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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tip of the Week: The Pilates Roll Up

The Pilates Roll Up is designed to engage your entire body and usually is performed near the beginning of any Pilates mat class. It strengthens your entire Powerhouse (trunk, from your shoulders to your hips) while increasing the flexibility of your spine and lengthening your legs. Perfecting the Pilates Roll-Up and performing it mindfully, with breath, can inform how well you manage every other Pilates move. Let's break it down:
START by lying on your back with your arms and legs stretched in opposite directions, toes pointed.

INHALE and bring your straight arms over your shoulders (hands to ceiling) until they are perpendicular to the floor, flex your feet.

Lift your head off the mat, bring your chin to your chest and EXHALE as you roll your spine up and off the mat, one vertebra at a time. Keep pulling in your powerhouse as you continue your Roll Up, with the eventual goal of placing your forehead on your legs and your hands on either side of your heels.
Continue pulling in your navel as you REVERSE the exercise. Point your toes as you INHALE and roll down, one vertebra at a time.
Begin to EXHALE when you are about halfway down. As you finish exhaling and rolling down, your arms extend overhead.
The Roll-Up is usually repeated five to eight times in sequence.
Additional Tips: Keep your legs together, thigh on the mat, as you roll up with control. This is a "sit up" without momentum. It helps to think of lifting through your neck and chest (as if you had a helium balloon lifting your sternum) as you peel your spine off the mat. You are welcome to bring ankle weights to class as these can help keep your heels on the floor.
Modification: If you have a hard time keeping the momentum out of The Roll Up, try it with bent knees, feet flat on the floor at hip distance apart. Sit tall and roll your spine down as far as you can control. You can walk your hands up and down your legs as you lower and lift your spine, progressively increasing your range of motion. 
I hope you'll join in one of the new Hot Pilates Express classes (M,W,F at 11:45 am, M, W 8:15 PM) to learn more about and perfect your Roll Up! Following class on Wednesday, June 21, I'll offer a 20-minute workshop on The Roll Up for those who'd like to know more -- we'll work with some props and fundamentals that can make your Roll Up experience more successful. See you then!

By Susan Rickman, Certified Pilates Instructor. Susan teaches the Monday and Wednesday 11:45 am and Wednesday 8:15 pm classes each week.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Tip of the Week: You Don't Have to Be Flexible to Do Yoga

                                                   Peter Cade/The Image Bank/Getty Images

It's a common misconception that you need to be flexible to do yoga. It's not hard to see how this myth came to be, especially in the Instagram age. Almost every picture that you see in a magazine or on social media of someone doing a yoga pose shows off amazing flexibility. But putting your foot behind your head or doubling your body over in a backbend are really not the norms for your average yogi.

Some People Are Naturally More Flexible, But it Can Also Be Developed

Some people are naturally more flexible than others. Some people work really hard at their asana practice and over time became very flexible. Some people were committed dancers or gymnasts as kids or young adults and are using that training to present a very acrobatic style of yoga. None of these scenarios apply to the majority of people in a typical yoga class.

If you've been putting off trying yoga or felt intimidated to go to a class because you "can't even touch your toes," please stop. Don't avoid yoga because you think you aren't flexible enough to do the poses you've seen in magazines. In fact, if you have tight muscles, yoga is just the thing you need to do to loosen them up. It's about a lot more than looking good in a difficult pose. Tightness can lead to back pain and a host of other mobility issues, especially as you age.

Stretching regularly and working more deeply into areas of tightness as they open up is the way to address the problem. This also applies to people who are in great shape in terms of strength and endurance. Improving flexibility is often the missing link and the key to avoiding injury and staying active.

Consistent Yoga Practice Will Increase Your Flexibility

You still may not be able to do the versions of the poses that end up on inspiration boards on Pinterest, but you will be amazed at what you can do with a consistent yoga practice.
The point of yoga is not to show off how flexible you are, but rather to become more flexible over time while enjoying yoga's other health benefits, like improved strength and reduced stress. Yoga is not like gymnastics, in which the most flexible person gets a medal. It is a personal practice, infinitely adaptable to fit each individual needs. It's non-competitive, which means not comparing yourself to the person on the mat next to you or to some earlier version of yourself. This acceptance of the primacy of the present moment is a big challenge for many people but ultimately one of yoga's biggest lessons. And, like touching your toes, it gets easier over time with regular practice.

