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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tip of the Week: Blowing in Firm Pose (Kapalbhati Breathing)

Kapalbhati Pranayama is a cleansing breathing exercise done at the completion of the 26 postures. In Sanskrit, Kapal means forehead or skull and Bhati means shining. So, Kapalbhati is known as the practice which leads to the cleansing of your mind through rapid exhalation. This exercise is just all about inhaling and exhaling but surprisingly it has tons of benefits. Kapalbhati plays a very important role in keeping your heart healthy, improving your digestive system, removing toxins, strengthening your abdominal wall and keeping your mind peaceful and free from negative thoughts.


  • Sit on your heels and with straight arms place your hands on your knees.
  • Focus your gaze at yourself in the mirror.
  • Completely relax your abdomen.
  • Take a small inhalation. Pull your belly in and up to sharply exhale.
  • Place a hand on your stomach to make sure your midsection is moving in and out as it should.
  • Do not bounce or move your shoulders up and down.
  • Inhale will happen automatically, so focus on exhaling.
  • Exhale like you are blowing out a birthday candle, but keep your face and lips relaxed.
  • Pick up the pace in the second set and work to stay in rhythm with the group.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tip of the Week: Finding the Best Yoga Mat

With all of the sweating, moving, and balancing you do in Bikram Yoga, you want to have the right kind of yoga mat. The following from has some good pointers on choosing the best mat for your practice.


Thick and Padded for Cushioning

A yoga mat that is thick and padded enough to withstand the rigors of a Bikram yoga class is best. A thin mat will wear out too quickly and will not provide the cushioning you will want for poses such as rabbit pose, when you place your head onto your mat. For most people, that will mean a mat that is at least one-half inch in thickness.

Durability: Rubber, Bamboo

Eco-friendly yoga mats made from natural rubber or bamboo or other plant-based materials are excellent choices for Bikram yoga. A rubber mat will wear well from the standing poses found in Bikram yoga. Those made from bamboo are surprisingly durable and lighter in weight than rubber.

Traction to Prevent Sliding

It might be possible to practice some types of yoga on bare wood floor, but Bikram yoga is not one of them. The heated room and no-nonsense succession of poses will quickly produce a sweaty practice that requires a yoga mat that will not slip or slide. For that reason, selecting a yoga mat made with a patterned surface to provide traction on carpet or hard flooring is a good idea. It is not uncommon to see people practice Bikram yoga in bathing suits as the session produces that much heat.

Reversible for Versatility

Fully reversible mats are also very practical for a Bikram yoga class. While many people will bring thick beach towels and lay them flat on top of their yoga mats, these can slide during practice. There are yoga mats that have a “sticky” side and on the other side is a terry towel side to soak up the perspiration from practice. You might try one to see whether it suits you. As all yogis know, you should choose the best yoga mat for your Bikram yoga class based on your direct experiences.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tip of the Week: 5 Steps to Safer Backbends

Do you tuck your tailbone in backbending poses? Here’s a smarter way to keep your back safe—and get a deeper opening. The following is from Doug Keller on

It would be hard to imagine yoga without backbends—they’re invigorating, uplifting, and heart-opening. Backbends stimulate the proper functioning of the digestive system, help preserve the health of the vertebrae and spinal disks, and open the body to deep diaphragmatic breathing. It’s no wonder that backbends are an important part of any hatha yoga routine.

At the same time, these poses place strong demands upon the most vulnerable segment of the spine—the lumbar region. To protect against pinching in the low back, many teachers give cues to “scoop” or “tuck” the tailbone. But there’s a better, more precise approach to safe backbending that engages certain key core muscles and the traditional hatha yoga practice of mula bandha, or root lock. To understand just when instructions regarding the tailbone are appropriate—and when we should engage our core instead—let’s take a closer look at how the sacrum moves within the pelvis.

Sacral Movement

The pelvis contains three bones that are designed to move in relationship to each other. The two hip bones swing back and forth with the legs, while the sacrum is positioned between them, twisting slightly from side to side as it mediates between the movements of the hips.

The sacrum also has its own distinctive action called nutation—a tipping or nodding forward of the top of the sacrum—which is crucial in supporting the spine during bending motions, including backbending. The sacrum’s neutral position—when sitting or walking, for example—is one of slight nutation. This minor forward tilt helps to support the natural inward curve of the lumbar spine; it is a stable yet unlocked position that allows free movement of the hips.

