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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tip of the Week: Yoga Helps You Get Pregnant

Doing Bikram Yoga during pregnancy is not only safe but also a healthy experience throughout the term of your pregnancy. With your doctor’s permission and knowing Bikram’s modifications, continuing your practice during pregnancy can be a beautiful time for you and your baby.

If you aren't pregnant yet, having a strong practice before you conceive is very beneficial. With a solid practice already in place, as long as you're feeling good you may just continue your regular practice after you conceive until you feel the need for the modifications (between 8 and 12 weeks), and under the advice of your doctor or midwife.  Many women have practiced right up until delivery. You may notice that the practice is very challenging in the first trimester as you are adjusting to hormones and increased blood volume. 

The first trimester is a vital time for the developing fetus and you may be tired and/or feeling ill. Therefore, it is best to wait until after your 12th week before starting the yoga for the first time. Postures are modified for pregnancy but done with the regular students so you are welcome at any class. 

If you've been having difficulty conceiving, the following by Genny Wilkinson-Priest on Healthista answers the question: "Can Yoga Help You Get Pregnant?"

"Many women today, whether because they prioritise their careers or meet their partner later in life, are starting their families later in life. In fact, the average age a woman gives birth in this country reached 30 for the first time ever last year. While post-35 – the age at which doctors warn fertility takes a nose dive – some women get pregnant easily; others find it difficult to conceive without (or even with) the use of medical intervention like IVF.

When you’re trying to get pregnant and it’s not happening, you start to examine aspects of your life that might be a factor blocking conception such as the amount of alcohol you drink or the number of hours you work in a stressed-out office environment. You might scrutinise how you exercise as studies have shown too much or too little  can affect hormonal balance and the regularity of a woman’s cycle.

I should know – when trying to conceive six years ago, I went through a ‘bat shit crazy’ phase as my husband now likes to call it. I wanted a baby so badly that it was all I could think about and my moods swung wildly, culminating in one episode when I hurled a glass of wine across the kitchen table at my husband over the mildest of infractions. It was only when I let go of my deeply rooted desire, and practiced yoga and meditation daily, that I got pregnant.

Zita West is one of many fertility experts that  recommends yoga to her patients who are having difficulty conceiving. ‘Any exercise that involves mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditative visualisation has many physical, emotional and mental benefits,’ she said, adding that yoga is a calming antidote to any woman consumed by an overwhelming desire for a baby, the resulting stress of which becomes an impediment to conception itself.

Yoga teaches us that suffering is caused by attachment. In this case it’s never more true than when trying to get pregnant month-in, month-out, buying stacks of ovulation kits, popping ovulation stimulating medication such as Clomid like tic tacs, and going through the slog of IVF treatment.

Did yoga help me conceive? I can’t say for sure, but it did help me calm down and keep things in perspective. I now have four children and when I was trying to conceive I practiced many aspects of yoga from postures to meditation to mantra to visualisation. Yoga helped me connect with, better know and understand my body; I believe this was a crucial factor in my fertility."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tip of the Week: 5 Things to Think About in Savasana

Although Savasana is one of the 26 postures in the Bikram Series, no body ever treats "dead body pose" as a serious pose. We are too busy fighting bodily tension, feeling guilty for relaxing, or anticipating the next pose. Relaxing is one of the most beneficial things you can learn to do in life. In order to practice a successful savasana pose, we should remember our five keys to hatha yoga :
  1. faith
  2. patience
  3. determination
  4. concentration
  5. self control
Keep in mind these things when you are having difficulty relaxing during savasana.  The tranquil inactivity in savasana is actually full of more beneficial living than all the mindless rushing around of our daily lives.  Through relaxation, we develop suppleness. Through suppleness, we can control and fully apply our strength and flexibility.  That is the balance we attain through hatha yoga.
Here’s a few tips to enhance your savasana experience ::
  • always lie face up with your feet facing away from the teacher. This is time-honored tradition in the East, and shows respect for all beings
  • palms upward
  • feet relaxed and dropping out to the side
  • eyes open
  • breathing normal (means forget about your breathing)
  • imagine all the spark has left your body
  • let the floor support you
  • relax the body as a whole unit

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tip of the Week: Stretch Hamstrings in Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose

The following by hotyogadoctor explores some ways move to into Standing Separate Leg Pose when you have a difficult time straightening your back or legs from tight hamstrings.