Step into any beginning level class and you will see lots of students just like you.

Article by

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tip of the Week: Effort with Ease

As we move through our yoga practice, we want our muscles to stay engaged and our minds to stay focused. But sometimes we can put so much effort into a posture that it can actually place us out of balance, either physically or mentally. When you're in a posture and you've focused on muscle engagement, think to yourself, "What could I relax just 10%?" That 10% doesn't have to be anything that someone else could see with the naked eye. It could be the slightest physical movement, or even just a lightening of the mind.

One way to think about it would be to make a fist with your hand as tightly as possible. Then relax it just enough so that you aren't using your entire strength, but your hand is still comfortably efforting to keep it's position in a fist. You could also imagine your brain doing the same thing. Your mind focusing on the posture intensely, but then relaxing it just enough so you're in that middle ground of effort with ease.

The following article from describes this idea of effort with ease beautifully.

Yoga Practice: Balancing Effort with Ease

The outdoor tent was full of students sitting quietly on their yoga mats, waiting for my class to begin—the final one of a four-day yoga festival. As I surveyed the scene, I could see that everyone looked pretty pooped. They no longer fidgeted with that extra anticipatory energy they had on day one. They were still and grounded, partly from all the good yoga they had been doing, but also because they were physically exhausted and mentally overloaded from all the teachings they’d received in such a short time.

When we move in only one direction, we get out of balance. Our strengths get stronger, but our weaknesses get weaker.

What could I offer them that wouldn’t further overload them—that would energize their bodies yet relax their minds? I decided to ask them. “How are you feeling? Do you have any requests?” A voice called out, “No more hip-opening!” This request was seconded, thirded, and quickly became unanimous. “OK, I responded, “Today we’ll do hip-closing.”

They all laughed at that, but I wasn’t kidding! When we move in only one direction, I explained, we get out of balance. Our strengths get stronger, but our weaknesses get weaker. Our openings might get more open, but where does it all end? Yoga then becomes the hour of our discontent, the opposite of santosha, or contentment, one of the five niyamas, or observances, outlined in the Yoga Sutra. Instead of being satisfied with what we experience as we experience it, we get stuck in a cycle of craving—more opening, more opening, more opening!

Since many of us come to yoga feeling kind of glued together anyway, we crave the poses that open us in places we didn’t even know needed opening—our hips, shoulders, low back, and even our digestive tract. Beginners typically learn to make extreme gestures, such as spreading their fingers apart as wide as possible, in order to actually feel their hands. Yoga teachers encourage this kind of big opening action to help newbies develop a tactile awareness of their bodies. Once they can feel where their arms and legs, feet and hands are in space and in relationship to each other, students can start to develop strength, flexibility, and coordination. At first this process requires a lot of physical exertion and mental focus, but we certainly don’t want to stay there.

As our practice moves to an intermediate level, we can start to work on the more subtle actions and refinements. As the body becomes more alive and sensitive, we notice we no longer need to work with super-hard intensity. We still need to apply effort, of course, but how much effort?  Since yoga is the union of body and mind, we can look for the answer to this question from two viewpoints: physical and mental.

The Middle Path

The physical practice of yoga is called hatha yoga. Ha represents the heating quality of the mind, and tha its cooling quality. Our asana practice offers us two poses that express these opposites—the heat of exertion and the cooling quality of release—tadasana (mountain pose) and shavasana (corpse pose). When you’re on the mat, no matter what pose you’re doing, can you experience the outgoing effort epitomized by tadasana in equal measure to the internal letting-go feeling you encounter in shavasana? Discover that in-between place composed of just the right blend of tadasana’s determined strength and shavasana’s quiet relaxation. Even when you’re doing tadasana, you don’t clench all your muscles and hold on for dear life, right? That kind of extreme exertion misses the point of asana: steadiness and ease. Of course, when you release into shavasana, you don’t completely let go there or you’d soon be fast asleep. The muscles certainly find a sense of ease, but the mind remains clear, calm, and awake.

Discover that in-between place composed of just the right blend of tadasana's determined strength and shavasana's quiet relaxation.