Tadasana, or mountain pose, on the other hand, requires that the pelvis be locked into a stable, unmoving position at the sacroiliac (SI) joints (the surfaces where the sacrum joins to each hip bone) in order to maintain the stillness and steadiness of the posture. This is accomplished by slightly scooping the tailbone down and forward—an action called counternutation, which causes the top of the sacrum to tip slightly backward. Counternutation does not generally apply if the body is in motion; it is specific to tadasana and other postures (such as parshvakonasana, or side angle pose) in which the body is meant to be in a single straight line from the heels through the crown of the head.

When you bend backward or forward, however, the opposite action takes place in the sacrum: the top of the sacrum automatically nods forward beyond its neutral position, and the tailbone shifts slightly backward. Studies show that this sacral nutation in spine-bending poses stabilizes the sacrum within the pelvic bones in a more secure and less vulnerable position than counternutation, where, particularly with backbending, you may be more at risk of pinching the tissues within the SI joints, forcing the SI joints into misalignment, or otherwise straining or jamming your low back.
So if we’re not scooping or tucking the tailbone, what should we do to protect the spine in backbends?

The Right Support

The right support for backbending recruits several muscles in the pelvis, but starts at the deepest layer of the abdominal muscles—the transverse abdominals.
The transverse abdominals play a significant active role in stabilizing the trunk of the body for movement. They wrap around the torso—from the fascia of the lumbar spine and the upper edges of the hip bones at the back body to the front edges of the ribs and the rim of the pelvic bowl. Essentially, the transverse abdominals produce just enough pressure in the abdomen and pelvic cavity to distribute the stress of movement, so that no single part of the low back bears the entire burden.

In order to consciously engage these muscles, you can focus on their action in the lower abdomen, about three inches below the navel. When you contract here, you can feel the muscles firm in toward the sacrum and draw up toward the navel; at the same time, the two hip points at the front of the pelvis squeeze toward each other, as if there is a string between them that is tightening.

A Simple Experiment

Engage the Transverse Abdominals

Sit cross-legged in sukhasana (easy pose) and place your hands to either side of your hips; bend your elbows so you can place yoga blocks or books under your hands. (This same experiment can be done while sitting on a chair with armrests; place your feet on the floor and your hands on the arms of the chair.)

Bring a natural inward curve to your low back, tipping your pelvis slightly forward. Tuck your chin toward your chest to help you draw your shoulders back and open your chest. Then press with your hands to lift your weight out of your sit bones (you don’t have to lift your hips entirely off the floor). Feel how the pit of your abdomen naturally tones and lifts, your hip points draw toward each other in the front, and your sacrum lengthens downward from your waistline toward your tailbone, as if your tailbone were heavy or rooted in the earth.

Find Mula Bandha

Now look deeper inside, beyond these actions. If you pay attention to the muscles of the pelvic floor at the perineum (the region between the anus and the urethra), you’ll find that you can gently draw the perineum upward as you lift. This is the subtle action of mula bandha, a toning and inner lift of the muscles of the pelvic floor. Then lower the hips back down.

Next see if you can create the same actions at the pelvic floor before you lift your hips, and then lift up. In this exercise, mula bandha is most accessible when you start from the abdominal action we just described: the pit of your abdomen tones and lifts, and your hip points squeeze toward each other. This action helps you to initiate the lift of the perineum. When you engage mula bandha, your pelvis, abdomen, and low back will feel steady, stable, and light, regardless of whether you’re lifting your hips up or setting them down.

Notice what happens in the area of the sacrum as you practice the actions in the abdominals and pelvic floor. The deep muscles that you feel drawing downward from your waistline toward your tailbone are the multifidus muscles, which lie close to the sacrum on the inside of the two hip points at the back of your pelvis. When the transverse abdominals engage at the pit of the abdomen and the sacrum is stabilized, the multifidi co-contract and inflate. In this way, the multifidus muscles act like protective air bags that cushion the sacroiliac joints, preventing any pinching of the joint tissue.

For comparison, try scooping your tailbone down and forward before you lift up. You’re likely to feel the triangle of muscles between the tailbone and the sit bones tense up, and there is a hardness and greater effort to the action of lifting. You may even feel a slight pull or discomfort in the SI joints. In this sitting position, scooping the tailbone works against the natural nutated positioning of the sacrum.

Safe Backbending

This nutation (a forward tilt of the sacrum relative to the hip bones) also occurs naturally during backbending. However, it is possible for the sacrum to nutate excessively under the pressure of the backbend—especially if you’re hypermobile in the SI joints. So it is essential to engage the core muscles described in the exercise above in order to stabilize and protect the low back.

By engaging the transverse abdominals, the multifidi, and also the muscles of your inner thighs (as we shall see below), you provide the support for mula bandha, drawing energy up from the center of the pelvic floor and helping the spine extend into a healthy backbend. The example of ustrasana, or camel pose, illustrates how these actions all come together.


