Visit our website!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tip of the Week: Switch Up Your Grip

Do you switch up your grip in the second set? This means placing your other thumb on top in the second set of postures.  It provides a more balanced stretch to your arms, shoulders and back, and builds more equal grip strength in your hands.  It also gives a shot of discipline and focus in your practice, as you have to decide which thumb to put on top first and remember to switch it up for the next set. You get an extra mental workout as you settle your mind when your brain is telling you the grip feels uncomfortable or awkward with your non-dominant thumb on top. 

In half moon, the grip switch can be particularly helpful in getting a much stronger stretch in your  hip when the thumb on top is the same as the side to which you are bending.  It makes sense, as the thumb is the strongest digit and its iron grip on the stretching arm allows for greater reach.  In half tortoise it focuses the stretch on alternate sides of your back and hips in the two sets.  Switching which arm is on top in wind removing pose and fixed firm pose helps to get a more equal stretch in the shoulders.

By switching your grip in the second set of postures, you’ll create balance not only in your practice, but also in your daily life. At first switching your grip might feel super awkward, but before you know it you won’t even remember which grip was dominant. Life is all about balance, and if we can learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable in class, we can deal with it off the mat as well. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tip of the Week: First Part of Standing Head to Knee

It’s best to think of Standing Head to Knee Pose in phases instead of focusing on the ultimate destination.  If you can commit to mastering each step one at a time, you will build a much stronger foundation and ultimately a better executed posture, even if you remain in the beginning phases for weeks, months, oftentimes even years.  If you can breathe, have a little faith, and truly take this posture at your own pace anyone can enjoy the benefits of this posture. For the first phase of this posture:

Step 1. Clear your mind and say to yourself "I am not going to fall out of this pose today." Keep your eyes fixed on one spot and do not move the eyeballs (this is a meditation technique that helps keep the body and mind very still and concentrated)

Step 2. Establish a very solid foundation. The most important aspect of this pose is the standing leg being STRAIGHT and ENGAGED. Contract all of the muscles above and below the knee. You know you are collapsing when the weight is sinking all the way back in your heel and you are feeling pressure in the back of the knee of the standing leg. 

Step 3. Suck your stomach in and breathe slow and steady throughout the pose, as this will help you with your balance considerably. Do this BEFORE you round down. Trying to suck your stomach in after you already have your foot in hand does not allow you to engage all the same muscles because now your weight is distributed differently in the body. Suck it in as hard as you can before you round down!

Step 4. Interlock 10 fingers and as you pick up your foot try to round down, so that your lifted thigh is parallel to the floor. If you are standing upright as you try to grab your foot, it is much more difficult to achieve a locked out leg as your hip joint on the standing leg isn't in the ideal position. With your lifted thigh parallel to the floor, the lower part of your leg should be directly under your knee at a 45 degree angle to the thigh.

*For those who are overweight, have arthritis or other conditions and challenges, round the spine and grab wherever you can below the knee.

Step 5. Notice how heavy your foot feels in your interlaced hands.  Your “core” or more accurately, the muscles in your belly, hip flexors, and in your lower back, are responsible for holding your leg lifted (NOT your hands). The more these muscles work to hold your leg up, the lighter your foot will feel in your hands. *To test your core strength, try releasing your foot for a second while in this position to see if you can still hold your leg up.

Step 6. Keep your body weight forward on your standing leg foot (as opposed to resting on the back of your heel or in the back of your knee). Push the knuckle of your big toe into the ground. This will cause the muscles on the front side of your standing leg to pull up almost automatically.  As a result, between shifting your weight forward and holding your leg lifted, you will be using almost all of the muscles in the front side of your body.

When the muscles on the front side of your body are being contracted, they send signals to the muscles on the back side of your body to stretch.  As you build range of motion in the back of your standing leg and low back you will eventually have the range of motion available to kick out part way, or fully.  If your standing leg buckles when you try to kick out, it means you’ve gone beyond the range of motion available to you, and are no longer using your contracted front-side muscles to hold you in place.