A Buddhist story explains this concept quite nicely. A musician once asked the Buddha how we should meditate. The Buddha responded by asking, “How do you tune your instrument?”
The musician answered, “Not too tight, not too loose.”
The Buddha said, “Exactly like that.”

Our yoga instrument includes both the mind and the body. We know that whatever comes up in our mind will affect how we work with our body and vice versa. The useful notion of “not too tight, not too loose” offers us a guideline about how hard to work, when to let go, when to engage our quads more, when to release our jaw. This back and forth of firming and softening, advancing and relaxing, toning and releasing, is how we find balance in our asana practice.

At the deepest level, not too tight, not too loose reminds us that nothing is solid or permanent. As you transition from one pose to the next, you are completely leaving one experience and entering a new one. The old pose does not exist anymore, and, in fact, it never did. It was a momentary gathering of alignment, breath, and attention into one physical shape. And then it was gone—as soon as you focused your body and mind on the transition and then on the next pose.

At the deepest level, not too tight, not too loose reminds us that nothing is solid or permanent.

This powerful teaching applies to our everyday life as well. Can you sit in the middle of each experience and engage just enough to support the process while releasing your effort just enough to let the experience become alive for and within you? By doing this, we gain a sense of balance in our lives. Not too tight, not too loose creates an imprint of non-drama, a new habit of not panicking or grasping or resisting situations as they arise, and instead shows us how to engage in these situations fully, all the while knowing that everything will shift in time anyway.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tip of the Week: Deepen Your Spine Twist

(Photo and info from We Are Yoga)

Set up for Spine Twist: 

  • Bend left leg on floor until left heel meets side of right buttock; Bend right knee to bring right leg up and over left leg; Line right heel up to touch left knee
  • Ensure that left knee and both buttocks stay on floor throughout pose
  • Line right hand up behind back near tailbone to keep body weight forward and lifted throughout pose
  • Inhale while stretching left arm up alongside left ear
  • Exhale while drawing left arm over right knee to firmly hold left kneecap
  • Inhale while lifting spine
  • Exhale while turning head over right shoulder, and twist shoulders and torso toward right

  • To Deepen the Twist: 

  • Press left elbow into right knee; Reach right hand behind your back all the way around to hold left thigh or hip.
  • Begin this posture with a deep inhale and as you twist your spine exhale all the way down into your lower abdomen. This will help compress your internal organs, deepen your spine twist and strengthen your lower abs. Maintain an even breath while holding the posture.
  • (NOTE: Keep abdominal muscles engaged to support spine, and use core strength to avoid twisting from a rounded, unsupported spine.)
  • As you twist, think of lifting up
  • Lift abdomen out of pelvis, and lift upper body up toward ceiling
  • Work shoulders down and away from ears
  • Breathe, hold pose for 20 seconds, and unwind out of pose
  • Repeat this pose on your left side by twisting to your left
  • Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Feeling Nauseous or Dizzy in Class?

    Feeling really exhausted after class, or nauseous and dizzy during class? According to the official Bikram Yoga website:

     It is not unusual to feel nauseous or dizzy during your first class.  Practicing yoga in a heated room reveals to us our present condition, and inspires us take much better care of ourselves.
    Usually the problem is that we do not drink enough water for daily living, let alone for exercising in a heated room. Nutritionists tell us that we need 64-80 ounces of water a day to help the body function properly.

    In the heated yoga room, your body needs adequate fund of water to allow perspiration to release heat from the body as you practice. So we estimate you need another 64-80 ounces (sometime during the day) to allow for your 90 minutes in the room.  Once you are drinking enough water your body will tolerate the heat better and you will actually enjoy the heat.

    If you feel disoriented or like you need a good nap after your first few classes, this is likely because your body has begun to cleanse itself as a result of the yoga practice. Don't be scared. After the first few classes this sensation will pass. The more you can relax as you give your 110% honest effort during class, the more energized you will feel throughout the class and throughout the rest of your day.

    Natasha Lee, one of our readers, also suggested: "Hello, I am the executive director of a nutrition company. I was reading on your website that some students can feel sick to their stomach and dizzy during the class. The recommendation is to drink water.

