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Balance

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in Anatomy | 0 comments

Balance

  In Yoga Asana, balance poses are an ingenious way of challenging oneself both on a physical and mental level. However, there are many systems involved in balancing if we take a closer look. The ability to balance depends upon sensory, muscular and motor systems as well as the vestibular system of the inner ear. Proprioceptive information which informs the body’s position in space enters visually, through the tiny little levels of the vestibular system, and through skin, joint and muscle receptors. Input from tactile, pressure and vibrational changes are necessary to stand, walk and detect the body’s relationship to gravity. The extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the foot, meaning the muscles that begin in the shin and foot respectively create a ping-pong ball effect of support all over the body through these receptors to maintain a direct point of balance with gravity. In other words, balance is a series of falls and catches over and over again. In many cases, falls are caused by a loss of balance or the inability to maintain the body’s center of gravity over its base of support. Strengthening the body’s balance centers will prepare your body for avoiding bad falls. Here are some things you can do to strengthen along with yoga asana poses like tree pose, half-moon, and warrior three. -Write the alphabet with your foot: With the foot in the air, write the alphabet with your foot. Try to reach all the edges of space with your toes, not to cut any letters short. This will maintain a full, dynamic range of motion of the ankle. -Balance on one foot: Sometimes known as “storking” in physical therapy lingo. Prepare your arch by grounding all four corners of the foot and lifting the inner arch. Balance until your ankle gets tired. Increase difficulty by swinging your arms, closing your eyes, or a combination of both! This helps the coordination of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot, as well as challenging your visual input. -Theraband: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched and use a stretchy band around the ball of the foot to add resistance to pointing your toes- try a set of 15. Then place the theraband around the pinky edge of the foot and do three reps of 8 times pressing your foot out to the side (or pronating). These are important muscles to reinforce because in common sprains, the weakened ligaments are on the outside ankle. -Toe scrunches with towel: Strengthen the transverse arch of your foot, the arch that runs crossways just beneath all 5 toes. Sit in a chair with a towel under your foot, scrunch the toes and the transverse arch repeatedly pulling the towel towards you. This strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the foot. -Self – care: Massage the entire length of the shin, just outside of the shin bone beginning at the top all the way to the ankle. Massage the full length of the calf all the way to the Achilles tendon and give that tendon some love by squeezing it. Massage the outside edge of your shin from the top all the way to the ankle. This is especially helpful if you work on your feet and/or wear uncomfortable shoes all day. -Raise the legs: Lie on your back...

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Winter Solstice

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in Soul Talk | 0 comments

Winter Solstice

UTTARAYANAS / SVADYAYA Winter Solstice / Self Study Om asatoma sat gamaya Lead us from the darkness to the light The Yogins believe that each of us embodies an entire universe inside of us, -the sky, the planets, mountains rivers, seasons, – moving with the rhythm and flow of the cosmos. During the Fall Equinox, the days get shorter giving us longer periods of darkness and night. December 21st, the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, but with it comes the celebration of the sun’s return. The nights will gradually grow shorter and the light of the day will return. This ebb and flow of the darkness and light brings us back to the balance and impermanence of nature. Yin and yang infinitely at play as we move from one extreme to the other; we are always brought back to the center. We come and we go, we inhale and we exhale, we give and receive. And so it goes, the ever-changing balance of life. As the Winter Solstice is a time of slowing down, it brings an excellent opportunity for reflection; to go inside, to take time to breath, to prioritize what’s important, to reflect on our life’s journey; for Svadyaya. Are we making intuitive decisions? Are we finding joy in our journey? Are we moving through life with balanced awareness or perhaps in an unconscious karmic pattern? Though by our inner nature we intuitively need to slow down during this season, with all the hubbub and much ado of the holiday season, it’s almost an impossible feat to accomplish. Instead of getting quieter, the fun of the holiday season creates inner conflict that can easily throw us out of balance. Here’s a few way to bring yourself back into balance: Eat warms soups and stews to keep up the jatharagni- the digestive fire inside Include warming herbs in your diet such as ginger, clove, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic and turmeric Give your friends and family the gift of your presence rather than standing in long lines fighting traffic to give them a material present Find some time to wrap yourself up in a comfy blanket and sip on hot tea with an inspiring book Volunteer somewhere where you can make a difference in someone’s life Insist on finding time for meditation. Meditate to find the peace and joy in your heart, so that you may spread that peace and joy to...