A camel kneels down to release the burden of packs and passengers placed upon its back. In ustrasana, we mimic the camel’s relief when we find a light and expansive feeling in the pose, as if we too just slid a burden off our shoulders.
Activating the core muscles and mula bandha in preparation for this kneeling backbend provides the necessary foundation for the feeling of extension, expansion, and release without any compression in the spine. (In contrast, tucking your tailbone and clenching your buttocks would immobilize your spine, pinch the sacroiliac joints, and place the burden of the backbend almost entirely upon just a couple of vertebrae—L4 and L5—in your lumbar spine.)

To begin, kneel on a blanket with your knees and feet hip-distance apart and your toes turned under. Rest your hands on your hips and position your hips vertically above your thighs.

Place a light yoga block between your upper inner thighs. The width of the block should allow you to keep your thighs parallel, with your knees slightly wider than your sit bones. Firm the muscles of the inner thighs (the adductors), as if trying to lift the block up toward your pubic bone, and then draw the block back toward your sit bones. This will tip your pelvis forward, increasing the arch in your lower back. 

Finally, rather than clenching your thighs on the block, draw your inner thighs apart, as if you were trying to drop the block—but without actually dropping it . These actions in the inner thighs create space for the sacrum and allow for the proper amount of nutation. Now the stage is set for engaging your transverse abdominals and the inner lift of mula bandha.

Without changing the arch in your lower back, drop your chin toward your chest and exhale as you firm the pit of your abdomen, squeezing the hip points at the front of the pelvis toward each other. Feel the broadening at the back of your pelvis, across the whole area of the sacrum.

Use your next inhalation to lift through your torso and lengthen the sides of your body from your waistline to your shoulders. Now the pit of your abdomen is not only firming inward but also drawing upward. Take your attention down to your perineum, at the pelvic floor. With the lift of the lower abdominals, draw up from the perineum, initiating mula bandha without creating any clenching in your buttocks or hips. Once you’ve activated mula bandha, you can take the block out (though you may want to try the whole backbend with the block in place).

Before taking the spine into the backbend, look for the slight squeeze of the deep multifidus muscles in the area of the sacrum. Draw downward through these muscles from your waistline toward your tailbone (without scooping), and root through your legs as you continue to lift up from the pelvic floor and the pit of your abdomen. To protect your neck, keep your head looking forward and your chin tucked toward your chest.

Your spine will now naturally want to extend into a backbend. With your next inhalation, press your hips forward (your sacrum will tip forward slightly, as it should) and, without allowing your chest to collapse, reach back to touch your heels, palms facing out.

It’s natural for your whole body to shift back slightly when reaching for the heels, so press your hips forward once again to bring your thighs back toward vertical over the knees. To deepen the pose, point your toes back and place the tops of your feet flat on the floor; if this causes any strain in the knees, come back to the previous version.

Finally, lift and open your chest to allow your spine to fully extend into the backbend. It may feel natural to take your head back into the full expression of the pose. If this causes any pinching in your neck or low back, however, keep your chin tucked toward your chest, and continue to work on the actions in the lower body that we have been practicing. The neck extension will come in time.

Hold the pose for 3 to 5 breaths. To come out, engage your quadriceps by grounding through your feet and lower legs. You can take your hands to your hips as you press your hips forward and draw your spine up, letting the head come up last. When you come fully upright, it’s appropriate to scoop your tailbone to stabilize your spine and sacrum in its tadasana position. You can also give your back muscles a rest by sitting back into balasana, or child’s pose.

The Key to Safe Backbending

As we’ve seen, the key to safe backbending is to stabilize the sacrum in its optimal nutated position while protecting the spine from overarching. By engaging the inner thighs, the transverse abdominals, the multifidi, and mula bandha, we provide core support for the sacrum so that we can drop our burdens and reap all the invigorating benefits of backbends.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tip of the Week: Posture Tips for Triangle Pose

“Triangle pose, this is the master posture of the series, the perfect marriage between the heart and lungs, forcing them to work together like an arranged marriage in India. They may not want to be together at first, but they have to be. No choice.” says Bikram in many of his classes. For many practitioners, triangle remains one of the most challenging poses in the Bikram method. The pose involves strength, flexibility and rigorous attention to form if you are going to improve.

What is happening in the pose…
The Bikram Method Triangle is an integrated posture – building equal amounts of strength AND flexibility through the hips, pelvis, shoulders and torso. Whichever quality your body needs, you will feel, so don’t scare! The base of a proper triangle posture deeply strengthens the muscles of the legs. This greatly improves the stability of the body through strengthening and aligning the legs and hips. Because of this, the organs in the hip area (colon, kidneys, reproductive organs) benefit as do the associated chakras.