    This is incomplete.  Those are specific symptoms of salt and potassium depletion and can easily be remedied by taking salt and potassium tablets before class. The centers should have this available. The uncomfortable feelings one experiences in a sauna or heated room can be avoided completely by simply taking these minerals.

    Sea salt and potassium are the least expensive of all minerals and can be obtained anywhere.
    Nausea, headaches, all of this can be avoided with these 2 minerals." 
      In addition, it's also a good idea not to eat anything 1-2 hours before class.  Also remember to listen to your body during class, and if at any time you feel you need to lay or sit on your mat because you are too nauseous or dizzy, you are welcome to. 

    Monday, May 1, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Month Long YOGA 101

    We learn so much in class, but there are always new things to be learned to deepen our yoga practice and enhance our understanding of it. The Brand New Beginners Course is created to help you feel more comfortable and competent with your yoga practice and your time spent in the yoga studio. The course is for the beginning student or intermediate student that would like to deepen their understanding of this ancient healing art.  After your first class you will feel challenged, supported, relaxed, and energized.

    It's a great time to get detailed answers to your questions. Course will cover benefits of each posture, modifications for injury, common misalignments, what creates imbalance, and how to create balance both mentally and physically through a disciplined yoga practice.

    Our month long YOGA 101 course in May starts Tuesday, May 9th.

    Course includes: 5 Brand New Beginner Workshops, and unlimited yoga for the month. 
                       Time: Tuesday nights 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
                        Cost: $150
           Pre-Register: Contact Chris @ 610-420-9642  or  Space is limited to 25 Students.
    Let us know if you have any suggestions or questions!
    Very experienced and careful teacher giving beginners’ orientation and teaching poses used in the Bikram program. 
    Chris takes you through each pose slowly and carefully explaining the benefits and purpose of each.  This is a very valuable teaching experience.   
    There is plenty of opportunity for questions and he is willing to discusses the spiritual/mental thing about yoga too.  He also teaches modifications or alternative poses for folk with injuries or limits.  It is quite a lucky thing that he is willing to offer this class.  
    ~ Fellow Bikram Yogi

    Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Tip of the Week: The Meaning Behind Namaste

    The following by Wendy Moore on explores the meaning behind the word Namaste.

    Have you ever wondered why we end a yoga class by saying Namaste in unison to our teacher? Have you ever thought about what you are actually saying and why you might be saying it? There are so many rituals connected to yoga which for me adds to the spirituality of my practice and separates it from my other exercise.

    I love ending a yoga class by saying Namaste. I find it is similar to saying Amen at the end of a prayer or Maseltov to express joy. There is deep respect inherent in this word despite our surroundings…a yoga studio, gym or even our own home. Saying Namaste gives me a sense of completion, allows me a moment of reflection without movement and bridges the transition to the day ahead of me. I like being able to acknowledge the teacher at the end of the class. I admit that sometimes I say Namaste instead of Whew! after a challenging class. And sometimes I feel silly and even a bit superficial saying a word with such reverence when I’ve so little knowledge of its origin and the culture from which it came. Most of the time, however, after a particularly good class I say it and feel the essence of Yoga: a connection to myself and the greater world.

    What Does It Really Mean?

    The literal translation of the word “Namaste” breaks down into three sections…Nama means bow; as means I; and, te means you. Thus, I bow to you. The gesture is one of greeting in India. Most often we hold our hands together in the prayer position at our heart chakra. Often our hands move from our third eye to our heart in acknowledgment of our teacher. And usually Namaste is said at the end of a class, but it is equally appropriate to utter it at the beginning as well.

    What Does Saying Namaste Mean To You?

    Namaste is a way to “send out to the universe something good, something that makes sense in that instant, the possibility of a time when all strife, suffering and harm inflicted upon each other and other living things, will simply stop”. This answer from a friend led me to ask other yogis what they think about when they say Namaste. Most agreed that the word expressed the gratitude they felt to their teacher, gave the class closure, was sometimes just an expression of relief, but also was a conduit to something greater. One of the teachers I asked said that Namaste represented the teacher and student coming together energetically, making a connection.

    The Divine In Me, Honors The Divine In You…

    Namaste. The word ends our practice but whether we say it or not, the practice of yoga is the embodiment of the word’s meaning. It is a way to honor ourselves and the world we live in. This reflective moment reminds me that yoga transcends language and culture, that connecting mind and body helps us look more deeply into ourselves and at our world.