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ON CHANGE by Gloria Munoz

Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 in Soul Talk | 0 comments

ON CHANGE by Gloria Munoz

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan W. Watts Change can be scary. In fact the threat of looming changes can keep us awake at night full of anxiety, questions and resentment. These emotions can wreak havoc on the mind and body. These emotions can leave anyone feeling helpless and vulnerable. Why is all this negativity attached to change? Mainly, because there is an incredible degree of uncertainty that comes during a time of change, and we, with our five-year-plans, smartphone calendars and diehard attachment to social standards—we do not like to be left in the dark. In a more positive light, change probably teaches us the most about the yogic principle of non-attachment. Consider one of the most challenging yoga poses: Shavasana (Corpse Pose). What could be more terrifying than lying on the ground, limbs splayed, jaw limp, palms up, eyes closed, while imitating a corpse? Shavasana embodies the fear and uncertainty that often come with change. As we are cradled into Corpse Pose at the end of a yoga class we are reminded to: let go, release expectations, be present. Similarly, change requires us to let go of the need to be in control, relinquish ideals of people or situations, and, most importantly, change causes us to consider our present selves. As we wiggle fingers and toes, our senses return and we are are “reborn” through Shavasana, through a deep state of non-attachment, into a brighter and more present version of the self. After being pummeled by a tumultuous wave of change we resurface with a clearer, more mindful version of the present self. We learn most when we allow change to come into our lives. Yes, you can put up a good fight until you accept that change is an inevitable part of life. The ever-changing world and the people we encounter in it teach us how to love and how to deal with loss. Practicing non-attachment during times of change is one of our greatest challenges. Yet, life demands this of us, because sooner or later change will come. And when it does, it is not our job to dismiss it, fear it, or label it as a mistake or failure. It is our job to embrace change, hold it close to our beating hearts, to fully experience the nauseating mix of emotions that comes with it, to search for truth in change, to let go so that we are able to look into our present selves. Next time you are faced with change, try returning to Shavasana a state of non-attachment and mindfulness where your pulse, breath and mind experience clarity and acceptance, where your being prepares for...

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TRANSVERSE ABDOMINUS

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

TRANSVERSE ABDOMINUS

The Transvers Abdominis (TVA) is the deepest and in my opinion the most important abdominal muscle. It literally forms a “corset” of support around the spine and internal organs. The TVA attaches to the inside of the lower 6 ribs to the top of the pelvis at the iliac crest and ASIS (or hip points). It wraps around the waist from the thoracolumbar fascia in the back of the body to the linea alba (or midline) in the front of the body forming a “support belt” around the soft belly. The TVA has fibers that interdigitate with the diaphragm (our main breathing muscle) and some of the fibers also blend with the fascia of the psoas. It is an extremely important muscle to strengthen for low back pain, diastasis (or separation of the linea alba, which can happen during pregnancy), and abdominal hernias. A healthy TVA is supposed to contract whenever we move, raise our arms, walk, lift our leg, twist our spine, etc. but several factors inhibit its function including a sedentary lifestyle and certain poor dietary habits. It is a respiratory aid that fires when we cough, sneeze, laugh, or forcefully exhale. One of the main reasons it is so important to low back health is that when contracted it decompresses the lumbar spine and acts as a spinal support by “stiffening” the intervertebral discs to sustain loading. The Transverse abdominis plays a key role in Uddiyana Bandha, or the “flying up lock”. The usual cue for Uddiyana Bandha is to draw the navel in and up but I would further that by saying draw the entire waist in and up. Try it: Engage your TVA by pulling the sides of the waist in towards your spine and away from your shirt. Put this idea in all your asanas, and your back will be protected. Shila...

