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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tip of the Week: Bikram is Fountain of Youth for Those Over 50

Bikram Yoga is fantastic for people of ANY age, but the following is a wonderful article by Arlene Nisson Lassin of The Huffington Post called "The Fountain of Youth for Those Post 50 -- But it Doesn't Come Easy".

Before we begin, I know there are lots of tonics, miracle vitamins, hormone therapy, cleanses and diets that have claimed to be the Fountain of Youth for those of us past age 50. So before you suspend belief or stop reading, check out this recent photo of me. The purpose of displaying this photo is to show how youthful I look and feel as my proof because I did NOT look this glowingly youthful a while back. (No, I am not about to share the before photos!) I'm in my late fifties by the way.

I haven't glowed like this since my pregnancies 26-plus years ago, and people mention it to me all the time that I look vibrant and healthy these days. It's not my eating habits as I have only recently begun to eat more healthfully, and have been known previously to eat Cheetos for dinner. (Now I am snacking on things like dry roasted seaweed -- thanks a lot Dr. Oz!)

I have to give credit for my fountain of youth to my exercise regimen: Bikram Yoga. 

Here is my own brutally honest experience with this, but first read this quote: "Bikarm Yoga acts as an anti-aging and preventative medicine keeping the body young and healthy. Yoga maintains youth long. It keeps the body full of vitality, immune to diseases, even at old, old age. The Yogi never becomes old." (Bishnu Ghosh) 

It occurred to me that I was crazy for even trying an exercise class that required me to exercise for 90 minutes in a 105 degree room with 40 percent humidity. It's like working out inside a very hot sauna. After my first class, exhausted, spent, and reduced to an absolute puddle of sweat, I was convinced I was insane. I looked around at some of the young "yoga" bodies who bounced up energetically after class, while I crawled on the floor while gathering my mat and towel, and then limped toward the exit. 

I walked out that first time telling the instructor that I didn't know if I could do it again. The instructor looked at me and said, "You must come back tomorrow, and you will start seeing benefits."

I chuckled and shook my head. No way was that happening. Except that after I showered and survived the ordeal, I felt energized and great for hours later. That drove me to try it again the next day, and then the next day, and then a few days later. I made a routine of it, going several times a week because I felt so great afterwards.

For those who abhor Yoga in its many forms, I am one of you. I am a type A personality, and a bit hyper, and way too driven to have patience to sit there crossed-legged, pinching my fingers together and saying "Ohm." I am not the meditation type, or deep breathing type either, trust me. I have tried other forms of yoga and did not like them one bit -- not the poses, not the routine, not the breathing or meditating. 

Somehow the Bikram Yoga poses were more tolerable to me.
It was a long time until I pushed past the pain and discomfort in Bikram Yoga. Many people would give up way before I did -- and I have seen them drop like flies out of the studio I frequent. 

I started out with a very inflexible old body, and couldn't even consider twisting my body into some of the poses required. The calm, all-knowing instructors encouraged me and told me to give it time. There are still times when I feel like my flexibility is akin to a whale trying to bend backwards at the middle.

A part of my personality is stubbornness, and that serves me well in cases like this. So I stuck to it as I saw how it basically detoxed me from stress and life on the run each time I went. I felt a kind of relaxation and energy afterward that is hard to describe. I am convinced that puddle of sweat I leave behind holds all the toxins I would have kept in my body. It is not comfortable leaving as wet as if I just came out of a pool, but I think of what I have released.

Slowly, I became stronger. In fact, Bikram professes to thwart osteoporosis by helping with bone density, and helps with balance, thereby preventing falls in the senior years. Another bonus was the calories I was burning during class let me eat at my normal appetite level and not gain weight. 

Each Bikram Yoga pose has a specific purpose, and they are all health related. There are poses for the thyroid, for the colon and digestion, and on and on, and I felt the wonderful effects. After six months, I feel my digestion and metabolism have improved, and I have tons more energy. My immune system seems to have a boost. I feel a bit slimmer, although I am still not rid of my spare tire around the middle. Supposedly it can even lower cholesterol, and help with diabetes too. My varicose veins that started appearing have virtually disappeared.

About the heat: I am not going to lie. There are some days with my exertion level and the heat where I feel like I am broiling in a rotisserie. There is a good reason for the heat though. Benjamin Lorr said in his book, Hell-Bent, "increased room temperature correlates with improved physical performance of the body. Specifically, blood vessels dilate and tissue expands improving blood flow and distribution of oxygen throughout the body. This creates an overall sense of well-being."

I still look ridiculous doing some of the impossible poses, but I see all body types, all ages, and it occurs to me that except for the most advanced practitioners, we are all in the same boat, struggling to get through the session. 

Now mind you, it is not an easy task to get into a routine of doing this. It's kind of like running the marathon and hitting that famous wall. If you can get past that torturous beginning, and take it at your own pace, you probably will succeed as I did. 

We all need a little help to revitalize ourselves and fight off disease as we age. If you stick with this it becomes tolerable. This hard work and hours of commitment is my gift to myself; my own fountain of youth.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tip of the Week: Breathe Deeply

Ever wonder why your instructor tells you to breathe in deeply through your nose during class when really you just want to pant heavily through your mouth? The following article from Harvard Health Publications sheds some light on the importance of proper breathing.

Take a Deep Breath

Proper breathing goes by many names. You may have heard it called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, or belly breathing. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and you will notice that your lower belly rises. The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is not limited to a select few. This skill is inborn but often lies dormant. Reawakening it allows you to tap one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.

Why does breathing deeply seem unnatural to many of us? One reason may be that our culture often rewards us for stifling strong emotions. Girls and women are expected to rein in anger. Boys and men are exhorted not to cry. What happens when you hold back tears, stifle anger during a charged confrontation, tiptoe through a fearful situation, or try to keep pain at bay? Unconsciously, you hold your breath or breathe irregularly.