    Friday, April 14, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Corrections for Tuladanasana

    This posture looks so simple! But the effort required to keep all the muscles engaged while balancing is much more difficult than one might think. Balancing Stick creates a tourniquet effect on the heart and can even give the feeling of a mini heart attack! Don’t worry. The circulation, elongation, and increased blood flow are amazing for the body. Remember that you have to continuously stretch from fingertips to toes to get the benefits!

    Common Problems and Corrections

    Balancing Stick is the final posture in the balancing series. As with the other balancing postures, locked knees are a big key. In this instance, BOTH knees should be locked.

    Sometimes more flexible students will lift their leg too high. This makes the posture easier!
    It’s also incorrect. The leg should remain parallel to the floor.

    Students must learn to adjust their weight to their forward leg before they pivot at the hips. This will prevent their body from launching forward and often prevent them from falling out of the posture.

    The idea of Balancing stick is to create a straight line. It requires a lot of strength and endurance to keep the correct muscles engaged. When the body collapses or sags, the stretch is lost.

    The elbows should be locked just like the knees. This will create more traction on the spine.

    The key is to look forward, under the hands, toward the mirror. By looking forward, the spine is elongated. Keep your arms and head together and look forward to keep the spine straight.

    Friday, April 7, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Standing Savasana Between Postures

    Paying attention to your body posture between the standing postures will help with concentration and relaxation. Bikram Yoga is a 90 minute "moving meditation". The goal is to use our bodies in such a way that we can begin to still our minds. Keep in mind that even when we aren't in a posture, we are still in a moving meditation. When coming out of a posture, bring yourself to a total stillness, with a calm and smooth breath. While you will have a chance to go into Savasana or "dead body pose" between each posture in the floor series, you can do a Standing Savasana between the postures of the Standing Series. 

    • Gives rest to the body, slows heart rate, reduces blood pressure
    • Returns cardiovascular and systemic circulation to normal
    • Teaches relaxation
    • Stills and focuses the mind
    • The better you create and maintain correct standing savasana, the better and more deeply you’ll be able to breathe and the quicker you can calm yourself physiologically and mentally
    Check that you:
    • Rotate your upper arms externally and feel your shoulder blades drop down and back. Check that your neck feels long and free. 

    • Stand with feet & legs together. Press inner thighs, buttocks, inside of feet together. Wake up soles of the feet by pressing them firmly into the ground.

    • Gaze straight ahead at yourself in the mirror

    • Breathe calmly through your nose

    Transitioning without fidgeting between the postures cultivates patience and calm. Focus on yourself in the mirror, and don't let let anything break your peace. Try to make a conscious effort not to fix your hair, drink water when you don’t need it, wipe the sweat, or adjust your mat and towel. Let go of being ‘bothered’ by the details. 

    Awareness of body posture between standing postures will improve your yoga practice and contribute to aligning the group energy wave which moves around the room.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Breaking out of your comfort zone can be a scary thing to do whether it's meeting someone new or trying Toe Stand for the first time. But pushing yourself to try new things can have so many benefits as the following article by Alan Henry on lifehacker explains.

    The Science of Your "Comfort Zone," and Why It's So Hard to Leave It

    You've seen inspirational quotes that encourage you to get out and do something strange—something you wouldn't normally do—but getting out of your routine just takes so much work. There's actually a lot of science that explains why it's so hard to break out of your comfort zone, and why it's good for you when you do it. With a little understanding and a few adjustments, you can break away from your routine and do great things.

    It's important to push the boundaries of your comfort zone, and when you do it's kind of a big deal. But what is the "comfort zone" exactly? Why is it that we tend to get comfortable with the familiar and our routines, but when we're introduced to new and interesting things, the glimmer fades so quickly? Finally, what benefit do we derive from breaking out of our comfort zone, and how do we do it? Answering those questions is a tall order, but it's not too hard to do. Let's get started.

    Simply, your comfort zone is a behvioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.

    The idea of the comfort zone goes back to a classic experiment in psychology. Back in 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. In order to maximize performance, however, we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called "Optimal Anxiety," and it's just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we're too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.