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JAWASANA

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Soul Talk | 0 comments

JAWASANA

Saying that my Guru, Baba Hari Dass, is “a man of few words” is a monumental understatement. The few words he “says” are written on a small chalkboard. Babaji has taken the “vox mauna”-a vow of silence and hasn’t spoken for well over 50 years. Whenever I mention this to my students, the reaction is always the same; faces filled with complete disbelief; foreheads scrunched into ? marks; and then the inevitable question- “BUT WHY?!” (I would imagine he is asked that question as many times as a vegan is asked-“But how do you get your protein?!”) Ask Babaji himself, and you will be met with his sense of humor- “So I don’t yell at everyone!” I can’t begin to tell you how many crazy scenarios my fellow students came up with in order to coerce Babaji into saying he would speak under “these” circumstances. But he always managed to find another answer to the dilema. Where to us it seems like a complete impossibility to maintain for any length of time, the silence is a means to quiet the mind. To get rid of all the many unproductive thoughts and develop a peace inside that will in turn bring peace to society as a whole. Babaji explains it as his way of finding peace amidst a chaotic world. Constant chatter keeps us in a superficial world where we allow ourselves to detour around unpleasant situations. We cover up what we don’t want to delve into, and avoid having to look inside (or outside) to meet reality head on….just another means of distraction. How many of us like to talk just to hear ourselves talk? Or feel the need to have our opinion heard above all others because ours is the “right” one? Might I suggest Ego anyone? Silence is a means of letting that go and expressing humility. Speaking uses up a lot of energy. Traditional yogins want to preserve as much energy as possible so that every conceivable smidgen can be used to help them reach moksha- or enlightenment. Some traditionalists believe the goal of yoga itself is silence and that silence equates to Samadhi(the highest level of the 8 limb yogic path). Behind all the noise and sounds is silence-one’s innermost soul. Babaji is silent to find his inner Self, to connect with God. So do I think we should all take the vox mauna(which still sounds to me like some kind of a Star Trek Vulcan ritual that Mr. Spock would take)? Absolutely not. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt each and every one of us to let go of our ego and find some time to go into silence. To listen to others; to listen to ourselves. To learn to know one’s self and let go of illusion, to understand who we really are and to find our dharma-our reason for being here at this...

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BURY THE BAD

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Soul Talk | 0 comments

BURY THE BAD

Society teaches us to bury the bad. Headache? –take a pill. Hard day?- eat some ice cream, have a drink, smoke a joint. Or in other words, bury it. From a yogic standpoint, using drugs (legal or otherwise) or food to alleviate pain only serves to cover it up, leaving the underlying cause of the pain to gravitate to some other place in the body. Like in our neck, shoulders, hips, or back-or to create some chronic illness. Teaching yoga at the Veterans Administration has been an awe-inspiring experience that has afforded me the opportunity to meet many Vets suffering from PTSD. Recently I worked with one Vet whose PTSD has manifested in night terrors so extreme that he awakens in the middle of the night screaming, shaking, sobbing, with sheets soaked in perspiration. To heal this, he has been prescribed medication that completely erases all memory of the dream. So now, he awakens in the middle of the night screaming, shaking, sobbing, with sheets soaked in perspiration, with absolutely no recollection of why. I realize I am no doctor, definitely no psychologist, but doesn’t this just bury the issue? Doesn’t this just push the issue down so deep that the root of the problem will never be confronted and the pain will continue to manifest as night terrors or maybe something even worse? In yoga, we strive to master the concept of samatva, or equanimity, which basically means maintaining calmness even in the most difficult of situations. A balanced response to all situations rather than an emotional reaction, whether the situation is good or bad. Sometimes, you just don’t know. What’s good may not turn out so good and what’s bad may not turn out so bad. Yoga philosophy defines samatva as the sameness that underlies all phenomena; what remains when all activity ceases; a calmness; a union of the individual self with the inner (true) Self. A consistent yoga practice will inevitably bring up the ”bad” that we have buried deep within our bodies-and I would imagine in terms of war, there could be some horribly horrendous things to bury. But allowing issues to surface also allows us to examine them, deal with them and then begin the process of healing. Examining the issues is difficult to say the least, for anyone, but all of our experiences, good or bad, are life lessons that are part of what made us who we are, a part of our growth, a part of our ability to transform. If we continue to bury them, they will forever have their hold on us. If we can find the strength to conquer them, we will then be able to let go; to find our true Self; to live in...