Remember that you are getting 100% of the benefit of the posture just by staying in the first part.  Focus on maintaining your balance here, looking forward in the mirror at your standing knee, and breathing in and out through your nose. Don't get frustrated if you aren't ready to kick your leg out. It can take months or even years to get to the next part. Again, 100% of the benefit from 100% effort in the first part!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tip of the Week: Final Savasana

The final Savasana brings a deep, meditative state of rest, which may help in the repair of tissues and cells, and in releasing stress. It also gives time for the yoga workout to sink in at a deeper level. This posture leaves you in a state of rejuvenation, and allows the body and mind time to process what has happened during class. 
  • EMBRACE IT! This is where your body, mind and spirit can relax and fully assimilate the benefits of your practice. While teachers allow students to leave after a two minute Savasana, it is recommended to stay 10-15 minutes to calm the nervous system and promote equanimity in the entire body. Even though your brain might be telling you it's time to jump up and out of the heated room, taking a long Savasana will actually help you handle the heat in future classes. Read more on that by clicking "here".
  • Scan your body for tension. If you find it challenging to relax, try scanning your body from toe to head, saying the name of each body part and then releasing it. Often it's the mind that wants to stay active even when the body is relaxed. Try the basic meditation techniques of noticing your thoughts, labeling them as thinking, and then letting them go. Just like other types of yoga, this takes practice. Eventually you will notice that when your body goes into Savasana, your mind also assumes a relaxed position.
  • Breathe normally, find a comfortable position on your back (there’s no real form here, unlike the Savasana between standing and floor series) and close your eyes. While your body might be fatigued and ready for relaxation, your mind can get in the way. Focus on your inhalation and exhalation to calm your mind. The incoming breath energizes the body while the outgoing breath brings relaxation. Drop all sense of hurry or urgency or any need to attend to anything else. Just be with the body and the breath. Surrender the whole body to the floor and let go.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tip of the Week: Protect Your Knees

When postures are performed mindfully, your Bikram practice can help prevent knee problems and disease, and help you regain strength and flexibility after an injury.

5 Ways to Protect Your Knees in Yoga
1. Avoid Hyperextending

When joints are overly mobile and flex too far back, they’re hyperextended. Your upper leg, knee, and lower leg should all be in line with one another when standing, and not making a concave shape. In the knees, hyperextension often occurs in poses in which the legs are straightened, such as Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow Pose, putting an unhealthy tension on the ligaments. If you’re prone to hyperextension, keep a slight bend in the knees during standing poses (while keeping it "locked" by engaging your quads) and keep your weight evenly distributed among the four corners of your feet. 

2. Start With Your Feet

Proper alignment through the feet is the key to building strength evenly in the ligaments on both sides of the knee; when all the ligaments are equally strong, the kneecap glides effortlessly up and down and the cartilage doesn’t get worn down. Separate your toes and press actively through the four corners of your feet, especially in postures like Awkward Pose. If your feet are out of alignment, your knees are going to suffer.

3. Keep Your Knees in Line

When moving into deep knee bends such as Triangle Pose, first align your bent knee over your ankle, then draw your kneecap in line with your second toe. Maintain awareness in your back foot, pressing down evenly, while lifting up from the arch of your front foot. If you let the arch drop, the knee falls inside the big toe, and you’re set up to suffer a number of different kinds of overuse and acute knee injuries.

4. Tune in to Subtle Signals

Oftentimes, the knees don’t give immediate feedback. Only later do you realize you’ve gone too far. When it comes to the knees, the sensation that would normally proceed the red flag is the red flag. If you feel achiness when you come out of a bent-knee pose, you may have worked too hard. If you feel any pain going into a posture such as Fixed Firm Pose, back out of it.

5. Build Strength by Balancing

Balancing postures, especially those that require moving through a bent standing leg, such as Garudasana (Eagle Pose), are especially beneficial. Very dynamic balancing protects the knee against future injury by training the functional alignment, not just working the muscle.

For some more information on proper knee alignment and isometric exercises for your knees, go to Tip of the Week: Yoga Therapy for Your Knees.