The twist through the upper body in combination with the deep opening of the arms helps to create length in the torso which helps provide adequate room for the organs in the chest to function properly. The combination of the twist and the opening of the hips also helps relieve back pain.
Finally, the deep challenge involved helps to build self-awareness, opening of the heart chakra helps to build authenticity and helps to connect you with the things you love. Plus, it feels damn awesome to achieve two good sets of  triangle posture at this climactic point of class!

“What doesn’t triangle do? It improves every single bone, muscle, joint, tendon, and internal organ, and it revitalizes nerves, veins and tissues.” – Bikram
“No more saddlebags” – Rajashree
Physical Benefits…
  • An excellent cardiovascular workout, with very little movement.
  • Increases stability
  • Tones arms, abdomen and thighs
  • Builds better overall body alignment through strengthening of the legs
  • Intensely stretches the side of the body
  • Lengthens the spine, opens the torso and broadens the shoulders which allows proper function of other physiological systems (cardiovascular, digestive etc.)
  • Reduce saddle bags
  • Good for frozen shoulder
  • Helps regulate hormone levels
  • Helps to build awareness of hunger, helping with eating disorders
  • Helps with: constipations, colitis, low blood pressure, appendicitis, spondylitis, menstrual disorders
  • Helps to balance adrenal glands and the production of the stress hormone, cortisol
Energetic Benefits…
  • Opens Heart chakra
  • Strengthens base chakra
Emotional Benefits..
  • Helps to ground the practitioner through turning attention and strengthening the legs
  • Builds overall body awareness and self-appreciation
  • Builds self-awareness helping to liberate the practitioner from emotional patterns
  • Builds concentration
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
“Triangle is the key posture to bring faith back to the spirit,” – Bikram
Take a BIG step…
Beginners often take too small of a step in Triangle. It would seem that a smaller step would make the pose easier, but truly the 4-5 foot step ensures that the final pose is properly aligned. When proper alignment is reached, a natural dynamic tension will help to suspend the posture.

Allow the hips to open…
Don’t worry if you don’t look exactly like your neighbor! Especially in beginners, everyone’s hips will have a different level of movement. Commit to working just as the teacher says – push the left hip forward to mirror as you push the right knee back with the elbow (and vice versa) to create a deep opening of the hips similar to tree posture.

To prevent slipping…
Bikram says you should be able to do this pose on a marble floor with olive oil, however most of us slip in the beginning. Do not blame the floor! (Seriously). It is important to engage the inner thigh muscles to maintain the pose. Also, try focusing on pushing the outer edge, from the pinky-toe to heel, of your foot into the floor. And make sure you are sitting down low enough, this grounds the body also.

About touching the toes…
If you cannot touch your toes, quick check in the mirror that you are sitting down low enough. You will have to will yourself to sit down all the way parallel, and then the toes will be veeery close…

And then: “Stretch UP to stretch down”. The arms have to stretch in both directions, literally shoulder blades coming out of the body, to create a good spacious triangle where you can touch the toes without collapsing. The more strength you bring to your WHOLE body in the triangle, the easier it will be to maintain for the required time.

“Even if the hips are not flexible, you must touch the toes with the hand.” – Bikram

Head and neck alignment…
The instructions in the dialogue in this pose say to look up to the ceiling, with the side turn of the head instead of look back. Always remember the objective of turning the head is to touch the chin directly with the shoulder.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tip of the Week: Hydrate with Food

Yes, you want to be drinking plenty of water throughout the day before and after a Bikram yoga class, but has some fun tips on eating foods with high water content to keep you hydrated this summer!

Summer is on! Which means: longer days, warmer nights and ... dehydrated bodies. Feeling thirsty? You might think that a few sips of water will do the trick, or assume that your body is on the verge of becoming dehydrated. Actually, being thirsty means your body’s asking to be rehydrated ASAP because it's already very dehydrated. 

And while the quickest solution might be to chug a lot of water, that’s not always the best or most convenient solution (unless you enjoy hanging out by a bathroom all day long). So how about eating your way to hydration instead?
Try these 10 fun tips to eat your water to save yourself from chugging it: 

1. Keep them raw.
Raw fruits and veggies, in general, are loaded with water. This is good news because in the summer, our bodies naturally crave raw foods. Enjoy produce as raw as possible throughout the summer and you’ll be hydrating like crazy.
Need another incentive? The water in fruits and veggies is where most of its nutrients lie, so eating them raw means you’re getting the best nutritional bang for your buck.
Trick: grab, wash and snack on raw fruits and veggies all day, every day. Your best bets? Berries (87% to 92% water), baby carrots (87% water), peppers (92% water), and celery (95% water). 