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Wrist Strengthening Strategies

Posted by on Nov 11, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

Wrist Strengthening Strategies

Wrist pain is a common problem among yogis as we are often weight bearing on the arms. The pain can stem from a variety of reasons so if it is severe, it is important to understand what could be causing it in order to take proper action. If you’ve been taking a lot of classes lately and/or working on arm balances, handstands, planks and chaturangas for instance, the cause is most likely from overuse. Here are some steps you can take to prepare your wrists for bearing the weight of the body with more ease: Strengthen The Tennis Ball Squeeze: squeeze a tennis ball as hard as possible without causing pain and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times Wrist Curls with Theraband: take a theraband (preferably the bands that have handles on the ends but a regular theraband will do) and step on one end while standing. Hold the other end as if you are about to do bicep curls but instead stabilize your forearm at a 90 degree angle and hold forearm with opposite hand. Perform wrist curls isolating the movement in the wrist. Perform 3 sets of 8 in each of the following movements: flexion (with palm facing up), extension (with palm facing down), and lateral deviation (with thumb facing up/palm facing the midline) Stretch Stretching Flexors: Hold arm out in front of you at shoulder height, straight elbow with palm facing up. Take opposite hand and pull fingers and hand back until the wrist is in full extension stretching the flexors of the wrist. Alternative stretch: place hands in a prayer position in front of your chest and slowly lower the prayer down to the level of the waist without losing contact of your palms against one another. Hold stretches for 5 long, slow, deep breaths. Stretching Extensors: Hold arm out in front of you just below shoulder height, straight elbow with palm facing down. Take opposite hand and pull hand down so fingertips face the floor, flexing the wrist and stretching the extensors. Alternative stretch: come down onto hands and knees. One at a time flip the palm of one hand to face the ceiling and point fingertips towards your knees as you stretch the wrist extensors against the floor. Hold stretches for 5 long, slow, deep breaths. Twist Stretch: Hold both arms out in front of you at shoulder height, elbows straight with palms facing out. Cross right arm over left (now palms face one another) and interlace fingers. Bend elbows as you bring your interlaced hands towards you and flip them over the other way as the elbows extend away from you. Only lengthen elbows as much as your wrists will allow without pain. Hold stretch for 5 long, slow, deep breaths. Repeat other side. Self-Massage Extensors: Thoroughly massage the back of the forearm (a kneading action with opposite hand’s fingertips) from the elbow, down the fleshy part of the forearm, and down towards the back of the wrist. If there is a particularly tender spot, stay on it with static compression and hold until the intensity lessens. Flexors: Cross fiber the inside of your forearm (with opposite hand’s thumb) from under elbow crease down to wrist. If there is a particularly tender spot, stay on it with static compression and hold...

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Shoulder Placement

Posted by on Nov 11, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

Shoulder Placement

Shoulder placement can be very confusing. We hear so many cues: drop your shoulders, pull them back, squeeze them together. When is it appropriate to perform these actions and why? And what the heck does “deepen your armpits” mean? I hope to answer some of these questions for you. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, which means there are many options of where it can be in space. This could explain why it’s so confusing to place the shoulder in the correct position. Understanding how the shoulders should be placed when weight bearing on the arms is extremely important for the health of the shoulders. There are 5 joints in the shoulder but we’re only going to focus on two: glenohumeral joint – where the arm bone, or head of the humerus, fits into the glenoid fossa, or “socket”, comprised of the lateral shoulder blade and lateral collar bone scapulothoracic joint – which is where the shoulder blades are on the ribcage itself.   In neutral, the shoulders actually reside about 15 degrees forward of the midline, called scaption. This allows us to easily perform all our daily activities such as computer work, driving, cooking, etc., where all the action is in front of us. In tadasana however, we want to counter that action and open the heart center by drawing the shoulder blades slightly toward the midline using the rhomboids and middle trapezius. Relating our two joints’ actions; in the glenohumeral joint the arms externally rotate and in the scapulothoracic joint the scapulae retract, or “squeeze” towards the midline. There are a small percentage of these actions in tadasana and other neutral spine poses such as triangle, and a much larger percentage of these actions in big heart openers such as cobra, upward dog and bow pose. However, when the arms are above the head the rules change. The movement in the scapulothoracic joint becomes that of upward rotation. Upward rotation is an important movement to understand. It is when the shoulder blade spins in the frontal plane (like turning a knob) and the bottom tips of the shoulder blades begin to face out laterally. What’s confusing is that the side tips of the shoulders do lift and rhomboids actually have to relax and lengthen. So pressing the shoulders down, or squeezing them together when the arms are above the head is actually a counter cue that is often misunderstood. If the arms were properly externally rotated in the glenohumeral joint, the heart will automatically be open, and if the scapulae are properly upwardly rotated in the scapulothoracic joint, “dropping the shoulders” when the arms are overhead doesn’t have to happen so long as the medial shoulders stay relaxed. Scapular rotation happens very rapidly up to the first 90 degrees of lifting the arms “out to the sides and up”. From the point when the glenohumeral joint is at 90 degrees (arms out to a “T”) the arms do most of the movement to lift the rest of the way overhead. When the arms are overhead, the movement in the glenohumeral joint is that of strict, unwavering external rotation otherwise there could be a pinching of the supraspinatus tendon and/or the subdeltoid bursae. This scenario could lead to muscle imbalance, pain, rotator cuff tear...