There are a several poses in the series where straight legs are ‘demanded’ by the script, but actually the outcome of the pose combined with YOUR own flexibility and capabilities means that you must understand the physiological need to make the choice of having EITHER bent OR straight legs. The standing poses of this type, where the choice is crucial, are:
  • Hands To Feet Pose, (Padahastasana)
  • Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana).
Now, we ALL know that in Padahastasana, the script demands you to keep your body on your thighs the whole time. Yet, very confusingly, you are told to ‘straighten the legs’ and ‘lock the legs’ again, and again and again, even if your legs can only open up to a 120 degree angle (nowhere near a straight 180 degrees).
With Hands to Feet you already know to keep your body on your legs. If you have even a little space between body and legs, then you start to use your arms in a different way. Your shoulders erroneously get engaged and the result is LESS STRETCH through the back of the body.

Now, let’s look at Stranding Separate Leg Stretch pose. If you examine what’s happening in this pose you’ll discover it’s almost identical to Hands to Feet pose. The only real difference is that your legs are apart instead of being together. Just like Padahastasana, you must engage your biceps to pull. When you do, the shoulders move away from the head, decompressing the neck, recruiting more power, and at the same time resolving tension.

Now that sounds pretty simple but you need to make sure of a couple of other details. The instructions in most studios are to step out 4 feet. But did you know you can have your feet too far apart for your body? 

This photo shows Lauren is stepping out too wide

The photo above is of a friend of mine, Lauren who practises yoga in another city. She wasn’t getting anywhere with this pose so I asked her to do it for me the way she has been taught. This is REALLY how this happened, honest! When you step out too far your grip is compromised. When my husband started Hot Yoga years ago, he was stepping out too far and causing spasms in his abductor muscles. So you can acknowledge that the command to ‘step out further if your forehead doesn’t touch the floor’ doesn’t apply to everyone.

Anyway, I digress. What Lauren was doing was following (recited script) directions. Her step out was as commanded but then she could only reach the sides of her feet. And she was only able to slip her fingers in under her arches at a 90 degree angle. This is the least effective foot grip.
Ideally you want to be grabbing your feet from behind your heels. If you can’t manage that then aim to grip from the sides of your heels, and if that is difficult, grip as far to the back as possible and definitely behind the arch. Try bending your legs quite a bit more than usual to get the grip.
Then bend your elbows near your shins and pull with your biceps, trying to angle your elbows close to your legs. With your legs bent and the pull as described you begin to feel a lengthening stretch not only in your legs but also in your back. In other words, what you do by standing with your legs more closely together and BENDING your legs, creates more EASE in the back of your legs.

Again, what you are doing is finding the hidden length in your hamstrings when you BEND your legs. See below. The photo above is when Lauren is standing with her legs too wide and her grip is wrong, and halfway up the foot at the arch.

As soon as Lauren took a slightly less wide step (below), she could grab her feet more from the back where they should be. Her legs were a bit more bent but immediately she could feel the stretch really WORKING through the back of her body. She was able to find more length in her legs and the pose INSTANTLY became easier.

 This photo shows Lauren doing it correctly

Lauren correct from the side
This photo shows the shorter (correct) step from the side
See the more effective stretch (above)?  OK now look at the shoulder and hand positions in the photo with the shorter step out – notice the difference? This is the right way to do it! 

Now see what happens (photo below) when Lauren steps out too far – this time from the side.

This photo shows Lauren stepping out too wide

The other issue is working out whether to keep your legs straight or bent. Mostly students straighten their legs before they are ready. In reality, most students should have their legs bent. Do you remember the stretch you get in Hands to Feet?

That is for most students a bent leg pose. But you still manage to get your delicious stretch through the legs. This other Stretch pose uses the same concepts. When you come down, arms out, bend your legs and slide your hands down the back of your calf muscles to reach around behind the heels. With every fiber of your being, work on straightening your back. With your pull, work your chest through your shoulders.

Try to feel an arch in your spine rather than a rounded element. ONLY when your back is straight can you even contemplate straightening your legs. Most students should practise this pose with bent legs.

There are other poses which require you to pull on your feet where you need to sacrifice the desire for straight legs and bend up the legs to pull with your biceps muscles. These include Pashimottanasana (near the end) and you can even use this principle in your sit-ups.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tip of the Week: 80/20 Breathing

If you find yourself crash landing with a big "AAHHH!" exhale through the mouth after flying like an airplane in Full Locust Pose, or have to come out of the backbend or Camel Pose early  because you feel like you're about to suffocate, it is very likely that you are holding your breath and  not breathing properly. If you can learn the simple breathing technique called "80/20 breathing", you will find much more energy, strength, and comfort in the posture. 

80/20 Breathing

1. Inhale 100 percent and hold the breath just for a moment.
2. Move into the posture while exhaling out only 20% of the air through your nose with your mouth closed. 
3. Inhale only 20% of your lung capacity by taking in a little sip of air through your nose. Continue with this 20% exhalation and inhalation as you hold the pose, keeping the lungs 80% full.
4. Exhale completely through the nose once you finish the posture. 

The 80/20 breath is used for balance and energy while doing all of the standing and back-bending postures.