect to run a marathon the first time they lace up their sneakers. Don’t expect to do a headstand or even get the heels to the floor in down dog the first time you hit the mat, Livingston says. Instead, opt for beginner-friendly classes that will develop the foundation for more advanced moves.
  • Communicate. Get to know the teacher and be sure to share any pre-existing issues that might require modifications in certain poses, Cheng says. If you don’t know how to modify or use props, ask. And if a pose just isn’t working, don’t be embarrassed to simply…not do it. Instead, focus on the poses that provide benefit and release.
  • Come out of postures slowly. This is particularly important if you’ve been holding a certain pose for several minutes, Skaarup says. A good rule of thumb is to work out of a pose as gradually as you moved into it.
  • Use props and modifications. There’s no shame in not being ready to hold a pose completely on your own. If there’s tightness somewhere in the body, other parts of the body will have to accommodate it, Livingston says — which is why it’s so important not to push the body past what it’s able to do on a given day. Props and modifications allow the body to get a feel for a pose and gradually work up to its full variation without injury.
  • Never lock your joints. Hyper-extension (locking) is a sure-fire way to wear out joints and cause injury down the road. Focus on engaging the muscles around the joints to gain stability, Cheng says.
  • If you do get injured, take care. If you tweak, pull, or tear something during a yoga flow, don’t be afraid to step out of class early. Care for it like any other sports injury, and seek a professional’s opinion if the pain persists.
  • Stay for savasana. It’s easy to head for the door as soon as the instructor calls for savasana (the final resting pose of a yoga flow), but sticking around is good for your health. Savasana allows the body’s nervous system to slow down and brings closure to the practice. Even just two or three minutes can have an effect, Cheng says.
  • Above all: listen to your body. At all stages of yoga practice, stay mindful. Really listen to your body so you can be sensitive to any tightness or strain. Just because you did a particular pose one day, doesn’t mean your body will be able to do it the next. “In our yoga practice,” Skaarup says, “we are building a relationship with our bodies the same way we build them with other people: by listening.”

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Tip of the Week: Tone Your Arms

To get nicely toned arms from your Bikram practice, set your intention before class to engage your arm muscles as tightly as possible as the dialogue dictates. By paying slightly more attention to the isolation of the arm muscles used when holding a pose, you’ll reap the rewards of stronger, nicer looking arms!

With every posture you will be using your arms one way or another, but here are some postures to give extra consideration while engaging your arm muscles:

  • When doing postures where one or both of your arms are out in front of you as in Awkward Pose and Standing Bow Pose, energetically activate your tricep muscles by pressing your pinky and thumb in toward the other fingers. At the same time, really stretch them towards the mirror with your shoulders down and back.
  • When doing postures where your arms are over you head with your fingers interlaced, pointer fingers together as in Half Moon and Balancing Stick, energetically activate your bicep muscles by mindfully pressing your pointer fingers together. At the same time, activate your triceps by squeezing your palms flat together.
  • In Hands to Feet Pose, pull up and back with your elbows to keep your biceps engaged. Don't hunch your shoulders, and keep them pulled away from your ears.
  • In Eagle Pose, activate your biceps by squeezing your arms and palms together, while at the same time sliding your shoulders down and back.
  • When doing postures where your arms are over your head with only your thumbs crossed and palms flat together as in Half Tortoise and Standing Separate Leg Stretching, energetically activate your triceps by pressing your pinky fingers together.
  • When doing Triangle Pose, your shoulders should be down away from your ears, each lined up over the other. Your arms should be fully engaged, reaching as hard as they can away from each other.
  • Cobra Pose works the deltoids, trapezious, and tricep muscles. With the top of the fingers in line with the top of the shoulders, baby fingers in line with the deltoid, energetically press your pinky fingers into the ground to activate your tricep muscles. Keep your elbows tight your body with your shoulder blades down and back.
  • In Locust Pose, maintain a strong upper body with all your arm muscles engaged, a nice “pushing” grip with your fingers, and learn to shift your body weight to the front of your body.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tip of the Week: Mental Tricks to Push Yourself in Class

1 Practice Mindfulness

It is easy to become daunted when you start feeling tired or stiff at the beginning of class and know you have 90 minutes to complete. Try practicing mindfulness by focusing on the posture at hand without thinking of the rest of the postures you know are coming. Be present to the body, aware of the breath, and non-judgmental about the asanas, the mind chatter, the instructor's voice... 

2 Have a reason for practicing yoga other than wanting to look good. 

Sure, having a great looking body is a nice side effect of Bikram Yoga, but for a lot people, “wanting to look hot” isn’t something that they’re actually emotionally connected to. For many people struggling with poor body image, thinking about how good they are trying to look can bring up negative thoughts that actually stop them in their tracks when trying to push themselves harder. Try focusing instead on reasons for exercising that genuinely make you feel good about yourself, like wanting to get stronger or to test your own limits. This is the kind of thinking that will help you power through when your muscles are shaking and you’re pretty sure you can feel your heart in your esophagus.

3 Find a mantra.

Having a mantra of some kind will keep you focused … and keep you going in the toughest stretches of a posture. It will also help keep your mind occupied and away from thoughts that will slow you down: “Is this over yet?” “I’m so stiff.”
Start mentally saying some short, rhythmic phrases to yourself until you have a few that work for you. You don’t have to tell anyone what they are, or even that you’re using them. Some ideas are: "I am present". "I am strong". "Lock the knee". "A tight muscle is a light muscle". For more on mantras, read "Tip of the Week: Yoga Mantras".

4 Set your intention for something specific in class

It’s fine and good to say you’re going to work really hard in class today, but the reality is that working hard is, well, hard. It’s only natural that, as soon as you hit that first wall, you’ll decide that you’ve done enough and then want to lay down on your mat for the rest of class. Setting your intention at the beginning of class for something specific to work on such as breathing only through your nose, keeping your knee locked in the balancing postures, or pushing your hips forward in camel pose will help to keep a goal in mind to push you when you otherwise would want to give up. For  more on setting your intention, read "Tip of the Week: Set Your Intention".

5 Find something specific you like about the sensations you're experiencing.

This may come as a shock, but nobody is actually making you do Bikram Yoga. You’re doing this because on some level, you enjoy it. Remember that. Consider what you “like” about a hard, sweaty practice. Try to appreciate the sensation of shaking muscles during Awkward Pose, knowing this will cause your muscles to grow stronger. Enjoy the way your muscles feel when they are stretching to their maximum edge in Head to Knee and Stretching Pose rather than thinking of it as "stiffness and pain". Maybe this is the one time in your day when you’ll be away from your computer, kids, and all the craziness in your cluttered mind, and you enjoy the feeling of a calm and emptied mind during savasana. Think of how good you feel after you've "sweat it all out" for 90 minutes in a hot room.

6 Feel grateful for your practice.

It’s easy to forget, when you’re exhausted after class, that practicing yoga is a privilege. Some people have physical limitations that keep them from being able to move and stretch their body the way you can. Some people aren't able to stand or walk, let alone balance on leg. You are so lucky you get to hold Locust Pose for so long and get to do Roxanne's 2 minute Camel Challenge!