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FALL FINALLY

Posted by on Sep 19, 2014 in Soul Talk | 0 comments

FALL FINALLY

Although we may have to wait a month or two to actually feel the nip in the air, with the recent Autumn Equinox, we say goodbye to summer and it’s officially Fall. It’s the time to restore balance from the ever-changing shift from one extreme to the other. According to Ayurveda, yoga’s sister “science of life and yogic healing” where the approach to life is based on living according to our seasons and surroundings, human energy is divided into several mind-body types, or doshas, which have both positive and negative effects. Balanced doshas create health and happiness, whereas unbalanced doshas create discomfort and disease. Fall is dominated by the Air element and brings out our “spacey” Vata traits. Our Vata dosha is the easiest to get out of balance, especially in the cooler and drier air of the Fall season. So if you’ve been feeling nervous, anxious, spacey, having trouble focusing, excessively thinking or worrying, or experiencing insomnia, you just might have a vata imbalance. Joint popping during your asana practice is also an indication of a Vata imbalance in Ayurveda. (In which case, with all the popping going on in my back, shoulder, and neck during my own yoga practice, I am extremely Vata deranged!) One of the main principles of Ayurveda states: “like increases like and opposites create balance.” To balance “Vata”, (the dosha comprised of air and space; with cool and dry qualities) we need to stay hydrated, warm (avoiding cold foods and drinks), calm (maintaining a consistent breathing and meditation practice) and grounded (practicing slowly moving stable postures like warrior, balancing and back bending postures). In last month’s newsletter, we talked about Yoga Sutra 1.12-1.14, and Abhyasa,-practice- which states we need a sustained, vigilant, persistent practice to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. Nothing could be more helpful than this for grounding a Vata imbalance. With anxiety attacks, sleepless nights and our minds running out of control, we need our yoga practice of both asana (postures) and meditation to bring us back into balance. However a Vata imbalance can also cause us to push ourselves...

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BACK TO PRACTICE

Posted by on Aug 19, 2014 in Soul Talk | 0 comments

BACK TO PRACTICE

It may not seem like it in this 90+ degree heat, but summer is winding down. We can say goodbye to summer vacations, weekday beach trips and hello to school crossings and school buses. It’s time to get back to routine once again. So if you’ve found you let your yoga practice slide over the summer, come home to your yoga mat. One of the main tenants of yoga is the principle of Abhyasa, which means, “practice.” According to the Yoga Sutras, yoga is all about finding peace of mind-stopping all the crazy thoughts and ideas that constantly run around in our heads making us stressed out maniacs. Verses 1.12-1.14 tell us that in order to do that we need to practice. We need a sustained, vigilant, persistent practice to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. If we can practice consistently and continuously with genuine effort, we become grounded in the practice and we begin to transform our lives. I guess it depends on what exactly you are looking for. Is it all about exercise, sweat, boot camps and looking good in a swimsuit, or is it about learning about your body so that stress doesn’t wreak havoc on your health and preconceived ideas don’t ruin your life? Maybe it’s about all of the above. But if you truly want to transform your life, you must practice and make it a part of your life. It’s easy to get distracted and find excuses not to practice. But according to the sages, it is only by practicing without interruption that we gain access to the fruits of yoga. Abhyasa is the key to finding bliss, the feeling of connectedness-that elusive “happy” that we all are searching for. Your practice may slip from time to time, but if your commitment is sincere, you keep returning home- home to your practice, no matter where you are-and let, as they say “Shift...

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