2. Eat plenty of cucumbers (and juice them too).
Having a 95% water content makes a glass of cucumber juice just about as hydrating as a glass of, well, water. Cucumbers are affordable, easy to find and versatile, making them a perfect summer hydration plant-food.
Trick: You can slice them onto sandwiches, chop them into salads, or infuse them into water. A special way to enjoy them, though? Juiced! Simply juice one cucumber (peeled, if it’s not organic). For a special sweet treat, add a few slices of watermelon to your juicer and celebrate a perfect plant-based hydration marriage in your glass. 

3. Blend watermelon.
Named after its amazing abundance of water, watermelon is plant-based hydration perfection hidden in a big green ball. How do you know if you’ve grabbed a winning watermelon? Find one that feels heavy for its size and makes a hollow sound when you tap it.
Trick: toss some in your blender (with seeds but without rind) to enjoy a decadent glass of pink, sweet plant-based hydration. 

4. Soak chia seeds.
Did you know that soaking those adorable little seeds causes them to expand to 10 times their original size? How? Because when chia seeds get soaked, they drink 10 times their weight in water, making them hydration superstars. The key here is to soak chia seeds BEFORE consuming them, to prevent them from absorbing YOUR water, which would do the opposite of hydrate you.
Trick: make chia gel! Mix three tablespoons of chia seeds in one cup of water and let it chill in your fridge. When making a smoothie, add one-to-two tablespoons of this gel to really up the hydration factor. OR, make a chia pudding. Mix three tablespoons of chia seeds in one cup of almond milk and add a splash of sweetener. Let that chill in your fridge for 20 minutes. Enjoy topped with fruit for a healthy, hydrating snack or dessert.
5. Freeze bananas.
Aside from being delicious, bananas are full of potassium, which replenishes lost electrolytes from sweating in the heat of the summer. Bananas also contain magnesium, which helps balance and regulate the fluids in your body. Their sugars provide instant energy, making them an awesome treat when the heat’s draining you.
Trick: make banana ice cream! Peel a ripe banana and cut it into two-inch slices. Freeze them for at least five hours. Pulse those frozen slices in a high-speed blender or food processor 15 times, scraping down the sides as necessary. Then, blend until the banana has reached a soft-serve ice cream texture, adding a few teaspoons of water if desired. 

6. Squeeze lemons.
You’ve surely heard of the numerous health benefits of warm lemon water, but in the summer heat, drinking warm water doesn’t sound all that appealing. So drink cool lemon water in the summer. It’s OK. The super hydrating benefits of vitamin C from the lemon still exist in cool lemon water.
Trick: try squeezing a ratio of 1/2 a lemon, juiced into one cup of cool water and enjoy throughout the day. (Cool is better than iced, since iced will hinder digestion.) 

7. Make coconut water ice cubes.
Coconut water (or nature’s sports drink) boasts four times the amount of potassium as a banana plus B-vitamins, electrolytes and magnesium to boot. It’s very low in calories and sugar, which is deceptive because it tastes so sweet and luxurious! Enjoying coconut water is a phenomenal way to stay hydrated (or to get rehydrated).
Trick: make coconut water ice cubes! Simply pour coconut water into your ice trays and freeze them so you can pop them into a smoothie, cocktail or glass of regular water to add hydration without losing flavor. 

8. Munch on melon.
Cantaloupe has a water content of over 90%, which explains why a perfect bite practically floods your mouth with watery, creamy, sweet goodness. Cut up cantaloupe makes a wonderfully hydrating snack, breakfast or midnight treat.
Trick: try sprinkling some lime juice and freshly chopped mint leaves on top of cantaloupe to mix things up. 

9. Chop up cauliflower.
An unsung hydrating hero, cauliflower is actually made up of 92% water. It’s great eaten completely raw.
Trick: Make raw cauliflower couscous! Pulse raw cauliflower in a food processor until it reaches the consistency of dry rice. Mix with nuts, herbs and spices to make a delicious couscous, or sprinkle on a salad for a crunchy, crouton effect. 

10. Sneak in spinach.
While iceberg lettuce might be a more watery green, spinach is close enough and packs a more nutritious punch. Made up of 92% water, spinach is very helpful in keeping you hydrated.
Trick: sneak spinach in wherever you can. Throw a handful in a smoothie or a juice, layer it into a wrap or sandwich, chop it into a homemade pesto or hummus, add it to your pizza, or even puree a cup into your wet ingredients when baking muffins, banana bread or pancakes.
Happy hydrating!