    The idea of optimal anxiety isn't anything new. Anyone who's ever pushed themselves to get to the next level or accomplish something knows that when you really challenge yourself, you can turn up amazing results. More than a few studies support the point. However, pushing too hard can actually cause a negative result, and reinforce the idea that challenging yourself is a bad idea. It's our natural tendency to return to an anxiety neutral, comfortable state. You can understand why it's so hard to kick your brain out of your comfort zone.

    Even so, your comfort zone is neither a good or bad thing. It's a natural state that most people trend towards. Leaving it means increased risk and anxiety, which can have positive and negative results (which we'll get to in a moment), but don't demonize your comfort zone as something holding you back. We all need that head-space where we're least anxious and stressed so we can process the benefits we get when we leave it.

    What You Get When You Break Free and Try New Things

    • You'll be more productive. Comfort kills productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we tend to phone it in and do the minimum required to get by. We lose the drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We also fall into the "work trap", where we feign "busy" as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things. Pushing your personal boundaries can help you hit your stride sooner, get more done, and find smarter ways to work.

    • You'll have an easier time dealing with new and unexpected changes. In this article at The New York Times, BrenĂ© Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, explains that one of the worst things we can do is pretend fear and uncertainty don't exist. By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn't do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prep you for life changes that force you out of it.

    • You'll find it easier to push your boundaries in the future. Once you start stepping out of your comfort zone, it gets easier over time. This same NYT article explains that as you step out of your comfort zone, you'll become accustomed to that state of optimal anxiety. "Productive discomfort," as they call it, becomes more normal to you, and you're willing to push farther before your performance falls off. This idea is well illustrated in this infographic at Future Science Leaders. At the bottom, you'll see that as you challenge yourself, your comfort zone adjusts so what was difficult and anxiety-inducing becomes easier as you repeat it.

    • You'll find it easier to brainstorm and harness your creativity. This is a soft benefit, but it's fairly common knowledge (and it's easily reproducible) that seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does. Trying new things can make us reflect on our old ideas and where they clash with our new knowledge, and inspire us to learn more and challenge confirmation bias, our tendency to only seek out information we already agree with. Even in the short term, a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, see old problems in a new light, and tackle the challenges we face with new energy.

    The benefits you get after stepping outside of your comfort zone can linger. There's the overall self-improvement you get through the skills you're learning, the new foods you're trying, the new country you're visiting, and the new job you're interviewing for. There's also the soft mental benefits you get from broadening your horizons.

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Outside your comfort zone can be a good place to be, as long as you don't tip the scales too far. It's important to remember there's a difference between the kind of controlled anxiety we're talking about and the very real anxiety that many people struggle with every day. Everyone's comfort zone is different, and what may expand your horizons may paralyze someone else. Remember, optimal anxiety can bring out your best, but too much is a bad thing.

    Here are some ways to break out (and by proxy, expand) your comfort zone without going too far:
    • Do everyday things differently. Take a different route to work. Try a new restaurant without checking Yelp first. Go vegetarian for a week, or a month. Try a new operating system. Recalibrate your reality. Whether the change you make is large or small, make a change in the way you do things on a day-to-day basis. Look for the perspective that comes from any change, even if it's negative. Don't be put off if things don't work out the way you planned.

    • Take your time making decisions. Sometimes slowing down is all it takes to make you uncomfortable—especially if speed and quick thinking are prized in your work or personal life. Slow down, observe what's going on, take your time to interpret what you see, and then intervene. Sometimes just defending your right to make an educated decision can push you out of your comfort zone. Think, don't just react.

    • Trust yourself and make snap decisions. We're contradicting ourselves, but there's a good reason. Just as there are people who thrive on snap decisions, others are more comfortable weighing all of the possible options several times, over and over again. Sometimes making a snap call is in order, just to get things moving. Doing so can help you kick start your personal projects and teach you to trust your judgement. It'll also show you there's fallout to quick decisions as well as slow ones.

    • Do it in small steps. It takes a lot of courage to break out of your comfort zone. You get the same benefits whether you go in with both feet as you do if you start slow, so don't be afraid to start slow. If you're socially anxious, don't assume you have to muster the courage to ask your crush on a date right away, just say hello to them and see where you can go from there. Identify your fears, and then face them step by step.