Body image affects breathing, too. A “washboard” stomach considered so attractive in our culture encourages men and women to constrict their stomach muscles. This adds to tension and anxiety, and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” feel normal.

The act of breathing engages the diaphragm, a strong sheet of muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen. As you breathe in, the diaphragm drops downward, pulling your lungs with it and pressing against abdominal organs to make room for your lungs to expand as they fill with air. As you breathe out, the diaphragm presses back upward against your lungs, helping to expel carbon dioxide (see figure).

Shallow breathing hobbles the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest portion of the lungs — which is where many small blood vessels instrumental in carrying oxygen to cells reside — never gets a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.

Here’s how to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:
First steps. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tip of the Week: Roll Your Feet on a Tennis Ball for Tight Hamstrings

 I found this fun little tip for tight hamstrings on

Is there such a thing as yoga magic?
If you struggle with tight hamstrings, this Five-Minute Yoga Challenge might lead you to say yes.
The effects can be startling the first time you try it.
Continue to roll your feet daily for a week and some of that “shock of the new” will drop away.
You’ll be left with livelier and more relaxed feet, and a new benchmark in hamstring flexibility – still enough of a change to call magic, considering that it’s achieved with a tennis ball and five minutes a day.
Why does it work?
When you massage the soles of your feet, you loosen the starting point of a network of connective tissue that runs all the way up your back body to the crown of your head. So it stands to reason that massaging your feet can loosen your hamstrings.
Having a hard time imagining what that network of connective tissue would look like?
Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists has posted a fascinating video from a human dissection showing the entire Superficial Back Line of fascia, connecting from the feet to just above the eyebrows. You will never feel the same about the distance between your feet and your head again.
Before you try this for the first time, measure your hamstring flexibility:
Come into a standing forward bend with your feet hip distance apart. Press down into your feet, lift your front thighs and straighten your legs. Roll your front upper thighs in, and widen across your hamstrings.
Unless you can easily bring your palms to the floor with your legs straight, use yoga bricks (or books or a handy stair), to support your upper body.
Make a note of how much height you need to place your palms flat, then roll up from your forward bend.
Now, stand close to a wall on a yoga mat or carpet, with one hand on the wall for balance. Place a tennis ball under one foot and start to roll the sole of your foot over the tennis ball.
Experiment with the amount of weight you can put into the ball and still have an intense, yet pleasant sensation.
Drape your toes over the tennis ball and massage the backs of your toes. Then work your way down the sole of your foot, all the way back to your heel. Roll along the inner and outer arches.
Keep rolling for at least two minutes – it helps to set a timer or watch a clock – and then move to your other foot.
Once you’ve worked both feet, revisit your forward bend. You may be surprised to find that – abracadabra! – your hamstrings have lengthened by as much as an inch or two.

Benefits: Our feet become cramped and tense from wearing restrictive shoes and walking on hard surfaces. Regular ball rolling releases tension in the muscles and fascia. Since the fascial body is a web of connective tissue, a release in one part can trigger release in the entire web.
Sequence: Especially welcome after a long walk, this exercise can be done any time, and almost anywhere. If you are free to take your shoes off when you sit to work, you can even keep a tennis ball under your desk and do impromptu rolling sessions while sitting down. Do it at the beginning of a longer practice to bring extra awareness to all of your poses.
Ouch: If your feet are particularly sensitive, a tennis ball may initially feel too harsh. Find a softer, more forgiving ball, and work with it until your feet adapt. Then move on to a tennis ball.
Beware of excess enthusiasm. Stick with a moderate pressure and a modest amount of time – two to four minutes per foot if you’re standing, 10 if you’re sitting down. It’s possible to hurt the muscles in your feet by rolling too much and too fiercely.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tip of the Week: Balancing Stick

 first posted 8/28/12

This posture is one of the most exhilarating, yet challenging postures in the Bikram Series. Just like Standing Head-to-Knee Pose and Standing Bow Pulling Pose, bringing the chest parallel to the floor helps to stimulate and bring strength to the heart, which is exactly why it is also known as “heart attack on a stick posture”! 

Tips to help improve your Balancing Stick


Your set up will determine how well you will perform your posture.  


Lean back slightly in the set up to stretch up toward the ceiling. 


Lift your chest and as you step into the posture LOCK your knees and elbows and CONTRACT every muscle, even before you start. This will improve stability in the posture.


Point your toes from beginning. After you step forward and before you bring your body down, lift your back leg one inch off the floor, and point your toes.


As you bring your body down, keep your back leg and arms in one solid straight line. If your arms come down before your leg comes up, or your leg comes up before your arms go down you are NOT in a straight line. You are a "broken umbrella".


With your arms glued to your ears, keep them and your back leg completely parallel to the floor.

Breathe slow and even! Because this posture is only 10 seconds long, people often try to hold their breath here.


Stomach, stomach, stomach! Stabilizing your core is key in this posture and will help you balance. Remember dead weight is heavy weight, so keep everything contracted and you’ll feel light as a feather.

Imagine like your body is being used in a game of tug-of-war. Your arms and legs should be stretching each other apart in opposite directions!

Benefits of the Balancing Stick Bikram Pose:

This particular Bikram yoga pose improves balance, increases endurance, increases lung capacity, stimulates the heart and arteries (strengthens the heart), helps to clear blockages from arteries helping to prevent future cardiac issues, helps varicose veins, burns fat, relieves tension spine, improves concentration. Physiologically, this posture stimulates the pancreas, liver, spleen, kidneys, and nervous system.

Rajashree Choudhury says that 300 calories are burned in this 10 second posture. That’s how much internal work your body is doing!