    • There are lots of other ways to stretch your personal boundaries. You could learn a new language or skill. Learning a new language has multiple benefits, many of which extend to learning any new skill. Connect with people that inspire you, or volunteer with an organization that does great work. Travel, whether you go around the block or across the globe. If you've lived your whole life seeing the world from your front door, you're missing out. Visiting new and different places is perhaps one of the best ways to really broaden your perspectives, and it doesn't have to be expensive or difficult to do. The experiences you have may be mind-blowing or regrettable, but that doesn't matter. The point is that you're doing it, and you're pushing yourself past the mental blocks that tell you to do nothing.
    Trying new things is difficult. If it weren't, breaking out of your comfort zone would be easy and we'd do it all the time. It's just as important to understand how habits form and how we can break them as it is to press yourself out of your comfort zone by doing specific things.

    Why It's Important to Return To Your Comfort Zone from Time to Time

    You can't live outside of your comfort zone all the time. You need to come back from time to time to process your experiences. The last thing you want is for the new and interesting to quickly become commonplace and boring. This phenomenon, called hedonistic adaptation, is the natural tendency to be impressed by new things only to have the incredible become ordinary after a short time. It's why we can have access to the greatest repository of human knowledge ever created (the internet) at our fingertips (on our smartphones) and still get so bored that all we think of is how quickly we can get newer, faster access. In one way it drives us forward, but in another it keeps us from appreciating the subtle and the everyday.

    You can fight this by trying new, smaller things. Ordering something new at a restaurant where you get the same thing every visit can be eye-opening the same way visiting a new country can be, and both push you out of your comfortable spaces. Diversify the challenges you embrace so you don't just push your boundaries in the same direction. If you've been learning Latin-based languages and you find yourself bored, switch gears to a language with a completely different set of characters. If you've taken up running, instead of just trying to run longer and farther, try challenging yourself to run on different terrain. You still get the challenge, but you broaden your horizons in a different way.

    Take It Slow, and Make Stretching Your Boundaries a Habit Of Its Own

    The point of stepping out of your comfort zone is to embrace new experiences and to get to that state of optimal anxiety in a controlled, managed way, not to stress yourself out. Take time to reflect on your experiences so you can reap the benefits and apply them to your day to day activities. Then do something else interesting and new. Make it a habit if you can. Try something new every week, or every month. Our own Adam Dachis has committed himself to doing something weird and new every week, just to test his boundaries.

    Similarly, don't limit yourself to big, huge experiences. Maybe meditation pushes you out of your comfort zone just as much as bungee jumping. Try the former if you've already done the latter. The goal isn't to become an adrenaline junkie—you just want to learn to learn what you're really capable of. That's another reason why it's important to return to a comfortable state sometimes and just relax. Just don't forget to bring back as much as you can carry from those inspired, creative, productive, and slightly uncomfortable moments when you do.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Set Up for Triangle Pose

    The seemingly minute details of setting up for Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) will assist greatly with your alignment.  Setting up properly will help with the integrity of the posture and ultimately make it easier and more comfortable for you.  Once that "muscle memory" is there it will be easier from then on, so it really is worth the work at the beginning.

    Here are some key points to remember in the set up:

    • Stand with your feet together, raise your arms overhead, bringing your palms together. Then take a big step to your right and lower your arms halfway, to about shoulder height.

    • Your stance should be wide, at least 4-5 feet. Your heels should be in one straight line as if you could draw a straight pencil line behind them.

    • Push your hips forward (opens the hips) and lean your upper body back (opens the chest).

    • The muscles of your arms are strong and engaged. Your palms are facing down with your fingers pressed together to engage your triceps. Your shoulders are down away from your ears and your back is strong with your shoulders squeezing together.

    • Keeping your body facing forward, turn your right foot out 90 degrees to the side. Since your heels should already be lined up in one straight line, don't pivot on the ball of your foot. Pivot on your heel only so that your heels remain in one straight line.

    • Keep your spine in the center as you bend your right knee. Don't angle your spine or let your upper body lean towards your bent knee. Your spine, your upper body is still vertically centered at this point even though your leg is bending.

    • Your right knee is bending until the back of your right thigh is parallel to the floor, with the shin and thigh forming a right angle. Push your hips forward and bring your right knee back.

    Now you are ready to move into the posture.

    • Think of your hips as the pivot point. They do not move. It is very common, especially as a beginner, to lift your hips up as you try to touch your toes. Without moving your hips, move both arms at the same time, bending at the waist but keeping the torso stable and the spine straight. 

    • Turn the palms forward and reach down with the right arm, while equally and simultaneously reaching up with the left, placing the elbow in front of the right knee and touching the tips of your fingertips to the floor between the big toe and the second toe of your right foot. If your fingers can't touch your toes, stretch your right shoulder down. There should be no pressure on your fingertips; you're just barely touching the floor.

    To get the alignment in Trikonasana, imagine that you’re doing the exercise between two walls, one at your front and one at your back, that are closing in toward each other. If your hips are too far back, you tend to lean forward and get thrown off balance. If you push your hips too far forward, your upper body goes too far back and you backbend instead of extending the spine.

    Monday, March 13, 2017

    Tip of the Week: Yoga and the Autonomic Nervous System

    Yoga and the Autonomic Nervous System

    We have all heard that if we are stressed we should try yoga. Us type A personalities (yes I am a type A personality and used to be way worse before yoga!) may not be able to understand how 90 min in a hot room can help our stress level.  In fact, one might argue 90 min not working or being productive probably would stress them out even more right?—wrong!  Yoga does help with stress.   Stress is connected to the Autonomic Nervous System.  Yoga helps with stress by making our Autonomic Nervous System more efficient.

    Let’s go back to the basics first:

    Our autonomic nervous system really developed back when we evolved from apes into the species we are now, Homo Erectus.  Back then we had 3 concerns: eat, sleep, and don’t get eaten.  Therefore our bodies were programmed with hormones to help us seek food when hungry, sleep when tired, and gather all our energy when faced with a stressful situation such as encountering a bear.


    We still face situations that stimulate our Sympathetic Nervous System (the fight or flight system), they just aren’t in animal form.  Today our stresses come in the form of work deadlines, traffic jams, and juggling kids soccer practices.  In fact, our lives have become so full, “stresses” often occupy our minds leaving us perpetually in fight or flight response.  What makes this even worse is fight or flight will triggers fight or flight.  It is a positive feedback loop and without conditioning your parasympathetic system to take over, your body begins to be in a constant state of stress.

    What does Fight or Flight look like?

    • Elevated Heart Rate
    • Increased Blood Pressure
    • Adrenaline Increases
    • Breathing Rate Increase
    • Muscles Tense (Think shoulders up by your ears)
    Remember, fight or flight is actually a positive feedback loop. That means the symptoms of fight or flight lead to more fight or flight response.  What does that mean?  See below:
    Our lives throw so much stress our way, that our brains never activate the “relax” or parasympathetic nervous system.  This is where yoga comes in.  Yoga trains our bodies to use the sympathetic system when needed, and retrains our parasympathetic system to take over when we aren’t actually in fight or flight.

    How does Yoga Retrain the Autonomic Nervous System?

    Yoga creates a battle field between your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic system.  On one hand, you are exercising: increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate activating your sympathetic system.  On the other hand there are actions and heat built into yoga that activate your parasympathetic system and help normalize your Autonomic Nervous System Function:
    • Bikram yoga begins and ends with a breathing exercise. Breathing activates the parasympathetic system so you start and end activating your “relax” system.
    • There are stretches built into Bikram yoga in between “cardio” poses.  Stretching also activates the parasympathetic system.
    • Heat has also been proven to help regulate the Autonomic Nervous System making it more efficient.  -Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult 2000
    After making it through a Bikram yoga class where your Autonomic Nervous System Battles between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic for 90 min we begin to condition ourselves to handle sympathetic responses better and shut them off quickly by activating our parasympathetic system. This conditioning, makes sympathetic responses in the real world more manageable.  We begin to condition ourselves to breath when we hit that traffic jam so we don’t carry our stress into our work day.  If we do have a deadline at work we don’t cycle through sympathetic response, we focus and move on.  We still hit stressful moments, but yogis train their bodies to realize these everyday “stresses”  aren’t as stressful as a bear attack so they are able to tell their bodies to relax when stress is encountered.